I give you an emptiness,
I give you a plentitude,
unwrap them carefully.
– one’s as fragile as the other –
(Norman MacCaig, Presents)
Patterns of death weave their tapestries through my life. Sometimes the connections are uncanny, tightly knotted:
12 years ago, grandpa died.
Part of me died, too.
Nine years later … so did my marriage.
Same day. Different year.
My grandfather was one of the most important people in my life. As a young girl, I’d interview him, pretending to be a journalist.
Stories of our heritage, including our Irish ancestors, fascinated me from an early age. He’d spend hours telling me where we came from. These were moments we’d spend alone, looking at old photographs, soaking up genealogy.
Through this, I felt connected to my lineage … so much so that during my teenage years, when alone (I’ve never told anyone this before!), I’d play “Oh, Danny Boy” on the piano and cry, dreading grandpa’s inevitable death, intensely feeling it within my bones; it was almost like a practice run … a way to prepare for when he did die, so it wouldn’t hurt quite as much.
Even though he wouldn’t die for many more years, the raw thought of being without the person who loved and accepted me unconditionally, unraveled the few places in my heart where I felt worthy, important, and valued, leaving me with an impending sense of self-doubt and vacancy.
As an adult, when he was dying from Parkinson’s, the ritual of interview was repeated so I could collect our history, his history. Sometimes he’d raise an eyebrow, whisper, smile coyly, and ask if grandma was out in the garden so he could speak freely…
Then he’d tell secrets.
On St. Patrick’s Day, he died.
…And the knot tightened.
I was living in Ethiopia at the time and had just attended the expat community’s annual formal – yet riotous – St. Patty’s Day Ball at a swanky hotel. One of my most beloved memories was sitting amongst Irish friends, early into the morning, as they sang harmonious folk songs. Bittersweet melancholic tunes echoed through the somber rooms, saturating us with the timbre of another life, another home. Perhaps grandpa was there, too, watching on the sidelines, being sung out … I think he would’ve liked that.
Grandpa loved my husband – an Englishman who spent a few years with the British Army in Northern Ireland.
…And the knot tightened.
And it was on St. Patrick’s Day, three years ago while we were living in Myanmar – and I was remembering grandpa, feeling the loss of him – that my husband said he wanted a divorce, that he wasn’t happy, that he could not give me what I needed, that he needed complete freedom, and was not living the truth of who he was.
It was too easy not to slip into feeling incredibly betrayed, like a victim. Especially on that day.
…And the knot tightened again.
I felt emptiness, a lack of worth … to the point that I willingly – greedily – grasped for crumbs: Just tell me you love me, sometimes. That’s enough, I exclaimed. Ask me how my day went. Occasionally tell me l’m beautiful. Hold me. That’s all I ask, that’s all I need – and I can stay!
Writing that now hurts my heart. My belly aches. My throat tightens. Tears well up for that girl, that woman who prided herself on how “low-maintenance” she was.
I flew that flag like it was a positive trait, a winning factor, something so rare that he’d be stupid to discard it. This is how I puffed myself up, compared myself to other women: Who else could be as accommodating and non-demanding? No one! Who else would be so independent and non-needy.
Within my heart, I knew this was all a lie, some elaborate story I sold myself so that I wouldn’t get hurt. If my emotional needs were low, then I wouldn’t be disappointed. Or rejected. Or reminded of the dark crevices where I pocket feelings of inadequacy, of not being enough, of not being lovable.
Play it safe, don’t have needs, and then I can be invulnerable to feeling these parts of myself that need a bit of love. The parts my grandpa filled up. These parts – in truth – that I still ache for someone else to fill up. These parts that I don’t fill up … or fill up in ways that do not lovingly sustain me.
Of course, this didn’t work. Of course, I actually have needs. (Gasp.)
And so, after X amount of time of them not being met – because I didn’t ask for it, because I said I didn’t need it, because I created and attracted relationships with others that were unavailable to give – then I’d take a deep breath and do the unthinkable for me: cry out for what I need and withdraw my love, close down my heart when it was not given … even though I set it up like that.
…And the knot tightened. Another little death. Another excuse to not stay radically open-hearted.
But here’s the thing. Challenges in our lives can bring us back to life. Resuscitate us. Jolt us to face the sword of truth staring straight at us. Force us to look at the lies we tell ourselves and how we create victim-y type situations without even realizing it, playing out old tales that we’ve tightly woven for years.
I still do it. We all do. We’re human. And, yet, we have the ability to – even when facing death – feel the stillness of our hearts resonating truth, wide as a horizon. In those moments, it is as if a hand rests upon our cheeks and says, “Shhh. All is well. It’s time to start listening. It’s time to be who you are. Open to the possibilities.”
So, on this Irish feast day, I honor all the ways we experience death in our lives: the death of loved ones, marriages, careers, friendships, romantic relationships, ideologies.
It is through these endings that the foundations for new intersections and weaving knots of stories can take form. Through death, we begin … again and again and again.
Through the stillness of death, all things are possible.
And this I hear:
Surrender to my desire.
You are here to listen.
You are here to write a new story.
You are here to be my reed:
Hollow, tender, attuned.
May you surrender to all that needs to be let go of at this time in your life. May you face each loss, death, and challenge as a gift so that you make space to create that which you truly desire.
…Do you know what that is?
It’s at night, after my daughter is tucked into bed, I turn down the lights to cuddle under a blanket, reach for the remote, and it hits: absence. I briefly acknowledge my empty sofa with a sigh. Usually, it’s just fine. Usually, I enjoy the time alone and choose whichever show I want to watch. Usually, I’m grateful for the quiet.
But not always. On evenings that I’m especially tired, I wish there was someone to wrap up with, watch TV together, have fingers run through my hair and my forehead kissed as I relax on his chest. When my toes get cold, it would be wonderful to have them held in large palms, pressed until I become warm. It’s on those nights my sofa looks incredibly large and my heart feels just a little alone.
I suppose many people who are single experience this. It took me awhile to get here, to this place, where instead of relishing in my new-found independence
, I’ve begun missing the companionship and presence of a man who, while feeling vulnerable, helps you feel safe and protected.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a strong woman. I don’t need to have a man protect me; but if there is a man in my life, I do need to feel that he feels protective of me, that I ignite a desire in him to be concerned for my well-being. You know – checks on you to make sure you’re safe while traveling, holds you tightly after a long day, buys you soup when you’re sick, encourages you to eat breakfast and take care of yourself.
And I miss that. The feeling that you hold a tender, dear, affectionate space in someone’s heart. The knowing that when they feel vulnerable, when they’re having a rough day, it’s you they want, too. It’s your lap they want to lay their head in, it’s you they want to have rub their back and bring them a cup of tea or a drink. That feeling that you’ve got eachother.
So I sleep with a lot of pillows and find myself waking up in the middle of my bed, surrounded by them – little soft clouds – and feel a little less alone. A little less absence. Even if it’s just pillows. An illusion.
I’m not alone, of course. I have my sweet, fiery daughter. I have friends and family who love me, see me for who I am, and accept me. I’m fortunate and grateful. It’s in the simple things I find happiness and comfort: the moon; clear, starry skies; good coffee; music; long baths. They make all the difference … most of the time.
But, there are nights I want strong arms around my shoulders and a song gently sung in my ears, lulling me safely to sleep.
Sometimes … I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the bed.
“Mom, you know how you told me some boys at school might act a little mean, but really, they likeyou? Well, I guess you’re right,” my daughter said after school yesterday, as she buckled her seat belt. Eying her from the rear-view mirror, I asked what happened.
“X isn’t always nice, but he is trying to impress me. He does cool things to make me fall in love with him. He doesn’t impress me though.” I couldn’t help but smile … and relate. Now being divorced
, I’ve been out a few times, talked to different men. Though I have
been impressed, I have also been completely unimpressed
, like my seven year old daughter.
Curious, I asked what kind of “cool things” her classmate does to impress her. She scoffed and said they weren’t really that cool: he pretended a plastic baseball bat was some kind of weapon. “But I’m not into weapons, mom. Except swords. I’m pretty into swords.” (This was news.) Maybe if he had acted all ninja-y, he would’ve gained more favor; the young boy also attempted “rolling really fast and acting like a dog” which apparently didn’t do much for her either. She admitted his rolling skills were pretty good, but that she runs a lot faster than him (which seems to be cooler than rolling).
Essentially, she docked points for not being into swords and running fast. As adults, we do the same. The person trying to woo us may think they’re pretty clever to … oh … talk non-stop about how they’re an awesome scuba diver or skier when you would rather snorkel or stay warm drinking hot buttered rum next to a fireplace in the chalet.
Another classmate has a “BIG, BIG crush” on my charming daughter. This particular boy often has a red card. Not sure what a red card is? It’s a behavior thing they use at school. A green card means you’re behaving well. Yellow? Not so much. And red? You’re in big trouble and better sort your act out.
He’s a sweet boy and means well, but struggles paying attention. That became clear the first time I met him. He was jumping up and down, waving, while his mom held the collar of his jacket, and he screeched, “HI, F’s MOM! HI F’s MOM! HI F’s MOM! CanshecomeoverforaPLAYDATERIGHTNOW!?” His mom didn’t stop and kept dragging him to the car. It didn’t faze him though. He rolled down the window, stuck his head out and yelled, “CANSHECOMEOVERTOMYHOUSENOW?! RIGHTNOW?!” She didn’t.
Though she swears the BIG, BIG crush is not reciprocated, she secretly admitted to my mother one day that she really did like Red Card Boy. When I questioned her about it, she quipped with, “Oh, that was just for one day. He didn’t have a red card. He stayed on yellow! The next day he was back on red. So my crush ended. I’m still nice to him, though.”
Good behavior goes a long way. Sometimes I wish I had colored flash cards to give out; it would make dating easier. To the guy who never asked me a single question, but only talked about himself, I’d slip him a red card and walk out with a kind bye-bye smile. To the guy who threw away my left-over Indian food before I could give it to a homeless person? A yellow card and a “warning” smile. (No. Scratch that. That’s a red card.) And the man that keeps regular contact, makes effort to spend time (especially when he’s stressed and would rather go all man-cavey), says I’m beautiful and I know he means it
? Oh. That man
will get a
gigantic green card and a super big Come-Hither-Happy-Becky smile. The effort is worth it
There’s a lot we can learn from seven year olds. As my daughter said, “Just because someone has a big crush on you and tries to impress you, it doesn’t mean you have to like them back.” Amen, sister.
There is a crazy amount of ridiculousness online about dating big girls, loving big girls, how to talk to big girls, how you better stay away from big girls, how guys only like big girls in secret … you get the point.
I’ve read that an advantage of being with a larger woman is that she’ll stand up for herself if someone gives her flack, whereas a skinny girl will expect a man to defend her honor. Apparently, we fatties are our own “bodyguard.” Really? I’ve had men defend my honor. Can I stick up for myself? Of course; but that has nothing to do with my size and everything to do with my integrity. And, by the way, skinny girls can stick up for themselves, too!
Another article stated men only have to put in minimal effort to date a thick chick because she is “probably an emotional wreck” so will grovel for and lap up any amount of attention bestowed upon her. I haven’t noticed this to be true. In fact, it’s probably quite the opposite.
Sadly, many big girls have had negative experiences dating, or in relationships, so may not have such an open heart. Some of us get a little skeptical (like, err, most
women). In my case, I’ve learned to watch and let a man show me he’s interested
. They might have to work a little harder at proving it. I’d do this if I were thinner, too. Seems like a smart strategy: for ALL women.
means I can jump on that dating bandwagon again. It’s been over 12 years since I have and things are different now. My concern is not whether I’ll be able to attract a man because of my ample size. This has never been a problem; I’ve had many relationships. Instead, I’m more concerned about aging, about being nearly 40 (and those
bodily changes), and about being a single mother to boot. (Does that still put guys off? Do I have to tell them I’m not looking for a replacement daddy? I have no clue.) Then there’s this: I’m busy and picky about who I choose to spend my limited time with.
Apparently, larger women have trouble finding dates. This has not been my experience so I cannot relate. In fact, when I was at my heaviest, I dated the most. No joke. There are many men who like us roundy types – and not just guys who “secretly” like big girls, as I’ve read. I don’t even know who those men are.
Way back in the day (when I was 21 and going out to clubs all the time … and was large then, too), one of my best friends gave this piece of advice on how to pick-up a man: “Look at the guy you’re interested in, hold eye contact for a bit, smile, then turn your head.” Honestly, that works. Sometimes I still do it. Just for fun. Maybe the guy at the car service center is handsome and I feel like seeing if I’ve still got it. I do the eye-contact thing like my friend taught me years ago and they smile, glinty eyes and all, back.
Come on, girls. I’m getting old and this shit still works. It’s more about confidence and how you carry yourself.
I know what you’re thinking. I just wrote over here
that if a guy says he’s attracted to me exactly as I am, I internally scoff. And that’s true. Sometimes I do. It seems most women deal with this; we live in a society where we’re taught to not accept our bodies
(regardless of what we look like). We’re always comparing ourselves to other women – and trust me – those women we’re comparing ourselves to are comparing themselves
to other women, too.
I’m not unaware that some men don’t prefer us fat girls. They don’t have to! It’s not offensive that they don’t. I’m typically not attracted to slender, skinny guys. I doubt those men feel offended and left out.
The problem that may come up for us large women in relationships is lifestyle preference. If you’re with a guy who wants you to be involved in outdoorsy activities like backpacking up big mountains, white water rafting, or bungee jumping and you’re not that kind of girl … it will probably become an issue.
If the man isn’t honest enough with himself or you to say he needs to partner with someone who has similar interests and pursues those activities as a couple, he might blame your weight for his subsequent unhappiness: it’s easy enough to do; if you buy into that bullshit (I have), it’s tremendously painful and damaging. Instead of being true to himself, it’s simpler to say your size is responsible for the demise of the relationship. Those guys should leave big girls alone. And you should walk away.
The truth may actually be you’re the kind of girl that even if you were 105, you still wouldn’t want to do those things. This isn’t about weight. This is about individuals knowing – really knowing – who they are and what their needs and wants are out of a relationship, looking for those things in a partner, then not compromising. (If you’re obese and actually want to do those adventurous activities but your weight is hindering you, that’s on you, sweetheart. Do something about that: Go be who you are.)
For those men out there who like us big girls, a few words of advice:
- Don’t tell us we’re cute and cuddly. Toddlers and puppies are cute and cuddly.
- Do tell us we’re HOT, gorgeous, sexy, beautiful, stunning, lovely, amazing, wonderful, special … you get the point.
- Don’t say, “You have a pretty face.” That’s the kiss of death. We’ll groan, roll our eyes and think, “I’ve heard this all my life. ONLY my face is pretty?!” No. See number one. This will also register on any fat girl’s radar that you haven’t been with many of us before.
- Do take us out, flaunt us, dance with us, hold our hands in public … act like a normal guy who is into his girl.
- Don’t say “You’re a beautiful big woman” or “I’m into fat chicks.” Really. Just see US as who we are. The individual. You don’t have to qualify that we’re pretty … for a big girl. Come on. Just own it that you think we’re hot. On the “I’m into fat chicks:” We’re not a fetish. ‘Nuff said.
Despite my sometimes-difficulty accepting compliments, I actually know I’m a pretty cool woman. My biggest issue – if I were to call it an issue – is my size. It could be a lot worse: I could be a mean spirited, miserable, gossipy coke head; instead, I’m fat.
Oh, and for the record: the boys still dig me. It ain’t a problem.
This business of letting go isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes on its own form, as though the thing which you need to let go is on one end of a string pulling at your chest, a tug of war, a sense of trying to reign in what needs to just … be.
On Thanksgiving, I found myself in my grandmother’s driveway. She died in October
. As I studied her house while sitting in my car, hand over heart, I missed her. Should I get out of the car? Stay in? Surely the neighbors will see. But … I just wanted to touch something she had touched. I wanted to run my hands on the white siding of her home, to go inside.
I was at her front door. The screen was ajar; I wished she would open it, her long, soft fingers clutching the bedazzled walker, her voice cracking a bit when she smoothly greeted me with a little laugh and pulling me in a tight grasp, “Well, hello, honey!” My hand rested – no, squeezed – the brass door knob. Her hand was on it not long ago and I wanted to feel her.
I’ve missed a lot of years with her while I lived in different places
. She always accepted this, but just before I moved to Myanmar
, we hugged longer than usual. We cried more. We knew it could’ve been the last time (it wasn’t, thank goodness). There were clues of this acknowledgement – like when she asked me if I needed more pearls (fakes that she surely bought from television shows) or asked me what I wanted from her home. This is what people say when they accept they will not be here in physical form. When they are accepting they need to let go of their mortality. Piece by piece.
I hated it.
My niece and nephews took photographs with the flash on during Thanksgiving. Sometimes orbs of light appeared in the shots. I listened to them say those orbs belonged to their great-grandma … that her spirit was there. My brother and I eyed each other while the kids talked about grandma. We didn’t need to say it: We both wished desperately she was there, wrapped up in her pink shawl, showing off all her rings, closing her eyes to stick the half-fallen fake eyelash back in place.
I don’t know what the orbs meant other than there was reflected light caused by the flash, but it did feel like she was with us, like in the beautiful side table in my brother’s living room – it used to be hers. I wear now one of her little rings. Somehow it makes me feel she’s closer. Like I don’t have to completely let her go.
The wintery season reminds us to hunker down and be with family. Get in close. Thanksgiving is usually my favorite holiday because of this; my extended family gathers
every year on the Oregon coast for a special weekend. Last year I was in Myanmar and felt grateful to be home this time to celebrate; but there is a bite to the holidays right now.
Despite all that has been gained this year, a lot has been lost (or is different)
and sometimes that felt like a small pressure on my chest. I had to step outside, take deep breaths, get some air while the rest of the family talked until the wee hours. Next year will be better.
All we can do is decide how to respond to those things we have no control over. Which is most everything. We can bury ourselves in the sorrow or we can acknowledge the pain of endings while also seeing the beauty, the good, and all the lessons the experiences and relationships held. We can dig deep for meaning, then gracefully step aside to let the rest pass through. Holding on doesn’t let you keep it any longer or any closer. It’s the river flowing to the sea. Grasping for the water will wear you out.
I still wish Grandma had been sitting in a chair, nodding off to sleep at Thanksgiving, though. She’s held tight in our memories. When I sing to my daughter or recite poems with her, she’s there. When I hang necklaces on my doorknobs, she’s there. When I add a whimsical touch in my home, she’s there. She’s here.
So that string will pull at me sometimes … I’ll feel it, then bend down and whisper to my heart, “Just go. Go. Go. But … stay, stay, stay.”
We met 12 years ago today in that little coffee shop next to the ferry. I saw you through the large window, sitting calmly in your independence, your head gently bent over a book on global issues. Your big ideas, your worldly view and experiences, your easy presence drew me in as we sat for hours talking, drinking coffee.
More than your experiences, I was intrigued by your candor and passionate beliefs, your firmly held views. That was attractive to me. I knew the stories you shared were a cover for something deeper; of course, your wild tales would usually work as a great introduction, a type of foreplay … I was sure most girls fell for that … and your English accent.
I wasn’t that kind of girl though. I wanted to know more. Not just what you did or where you traveled, but what you liked and what you read and why you did what you did. You said you were taken in by my smile.
You felt disarmed that I could see beneath the layers and scratch under your veneer. There wasn’t any real trick to that: I just listened. Maybe you needed that.
Who knew a coffee and hours of talking would change our lives. Within a year, I would sell all my stuff, pack-up my belongings, move to England, and start a new adventure with you. We weren’t engaged. No promises were made. Friends thought I was crazy. I knew I could go back home if it didn’t work out.
Those coffees led to a strong friendship; love; marriage; travel; multiple moves to many countries on four continents; a beautiful, fierce daughter; a painful separation; getting back together and trying again; and then … now … to divorce
But that first day we met, in the car, on the long drive to my home from the ferry station, you said, firmly, “I’m never having kids and I’m never getting married. I value my independence above all else.” You said it.
Later, you tried so hard to pull back some of those words, to make sense around how you felt about us. “Maybe I just hadn’t ever met the right person,” you said. I watched you struggle putting those words in your mouth. That never changed – the struggle. You tried to swallow them – all those words whole. You tried to be one kind of man and then another kind of man and tried to make sense of it. I kept being me and attempted to hold it all with both palms open and my heart wide, but cracking, because neither of us could keep the opposing, pulling sides – forever. Not within the constructs of anything resembling conventionality.
Not to say that we were conventional. (Neither of us are.) And I loved that about you.
There was so much that we understood and that was good. That keeps us friends. We don’t fight. We don’t yell. Or call names. But the wind wasn’t calm and you wanted something more raw – while I needed grounding. This conflict, our weather … we brewed high pressure. That hurt you. It hurt me.
Yet, I have a lot to thank you for. We have 12 years’ worth of words. You gave me your friends, your family, and they became ours. I gave you mine. Now – yours belong to you and mine belong to me – but that’s OK. It was beautiful. And I got to love more people.
You opened new countries
to me … countries I will always carry in my heart
… countries that have changed who I am. I’m better, stronger for it. My perspective is wider and through even more friendships, I spread love out across the sea. Though I need a home, my roots, a base – my appreciation and my desire for travel was split open because of you. That door will never close.
Thank you for loving me in your ways. Thank you for allowing me to fully love you and experience being your wife and best friend. My life is richer.
Thank you for teaching me about mosquitoes, parasitoid wasps, malaria, dengue, the Amazon, adventure. Now I know to pack some of the heavy stuff at the top of a backpack; how to put a duvet in its cover
; how to make coffee in a French Press.
Thank you for England: football; Pims; being twirly; scotch eggs; Hob Nobs; PG Tips; Galaxy chocolate; pubs; for teaching me how to pronounce my t’s; the Cotswolds; Dover’s Hill; Scotland; Wales; and magical Christmases with your family.
Thank you for Kenya, Ethiopia, Myanmar
, UAE, Germany, Thailand, and Malaysia. Thank you for Mardi Gras and rainforests, countless safaris, learning about the different species of zebra and giraffe. Thank you for giving me Africa. Photography. For Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. For Battlestar Gallactica. For pulling me out of my literary snobbery.
Thank you for sarcasm and wit. For Perspective.
Thank you for asking me to marry you on that bench with the lamppost. Then asking me again, years later, this time on your knees, at the same spot … even though, now … things have worked out completely differently. I knew you meant it then.
For that New Year’s eve in Nairobi – the one where you asked if I would be a parent with you – I thank you the most for that. Because from that night, that decision, we are parents to an incredible child. This girl will have – has had already – an unconventional life. Thank you. Thank you for our daughter. Just. Thank you. She is the best of you. The best of me. (And we’re in trouble!)
Thank you for really deciding who you need to be and saying so. You told me the truth even when it was brutally hard; but it was the truth. And my heart knew it. And for telling me the truth, I found compassion and forgiveness.
Thank you for asking me to let you go. Because I loved you, I did. And I know you asked me to let you go because you loved me, too.
By letting you go, I have reclaimed part of myself, a freedom. By letting you go, I have moved
– in many ways – towards a new life
with a new set of rules and principles that are my truth. Ones that work for me, that shift and soar. This feels good and right.
We are both on separate journeys; yet, you will always be within me: I owe part of the woman I am now to you. Without you, I would not have had these experiences. I am stronger, clearer, braver.
You gave me much. Even the tough, the feeling of brokenness (which has healed), for the parts you fell short and I fell short: I’m thankful.
Now, I know what I need.
What I want.
What I’ll accept.
I know how to be better. Different.
Thank you for supporting our daughter and for helping to support my dreams. You believed in me.
You’ve given me the opportunity to learn to forgive, to practice love unconditionally, for understanding love alone does not make a marriage and nor does a piece of paper.
Sometimes love means letting go to allow room for a new growth, a new life, to take root.
Thank you for the coffee. For 12 years.
I wish for you what it is you wish for … with my whole heart and much love.