24 June, 2011


Roses the color of the cardinals grace my garden. My peonies and mock orange are finished allowing space for the roses to move into the spotlight. These are not expensive, fancy roses with a guarantee. These are simple roses for the working class, purchased from bulk bins where they are stacked willy-nilly in their plastic bags. I found them on my front porch one clear, sunny Mother's Day as a tribute to my devoted mothering. I opened the card to discover they were from the "celebrity" husband-who-cheated-on-me, to cover his adulterous sexual activities. After I discovered his duplicity, I was tempted to burn the three offending bushes or chop them into little pieces and dump them in his gas tank. But mainly I hated myself for believing his seductive lies of contrition and his vow to stay with me, as long as it took for us to reconcile, working through our differences "even if it were ten years." It only occurred to me recently that believing his lies was not an indication that something was wrong with me. He has seduced more people than could be counted with his deceptions and half truths. It is more about him than it is about me. The compassionate, wise words of a friend convinced me to put the plants in the ground, water them, and to love them into life and abundance. My earliest childhood memories are of roses, and I have always loved them, especially the yellow varieties. I planted expensive bushes of Peace roses when each of my children were born. Each year I tend these bushes reminded of the bittersweet nature of our meeting. Like the darkest chocolate I savor their lesson without forgetting the circumstances of our first encounter. They bloom for all to see. Without judgement or demands, my roses provide inspiration for me and hiding places for birds, squirrels, slugs and worms until the day they drop their petals and sleep.

20 June, 2011

Goodwill: Duluth

It was so cold in Duluth and we hadn't packed for the rain. So as we passed the Goodwill for the fourth or fifth time, I pulled into the parking lot, as close to the front door as possible. We ran to the front door through the rain shivering, looking for warm sweaters and sweat pants. But the first item my eyes fell on was a sugar bowl matching the Noritake China my mother gave me so many years ago.  It was elegant and lovely without a flaw or chip. I held it delicately as my memory moved back to my child hood. We rarely used that china. It was reserved for special occasions which never arrived. Graduations, funerals, marriages, births all passed without the special china gracing the table. When she passed it on to me I was determined it would not be hidden away. I had a special display case built with glass doors and spot lights so I could catch a glimpse of it every time I passed. And we used it often, holidays, Sundays, birthdays, special teas, children's accomplishments. new friends for dinner. And at one point a guest recognized the dishes, turned over a plate to verify it's origin and then insisted I reset the table with something more ordinary. I pointed out that they were dishes first and forever, and that we were celebrating our new friendship, but she wasn't convinced.  When I read her obituary, detailing her long, slow dance with ovarian cancer, I took out one of the paper thin porcelain Noritake cups and a matching saucer, filled it with jasmine tea and drank it slowly, thinking only of my friend and celebrating her life.

16 June, 2011

a recovering life

What I'm really interested in is recovery. How do women move on after a violent marriage crumbles? How do we learn to trust, to love, to allow myself to be vulnerable again after the man to whom I devoted my life and my dreams disappears? I  remind myself, over and over, that I can trust myself and my life and m journey. I didn't deliberately, consciously choose someone who would beat me up, and leave my son locked in the car during the winter. It wasn't on his CV and those kinds of questions never occurred to me during courtship. Even if I had asked them he wouldn't have been able to answer honestly. And, like all his other women, I was swept up in the romance of the moment. The possibility of happily ever after, seduced me, still does. We all grew up on that fantasy and it simply never dies. And I loved him. I believed in him. And I believed the stories he told me of our future together. I always said yes, until the cold winter day he left my son in the car. First time I said "no" to him. And it nearly cost me my life. It did cost me life as I knew it. Were there hints of his violent nature? Red flags? Hindsight is so interesting and memory plays tricks with us...I saw how he treated other people, but I thought I was different, and that he would never treat me with that cold arrogance. His unshaken sense of entitlement, he allowed himself to behave inappropriately no matter who would be hurt, even his 2 year old child. It was difficult to live with him, but it was even more difficult to break the spell woven by my desire to believe his words. I looked at his actions with disappointment yet magical thinking convinced me that it was just a matter of time and that we were a work in progress, learning how to communicate. I waited, at first patiently, and then my patience wore thin. One day he began screaming at me, slamming chairs around the room.  I was grateful that it wasn't our kids he was throwing against the wall, as he had in the past. And I still had hope, even when I requested that he live somewhere else, temporarily, while he sorted out his issues. I said "anger issues" because I had learned that the term "domestic violence" was a trigger for him. Insane, but not a deal breaker, yet. In fact the whole time we were separated I continued to believe he was in outpatient treatment and working hard on his program, his case plan. And I had a copy of "Assessing Risk to Children From Batterers". The July 2006 Newsletter of the Commission on Domestic Violence. I was still more concerned about the effects on my kids than myself. And I used the check list: assessing change in batterers. There are 8 points on the list, none of which ever changed as far as my observation was concerned. 

07 June, 2011

empty bench

Either he was lying then or he is lying now and either way he ends up a liar, and living a lie for the convenience of not having to be uncomfortable or grow up and look at his dark side. On the other hand I end up living in the dark, the secret that must not be explored. The first time his fist hit my face my glasses went flying across the room. Suddenly I couldn't see and I felt indescribably vulnerable. I tried to cover my face and upper body, to tuck my chin so the following blows would land on my head rather than my face.  He advanced as I tried to back away and avoid the impact of his fists. Tripping, and catching myself, I looked down at the floor. Our 2 year old son had managed to get between his Dad and I. He was pushing against his Dad's thighs as if he could stop the assault. His Dad didn't even notice that his son and daughter were in the room. His total concentration was on my face. I dropped to my knees and grabbed my son. It was enough of a surprise to give me an opportunity to run out of the room with my children and shut the bedroom door, locking it in shock. I felt numb except for my throbbing head. I had no idea where my glasses were and with out them I was nearly blind like many with nearsighted vision. How had this happened? I reached for my daughter and son. She was shaking with silent sobs wrapped around my waist like a python. Younger, not much smaller than his sister, my son was sitting on my lap wrapped around my neck. I rocked them, sitting on the edge of their bed. There was no sound from the next rooms as I tried to comfort and reassure them. I had no idea what had just happened, but I had watched my parents violent struggles enough to imagine how my children felt. I was shocked as the truth sunk into my awareness: I was living with a man I couldn't trust. I had left my children alone with him all day while I was at work. And he had left our 2 year old son alone, restrained by his car seat, in the car, in the Minnesota winter, indefinitely. Visions of child protection danced in my head as I took their shoes off and laid down in bed with one child on either side of me. They were exhausted, it was very late and as I quietly sang their favorite lullabyes they fell asleep. I waited until they were soundly asleep before creeping out of the bed, I covered them as usual, as if it had all been a bad dream. When I had watched my parents struggle, I vowed I would never stay with a man who hit me. It was a no brainer as far as my younger self was concerned. But I was totally unprepared for what had just happened. I had spent the past two years traveling with a newborn and a 3 year old to follow my husband's dream of artistic success and celebrity. I was unemployed, isolated from my friends and estranged from my family. I didn't know where to turn. My world had become a black tunnel with no sign of light at the far end. Nothing was broken beyond my trust as I shut the bedroom door behind me. He was in the other bedroom, the one we had shared until tonight