These Leaves

October 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

Today I went walking

and as I walked over a carpet of red and gold,

These lines came to me

So I wrote them down.

I thought,

These leaves, strewn across the ground

are nothing compared to the tears I’ve shed over you. 

And now I am done.

These leaves, now fallen from trees

shed themselves for a purpose;

empty, branches stand,

for a time,

hoping

for the inevitable

newness of spring.

Grand Illusion

March 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

In the beginning there was Grand Illusion at the Film Forum

I’d seen it before but never quite this way.

You were the expert, a Ph.D in film, your favorite scene:

Two free soldiers walking toward freedom in the vast whiteness…

How did it feel to pull the plug

to end the life that gave you yours?

How did it feel to break your own heart

and set yourself free all at once?  

Into the whiteness, there is freedom there,

Freedom you said you could not deal with

Drama in your life, a profession darling, 

Your specialization.  

You are an artist restricting an audience to your choosing.

From time to time I wonder, who’s in your audience now?

With whom do you present your Grand Illusions?

As an American living in Italy, I suppose I thought about the prospect of meeting a handsome Italian man who would sweep me off my feet but I certainly wasn’t counting on that happening.  I had seen Under the Tuscan Sun and read the book many years before.  Those were things that happened in books and movies, not to me.  Everything about the way my life had gone up to this point, particularly my romantic life, was telling me an Italian romance did not seem possible.  And then I met Andrea.

Sweet, handsome Andrea.  In my last post I described our first encounter.  The first broken Italian/English conversation in the Irish Pub.  The subsequent invitation and trip to Portofino on the Ligurian coast.  Romance is always dulled by reality.  This romance was no different. We left for Portofino after work on a Friday night.  Andrea picked me up in his VW Bug, and we drove down through Genoa toward the Ligurian coast lined with s-curves.  He took me up and up the windy coastal road to the sleepy sea-side town that was mostly boarded up and closed for the off-season.  It was late October, and though the days were sunny and warm, the temperature dropped at night, leaving this black shimmering coastline for the natives and new romances like ours.

The moon shone on the water that night night giving everything that deep midnight-blue soaked glow.  It would have taken a tough lot not to feel romantic that evening.  All was perfect.  So up we climbed in Andrea’s VW, until we hit a point where we could see sleepy Portofino below us.  There were a few sailboats still tucked into their slips and lights on the u-shaped path around the cove showing the presence of no one.  The palm trees glowed in the lights from below.  We held hands, and commented now and then on how beautiful it was, eerie and beautiful all at once, as we drove up the and up the steep one lane road in the dark, getting closer and closer to the stars when Andrea pulled the car over.  He let go of my hand.  He got out of the car without saying a word, popping open the trunk.  So up we climbed in Andrea’s VW, until we hit a point where we could see sleepy Portofino below us.  There were a few sailboats still tucked into their slips and lights on the u-shaped path around the cove showing the presence of no one.  The palm trees glowed in the lights from below.  As he walked toward the back of the car, all I could think was here it comes – he’s going to get the ropes and shovel now.  This is how I will die, in Portofino at the hands of a man I hardly know, the headlines will read “American Teacher Found Dead in the Hills Above Portofino”.  My heart was pounding.  I looked in the rear view mirror, and in the little space between the opening of the trunk and the top of the backseat, I could see he was holding the trunk  up high with one hand and bent over at the waist.  Was he digging my grave?  With one hand?  Getting an axe to chop me up in pieces?  What’s wrong? So I opened the door in an attempt to get out, and he told me to stay in the car, but he sounded funny. Like, strange funny.  Was he a werewolf??  Maybe that was it!  I tend to get the strangest thoughts at the oddest moments and this was no different.  I stayed in the car out of fear and because though he voice was odd, he had a serious commanding tone, so I suppose I was obeying him to some extent.  When he return to the car, he was sweating and smelled of vomit. Turned out my handsome Italian – the same man I thought might chop me up and bury me in the hills of Portofino – was struck with a case of motion sickness from all the s-curves.  I tried to comfort him, but he gently pushed my hand away saying we should go to our hotel in Rapallo.  He apologized a few times on the way but was mostly quiet.  I didn’t say much for the thirty minute drive.  I was sorry for him, but feeling a little hurt that he pushed my hand away.  He would’t let me comfort him and i was selfishly hurt by that.  Under the circumstances, I tried to push that thought away, telling myself I was being ridiculous.  Of course he doesn’t want to be touched he’s just been sick, I told myself.  When we got to the hotel, we checked in, Andrea took a shower and felt much better.  We went to bed quietly, as though we had a thousand times before, but it was our first night sleeping in the same bed and I was nervous.  I was hoping for a night of romance, which was not to be.  He didn’t hold me or say anything.  We just went to sleep on each of our sides of the bed.  It was painful for me.  I cried silently.  And then fell asleep.

I was up first.  I went directly to the bathroom to shower and get myself dressed.  When I emerged from the bathroom, ready for the day, he was still sleeping.  I tidied up my side of the room, opened the balcony door and was met with a perfect view of the beach.  It was early, before the shops opened and there were just one or two people walking in the street below.  I could hear the early morning sounds I loved about Italy; the sound of rolling metal as shop owners opened their taparelli, old men greeting each other with “Buongiorno” or “Ciao”!  I soaked it up, breathing in the air.  And, that coupled with the smells of fresh cappuccino and just baked brioche wafting in the air… I was hungry.  Not so unusual for me.  I sat there on the balcony for a few minutes, simply absorbing it all.  When I re-entered the room, he was in the shower.  Knowing he was getting ready to have a day with me was a relief.  It meant he was sick last night only and today was a new day.

We had our brioche and cappuccino up in Portofino, drove back down the coast and ate an amazing lunch of fritto di mare a variety of lightly fried fish, calamari, prawns, langostini and various other shellfish served with wedges of lemon and a bottle of white wine.  We walked on the beach at La Spezia and kissed in the sand.  Things were back to normal and I was feeling the magic of this very romantic day.  The next day was just as lovely, and it being Sunday, there was an open market in Santa Margherita which we decided to stop into on our way back up to Milan.  We stopped, looked around at a few things, and when I wasn’t looking He bought me a silver and turquoise bracelet to remember our weekend away.  He gave it to me before we got in the car to leave.  I still have it and think of him whenever I wear it.

 

*   *   *

That weekend away together was the real beginning of our relationship.  I learned a lot that weekend without realizing it.  I learned about him, and of course me.  I remember feeling beautiful.  Beautiful and feminine.  I felt beautiful because Italy does that to women.  The old men always gave me compliments on the way I was dressed, or my “beautiful smile”.  The young ones always looked and smiled too.  My favorite was when I would be walking down the street, with a friend or alone, and an older man would tip his hat and smile.  Such old world congeniality.  Very different from walking in the streets of New York where anonymity it king. We had quite a romance, Andrea and I .  We were together much more frequently after out weekend in Portofino.  He showed me secret places in Milan he like to go for drinks or aperativo.  My friends really liked him because he was low-key and was able to make conversation with anyone without being arrogant or too opinionated.  He was amused by me and the way I got along with my friends.  On weekends we’s steal away on his Harley, into the vineyards of surrounding towns stopping for drinks.  Once we had such a romantic day I remember the ride home on the Harley very clearly.  We had been riding all day, stopping for drinks and lunch, then riding nonstop.  The sun was going down and the sky was filled with ribbons of pink and orange.  We were close to Milan, riding through some riso fields, when he suddenly pulled over and took off my helmet.  He kissed me wildly and we embraced.  He began pulling at my clothing and making love to me right there in the middle of the riso field.  On the road just beyond the fields we could see cars passing, but they were not close enough to see us.  We made love right there under God’s setting sun and for the first time, I truly felt loved and filled with passion.  I remember while it was happening, thinking I am in Italy making love to the man of my dreams right here in a riso field.  I live here.  This is my life.  This….. is my life and I am so happy. 

And we really were.  Until just a few months later.  Andrea would tell me something that would change everything in our relationship and was more that I could really bare to hear. But for now, things were going well and we were happy.  So very happy.

temporary spaces

September 8, 2013 — 3 Comments

they sit to the left and to the right filling the hollows of these spaces

frozen in their desire to release what they were meant to hold

unable to do so without some form of assistance

yet fearful of being left empty and without purpose

anticipating the big reveal when contents are ripped from wombs

and spilled in discord leaving behind collapsed shells

their insides are given over to adorn new spaces and fulfill their purpose

 

the once important cannot be identified from here

they sag and weaken with time and imposed weight of the other

and what lies there is second to outward appearances

yet there is perfection in the possibility of holding histories thoughts and words

(there is protection in this too of not revealing what’s inside)

the components which reside there have left the past behind

they make way for the future in these temporary spaces

 

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

I had three loves in Milan; The City itself, the incomparable food, and its people.  Particularly Andrea (italian for Andrew), who taught me I could be loved and touched tenderly in body and soul.

Milan was by far my first true love.  The Duomo, the city’s Cathedral and home to the Madonina – a golden statue of The Blessed Virgin at the highest point of the cathedral’s spires – was the heart of the city.  Italians called out to her.  There were songs written about her.  The Duomo became my True North on my internal map of the city.  In the months and hears ahead, it would become a meeting point for social gatherings and the place I would go to light a candle, say a prayer and ask questions of God and the Universe.  Sitting atop its many spires were thousands of Saints, full size, standing proudly looking over the city in every direction.   They seemed to stand in ceremony, protecting – nay, hailing –  the Madonina who stands high above, guiding and sanctifying all she sees in her crowned, golden splendor. And on a quiet morning, before it is filled with the contrast of the graffitied taparelli and the urine stained walls of cobblestone side streets, the magnificence of the rising sun’s pink and orange glow on The Duomo’s white marbled exterior could not be obscured.  I never got tired of that vision.  Oh yes, I fell in love with Milan.

Those first few weeks in MIlan were not wasted on me.  I knew what was happening to me – traveling to another country, landing an exciting new job, and physically leaving behind the dark, fear-filled days I had with my ex-husband – was a rebirth.  I was literally given a second chance at life.  I knew if I had stayed with Tommy I would have eventually died at his hands.  But that was all behind me now and I was literally taking small steps down Milanese streets with my eyes wide open and breathing new air.  By the time I landed in Milan, it had been five years since I saw his face.  I will admit, there was a moment every now and again, when I thought he might somehow find me in Italy and finish what he started.  I would get a chill and have to verbally remind myself that I was in fact beginning a new life in Italy.  And I had no plans to return to The States.

The first month of school was the same as it is in any school.  There was lots of buzz, and excitement and the butterflies invaded my stomach again as they did every September.  There were new faces of students and colleagues and parents.  There were new books and pencils to be sharpened and markers to be put out.  Though that year, the notebooks and paper were a different size.  The pencils even looked different.  Instead of American markers like Crayola, we had Giotto markers.  My classroom overlooked the only golf course in the area, and just beyond I could see the riso, or rice fields, instead of the 52nd Precinct on Webster Avenue.  My students had Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic accents instead of Hispanic/Bronx accents.  When they returned from the weekends, my students in Milan would tell me of day trips they took to Lugano, Switzerland, Venice, or Lake Cuomo.  A stark contrast from my Bronx kids who visited their fathers in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossening, NY, or stayed in the house playing video games.  My colleagues and students from The Bronx never left my thoughts as I prepared my Italian classroom and I questioned my decision to take this job in Italy.  Was I a sell-out?  Would these kids need me the way my Bronx kids did?  Would my colleagues in Italy even come close to comparing with my teammates and friends from P.S. 20?  Those were questions I would reflect on often.  It took years before I came to peaceful terms with myself on this.  The truth is, I made a connection in Milan that was completely intangible.

I was very well supported in those early days by colleagues who also left their homes and friends and schools to join in this new professional and life opportunity.  We were expatriates now.  Expats, for short. For many of my colleagues, Milan was one in a string of places they had moved to, knowing it would not be the last.  Their journeys originated from small towns and cities all over the U.S. like Los Angeles, St. Paul, Portland, Lancaster County, PA, Wilmington S.C.,  and Chicago.  We all wound up in the same city, in the same school for very different reasons.  But the one thing we had in common is that we all left something behind us in exchange for the mysterious something coming ahead of us.  People, places and things.  Some of us were seeking new experiences.  Some of us running from old ones.  Some of us somewhere in the middle.  I think I was one of those.  The interesting thing is that none of us had regrets about doing it.  It seems that the more I got to know expats, the more I realized we were the ones living our lives with the volume turned all the way up.

And so it went.  Our school’s staff had a yearly tradition.  After the first paycheck, and in Europe workers get paid once a month instead of weekly or bi-weekly, everyone goes out for dinner for a really nice meal.  This sounded like a great way to celebrate the first month of school and get to know more of the various staff members.  When the evening finally arrived, we carpooled with those who had been living in Milan long enough to battle the bureaucracy and get cars and Italian drivers licenses – no small task I can assure you.  We drove down a series of narrow two lane roads until we turned down a long dirt road, arriving at a cascina, or farmhouse, which my American eyes thought looked dilapidated on the outside.  We got out of the car, walked into the pitch black night along the dirt path and entered the cascina.  As soon as the heavy wooden doors opened, the soft glow of lit candles and sounds of clinking glasses and laughter poured out.  I could smell the butter-heavy smells of grilling meat.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the flames from the brick oven readying itself for pizzas.  We were led to a private room, to our table,  which was really a series of long wooden tables forming a U-shape, covered in crisp white linens and already set with flatware, wine, water and prosecco glasses that glowed in the golden candlelight. As we made our way to our seats, one of our servers was making his way over to begin pouring a glass of prosecco.  When all nineteen of us were seated, we made a collective toast to the new year, “Cin-cin!” (pronounced chin-chin).  It was all very festive and being Americans we all began chatting politely and began the process of getting to know each other with the common first questions:  So, how’s your class going?  Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Are you homesick?  Where are you from?  Will your family and friends come visit you?  Where are you living now?  How ‘s your Italian coming along? and on like this.  Without noticing it, thee was suddenly large serving platters of grilled red peppers, impossibly paper-thin grilled zucchini and eggplant, artichokes and olives all gleaming with olive oil.  There were also plates of sliced salumi, and prosciutto ham and some small slices of bread to mop up the olive oil.  This was the antipasti.  I put a slice of eggplant on my fork.  When it touched my lips, I remember thinking this didn’t taste like any eggplant I’d ever tasted before.  It was completely tender and practically melted in my mouth. Not salty or tough.  Delicious!  There were many more little dishes that suddenly appeared before us.  The servers keeping our wine glasses filled with impeccable red wine.  At one point I looked around the room and time stood still.  The Cascina‘s walls were exposed red and white brick, mostly white, which glowed golden in the candlelight.  Everyone around the table – teachers, school secretaries, administrators – looked so shiny and beautiful to me.  It might have been the wine skewing my perspective but I was in love with everyone in the room at that moment.  I had only been making casual conversation, small talk really, with some of the people around me up to that point.  And then came out the small dishes of risotto al formaggio. This Northern Italian classic, just a dollop on a small white dish, was placed before me.  The aroma of the rice, indistinguishable from the intermixing of a buttery mix of melted gorgonzola and other cheeses was so fresh, so delicate it practically walked off the plate and onto my fork.  I savored the aroma for a moment and with eyes closed, I gently pressed a forkful into my mouth.  My tastebuds danced.  I had never tasted anything like it in my life.  I turned to look at the girl sitting next to me, her name was April, and she was having the same reaction as I.  Tears welled up in my eyes at the same moment they did in hers.  She grabbed my hand under the table and we both spoke about how it was so delicious and how beautiful and special this night was.  It was that moment that our friendship was born.  It sounds silly and made up but that’s exactly how it happened.  I was overwhelmed.  Everyone looked so beautiful, the table, the china, the flatware, the food… the glow of the candlelight, the brick walls covered with antique farm equipment.  It was all overwhelming.  I was living in Italy.  Not there for a visit, but this was my home. Home.  And it wasn’t the risotto, but it was the risotto. There was more to eat that night: fresh hand made ravioli stuffed with ricotta and herbs and slathered with butter, grilled meats and sausage, fish, and for dessert pana cotta.  That was the beginning of never having a bad meal again. Not as long as I lived in Italy, anyway. A year later, an eighty year old woman would teach me the secrets of making risotto.  That was a lesson I would carry with me always.

So you see, I was surrounded by and falling very deeply with Milano, and the food of Italy.  There was one more thing I fell in love with.  Most surprisingly.  Completely.  Not a thing at all.  A person.  And here’s how that happened.

There was a girl just a few years younger than me who had been at the school for a year or two.  Her name was Melodi.  She had a naturally friendly and bubbly personality.  She had the uncanny ability to make a connection to anyone she spoke with. She was funny and people loved being around her.  The second weekend of October is a national holiday in Milan so everyone is traveling for the long weekend.  A bunch of people went to Prague for the four day weekend.  I was not particularly close enough to anyone so I was not invited to come along.  I was also low on cash, having come to Italy with almost no money at all and was conserving my Euros.  Melodi, being nice and not wanting to see anyone feel lonely, invited me out for a pizza.  I was touched that she would, and met her at a place called Yummy Yummy.  It was a small out of the way place near her apartment in the Porta Romana section of the city.  It seemed strangely funny because it was a pizza place run by a Chinese family who immigrated to Italy to open, of all things, a pizza place.  It would become one of my favorites because the pizzas were incredible.  Anyway, we ate pizza and started telling our stories and got along so well, that Melodi said, she wasn’t sure if I’d be interested but there was an Irish Pub down the block if I wanted to grab a beer.  Of course I did!  From her description it sounded like a small cramped Irish pub, which reminded me a bit of New York.  So when the pizzas were done, we headed over to Pogue Mahone’s which was at the end of that block.  We bellied up to two prime stools at the center of the bar and I ordered my Guinness and she her Blonde and began talking.  I loved seeing the Irish flag and pictures of Irish “stuff” all around.  By the time we ordered our second beer, I noticed the two guys sitting next two us were looking in our direction.  It seemed obvious to me that they were checking out Melodi being the bubbly blonde hair blue eyed girl from South Carolina with the southern accent that she was.  And one of them was in fact interested in her.  Giuseppe, or Beppe, which is what his friend was calling him.  I looked at the friend and noticed he was extremely good looking – way out of my league.  But while Beppe was talking to Melodi, Andrea leaned over and started talking to me.  In Italian.  I don’t know why or how, but I understood him.  He introduced himself and I responded.  In Italian!  I could not believe what was happening. I told him (in Italian) that I did not speak Italian well.  He told me I had a beautiful smile and laugh, which made me blush a little.  He asked where I was from and when I told him New York, his eyes lit up.  I had already noticed that telling people I was from New York (which was the truth) carried with it a certain cool factor.  Italians love New York – well, Europeans do- and the questions almost always followed, Why would you move to Milano when everyone in Milano wants to live in New York!? Anyway, Andrea was so handsome, and he smelled like… well I can’t describe that.  It was his natural odor that I was responding too.  He smelled clean but like clean skin.  Clean hair.  I would find out later that he was a rock climber, so his body was fit.  He was Milanese, so he was shorter than an American man, but still taller than me.  As was the fashion, his hair was buzzed short, almost bald, which I found extremely sexy.  We spoke for a bit and there was another beer, and another and I found myself wanting to kiss him.  He offered to drive me home, as I lived just on the outskirts of the city, whereas Meodi lived just a few blocks away.  I turned to Melodi who was roughing it with Beppe and announced Andrea was driving me home.  She pulled me aside and said, “Oh no he’s not!  Same rules apply here, my dear, you cannot go home with a stranger! You can give him your number but you don’t know if he’s crazy!”.  This was very disappointing news to me. So I told him no, but he kept insisting.  I said no, and he asked for my number.  I think maybe I did not have a cell phone connected yet, so I gave him my email address, and I took his.  We said goodnight, there was no kissing, but the next day I remember thinking how completely gorgeous he was – and how torturous it was that I had to wait to get to work before I could check for his email.  Sure enough, in very broken English, his email was there.  It was adorably written.  Very polite.  He said how nice it was to meet me, how he kept thinking about my laugh and smile and how he would love to show me all his favorite laces in Italy…. Florence, Venice, Melegnano where he lives…. and did I want to go out for an a

perativo with him?  So I wrote back saying yes, and we made arrangements.

I was so nervous on our first date.  I thought maybe he was drunk at the Pub and maybe would not be interested in me.  I was worried about communicating with him because of our language barrier.  I remembered he tried to say a few things in English, but it was clear that my very limited Italian was much better than his English.  Anyway, he picked me up in his navy blue VW Beetle.  We went into Milan for drinks and food.  We talked and there was a lot of drawing on napkins and acting things out to communicate!  It was so much fun that first night.  One thing was undeniable, we were very attracted to each other, because there was lots of smiling and flirting too.  When we got back into the car so he could drive me home, I had trouble pulling the safety belt over my shoulder.  He leaned over to help me and that’s when it happened.  He surprised me with a kiss that lasted quite some time.  We sat in the car, making out like teenagers.  At one point I had to stop and remind myself where I was – I was living in Italy and this beautiful man starting talking to me in a bar and now we’ve just had a date and I’m kissing him.  I wanted to scream, it was all so exciting.

After that date, he emailed me again to tell me how much fun he had and how he wanted me to go to Portofino with him the following weekend.  Portofino?  for the weekend? With a man I’d only been out with once?  That was too crazy, even for me!  I consulted with the girls at work, and one older woman said to me, “Maria, you’re 35 years old, living in Italy and a handsome Italian man has offered to take you to romantic Portofino for the weekend.  Are you crazy, of COURSE you should GO!”  But I said, “What if he’s crazy and chops me up in little pieces?”  And she said, “You’ll be chopped up in little pieces in Portofino… just GO!”

And so I did.

Portofino

Apartments Stay Copyright

I couldn’t wait to get on the plane.

I knew I would not return to New York for a very long time – if ever. The moment I knew I was leaving for Italy, I made up my mind never to come back to New York. There were too many bad memories for me here. Too many ghosts. Every once in a while, even after the divorce and my bankruptcy were final, I still had that creeping feeling that Tommy might find me or that our paths would cross. Then what?  Leaving the country altogether would illiminate that possibility, even if it did seem extreme.  I knew that I could be completely free and truly breathe and sleep easy once I got on that plane.

I announced my new job and plans to leave New York to the girls at work when I retuned from the job fair in May. They were all really supportive. Some were sad to see me go because we had formed friendships outside of work. Some were sad on a professional level, as I was, because our tight team would be broken up. And others, I suspected, were upset with me for “selling out” and leaving a system that desperately needed good teachers to continue the work we started.  There were grade changes for some of the teachers that year and tensions were building among the staff because of governmental changes to the New York City Curriculum and State Standards. The New York City School System was in flux. Looking back, I think I may have gotten out just in time. There was a farewell dinner for me in June… lots of food and drink and laughter. The women who helped me become a teacher were so important to me; they nurtured me, befriended me and trained me to be a true professional. I felt like the baby leaving the nest, though I truly had earned my wings by then. I was ready to fly.

The movers came and packed my belongings in July. There were thirty boxes of books and teaching resources and clothes. I had no trouble deciding what to bring with me. In fact, I packed like I knew I would not be coming home. I packed old journals, pictures and books a plenty. The day I left for the airport in late August, I had only three suitcases which I bought on sale at T.J. Max for under four hundred dollars. I filled them with my top favorite outfits, readying myself for life in Milan. A few weeks earlier, I cashed in my teacher’s pension money, gave it all to my mother except for one thousand dollars which I took to hold me over until I received my first paycheck. Knowing that I signed a three year contract, I had to resign from the New York City teaching system as they only allowed a leave of absence for one year. I had received my permanent NY State teaching certificate a few years before, so I knew I could always teach again if I ever returned to The States. But that wasn’t my plan.

I was delivered by Lincoln Town Car to John F. Kennedy Airport on August 19th, 2005. I just turned thirty six years old.

I remember the drive to the airport like it was yesterday. I remember saying goodbye to the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, good bye Southern State Parkway, Goodbye asshole drivers, goodbye dumb people with obnoxious bumper stickers, goodbye bad Long Island and New York accents, goodbye, goodbye goodbye. Goodbye trees, goodbye humid New York air, goodbye mother who turned me away, goodbye brother who didn’t care, goodbye goodbye goodbye. Goodbye scary ex-husband, goodbye bankruptcy, goodbye bad credit, goodbye goodbye goodbye. And then the tears started to fall. I’ll miss my mother, and bad Long Island accents and the brother I wish I had and the lovers I never met and the life I didn’t have in my home town. I thought of Frank Sinatra singing “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere….” and the tears came some more. I hadn’t made it here – I had failed at marriage, at being a good daughter, good sister, good aunt, good friend. I had no talents to speak of and was incapable of exploring new relationships with men I was interested in.  I know I projected an air of confidence and positivity but inside I felt a failure in so many ways. I knew with confidence that starting over in another country would give me the clean slate I so desperately wanted.

Pulling into the airport I remember the glow of it. The glow of the white beams above me, the light from the skylights above shining into the pristine cathedral-like terminal from clear blue skies and sunshine. I loved it. I loved being in the airport. I checked in for my flight with quivering hands and lips on the verge of tears.  I checked my bags and found a big surprise waiting for me. Annie, MaryEllen and Gina, three of my closest friends from work waiting with hugs and kisses to say goodbye to me. I was so excited and beyond touched that they sneakily found out my flight and terminal number and met me there. We had our final laughs and hugs and said goodbye and I cried some more. I was moved, really moved that they came to see me off.  Then off I went onto the security line, fitting in last waves and air-blown kisses. I placed my shoes, coin purse and cell phone in the tray on the belt, and crossed into the terminal.  Alone.  Waiting for my eight our flight to board and take me to my new life. My stomach was doing a dance and cramping up. I was getting nervous and excited all at once.  What will it be like? What if no one is waiting for me at the airport? What if I hate it there? I signed a three year contract! Three years.  What was I thinking!  I want my mommy…. I went to the magazine shop in the Duty Free and bought some junk-food magazines, things like People and Us, just to get my mind off my anxiety. I was not going to let myself have an anxiety attack after having gotten over that years ago…

Then we boarded. The seatbelt safety speech. The low dings that happen on the plane to signal the crew to belt up themselves and prepare for takeoff. And the roar of the engines. My heart was pounding. I looked out the window. The sun had just sunk into the city and New York had that golden pink summertime night glow. The lights from the buildings were twinkling as the plane rushed up the tarmac. And finally…. lift… we were in the air, hovering above New York and I thought of the R.E.M song Leaving New York’s Never Easy…. and it wasn’t. It was hard. My heart hurt. I couldn’t understand that feeling because I wanted to leave so badly. But it was hurting now and I felt a tug that went from my heart to my throat to and way back down to my stomach, then straight down to my legs. And we were up in the air and New York was a tiny speck on the coast of a land mass. Then there was water, then clouds then darkness. I watched three movies in a row and ate horrible plane food and did not sleep. My eyes burned on the flight from being that dry after you cry dry, combined with the air conditioning that circulates on the plane. I wondered where all the people around me were going after they landed? To work, like me? On holiday? Back home? To visit family? Were they escaping something? Starting something? It was interesting to me and I made stories about the strange faces around me as I observed them.

I landed in Milan’s Linate Airport. It was a small 1950’s throwback airport located just outside the city’s center. I was greeted by Day Jones and was thrilled to see his familiar smile. He greeted me with the famous Italian kiss… two cheeks, two air kisses, and escorted me to the car where Claudio, the do everything guy from the school, drove me up to the school just south of the center of Milan. The school was literally located in the middle of riso (rice) fields. It was hot and humid. I checked in at the school, meeting the lovely secretary, Tina, who gave me my apartment keys and instructions for how to open the door. You might laugh while reading this, but the key was a skeleton key half the length of my forearm. The instruction was to turn the key three or four times before it would unlock. Well, I’ll spare you the details here… it took a lot more than three or four turns. In fact, one of the senior staff members on the orientation committee who delivered me to the Via Mose apartment even had trouble opening it. Anyway, I got in and was shocked at the size of the place. It was HUGE. It was dated- circa 1960’s grandmother’s apartment. It was a two bedroom, with a large common space and a big kitchen- bigger than the one in my mother’s house and a bathroom complete with bathtub/shower, toilet, bidet and a washing machine. The entire apartment had the same cold floor that was black, brown and white speckles. I’d come to find later that this was typical of older Italian apartments. No carpeting anywhere. It was spotless but the orange couch and green chair in the living room looked like they’d seen better days. My roommate hadn’t arrived yet. Apparently, she was delayed because she was traveling from Hawaii. She missed one of her connections on the way and was expected later that evening. So I chose my room which had a large armoire and french doors leading to one of the two balconies in the apartment. The other was off the common area. The balcony was large enough to have at least two chairs but they were empty. So, I plopped myself on the squeaky thin mattress in my room and thought I’m home.

The plan was to allow new teachers to get settled and rest for a few hours then meet at the school later to go into Milan for our first Pizza Dinner. I was a vegan for three years before I arrived in Milan and was worried about the cheese. I figured I’d have a salad and not make a big deal about it. On the way out, I met my upstairs neighbor, Juliet, a smiley Pennsylvania native with very wholesome looks. She sounded smart when she spoke- you know, the way some people do- and I’d come to later learn she was a graduate of Yale. This impressed me. Everyone was smiles and big hellos when we arrived at the pizza place. It was a full- on restaurant complete with white table cloths and tables pushed together into u-shaped formation, set for some of the staff and all the new teachers at the school. I felt shy and a little nervous when we walked in… so many new faces… Everyone checked out the new people as they entered. It was obvious we were all sizing each other up- who would be cool to sit with, who looks friendly… such a strange set of circumstances! I felt intimidated and nervous and stayed close to Juliet who was pleasant and open and also thought the whole scene was slightly bizarre.

We were seated at the table and the smells were getting to me now. As soon as we entered the restaurant we were hit with the smell of pizzas being cooked in the wood-burning brick oven. There was wine on the table- red and white- not in bottles but in clear chubby glass pitchers. There were glass bottles of water being passed around and people were already passing around plates of grilled vegetables and olives drowning in glistening olive oil. Prego! the waiter announced stretching out his hand to show us to our seats. The social nervousness I was feeling was mixed with my breath being taken away by my surroundings. The waiters were dressed in black pants and crisp white shits with black vests and black ties. It wasn’t fancy – just the opposite- it all seemed very homey. Because we were such a large group, We were never handed menus. The antipasti, which included grilled eggplant, zucchini and roasted red peppers was accompanied by wine. There were prepackaged long, skinny breadsticks standing up in stout clear glasses at every third place setting. There was small talk in English filling the room mixed with the waitstaff calling out to each other in Italian which made me giggle. Little to myself. It sounded nothing like the Brooklyn Italian I’d heard spoken by friends family members in New York, that’s for sure. It was musical Italian. Delicious to my ears. Just as delicious as the simple glistening vegetables being served. When the pizzas came out my mouth immediately began to salivate. Little pizzas that looked nothing like New York pizza- it was smaller and paler in color and there were all kinds- pizza margherita which was what we would call a plain pizza, garnished with a sprig of fresh basil, pizza al funghi which was a mushroom pizza, pizza diavolo a spicy pepperoni pizza and pizza quatro formaggio a four cheese pizza, and finally pizza ortolana a vegetarian pizza with a few slices of the same thinly sliced zucchini and eggplant that we were served for antipasti. I took a slice of ortolana and bit into heaven. Goodbye veganism… And ciao Italia!!

Just as we were moving on to dessert, in walked Julie, my roommate and April, Juliet’s roommate. They had met at the job fair where they were hired and were happy to see each other. Juliet and I were sitting in an awkward spot, slightly too far away to say proper hellos, but we all waved and smiled cheerily at each other. Eventually the evening wound down and we carpooled back to our respective apartments. Julie and I spoke briefly when we got to the apartment. We caught up on all the basics- this wholesome cheery midwesterner with the big bright smile and bouncy blond hair and crystal blue eyes was from Minnesota. I’d never met anyone from Minnesota. I had no idea what to think. But she seemed nice enough.

I don’t remember much else about our first conversation that night but I remember very clearly what it was like going to bed that night. I remembered lying on the squeaky thin mattress trying to get comfortable. I was exhilarated by the discomfort and newness all at once. I looked out the open French doors, out over the balcony, and from my bed on that hot summer night I could see the ceramic roof tiles of the buildings out beyond our apartment building. The sky looked different to me. Italian. I could not believe I was in that little bed, with a girl from Minnesota in the next room in our Italian apartment. I was in Italy. Italia.

I was home.

I made three moves within a year.   It was difficult for me to leave the cottage.  It had been my liberation and prison at once.  I began painting there.  I grew flowers and hid from the world there.  I forced myself to spend time with myself in that  shingled oasis.  I faced my demons in that cottage and came out alive.  I shed my old skin, opened brave new eyes and set out on a fresh, new start.

I moved in with Dawn, my closest and dearest friend for about six months in her apartment in Cedarhurst, Long Island.  I moved in with Dawn so we could be together, split expenses, and really so I could keep an eye on her during the very tense living situation she was in.  Her little girl did not understand what was happening to her parents.  It was a good idea for a while, but eventually I felt I was crowding her life and somehow making things more confusing for her and her daughter.  Also, very simply, I was probably sticking my nose where it did not belong.  I was feeling a bit stronger now and did not like the way her soon to be ex-husband was treating her.  There were many late nights that summer when we stayed up talking in the dark, the only light coming from the moon and the street lights just below the window.  We sat on the living room floor surrounded by her daughter’s toys.  We talked for hours about past lovers, art, books and the book she was writing.  I became her editor.  Long stretches of the day were spent with her writing in one room and me editing in another.  We met in the kitchen taking breaks and got ready for her daughter’s return home from pre-school.  Times when it was just the two of us were spent talking about the day I would get her published and how we would both be wildly successful in the literary world.  I did send sample pages to publishing houses – big ones – naming myself as her editor and agent.  I don’t know who I thought I was back then but I was raw and so confident in her ability as a writer.  Dawn and I were always so close.  We were very powerful together during those years.  Psychically so.  One night, we were talking about one of her former romantic flames whom she had not seen or heard from in at least ten years.  She knew through others that he had move out of the state but confessed to me she felt he was close.   We talked through the night about her fond and not so fond memories.  I was filled with the knowing that we could find him.  It was as though a magnet were drawing us to him.  The next day we got in the car, I began driving, and less that an hour later we found him.  Through the entire car ride I asked questions about his routines, where his old stops were after work…. and as she spoke I drove, turning the car, stopping, going….  Somehow we were in a parking lot, she went into the store and they walked right into each other in the frozen food aisle.  They had not seen each other in over ten years.  It was like finding a needle in a haystack.  Totally impossible, completely incredible and if we weren’t both there to witness these events unfurl, I am sure neither one of us would believe the other.  We have gone in and out of each others lives for various reasons over the years, always at crucial moments.  I am happy to say we are still close now.  Perhaps closer than ever.  We are true sisters.

While living with Dawn, I began speaking to and visiting my mother on occasion.  It seemed silly that she should be in that big house all alone.  She asked me many times to move back home with her, but I was anxious about it.  Honestly I did not know if I could trust her.  How could she ever begin to understand what I had gone through?  How could I let her mother me again?  Eventually I moved in with her again so I could save money to finally divorce Tommy.  I was getting to the point where I was wanting to date again and felt there was no way I could while still being married, even though I had not seen his face in nearly four years.  Dawn needed her space and I needed to heal the relationship with my mother.

One of the things my therapist suggested (before he dumped me) was to treat myself to “dates”.  Small, affordable outings that would please me and bring back my sense of independence.  Solo adventures.  After our last session, I think it was a few months after, I began doing just that.  In an effort to earn extra cash, I signed up to teach a Saturday morning program at school which ended around noon.  Since I was commuting into The Bronx, I decided to explore Manhattan instead returning home immediately.  I bought a small map of Manhattan in an effort to manhattannavigate the subway lines and decided the first place I would visit was The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I took the time to walk from Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street all the way up Madison Avenue to 82nd street and 5th Avenue.  I loved those walks.  I’d pass the cafes and shops and daydream of days when I would be able to afford the designer shoes, handbags and dresses that adorned the windows.  I’d people watch as I strolled up Madison Avenue – watching well groomed, well adorned ladies with their little dogs and alongside them, homeless people setting up camp alongside garbage dumpsters just slightly out of view.  How could the world be so weird and wonderful and cruel?  I continued on my walk, wide-eyed and aware of just about everything and everyone around me.

Growing up on Long Island, my visits to Manhattan, or “The City” as we called it,  were reserved for yearly attendance to see The Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall and very special family dinners.  Reintroducing myself to Manhattan, on my terms, allowed me for those few hours on Saturdays to feel like a wide eyed tourist; amazed by the architecture, people, rushing taxis and smells of everything from urine to hot dogs to fresh coffee brewing.  And even as I got lost in the streets of Manhattan, wandering aimlessly and discovering the things I loved, I could not help but look around at the countless faces and eyes expecting to suddenly see Tommy, my estranged husband.  It had been years since I’d seen him but I remember his words to me, You’ll always be looking over your shoulder.  one day I’ll be there.  I’ll find you”.  In a city of eight million people, could he really find me?  Does he know where I am, what I’m doing?  I tried to push these thoughts aside, brush them off as crazy.  I needed this time to myself.  This was my time.  He was in the past.  I needed to put him in the past for good. 

It was my routine on those Saturday Dates with Myself, that I would walk my way up from Penn Station to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Sometimes I would walk up the East Side of Manhattan – Straight up Madison Avenue to 79th Street and then to the entrance of the Met.  Sometimes I would go up the Westside of Manhattan – up Broadway, to Lincoln Center.  I’d buy myself a new pen or notebook at the now defunked Lincoln Stationers and stop at the Lincoln Center Cinemas where I could lose myself in an arthouse film or foreign film with English subtitles.  Then I would get myself something to eat at Ollie’s Noodles or Sushi Dan.  I’d stroll along the shops and cafes on Columbus, dreaming of another life.  I became familiar with the shops and eateries on the Upper West Side and especially with the giant Barnes and Noble Bookstore just directly across from Lincoln Center.  It too has since been turned into a clothing store, but in those days I would sit around for hours reading and finding incredible new books and classics I had been meaning to read.  I loved those Saturdays.  They really did restart me and get me feeling more confident.

*     *     *

One of those Saturdays, when we were finished with our students and waiting to receive our paychecks, another teacher approached me. Heather was a teacher in the 5th grade and also working the saturday program.  She began with some small talk then asked me what my plans were for the following school year.  I told her I wanted to leave our little school in The Bronx because of all the governmental changes happening in education at the time.  No Child Left Behind, George W. Bush’s pet project, was turning education into a big mess. Reading and math “programs” were purchased.  We had to account for the exact time we would be teaching a specific lesson and what page number we would be working on with the class – and when auditors came to check on us, we needed show that we were on schedule.  We were beginning to feel the effects already in our school and it was a presidential election year.   I swore, jokingly, that I would leave the country if Bush was re-elected.   I could feel the collective grass-roots atmosphere of our school beginning to shift and change.  Teachers were beginning to feel defeated.   Fighting the good fight was turning into following orders and collecting a paycheck.  I did not want that to happen to me.  I told Heather I was unsure of my plans but that I had started applying to surrounding suburban districts with no luck.  She announced, “Oh I’m going to teach in London and I’m going to marry a British guy.”  London?! Marry??  My eyes widened, as it was something I never expected to hear from her.  I didn’t know her well then, just some friendly chatting around school, and I was taken aback by her confidence and determination. She laughed a little and explained to me that she had worked in Australia, and though she did not have a position secured in London, it was still early and she did not anticipate any difficulty in finding a job.  She then asked me the magic question… Would you be interested in doing this?   I immediately could not begin to conceive of how this could work for me… How could I leave New York?  How would I get there?  I don’t even have a credit card!  Could I live in another country? What about my friends, my stuff my life??  Truth was, I didn’t have very much stuff, since I had left it all behind the night I left Tommy.  Heather gave me the information I needed to begin the process.  There would be an agency I needed to register with, attend a job fair (in Bethesda, Maryland) where I would be interviewed, etc.  I remember sitting down in front of the computer that night feeling overwhelmed and deciding not to bother.  Crazy idea, after all.  Crazy.  Who goes to another country for work?  But Heather called.  She stayed on the phone with me until I was registered.  She called me every day giving me tips to improve my application, letting me know about openings, and pushing me.  I was so scared and suspicious of the whole process.  I think Heather must have sensed this.  She continued to stay on top of me.  Calling, checking in, not letting up. Eventually the months rolled by.  I was able to save enough money for a divorce and bankruptcy to free me from the debt that Tommy had accrued in my name.  I found out from one of his family members where he was living, had Tommy subpoenaed with Divorce Papers.

By March I was officially divorced.

By May I was at the Job Fair in Bethesda.   It was an odd setup.  The three day conference was held at a hotel.  There were lots of other candidates there some older, some younger than my thirty one years.  Most of them came from various cities along the east coast to interview  with the headmasters and directors of International and American schools located in cities scattered across Europe, Asia, The Middle East and Africa.  On the first day, I received a folder in which schools who wanted to interview me placed a note requesting an appointment.  When I checked my folder, it was stuffed full.  I was in total shock.  After writing in all my interview requests, I realized I had a full day ahead of me.  I had four interviews all scheduled before 11:00am:  Morocco, Dusseldorf, Moscow, Milan, Turkey. I don’t know which schools wanted to interview me in the afternoon but I do remember my appointment card was full.  In the morning I interviewed with the guy from Morocco who spend more than half our allotted interview time telling me how I would have to wear a Burka and it would not be an easy life on my own as a single woman.  I felt like reminding him that I lived in New York – if any place is not easy to be a single woman, it’s New York!  But I thanked him, decided I had no idea if it would be difficult in Morocco but that I would like to continue interviewing before making a decision.  Mr. Dusseldorf talked about the beauty of Germany and the stability of his school but warned me of massive tax deductions that might make life difficult for me there.  The gentleman from Moscow warned that winters would be difficult but spoke more about the curriculum which sounded interesting.   When I got to the Milan school, the gentleman who interviewed me spoke very seriously about my training, teaching philosophy and asked what I hoped to find in a new school.  He asked why I was looking for an overseas experience and explained his program to me.  It sounded interesting.  Like a good fit.  He offered to call a teacher at his school so I could ask her questions about living in Italy.  But I wanted to go to Amsterdam.  I had no interest in Italy whatsoever.  I spoke to Mary anyway, for about twenty minutes, and all I remember about that conversation was how she and her husband grew their own beautiful tomatoes in their back yard.  The Lower School Head, Mr. Day Jones, finally offered me a contract, to which I hesitated in signing. He said to me Did you ever see the movie Under The Tuscan Sun?  Yes! I replied, I love that movie!  You’re life is going to be just like that movie… what do I need to do to convince you that you should sign this contract?  I need to call my mother.  Ok.  you have twenty minutes.  Go call your mother.  If you don’t come back in twenty minutes, I’m giving the job to someone else.  I ran out the door, ran down to the lobby and called my mother on Long Island.  She yelled into the phone to take the job in Milano!  Don’t be crazy!  Go to Milano!  She was thrilled.  I didn’t even know where Milan was on the map.  Embarassing!

I signed the contract less than twenty minutes later.  Day gave me my first Italian kiss – one peck on both cheeks, and congratulated me.

Three months later, in August 2005 I was on an Alitalia flight direct to Milan, Italy.

My life would never be the same again.

map_of_italy

I had been physically separated from my husband for a little over three years.

The bruises on my body had long since healed and I had worked with a therapist to clear away the stains of emotional abuse I’d suffered during my time with Tommy.  I was making good progress, no longer feeling the need to take medication to control panic attacks which had subsided and became almost non-existant.  It was a good thing, too, because at one of our therapy sessions my doctor mentioned he would no longer be able to continue therapy with me.  He announced at our last session that he was moving to Florida for retirement and was very sorry.  There was another doctor he recommended but I was feeling a little let down and shocked by his announcement.  There would be no more sessions. I was on my own. Dumped by my therapist.

 

I was beginning to outgrow the cottage in Brewster.  I felt as though the walls were closing in on me.  I had hoped it would be my safe place.  My solace.  It slowly turned into a self-imposed prison cell.  I was thirty two years old and instead of feeling the need to plant roots, I was feeling the itch to move on.  I knew I had to change my financial situation in order to finally rid myself of this invisible noose I called marriage.  I hadn’t seen Tommy in nearly three years at this point.  When a friend suggested I start dating, it simply didn’t feel right.  I would have to begin with a lie, telling a potential romantic partner that I was divorced or, even more embarrassing, telling them that I was unable to obtain a divorce for financial reasons (and because I did not know the whereabouts of my estranged husband).  Too much complicated business to have to explain to some poor unsuspecting soul.  It felt easier to stay single for a while.  Besides, I could not imagine allowing someone into my life yet.  I wasn’t getting any younger and my desperation to have children was no longer foremost on my mind but hovered somewhere behind me.  Friends around me were beginning to move in with serious boyfriends or marry and begin families.  I wanted to be a supportive participant of those conversations about plans and color choices for dresses and layettes but something inside me was frustrated beyond articulation.  Why did they get to have these neat little lives?  With Families that supported them, stood by them and loved them?  Why did my mother turn away from me for so long?  Why did I have virtually no relationship with my brother?  Why didn’t I have any long-standing friends in my life?  How could I have wound up with such a poor choice for a husband? What was wrong with me?  I could no longer imagine myself sharing a life with anyone.  I especially could not imagine raising a child.

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve always been an enthusiastic watcher of talk shows.  As a child of the 70′sI grew up watching The Dick Cavitt Show, The Dinah Shore Show and my personal favorite, The Mike Douglas Show long before Phil Donahue, Oprah and Dr. Phil hit the scene.  In fact, as little girl, I would pretend I was famous and being interviewed by Mike Douglas. The Magic of Believing Anyway, this one particular day I was watching T.V. and I came across an old interview with Phyllis Diller, the comedienne and star of many movies and variety shows, on one of the old talk shows.  I think it was Johnny Carson or Dick Cavett.  They were discussing a book.  Apparently this book had changed Phyllis Diller’s life and led her on a path of success and wealth.  She spoke about it so eloquently about how there were techniques and tools she used throughout her career to stay on a particular path.  She was clear to remark that the book did not discuss God, or religion, that it simply focused on the individual and their ability to achieve whatever it is they wanted simply through a system of self improvement and belief in one’s path.  Johnny was intrigued.  So was I.  I was certainly no big fan of Phyllis Dillers, but I knew she was in show business and she was sitting across from Johnny Carson discussing her lengthy successful career.  The book was called The Magic Of Believing by Claude M. Bristol.  I decided in that moment that I had to get this book.  It was just what I needed to get on with my life.  I got up, got in the car, drove to the nearest bookstore and bought the book.  I came home and began reading.  As was my habit, I underlined things, made notes in the margins and reread.  I read the whole book in one sitting, well into the night.  When I was done, I flipped to certain parts and read them again, and again.  Just when I thought I understaood something, I read it again.  It spoke to me.  The book, though somewhat antiquated in its use of language, used examples of bits and pieces of the Magic of Believing in people’s lives – everyone from J.D. Rockefeller to Angela Lansbury was quoted in the book as having applied the principals discussed in the book; having a clear focus, using visualization techniques, positive thinking, language and putting a plan into action.  Sounds basic and perhaps the same as countless other self-help books but this one spoke to me.  Loud and clear.  It was also one of the grandaddies of self help books.  Countless others use the principles put forth in Bristol’s book.  I felt as though I had the ticket to a life in my hands.  A great life.  One I would be excited about participating in.

No more hiding.  No more surviving.  I was ready to live.

 

 

I continued with medication and therapy sessions for quite some time.

I think it was two years with the same therapist.  All during that time, I was painting.  My inability to keep my mind steady showed in my Pink_House_by_happycurlgirlpaintings.  I was not formally trained as a painter, and almost immediately recognized I had no talent for it.  It felt good to do it, to smell the paints, feel the brush in my hands and do something that resulted in a product.  Something tangible.  The conversations I had with Dawn, my soulmate and artistic advisor over the phone, helped me to begin experimenting with the medium, though I see them now as feeble attempts at art.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, these paintings were not conscious in terms of how I chose my subject matter.  I took inspiration from the neighborhood surrounding the cottage where I was living (pink house) and the cover of an LL Bean catalogue.  My skies were unnaturally curved, the light was all wrong on both but I was so proud of the white picket fence I made surrounding the black house.  I remember using a matchbook cover to make the lines straight and as even as possible.  It took two weekend sessions for me to complete the fence alone. The third painting here shows a mountain top from an odd perspective.  I can’t help but feel now, that I want to see what’s on the other side.  Is it more land or the ocean?  Maybe another house?  I have no idea what I was thinking then or why I created that image, but it seems I could not see beyond the trees literally and metaphorically.  Looking these paintings now, I notice the solitary stance of the houses, the emptiness of them and the unnatural stillness that hovers over the trees and houses.  I suppose this is what I was feeling at the time, but could not articulate that.  I was painting my solitude and fear.  I see that now.

 

There were numerous incidents with my estranged husband that left me vulnerable and bruised internally.  There was the time I left work to find my car was not where I had parked it.  I went to the precinct which was next to my school building to report it stolen and they informed me it had not been stolen.  The car had been towed for over $1,500 in parking tickets and other violations I did not know about – obviously from Tommy’s misuse of my car.  I had to borrow money from a colleague to get my car back the next day – almost $3,000 because it was impounded by the city and there were other fees.  Another time, there were papers I received from New York State Motor Vehicles Department informing me that I needed to pay to re-register my boat.  Well, yes, the boat was registered to me but with all that happened, I completely forgot about it.  I went to look for the boat one weekend.  On the drive down to Long Island I remember thinking that if Tommy were to see me driving into town he would probably kill me.  I was prepared to die.  I thought to myself, Things are so complicated and difficult for me now.  I can’t possibly get myself out of these messes alone; money, cars, boats, the endless abyss of loneliness and crippling fear – If you’re going to take me this way Lord, let it be quick and leave my body in a state that my mother can still bury me in one piece.   I parked, walked up and down the slips where boats were docked but my boat was no longer at the slip where we had kept it the season before.  I walked to the red dock house and asked the Dock Master where it might be.  He simply said “It’s your fucking boat, don’t you know where it is?  It’s kinda hard to lose a boat”.  Embarrassed and angry at once I told him my story.  He simply said “Yeah, I know who you fucking are.  I recognize you.  Go ask Tommy where his boat is.  I don’t know where your boat is.  Get the fuck off my property”.   I ripped the registration papers into a million pieces and left.  To this day, I have never found that boat.

*     *     *

I juggled my two lives fairly well.  I was the devoted professional teacher by day and the tortured scared victim in the lonely walls of my little cottage.  The high of having my own place, of having survived my husband’s insanity quickly evaporated and left me feeling paranoid, scared and alone.  There were days that melted into nights and then into new days again without a moment of sleep.  There were endless cigarettes and sporadic eating and overeating.   There were dreams I daydreamed while lying on my bed ignoring the sunlight just outside my door.  And there were the day long phone conversations with my closest friend Dawn, the only person who knew absolutely all of this at the time.  She talked me through it and listened.  We laughed, we cried we talked about her writing and my fears.  We talked on the phone so much that we killed batteries in cordless phones and got neck aches and red hot burning ears that lasted long after our conversations ended.  We ate meals together over the phone and I painted while she read me her latest pieces of writing.  There were many important relationships with friends I had during that time but Dawn was different.  I told her every minuscule detail of my day, which is a good thing because I have since forgotten (blocked out?) so much. She knows all my warts.  All my successes.  Our bond was intense and immeasurable.  Thank God, it still is.

*     *     *

One day, I was home alone in the cottage. It was sunny Saturday afternoon when the phone rang.  It was Tommy.

I never thought he would find me but somehow he did.  My heart pounded furiously in my chest at the first sound of his voice.  My face grew red, ears were burning.  My chest grew hot with fear.  My mind was swirling with disbelief and confusion.  Surprise, I found you, triumph in his voice.  He told me he would never pay to divorce me.  He said he would find me or my mother and one of us would pay for my leaving him.  He called me a variety of names and threatened me.  Of course I was shaking – was he near the cottage, in the driveway?  How did he get my number?  Why couldn’t he just leave me alone?  If he knows the phone number does he know where I live? – I told him I couldn’t afford to pay for a divorce.  He asked where I was living, what I was doing but I did not tell him.  I asked for his contact information so I could serve him his divorce papers when I did get the money to divorce him. He refused to give me an address, a phone number, anything.  He told me I would always have to look over my shoulder and wonder where he was.  He said he could appear at any moment and destroy me.  I believed him.

When he hung up, I ran around the cottage, peering out each window carefully to see if I saw any sign of him.  I tried to calm myself, took a Klonopin and sat down on the corner of the bed.  I could not relax, so I took another pill.  I was scared to call anyone, thinking maybe the phone line was tapped.  Then it occurred to me that maybe someone I knew gave him my phone number.  Who would do that?  When?  How?  I was becoming delusional.  My thoughts were running in circles and twisting into themselves. How could he still turn me inside out?  Over the phone no less?  Why was I allowing him to have this power over me?  

That’s when it hit me.  I would have to face my fears and begin dealing with things. Fight the dragon. Slay the dragon. If I survived his beatings and the words he spat at me, then I would have to make a real life for myself and stop hiding in my little cottage.  No more hiding.  No more fear. Cars, boats, credit issues, divorces… all these were changeable.  I had my life.  I had my life.

That’s when I decided to grab life by the balls and turn things around.

Black_House_by_happycurlgirlmountain_view_by_happycurlgirl

I was now a full-fledged teacher in an elementary school.

8239

I was well into my second full year in the classroom.  About mid-year, still living in that little cottage in Brewster miles from The City, when I decided to take a drive to Woodstock, New York.  It was just over the Hudson River and just slightly north of where I was living.  I was born in August of 1969, the same month and year of the famed Woodstock Concert on Max Yazgur’s Farm named for the sleepy farm town where it took place.  I had grown up with my older brother playing all kinds of music but I was mostly drawn to the sounds of the hippie era.  I was now in the position of having a car and plenty of extra time on my hands.  So, one beautiful fall Sunday, I studied a map, and began on the ninety minute drive to the hippie town I’d always wanted to visit.

I remember the drive was simple enough. I drove with very little traffic, the sun beaming through the dash window warming my face and skin.  I was feeling good.  Alive.  I remember thinking as I drove, that I might buy some vegetables from a farm stand, get an ice cream and walk around the town I’d heard so much about.  I arrived.  It was quaint – filled with jewelry shops, cafes and art shops.  Not as hippie as I thought it might be, but cute and worth exploring.  I pulled my little black Nissan over into a parking space just off the main road of the town’s center, turned the ignition off and opened the door.  It was as though my foot were stuck in cement.  I couldn’t move.  My skin became ice cold and I began sweating.  My heart was pounding.  I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of fear and paranoia.  I felt as though passers by were staring at me.  Tommy might somehow know where I was and kill me.  I was in full throttle panic mode.  Heart pounding so rapidly now, I could hear it in my burning ears. Barely able to breathe, I slammed the door shut, buckled my safety belt, and turned the engine on.  I began driving back down the road which led me to this town, back onto the highway and back to my cottage.  Back to safety.  When I was home again, lying on my bed, I could not relax.  Could not keep still.  I bounced up off the bed and paced the floor furiously, mad at myself for ruining what could have been a much needed afternoon retreat.  I pounded my thighs as I paced, walking from the bedroom to the kitchen and back again.  The sun was setting outside.  The dogs on the lawn were barking and I could hear the distant sounds of wild turkeys gobbling in the woods beyond the stone fence.  My loneliness and seclusion had overwhelmed me and life was continuing just outside my door.  I felt like a failure.  Defeated.

The next day was work and routine again.  I smiled and laughed and worked with kids.  I ate lunch with my teacher friends Helen, Tricia, Taly, Patty, Eva and Evelinda.  We laughed complained, planned and got on with our day.  As the end of the day grew closer, when everyone was looking forward to punching out at the time clock and getting home, I felt that pounding feeling in my chest again.  My days went on like this for a few weeks. I had suffered from insomnia since leaving my husband, and it was finally beginning to take its toll.  Still unable to write, I would paint well into the wee hours of the morning and chain smoke cigarettes – my new vice – and wait for the sun to rise so I could get ready for work.  Oddly, the paintings I made during this time were of calm blue skies, stately homes and white picket fences.  Perhaps my subconscious was recording what I wanted – safety, security and calm.  My body was a mess, my mid flooded with fear, thoughts of paranoia that Tommy would somehow find me and kill me finally.  The only place I felt safe was at work.  I was smart enough to know that suicide was not the way out of this – that there might be a way to deal with my confusion – but thoughts of suicide were constant and tempting.  On the last night my husband beat me, he kept repeating No one loves you, no one cares about you – you are nothing and no one…I believed him when the words spilled from his lips that night and now felt his words were truer than I was able to admit. Way down deep in my core I believed his words to be true

Two months after that horrible Sunday in Woodstock I finally looked into the book of providers sent to me by my health insurance company.  I searched for psychiatrists and found one in Riverdale, not far from where I was working in The Bronx.  I began sessions with a doctor whose name I can no longer remember.  He asked me why I was there and I told him I wasn’t sure.  He began asking me about work and my living situation… eventually I began telling him about Woodstock and what I had experienced recently, which led him to ask about my husband and my marriage.  That’s when I started crying.  For the first time in two years I cried.  The tears came and could not stop.  He told me what happened in Woodstock was a panic attack and introduced the idea of taking medication to balance me and keep me calm so I could get through my days and weekends relatively peacefully. I was prescribed a low dose of Paxil to take daily and Klonopin to take if I felt an attack coming on. I was against taking the pills but he assured me that it would only be temporary and that I would need to continue therapy while I was taking the meds. And so it went.

It took a few weeks for the medication to really have an effect on me.  In fact, I noticed some weight gain before I noticed a feeling of calm that the Dr. had promised.  I had a few more panic attacks – all on the weekends – when I first began taking the medication.  After a few months I wasn’t having them as frequently and was now looking forward to my therapy sessions.  I was beginning to trust this doctor and certainly became more reflective about why I behaved in certain ways, why I was attracting the wrong male figures in my life and how I could begin to overcome my insecurities.  I continued to see him mostly once a week, then twice a week for a time, then every other week as I felt there was some improvement.  It was through therapy that I realized what I was calling “autopilot” was actually a defense mechanism manifestation due to the major trauma I suffered as a result of my being the victim of abuse by my now estranged husband.  The physical abuse had occurred on isolated occasions, but it was the repeated, daily mental and emotional abuse that I was fighting.  Although my professional life was taking off and I felt I was making progress with therapy, I was completely insecure and unable to complete simple tasks without feeling nervous and paranoid.

No one knew how much I suffered when I closed the cottage door.  To the outside world I was a normal, happy person.  But his words, like an endless loop tape in my head played on you’re nobody, nothing, no one cares about you…

imagesTime marched on.

Less than three months after leaving my husband, just two years after our wedding day, I moved into my own apartment in Brewster, NY.  It was a two room cottage on a country road littered with stone fences and mile-long gravel covered driveways.  There were trees – pines, oaks and maples – taller than any I had known on Long Island.  My little cottage sat on a ten-acre parcel of land.  The landlord lived in the main house just fifty yards behind the cottage.  His two bear-like dogs, one a sandy colored Labrador and the other a black Rottweiler, roamed the grounds chased squirrels and lounged on the grass at the foot of my front porch.  When inside the cottage only the chirping birds and the occasional whoosh of passing cars on the road beyond the stone fence could be heard.  It was a safe haven, a retreat from the chaos of my former life and I knew I would feel at peace there.  Eventually.

Just two weeks after moving into the cottage, I was offered a student teaching post at a school in The Bronx, some thirty miles from my new home.  I was partnered with an experienced First Grade teacher named Helen.  I quickly came to learn that Helen was well respected by her professional peers for her structured classroom management skills and her firm but loving way with students.  She welcomed me into her classroom and taught me everything I didn’t learn in my graduate studies about what it really meant to be an effective teacher of children.  We worked hard and spent every moment outside of class time planning and preparing for the next session.  Most of the teachers in the surrounding classrooms gathered together in Helen’s room for lunch, checking in about what lessons went well, which copies needed to be made and how we would divide up the preparation of specific subject areas.  We laughed much and shared stories about our students.  I began to fall in love with my new profession and the women who supported my development as a teacher.  Helen invited me to her home after school one day and over drinks I began telling her the story of my former husband and how I escaped from my former life.  Helen did not judge me, or think less of me when I revealed my brutal history.  She simply offered me another drink and looked into my eyes and said, “When you met me, you met God”.  Many years later when I reminded her of this, she did not remember having said it but it was something I never forgot.  The thing is, when angels come into your life, and many have come into mine, they do not always know the impact they are having.

My six week student teaching experience was coming to an end.  I was called into the Principal’s office and offered a Guided Reading position for the Lower School (grades one through four) which began the day after my student teaching position had ended.  It was now six months after I left my husband, with nothing but the tee-shirt and boxer shorts I was wearing – not even shoes on my feet – and here I was with a full-time job in my new profession and friends who made me feel like I was part of their family.  I woke up each morning grateful for another sunrise, another day of work, and another dollar earned.  I was blessed in ways I could not have imagined just a few months before.

When I was not working I felt the need to somehow document my emotions.  I attempted keeping a journal but after a few lame attempts, found words were unable to capture what I was needing to express.  I made all kinds of excuses to myself – the book was all wrong, the pen was the wrong color or thickness, I did not have a comfortable place to write, and worst of all, I could not form a clear sentence.  Then one day, on the phone with my good friend Dawn whom I had met in the bookstore so many years before, she suggested I try painting.  Dawn, who had always been a writer and artist, explained how I could begin by buying just a few acrylic paints in primary colors, a few basic brushes and paper or cheap pre-stretched canvas to begin with and get a feel for the medium.  My next paycheck quickly vanished into the till of a local art store and I began experimenting with mixing colors and simply brushing them onto the canvas.  I was surprised by how the texture, smell and feel of the brush in my hand had the power to let my mind escape into a new artistic experience.  I wasn’t any good, but man, was I having fun.  I began living in a new rhythm of long drives to work, shuffling from grade level to grade level trying to teach kids to read, then the long drive home, and sleepless nights fogged by chain smoking cigarettes and playing with paints.  Weekends were spent getting errands out of the way in the early morning and losing myself in paint and cigarettes, cigarettes and paint.  There were marathon phone calls to Dawn that lasted hours but I never shed a tear.  I sat staring out the window and watched the leaves on the trees turn color and fall to the ground.  I waited expectantly for new buds to bloom on the once dead branches and was altogether unable to articulate my understanding that time was moving forward.  It took almost a year for me to begin to understand the gravity of what I had been through and where I now found myself.

I was living in seclusion, delving deeper and deeper into solitary confinement.  What I perceived to be my haven was actually becoming a self-induced sentence to aloneness and fear.  The strange thing was that I was excelling at my profession.  I was like a robot at work and an indefinable mass when I was alone in that cottage.  The one thing I had hoped for in my auto-pilot state was to have my own classroom.  I felt ready for the professional challenge and was offered a second grade classroom for the following school year.  I was looking forward to spending lazy days in the cottage painting and smoking and generally doing as I pleased.

As we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray. As it turned out I could teach, but could not do.  Not for a long while, anyway.

Everything I have written about in this blog up to this point has been absolutely true. I have used real names and written about events as accurately as I can. I will admit that the order in which things occurred may well be a bit jumbled but that does not lessen their having happened. Where I have chosen to protect someone’s identity, I have simply not given a name. Starting with this post, I will need to use pseudonyms for at least two people who, I assure you, are very real. I feel I need to do this out of respect for them and their privacy. Perhaps one day I will discuss my writing with them but as you will see, that may not go well. Until then, I feel it is important for me to not use their real names.

When my my not-yet-husband, Tommy, confessed to smoking crack, snorting cocaine, and drinking himself half to death for four days in a local hotel room with his best friend Brian, I felt as though I were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I gave him my fill of name calling, screaming and throwing items around the room. But I stayed. God help me, I stayed. Over the course of the next year, he pulled this disappearing act at least three more times that I can remember. Each time he would cry, I would yell, we would collapse in each other’s arms in tears, make love and move on trying to put it past us. Each time he said he wanted to stop, made efforts to stay clean and we found ourselves right back where we started from. Tommy worked and lost jobs, we fished together and he by himself. We had so many ups and downs it became normal to experience his disappearances, loss of money and cleaning up after the mess he left for us to struggle through. I’ve often thought about why I did stay with him then because I remember how angry I was and how dark and soiled this whole situation felt. Part of me was was hugely embarrassed that I had gotten so deeply invested in him. Another part, I must admit, was a bit excited by the drama of it all. There was certainly never a dull moment with this wild boy-man. Still, another part of me was convinced that with time, patience and love I could certainly fix him and make him love me endlessly. I know much better now and often wish I could have sat down with my younger self and explained all of this. But I have no regrets because I know I needed to learn certain lessons.

So many important events in my career happened that year. The bookstore I was managing and had been with for four years could no longer afford the rising cost of rent for the exclusive North Shore Shopping district it had been a part of. The corporate office told me to fire eighty per cent of the staff and to expect construction to begin on decreasing the size of the once palatial bookstore. My sanctuary was being destroyed and there was nothing I could do about it. Firing people whom I considered my only family was difficult and caused me great upset and sleepless nights. Several staff members were angered that I had fired them despite my attempts to handle the situation as humanely as possible. I was following corporate orders and honestly, glad to have my job. A few months after I had fired everyone, I was handsomely rewarded with the news that my services were no longer needed. They were getting rid of me in order to save money and promote my assistant manager. Since the new space would be reduced to forty-five percent the size of the original space, there would only be a need for one manager, two full timers and one part timer. I had never lost my job before and losing this one was more than just losing a job. It was losing my sanctuary, my friends and family all at once.

One day, Louise announced she was pregnant with Brian’s baby. Brian was overjoyed, but both Tommy and I reacted the same way, feeling sick knowing that both Brian and Louise were still using drugs on a regular basis. At the time, I thought it was reckless of her to get pregnant but a disaster of gargantuan proportions to carry that child to full term and have it. Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, Louise and Brian then told us they were moving to California to get clean and have our baby where there are no drugs or temptations. Louise asked if she could borrow some money to get settled and she would send it back. I told her not to worry about it, that we were friends for life and that I would be happy to just hear about their happy life in California. I had mentally washed my hands of them when they left, hoping Tommy and I could finally get down to the business of repairing what was left of our badly damaged relationship. Tommy breathed a deep sigh of relief, admitting both of them were poison to us for so many reasons and that he was glad to see them go. We knew we would miss their friendship and the laughter but we were happy to get on with our lives in peace.

I was well into the first year of my Master’s degree studies at Hofstra University in the Education Department and working part-time at a high-end department store that was opening a new location on Long Island not too far from where we lived. Tommy was working mornings on the party fishing boats again. He got home about 2:30 in the afternoon and liked to go out on the boat we bought at the beginning of the season. I had taken out $10,000 above what I needed on my student loan and bought a 1964 30ft Chris Craft straight in-board engine boat that was in fair condition and ideal for fishing. It was Tommy’s idea to get the boat. He convinced me it would save us a ton of money on vacations (which we never took) and give us the most use out of our time living near the beach and the inlet where we did most of our fishing. He also convinced me it would be a great way for us to bond and spend time together every evening and weekend. He convinced me that having the boat would connect him to nature again and create a new sense of responsibility; a diversion from being bored which is what so-often lead him to use drugs. Finally I agreed and it made me so happy to see him smiling and feeling useful again.

Tommy was making a real effort to stay sober during this period of time. He decided he could handle having one beer on occasion instead of an entire six pack. In the wake of missing Brian and looking to attract positive people into his life, Tommy decided to reconnect with his estranged cousin Aiden who lived upstate. Aiden and Tommy grew up in the same Bronx neighborhood which was, at the time, mostly Irish-Catholic. They played together, spent holidays together and got into boyhood hijinks together. When Mary, Aiden’s mother, noticed that the neighborhood started to change, becoming less Irish and more Dominican and Puerto Rican and West-Indian, She decided to move herself and her only son Aiden to a “better” part of the Bronx. The part with less drugs and crime. Tommy and his brother Mickey stayed behind and Tommy eventually fell in with the wrong crowd and never got out until he went off to jail. The cousins had on-again off-again contact with each other over the years. Aiden, Tommy’s cousin was married to his high school sweetheart Claire. Aiden and Claire were now parents to two teenage boys and living in Upper Putnam County near the border of Connecticut. Aiden had a good engineering job at the local hospital and Claire was a medical assistant at a local doctor’s office. The cousins chatted, laughed and got caught up. Tommy had railed on about what an angel I was, how smart I was because I had been in college, how I was sweet and classy and not like those bitches from the Bronx. He boasted that he was a new man and that I was the best thing that ever happened to him. and by the end of that phone conversation we were invited to spend the weekend upstate as Tommy would continue to refer to it. He continued to say upstate, though in the big picture of New York State, their town was really considered Downstate. This was a fact Tommy understood but decided it was so far from Long Island, it might as well be upstate. So that was how we always referred to it. Upstate.

We arrived upstate on one of those summer days when there is a cool breeze but the sun leaves your skin warm and smelling of sunshine. I was a bit nervous about meeting Aiden and Claire, as I knew I would be getting the once-over from them. They wanted to see for themselves if everything Tommy said about me was true. I didn’t know what to expect… were they rough talking like him? Would they be educated? Good or bad looking? Cool or warm toward me?…

Aiden and Claire’s house sat on a small hill on a street that had no sidewalks. They had a long blacktop drive way that that had four cars parked on it. Tommy beeped the horn of my Nissan Sentra, and out the loose screen door ran Casey, their German Shepard mutt barking and drooling an excited greeting. Next, Aiden punched the door open. I remember his subtly red hair and big happy smile. He was slightly bow-legged and stood at the same height as Tommy but much slighter build. Aiden never worked out but had a slim build. He had a little paunch of a belly, possibly from a few too many beers over the years but had a friendly smile on his kind, boyish face. Just as the cousins were embracing and back slapping and laughing, out came Claire with a big wave and arms stretched toward me for an embrace. She had shoulder-length blond hair, sharp blue eyes and the body of a little girl. A few extra pounds stayed close to her waist and lower body since having the kids years before but she would not be considered heavy by any means. She was covered in freckles on her face and arms and was cute and very motherly looking. My first impression was that they were two warm, sweet people and had the appearance of being a comfortably married couple who seemed more like brother and sister than husband and wife. I was so relieved… they seemed normal.

We went inside for a bit and had iced tea and some pretzels and potato chips to munch on. Aiden was excited to show Tommy his grill and Claire and I hit it off right away. We talked about her herb garden and the flowers in her front yard and life up in the country. She admitted she was better suited for a life of farmer’s markets and five-mile drives to the local grocery store over city life in The Bronx where they all grew up. We sat all four of us on lawn chairs on the front lawn, sipping iced tea and talking and laughing in our shorts and t-shirts until the sun began to set and the lightening bugs flashed their wares. It was a perfect summer night in the country. The temperature dropped slightly and we all grabbed sweatshirts and began preparing dinner by the grill. We ate, talked and laughed some more. It’s like we had been best friends for years. Tommy was so happy that night. As I was helping Claire clear away some dishes, we met each other’s glance and he looked at me with a tender loving look that told me how much he loved me without speaking a word. That night Tommy and I cuddled up in each other’s arms and slept a restful contented sleep. It was the first in a long time. I felt we were coming back to each other.

In the morning we woke to the sound of Casey barking, the screen door banging and the smells of freshly brewed coffee. Tommy and I showered and dressed and met Aiden, Claire and the boys at the breakfast table. The boys announced they would be going to a local water park with some friends and other parents as escorts. The boys shoved toast in their mouths and guzzled orange juice, grabbed their beach towels and ran out the door. Claire and Aiden high-fived when the screen door slammed behind them confirming their exit. The four of us had the day together to laze about and have fun. We were like peas in a pod; we shared stories, laughed and laughed, Tommy pointing at Aiden and exclaiming on occasion, this guy – you were always a funny motherfucker. We all pitched in to prepare and cook meals. At night, Aiden took us to his pride and joy, his basement bar. He had built it himself to match the exact proportions of his favorite bar in The Bronx, Saints and Sinners. Claire and I drank White Zinfandel and the boys drank beers. I was a little nervous about Tommy drinking, but said nothing in fear of ruining the weekend. By the time we left their place, we had been so happy to have made new fun friends who were also family. The boys were reconnected and I had a great new girlfriend. We planned to go back again in two weeks time. We were all so excited.

It went on like this for about a year. every couple of weeks we went upstate for a visit with them or they came down to Long Island to spend time on the beach. During the winter months we saw each other a bit less but made sure to spend Christmas together. Tommy was keeping his drinking under control. After several conversations with Claire, I decided to try going to Al-Anon meetings to sort out my emotions about Tommy’s drinking. I suppose I was also looking for a support network to talk to when things got rough, as I expected they might. The four of us were like birds of a feather and sincerely enjoyed each other’s company.

By January of the following year, Tommy and I moved one town further inland from the beach. It was closer to where we were docking the boat and consisted of whole first floor of a nice house with a fenced-in yard. In February of that year, Tommy and I got engaged and adopted a baby Rottweiler. She was an adorable puppy…shiny black coat and a cute round face. I named her Maxine because I thought it would be cool to have a dog called “Max”. I got a book about dog training techniques from a friend and began to teach Maxine some simple commands. By spring, we resumed communication of our friends upstate and started making arrangements to see each other. We went up to their place for a week this time. Aiden and Tommy made repairs around the house and Claire and I went to yard sales. At night we lit the wood burning stove in the living room and drank White Zinfandel and beers, talking and laughing. I started to think about what Aiden and Clair’s intimate life was like. Started to wonder who initiated sex between them after so long together, if they were passionate or not. I suppose that happens when you spend a lot of time with another couple. Things were beginning to unravel between Tommy and I despite out engagement. Claire made a fuss about the ring and how pretty it was, but she did not know he had put it on a credit card which I paid the following month.

When the summer rolled around Aiden and Claire were involved with some issues with the kids. It was difficult for us to find a time that worked with all four of our schedules to see each other. Tommy started going out on the boat more frequently because he lost his job again and told me he was continuing to stay dry not drinking at all, not even on the boat. One day I drove up to the dock to tell him about a phone call he received at the house and noticed the boat had taken on about three inches of water. I opened the engine cover, turned the key to start the engine, and pulled the bilge pump to drain the water. When I went under the hull, I found a case of empty beer cans. Some crushed some not, spilling out of the case box. I let the water finish draining, closed the engine cover, turned the key out and left the boat the way I found it. I had suspected he was drinking but previously had no proof. Now I knew. I said nothing that night.

A few weeks later I asked him if he were drinking again. We began to fight. There was screaming and yelling and now barking from Maxine. I told him I was going to leave him, that I had enough of his bullshit. I wanted a life, I said, but not this kind. I packed my things and drove to my mother’s. I hadn’t spoken to her in nearly three years at her insistence. Now that I was home, she asked if it was for good so I lied and told her yes. I was only there for a week.

Less than two months later we were married at City Hall by a Justice of the Peace.

I’d like to say I put a lot of thought and care into deciding on my new plan for switching Master’s Programs at Hofstra University.  The truth is, I was in a relationship and in my mid-twenties and was desperate to have a child.  I had been given an ultimatum by my English Professor: leave my man, or leave the program.  I made my choice.  I thought about career possibilities and came to the conclusion that if I became a teacher I could be home by 3:30 to care for my child and have a solid, steady income that would keep my alcoholic husband, my baby and myself financially stable.  With these thoughts in mind, I requested a place in the Education Department Master’s Program.  Classes would begin in the fall, just a few months away, and I could have the summer to enjoy my management career in the bookstore and have a fun summer now that Louise, my childhood friend was living close by.

Tommy, of course was not very supportive when I announced my change in plans that evening.  He didn’t like that I was planning things without his approval.  I knew that academics was a world he did not know about or understand.  I was independent in at least this one thing and he did not like it.  Eventually he would tell people and brag a bit about my choices to become a teacher when he spoke to  people he respected; potential employers, people in our town and even his mother who he resumed contact with that summer.

My sexual life with Tommy became my drug of choice.  I consumed the scent of his skin.  I  craved his muscular body, how it dominated mine.  He knew how to seduce me and I surrendered to his touch.  A wave of pleasure would come over me, despite my lack of experience with men before him, and I was like a woman possessed drinking in his freckled skin that smelled of soap and the salty sea air.  Living by the beach had made his pale Irish skin turn a soft reddish brown.  What was left of his crown of sparse blonde hair became even more golden as the summer days grew longer.  His crystal blue eyes which once brought a shiver of fear through my body now seemed soft and serene.  A tingle came over me as his mustache tickled the secret parts of my body.  Looking back on this now, I realize I was clumsy and awkward and not very knowledgeable in the ways of love.  I was only beginning to discover the pleasures of lovemaking.  Navigating his body, somehow helped me discover mine.

Views_FromThe_Subconscious_by_happycurlgirl

Lady – Maria McCabe, November 2007, India Ink on Paper

After a one passionate session of lovemaking, he revealed to me that he had a previous relationship with a woman, Madeline,  who he lived with back in The Bronx.  He described them as having a tumultuous live-in romance that ended badly.  Three months after they parted she contacted him to reveal she was pregnant with his child.  He immediately denied it and refused to speak that crazy bitch.  He saw the baby after it was born, at her insistence, denying he was the father.  She was a slut, a whore.  It could have been anyone’s baby.  He told me.  Three years after the child’s birth, Madeline showed up at Tommy’s mother’s house to show her the baby.  As it happened, Tommy was there and both he and his mother could see the resemblance; the big round eyes, the shape of his little body next to Tommy’s was a miniature version of him.  He even had similar mannerisms.  Tommy had contact with Madeline and the child on and off for a year or so, or whenever Tommy felt guilty.  Then nothing.  That’s about the time he went to jail, served his time, got out and met me.  It had been three years since he saw his son.  I asked him if he wanted to contact the child but he admitted he did not want to deal with Madeline and he still had his doubts if the child was really his.  I suggested a paternity test but he was not open to that, so I let the matter drop for a while but it weighed heavy on my mind to think there was a child of his out there and it wasn’t mine.

*     *     *     *     *

By now, Louise and Brian had been living together down the street for a few months.  I came to discover that they were smoking pot quite regularly with Tommy while I was off at work.  Fighting about it, I realized, would get me nowhere.  So I lived in the very comfortable state of denial which I was beginning to know all too well.  My goal was to keep things peaceful while I was with Tommy at home.  He was beginning to open up to me about his childhood, his past criminal behavior and his feelings about people in our social circles.  I was feeling more and more confident that we would make it through this sensitive period and come out stronger for it.  I was beginning to trust him and believe that he was my lover, my protector, my friend.  So one day, when he took my car keys and announced that he was going to the store to get cigarettes, I thought nothing of it.  He gave me a little kiss and walked out the door.  I settled into the couch and flipped on the T.V. waiting for his return.

Now, here’s where things get a bit hazy for me.  Recalling events of the past are funny that way.  Sometimes you can remember every detail of one event and almost nothing of others.  Sometimes the memories float in and out like ghosts.  I didn’t have phone numbers for any of the characters in town who he regularly talked to but I tried to recall which of these I could turn to.  I was worried that something might have happened to Tommy; an accident, a flat tire…..who could I call if I needed help?  There was an older Italian American man who lived on the other side of town who everyone called Johnny Garbage because he worked for the sanitation department for over thirty five years.  He was retired and suffering from a bad case of diabetes, so bad it took three of his toes.  He had a grimy, rude, foul mouthed way of addressing people.  When I first me him, he asked me why I was even with Tommy because I seemed like a nice girl.  He told me to run and dump that bum, that he would only be trouble but I thought that was part of his grumpy act.  There was Jesus look-alike, Mark, who was a former cocaine addict turned Born-Again Christian who owned a local bagel store and was known for fucking all the young girls that worked for him in the back of the bagel shop.  There there was a friend of Tommy’s from Yonkers who he recently came back into contact with.  John was part of the old gang Tommy ran with in The Bronx many years ago.  When they got back in touch a few months before, John came for a visit and told us the story of how he became a cop, got married, bought a house had three little girls and was doing really well.  Tommy had put on a real show for John making it seem everything was perfect with us.  When John left, it was as though we had passed inspection.   Those were the only people I could think of and I didn’t have any of their phone numbers.  I also didn’t have my car and was terrified of leaving the house in case a phone call came.  I remember trying to call his cell phone but it was off.  I was sick with worry, pacing the floor and not knowing what to do.  Brian and Louise were unreachable – not home, not answering their phones.  I remembered they were away visiting with Louise’s mother in Queens and would not be back for at least a week.  I didn’t want to call them anyway.  I saw them as being the source of many of Tommy’s problems with staying sober.  I had no one in my own life to call since I had pushed all my friends out of my life.  I decided he must be at a local bar, which also worried me because he had been so good in the period just before this.  And finally, I couldn’t help myself.. I shuffled through his night table drawer looking through papers, looking for a phone number of anyone who seemed remotely familiar, any hint of anything to help figure out where he was, until finally I found one… a ripped off corner of a paper.  It said John with a phone numbered scrawled on – the area code was Yonkers, so I dialed it.   I apologized for bothering him and told him what was happening.  He cut me off and asked me how long had it been since I’d seen him.  I told him he didn’t come back from getting cigarettes the night before.  He said give it another day or two.  I know him, you don’t.  Pack your bags and go to your family – when he does come back he’ll cry and apologize but he’s fucking drug addict and you better get out of there.  He’s probably in an ally somewhere passed out.  I hung up the phone without a word.  I pushed his words out of my head in disbelief, deep into that comfortable place of denial.  Something’s wrong, he’s had an accident, that must be it.  Where could he be?  That night I was so worked up and fought sleep from coming over me.  I stayed up for two days and nights, constantly checking the house phone to see if it worked, calling his cell phone but no rings.  Just the immediate message of the voicemail.

I called in sick to work, telling my Assistant Manager I was having car trouble.  I checked out the second floor window but my car was nowhere on the block.  I showered to ready myself for Tommy’s return and dialed the local hospital.   No one matching Tommy’s description was admitted, no car accidents reported.  Nothing.  A quiet night in our sea-side town.  The sun was blaring into the windows and it was a clear beautiful day but I remember feeling a sense of doom.  Maybe he’s dead; he could have gotten drunk and drown in the ocean…he wouldn’t take my car and purposely leave me here alone, he could be in trouble, what if he needs me….

He didn’t come home for four days.

When he finally came home I was sitting on the couch and shocked by what I saw. He looked like hell.  He had bags under his eyes, he smelled from not showering and his clothes were filthy.  The scent of alcohol and cigarettes seemed to hold his clothing together.  I screamed as he walked toward me, what happened?, where were you?, couldn’t you pick up the phone and call me? and this man, this broad-shouldered street tough ex-convict could not look me in the face.  He collapsed in my arms, crying like a little boy.  I held him for a long time, crying myself, until finally he spoke through his tears.  It was horrible, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t stop…

Couldn’t stop what…I thought… what was so horrible….

It turns out he ran into Brian who did not go to Queens with Louise after all.  The two of them got drunk in a local bar.  I’m not sure how, but they wound up in a local flea bag of a hotel that charges by the hour with and eight ball of cocaine.  They were snorting coke, cooking it and smoking crack, drinking and getting high for four days straight.  He didn’t even know how long he was gone.  To this day, I don’t know if there was anyone else with them, if he fucked someone, I have no idea.  All I knew then was that I was living with a man who had absolutely no self control.  And I was disgusted.  I yelled, I screamed I threw things and broke things.  I told him only an animal could behave this way.  I was possessed in a new way now.  I hated him and I loved him.  I despised him and I craved him.  I banged my hands against his chest and threw his clothes at him and told him to leave, just go, get out!!  He just sat on the edge of the bed.  Crying.

And it broke my heart.

So, I stayed.

photo-2When I hung up the phone, I excitedly told Tommy that my long-lost camp friend was coming to spend the weekend with us.  He hesitated for a moment – asked where she would sleep, how we would arrange things in our small apartment – and I assured him we would figure something out.  These were some happy times in our relationship but from time to time, Tommy expressed unwarranted jealously.  This was one of them.

We had a few days to straighten up the place and get groceries to help our guest feel welcome and cozy in our happy little space.  There wasn’t much to organize, as I kept quite a tidy house and Tommy was really good about keeping organized too. In this way, we were great partners.  He hated a mess and so did I.  It was part of my morning routine to wipe down the kitchen counter and table with Windex and vacuum the small living space and bedroom.   We had a filing system for mail and other papers which we set up together.  I was the financial guru in the house; Tommy did not have a checking or savings account, he had never kept a checkbook or had his own credit cards.  By this time in our relationship, I guess we had been together almost two years, he had a full set of “secondary user” credit cards which I had arranged through my credit card companies.  We had an agreement that if either of us wanted to spend more than $500 on something, that we would talk to the other before making the purchase.  For a while, that worked really well.  I was making enough money in my managerial position at the bookstore and managed the bills really well – never paying late, keeping balances low and maintaining good files at home.  Tommy agreed to be in charge of rent.  He lost and changed jobs often and there were long stretches when he did not work at all, so I would occasionally have to dip into savings to keep things running smoothly.  Overall things were going well and I did not feel a sense of urgency about money.  Having grown up in The Bronx, Tommy was used to doing laundry in a laundromat and didn’t mind about helping with putting clothes away.  I mostly did the grocery shopping during the week because the stores were on my way home from work and we only had my car but during weekends we’d go early on Saturday morning to beat the crowds and be able to spend our days grilling and hanging out with his friends.  So, in preparation for Louise’s stay, I went to the store a few days before to make sure I had enough snacks and food to welcome her.  I adored playing the role of being Tommy’s little woman – his Angel – as he lovingly called me because he felt I had saved him – and I could not wait for Louise to see how far I thought I had come from our days in summer camp.

Brian was a six-foot tall black man who had seen difficult times growing up in The Projects.  Tommy was five foot eleven but walked like he was seven feet tall.  The two made quite a comic pair.  During Tommy’s drug dealing days in The Bronx, he and Brian somehow crossed paths and became friends.  Brian was hopeful that one day he would be a member of Metallica because he played a mean air drums to “Nothing Else Matters“.  Whenever he and Brian got together, they told stories of the good old days that made anyone in the vicinity laugh big hearty belly laughs.  They were only in their thirties when I knew them but you would swear they were two wrinkled old men when they started to reminisce about the old days in “the neighborhood”.  They filled hours with their comic adventures of crimes gone awry.  They sounded as though they had moved way past those shenanigans and in a way they had.  “Moving to the beach and finding a good woman” made Tommy feel he had put his life in The Bronx seem very well placed in the past. It was Tommy who encouraged Brian to move to the beach to make a clean start for himself, to get off drugs and make an honest living, but Brian never seemed comfortable living sea-side. We helped him find an apartment, conveniently located down the street from ours, and Tommy introduced him to his cronies in our town in hopes of landing them both jobs.  The town where we lived was mostly Italian-American and very much racist.  Back in the day, Tommy was known as “Mighty Whitey T” because when he had hair he was blond with wild crystal blue eyes and ran with a mostly black and Puerto Rican crowd.  He earned his street cred by being fiercely street smart and was always up on his game, as was Brian.  They made strange bedfellows indeed.

After work one sunny summer evening, I picked Louise up from the local train station.  Always considerably overweight, Louise barreled out of the train station with more bags than seemed necessary for a weekend stay.  She was dressed all in black which made her stand out in our beach community but this did not phase me.  She was here and with her she brought stories of our own naughty adventures at camp.  We embraced and giggled and I loaded her artifacts into my car and we made our way to my little apartment. She was surprised that we lived in the upstairs portion of a private house.  Louise had grown up in a Manhattan townhouse and currently lived in a Second Avenue apartment building.  She had a clear sweet sounding voice and had a way of making people instantly warm to her.  It was just the two of us at the apartment, so I fixed us something to eat and we chatted about my life with Tommy.  She commented on how cute our place was, and how lucky I was to be so “settled”.  She couldn’t wait to meet Tommy, who I explained was with Brian so that we could catch up and have our girl time. Louise asked about Brian, as single girlfriends often do.  When I told her to forget about it because he had a troubled past and was currently out of work, she said that didn’t bother her – after all she was only staying the weekend.  Only staying the weekend.

Later that night we met up with the boys and made our way down to the beach.  Louise had fished around to find out if I was a pot smoker – no way I told her, and explained how Tommy was trying to stay sober- so, she let it drop.  When we met up with the boys, she pulled me aside to showed me the dime-bag of Hashish she had brought with her, and asked me if I thought Brian would be interested in smoking it with her. I told her he probably would be but not to bring it up because he too was trying to make a clean start.  Of course she ignored me and at some point they walked away from us down the beach.  Tommy rolled his eyes and suggested we go home.

We snuggled up in the bed and talked about what a disaster Louise and Brian would be as a couple.  Tommy asked me to try to talk her out of it and I assured him I would.  I talked to him about how she would always be the one to devise a naughty plan for us at summer camp but that those little adventures were fairly harmless.  He outright told me he had a bad feeling about her and I, of course, defended my friend.  I remember having the same feeling but did not want to be right, so I pushed that thought aside.  When we woke up in the morning, Loise’s bags were neatly organized in the living room where we left them.  Obviously she and Brian spent the night together.  Tommy told me he would call Brian later to find out what happened and I got showered and ready for work.

When I got home that evening, no one was home.  I called Tommy’s cell phone.  I could hear voices in the background but he avoided answering me when I asked him where he was and who he was with and if he had seen Louise.  He said he would be home in a half hour and that was all.   My stomach was unsettled and I didn’t know if I should make dinner, so I waited.  He stumbled in with Louise and Brian nearly three hours later.  They were all drunk and I was clearly angry.  I asked Tommy if he had been drinking and he told me I needed to relax.  He had been sober, as far as I knew, for months.  I was furious but did not want to make a scene in front of my friend and his.  Louise put her hand on my shoulder whispered in my ear that she really liked Brian, and they had so much fun all night and day.  We moved into the bedroom and she told me all the details of her night with Brian.  She painted the picture that this was just what she needed – a little fun.  She told me they had decided she would move in with him.  I was shocked and told her she was crazy, that she had known him for less than twenty-four hours and how could she do this.  She admitted that she had been kicked out of her apartment and had nowhere else to go.  She said she would have gone to her mother’s in Queens after the weekend, but fell into the good fortune of meeting Brian.  I felt sick.  The room seemed to be spinning all around me and I could feel my face getting redder as she went on.  The boys were loudly talking and laughing in the next room and when we entered, Tommy took one look at me and repeated you need to fucking relax, life is good Maria.  Try to have some fun. 

Some fun…

The days and weeks after filled me with anxiety and suspicion.  Tommy had started drinking heavily again.  I was beginning my Master’s Degree in English Literature at Hofstra University, taking classes three nights a week after work.  I always made it home before Tommy.  Most days he said he spent the day looking for work and then took the evening to relax and have fun with friends, meaning Brian and Louise.  It wasn’t until about two months into this that I realized he was smoking pot with them behind my back.  Louise denied it when I asked and so did Brian.  Tommy and I had a raging brawl over this.  He told me I needed to skip on back to school and mind my own business.  I thought he was my business.   We had a life together and now it was being infected.  I blamed Louise and Brian for my relationship issues.

I took solace in my classes.  Academia was a world I felt comfortable in.  Safe.  I loved listening to lectures about Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost and found myself having sympathy for the primary character, the devil.  Milton’s Satan had fallen away from heaven for loving God so much he wanted to be God.  He was the angel that was most loved by God and is the one that fell the hardest.  When the story begins, Satan is chained to a lake of fire… I found myself relating to this character more and more.  My Catholic upbringing taught me the greatest sin was, indeed, pride.  So, I pushed thoughts that I was better than Tommy – or deserved more- way, way, back into the recesses of my psyche.  This particular class was led by a professor who had published many papers on the works of Milton.  She was an expert.  Our class was small, only eight students, and we had lengthy and heated debates about the characters.  I felt that familiar connection with my professor that I had experienced with others in my undergraduate years.  I admired her work, her tough assignments and her detailed feedback.  When she assigned our first major paper – minimum twenty pages examining three key characters we had read about so far – I  was up for the challenge. I had to find some time to write after work on the nights when I was not in class and realized I would need weekends too.  I gathered the sources I would reference and created an outline for myself.  When I began writing the first time, I felt stuck; that awful block when a writer is unable to organize thoughts into clear sentences.  Tommy hated seeing me on the word processor (this was before the days of real computers) and demanded I spend time with him and that I should get off that fucking thing already and pay attention to him.  In an effort to save my relationship, I procrastinated on my writing and figured I would get it done last minute.  In my undergraduate years I had a knack for writing A papers by pulling all nighters.  This would not be the case for me now.

When I handed the paper in late, it was only fourteen pages long.  My professor commented that it felt thin but accepted it anyway.  She handed it back to me the following week and asked to speak to me in her office after class.  She point blank asked me what was this crap I had handed in.  It took all of three seconds for my eyes to well up with tears.  I could not answer her.  I knew it was crap.  She asked me what was going on, that the writing I handed  her did not match the discussions we had in class.  I don’t know why but I let it spill – I told her about my relationship with Tommy, that he demanded my time.  She asked point blank if he was an alcoholic or if he was doing drugs.  I nodded my head, yes. She told me I had a choice to make – to leave him or leave the program because there would be no way I would be able to write the amount of work that was required of me in the program if I were living with a drug addicted alcoholic.  I left her office feeling defeated.  My dreams of becoming an English Lit professor evaporated with my tears.  A few weeks passed and I decided to drop out of the program.  Things with Tommy had been escalating and I knew there was no way I could do it.  I knew my professor was right.

I was beginning to accept my circumstances; I had a relationship that was spiraling out of control, my childhood friend turned out to be someone I could not trust and with the retail book world’s increasing use of discount programs our high-end publishing/retail company refused to join the pack.  They maintained that they were a high-end retail boutique, offering publications that would eventually maintain a customer base that sought exclusivity in the purchasing experience.  The executives at the company felt we would survive the discount trend.  It was a shaky time, so I held on to my academic pursuits and went down to the registrar’s office at Hofstra to find out how to change my major.  I at least had sense enough to know that continuing my education would eventually get me what I wanted in life.  Though, I had no idea what it was I wanted.  I acted the way I often do during a crisis.  I went into autopilot and just acted.  I kept the wheels turning.

And turn, they did.

My future husband, I’ll call him Tommy, was a jolly person when things were going well.  He had a good sense of humor and really did confide some intimate thoughts and details about his life before meeting me, in the way that lovers do.  I shared with him my dreams and hopes.  We were growing closer and he admitted that he had never known life could be so good.  By his own admission, he had never  had the experience of having a “real” relationship with a woman.  And though I was just a girl, I felt like a woman in his presence.  We lived on the south shore of Long Island in a town that was known as a lively summer hang out.  From the signs of first thaw in early April until school began in September, our little beach side community was invaded by Manhattanites who spilled off the Long Island Railroad dressed in shorts and flip-flops loaded down with beach chairs and tote bags bursting with beach towels custom ordered from L.L Bean.  Locals lounged on the beaches during the day and strolled the sidewalks at night, ice creams in hand, with barking dogs and rowdy kids. Boating, fishing and beach-side clubs were daily distractions from commuting, work and bill paying.  Tommy and I went through a very happy stretch.  There was lots of laughter and love making and we shared our lives happily.  I remember there were times where I looked at his big blue eyes and simply melted.  I was very much in love and things felt really good.

In an effort to stay sober, Tommy discovered the joys of fishing.  In the beginning he went out on day-trips that departed from a local dock.  These “party boats” lauched at 6:00am and returned around supper time.  I would drop him off in the morning and pick him up from the dock after a day at work in the bookstore.  I was a manager by then and brought home a generous paycheck.  When he lost his job (again) we were comfortable enough that he could continue with his hobby.  There came a time when he invited me along on a blue fish trip.  The boat went out into international waters where the blues and striped bass were abundant.  I did fairly well, having caught two blues and a striper.  After dark, I battled a bit of sea sickness, running for the bathroom.  Upon opening the door, I quickly bolted (fishing boat bathrooms are not conducive to young women) and had trouble finding the horizon line.  We laughed about this later, but I remember calling out to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for consolation.  I was happy when the boat docked and I stepped onto solid dry land.

Eventually, we discovered surf fishing.  We went out with some friends, geared with only the long, heavy fishing poles designed especially for this type of fishing.  Walking onto the beach, baiting up and casting our lines into the shallow parts of the surf was exhilarating.  It was great to be out in nature with my love and sharing this experience.  The following weekend we went to the local tackle shop and we bought all the gear – waders, rods, line and matching hats.  The waders came up to Tommy’s waist, as they were meant to.  The smallest pair came up to my chest and looked like Lucile Ball in some crazy sketch.  in the evenings we would head out at sunset, and on the weekends just before sunrise.  We stole salty kisses and as the summer months rolled in, our sun-kissed skin grew use to these outdoor adventures just steps from our apartment.  It was around this time that  my former friend, Louise, had called and asked if she could spend a few days with me and Tommy at our beach-side apartment.

I awaited my former friend’s arrival with joy and excitement.  When I met her for the first time so many years before, she was a student of very exclusive Manhattan Private schooling.  When I saw her for the last time, I was filled with sadness at her betrayal and disappointed in what her life had been reduced to.  A disaster of epic proportions.

stock-footage-night-drive-with-approaching-car-driving-at-night-on-a-rural-road-ontario-canada

Finding marijuana instead of money for Chinese food in my future husband‘s leather jacker scared me more than the memory of being choked by my future husband.

I had nowhere to go.  With tears streaming down my face and the one ounce bag of marijuana in my purse, I firmly pressed the gas pedal to the floor and drove.  I drove without a destination.  I drove to get away from the south shore town, from my future husband and from this life that was spinning out of control.   I drove for about twenty minutes before it occurred to me that I could get randomly pulled over by police and they would see me as a criminal.  I could not go to my mother’s house because I was no longer her daughter.  My brother was not an option as we had almost no relationship.  By this time in my relationship with my future husband, I had pushed most of my friends out of my life.  I was too embarrassed to continue explaining my future husband’s erratic behavior.  I grew tired of making excuses, so I suppose it was easier to isolate myself.  I decided to go back to the apartment.  I feared that he would hurt me physically if I got rid of the drugs.  But I turned the car around.  In doing so, I was accepting what was to come.

When I arrived he said what I was thinking, what I expected to hear.  So you decided to come back?  You have nowhere else to go…. you’re acting like a baby and overreacting.  It’s just pot, not crack, Maria.  Everyone smokes pot.  I didn’t smoke pot.  People I called friends didn’t either.  In fact, I turned away friends during high school who did smoke pot.  People I worked with didn’t smoke it…did they?  What if they sensed I was too much of a ninny to tell me?  Not everyone smoked pot.  He couldn’t be right.  Could he?  I didn’t say anything for a while.  He kept mumbling things about how fucking ridiculous I was being and asking me questions I had no answer for.  Why is this such a big deal?  What is your problem anyway?  Can’t you just fucking relax?  I was beginning to believe his ridicule.  No I couldn’t relax.

Eventually things simmered down that night and of course he rolled himself a joint, cracked open a can of Budweiser and began smoking and drinking in the living room.  The skunk-like smell of the strange cigarette disgusted me.  The T.V. was on and I wound up in the bedroom and tucked myself into the bed.  My eyes were wide open for a long time.  I was keeping watch over myself thinking of what to do when he eventually crawled into the bed next to me.  Tell him to sleep on the fucking couch.  Pretend you are sleeping.  If he touches you, just go with it so the fighting will stop.  I didn’t know how I would handle things and all the scenarios played themselves out in my head.  At one point I even hoped he would slide into the bed next to me, wrap his arms around me and tearfully ask for forgiveness.  No such luck.  I heard him on the phone talking in his loud Budweiser beer voice as though everything were just fine.  I couldn’t tell who he was talking to, surmised it was one of his cronies and eventually there was silence the familiar beeps of the phone dialing and a new conversation began.  He ended the call with Alright, I’ll see you in a few.  The next thing I heard were his feet clomping down the stairs and the door closing behind him.  He left the lingering odors of marijuana ashes and open empty beer cans for me to stew in alone.  My heart was racing.  Where is he going?  Will he be right back?  Can I fall asleep now?  In the morning I woke up alone with no sign of my future husband having returned to the apartment.  I cleaned up the mess he left in the living room, got showered, applied my makeup and drove directly to the bookstore where I worked.

The sun was shining and I found my regular parking space.  I pulled open the heavy brass-handled door to the smells of coffee lingering in the air and the sweet melodic sounds of Cole Porter‘s Night and Day pouring out of the speakers.  Good Morning! One of the girls at the register called out to me.  I gave her the biggest smile I could muster and returned the greeting.  I was pretending to be cheerful.  I pushed aside my pain, put my purse in the back office and walked out onto the sales floor straightening piles of books as I walked toward my post.  I made small talk with my colleagues and cheerfully greeted customers.  I joked with the guys in the stockroom and checked for special orders in the UPS delivery.  I went about my business and loved every minute of it.   I was beginning to live a double life.

I left work a little later that evening so that my time at home would be shorter.  When I arrived he was waiting there, apologetic and told me he went down the block to visit his friend and hang out.  He said he was sorry that I got so upset but that he wasn’t going to give up smoking pot because it was not a big deal and I would just have to get over it.  He told me it was cheaper to buy an ounce that buying dime bags all the time and that he was actually saving us money.  But he said out of respect for you, I won’t do it in the house.  I said it was ok, that I understood.  But I didn’t understand.  And it wasn’t ok.  I don’t know if I was trying to convince him or me.

A few months after this, I received two significant phone calls.

The first was from a Literature professor I became close with while doing my undergraduate degree in Literature.  The phone call, despite coming just shy of a year after graduation, was certainly unexpected and caused me to recall a rush of memories. This particular professor taught a class called The Art of Autobiography which captivated me.  We focused on the genre through readings by Jean Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, Anais Nin, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Wole Soyinka.  The lives of these writiers fascinated me and made me want to experience life at its fullest, richest possibility.  Always having kept a journal, I fantasized about the many lovers I would hope write about later in my life like Nin, or zooming in on a tender memory of my mother singing and soothing me as in Proust’s Swan’s Way.  In general, I longed to romanticize things about my own life, and things that never really occurred but seemed so nostalgic and romantic in the way only great writing and art can be.  Words, thoughts, artistic expressions leaped off the page and grabbed me in the chest and demand that I was present in that moment.  I recall over the course of my life, beginning in my undergraduate years, crying real tears for the frustration of not being able to express these emotions myself.  Despite beginning my studies three years later than my peers,  I was very young then, having the soul of an artist and the heart of a poet.  Nothing agonizing had happened to me yet, though I desperately hoped it would.  I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined how my life would turn out just a few short years from that very safe, over-romanticized period of time.  I worked hard and wrote well and suppose I stood out for being knowledge-hungry and enthusiastic.  I suppose, too, that starting a few years later and being one of the older students in the small private university made me stand out a bit for this particular professor.  While I was in her class, she asked me to be her assistant at a conference which she was heading, focusing on the life and works of Anais Nin.  It took place at the Southampton Campus of our University.  I accepted her invitation, feeling very self-important and flattered all at once.  I  helped with everything from picking up guest speakers at the train station and delivering them to the dorms they would occupy for the weekend-long conference, to distributing programs and basically schmoozing with professors in between speakers. I made sure lunch was served on time and handed out bottles of water.  I felt star-struck when meeting professors from all over the country who had written books and delivered papers on Nin.  I met and listened to Benjamin Franklin V (yes, a direct decendant), deliver a paper on his research for an upcoming cook he was writing about the life of Anais Nin.  There was even a group from Japan who studied the implications of Nin’s work in Japanese feminist culture.  I was invited to an after conference party at my professor’s vacation home in Southampton.  The evening played out like a Woody Allen film.  Gossip amongst the professors about who was sleeping with whom, gossip about promotions within teaching departments and who’s book was rejected by publishers.  I drank some white wine and got a little tipsy and had the most interesting conversation with a professor from a big university in California.  She had similar observations about the crowd, loved my Woody Allen analogy,  and asked me about my future plans, which of course included getting my Ph.D. in Literature.  She shared some sage advice and we laughed a lot.  I was very intimidated by the crowd and at one point thought my Professor’s husband might have been flirting with me a little while he was playing the piano.  He probably wasn’t but at the time I thought he might have been.  He taught at Barnard and later wrote a posthumous biography about a great American Poet whom shall remain nameless.  It was on the bestseller list for something like three years, and wound up on our “New York Times Best Sellers List” shelf years later while I was the Manager of the bookstore I would begin working in after graduation.  My attendance at the party also afforded me the opportunity to meet, speak with and exchange recipes with my professor’s mother – an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Comparative Literature, Symbolism and Surrealism, in addition to being a regular contributor and reviewer for the New York Times Book Review.  I remember she had a mustache (as did my professor) of impossibly black hair and a giant bun atop her head and a big round belly that made me believe I was standing before Gertrude Stein herself.  The longer I spoke to her, the more beautiful her face became, the more I wanted to be like her… the memories all came in a flash when I heard my professor’s voice on the other end of the phone call.  She inquired as to where I had started my Master’s and where I would be doing my Ph.D..  I was silent at the other end of the phone, feeling very disappointed in myself because of my current circumstances.  Should I confide in her and tell her about my abusive, alcoholic drug using future husband?  No I decided almost immediately.  I told her things were going well, that I had decided to take time off before beginning my Master’s and that I had met a fantastic man whom I moved in with.  I could detect a bit of disappointment in her voice, but she was non-judgemental, and got to the point rather quickly.  She wanted to know if I would be interested and available to be her sole research assistant for a book she was beginning to write on literary perspectives of Anais Nin – a body of work that would be a direct result of the conference I attended and assisted her with the previous year.  My heart leapt when she asked me!  She explained that she could not afford to pay me, but that I would get a mention in the acknowledgements page which would apparently be a great thing to add to my resume and applications to grad school.  I remember looking around the small apartment, scrambling for what my answer would be and recalled difficult and happy moments with my future husband – my name in the acknowledgements page  – my name in a book and the chance to do research for a conference I had attended and….. and I accepted the offer.  She said she would call again at the beginning of the following week to firm up what she would need me to do first, and suggested I gather and review notes I may have taken at the conference. I hung up the phone, overjoyed and called my future husband…. he was not nearly as excited.   Why would you do anything for free?  What kind of hours does she want you for? You don’t have time for that shit, you need to work and make money.  I started to think about it.  His cool reception to my offer made me think like him – yeah, why couldn’t she pay me?  Was she taking advantage of me?  Maybe I should just say no since he’s so upset about it. When he came home later that evening, he continues to rant about what a ridiculous idea it was.  She must’ve thought you would be her nigger bitch and do all her work for her for free, he said.  I don’t know why it was so easy, but I started to believe believe he was right.  I started thinking my professor had bad intentions of taking advantage of my time and skills…. the next time I spoke to her I told her I was simply too busy with my full time job and dedication to my relationship at home to give her the time she was asking me to devote to the project.  I shut my eyes tight as I lied these lies to her.  She said it sounded like someone was making me say those things – she was smarter than I could have imagined – and asked me if I needed help.  I told her no, and everything’s fine and this is all my decision.She asked me if I was sure, and that she would have another teacher’s assistant currently her student, available to do the research work, but really thought I would put the passion into it.  No, I said, I’m sorry but I just can’t right now.   And that was the end of that.  I would hear from her again in four years time.  i arranged a book launch and signing at the bookstore after I became the manager.  She and her writing assistant, the student teacher that took my place, arrived all smiles.  The professor’s husband, who I swear flirted with me at the party in The Hamptons, was also in attendance.  I swear he just had that look flirtatious look about him again.  A week before the event, I admit I tore open the box of books from the publisher, plowed through the acknowledgments and forward to search for mention of the teaching assistant’s name.  When I found it I found myself reading three whole sentences about her over and over, and rereading it replacing her name with mine to see how it rolled off my tongue.  The hours of work necessary to complete this book were made shorter and more bearable by my faithful research assistant, and assistant in all things academic ________ _______”   Your love of literature and determination to see this work through until its completion has been much appreciated and admired.  From the bottom of my  heart, I am so glad I found you. Thank you!   Damnit, that was four sentences.  My name was forever omitted from any historical connection to my professor, the conference and Anais Nin.

The second phone call I received around the same period of time was from a former friend of mine whom I had not spoken to in nearly ten years.  I knew her from summer camp which I attended in Sag Harbor, Long Island from the ages of eight to sixteen when I became a Counselor in Training (CIT’s for short).  We were only acquaintances during my younger years at camp.  She was definitely one of the “cool” girls at the all-girls Catholic camp located in the sleepy former whaling village nestled in the heart of The Hamptons.  She had, I heard, a reputation for being wild since she was from New York City.  There were only a handful of girls from The City that attended.  One of them was the daughter of a director who I hadn’t heard of at the time.  One year Yule Brenner’s adopted children attended camp with us, though they were much younger than I.  I was curious about my friend before I met her until it finally happened; she spoke to me first and we became friends almost instantly.  She dared me to steal ice-cream from the kitchen after hours, and together we plotted with other girls to stick one of the younger girl’s fingers in a glass of cold water while she was sleeping.  Apparently there was a rumor that poor girl had a bed wetting problem and we wanted to make that happen, for sure. I ran into that poor bed-wetting girl in London nearly six years later when I was entering a theatere in Victoria to see Me and My Girl.  I was shocked to see your beautiful blue eyed face and golden blonde ringlets as she got up on her tip-toes to call out to me.  I tried to hide from her vision, embarrassed by my past sins against her but eventually my mother saw hers and we all stopped to chat for a bit.  I felt so small, so horrible.  She was lovely and sweet.  How could we have done that to her.  She never knew I was involved.  This ultra cool trouble-causing friend also got us to sneak off camp grounds to wrangled us into a local club on Reggae Night where dred-locked Jamaican men were dancing and openly smoking marijuana on the dance floor.  We were very much underage and not supposed to be there anyway, but somehow a Rolling Rock beer wound up in my hand and I began to drink it.  Eventually another came into my posession and by the time I started feeling my knees go warm and weak, I was deathly afraid of getting caught by the nuns at camp more than getting kicked out of the club but figured if that were to happen, it better be for a good reason.  Some of the other CIT’s puffed away happily, dancing to the lazy Reggae beats.  And then round about one o’clock in the morning out came Rick James – Rick James as in, She’s a very Kinky Girl (SuperFreak).  He was dressed all in gold, chest exposed and both shoulders flanked with platinum blondes with highly glossed red lips and not much else on.  I could not believe my eyes, or the effect his performance was having on me… so naughty so dirty, so freaky but I liked it!  I danced along with my stoned friends.  When my Former Friend called me, all the memories rushed back.  I was excited to tell her of my new life, living with a man and working at the bookstore as an Assistant Manager by that time.  I thought I might sound impressive to her.  She told me she was coming out to Long Island and could she come stay with me for a night or two?  Of course!  I said, what fun!  I had to explain all this to my future husband, but he said a visitor made no difference to him.  As it happened, his old friend from The Bronx would be moving into an apartment down the block from us, so he would be busy with helping him anyway.

I had no idea how poorly the stars aligned themselves that night.  My former friend did not leave for another three years.  When she did, she left with my future husband’s crony,both Crack addicted by then, her belly swollen with his child and five thousand dollars of my money.

Image

I was  married.

Sometimes that does not seem a real or possible statement.

But I was.  I was married.

I often think about this.  I shared a life with another human being.  We met and fell for each other the way people do every day.  We shopped, ate, made love.  We shared a home, a bed, furniture and a dog.  I knew of his drug-dealing, criminal past and he knew I didn’t have any such experience to speak of.  Looking back, I now know how green I was.  I was too inexperienced and unsophisticated to understand the intricacies of love, relationships and the permanency that marriage implies.  I fell in love with him because he paid attention to me.  He noticed me.  He spoke to me.  I misinterpreted his rogue intentions to be flirtatious and romantic.  I thought I could rule the world then but it turns out I could not even begin to understand what was ahead of me.

I graduated from University.  I had no career plans to speak of.  I thought it would be ideal if I could just spend my time around books and get paid for it.  While I was deciding how to make that happen, a friend’s then fiancee had purchased a deli and offered me some work at a fair wage.  I was still living at home and thought this would be a safe, wise option.  I was in no rush to make copious sums of money and so I took him up on the offer.

I worked in a Kosher deli on the south shore of Long Island .  I was told to stay at the counter, take orders and money and only handle hot dog orders.  Everything else would be done by the guys who made sandwiches, doled out salads and the waitstaff that served tables.  I thought this was great!  No thinking involved, very little contact with food and working the register which I felt comfortable with because of previous work experience in retail.

One day, my future husband was cutting a sandwich.  It was his habit to slam the knife down on the wooden chopping block as a way to clear the knife of straggling bits of meat and bread after cutting a sandwich.  He had huge, wild, crystal blue eyes, a permanent pink tone to his cheeks and a few blond hairs left on his mostly bald head.  When he slammed that knife down on the counter, I shook like a rabbit.  He smiled at me then.  I remember feeling the confused sensation of fear and delight.  Did I think that was hot? Sexy? Masculine?  Macho?  Dangerous?  I have no idea.  All I know is I returned his smile and thought he might be just a touch insane.  But I liked it.

The deli’s owner, my friend’s fiancee, felt a certain sense of responsibility toward my future husband.  You see, just a few months before, my future husband was released from prison.  Apparently he partook in a Bronx pharmacy robbery with one of his cronies.  They broke the pharmacy window and proceeded to rob it of pills, cash and other sundries.  Of course they were caught and my future husband served 6 months in jail on Riker’s Island.  This is the way I remember it.  I also remember he once told me he robbed a dry cleaning establishment of police uniforms and conducted a fake drug bust to rob a competing drug dealer of cash, weapons and product, but I’m not sure if this was what he went to jail for.  Either way, he was definitely in jail, it was definitely in Riker’s and he got out just a few months before he began slamming butcher knives on greasy wooden chopping blocks in that sleepy south shore Kosher deli.

When I heard the jail story, I was again, turned on and terrified at the same time.  I know it flashed through my mind that if I could just love him enough he could turn his life around and be an honorable man with an interesting story to tell at some future time.  This may be the instant I went skipping down the long, impossible road that followed.  I really thought I could save him.  Love him enough and in turn he would love me.

We had a very innocent first date.  He asked if I wanted to take a walk on the local boardwalk.  I thought this was so adorable.  I thought he revealed the little boy inside himself for just a flash when he asked me out.  He was hesitant but tried to be cool.  I responded.  We walked along the beach that night, the air heavy with a salty mist and the sexual tension that hovers over potential lovers.  I held his hand when he reached out to me.  I could still smell the pastrami smells on my shirt, and felt very unsexy.  But those eyes.  Bold, blue, and looking straight into me.  We talked about things that might have been red flags for me but I ignored.  I ignored the way women do when they don’t want to be right.  I let him kiss me as we sat on that cool wet sand, the blackness of the horizon ahead of us and the bright lights from the boardwalk behind us.  We walked back to my car and I drove him home.  I drove twenty five minute drive back to my mother’s house seeing only those crazy blue eyes ahead of me and darkness behind as I drove further away from the shore.

Three months later I was moving my books, clothes and bathroom items out of my mother’s house into my car and driving back to the south shore to the small apartment that would become my home with this ex-con boy-man.

Are you still with me?  This is when things really start happening.

I moved in with him and remember nothing about the first few nights.  I’m sure there was some serious love-making and sporadic eating and maybe some work too. I’m sure I had a constant throb between my legs that kept me wanting him more.  The throb kept me going and ignoring my mother’s incessant phone calls which I either ignored or answered and then – abrupt hang ups.  At the time I remember thinking that sex was wonderful, amazing, incredible.  Of course, I hadn’t had much sex up to that point.  He was muscular, much bigger than me, and though I was the heaviest I’d ever be in my life, I was much smaller than he.  I felt like a Fay Ray to his King Kong.

A few weeks went by an I got the job I wanted in a high-end bookstore in a North Shore pedestrian mall.  The store was a real stunner.  Upon entering I was met with deep green marble floors, thick brown wooden bookcases that went on for miles and a center table that was adorned with a large stone vase and a spray of exotic flowers.  One end of the store housed the music section; selections of Euro Pop, Jazz and Opera imports that were difficult to get in your average music shop.  Opposite the music section was a small boutique containing artsy items like scares, jewelry, candles and bottle stoppers made from colorful frosted glass.  The other entrance of the store greeted you with a small Italian coffee bar.  Only espresso and cappuccino were served.  The coffee aromas lingering in the air mixed with the soft Italian pop voices and together they lingered into the air, over the dark green marble, those stately wooden bookshelves and convinced you that you had entered an Italian Palazzo.   This was heaven for me.  Indeed it became my haven.

When I first began working at the bookstore, I continued on at the Kosher deli just one day a week.  Partly for the money, but mostly to be close to my then future husband.  Although we were living together, we really did enjoy working together one day a week.  It was fun to flirt and grab each other in secret behind the counter, stealing kisses in between customers and whispering all the naughty things we would do when we got home.  For the first time, I was in love.

There was a third party in our relationship.  At home it was the future husband, Budweiser and me.  At first, I did not realize that drinking a six-pack a night was not normal.  Really.  I grew up in a home where no one drank alcohol.  No wine at dinner, not really even on special occasions.  There were no nightcaps taken, or fingers of scotch to ward off a cold.  No hot toddies on cold winter nights.  There was just no alcohol around.  It never occurred to me that a six pack was excessive.  I had no way of gaging what was normal and what was excessive.  Until one day I asked him.  Is that normal?  I didn’t grow up in home where there was drinking.  His response was defensive, I work hard and pay my bills. If I want to come home and have a fucking beer, I will.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It felt strange to me.  Even as I heard the words, it felt wrong that someone should drink that much every night.  Beer cans were always present and became a fixture like furniture.

A few months went by and I dropped my day at the deli.  I was loving my time at the bookstore and started making friends.  Things were going great for me there and I was moving up fast.  I had found my little niche doing something I loved and felt great every day.   few months into the relationship I began confiding in a friend at the bookstore.  I acted as though everything were great, and perhaps I was being silly but wanted to know if that was normal.  Not really, she said directly.  I knew she was right, but at that point my mother stopped speaking to me because I was living with him and her strict religious beliefs prevented her from being capable of maintaining a relationship with me if I was going to live in sin with that animal. I really felt I had nowhere to go.  I questioned why I was even turning that phrase in my head somewhere to go but I knew I didn’t want to stay.  I don’t know why, but I really didn’t want to leave.

His drinking increased and with it his impatience and foul language.  Sex felt forced and unenjoyable but I never refused him.  I was afraid to turn him away.  It was as if I knew there were repercussions. I was in bed, sleeping one night, when he came home at one in the morning and started to make advances.  Rubbing my ass, kissing my neck as I lay there stirring from sleep.  He was clearly drunk and in the mood.  He smelled of cigarettes and beer.  He tried to take me, tried shoving himself inside me but I wasn’t ready.  Just as quickly he became angered.  He accused me of cheating on him, named people in our lives that he was convinced I was fucking and when I finally couldn’t take his accusations anymore I shouted back in defense.  That’s when he straddled me on the bed, pinning my arms down under his legs and wrapped his hands around my neck trying to squeeze the life right out of me.  I strained for breath and felt my self slipping, tears running down my face and wishing he would just do it.  Just kill me.  But something inside me rose up and fought.  I squirmed under him.  We ended up on the floor and he was on top of me again, choking me and slamming my head against the wooden floorboards.  There was a pounding at the door.  The landlord who lived below us was banging and screaming.  My future husband ran to the door and said we were having a fight but everything was ok now.  I said nothing.  I went into the bathroom with my cell phone and called the police.  My face and neck were red.  The fingerprints were redder and pushed their way to the surface of my skin, forcing themselves to be seen.  My first thought was to wonder how I could possibly show myself at work the next day.  It was Spring and a turtleneck would have been out of place.  When the police arrived they asked me a few questions.  Then they asked me whose name was on the lease.  His, I said.  Just then my future husband came outside and told them nothing happened and they could all go home.  The cops laughed, realizing who it was.  I kept telling them to look at my neck, that he ad done this to me.  They said His name is on the lease.  If you want someone to go, it should be you.  But as you all now know, I had nowhere to go.  I felt mocked and small and weak.  All I wanted to do was sleep and dream of something better.  Instead, I entered that apartment, him behind me even more upset.  The climb up the stairs felt like a death march.  When we got upstairs he muttered a few more degrading comments in my direction, I grabbed some clothes, packed a small bag, and got  in the car driving into the darkness.  I remembered there was a small hotel near the bookstore, so I drive directly to it.  The sun came up, he did not return and I went to my safe haven, the bookstore.  The phone calls began shortly after my arrival at work the next day.  He called and yelled at anyone who answered.  By the time he got me on the phone I was so embarrassed about his behavior toward my colleagues that I gave in to his pleas to come back home.  I apologized for calling the police and assured him I would be home directly after work.   I thought my submission would quiet him.  Calm him.  Make it all go away.  Of course, my return gave him permission to continue the drinking and physical abuse toward me.  I had made my metaphorical bed.

Living with my then future husband from that evening on was like walking on glass.  Every move I made had to be carefully calculated, and despite my wide-eyed innocence, I now grew paranoid and questioned myself if I even looked in the direction of another man or if I caught myself being friendly with male customers at work.  One evening, a few months after the choking incident, I came home from work to find he lost his job at the deli and he was consoling himself with a case of beer and watching T.V.  On the way home I was craving Chinese food and did not feel like cooking.  He told me to grab money out of his jacket pocket so I could pick up the food he ordered.  I reached into the black leather abyss and a shiver went down my spine when I saw what my hand produced – a bag of marijuana- about an ounce of ripe spelling marijuana.  I had never seen it like this but its color and odor were distinctive.  I smoked a joint once in high school and threw up shortly after.  Didn’t enjoy it and never tried it again.  The shock and horror of finding that weed might sound overblown to someone reading this account but to me it was a nightmare.  I shoved the bag in my purse and ran out the door.  I was shaking now and headed straight for my car.  I drove, in a panic, thinking of what I should do.  Throw it in the ocean?  Throw it in a trash can?  Smoke it?  Flush it down the toilet?  None of these made sense.  Nothing made sense. I had nowhere to go, no safety place.  How did I wind up with an alcoholic drug addict?  This was just the beginning of what would be a six year long nightmare.

 

Italo Calvino said: The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts. Describe the ghosts that live in this house: Image credit: “love Don’t live here anymore…” – © 2009 Robb North – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written a legitimate blog post here.  Over a year, in fact.  And, it’s been quite a year, indeed.  I survived my fourteenth year of teaching, after a year away and having dipped my feet into the world of art gallery sales, traveled to Costa Rica, drove cross-country on a whim and fulfilled my dream of flying a plane – not just in a plane but actually logging my first legitimate hour of flight towards my pilot’s license.  Those who know me intimately will know that flying is a dream I buried many years ago.  Back to the days of The Ghost I call husband. Long before I knew The Ghost, I read Beryl Markham’s West With The Night and wanted to one day fly a plane.  I was obsessed with Amelia Earhart and the accomplishments she made as an aviator – and having the wanderlust myself, travel was always on my mind.  Taking the yoke and flying myself was something I knew I had to do and always hovered in the back of my mind.  So, one day, while I was living with The Ghost, I drove up to Republic Airport and signed myself up for flight classes, leaving my 50% deposit of $600 for flight school.  I was to start the following weekend, sue to my work schedule.  When I came home, excited to share my news, The Ghost did not share my enthusiasm.  His face turned sour and he said to get my money back because there was no way he would allow it.  For some reason, which I still don’t understand, I listened to him.  We weren’t even married and I listened to him.  I went back the next morning and got my money back, cancelled my classes and drove back to The Ghost.

I was a tender twenty five years of age when I crushed my own dreams of flight.  I can’t really blame The Ghost.  After all, I didn’t put up a fight, I just listened to him.  Perhaps some part of me knew, very deep down, that it wasn’t the right time.  Perhaps I was afraid to fulfill a dream.  Perhaps I wanted someone to tame my wild ambition.  I don’t know what the reasons were at the time, but I complied.  I do remember being very disappointed in myself for listening to him, but if I am completely honest with myself, I must say that I probably did not want to be allowed to fly.  When I finally did leave, a time I’ve written about here), I remember feeling that I was given a second chance at life.  He wanted to kill me that night, that’s the account Aidan relayed to me.  He told me The Ghost had a plan to kill me my tying my feet to cinder blocks and throwing me off our boat.  He wanted me dead.  Dead. He was high enough, and strong enough to do it.   When he was beating me that last night I’d ever see him, with every punch he’d thrown at my head, my face, my stomach, I knew that if I survived that night, my life would finally begin.  That I could live again.

As I’ve accounted here, I was in a fog for a long time after that night.  Not just for a few hours or days, but really for a few years.  It wasn’t until the divorce was final, some four years later that I felt some sense of relief.  Release.  Even then, I felt the eerie sensation that I would always need to look over my shoulder as long as I lived in New York because there was always the chance that he would find me and finish what he started.  Though I forgave him the minute I left the house, I knew I would never sleep a full night peacefully as long as I lived in New York.  And I didn’t.

The Ghost visited me every night as I put my head down on the pillow.  I could see his face next to mine in the bed or feel the curve of his body behind me as I drifted off to sleep.  A sensation which jolted me awake and refused to let me find peace in slumber.  I worked.  Made new friends.  Found moments of  joy with the children I worked with but my heart pounded a few beats too fast when I returned home and had to face the darkness.  Though we were physically parted, The Ghost had entered my mind and taken up residence there.

The divorce was finalized and I set my sights on living in Europe.  I got a teaching job in Italy and moved.  Movers came to my mother’s house and took my things. I got on a plane.  The next chapter was beginning.  I don’t think I ever told anyone this, but even after I got to Italy, I would look out the window of my apartment, onto the streets of the small town outside of Milan, on the tram, bus, or at the street markets expecting to see The Ghost.  He couldn’t make his way up to Putnam County, New York and I expected to see him on the streets of Opera, in the Commune di Milano?  Completely irrational, but totally true.  No, it didn’t take too long for to feel safe again, but because I could not change my name back to my maiden name before leaving the country (it would have complicated my paperwork upon entry to Italy), I kept The Ghost’s name.  It became a part of me.  It’s how I was known professionally, and by kids.  Upon leaving him, I recreated a new identity around this name, shedding any old identity and leaving it far behind in the damp, small town where I left him on Long Island.  Like a butterfly I spread my wings and became a re-entered the world.  Beautiful and alive.

I found love in Italy and for a short time, The Ghost was out of my mind.  He hovered close, but for the most part I was able to enjoy a new romance that was pure, and good and wonderful.  With Andrea, I learned what kindness and gentleness from a man could be like.  He was humble and vulnerable in ways The Ghost never knew.  He struggled with sharing that which ultimately ended our union.  After that, I knew his role in my life was to teach me men can be good and kind and that I could be loved.

Through the years, and moves, and jobs and lovers,  I have reinvented myself.  I’ve only recently come to realize that through my reinventions I have been searching for my most authentic true self.  I have been on a journey to discover my purpose in this world.  Why have I been though what  I have, why I lived where I have, why the people who have left marks on my heart and furthered me along my path have come, gone or stayed.

I’ve come to realize, that flying a plane became the ultimate metaphor for taking control of my life.  When I grabbed the yoke this summer, I took back my life.

So, The Ghost I call Husband gave me my name.  I have been through so many changes that my name is now very much mine and has a completely new meaning to me.  It defines me, tells about where I’ve been and now truly is my identity more than ever.  And here I write, inventing Maria McCabe.

no smoking gun

March 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

there was no one thing you

said nothing I can point to you

said that could explain why you

why I

on the cliff teetering for months swaying in your

wake and you said you said you

said no smoking gun you

said

Lessons

 

The newness of you

The exploration

The discovery

The wondering

The surprises…

 

The sameness of me

The fleshy

The small

The hidden

The surprises…

 

The normalcy of we

The discovery

The small

The predictable

The surprises

 

The end of us

The discovery

The hidden

The surprises

The surprises

 

By: Maria McCabe

A Ghost Called Husband and The Name He Gave Me Part XIII: Amore Mio.