Becoming Destiny! (A glance back)

I recently found some old writing for the beginning of an autobiography I started 10 years ago in the midst of my divorce (before my breakdown). I’m happy to say that I am in a much more self-aware place than I was 10 years ago. The pain is gone. The scars have healed. The “plan” still has not been revealed, but the journey has been steadfast and rewarding.

How can one reach the age of 32 and have no idea who they are? Isn’t this supposed to be a complex of the existentialist adolescent, something to ponder for hours on end at a coffee shop while ignoring calculus homework? And yet, here I am, 32 years old, ironically, at a coffee shop, wondering who the hell I am.

I mean, by 32 I kinda figured I could give a perfect 20 second sound byte to answer the open-ended question, “Tell me about yourself.” I look around and see “Don Brown, 60, corporate buyer, happily married family man who just wants to retire to the lake and watch his grandkids grow” or “Lauren Hayes, part-time Jazzercise instructor, MOPS leader, doting wife and mother who’s trying to lose the last five pounds to surprise her hubby by wearing new negligee for their anniversary.” 

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that those superficial responses are the be all and end all of Don and Lauren’s personalities, but I also find myself trying not to become a casual cynic by automatically assuming that Don has homicidal tendencies toward his boss that are only suppressed by his nightly scotch binges, or that Lauren’s piqued interest in a more toned ass is for the hot yogi who plowed her after last week’s Bikram class. Even if that is the case, is it healthy for my mind to jump right into the basket of someone else’s dirty laundry? Especially when I have loads of my own to sort?

I am well aware that my sudden identity crisis partly stems from the discomfort I have with my own sound byte. “Destiny, 32, recent divorcee, single mom.” It’s not exactly something that I’d want to just roll off the tongue at a class reunion or networking event. Sure, I could pick other modifiers to throw into the mix—editor, writer, mom of three amazing kids—but then I’m left with a feeling of lying by omission. A ridiculous burden to bear, of course, especially since Lauren’s chirpy introduction has zero hint of guilt for the fact that she still has yoga dick breath, but it’s one that I carry nonetheless.

Whatever the reasons for my recent obsession with solving the “who exactly is Destiny” mystery, I feel compelled to give my inner Encyclopedia Brown the reins for a while. I’m not looking for a new sound byte, or really even to polish what I’ve got. Instead, I seek a simple level of comfort and familiarity with my own beliefs and outlook, which might help me feel less lost and wandering and just might help me to be a more grounded mom and a positive contributor to society. 

But really, I just want to feel good again. I want to lose the shame I have from creating a broken home for my children. I want to lose the feeling of failure I have for my life being unexpectedly thrown off course from where I imagined I’d be. I want to go one whole day where my smile is genuine, my laughter is pure, and neither are masks to cover my anger and grief. I want to be at peace with where I am without constantly searching for where I want to be. I want to know, even if it is knowing through faith, that I am on the right path in this journey. And by right path, I mean my path, not one I’ve adopted because it’s the one everyone says I should be following or because I’ve hitched my sled to someone else’s dog team. I want to know me—me at 4, me at 13, me at 23, and me at 32—so that as I move forward and am hit with all of the surprises that I expect life will throw my way, I am not knocked on my ass trying to deal with a lifetime of suppressed feelings and a false sense of identity. 

So how do I do this? I unplug for a while. I read. I reflect. I pray. I write. I enjoy the simplicities of life as they come. I do what I have to do to keep going each and every day, knowing that time won’t heal all of my wounds, but that it’s one hell of an analgesic. And with less raw pain, I gain perspective. 

It’s hard to look at anything but the torn flesh and the congealing blood when there’s a knife sticking out of your chest and you wonder if you’re going to survive. Even after surgery, it’s difficult not to fiddle with the stitches or wince as the bandages are changed, as you are thankful you’re alive but are certain you will be scarred forever. And as you continue to heal, you curse the world for the itching caused by the scabs, but at the back of your mind, you think, “at least the stitches are gone.” As the scar turns from purple to pink, you push it to recall the pain of the original wound, angry that your body will carry this mark for the rest of your life, forcing you to explain your trauma. 

At this stage you have two choices: You can either continue to push the scar, even long after it fades, so that the injustice will never be forgotten. You start to walk hunched over; you get residual pain in your back, your head, your legs—none of which are a result of the original wound but which you claim would not be a problem if only you hadn’t been stabbed to start with. Or you let the scar fade, understanding that your fingers will occasionally find their way to the fleshy ridge, but that even that road will become obsolete with time. And soon it becomes a small aberration in your skin tone, nothing more extraordinary than a freckle, just another place to be kissed by a future lover.

To say that this is the crossroads where I find myself isn’t entirely true. I know which turn I want to make. The road markings are clear. The real life examples of where the “other turn” leads flash in my mind as a warning of the melodrama and bitterness that is guaranteed if I choose that route. Absolutely, I know the right path. But making that turn means releasing the pain and anger for all of the dashed hopes and dreams I had. It means admitting I was wrong. It means asking for forgiveness. It means letting go of my pridefulness and selfishness for the promise of dignity and a greater sense of self—one that is not defined by my trials, but by how I chose to overcome them. It means relinquishing what I thought was my destiny in order to find myself, Destiny.

A friend recently posted on her facebook status, “While you’re figuring it out, God has it figured out.” I believe that, even if I don’t necessarily live it, particularly at a time when my own faith is shaken. Really, it should be so simple to stop figuring it out and let God handle it. And yet I still struggle with wrapping my brain around my situation, my divorce, my future. “Yeah, yeah,” I say to myself, “God’s got it figured out. Now if He could just give me a peek at this master plan of His, that would be grand.” But perhaps I’ve already gotten that nudge by knowing which turn I need to make at the road’s end. Maybe I need to go ahead and make the turn instead of worrying whether I have enough water in my backpack for the journey or protesting that I shouldn’t even be at this intersection if things had gone as planned.

So I take a step forward, trying to figure me out and hoping that as I do I’ll learn to trust that God really does have a greater plan for my life. And if He doesn’t, well, it’s not like He’s sharing anyway. I might not know the plan, but I’ll sure as hell know Destiny.

On the 10th anniversary of my breakdown

I am coming up on the 10 year anniversary of my mental breakdown, my psychotic break, my come apart. The details of the weeks leading up to the day I was found walking down I-75 barefoot with three children under 6 in tow are sparse. I know I didn’t eat for around 7 days prior, and I didn’t sleep for 5, so a psychotic break was inevitable. I remember the details of being picked up by a stranger in a black SUV and transported to a police station where they were finally able to get a hold of my ex-husband to come and get me.(The privilege is not lost on me there.) I remember every single minutiae of that day, as the details haunt me even to this day when I feel like my life is spiraling out of control. But one big difference between Destiny 10 years ago and Destiny today is a sense of self and a sense of purpose.

The 18 months after my come apart were literally spent trying to put me back together. My brain chemistry was all out of wack, I had a diagnosis of depression then PTSD then finally bipolar 1. I had taken a sabbatical from my job in September of 2010, a month after my breakdown, and was living on alimony and child support. People have done it on less, but raising a family of four on less than $1700 a month means you are barely making ends meet. I relied on government assistance as I tried to figure out what was wrong with me.

As anyone with any familiarity with bipolar 1 can attest, if you’ve broken once, you’re gonna break again. And I did. In February 2011, I was back in the hospital. I was put on the gamut of medications all while trying to regulate my cycling. My mania would throw me into psychotic episodes where I would be a divine being, a werewolf, a movie starlet, or an alien ambassador just to name a few. I managed to eke out some semblance of sanity for me to get hired back on as a copyeditor for my old journal in November of 2011. 

Another trip to the hospital in May of 2012, thankfully work was understanding and Will took the kids. I was so doped up I don’t remember much of 2012-2013 other than trying to stay sane enough to keep my job and keep my kids. I couldn’t put in many hours at work, so I was still just above the poverty line, but I had a boyfriend at the time who helped keep me afloat. After that relationship ended, I threw myself into work to try and make a decent living as a copyeditor. In 2013 I no longer qualified for government assistance, so my diligence was paying off.

The first half of 2014 was full of horrible relationships and I had just about given up when I met Adam in July. A relative neophyte in the world of relationships, he instinctively knew what I needed and has supported me from the moment we met. In October 2015, I put our relationship to the test and was admitted back to Good Sam’s psych unit for a week. Just another case of going off my meds. Thankfully that was the last time because the formulary that they put me on after that trip seems to be the magic cure. Since 2015 I have had only a handful of depressive episodes and a handful of seasonal manic episodes, but no mania to psychosis. My meds have no side effects, other than requiring 8-10 hours of sleep at night, something I can do now that my kids are older. 

In May 2016, I had saved enough to buy my house. Since then I have been working on paying down the nearly $40K of debt I had accrued. I’m halfway there, and every week I eagerly hop on Credit Karma to see how my score has changed with each additional credit card payment. My days are long as I put in long hours at work to try and pay off my debt faster. But I try and balance out the long hours with quality time with the kids. Especially as they are getting older and Jolie will be out of the house soon. I am constantly running the kids somewhere for something, as any mom of teens will attest to, but I honestly would not change this season of my life for anything. Adam and I are in a good place, the kids can come to me with their problems, I am still working on moving beyond waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I am happiest when I can live in the moment.

Today I look back on how far I fell and how I scraped by to make it where I am. Thanks to Will, I don’t think the kids have ever wanted for much. They all know we have to wait for payday for any major purchases,and we have had our share of mac and cheese or ramen nights. I still have the scars from being under the poverty line. Every time I hand my debit card over, I cringe just a bit as I pray it goes through, even if I have plenty of money in my account the dread is still there. I wonder if that will ever go away, or if that’s my own brand of PTSD.

So on this 10 year anniversary of my come apart, I think it’s important to recognize all the people that helped put me back together. My parents, my siblings, my boyfriends along the way, Will—I couldn’t have picked a better father for my kids, I wouldn’t change that for anything. Douglas, my rock, my bff. Adam, my partner, my true north, the one I want to have coffee with forever. It’s been a long road to get here, and I know I still have a ways to go, but I feel confident in who I am as a mother, lover, friend, child of the stars.

I love you all, some more than others.

Une tarte aux abricots change ma vie.

The kitchen was scorching with the late July air. Dinners in the south of France consisted of summer salads like couscous, tuna, tomatoes, and corn. Anything to keep from turning on the oven. An exception was made for Uncle Robert’s birthday–he was coming over to celebrate and mama Liliane had made a special dessert for the occasion.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” I asked, inquiring about the delicacy on the counter in front of me.
“Une tarte aux abricots,” Liliane responded. “Tu aimes les abricots?”

I had never had an apricot—fresh, baked, dried or otherwise, so I honestly couldn’t tell her whether I liked them or not. Fruit at my house growing up was your run of the mill apples, bananas, and oranges, with the occasional peach thrown in. That summer in France I was introduced to cerises (cherries—with the pits in them), prunes (plums, not prunes as we know them), and now les abricots.

Liliane took one of the remaining apricots that she hadn’t used out of the bowl and split it neatly down the middle with her hands. She handed it to me and told me to try it. I took it willingly and put the fruit to my mouth, feeling its downy skin upon my lips. Kind of like a peach, but different. I sunk my teeth into the flesh and was immediately rewarded with the sweet, slightly acidic taste that only a fresh, ripe apricot has, a taste that made the roof of my mouth tingle and made my tongue keep running across my palate as my mouth tried to figure out what exactly I was experiencing. Since that moment, I have been a fan.

Even today, when May rolls around and the first crops start appearing in stores, I seek out the freshest apricots. Less messy than a peach, softer than a plum, the unique taste of a fresh apricot immediately transports me back to the summers I spent in France in high school. We are an ocean apart and I haven’t talked to Liliane in 20+ years, but I learned more than to speak French those summers ago. I was introduced to a whole new world of gustatory delights that I still appreciate today.

Alan Alda and the Meaning of Life

So I listened to Alan Alda’s podcast today with renowned physicist Brian Greene and he threw me into a sort of existential crisis. Greene projects that we are all sacs of particles who, because math and science rule, have no free will—at least at the molecular level. His reasoning was sound but falls apart at the macroscopic level, where he concedes free will might play a role. He continues by saying free will is possible in our search for meaning to life, which, he conjectures, is not universal. There is no 42. Love does not rule all. Meaning in life is a purely individual pursuit and it is up to us to stop searching “out there” and look within for meaning.

Well fuck, I thought to myself. At first blush on the inside I’m nothing more than a foulmouthed, dumpy clutterbug who likes cupcakes just a bit too much for society’s taste. Somehow I manage to reinvent myself with self-help books and motivational apps every five years, while still staying. Exactly. The. Same. It’s frustrating because I fall into the “someday” trap when thinking about goals and aspirations. I’ll finish my novel…someday. I’ll change out my shutters (and clean my house and finish my laundry and…)…someday. I’ll lose fifty pounds…someday. I’ll pay off my debt…you guessed it…someday.

All this introspection has me thinking about whether the outside matches the inside. And if so, is the meaning of my life as fucked up and disorganized as one would surmise when glancing at the “math” of my life. I would like to propose that it’s the “somedays” that actually refocus me onto the “todays” that define my life. Today I was a rock for my struggling daughter. Today I helped a physicist better communicate their research. Today I mopped up water in my basement from the torrential downpour that hit last night. These “todays” mean I am living in the present and am there for those who need me. Some may see it as just getting by, but being present in the here and now is the closest I can get to creating permanence in this lifetime. And I wonder if perhaps the true meaning of my life is all these todays put together so I can look back on a life well lived…someday.

Scene #23 from quarantine

I put the car in park, turn the engine off, and turn to face my oldest daughter, the last strains of Declan McKenna fading.
“But no one I know has Corona, I don’t understand why we can’t hang out at the park…”
“Because the governor has called for a stay at home order and that’s not practicing social distancing.”
“It’s just not fair.”

Silent tears burn her cheeks. It’s hard being a cooped up teen when springtime beckons. She heaves a heavy sigh and slams the car door shut, stomping off to the house. I take a sip of my sweet tea and open the door to join her.

She is in her room. Dinner is made in silence as children are dispersed. I cut up the tomatoes, making sure to cut up a few extra for my angsty teen, wondering whether it’s all for naught if dinner is to be shunned to underscore her previous point.

“Doodle, monkeys, dinner…” I call, hoping mealtime will calm the torrent of emotions this quarantine has caused.

The kitchen is filled with hungry kids as everyone dresses their tacos. She stands next to me, carefully adding tomatoes to the filled shells and as she turns to leave, she quietly says, “Thank you for dinner, Mommy.”

The ice is broken and I soon hear her laughing and facetiming on her phone, the only way she can connect these days. Adolescence in the new normal is not for the fainthearted.

Seven Sentences for Someday: The New Decade Edition

1. We had a bit of an inauspicious start to the new year. At exactly 11:58 Paisley sat on the remote, exing us out of our Hulu which we were using to watch Steve Harvey bring in the new year. By the time I got it started again, the ball had dropped and they were singing  New York, New York. Tears ensued and even though we rewatched it, it wasn’t the same.
2.  2019 was the first year in as long as I can remember that I didn’t have pork, black eyed peas, and greens on New Years. I made $18k less, had a number of personal setbacks, and ended a five year relationship with someone I love. I’m going back to basics this year and have already eaten my peas, pork, and greens.
3.  I have the next 4 days completely free. After catching up on sleep, I am going to work on cleaning this house!

4. Once the Super Bowl is over I’m ditching live tv til next September. I doubt I’ll miss much.
5. Adam gave me the sweetest, most thoughtful Christmas presents ever. He continually amazes me with his ability to know just what I need.
6. I’m not making any hard and fast resolutions this year.  My sticktoitness is at an all time low.
7. I just resolve to be kind.

I love you all, some more than others.

I entered a writing contest through NYCMidnight and was tasked with writing a story under 250 words with the following parameters:

Genre: Fantasy/Fairytale

Action: Attending a funeral

Word: Unknown

The following is what I came up with. I give you Death of the Commandant

The best part of a superhero funeral was not the food, not the wardrobe choices, for those paying their respects came in uniform. No, it was the gossip. 

“I heard it was heartbreak that ultimately did him in…” Lady LaCroix whispered to Sir Steel, who shrugged his shoulders while stuffing a crab puff into his mouth.

“Have you seen Diamond Doll since the news?” Dr. Wonder asked Mr. Huge, who shook his head in the negative.

The official report from the coroner stated the cause of death was unknown, but the Positivity Posse knew otherwise. No force could take down someone like the Commandant unless it was tapped into dark energy–and Captain Tachyon, their evasive, most disruptive foe to date, seemed to have dark energy in excess.

“We need a plan,” said Ms. Speedshot.

Suddenly the door to the Leviticus Lair burst open, and there in a sea of both fire and ice stood Diamond Doll. “It was you, you bougie bitch!” Diamond Doll said, pointing in the direction of Lady LaCroix. “You tricked the Commandant into sleeping with you so that Captain Tachyon could attack when he was most vulnerable. You are a disgrace to the Posse.”

The collective gasp when Sir Steel immediately turned Lady LaCroix to metal without a trial was interrupted by a giant “hoo-rah!” from Major USA. The superheroes shuffled metal Lady Lacroix off to recycling and went about their mourning, wondering where Captain Tachyon would strike next.

 

Seven Sentences for Someday: The Hump Day Edition

  1.  I think I have failed at my SSFS in the past because Sundays are crazy hectic at my house. I’m either frantically getting ready for the kids to go back to Will’s or I’m frantically getting ready for the kids to come home.
  2. I’ve remedied this by retitling it Seven Sentences for Someday. That way I can write any day of the week without guilt.
  3. I can read a 150 page physics article in a little over a full work day, but it has taken me 6 weeks to read 66 pages of my current book, Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson. The book is wildly entertaining, I am just all read out by the time evening hits that my brain can’t handle any more words. I’m hoping to finish it when we go to the beach in 13 days.
  4. Not that I’m counting, but we go to the beach in less than two weeks, with a stop through Atlanta to see family on our way down. The kids each have a boogie board and I have 4 bottles of sunscreen just for the trip.
  5. We have to miss Cincinnati Pride for our trip, something Rhett has been quite vocal about her disappointment.
  6. Paisley has been gone this week to Girl Scout Camp. I miss my little snuggle buddy, but it has been extremely quiet without her and Rhett going at it like cats and dogs!!
  7. It’s been almost four months since Adam and I broke up and I still tear up when I think about it. I consider him one of my best friends, so I look forward to the day when those tears will be replaced by only smiles and no quivering chin. I know….someday.

I love you all, some more than others.

A resounding YAWP!

The Universe tells me to write and yet I have no idea what to write about. I am a creative wasteland. Even in the Universe, the same storylines are repeated over and over. I take a deep meditative breath and my virtual reality goggles come on as I launch into the multiverse. Where will it take me today? A world leaders’ summit? At the table of the gods on Mt. Olympus? Traveling through space and time of the vast multiverse? Or simply fallible Destiny, destined to rehash all of her worst mistakes? I feel there is more to me than just my mistakes, I have a track record of good deeds to prove it.

I glance at the pink sticky note that screams, “DO!” at me in an attempt to inspire and motivate, and I find myself wondering in the midst of my meditative state, how can I effect change? How can I “Do” as my sticky note commands? My thoughts start tumbling and I am whisked away to a make believe place that as a mother I know well. It’s a place of made-up whimsical characters and words to describe them, I see that sweet gray elephant with the ball of fluff in his snout and I am suddenly reminded of that lesson that Horton taught me so many years ago. Be a voice. Dr. Seuss’s Who’s were on the brink of destruction and all hope seemed to have been lost as the people in the most peril could not be heard.  Then at the last minute, the one little boy who was scrolling facebook and listening to Spotify finally chimes in with a great big YAWP and the community is saved.

At a time when lives are in danger just because you have the “wrong” skin color; where rights are being stripped because you have the “wrong” parts; where children have lockdown drills; where two dozen vets commit suicide each day, we are a community in peril. And there are voices out there who are speaking up for the disenfranchised, but we aren’t loud enough yet. We need more people speaking up, especially as we go into the 2020 election year. I know I have a small but loyal following, and my voice is wee compared to those on the national stage. But this is me, Just Destiny, hoping to effect change by chiming in with a resounding YAWP!

Seven Sentences for Sunday: The Kids Chime In Edition

  1. I broke my New Year’s resolution and missed 2 weeks of SSFS. I am not to be deterred, however, and am picking up where I left off.
  2. The kids have decided to help me with this week’s SSFS, which eases the burden of coming back from a break.
  3. Sometimes a waffle is just a holy pancake—-Jolie, philosophically.
  4. This game is bullcrap!—Paisley upon realizing she had Zero pie pieces to my and Jolie’s 5 a piece in Trivial Pursuit Family Edition.
  5. Isn’t Kenya a singer?—Paisley, confusing Enya with the Geography question.
  6. Keemstar is weird.—My strange little boy Rhett’s contribution to the list.
  7. And we’ll end with another Paisley-ism. “Mom–notice anything different about me?” as she presented herself before me after a trip to the bathroom. I scanned for any trace of makeup or perfume and then said, “Give me a hint.” She said, “Nothing is different. I just wanted to trick ya.” So there.

I love you all, some more than others.