Today marks my wedding anniversary to husband #2. Please don’t get me anything, as we’re divorced. While I don’t feel sad about the divorce that I initiated 7 years ago, this day does make me pause and reflect.
I’m a recovering serial monogamist. Beginning at age 15 and lasting to age 40, I always had a guy by my side. A tomboy child, I’d always been more at home around men. Men were more humorous and patient with me than women. More fun. Men didn’t harangue me or scold me. They didn’t order me to brush my teeth. They wanted to laugh and throw a ball around. I liked that.
British philosopher Alain de Botton says that when it comes to romantic relationships, we seek to recreate the suffering we incurred by our parents in early childhood. So…
Right after I was born, Mom returned to her job at Capitol Records and left me in the care of my brooding, New York-Italian musician father. While Mom toiled away in that great cylinder at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, Dad kept one eye on me and the other on the football game on TV, while sucking down cigarettes and bottles of beer. If I shrieked loud enough he’d even feed me or change my diaper. My mother’s tea-totalling, middle-class parents would drop by now and again and be appalled at the scene. Grandfather would get so mad at Dad, visits sometimes ended in angry words and blows.
By my freshman year in high school, my parents had sobered up and were working in real estate. We lived in a 4-bedroom house a mile from the beach in Orange County, California. At school one day, I spied a cute boy. He was dark and brooding. A friend of mine was friends with his sister and they colluded to set us up. Soon enough, I had my 1st boyfriend, a New York-born Jew who was several years older than me. I’d just turned 15.
Everything was going along sweetly. He bought me records by the Beatles and U2. We would eat lunch together at school. But one afternoon, he tried to push me too far, too fast. He jammed his tongue in my mouth, ran his hands over my chest. This made me nervous. I wriggled away from him and his house and made my way home. I didn’t want to be around him anymore. I bravely ducked and dodged him at school. We were through, after only a 3-month courtship. I’d broken my 1st heart.
But the romantic fuse had been lit. I wanted to try again.
And try again, I would. Never dating, per se. Rarely “hooking up.” Strangely, I mostly only had actual relationships. One boyfriend after another, each relationship lasting on average from 6 months to 2 years, with the exception of 2 marriages, each of those lasting about 5 years apiece. 96% of the time, in all my romantic relationships, I’ve been the breaker-upper.
After divorce #2 ended, I decided to take a break from romance, to take stock and try to figure out where I was going wrong. It was clear there was a pattern. A cycle. What lay at the root of it?
I looked back and was appalled at what I saw. A trail of broken hearts. Perfectly great men, tossed aside like yesterday’s moldering take-out. Kind, thoughtful, funny, accomplished men – professors and poets; lawyers, musicians, businessmen and journalists, etc. Why had I discarded them?
For the 1st 2 years after my 2nd divorce, I didn’t date at all. I traveled, made mosaics, took pictures and drank too much cheap wine.
It took a dinner offer from a best-selling author to drive me out of hiding. We went on 2 dates. If I’d tried harder, I probably could have parlayed it into more but it didn’t take a British philosopher to see that he and I were both in rather messed-up headspaces at the time and really had no business being in the dating scene. But humans get lonely…
I’ve half-heartedly dated a handful of men since. But I’ve been plagued with the worry that if I got into a relationship, I’d simply flee when the going got rough, as I’ve always done. I never want to break another heart again if I can help it. I’m much more interested in healing them these days.
It’s been a revelation, though, to realize that I can exist without a man by my side. That I can have joyful moments. That I can travel and enjoy a sunset or a movie without a partner by my side and not feel lonely. I hadn’t realized.
I grew up longing for a soulmate. Somewhere, out there, he must exist, I told myself. Someone whose values and tastes aligned perfectly with mine. Someone familiar yet exotic enough to keep me intrigued. It took decades to realize that this is only a lovely fantasy, that humans are unpredictable; fickle, changeable and, let’s face it, more than a little insane. Seems to me it’s best to appreciate them in the moment, take them as they come, day-by-day and realize that if you want them in your life, there will be storms to weather. I’d always thought of the storms as being bad, a sign the end was near, that we weren’t really suited for each other. But just as a forest needs an occasional fire to weed out the dead brush and help release tree’s seeds, storms can strengthen, rather than simply destroy. But what do I know.
Goodbye, Britain! I’m waving a hanky in your direction. It was nice knowing you. Thank you for your music, literature, comedy, films, tv shows, art, science, museums, beer, tea, gardens and eccentrics. I’m glad I got a chance to study in your Cambridge.
I’m glad I got to get to know many of your own, to the point of marrying one, even. Glad I got to live in your London and learn to navigate your Tube. Glad I got to experience your delightful pubs and walk through your sweet countryside. Oh, and I must not forget that I am one of you. British blood courses through my veins. There’s even a town somewhere in you that bears the name of my ancestors, Wiggington.
Venturesome. It’s a mouthful and a trait that’s served me well. Today I was remembering how, when I was around 11 years old, one sunny, Saturday afternoon, I called out to my mom in the other room that I was going to go ride my bike to the park. In my hometown of Huntington Beach, California, there is a 343 acre natural oasis called Central Park. Lush with foliage, towering trees, ponds and lakes, it serves to break up the monotony of concrete beige walls that surround tract after tract of suburban housing in the area. Once at the park, I idly cycled down the asphalt path. After a few minutes, I spotted a group of people ranging in age playing volleyball. They appeared settled in for the day, with a full spread on the picnic table and blankets laid out for lolling on. A family outing, presumably. Not knowing any better, I leapt off my bike, dumped it on the grass, ran up to them and said, “can I play?” I was a lanky, agile tomboy at that age and athletic, had won ribbons and trophies in track and field, basketball, softball, etc. Bemused, they shrugged, said, “sure.” My new friends soon realized I was good at volleyball and made me feel welcomed.
Hours passed and I played with vigor, slurping down the soda and chips they offered me, laughing, joking, getting sunburned. When I realized the sun was low in the sky and a chill had crept into the breeze, I told them I’d better get going. We said cheery goodbyes and I biked home. I strolled through the front door to the sight of my waiting parents. “Where have you been all this time?!” my mom cried out. I said that I’d been playing volleyball. “With who?!” they asked. I explained that it was a bunch of random people I didn’t know. They looked aghast but I didn’t see what the fuss was all about. I told them I had a great time and that they gave me snacks. My folks shook their heads and looked at each other. “She’s your kid,” Mom said to Dad. “No, she’s your kid,” Dad deadpanned.
It was this same streak that compelled me to drive up Pacific Coast highway with my then-boyfriend when I was 18, from Huntington Beach all the way to Seattle. To hop a train and travel solo cross country when I was 21; that lead me to relocate to Ireland temporarily when I was 26; that moved me to lease a rustic, hundred-year old cabin at 7000 feet in the San Bernardino mountains and live the life of a mountain woman for a year. It lead me to seek new vistas, to peek behind walls and hills, to drive lonely back roads all around the U.S. It also emboldened me to take dozens and dozens of solo hikes in the Mojave desert during the five years that I lived in Henderson, Nevada.
One day in April earlier this year, I drove deep into the Mojave within the boundaries of Lake Mead Recreation Area, parked my Chevy and made my way up a steep, rubbly path towards a summit that I’d read would provide a beautiful view. As I neared the top, I veered off the trail, curious to see what was over to my left. I gingerly inched along a narrow ledge, my trusty Canon in my left hand and my right hand bracing me against a wall of rock. I paused and looked out over a surreal, awe-inspiring landscape, of Navajo sandstone crevasses, one after another, reaching towards the jagged peaks of the Muddy mountains. I took a picture. I’m honored to say that this photo now graces the cover of the 2017 state of Nevada geology calendar, published by the NV Bureau of Mines and Geology.
In an ancient lakebed in southern Australia some 42,000 years ago, the body of one very tall man was carefully placed in what anthropologists believe is the oldest intentional Homo sapiens burial site. Although it is now known that even our ancestral kin, the neanderthals, also buried their dead with care, laying personal artifacts such as stone tools beside them in their graves.
Along with our big brain cases and opposable thumbs, another characteristic of Homo sapiens that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is the ritualized mourning of the deceased. The behavior humans exhibit when grieving for their dead, behavior that is commonplace in just about every culture around the globe, is illustrative of conscience and sympathy, sensitivity and depth of feeling.
We humans take our dead, encase them and lower their boxed body into the ground. We pray or chant, lay flowers on their grave. Or, alternately, the deceased is placed in a kiln, reduced to ash then set adrift on a breeze or enveloped in porcelain and placed on a mantle. But the soul of the dead cannot be contained and evaporates, squelched by a lack of electrical pulses.
I believe we lose two people with each person’s death: The outer self and the inner one. We lose the fleshy person we hugged, loved and laughed with in life. And we lose the secret, internal person, who existed with private fears, loves unrequited, dreams yet attained-their unshared stories, real and imagined, forever lost.
We Homo sapiens demonstrate respect for life by respecting our dead. Conversely, we demonstrate respect for the dead when we respect the living. And we do this in the wake of the loss of a loved one by bringing together family and community to mourn and share their grief. This is what separates man from beasts. This lay at the very heart of culture and civilization.
Natural disaster is on a lot of people’s minds these days, or at least mine. Climate change, drought, earthquakes…there are myriad potential disasters that can strike any region, any time. The prospect is unsettling, terrifying, even. The Las Vegas valley, where I make my home, is susceptible to a variety of natural catastrophes, including prolonged dust/wind storms, flooding and earthquakes. I trained in disaster preparedness when I volunteered for the Red Cross while living in Virginia and learned that a little preparedness can go a long way. This is why I keep a disaster survival kit at the ready, which I’ve lovingly dubbed the Big Pink, since the majority of my supplies reside in a huge pink plastic container.
Survival experts recommend keeping a kit that contains supplies to last for approximately 72 hours. How they arrived at that time frame, I don’t know, but who am I to question the experts! In the aftermath of, say, a large earthquake, it’s a safe bet your home will be without power, water and gas–if it has even remained standing–for a period of time. Your home will be plunged into the pre-industrial age until services are restored. Or you may find that you have to camp outside, as the structure may be too unstable to reside in.
My kit is relatively small since it’s just for me and my two cats, Harold and Mod. So what’s in the Big Pink? I’ve divvied up items so that all first aid/emergency supplies live in one shoebox, and foodstuffs are in another shoebox. Those boxes are tucked into the Big Pink.
Let’s take inventory:
Food Box – Energy gel packets, 1 jar of peanut butter, cans of tuna/cat food, 1 pound of trail mix, ramen noodles, 1 can opener, plastic forks/knives.
First Aid/Emergency/Toiletries Box – Coleman poncho, waterproof matches, toothpaste/brush, baggie with 1st aid supplies such as antibiotic ointment, bandaids, fem sups, Tylenol/Ibuprofen, shampoo, multitool, Ace bandage, deodorant, soap, comb, sling.
Rest of the Big Pink – A bucket and plastic trash bags, change of clothes, shoes, sweater, towel, plastic cups/bowl, Coleman lamp, flashlight, handi-wipes, rolls of toilet paper, 1 purple blanket, dry kitty kibble, a backpack in the event I have to evacuate and lastly, a copy of Les Stroud’s excellent survival guide, so I’ll be able to figure out what the hell I’m doing if the need arises to break out the Big Pink in an emergency.
The Big Pink – my kit, not the album! – is not perfect but it’ll do for a few days. I plan to add some more food stuffs, like protein bars. Some things that would be worthwhile to add include water purification tablets and cash, since any stores open may not be able to take cards during that time. Also, I keep my important documents stashed in a portable safe, and I have several days worth of water stored in jugs beneath my kitchen sink.
Me, Harold and Mod are ready for the apocalypse. So long as it only lasts 72 hours!
***My thoughts are with the victims of the Nepal quake today***