Happy birthday to my main guy, Adam. Some of you may know he is currently enrolled in the Second City writing program. Here is his comedy troupe, Thwarted by Jazz, in their debut sketch.
In typical 2020 fashion, I went to make a year end video and I did it in reverse. So I left it. Set to my song for 2020 (bastille’s “Survivin'”), here are 3 minutes of photographs of the Martin-Just house from 2020. Enjoy!
Quarantine has not been kind to our bodies around here. We are weighed in regularly at our quarterly psychiatrist appointments, but with everything going telehealth, it had been since January that we had a weigh in. So imagine my surprise when we all weighed in within a week and found that Jolie, Rylee, and I had all gained 30 pounds each, and Paisley, our little string bean who only gains 2-3 pounds a year, had gained 18. Our doctors were not worried, as it seems a lot of people have gained during quarantine. But they did warn us to be careful because another 30 lb gain wouldn’t be seen as kindly.
Will, ever the health conscious of the two of us, kicked it into high gear and had Rylee sign up for MyFitnessPal to track her calories to help her lose 10 pounds. (Jolie is firmly in the IDGAF camp and is managing herself.) While his intentions are undoubtedly pure, it has had devastating effects on my middle child. She obsessed over every bite she put in her mouth and let the negative self-talk creep in, wishing aloud how she wasn’t so fat or ugly. Last night was the final straw when she collapsed at the end of my bed and started bawling her eyes out. She explained that she was tired of looking at food as what you can and can’t have. She was offered a brownie in her video editing class and she said she knew she would have too many calories if she took it because she had Italian wedding cookies to sample in her baking class later that afternoon. She decided to take it anyway but then, in a fit of guilt, she stashed it in her backpack and threw it away after class. “But Mom, I really wanted that brownie. I just wish I could go back to when I didn’t care what I put in my mouth.” And I really felt that. Because I too, had been dieting since I was 13. And it sucks always looking at food as good and bad. Worrying about the extra calories and fitting into your clothes. Both of my parents are obese. I am technically obese. I don’t want my kids to struggle like I did.
I was thinking last week about my impending 43rd birthday and what I had learned in my 42nd year, the year of epiphany and wonder. I had high hopes for that year, but I was struggling with a blog post that encapsulated my year, one that was ¾ spent in quarantine. It struck me that I have become the epitome of Gen-X—as long as I’m not hurting anyone, do I really give a fuck? I wear a mask, I socially distance, I eat something sweet every single night, I smoke the occasional joint to relax. Yes, I weigh too much according to the BMI scale. My bloodwork probably isn’t where it should be, but I am a firm believer that I have one life to live and by god, I’m going to live it. I hope I model this philosophy to my kids because after all, we should let them be kids. Model good behavior (Rylee and I are gym buddies, we cook healthy dinners together) and let the doritos fall where they may. I don’t want to be a skinny 92 year old looking back wishing I hadn’t forsaken the extra dollop of whipped cream. I’d rather go out as the plump 70-something who rocked too hard at her favorite band’s concerts and enjoyed one too many cheese plates. It’s trite. It’s quaint. But it’s true. Just let it be.
And for christ’s sake, always take the brownie!
I’ve never been so unsure
Of being sure
about anything in my life.
On the one hand, my love for you is
Fierce, undeterred, immovable,
And yet it is also fluid and wavelike
as a particle in quantum mechanics.
It is overwhelming, all encompassing,
However, it is not unwavering.
As much as I wish to be solid as a rock,
I am but the grains of sand,
Shifting and moving to mold to pressure.
I feel my spirit drawn to stability,
To communication, digitally,
Where the telepathy leaves off.
To pet names,
to holding hands in the grocery store
To a lover’s touch,
To knowing my boundaries.
I am an orchid,
Who needs water,
And loving words,
And light to thrive.
Inasmuch as I know
Our fates are intertwined,
I also know Mars and Venus
Could never rule the cosmos.
You would have to lose
the very thing that makes us fit.
I am here but a short while,
I can love you innately
and still desire comfort.
Of this I am both sure and unsure.
I sit here in the flesh-toned naugahyde chair and watch my daughter’s heart rate on the monitor. It dips into the low 40’s, sending off warning bells, and then jumps back to the 70’s, silencing them just as quickly. This is a cycle that will repeat itself through the night as her body digests, processes, and eventually eliminates the week’s worth of prescription medications she took earlier today. She was tired of it all, she said. Later she would admit that it was completely an impulsive thing when she felt her life was out of control. Her dad and I had gotten onto her about her attendance in online classes, she was smitten with a new boy, and, well, COVID. In an unthinkable moment of despair and impulsivity, she emptied her weekly pill case. She regretted it immediately, and texted me “are you home,” bursting into tears when I opened her door to check on her.
I have to admit, my first reaction was blind rage. How could she do this to me? To her sisters? To her father? Her friends? Once I calmed down I called Will and made arrangements for Rylee and Paisley, and then I rushed her to the hospital.
While I watched her sleep, I couldn’t let go of the nagging feeling that I had done something wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have laid into her so much about her coursework. Maybe I should’ve checked on her more in her room. But she was a teen, I was giving her space that I thought she wanted and needed. And then in my own irrational train of thought, I settled on breastfeeding. I thought I had done the right thing, the good thing, the natural thing by nursing each of my children past a year. I nursed Jolie the longest, at just over 2 years, and while it bonded us when she was an infant, I wonder where those benefits are now. We have 3 mental illnesses, 3 suicide attempts, and 5 hospitalizations between the three kids. Did I unknowingly transfer all of my bad genes to them by nursing them so long? I recalled a facebook post my friend put up the other day saying, “Facts that are true: Your parents did the best they could AND their choices still wounded you.” This rung so true when I thought about nursing the kids. And it kills me to think that I did something out of pure love that had such dire consequences. Whether or not there is scientific basis for my conclusion, my oldest daughter still has a mountain to climb.
She needed monitoring overnight to make sure she hadn’t affected her heart or her lungs. We got the all clear this morning. Now begins the hard work of processing the why and making sure it won’t happen again. She has a tough road ahead of her, but she has an incredible support system. I’m certain with a little grace from both of us, she’ll be soaring again soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.