CHAPTER 1: history out of context
It’s March 2021. We’ve had our first warm days. From this perch, I can reflect on what has now, officially passed. Despite the fact, that winter is not officially over. We must wait until the calendar calls it on March 21. The messiness of what happens under the covers of winter, when one cannot see the end, is the real truth. But when one can see the end and count down the days, the suffering diminishes greatly and it is functionally over.
I will share the messiness and the truth, but of course, it is from this liberated standpoint. In this future perch, relative to the moment, there is now order to the mess. Composure in the convoluted, non sensical, emotionality of the moment. One can examine history out of context. We do it all the time. The nostalgia of a memory evades and erodes the reality of the memory. All writing, even when done in the moment, is reflective.
But here it is:
I’ve been delivered from winter. Like one is delivered from evil in the Lord’s Prayer. Miraculously. By the grace of God. The evil of winter. It has plagued me my entire adult life. I’ve been running from it; terrified of its coming, buffering against its existence, cursing the cold and fleeing the very freedom it holds.
Freedom, you say?
If you are like me, perhaps if you are human, you have something to flee. Perhaps it is winter. Perhaps it is sadness. Perhaps it is failure. Perhaps an addiction. Perhaps its is another human. Perhaps it is your very own perfect children. Or maybe just your dishes.
I say liberated because it implies a sudden lifting. Even if that lifting has been in the works for millenia. The moment of liberation is marked by some defined singular moment. The falling of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, one such macro moment on the world stage. The moment I realized my marriage was over. When the instinctual awareness rushed over me as I lay alone in bed in 2018, long before it was actually over, another one such micro moment.
Liberation has perhaps both and upward trajectory and a downward one. The liberating moment when I realized my marriage would be over was a downward one for me. Deeply saddening to both realize and accept that no matter what I did, or wanted, or believed, it was not enough to make it work. Liberating to feel into the truth of that pain and begin walking toward it. Instead of cowering from it, resisting it and pretending it was not happening.
The Berlin Wall falling, or perhaps the day my divorce is complete, or in this case, my delivery from winter, is what I imagine an upward liberation to feel like. Celebratory. The pain behind.
CHAPTER 2. Smoking
Not cigarettes. But books. I inhale them. Breathe them in. They give me a fix. Make me feel ok.
On my smoke breaks, in the suspended time between books, I feel uneasy. I feel my pain, restlessness, sadness, anger.
In one such moment this winter. Without a new pack, a new book, an air of sadness and a twinge of depression arrived.
It was here I realized books had become my cigarettes. My glass of wine. Ignoring this addictive tendency, I tried harder to pick up a new book, complete any one of the half dozen half-finished books, but nothing swept me up.
So I sat.
The sadness felt cathartic. It felt like a delivery that I should unpackage and see from whom it came.
My last cigarette, Wintering by Catherine May had been a delivery as well. A profoundly timed one. The words pierced my consciousness. The striking resemblance to my real life Shocking. Yes, with a capital S. Like a it was a person, place or THING.
It packaged and labeled and organized so many of the stark periods of my life that had been otherwise disorganized, fragmented and meaningless, that it felt like I picked it up at the Container Store, or really, honestly, Amazon, to organize my files. One of those handy filing box THINGs, to organize my traumas.
I couldn’t move past this cigarette easily. It deserved to hang in the air.
Chapter 3: Wintering
Katherine May. A woman. A creative writer. Writing a memoir of sorts. And an instruction manual on a verb I’d never really heard of: wintering. I’d heard of something similar. Winter-izing. But that was what you did to Travel Trailers and Motor homes and old houses that had exposed plumbing. I’d never heard of ‘wintering.’
Turns out I’ve done lots of wintering without knowing it. We all have. It’s a natural process. For you, for me, for the trees, the polar bears, for communities and the world too.
And learning there is a label for it, and a time for it, and a way to do it better is like getting a diagnosis for an unwell feeling you’ve had for a long time. It’s liberating. To know the darkness you have been in has a mother fucking name. Why is that? That if I can call you a name, and put you in a folder, or a box, or search for you on google, I feel at least partly better.
It was in hearing this passage that my head started nodding up and down.
“Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavement sparkles. It’s a time of reflection and recuperation. For slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. “by Katherine May in Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
Chapter 4: I Hate Winter
As I circled the freezing park, iphone and ibook safely tethering me to sanity, forcing myself into the harsh wind of winter to get my daily dose of vitamin D, I paused.
Stop wishing it were summer? Really? Is that the secret? I’ve been living by this quote for as long as I can remember –
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.Albert Camus
I thought the secret to winter and bleak times in life was to weather them. Put your head down, distract yourself, trudge through and just look ahead at what is to come. To take breaks from winter and suffering and go warm places. Until this moment, I could not imagine liking winter. Embracing it. Seeing the beauty in it. Thinking of it as a ‘glorious season.’
But when I thought about Winter in the way Katherine May offered it up, as a time of reflection and recuperation, I had a real ‘duh’ moment. Not just the cold season of winter, but the broader metaphor for the many kinds of ‘wintering’ one goes through in life.
For in reality, my greatest ‘wintering’ thus far was in fact in the blazing sun on a far away island in the middle of the south pacific. A different kind of isolation and hibernation. A cutting off of resources I had not fattened up for.
But that was just one of the winters, long ago. An unexpected one that we’ll get to later.
But this winter – this very real, very cold January winter, I circle the park. I can see now, that my rigid position against winter and the cold has occluded my vision, stunted potential awakenings and prolonged suffering.
But it’s a deep hate. An old long one. The kind of vision occluding hate. I hate my birthday even. Always have. I have always wondered why I came out in January, like it was some kind of mistake. And yet, my mother never, ever made me feel like a mistake. She told her sleeping bag delivery story with pride and joy. She was unfazed by the 3′ of snow and harsh conditions that accompanied my arrival. But she is part earth goddess. Part tribal warrior. She would deliver a human in a raging inferno as much as an igloo. She is not my barrier to winter.
My father does hate winter. It pains him. It pains his bones. His joints. His free flying wild creative spirit that wants to build and grow and frolick in the heat. But he also lost his brother one cold winter long long ago. I just learned this. It explains a lot of the pain. The unspoken, by always felt pain. The winter of death.
But he is not my barrier to winter either. I have my own winter of death.
Chapter 5: Extra Butt Winter / January
I circled the park again. The black pavement feels comforting. The dead grass does not. But I feel like there is wisdom out here. Something to resolve.
I’ve been here before, I thought, as I put one foot in front of the other. The smell was nostalgic.
January, I thought. It’s the smell of January. Crisp, stingy in the nose, cold. The brown, squished, lifeless not-green grass. Disgusting.
But that wasn’t it.
From sense of smell, to texture on my body, my mind furiously sought to match the memory. I could feel my thick wasted black bell bottom stretchy pants and platform velvet loafers that I wore in January 2001. I could feel the lethargy and struggle with which I willed myself to go outside and walk the neighborhood streets in Washington DC on my lunch break. They were the only pants that fit that month, that year. The thick waist didn’t cut into my fat belly. And the platforms gave me a little extra leg length that helped me feel a little less fat and pasty white.
‘Put one foot in front of the other,’ I would tell myself. ‘Just keep walking, Dorcas.’
And although I wished I had those pants and that extra lift now, that wasn’t quite the memory either. Why was I thinking about a pair of pants?
Although it was exactly 20 years ago though.
And I do indeed have the extra butt again.
That was it. I was getting closer to the message.
There is an echo behind my every step. As my foot hits the black pavement. It’s hard to explain. You know when you see a person with a very, very large butt – the kind that has a shelf and moves nearly independently of the person’s actual step. The step happens, the person moves, then the butt has its own earthquake of a following move.
That echo, that residual earthquake was what I felt. I have junk in my trunk, exactly like I did in 20 years ago. It feels like I’m walking with an extra butt.
Its funny how memory works. As I circled that park and paid attention, my senses brought me to that old moment. And sure enough, it’s a echo of a unresolved pang. Too fat for my pants, to cold to be outside and the the most unresolvable part – the vacancy, the sadness and the feeling of being dropped.
Patterns repeat. Perhaps until you get them right.
That extra butt winter of January 2001 was a real hard winter. Probably the hardest of my life to that point. I was what you would call, depressed. But I didn’t know it. It was not a diagnosis I would have even allowed myself to adorn even if I had been brave enough to air my suffering to anyone. I was, and still am, an internal processor. Only after the suffering, will I share. Only after winter is over, can I make sense of it.
I can imagine the label (Depression) would have probably been useful. I could have gotten help. Gone to the google and looked it up. Gone to the CVS or the pill pushers and made it go away. But I knew it as heartache. It was just deeper and longer than I’d ever known before. My first brush with death. No one died of course, but part of my heart closed off. My first real notable hard wintering.
Chapter 6: The Cliche’ Abandonment
It was on the heels of my first ever felt sense of abandonment. He, the boyfriend of many many years, had left for the Peace Corps some 8 months prior. I really loved him. We had spent nearly every single day together for 4 years. Except for a few breakups that were really just an effort to make changes in the relationships but we didn’t have the communication skills. So we’d break up, then make up. Apparently, on one of those break-ups, he applied for the Peace Corps, a two+ year abroad volunteer program.
By the time his application was accepted and he was matched to a country, we were living together. In fact, after 4 years of abstaining from sex, we had even consummated our relationship, which was a huge step on my part. I was planning to wait until marriage. (thats a whole other story).
But he was clear and dead set on going. So he left. April 2000. He kissed me on the forehead and walked out the door, got in his dad’s car and drove to the airport. No plans to break up. No plans to get married. No plans to come back for a visit. No plans for me to go there. Nothing. Just goodbye.
I made it through those first 8 months living on hope. Hoping for a phone call. Hoping for an email. Hoping he would change his mind and come home. Hoping for a shred of validation that I mattered.
Every single morning, first thing, I would dial up my internet connection on my computer on my way to the bathroom. I’d pray for an email. Most days there was nothing. I would cry so hard in the shower, where noone could hear.
I decided I’d have to go see him to relieve my own suffering. I moved into his parents basement, saved every single penny I could, friends pooled money to help me get the $800 ticket to the South Pacific. I thanked them. Embarrassed.
I packed a backpack and went there. I was small and afraid and had never seen the world. Love carried me far and gave me confidence I would have never had.
The depression came after that trip to Tonga, this crazy island country in the South Pacific. I had even extended my stay, a full 6 weeks or something. Hoping he would see, or feel something he didn’t. The trip was amazing. Life changing in profound ways. But the departure was torture. The relationship was flat. He wasn’t coming back.
But we also did not break up. I held on. Still hoping.
November turned to December which turned to January. I was alone, in his parent’s basement, where I had moved to save money to go visit him. Where I still woke up every single morning and fired up my internet to see if there was anything.
Sometimes there was. Fantastic stories. Sweet notes that when he saw the moon, he thought of me. Shit like that.
But mostly there was disappointment. He forgot my birthday. And the deep, longing sentiments were never really reciprocated.
January that year was hard.
It’s no wonder I was depressed. I was mourning the loss of my first love, but without an actual ending. I was oblivious to the disparity in the way we thought of our relationship. I was pining away. He was skinny dipping with girls and taking an occasional lover, I later discovered. He loved me, but he loved the largeness of life and the adventure that awaited, more.
I pined and worked, finishing my internship, school and checked for emails. I must have ate a lot. Because my butt grew.
By February that year, I hated myself. I hated waiting. I hated how powerless and insignificant I allowed myself to feel. I was sad. I was also confused and naive.
I had some purpose in life, and it kept me going. I worked a kind of cool gig doing window displays and floor moves at Crate & Barrel on Mass Ave in Washington DC. It was an accidental, serendipitous internship that touched a creative brilliance in me that was dormant. It introduced me to lifetime friend, Jenna, who saw me in a way I had not allowed myself to be seen. I shared my story. She cried. It broke something in me. I could feel the sadness a tiny bit.
But mostly I felt numb. This is why I started walking outside. I knew I needed nature. I needed god. I would talk to myself sometimes. There were no cell phones then. No numbing out on IG or Facebook. Email had to be checked at home. I was stuck with myself all day long.
This went on – the extra butt walking around neighborhoods to get through the day, everyday email checking and feeling sorry for my-selfness.
Chapter 7 – Spring Fling
Another relationship budded. An emotionally available man. He was paired off and there was no threat of partnership, so I felt safe. I was powerfully committed to my peace corps boyfriend. Depsite the 8,000 mile distance and the abandonment, I was 1000% committed.
I’d occasionally see emotionally-available-man in the stockroom. Smooth, smiley, charming. Older than me, but not too old. He seemed to have time. To listen, to chat. He saw me. Appreciated me. It felt nice. I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow we would talk on the phone.
The depression got a little kick in the ass when I introduced shame to the scene. I put on my sparkly royal blue and white trim bikini and stood in front of the mirror in the basement of my boyfriends house. I had really let myself go. It was now March and I knew what was coming. My favorite season: summer. But not so exciting when covering up extra butts.
I had been a personal trainer not long before this, so I FORCED myself into a little routine. It was grueling, the 20 minutes per day I forced myself to do. Arms – cardio – legs – cardio – abs/back/chest -cardio-day off was the week. I was still depressed. Nothing worked.
Until it did.
In April, the sunroof on my little white Jetta opened.
The depression lifted in May. I took at work trip to Maine to redesign a new store. I felt useful. Lucky. I hiked with my brother to the top of the mountain and there was God. I was small, it was big. There were other things in life besides that boyfriend for fucks sake.
My arms got cut, my legs got strong. My spirit returned. I checked email less. I got promotion after promotion and got my own store to open. Emotionally-available-man and I worked together everyday now, opening this store. His girlfriend seemed to be invisible. And my boyfriend invisible. Had I wanted to, had there been desire on my part, I’m sure it could have been something more, but I was clear as fuck with my boundaries. I was not a cheater. We can talk as much as you want and have a hug or two, but that’s all you’ll get out of me. Nonetheless, it was a rich, nourishing relationship for me. One that sustained me through a very dark period.
Chapter 8 – Summer of Love
Wouldn’t you know it, nearly a year later, as soon as I didn’t care, the boyfriend decided to come home for a visit. As the landing gear touched down on the tarmac at LAX, where we met to start a cross country road trip, I was listening to Green Day. Nervous, pumped, with a tiny bit of ‘fuck you’ edginess, I was a match for this mother fucker. Evidenced by my increased use of the word fuck.
I didn’t love him like I did before. I wasn’t helpless, or desperate. I was also not soft and vulnerable anymore. My heart had been broken and left for self repair. That self repair was incomplete and left little room for boyfriend to get back in to the nectar of my nape again. My virginity was his, but my heart was locked up now. The key in my own hands.
June, July and August were nothing short of magic. Me and my Jetta and my not-depressed, or pining away self had a great time. I had returned to myself. I had ‘wintered’ perhaps. Not with grace, or awareness to what was happening, but I had come through a hard time to see the light again.
But shit, he sure was charming. And I did in fact love him. On that trip September 11th happened, then my best friend’s sister was killed in a car accident shortly after we made our way back to Frederick. Life and death were at play. We also fought like we’d never fought before. We also danced like we never danced before.
Life went on after he went back to finish his Peace Corps term. Still no discussion of future plans. I missed him but had coping skills now. Emotionally-available-man moved on to another store too. I missed him alot and felt abandoned once again. But could see his charm made it’s way around the region. Perhaps finding other less boundaried matches. I discredited and intellectualized our connection and stuffed down the loss.
Still naive. But already with a sour taste for charming, charismatic good looking men.
But nonetheless, I kept chasing that boyfriend-boy. That winter wasn’t so bad. The light at the end of the PeaceCorps tunnel was much closer.
Six months later, I met him again in the Pacific. We backpacked around the world for almost a year, came home dirty and poor, got jobs, made money, bought a house, got married, made 3 babies, bought more houses, moved back to the Pacific with all the babies. And lived there for 7 years.
Poof. 20 years gone.
Chapter 9: The Echo / Deja vu
And now, its Jan 2021, twenty years later.
I’m circling the park because I must walk in nature. I need her again. And it’s all I can muster.
With a sniff of that cold air and about twenty paces on that black pavement, my mind had run the reel of 20 years of life, scanning for this moment of deja’vu.
My butt is big again. My burdens are heavier.
I feel my own voice again. ‘Put one foot in front of the other. Just keep walking, Dorcas.’
Boyfriend-husband-someday-to-be-ex-husband is still in the South Pacific. It swept him away this time. Perhaps the warm waters, the big fish, or maybe even one of those women, with the latin, or pacific asses got a hold of him. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m solo parenting our 3 babies. In a pandemic. There is no time for depression. The call to duty is all consuming. The love is unconditional and omnipresent. Perhaps smothering.
Our divorce is not settled so I dare not speak of the level of abandonment I should have seen coming. And the deep groove it has on the littles. But one day I will. Or maybe I won’t. Truth always rises. Words or no words.
But lets just say it’s far more complex than an empty inbox and some teenage crying in the shower over a first breakup. She was a victim of naivety. I am a grownup with all the skills and resources to say yes or no.
And lucky for me, I have been supported. By a wonderful community of open hearted lovers. Families, friends, men, women and children. Even problems of the pandemic have been pale for our unit thanks to this hometown web we fell back into when we came home for a long summer visit in August 2019. Tattered from travel but sun kissed and hopeful for the promise of America.
Noone knew we’d never return to live in the South Pacific again. That that long summer visit would turn into our lives. That the husband-father would follow us to America just long enough to initiate the dismantling of our marriage and make sure he was free and clear to get back to the Pacific to live the expat life like a single man, no longer a husband. (not bitter at all)
Ces’t le vie.
I’m not in the market for another lover. I have no room in my bed, my house, my heart or my life. I also tired of being a wife in those years in a far away place. There was fantastic adventures and exotic drinks and wonderful soul shining friends. And the kids became bi-lingual. A real Instagram dream. But in the 90 percent of life, the mundane, the quiet moments at home, there was no partner. As such, it was a wonderful opportunity to deep dive into my spiritual practice. I found the nourishment I needed in grace, in nature, in mothering, in that still space within. And I could go on like that forever. But at some point it does seem strange to share a life with someone who is not paying the least bit attention to whats happening 90% of the time. And to get the attention of someone who’s attention has strayed is utterly exhausting. And deflating.
I still wear my wedding rings. I like to appear married. I like the perceived safety. I am married to my children. With the same fervor of commitment I had to boyfriend when he left for Peacecorps, I am still devoted. Not so much to the boyfriend-turned husband-turned X, but to the small humans we created. Besides, I picked those rings out. They were never his idea. (not bitter at all)
On this cold January morning, just a sniff of the air and waddle of my extra butt takes me deep to this back story. The trauma that runs below the surface.
Memory is like that. They come forth without warning. Without reason. Or do they?
But i’m not to the bottom of this story. The trigger is fresh. A more recent abandoment has stirred the echo of these older abandonments.
Chapter 10: Sharing Too Much
I’m sharing too much. I can feel that edge. It’s gotten me in trouble lately and I’m hesitant to express. Fear creeps in. Living much of my childhood as selectively mute or painfully shy or the daughter of a paranoid gun owning apocalypse believing Bible reader, I have tended to be what we called in our family, ‘private.’
Private also means isolated. And for me, it has come to mean not truthful.
I blame this on yoga. Yoga has asked me to be my whole self. Not a chameleon of a self that changes from one conversation to the next. It suddenly became strange to have the ‘work persona, the mother persona, the student persona, the friend persona, the social media persona, etc. In my mid 30’s, I longed to be one person.
This was a radical new way of looking at life for me. It meant sharing. It meant being exposed. It meant being vulnerable and living without fear. And not necessarily just with one person, but potentially with a broad swath of people.
Living in a foreign land gave me a chance to create new relationships. Very different than squeezing my new (not private) self into old relationships.
And sure enough, it was amazing. I’ll spare you the 10 chapters on the deep relationships that budded in a land far away, but they were rich. More intimate than anything I’d ever experienced in my life. With men and with women. I didn’t master it across the board by any means. It was not broad swaths of people, but it opened a door to a kind of openness and love that I want in all relationships.
But come to find out, the kind of love I seek in casual relationships is not easy to manage.
Chapter 11: What About Men?
Most of us would agree, its normal, perhaps socially and culturally acceptable, for women to have deep emotional, loving bonds with other women. To share intimate thoughts, needs, wants, urges, complaints, etc. And for all this to likely happen without any romantic entanglement or expectations.
And many would also agree that journaling and writing to be a great source of intimacy and connection. Both with one’s self and with others, known readers and anonymous. One can be nearly in love with an author, a story, a sequence of words that move the soul. Music or art are the same. In that yearning to be one self, my dependence on books and writing has increased exponentially in my third and fourth decades. Somedays if feels like an addiction. As aforementioned, my cigarettes.
Now that we’ve covered women and books. My two staples for connection. What about men? Where do they fit in? Aside from the obvious heterosexual partnering, can women and men be close without romance? In the same way that women can – vulnerable, open, sharing, caring? I think the obvious answer is yes, but i’ve come to find it is complicated and I keep finding myself ‘in trouble.’
Lets bear in mind, I grew up with a real hard patriarchal and religious line around this. And the echo of that operating system runs deep. Boys are for husbands. And being in charge. And they are also trouble and I should stay away from them unless I am ready for marriage or sex.
A dual message delivered to my operating system… but, and, also, be a powerful-independent-free-thinking-change-the-world-woman. So long as you are submissive to your husband and your father.
I always always found this strange.
T, was my first real boy friend infatuation in my teens. For me, there was no physical attraction. He was kind of funny looking. My loins were not stirred. I was not giddy and stupid. But I longed for him. For his mind, our conversation, the deep companionship. I wanted to understand him, see him, learn more and be together. But he was complicated. Or his family was. Or my family was. Or I was. Or perhaps it was just that noone had cars or cell phones in the 1990’s. So I just pined, wondered, occasionally picked up the phone but never called. He wrote me a letter one time. We went on a long weird walk and hung out after karate when we could. I still wonder how he is today.
I may never know if there was more for him, or if he felt similarly. But there was a dull ache for him that I always felt was unfair. For I think I knew that we both wanted more, but the more he wanted was not the more I wanted. Perhaps my first taste of unrequited (non romantic for me) love.
At some point, I became aware people thought I was pretty. I didn’t see what they saw, but I started to feel the stigma of it. It made me uncomfortable. And sometimes it made me feel powerful, which I was also uncomfortable with. I was not sure then, or now, how to reconcile this. I feel no ownership of my golden locks, my smile or my natural curves. They feel like a gift I’m wanting to tuck in a private space, only to pull out when I’m most comfortable.
And I got plenty of messages that boys just want one thing; sex. This didn’t seem entirely true, but then there was Craig and Steve and Stewart and scores of others that really brought that to life. Horney young men on the prowl. I’m not sure who is impressed or attracted to this, but not I.
There were many boys I really could talk to for days but I couldn’t imagine kissing them. No dice.
And there were boys I lusted after. Pure crush. H. He was delicious. Didn’t speak a word. In fact, I think English was his second language. But he was hot as. I lost my mind in his presence which was perfect because we couldn’t really talk anyway. I’ve never wanted anyone to kiss me more.
And there were plenty of suitors. Nice boys and men that were ok-good-looking and I could muster an attraction for. And smart enough to say the right things and engage in enough conversation to get past the first round of inspections. And I don’t mean first base or second base that we all know about. There was no base running with me. The purity remained until I found the ‘one.’
But for ages, there were mostly two camps. The few boys I lusted after (in my mind only) and the boys that I would never want to sleep with but totally had my heart.
I was not at all confused that ‘the one’ would have it all wrapped up neatly in one package. Like + lust + love. A mind, body, spirit experience. And sure enough, the first time there was a combo of intelligence and charisma and good looks, I was sucked right in. And wed to that relationship for 25+ years.
But I’m the other side of that relationship now. And can see something I could never see from inside. Not only could I never reach the heart or emotion of that relationship, but I mistook intellectual connection for intimacy. For all those years.
And since there was a void, I also had a pattern of going deep with emotionally-available-but-othwerwise-partnered-men. Either I’m partnered, or they are, so I feel totally safe to be myself without the sexual pressure. As I stroll the park, I reflect. I’ve had many of ‘these types.’ The guy in the stock room, the body worker, the next bodyworker, the guy from church. Always an intellectual or emotional component sweeps me up. And yes, they are man. And I am woman. That is never really forgotten. But it is, too.
Talking about all these men really makes me sound like a whore. And maybe I am. I’ve only been with one man in body. But many more in spirit.
And it all makes sense. The flesh dies. The mind has limits. But the spirit is wild, free, untamed, curious, alive. And any relationship devoid of spirit will most certainly peter out. Man or woman.
So I can see, I’ve been ever seeking spirit. Maybe even holy spirit, which I have yet to get to. The God component of relationship. (A few more chapters before we get there… )
But this wild and free ‘spirit’ is divine in nature. It overlaps with, entagles and is confused with love. It is vulnerable, tender, chaotic, intimate and as aforementioned, not easy to manage.
It is so fragile that if one grasps too tightly, or begins to expect exact reciprocation, it crumbles.
Chapter 11: Break Ups
I’m still circling the park. Me and my extra butt. Still trying to put my finger on my feeling of deja-vu. The strange similarity of this depressed January to one 20 years ago.
I’m so curious, my mind is really seeking. I feel determined. There seem to be answers here in this park. In this circling. And I’m prepared this winter. Inspired by Katherine May to do this ‘wintering’ thing right. I’ve got a butt long jacket and warm boots. I could go for days. And I might have to as it turns out. There are some serious fucking layers to uncover.
Like a snowflake falling from the sky, another clue drops in.
It’s break up time. That aching feeling of being split, abandoned, torn away from, left.. hangs in the air.
Yes, thats it. That feels like the right label.
I’ve gone through a few break ups. At least five with the same man, for starters. But many more with other men and women. Since I’ve only ever been physically intimate with one person, most of these breakups have been a severing of an emotional or spiritual relationship.
And these kinds of losses are hard to mourn because on the outside they never really existed. There was nothing to show for it. And sometimes you can’t be sure if they were even reciprocated. There can be an unrequited sense.
I’ve been here before. I know that much.
Of course, physically, I’ve been coming here to this very park my whole life. It’s super familiar. My favorite weeping willow tree, now ice covered, drapes over the man made waterfall on the creek.
Emotionally, I’m here again too. Eerily.
I was recently cast out from a deeply supportive relationship with a care provider, my bodyworker. There was some sort of conflict for him. I was scheduled for my weekly appointment when I got a message that he could not see me today. An email soon followed that he could not see me anymore. It was cryptic but indicated he had crossed some invisible line.
It was shocking and abrupt. I hadn’t realized the depth of the relationship until it was instantly over. I hadn’t realized how I relied on those the weekly sessions to keep my sanity, to feel good in my body and to share. And between those weekly sessions, there was texting and a friendship. It was the kind of closeness I had become accustomed to in my ‘safe’ male relationships. He was, after all, happily married as far as I knew. I felt free to share. And to overshare. And overshare I did. Which it turns out, his wife did not like.
There was no relationship on the outside. But I guess there was on the inside. An emotional or spiritual bond that we both thought was fine until someone (his wife) peered in from the outside and said “Whoa!”
So I got dropped. And it hurts.
I circle again. But the park loop is feeling like a hamster wheel. My mind stuck is not quite clear enough to extract anything meaningful, or helpful.
“What is the lesson? What is it that I’m supposed to see, dear God.” I start praying.
It’s an unusual night time escape to the park this time. A rainy, sleet-y, dark, cold winter evening.
I feel on the cusp of something. Raw, a little destroyed and sullen, while at the same time energized and curious. Part of me wants to hole up in my bed with a heating pad and tune out the pain and the world. Part of me wants to climb Mt. Everest and see if i can get a better look at things.
Logically, I know, or I believe, we keep getting opportunities to learn a lesson, until we get it right. Until we see the hurdle, the block, the barrier to love, the mistake, the untruth; we can’t transcend it. We can’t grow.
It is that desire to break through that pushes me to wander toward downtown.
“Why these losses,” I ask myself. I ask God.
At first blush, I think its just an opportunity to clear some past trauma. To liberate some stuck emotion from my REAL breakup with my 25 year lover and husband.
As I wander, I remember the sobbing, midnight walk I took when he broke up with me the first time. To be ‘single,’ which meant to be with his coworker named C. The utter desperation, confusion and pain of loss. I walked then, too. I was 18. It was summer. My bare feet hit the pavement and concrete sidewalks hard as I furiously cruised all over the neighborhoods of downtown Frederick playing Foo Fighters in my walkman and vacillating between hyperventilating crying and angry screaming.
“Why do I get dropped?” It seems like as soon as I reveal my true self and really get unguarded, they run away.
And before I know it, I’m standing outside the very apartment it all happened. Under the window of 33 East 2nd Street. I can feel it all like the night I stood there spying on him and C, 25 years ago. My heart ripped to shreds but my mind so riddled with misunderstanding, anger and insane jealousy.
And to think that I fought so hard for that relationship. Time after time, year after year, country to country.
I can see that I should have let go then. Saved myself a few decades of suffering. I can see that I was grasping onto something that was lost. A lost little boy. He was already gone. Way back then. Chasing something ‘other.’ Chasing something bigger. The more glamorous girlfriend. The Peacecorps. Adventure. Missing what was right under his nose.
“So what is the lesson?” I ask God.
“Careful Dorcas, calling the kettle black,” I hear back.
I suppose I’m doing the very same thing. Chasing something external. I’m ignorantly, consciously and subconsciously attempting to secure something deep and true and permanent (love) from something that dies (a person). And when that thing is gone, or not what I expect, I am shocked and crumble a little.
We’ve been sold this narrative for our whole lives. It’s part of our culture. Love is external. We can go and seek for it and when we find it we should hold onto it. A person, place (a home) or thing (possessions).
And for my first 25 year relationship, I was chasing the love that lit up the relationship in the beginning. But I was pretty guarded for the first 15 years. And his heart was a impenetrable fortress it turns out. I kept trying to knock down his fortress walls and he just sought elsewhere in the end. Not to mention that there was no room for God in our relationship. Maybe an intellectual God, at best.
Some years ago, in another one of these painful spiritual breakups, I thought I figured out that love is a function of vulnerability. That it’s all about how I show up. And that if I’m fully vulnerable and surrendered, love will meet me there. So I’ve been walking around all wide open. Thinking I can just be that way with everyone, men and women. And for the most part, it has a remarkable success rate. If I am open, I usually find amazing human to human connection with the other person, stranger or not.
But remember I said, back in Chapter 10, the kind of deep love I seek in casual relationships is not easy to manage.
Not everyone can just be wide open without crossing ‘unethical’ or ‘inappropriate’ boundaries. Because we are not trained to be vulnerable with just anyone. We generally reserve that for ‘special’ relationships. Usually the ones that are also guarded by institutions. Namely, marriage. Or ‘theraputic’ relationships where we pay someone to listen to our most intimate stories of fear and rejection and loss and trauma. I reject this notion that intimacy should be so guarded. I believe we need to be more raw and real with one another in general. If were were, there would be less jealousy and divorce and cheating. AND, don’t get me wrong, I also respect the intimacy of a couple’s bond or the ethical boundaries of a therapeutic relationship. Your boundaries are not my business, they are yours.
And that leaves me here. Strolling back home. The rain stopped. Pondering all my breakups. I can see that so far I’m missing the mark when it comes to finding sustainable love. I see my failings that come from being too closed, and being too open.
My adrenals fatigued, I go home to bed. Enough seeking for now.
Chapter 12: Eternal Love
For 8+ years, I’ve been sitting still every single day. And in that stillness, I’ve developed a deep relationship with Holy Spirit. That’s my noun of choice (right now) for what can be called God, spirit, universe, Jesus, Mother, divine guidance, energy, etc.
I mentioned, in chapter 4, my greatest ‘wintering’ thus far was in fact my time on that south pacific island in the middle of nowhere. I was not alone, but it was indeed a different kind of isolation and hibernation. And there I reconnected with God.
I wasn’t really looking for God. I was just trying to get through the day without dying. Dying of fatigue from mothering littles, dying of boredom that comes with mothering littles, dying of what I now know was a dying marriage, dying from being ripped away from my family and community, dying from feeling stretched thin every single day. On the outside, it was fine. Beautiful in fact.
For years I just found simple solace and a tiny afternoon (meditation/nidra) nap in the silence.
But slowly my connection became more potent. I wasn’t just doing nothing, I was connecting to a source that was beyond my understanding. A deeply nourishing source. A place and space where everything was known and understood, beautiful and ok.
I could spend another 10 chapters here sharing the simultaneous intellectual seeking that was happening. The infinite books and podcasts and conversations and workshops and relationships that supported me becoming aware of the infinite source of love that lives in the stillness in me.
But mostly it was the stillness. The meditation. The EXPERIENCE of God is not available in all the intellectual seeking. The mind is too small to comprehend. It must be paired with the attuning of the heart. All religious traditions support this, little did I realize.
Everytime I’d go in there (to the stillness), I was moving closer and closer to an experience of true love, eternal love.
Chapter 13: Answers
A few years into meditation, I started to experiment with surrendering to the will of God. I used to call that the universe. It felt more PC. Safer. I’d do these little experiments on days when I had time. I’d make absolutely no plans and then just sit and listen. I asked my silence the question:
“Where would you have me go, what would you have me do, what would you have me say, and to whom?” I’d picked that up from my workbook studies of The Course in Miracles and it really landed for me.
After I asked the question, I’d listen, or look. Sometimes, out of the silence, I’d get assignments. Oftentimes, there would be nothing but my day would unfold in the most exquisite way as I surrendered to the flow. Most of the time, it was relational work on those days. Interactions with humans. Sometimes surprising, sometimes expected, but always with the perfection that only comes from divine guidance.
That occasional practice grew to become a way of living over the next 5 years. The trust in my silence, my capacity to listen and the perfection of the wisdom that came forth was astonishing. Not only astonishing, but exciting. Being on the edge of my seat for the next right move is never boring. And the moments I would find myself in, the radical conversations, the surprise signs and gifts, the mountains that would be moved, have all been awe-some.
It’s taken me a long time to recognize this as a relationship with God. A daily, alive, relationship with God. A very intimate one at that. A reliable one.
At the very end of my marriage, there was a moment I stood stunned. A very ordinary moment as I paced around the house picking up after messy humans. Something rattled in me, like a earthquake rattles the earth. It demanded stillness to grasp. I became profoundly aware that it was looking like I was no longer going to have a man. A husband. A father. A person to begin and end the day with. A person to (theoretically) lean on, to chart my future with, to share life with. To take care of me if I fall. The thing I had had since I was 17, was about to be no more. And there was the logical response, the bitter one, that said I didn’t really have one anyway. But that wasn’t the answer. With my hands full of dirty clothes, I closed my eyes and went to my place of silence. I asked God who would be my man, who would be my partner? And before I even completed the silent question, I knew the answer. I was flooded with overwhelming joy, ease and lightness. A smile crept across my face. I almost felt silly I had not seen this sooner. God said, “I will. I will be your man.”
And so I walked, one foot in front of the other, into the unknown years of solo parenting, with my hand held. A more certain husband, father, protector, partner, than I have every experienced. An eternal lover. One that had been so close all along, but I was so busy looking outside, so busy trying to make the human ‘man’ reliable, I missed the real deal.
Chapter 14: A Prayer
So by now, as I circled the park, me and God had been pretty tight for a few years. And as I reflected on my most recent hu-man rejection on the earthly level, I noticed how whole and complete devoting to God felt in comparison. How certain and sure and warm and right it felt to be surrendered to God. To do the daily dance of laying myself at his feet to be a vessel for service.
I felt the weight of my desire. I could understand what drives people to become nuns and pastors and seekers. And it was not the first time this desire had been so alive in me.
In a trip to India a few years prior. We visited the ashram of my first yoga teacher’s mother. In a tragic story, she had abandoned her family to seek the silence. As I walked the grounds of the beautiful quiet gardens, one baby on my back, holding the hands of 2 more, I wept in sorrow for struggle that seems to be present when one is of the world, but called to be in communion with God. Part flesh, part spirit, the human experience can be confusing. The desire to flee the flesh and earthly duties and merge with the divine can be strong. And vice versus. Sometimes we get so earth bound and feel empty of spirit. But that is not my problem. I am called to spirit. I could feel the pull then, but also the reality of care taking small humans and being a wife. Mothering and wifing doesn’t yield space for long periods of contemplation and stillness, or it didn’t then.
But as I circled the park this time, without a husband and children that are a bit older, the thought crossed my mind that I could be a a nun. I’d have to be some sort of nun with kids, but I figured God is more open minded than most people give him credit for. I mused with myself – i’ve done the marriage thing and that feels complete, i’ve got my kids so i don’t need a man for that. I’m not all that sexual and could live without that level of intimacy. Yep, nun it is, I thought.
So I prayed.
“God, I’d like to deepen our relationship. I love loving you and being guided by you. I want more of you in my life. I want to surrender more. Please send me a teacher to help me go deeper. ”
And with that, my wintering was done. And Spring sprung.
Little did I know what God would have in store. Certainly not the kind of teacher I expected.
The next year would be the wildest ride yet.