When the Only Option is to make a Clean Sweep

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The only thing other than death that cuts as deeply and devastates so sweepingly is divorce. Like artillery when it explodes, a divorce tears a family apart, splinters its cohesiveness and fragments their separate parts into shards of failed humanity. Self-esteem is destroyed. Hearts are broken. Anger disguises itself as strength and distance is perceived as protection.

I’ve heard about “friendly” divorces and “mutual” divorces, but I think they are the exception not the rule. The longer the marriage — the deeper the wounds; it’s all about investment. The more time and effort you’ve poured into holding things together, the harder it is to break the chains of co-dependency and get out of communication (or non-communication) cycles that wear down our resistance to change.

I gave my first husband 30 years of my life and bore him six children. He let me go so easily that the last time I saw him I felt a stabbing knife wound in my upper heart, and a tightening fist grab at the bottom. It took me years to realize that he’d literally broken my heart.

The moment when I knew I couldn’t live in this lifeless marriage one second longer happened over 25 years ago. I was kneeling on our kitchen floor, coughing and barfing in a waste basket. I had bronchitis and had been ill for over a week. Still, in my frumpy robe and slippers, I got up to prepare breakfast for my brood and prepare sack lunches. Who would do it otherwise?

As I knelt on the floor, my husband charged into the room shouting at the children to get in the car or they’d be late for school. Each child swept into the room and gave me a passive glance. My husband escorted them out the back door, into the car, and they were gone.

I continued to wretch and cough in the waste can, and then my mind snapped. I felt it physically, spiritually, and mentally; an audible snap.

“People treat their dogs better than I’m treated in this family,” my thoughts formulated. “What if I choked? What if the thick phlegm that was cutting off my wind pipe lodged successfully in my throat? What if I couldn’t catch my breath? I could be dead for all they care!”

No one had asked if I was all right. There were no expressions of concern for my well being. Not even a goodbye. I was invisible; a pattern that left me feeling empty and lost. Now suddenly with this “snap,” this twist in my mind like a key opening a door, I had touched bottom. I was pushing off and rising to the top. I would never again allow myself to be treated with such disdain and disrespect.

Why did I take you on this loathsome journey? To show you that when you think your life is over and you can’t go on, rebirth is possible. Today the person I am is almost unrecognizable to those who “knew me back when.”

One person in my new circle of friends said it this way: “You look so vivacious!”

My confidence is back. I’m married to a man who not only likes the way I laugh and the silly things I say and do, but he loves them. I no longer have to walk on eggs, wondering if the next thing I say will be attacked or belittled. I’m confident in his love and comfortable to be myself. Those are the kind of things that money can’t buy.

Sadly, I’m not as close to my children as I’d like. I find myself feeling like that old worn out shoe that everybody used to kick around whenever I’m with them. They don’t notice it. They grew up under those conditions and feel comfortable in the ruts of the past. It’s difficult to heal when you’re constantly being pulled backwards or under.

I tell myself it’s “in my mind.” But even if it is, the fear of losing myself again is abhorrent. When you save a life, especially your own, you realize that there’s no going back. They will have to meet me on my own terms and accept me for who I am. After all, isn’t that what fulfillment and joy are all about?

My dancing heart; ravings from a ballet wanna’ be

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Dainty Diva, mixed media on canvas

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a dancer. My friends took dancing lessons. Why not me?  After begging and pleading with my mother, she finally consented.

I was ecstatic until I climbed the steps of Ms. Movita’s back porch, opened the door and descended down the steep wooden steps into her basement studio. Fear and insecurity welled up inside and turned me into a speechless vegetable.

I’d been here before. I’d watched my friends do pas de bourrees’ and plies’. I knew the names of all their moves from First to Fifth Position, Sautes’ and everything else in between.

I watched the first class dance to the beat of Ms. Movita’s piano which she playfully pounded while tapping her gigantic pink ballet slipper up and down in time with the music. If a student had a problem, she’d leap from her seat and demonstrate the proper foot position all while banging on the piano. Her fingers flew over the keys, her head nodding in cadence. She’d repeat this exercise until the student got it right. In her class, no child was left behind.

Ms. Movita’s hair was carrot red and tied in a lump of curls on top. When she sang out commands to her troupe every vibrant part of her was fully engaged. Students whispered behind her back, but on the floor she expected complete obedience. There was no-nonsense or sloughing off in her presence. You either did your best or she asked you to leave.

I waited in the parent seats until it was my turn to join the class. Since I was a beginner, she added me to a group that had been dancing only a few short months. The first 30 minutes were spent on ballet and the next 30 minutes on tap dancing. She had agreed that I could dance in my stocking feet until my mother could purchase the needed shoes. How long was this arrangement to last? I had no idea, but my heart was prepared to dance forever.

When it was my turn to perform, I felt like an over-baked pretzel; stiff and unbending. It had looked so easy for the other girls. They smoothly folded into fifth position and fourth. Would I be able to imitate their perfection?

Every night in our living room, I practiced pointing my toes, doing my plies’ and stretches. My parents applauded while straining their necks over and around me to watch their favorite T.V. programs.

After school, I walked to Ms. Movita’s house so I could watch the other student’s lessons. Her door was always open. If I could hear the piano, I knew a class was in session. I let myself in and quietly took my place on the sidelines. Then I’d go home and practice what I’d seen.

And then tragedy struck. My youngest and dearest uncle Vern was killed in an automobile accident. He had served in World War II and survived Hitler’s rampage only to come home and get killed in an auto accident when someone ran a red light. The irony was overwhelming.

Vern was my father’s brother and the baby of the family. The sorrow and agony suffocated everyone. I cried for days, remembering how he walked into our house singing: “It’s only me from over the sea, I’m Barnacle Bill the Sailor.” He’d lift me up on his shoulders and I thought he was strong and invincible.

After the funeral, things went from bad to worse. A wave of darkness and negativity crept over our household and into the neighborhood. This gloom invaded every aspect of our lives. All of a sudden, my mother had no money for dancing lessons let alone ballet and tap shoes. There was no time for frivolity and play. We wept on the inside even when we weren’t crying outwardly. Part of all of us died that year.

After school, I still visited Ms. Movita’s classes. The twanging piano and the lively students picked up my spirits, but they also saddened me. I realized I would never become a dancer.

One day, Ms. Movita asked me to leave. She said the open back door was only for dancers, and that the chairs were for parents and new students. I was crushed and disappointed. In defiance I danced even more at home. Ms. Movita, my mother couldn’t stop me! No one would stop me from dancing.

Later when I had a family of my own, I was still dancing in the living room. In our culture, dancing was considered frivolous and money for lessons was out of the question. I danced to the music, anyway. I told people it was good exercise and that it helped me stay in shape. When the children were young, they danced in wild abandonment with me. As they grew older, they thought it was silly. They teased me whenever I’d try to dance the latest craze. I’d become “old hat.”

Finally, my dancing shoes were put aside. I vented my creative energies into writing and painting. But I still have a dancing heart.