Happy Valentine’s Day, Hooligans
Actually, I never put any stock in Valentine’s Day.
My students would usually be the ones to remind me when it was Valentine’s Day, particularly younger students because they were still excited about Valentine’s Day. But not me. I’ve always seen it as a superficial Hallmark Company Holiday, and maybe that’s part of why my marriage is over.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I have been in Flagstaff, my first Arizona homeland, for the past two days and the love I feel from friends and community up here reminds me, so necessarily, that the 8 years I’ve been in Arizona were far from a waste. I did not fail.
Though I moved to Arizona for love of one person, I ultimately stayed for hundreds of other people who I met here, loved, and could not leave.
Letting go is hard for me, reader, and I’m guessing it’s hard for you, also.
Yesterday, I went to a Superbowl party (small, vaxxed, distanced) at the beautiful home of a former student’s parents. I did not drink, and I had a great time. I ate a lot. I thought of this last night, how when I used to drink at such occassions I would never pay attention to food. Once booze was in my hand (and it was, at parties, always my first aim), I had interest in little else beyond “more booze.” So I guess I made up, last night, for my drinking by overeating. And while I don’t want to fall into the trap of replacing one bad habit (drinking) for another bad habit (way over eating), I am pleased to report that despite my seconds (okay, thirds) of queso & chips, I did not say or do anything regrettable. I did not fall down. I did not text angry things to my ex (oh, what a shitshow I would have made of this divorce were I still drinking). And this morning, I had a belly ache and clear recollection of everything I said and did.
I so don’t care about sobriety right now. I mean, I will never drink again because it is life-or-motherfuckin’-death territory for me.
Drinking was my problem. Thinking I was a useless piece of shit, was my problem. Thinking I wasn’t deserving of “the good” in this life, was my problem. And I think I have those things on lock. So I’ll stay off the sauce, go to my meetings when I need ’em, and when I don’t, but I’m no longer torturing myself with this bullshit “if I take this sleeping pill am I no longer sober?” shit that a year in the rooms has me neurotic about.
I mean, I’m a way back insomniac.
I had insomnia as a baby in the 1970s.
My brain is wired to anxiety. It just is.
The “why” hardly matters anymore.
What I’m saying is I’m not drinking, and as I go through this divorce I am questioning a lot of things I “adhered to” in Arizona in an effort to be more “the way others wanted me to be.”
Drinking has nothing to do with others — it has, and always has had, to do with me, my thinking, my care (or lack thereof) about myself.
Because, my hooligans, when shit gets shitty (and, if you live long enough, trust me, it will), I need to have my wits about me.
Alcohol obliterates my wit.
Silences any clear, good thinking.
And then ruins the following day. So I have no trouble abstaining when I understand this, and I do understand this. I know how to care for myself now better than I ever have before, only now I am “on my own” and my life is more complicated than it was the last time I lived my life “on my own.”
I lived alone until I was 38. It was glorious. I never disliked it, and I am actually really looking forward to the adorable little one bedroom respite my amazing parents found for me in the ‘burbs. I can’t wait to have houseplants again. (My ex is keeping the cats as they were always her cats, and I am keeping Abe because he is always my dog.)
This is why I am moving back to Chicago. I have people here, but they’re scattered, and they have families of their own, and I am just this odd little being slinking around Tucson and Flagstaff, awaiting a flight — really. I told my ex that she may burn anything I leave behind, and I fuckin’ mean it. I will not kill myself anymore over “stuff.” And that is a freedom I have now that I am no longer married. I will not wreck myself, my actual body and mental wellness, over “belongings.” Burn that shit, I wanna get off this terrifying ride and start over anew. With Abe who, as it turns out, is going to be my actual “life partner.”
Yesterday’s halftime show, though. I am not a halftime show connoisseur (I don’t understand or enjoy football, usually), but that halftime show rocked my socks off. Betsy and I were screaming and dancing throughout the whole thing (neither of us drinking, either!) and everyone else was much more subdued. I just . . . I love Dre. And Snoop. And Eminem. And Mary J Blige. That was high quality, for my money. (I spent no money as I watched it for free on a friend’s large television.) Afterwards, Betsy and I drove around in the cool new car she’s leasing, and then we picked up Laura and all three of us drove around Flagstaff, at night, in the cool Space Car (it was a Tesla, I feel many different ways about this — but riding in that Space Car was like being at Disney land), listening to Kendrick Lamar, 2Chainz, and Nirvana. Yes, all us Gen-X girls, last night, had ourselves a little nostalgia party — driving around and blasting Nirvana (the sound system in the Tesla — que manifique!), and at one point we thought the car was trying to kill Laura when the back seat started coming down on her . . . “It’s HAL,” I told my friends, as we laughed. “I’m afraid I cannot do that, Laura,” I said in my best HAL, as she struggled to make the back seat go up again.
“We’re basically riding in a computer,” Betsy said.
And that freaked me out because she’s right.
A Tesla is just a giant computer on wheels.
This is scary to me for myriad reasons.
And also riding around in the Tesla, in the dark, blasting “Come As You Are” — and singing like I sang when I was young: didn’t care how I sounded, was just having fun, was laughing, and beating out drum licks on my thighs so hard that I now have a few bruises. (I bruise easily, do not fear, reader.)
And there was joy.
And there was God (I’m talkin’ to you, LF).
In that fuckin’ Tesla, when Betsy took it up to “warp speed” (and that was some G-force shit — I did not really like it because it was scary), and I was clutching the door and laughing and Laura was screaming “Oh my God, Betsy!” And she was laughing, too, and Betsy was laughing as she took the car off “warp speed,” and I felt so light and free and that feeling, I believe, is part of God. God is love. Love is God. Really that simple to me.
As we listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” howling out the lyrics to the black Flagstaff night, I thought, I am forming new memories of this song now. The memories before were of my actual youth. Fast car drives to shows in the city with my high school crew. We were all wounded little kids, trying to drown our sadness, our traumas, our worries, in rock music and weed and sometimes booze and hard drugs. Mostly, though, we cared for each other. My teen friends and I, as teens, shepherded one another — clumsily, sometimes badly, for we were children — through the, often bitter, ends of our respective childhoods. Those people, in our little misfit teen crew, loved and cared for me. And those of our sweet little crew, that lived to be in our forties — we lost a few to drugs, drinking , suicide — still love and care about each other because that was family, too.
Betsy and Laura are family, too. They love me, and I love them. And when shit has gotten “real” in the years of my time spent in Arizona, they’ve been the first to hold me up. Often before my ex. Sad but true. They made me food, they held me as I wept, they put me to sleep in sweet little rooms decorated with my stay in mind. Not just this time, but in before times, too. They are additions to the misfit crew. And while Nirvana used to belong, in my mind, to Lori, Roy, Stefanie, Dan, Rob, Cherie, et al & me, now they belong to those people, me, and Laura, and Betsy, as I braid these amazing women into the fold of people I can trust. My ride or dies. Always.
And again, last night, I could not sleep. I cried myself to sleep.
And I’ve been staying with Laura, and she urged me today to consider just “resting” and staying another day on the mountain, and when Laura directs, I comply. She knows shit. That’s the thing about my friends, they know stuff.
I don’t know what “this” is.
This is a divorce, yes, but for me it’s also so much bigger. My trust has been rather aggressively violated and broken. I go back over things, throughout the years, and I feel a mix of nausea and fear and also profound, aching, love.
For this reason, I’ve recently been in love with this old Ween song.
The song captures so perfectly the conflict of emotions we feel after a breakup, and the lyrics are hilariously angsty, and right now, songs like this just seem to scratch an itch I haven’t had in many years because I haven’t been so acutely heartbroken since I was much younger.
I have been reminded, in clinical, business-like texts (the only I’ve had from my ex-family & ex-spouse), that I am legally allowed home “because you are on the lease” — therefore making me feel a little nuts for not staying at home ( I have been gaslit for years, and will share more about that in, like, a year maybe when I have some clearer, less emotionally loaded perspective)— the home has been rendered unpleasant for me.
It feels unsafe. It is probably safe, but the way the proverbial rug was pulled has not exactly instilled in me a great sense of trust and safety and ease with regard to the people I’ve called “family” for the past eight years. I don’t trust any of them. Not a one. You strand me in Arizona with stage iv cancer, and you’re gonna lose my trust. Probably forever. But that’s for another day.
It’s all very strange, reader.
I have never done well at freezing people out, though that does, in fact, seem to be a gift a great many white Americans are gifted with: the ability to freeze their own hearts.
Can barely still my heart most days, much less “freeze” it, and I’m a little envious of those who can. And you know who you are. (Hi there!)
But family is not who you married into or who birthed you.
Not necessarily. You can’t “force a family” to happen.
That is a lesson I take from this, certainly. And you cannot “will love” to come from another person or persons. For love from humans, the human must 1) have love to give and 2) be willing to give it and 3) be willing to give it to you.
And then you have to be able to “receive love” which is one of my character defects. I struggle to believe I am loved. I don’t know why when outside of my ex-family, I am surrounded by nothing but. That’s just the crazymaking nature of divorces, I guess. Sides are always taken, even if you do not wish for this to be so.
I feel broken, freaked out, weirded out, hurt beyond my limited comprehension, and I want to go home which now is Chicagoland. Like I wish Abe and I could go tomorrow. But I have to be patient. Even my tarot cards have been warning me to exercise “patience” with this process. (Yeah, tarot. You read me right. Don’t like it? Don’t care. Not reading your tarot.)
I know I am loved by many for who I am as I am because I am.
I know this because, particularly in this present calamity, you have shown me.
My parents have shown me. My siblings, my friends, even people from that “old misfit crew” of my youth have all reached back to show me they love me. And right now, I need love. I really do. Not the romantic kind we force on Valentine’s Day, but the real kind. The kind of love that endures even when you have cancer and are also an anxious person. The kind of love that has boundaries, but has no real beginning or end. When I was younger and dumber, I had a student who had been in and out of prison for drugs and prostitution. And once she wrote about her very charming, All-American childhood in the suburbs, and I later said to another teacher-friend, “How could she have ended up this way? She said over and over in the paper that her family was lovely . . .” And my friend looked at me like I was a complete moron (because I was about this, back then) and she said, “Gruber, ‘love’ is not a noun. It is a verb.” So people can say “love” and send cards and flowers and chocolates but that is not love. Love is a verb. Love cannot be captured, cannot always be seen by the eye or felt with the body. I was in my late twenties before I grasped it and even then I didn’t grasp it because I went on taking everyone at their word like a fuckin’ fool. Because in this country, folks? With Americans? The word “love” spoken or written means little. For it is a “verb.” People will show you if they love you or if they’re just saying a word. My advice to you, reader, if you don’t already know? The minute you sense that “love” ain’t a verb in your family or community, you need to run like your life depended on it because, as it turns out, says homeless cancer lady, the difference between the “noun” love and “verb” love makes a lot of difference
I know when everything is all over, when the last of my belongings leave my ex’s home, I will be frozen out forever. And I know now that actual love cannot grow from immoveable, frozen things that may have the word “love” graffitied all over them.
Related aside: recently, I was explaining to a friend how I will not share my views on race in this country with any white adult (over 25) who has refused to admit their own racism. And when pressed, “But aren’t those exactly the white people you need to be confronting?” I said, “Yes, but I can’t help anyone whose fist is closed.” If you are white, American, and over the age of 25 and have never examined your own racist beliefs and tendencies, I can’t help you. I cannot help those who have hardened their hearts, who keep their fists closed around their racism, their anger, their fear . . . And this doesn’t just apply to discussions around race. It can apply to all discussions that touch on sensitive subjects. And if you’re in full freak out mode, I can’t discuss anything with you. And if I’m in full freak out mode, you can’t discuss anything with me. I have to open my fist.
You cannot reason with a kid in full freak out mode.
It’s like trying to get your computer to play a movie while it’s flipping out because you have six hundred windows (with popup ads) running in the background. Can’t play that movie — too much other stuff going on in the head. Gotta shut down those background windows first. And this was something I really learned in my few months at the freedom school in Tucson. That while our “adult instinct” may be to match the kid’s anger/panic/fear/upset by confronting them with “norms” and “rules,” it doesn’t work. So my technique became that when a child acted out, I tried first to respond with as much compassion as I had in my being, to calm them first before I tried to reason. This works on some kids, and not so well with others. As to the latter group, what I believe now — having had many years in the public schools here in Arizona — is that the kid who cannot be reasoned with is suffering from things I do not know. And I can grasp that, because I was that kid. I never lashed out — I kept my terror and anger and rage inside, to take it all out on myself — probably because I was born a girl under patriarchy, and girls are expected to internalize all of our big feelings even though we have them just as much as our boy counterparts . . . And why did I do that? Why didn’t I just tell a trusted teacher or a friend the full story of what was going on in my head and heart? Because I was a fucking CHILD, and it is not the responsibility of the child, it cannot ever be the responsibility of the child themself to “fix” what ails them. Because they are children. That’s what adults are for. Or are supposed to be for. Though we all fail, sometimes, quite spectacularly. Just like the adults who raised us meant well, but sometimes failed. And the adults that raised those adults meant well, but sometimes failed, and that’s the real story of human history: adults failing their children.
Also, if you’re an adult still having routine, “unreasonable freak outs” — go get some therapy. I say that with love. I’ve been that adult.
Right now, I am so glad that this divorce does not involve children.
The only children hurt by this divorce were the 75 kids downtown who I had to leave in a year when they have been left by a parade of beloved adult.
And kids are pretty resilient, and I know “my kids” in Tucson will be fine, and I hope to remain a part of their lives inasmuch as I can.
Right now, though, I am glad I am no longer legally responsible for any children because I can barely manage being legally responsible for my own damn self.
I am not alone.
I know this.
As my friend Lynn pointed out a few nights ago, when I was having an especially rough time of “this”:
You are not alone.
You are on your own right now.
My ex has family in Tucson. That was part of the reason we moved down there. I needed better cancer care, but was not in a place for a “big gigantic move,” and my ex’s family was in Tucson . . . so Tucson it was.
And then I got dumped.
I had nightmares often, in the last two years, that this would happen.
I’d wake up in cold sweats. Drenched. And I would often share these dreams with my ex, looking for reassurance . . .now?
I think that was my intuition, which is often my line to God, warning me of what was coming by presenting me with a myriad of awful scenarios in which I was abandoned by my ex. And guess what, fuckers?
My gut feelings were right again.
Among friends, I am known as a person with freakishly accurate intuition. Whether bad or good, I am 98% of the time right when I go on intuition alone. And I was so blinded by love, by wanting to believe I could have what some of y’all have — happy, loving, cozy homes with a life-partner-in-crime, and I tried, and God had other plans.
My friend Sal says “nothing is over unless you know the lesson” — and I think I know the lesson from my failed marriage. Some parts are too painful to admit to myself because they implicate me. Some parts are too painful to admit to myself because they implicate her. We are both implicated, as is always the case when a relationship ends — professional, romantic, filial or friend. There is usually no ONE villain. Would be easier if there were. If I could walk away from this situation feeling like “well I never did anything wrong,” maybe I wouldn’t cry all night every night.
If it means something to you, Happy Valentine’s Day.
If it doesn’t mean anything to you, you’re in good company on this blog.
And if you need it to mean something, today, then take this, you are loved. Just because you are. As you are. You are loved. And sometimes, reader, you are love. And so am I.
Be good, hooligans.