Confession

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Courtesy of Hoopla, I’ve viewed a few episodes of Jennifer Cognard-Black’s Great Course called Becoming a Great Essayist. Too bad I can only “borrow” ten lectures a month, for this course isn’t just a workshop in writing, it is a retreat in voicing the true self.

Cognard-Black says that the writer’s ethos is essential to good essay writing, an authentic self that speaks of the writer’s experiences and beliefs. The concept is ethos is not alien to me, but I hadn’t considered it was an unavoidable part of nonfiction writing.

Where do you draw the line between what needs to be no one else’s business and the secrets that if found could completely undermine your credibility? What if that secret does not belong to you alone?

I bear the weight of such a secret. It’s something that is known by those who care about me in real life but also a subject seldom raised except by me. Dozens if not a hundred people in my town know this fact but not a single one has confronted me with it: I was my husband’s mistress for the first seven years of our relationship.

Am I proud of what I’ve done? Absolutely not. I doubt there is a single indictment of this choice anyone could write that I haven’t imagined myself.

I love a man I cannot trust, and I cannot waste my time imagining how or when or with whom he could betray me. My sanity depends on it. When I was with my daughter’s father, I was obsessed with the unfounded idea that he was unfaithful to me. I’d comb through his belongings and read his emails. I once confronted him with what I thought was evidence of an assignation with a woman unknown, but all the clues really corresponded to the shopping and purchase of a deep freezer for my 30th birthday.

Part of the delusion that sustained my years as the other woman was the conviction that I needed to atone for my suspicious mind and the ideal penance was loving a man I knew for a fact could not be trusted.

Halfway through my time as the other woman, I was stricken with the idea that my now husband could be fooling around with several women. He was present in the pictures on my living room wall. He had a drawer of things in my dresser, clothes in my closet. He could take a day off work and bring another woman there and pretend that I was his wife. I could be part of an infinite series of women who knew they were not the only one but not how many were in the series or their true place in it.

I had a dream that I was waiting for my daughter’s school bus and overheard another woman’s confession that she knew her boyfriend was taking another woman named Sugar out for ice cream. She seemed resigned to her failure against the force of nature that was Sugar. I didn’t have the heart to enter the fray and reveal that I too had been seeing the same man and would lose him to Sugar.

For my own sanity, I had to snuff out this sort of thinking, just get on with the other business of living. I was busy enough with work and raising my daughter. Time evaporated until his former wife decided she was done with the situation, and then I became his wife.

Of course, this was a victory won at too high a price. Recently I mentioned that I had bulimia in my teenage years. My therapist at Duke (I was an English major there for two years, btw) suggested that I binged and purged because I was addicted to shame. It is true that the behaviors of that eating disorder ended when I tried LSD at age 19. The drug did not cure the illness; it was a new and bigger thing to be ashamed of. My ten-year journey from other women to wife is also wrapped in shame.

So now you know. I have no right to adopt a voice that is not compassionate of the foolish choices of others.

First (Soggy) Day of Summer

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Our morning glories made their inaugural climb despite the rain.

My parent’s street today:

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Lima is full of residential scenes that make sense in widescreen.

Btw, there are ongoing dramas for friends and family of mine. I avoid mentioning such matters because doing so with much coherence could invade the privacy of the people involved. With that aside, I can no longer resist mentioning that my mother had washer number six delivered today. There’s no typo in the preceding sentence. My mother has found no less than five washers lacking since the beginning of May. Today Dad returned number five for the sixth pretender to the throne.

I don’t know the finer details of this appliance series, or how my dad overcame the obstacles of returning so many washers. Is he starting to feel like someone who’s been struck by lightning multiple times in dubious circumstances? Did he just give up around washer three or four and start donating the rejects to secondhand stores? I remember watching a Weather Channel special years ago in which a woman had survived three lightning strikes and was reluctant to describe how ordinary the scenes were when it happened. She was struck the third time while washing dishes. Her predicament reminds me just a little of my parents’ marriage.

My washer and dryer were made in 1987 and still launder clothes well with fantastic inefficiency in water and electricity use. I’m so fortunate they show no signs of collapse. I just didn’t inherit enough of my mother’s force of personality to find worthy replacements for them.

I will close with a rainy scene from today’s garden. Incidentally, my washer was spinning with ease as I walked outside to take this picture:

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Jealousy

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Jealousy is the gut-twisting indigestion of emotion, and I’ve felt plenty of it lately. I’m hoping it’s just a step in grieving recent losses, like treading the waves of chronic pain or seeing how my daughter is struggling more to find her place among her neurotypical peers.

I confide my jealous thoughts to my husband, and he gently warns me that I’d alienate the people involved if I revealed such feelings. I then feel a bit jealous that he can squelch his more toxic thoughts before those who might be wounded or angered by them. I’m not the kind of person who can vent before an ideal audience whenever the need arises. This is why I have a blog and he does not.

I’m not jealous of things I see and read online. My Facebook friends can post as many shots of new campers, bigger houses, and graduations as they wish. I do not begrudge them their pride. It’s enduring the sight and sound of people close to me bragging about their good fortune in matters that they know trouble me.

I could turn this around and focus on their callousness. If I had a friend who struggled with infertility, I would not brag about my unplanned pregnancy. Why in the world must I hear chapter and verse about how their children who are close to mine in age are fielding suitors and learning to drive cars? My daughter is a smart, autistic sixteen-year-old who’s gotten bullied by males and can’t tie her shoes. She resists any suggestion of her learning to drive. I love my daughter to pieces. I wouldn’t trade her in for another child, but it is hard to witness the widening distance between her and her peers.

It is hard to capture the feeling I get when I hear that the child of one of my friends has achieved something that stands at some hazy distance in the future for my own. It’s a confrontation with two things: the reality that autism is a developmental disability and a reminder that I ultimately have not surpassed the jealousies of my youth. When I was sixteen, I envied my classmates who were dating or could drive cars without failing their driving test twice. Nevermind that my daughter has told me she doesn’t want to date or drive a car yet. It burns me up that she is missing out on the same things I did, even if she claims to be indifferent about it.

When I hear my friends brag about their teenagers, I silently judge them for living through their children, but isn’t my dread about my daughter’s present and future just a photo negative of their bragging? Why should I mourn that my daughter has none of my teenage goals when my achievements of those years translated into naught in my adulthood? I was a bulimic National Merit Finalist who squandered two attempts at a college education, who half-ass stalked my unrequited crushes. It’s a good thing she’s not my clone. I’d have been tempted to send her to a convent with adjoining ECT clinic.

Last semester, my daughter had health class, and she confessed that she laughed out loud when her teacher mentioned the evils of LSD because she remembered my anecdote whose tagline was, “LSD cured my bulimia.”

Yes, that is exactly how I earned a three-day stay in a mental ward at age 19, my insistence to student health that a hit of acid had cured my bulimia. I should relish having a daughter who can enjoy those stories without the least temptation to recreate them.

She will do what’s she feels is worth her time on her own stubborn schedule. Feeling as if I’ve been wounded when I hear that a friend’s teenager has already passed points a, b, and c is an emotion I wish I could exorcise from my heart’s repertoire.

How Did We Find Each Other?

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I’m still motoring through Agatha Christie’s back catalog, and the novel Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? has me impressed with how quickly its various characters are able to communicate by post or phone. It has me thinking that I too once lived in a world free of email or cell phones, and I don’t recall having much trouble making plans with friends or family if I wanted to emerge from my hermitage.

I can’t seem to remember how we arranged times or places with accuracy. I really can’t remember how we made things happen, how for instance we’d know to show up in front of the bookstore on a particular day and time. I don’t remember anyone failing to show up for such rendezvous. Late at times, yes, but absent, no.

This failure of memory seems absurd to me. It’s not like the first generation of car drivers forgot how to ride horses or how to read a train schedule. The part of my brain responsible for remembering how I made plans before I had a cell phone must be the same region that eventually forgets the particulars of a brand logo once a new one is adopted. This brand-forgetfulness has been a lifelong minor plague. When I was seven years old, my family passed through a small town that still had an older version of the K-Mart logo. The relief I felt at seeing the older logo was akin to dreaming of a friend I hadn’t seen in years (and said friend looking the same as when I last saw him or her). It’s the relief of knowing that your memory is longer and deeper than you suspect, even if your mental search engine doesn’t deliver an answer when you want it.

Now I feel like a cell phone is a shopping necessity. I could miss a call or text from home asking me to add something to my cart. Or, heaven forbid, I could “lose” my daughter or husband in the store. This is a part of life before cell phones that I do remember. My mom had a knack for disappearing in department stores. The larger the store, the greater the probability she’d slip away while I was thumbing through 45 rpm music singles or combing through a shirt display to find one in my size (which I could get only if it was on sale). I’d look up and Mom would be nowhere in sight. I’d spend the next half hour wandering the store and finding her only at the moment I’d given her up as lost for good. I’d spot her right before she slipped into some alternate retail reality where the pictures of mothers and not children are to be seen on milk cartons.

I’d have appreciated some way of knowing exactly where she was, but a cell phone would have diluted her mystique I suppose. Unless she went missing in a store, I had persistent knowledge of her whereabouts. I didn’t have to wonder if she was in the bathroom or the backyard or the planet Venus. I just knew. Perhaps such transparency was exhausting at times.

How did we let others know where we’d be and when we’d get there?

Garden, June 17

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I don’t like this heat, but I am apt to complain of temperatures that dare to escape my 10-degree margin of comfort (currently 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit and narrowing by the year it seems). Any day with heat in excess of 80 degrees shall be called anathema; a 95-degree day like today has a name so indecent I shall not write it.

The flowers seem to enjoy this heat if they have enough water. A couple of the hanging baskets dried out a bit by the evening watering time, but I persuaded them back from the brink with a long drink.

(Almost Summer) Photo Walk, June 16

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I’ve been remiss with my photo walks this year. It’s not like I haven’t been taking walks. I just haven’t had my camera with me. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, as much reading as I can possibly accomplish given the ordinary demands of work and motherhood. It’s like reading makes one’s perspective a bit more distant. I’m still enjoying the scenery of my days; I’m just not paying as close attention to what I see.

I’ve needed the mental engagement that a book can offer to those who linger between its pages. I’ve found that my ongoing flare-ups of nerve pain don’t mix well with television viewing. My mind is just not far enough away from that pain while I watch the show screen.

Around Halloween, I quietly decided that I’d start binge reading instead of binge watching. I’d exhausted all the episodes of Poirot and Marple on AcornTV, so I choose Agatha Christie’s bibliography as my first binge read. Since Halloween was just a pumpkin throw away at that time, I started with Hallowe’en Party. It’s one of the Poirot novels in which he teams up, willingly or not, with the mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver. I adore the Poirot/Oliver novels, for in those pages Christie seems to be laughing both at herself and her most famous detective. There are healthy amounts of satire and sometimes bawdy wit to be found in her work.

So far I have read 53 of her 75 novels and several of her short story collections. An e-reader like Kindle is a great tool for anyone who’s interested in binge reading. It will keep your place just like Netflix remembers the last episode/scene of a TV show. Life can be full of unexpected waiting, and I’ve had a novel (or three) of hers on my phone at all times. I also have a tablet for reading at home. I’ve enjoyed almost all of these books for free through my local library’s connection to Overdrive. The link provided leads to Ohio’s Overdrive collection, but I think this service is available in all states. The entry ticket is a current local library card.

This morning I slightly merged my interests in photography and reading by making a trip to my local library, which has a fantastic garden next door. I thought that I may as well take a camera along to record the progress of that garden.

I regret that I missed this year’s blooming of the peonies. Oh well. The weather was soggy, and I was busy reading The Hollow and The Carribean Mystery.