divorce

Paper Dolls

paperdollToo much death lately.

First it was my nana. Nana was tough. Is still tough some days. Then we lost a women I once called Ma who’s son I never married but who’s grandchildren I used to plan in swirling hearts on school notebooks—I still don’t know what to call her twenty-five years after her son and I broke up. (What the hell do you call the mother of your first love, whose house you basically lived in for several years? I haven’t even seen her since we unexpectedly buried one of the gang fifteen years ago.) And now…now my aunt Jean.

They come in threes. I can be done now, right?

I told you about Nana. I started a blog about Ma B, but I can’t figure out what to feel, let alone say. My aunt, though? Shock. Tears… followed by the numbness of denial, then on to anger, and back to tears, all happened in the span of the phone call from my mother Saturday. I spent the rest of the day just trying to absorb the reality, bombarded with memories.

As I sit here, in the stillness of insomnia’s hours, I am realizing now how lucky I was to spend as much time with family as I did when I was growing up. I had sleepovers with Aunt Jean much like I did Nana. And the strongest memories of her and Uncle Jim are from those times, not just the visits. While there are many memories, there’s one that seems to jump up and yell for attention, repeatedly haunting me throughout the weekend. The paper dolls.

See, my aunt gave my sister and I paper dolls to play with. For those who don’t remember or just don’t know, these are thin cardboard cut-out figures in underwear with tabbed clothes you hang on the body (see picture). My first attempt to over-analyze why this memory seemed so needy was the innocence of it. We used to actually play with paper. No cell phones, iPads, Xbox or internet. Paper. There’s something about generational innocence there that seems to want to be said, but doesn’t really need to be, because everyone knows it, gets it, sees it. It just is. Times change, entertainment changes, blah blah change. So I let that analysis fade away and went back to the memory itself.

My aunt didn’t just hand them to us and walk away. They weren’t something to occupy us. They were something to do with us, to broaden our imagination, and explore our artistic side. She gave us the dolls and clothes, but then she pulled out paper, and colored pencils (I remember her having to sharpen those over and over with a knife—ah the old days), and sat with us. She showed us how to make our own tabbed wardrobes. We spent hours doing this, on many sleepovers, for several years. I remember thinking how artistic we were for getting to use the colored pencils instead of crayons. I remember tracing the dolls and designing—from clothes to shoes to even the hair, we could dress them up fancy or down to earth, give them blond hair or brunette, hanging down, in a pony or under a hat. We could change their appearance, and with it, the two dimensional illusion of personality, wants, desires, hobbies and habits.

And that’s where the little analyst in my head jumped on board and latched on.

Paper dolls were an introduction to the various masks we would wear throughout our life. We were just learning to put them on something else first, before testing the waters with our own naked selves. As we grow and evolve, our fashion changes, our outward appearance changes, our public attitude and persona change. What we show the world is nothing more than a tabbed piece of paper, lovingly cut out of our imagination and hung precariously from our shoulders. Some outfits we keep until they yellow with age or get torn or lost in the mix of things. Others we try out and shed as quickly as a new divorcee plays dress-up to find herself in the lost pieces of wardrobe. But they’re all just that, outward appearance. The paper doll underneath remains naked, fragile, vulnerable to the elements of time.

I’m going to miss my aunt horribly. For so many reasons. She was the record keeper for our lineage (the last blood gypsy of her generation), the maker of paper dolls and sharpener of colored pencils, and a champion of the arts (she was a rosemaling master, and her eldest an artist). And as is with all who pass on, I will cherish the memories, and take from them the lessons they offer…

Which, in this case, means I need to make new outfits for my paper doll self. I need a knife to sharpen the colored pencils, and with that, maybe a band-aid.

 

Adventures in Time

mammoth2Faith and doubt both are needed—not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve.
~Lillian Smith

I clearly remember waking up freezing under, not one but, three heavy quilts on that fateful December morning in Wisconsin and mentally saying shouting, “Enough!” But, being the over-analyzing soul I am, I asked my parents to be my rock, my logic, and tell me why I shouldn’t move. They said no such thing. Instead, mom said, “Go! Go while you have the fire. Go before you wake up at sixty-five, still live here, and still hate it.”

Five years ago today I shoved everything I owned, two kids, and a cat into a huge u-haul with a mammoth on the side of it. I turned in my apartment keys, and handed the keys of the mammoth to my best friend (volunteered to drive the u-haul). I watched the sun set at a gas station near Ed Gein’s, said good-bye to my Wisconsin residency, and began the next adventure…

It’s been an interesting five years.

My kids have grown and flown the coop. The best cat ever, Chaos, ran away. I’ve loved and lost. I’ve made new friends and lost old. I’ve hit writing deadlines and missed life goals. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve aged. I’ve changed.

Life has offered challenges and provided pitfalls. Time has both slowed and sped up. The universe has played yo-yo with my emotions, suggesting I run while begging me to stay. I’ve seen divorces and marriages, births and funerals. I gained a new title, wear a new hat, gotten new ink, earned new scars—physical and emotional. And in the end, I’m glad I listened to my mom and took the plunge.

Because life is an adventure. All of it. Period.

Whether it’s going to the grocery store, or sitting on the porch, or hopping in the car and driving until you find a beach. It’s all unwritten. Merely outlined. And attitude is half the battle. I was raised by a crazy woman who blessed me with the right attitude—enjoy the little things, make memories, accept the adventure, and make it in the mundane.

So, happy anniversary Pennsylvania. Thank you for the much warmer winters, four actual seasons, and flowers on my birthdays instead of blizzards. I’ve finally realigned my brain to your night sky and get that even if he’s in the wrong spot, Orion is still Orion. I’ve loathed and loved, laughed and cried, but it all goes into who I am and who I become and how well I pack for the next adventure.

Though I really do miss that cat.

Intrinsic Value of the Existential You

pennyjarSelf-worth comes from one thing—
thinking that you are worthy.
~ Wayne Dyer

Have a yard* sale and you’ll find yourself putting little tags on everything—giving reduced value to things you once thought worth much more than you’re now willing to accept for them. At the end of the day, you’ll count the change you’ve received, the crumpled bills, and the smattering of things even the scavengers didn’t want. And you’ll be richer for it. For the items traded, for the people spoken to, and for the time, entertainment and adventure you put into the day—because life is an adventure with the right attitude.

I’m turning 45 this month. And it’s been an adventure all right. While I’m usually not one to evaluate my life on every birthday or New Year, I find I am this time. I’m divorced. My kids are gone. And I’m not where I thought I would be in this lifetime…at all, on any level. For a while, those thoughts made me feel very alone in the world. So I faced it.

I woke up that way a couple weeks ago as I said goodbye to an era—alone, in a motel room, absorbing my aloneness. And I found something rather strange in the quiet. Me. I remembered not everything that breaks is broken—you have to break a glo-stick for it to glow, you have to break a fortune cookie to get the fortune. And upon breaking me, I found me. Hi world! Welcome to the second half of me.

But the alone continued to sit at the edge of my mind for some time. I felt a little lost, a little scared. The screaming had subsided and the silence was a bit too much. Then a whisper started in the darkness. “Why don’t you do this…?” “Why don’t you do that…?” And I realized I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t old. I wasn’t done. I had just finally matured to the me-portion of my life.

I don’t have kids to worry about on a daily basis. I don’t have a partner to please. I just have me. I can stay in my pj’s all day and write on the weekend if I want to. I can play with my herbs and oils, research the family lineage, read a biography, blow bubbles at WalMart, whatever. I can eat nothing but salads for a week and no one can complain. I can come and go as I please. I can go places I’m interested in without worrying about it being entertaining to others in my life. And I can enjoy myself, alone or in a crowd—with friends, with strangers, or with nobody.

In the quiet, I remembered life is a giant yard sale. Things come and go. People come and go. Sometimes you’re the seller, sometimes you’re the buyer. But you are the only one who can put value on you. No one else gives you worth, only you do. Sure, for a the first portion I was being guided by parents, and the second portion I was guiding others and not worrying about me. But eventually there’s quiet. Eventually, there was just me.

I know my worth. I’m a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a colleague. I’m a concert-giving rockstar in the shower, a dancing queen while cooking, a 12-year old laying in the grass talking to bugs, an old woman conversing with the moon, a mermaid in the water, a gypsy, a writer, and just a girl. My value is a jar of pennies. Some are shiny, some dull. Some are new, some old.  Some worth a penny, some much more. I’ve spent a lifetime filling that jar. I don’t need to count the pennies or show them to anyone, I just need to smile and know I’ve got them. I paid my dues. I’ve earned me-time. And it’s time for the true adventures to begin…

 

*Garage sale, yard sale, rummage sale… what the heck is wrong with this country that we need 3 different way of saying “buy this crap I don’t want anymore”? And thanks to those on twitter who helped** me decide which to use.

**And by “help” I mean told. Told with force and a waving fist. #loveyamouse!

First Date Fail

bunnyIt’s been a while since I tossed a Thursday question out to the cosmos… But it was fun and I need to come out of my cave a little, so let’s try one of these and see what happens. I’m rusty, out of practice, and yes, I know it’s Friday. But Friday is traditionally date night, so let’s take that idea and run with it with First Date Fail.

Yes, fail.

Not because the relationship failed, not because you never called them again, but because, in hindsight, that particular date maybe didn’t go as well as you had planned, hoped, or expected the universe to write for you like a hollywood moment. Yeah, that date.

While not every relationship succeeds, they all have a unique beginning. From a 50-year marriage to a blind date you can’t wait to forget, they all have some shred of a story to tell. Here’s your chance. Let me oil these squeaky hinges and give you a giggle before I bat my eyelashes and ask you to entertain me back.

A boy once asked me out while I was working—while I was at work. I said no. He asked again an hour later. I said no. He told me we could just go to a graduation party for a mutual friend and nothing else, just spend time together. I hemmed and hawed and said “Fine. But I have to be back here by 2am.” After all, my car was parked there at work and I would need it. Eventually. Right?

So we went to the party, talked to other people more than each other, and got back in the truck. We did not go back to my car. Instead, we decided we hadn’t really gotten a chance to talk to each other, so we drove around. Now mind you, I was new to this town and within five minutes was completely lost on the backroads he seemed to wander down like he had personally named them. I didn’t know if he was a serial killer taking me to my final resting place or not, and caught myself sizing him up to see if there was a chance I could take him. I didn’t think so. I was doomed. And the conversation continued as he distracted my pessimistic thoughts with interesting topics and comments that made me laugh. It was actually going fairly well…

Until the rabbit.

Those backroads were dark. The wildlife doesn’t understand roads are for vehicles, not them. And before I could gasp and he could brake, there was a *thump thump* as the front and back driver’s tires turned bunny foo-foo into road pizza. Now, things happen. Animals get hit. It’s not unusual. But when he stopped to make sure it was dead, to which I found him chivalrous as he didn’t want the animal to suffer, I learned this was not only unusual but the chivalry was questionable.

He got out and reached into the bed of the truck, pulling free a mini baseball bat.

“What is that?” I’m pretty sure my eyes were about the size of the moon.

“My little thumper.”

“Your what? What’s that for?” (Did you know if you furrow your eyebrows hard enough it actually hurts?)

“In case it’s not dead.”

“You’re going to kill it again?”

I’m pretty sure he answered, but in the years since, it has become part of the blur that followed. I buried my face in my hands and began rethinking the serial killer questions. I tried to block the world out, but from outside the truck I heard *KER-RACK!* followed by a slew of profanity and the most horrible noise I’ve ever heard.

A dying bunny does NOT make a happy noise. Nor can it just die quietly like an over-acting B-movie star hoping to get noticed. Oh no. It makes this hideous cry and sounds like rubber bands snapping against rocks inside the throat of a child being throttled while their toddler sibling stands nearby screaming at the top of their tiny lungs. To reiterate, it is NOT a pleasant noise. There was another *thump* sound and the horrific noises stopped.

A double bang in the bed of the truck and the door slamming pulled me from the happy place I had forced myself to go.

“Oh my god.” I looked at this boy. He was tall, he was dark, he was nice, and he had just destroyed an animal on our first date.

“I know, right? Pisses me off.”

“What?” I was so confused at that point I likely looked like a teenage boy in the girl’s locker room—both confused and intrigued.

So it turned out, the *ker-rack* I had heard was him missing the bunny, hitting the road with his “thumper” instead of hitting Thumper, and breaking it in two. He was mad because he broke his little critter club. He hit it cleanly with the second attempt and only half the bat, thus putting it out of it’s misery.

I nervously laughed about the whole thing and we drove on, getting me back to my car eventually—though 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. are not the same thing. I nervously laughed about it for a couple years actually. Eventually, I started wondering if that hadn’t been my warning, my red flags, my runanddonotlookback moment for this relationship. But then I wouldn’t have my two beautiful children. Yeah… that was their dad for those of you who know him. For those of you who only know “of” him, you’re not shocked, so don’t pretend.

I don’t remember much of that first date, other than the sound of a dying bunny and the truly deep-seated desire that developed to never ever ever hear that noise again. Red flags I ignored? Blood, murder, mayhem, and the possibility of being victim to a serial killer? Yeah, I’m going to call that ‘first date fail.’ But it makes for a fun story, sorta.

Now then, entertain me… red flags missed on a first date? Horrible first date you ran from and never looked back? You know you’ve had at least one horrible evening you may have actually paid for the privilege to have. Share with the class…

Rejection

As a writer, I was told a million times by others around me—and as I climbed the ladder, I turned and told another million behind me—one thing over and over again: learn to love rejections. Get them. Earn them. Take from them what you can. Move on. Because (say it with me kids…) they’re just one person’s opinion.

And while it’s true, it strikes me that by the time we’re old enough (read as brave enough) to submit something to be rejected, we should already be fully aware of what that feels like and how to handle it.

We’ve experienced rejection in a number of ways throughout our adolescence, let alone lifetime. Rejected at that school dance by the dreamy girl/guy we’d been eyeballing all night. Rejected for the pep squad or cheer leading or drama try-outs. Rejected by the cool kids, the smart kids, or in some cases, all the kids. Rejected from who knows how many colleges you applied to, or jobs you interviewed for, or people you attempted to hit on in any variety of locations (notwithstanding really bad pickup lines in bars which deserved rejection, if not pointing and laughing, and/or slapping). I mean really, think about it. If you had to count how many times you’ve been rejected (outside of writing/submitting or similar masochisms) you may be surprised when you really think about it.

They didn’t kill us. We’re still here. Scars sometimes shown off for cool points and other times hidden underneath like trackmarks hidden by longsleeves—what people don’t see they won’t know, right? But you’re still here. Rejected or not. And, well, it also happens to be thursday. That’s right, there it is… garage talk.

So, tell me about the worse rejection you’ve dealt with—whether real life or writing. I took a few real life rejections a bit hard this week and could use it, so give me a pick-me-up. Make me laugh. Make me groan in empathy. Tell me about the job you moved crossed-country for and didn’t get. Tell me about the girl you gave up everything for only to find out she didn’t like you “that way.” Tell me whatever you’ve got, big or little, they’re all rejections and they all count. And yes, left at the altar is an automatic winner. Cuz damn…

 

Death of a Stranger

tree We cannot destroy kindred:
our chains stretch a little sometimes,
but they never break.
~Marquise de Sévigné

Hi, I’m Kelli. A touch of background for those new to the show. I was born Kellie Anne a couple hundred moons ago. At twelve I was allowed to legally change my name due to adoption by mom’s new husband—the man I would come to call Dad and mean it. New name: Kellianne Elizabeth. But you can just call me Kelli.

The man that was there when I was born walked away. Oh he tried for a few years. And he tried again a few years after that. He called on my birthday some times, but too late for me to be awake let alone on the phone. He attempted some communication once I graduated high school, if by attempt you mean once a year. He met my oldest and knew my youngest was on the way. And then he walked away again, forever.

During all of that time, I fell in love with my Dad and learned an important distinction along the way: Father is only blood, Dad is earned. My dad earned every ounce of my respect and love, and honestly, shock, as we put him through hell in the beginning. But he survived and became Dad. And if something ever happened to him, I’d be devastated.

That other guy? We referred to him as the sperm donor if he ever came up. Which was rare. My sister and I have actually forgotten we’re adopted on occasion and given the wrong biological information to doctors, teachers, whomever. Ooops. Though we did stay in touch with his sister and her family. And I thrive on the gypsy blood he gave me…

Which brings us to this weekend.

I was doing a bit of research online, searching beyond what I already had. I did find some really fun things—distant cousins that were doing the same, old pictures, new names to add to the tree, etc.

And an obituary.

From a year and a half ago, for a man I didn’t know, barely remembered, and hadn’t called “dad” since I was seven.

I stared at it a while. There was no denying what was in front of me. I had met his new wife and kids—I knew their names—and there they all were. My aunt was listed as a survivor. My grandparents names were right there as preceding him in death. His date and place of birth… Oh, it was him. With no mention of me or my sister. And none of us had been notified—me, mom, his sister, no one.

When Bob asked what was wrong—as I can only imagine the stunned look on my face—he followed up my answer by asking if I was okay. And how did I feel about it.

I didn’t know.

I called my mom and she started to question, “but you’re you and do that thing, shouldn’t you have known?” but answered her own question with “I suppose, there was no connection so why would you?” I called my sister, left voicemail and emailed her the obit. We’ve contacted my aunt to let her know. My children know—one reacting like me, the other asking “Who?” And along the entire way, I kept hearing “How do you feel about that?”

I don’t know.

At first I thought I should be sad and was upset that I wasn’t. Then I thought I was upset that he hadn’t tried harder to even keep in touch, to meet or know or even have pictures of his grandchildren. And just as I rolled around to the edge of “it is what it is”, I realized something.

He died long ago.

His importance to me had been reduced to a name on the family tree and medical knowledge that could become important later. His impact in my life had been reduced to the fact that I know my bad knees come from “that side of the family”, which sadly, isn’t even specifically him but rather the family as a bloodline, as a whole.

I can’t say he’ll be missed. He was missed for years, while I gave him chance after chance. I stopped missing him sometime before puberty. I can’t really say anything about him, because I didn’t know him as a person, only a character in stories I’ve been told over the years. But I have stories of family much farther back with characters that are more fully fleshed out. He was a stranger to me. A stranger that gave me bad knees and gypsy blood. I guess for at least part of that I owe him a thank you… not that he’ll hear it.

How do I feel about it? Empty. I got nothing. Which is weird and bizarre and a little unsettling. But the thing I do know, the thing that strikes me the most about this, doesn’t even have to do with me. It’s all those other fathers (or mothers) out there that have walked away or shut out their family. It’s all the other little girls (and boys) left behind to forget, forgive, heal and move on.

It’s a shame it happens. It’s a shame it will continue to happen. And it breaks my heart, not for me but for others, that will someday be faced with the truth that one of their birth parents is really no more than dry ink on a branch of the family tree.

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