July 5, 2015

Shattered Glass

I danced, a skin-bag of shattered glass

Left weight-shift, right weight-shift, arm raise, big smile, shake shake shake with the bride.

The rest of me somewhere else.

Lying in a bed with a heavy quilt over my head.

Shake shake shake twirl.

Small plans to grieve, promises to myself, to cocoon for as long as, maybe forever.

Right foot left foot find the beat laugh laugh.

The glass shards shift and scrape and clang and gash with the rhythm of my hips.

I am not there. I am watching myself dance from somewhere outside my body. I am making a cup of evening tea in a quiet apartment. I am standing in front of the classroom bearing the weight of this grief. I am typing my dissertation with a pile of tissues in my trash. I am collapsing into my bed in sobs on early February nights. 

Keep going just move my feet shake shake shake spin spin twirl laugh. I keep going.

I danced, a skin-bag of shattered glass.

July 2, 2015

It Is Me

It was years. It was friendship. It was love. It was a future. It was homes, marriage, kids, retirement. For the record, it was all of those things. It was good, for the record.

It was also, as it turns out, lies. Unintentional, coming from a broken place, lies. Not my lies. Not my broken place.

It was the jaw drop of my therapist when I told her what happened. It was the declaration of my friends and family, every one of them, that this is The Worst of the Worst and stranger than fiction, more heartbreaking than fiction. They had never ever heard of something like this... Never expected... What the fuck.

It was an oncoming freight train, it was a Mac truck, it was a sniper shot.

It was my trust, love, kindness, strength, used against me. 

It was six weeks of trying to sort out what happened, without him. It was him in crisis. It was suggestions of psychological diagnosis by those without a psychological background. It was a loosely identified and named issue from my therapist/psychologist.

It was my therapist saying "distance" repeatedly. It was my therapist worried I might be in physical danger (not from him). 

It was disbelief that any of it could be happening. It was disbelief that it was happening. It was disbelief it could be happening to me.

It was them saying: NONE of this is your fault. ANYONE would have done/felt/experienced what you did.

It was another fucking email from him. 


It is my strength now. It is my determination. 

It is me saying this is now a pile of shit and I am pulling myself out of it. It is my friends and my family pulling me out of it. 

It is a realization that lies are lies. Deception is deception. Betrayal is betrayal. 

It is my cheerleader therapist and the kickboxing instructor who knows by looking at my face when I throw punches. It is how hard I punch.

It is my story now. It is my voice. 

It is my recovery. It is my healing. It is for me. It is me.

It was him. It is now me.

June 11, 2015

Kickboxing & Birth

I go to free kickboxing classes in Harlem and joined the BedStuy YMCA. I haven't seriously worked out... ever. I listen to pop music, angry pop music, exclusively. On Spotify -- I can't even fathom diving into my semi-indie iTunes account. Katy Pery, Ciara, Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Destiny's Child -- hard punches, one-two, jab jab jab cross. I care only about protein in my smoothies now, could care less about greens. Strength. Go to bed hours earlier than I ever have to make up for the five am wake-up-can't-fall-back-to-sleep roughest hours of the day. Feel a sense of relief to slide into a desk in an office where nobody knows (terrible and wonderful), same desk, same office, same great people, for the third summer in a row. Part-time because I thought another summer in an office would kill me. Now I'm the first one here each morning, almost every morning, despite my part-time status, breakfast in hand. I eat breakfast now.

"Push" came the text message instruction, in response to my mid-meltdown-trying-to-breathe-through-it-please-help plea.

"Am I in labor?"

"You are birthing a new you."

I am, I am.

June 8, 2015

American Pharoah

American Pharoah won the triple crown. I cried for blue green grass I thought I’d see with your palm against mine. For the first gust of air through the open window as we pass over the state line and your face turned out against the country side, summer air, fall, winter, spring air, year after year. The mile markers and radio stations I’d memorize. Your fingers intertwined in mine, stolen kisses at stoplights after miles and miles and years and years, still. 

I can’t imagine fall without you. After a hot, sweaty summer, with office air conditioners, us curled into each other under my fan, an almost-ocean breeze coming through your bedroom window, walking in the wet sand where the beach meets the ocean each morning, condensation dripping off our ice coffees as we walk by block parties in my neighborhood, even after losing every moment of this summer, I cannot imagine fall without you. The flicker of the television screen against the dim light of the basement, me propped up against you, your hand in my lap, each play rundown, each touchdown, every word I write on my dissertation, chili cooking in the crockpot upstairs. The train rides into the city together, afternoon coffee between meetings, falling into your arms on a dark Brooklyn corner after teaching — you waited, the train ride home together, hand in hand. Friday night high school football games with hot chocolate. Saturday night city lights with whiskey and wine. After the loss of this summer comes the loss of this fall the loss of this winter the loss of next spring, next summer, next fall, winter, spring, summer… 

Promotions, birthdays, high school graduations, and college graduations — a cupcake, a cake, streamers, balloons, cheers, and hugs, celebrations of accomplishments and love, always love. Hospital visits, emergency midnight drives south, nursing home arrangements, first broken hearts, make it better, make it stop, we will, we will, we will together, side by side. 

My toes cracking each morning, the always misplaced sunglasses, the constant reminder to go to bed, the too much coffee and always dwindling sugar supply, half-eaten meals, the messy hair and two attempts to get my clothing on the right way, the terrible navigation assistance, the need to get everywhere too early, the back-up plan for the back-up plan, yours, the tiniest parts of me, without grandiose declarations, yours, always yours. 

American Pharoah won the triple crown and I cried.

June 1, 2015

On Repeat

It’s Katy Pery’s Roar blaring through my headphones, on repeat, over and over again. Walking through Grand Central one day later, feeling like I just walked into my best friends’ arms. My home. My city. This part has not been taken from me. Will not be taken from me. A power that comes from walking across the same floor for the past twenty five years and all that’s happened and I’m still here. I’m still here. I live here. This city is mine. A beaming smile and rush of endorphins, I could run a marathon, I just ran a marathon.

It’s fleeting, but it’s enough to know that I will survive this. With power and strength.

It’s the text she sent me on the way to the bachelorette party, “Tonight you are… Anna! The happy go lucky “25” year old! Anna is still in grad school and recently got back from Spain.” I have to go to the party, life goes on I decided immediately, but it’s nothing short of becoming another person that will get me through the night. The ones who don’t know, who I can’t say a word to, about the beginning or the middle or the end, gush about how wonderful he is, sipping cranberry vodka through penis straws. I escape to the bathroom, “Leave. Now.” she replies. I hesitate, “Anna doesn’t know who he is…” But even Anna can’t keep the fake smile plastered on my face and I leave.

It’s the sob on the Queensborough Plaza subway platform.

It’s the hooded sweatshirt I’ve had since 14, pulled on over my dress, as I slide onto the train seat, curl up against the window, teeth chattering in the air conditioning. I reach for my phone and write him the email. All the words that I couldn’t get out on Friday morning. Angry, hurt words.

It’s Ciara’s Like a Boy.

May 30, 2015

Second by Second

I call her and cry. Hysterically. She lets me. Tells me to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. “Minute by minute” she says, I tell her it’s too hard, too long. “Second by second” she says, and I breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth between sobs.

“Deep breaths,” he texts me. I think of his terrible breakup over ten years ago, him on the side of the road. “It’s amazing what deep breaths will do.” I trust him.

I breathe in. I breathe out. It’s the only thing I can do right now.

She sits with me while I fall asleep. For a few hours, I don’t have to practice breathing.

“You don’t have to eat today, but you do have to eat tomorrow. Water for today. You have to drink water.”

She handed me the slice of pizza enough times that I took four bites. Half a glass of water to down the tylenol to cure the pounding headache.

It’s five am and the sun looks like it might, miraculously, rise again today. I cannot fathom how.

I tell him I am so scared I will not survive this. He tells me I am the strongest woman he knows. I am layers of shattered pieces. There is no strength left here.

They are literally holding me together. These people who love me. Who love me.

When I write, I do not have to remind myself to breathe.

These are things one should not post on the internet.

And yet.

May 29, 2015

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I moved to New York City because I knew it could hold my sadness. Vast avenues, tall buildings, longer, taller than my eyes could focus on, space and strength not to feel burdened by my sadness. I moved to NYC to make a home for the person heartbreak had shaped. Too many, so many, so very many, all those years ago, one foot in front of another, breathe in, breathe out, like waves shaping sea glass, it turned me into who I am today. Equal parts heartbreak and love. I will always be equal parts heartbreak and love. There will always be sadness. If other cities could not hold my sadness, I could not expect them to shoulder my grief. And there would be grief. Without grief there is no joy. I moved to New York for joy.

A hundred well-thought out reasons, professional, personal, a goal without a plan, a blog titled “If Ever I Could,” a photo of the city sky line all those years ago, five years ago. And then a plan, a timeline, first and second and third steps, and I was here, in NYC.

This city has held my sadness. Effortlessly, with grace. It handed me joy, effortlessly, with grace. It gifted me love. And I thought, maybe I could.

On a hot summer night in July of 2010, unemployed, a recent and official “failure”, broke, saddled with law school debt, long-term single, living at my mom’s, I watched a CMT special with Keith Urban, who belted out the lyrics to If Ever I Could Love and handed me a tiny, small package of hope. Hope. If Ever I Could…

I moved to NYC. I fell in love. There was a love story and I didn’t write it here because it is hard to write when I am happy. Sweet dreams at night don’t make any sense when paired with words over coffee the next morning. “Forever” whispered under the covers in the morning light sounds hollow when announced to the crowd at the dinner table. In this person, I found what I have not found in another person and I wanted to keep him forever. He said the same.

Past tense. Only hours later, already past tense.

With joy comes grief. This city won’t explode against the weight of my grief. The weight of my heartbreak. Vast avenues and tall buildings, they won’t shatter, even as I am shattering, even as they are picking up my pieces and storing them away for me.

“If Ever I Could” — there is some small, tiny package of hope in there. I’m not sure what it looks like or what it contains, or if I have the strength to look for it, but it’s comforting to know it’s still in there.

This is now the story of a heartbreak. The kind without the love story attached.

January 20, 2015

Begin Again

Begin again.

Always, begin again. Slowly, quietly, with hope.

The past twelve months, how many? Count them and name them one by one: January, February, March... More months than I have fingers, fewer memories than I have fingers. Let that sit.

"I know you're too busy for me..." It's a tease, but I text back quickly, "I'm bad at priorities!"

Last year's priorities: Sleeping. Dating, the dinner and a movie kind. Work. Finances (hahaha! but true.) Family. Not in that order. Maybe sometimes in that order.

Some shoulds and some YESES but mostly moving through the motions, the past twelve months.

Begin again.

Words in marker, written on white paper, taped to my wall.

Intentions. Hopes. Truths.

My best promises to myself usually involve less sleep and more caffeine. An irrational disregard for risk. Playlists on repeat and lists on the wall in marker. The hard, the messy, the impossible.

The years I remember best, I write the most. The best years I write the most, even in the worst years, which end up the best years.

"There are years that ask questions and years that answer." (Zora Neale Hurston) For the first time in over ten years, I have no idea whether the past year asked questions or gave answers. I haven't even thought about it. I hardly remember it.

Begin again.

October 14, 2014

October Rolls In

October rolls in and my lips chap every third hour, the patches of skin below my elbows grow rough. I throw split ends into a low braid, warmth for my neck, knots from my coat collar. My Brooklyn apartment suddenly feels too big, a vast wide open space, the couch not enough to fill it. I forget to worry about shoebox bedrooms and kitchens comprised of no more than a short row of cabinets. I forget, sometimes, that this is New York City, this is Brooklyn, this is how I learned to breathe in and out. "Do you ever just run across the floor in your socks? Slip and slide, you must do that all the time here." I forget I am the silliest.

October rolls in and the night arrives sooner. I don't finish my cupcake, the icing too sweet, and I bite my tongue. When will I learn how to exhale? I knew once. "You are a pattern," they say, all of them, but I don't even recognize myself. Some days I climb the stairs, pressing hard into my heels, and feel the strength in my legs. Muscles built by this city, I built these muscles, they carry me, and some days I think I need nothing else. Exhale.

October rolls in but I think it's spring. A change of seasons. An ending, the summersault, head over feet of the school year concluding and the brand new buds blossoming. I am waiting to lose something, someone again. A chilled park bench conversation, sweat dripping down my back on the subway platform, a song on repeat, over and over and over again. Octobers give, a harvest, a bounty, a cornucopia, I am not ready to receive. November will come, brown leaves, bare branches, dried weeds along the ocean banks. I wonder what will burn. Red embers and gray ashes.

Dark night windows and tall ceilings, everything echoes, my quiet, stockinged steps. I spin and spin and spin and lay myself out across the hard wood floor. "Fall in love whenever you can," we called it Practical Magic Crying because I was unconsolable. I've always mixed hopeful with hopeless, sweet and sour margaritas, dizzy. I am asking for magic. To circle time and tie its ends together, to bend the earth like it's a map, I step forward, I step backward, I roll over and we are together, to put the world into a snow globe at midnight, to stand at the edge of a lake deep enough to hold our dreams and drown our fears, to feel strong and soft, young and wise, to find heartbeats in the darkness. October rolls in and I ask for magic.

August 16, 2014

For the Record

When I would play my song
You would sing along.
I always seemed to forget 
How fragile are the very strong.

For the record, I did the work.

I walked Back Cove in chilly October air, with the sun setting too soon, swallowed the tears, force-filled my lungs, and took another lap. I made the decision. Until it wasn't mine to make anymore. December. The news was quick and painful, but nothing like a ripped-off band-aid, instead the dull swoosh of a balloon deflating. After, I closed the bathroom door, strung together profanities, hurled them into the mouth piece of the phone, and she listened. Until it all became quiet. The Weather Channel blinking on the television screen through the night, tucked into the couch with a cranberry afghan. I studied for the final exam. I aced it. I let her hold me. I don't remember tears, although they must have arrived, singular, at least. Or perhaps not. A Bird's Song on repeat. Half the Carvel ice cream cake for New Year's Eve. Another's TV showing the countdown, I turned it off and went to bed.

I'm sorry I can't steal you.
I'm sorry I can't stay.
So I'll put band-aids on your knees 
And watch you fly away.

March. I decided to buy a plane ticket. Late March. I decided to buy a bus ticket instead. A summer ticket for a shorter ride. Early April. I decided to decide later. Until that decision wasn't mine to make anymore. July. I walked the hot concrete sidewalks of DC in the heavy summer humidity. Mile and miles and miles. Every weekend. Between the Lines, on repeat. Step by step and mile by mile, I walked away. A meditation, a steadiness. Until knees down on the shower floor, a release, a flood, head down, the water gushing but only my tears streaming over my knees. A deep breath, a good night's sleep, the sound of my feet against the concrete, the piano notes memorized, I kept walking. 

I'm sending you away tonight.
I'll put you on bird's strong wing.
I'm saving you the best way I know how.
I hope again one day to hear you sing.

Fall leaves and heavy winter snow and a life to sort through. Different types of decisions to make. Ones only I could make. And I did. For myself. For my life. One foot in front of the other, slow if not steady. Through the changing seasons. Yes's and no's and a life. My life. Changing cities and changing careers and changing hands who reach for me, a life in motion. 

A promise to myself under a big, old tree, in front of a big, old church, walking through a historic section of DC, summers later. An old mixed CD in a brand new rental car as I drove through the mountains a decade later, and the old restroom stall almost too tiny for a cry. I was too close and too far away. An expert in letting go, I drove on. I kept walking. 

For the record.  

I'm sending you away tonight.

I'll put you on a bird's strong wing.
I'm saving you the best way I know how.
I hope again one day to hear you sing.
I'm saving you the only way that I know how.
I hope again one day to hear you sing.
I hope again one day to see you bring your smile back around 

[Italics: Lyrics to "A Bird's Song" by Ingrid Michaelson]