Nanny Must’ve Sent You From Heaven

Mimi often woke up in the morning disoriented, and began the day asking questions for which neither of us had the right answer. “Where’s Poppy” she’d want to know, and we’d tell her that her husband had died two year prior. “Jesus Christ,” Mimi said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Where the hell have I been?”

“Want more coffee, Mimi?” I asked, attempting to keep her in the present. 

“How about Alice?” Mimi asked, “Alice hasn’t been around in ages. Is she mad at me?” Every morning while we nibbled on toast and scrambled eggs or Mimi’s favorite—a hard roll from the bagel shop with butter and jelly on both sides—Mimi inquired on the whereabouts of her husband and three sisters, and my mother and I took turns telling her—as if for the first time—that they’d all died. 

By the time we reached the end of the line of questions, we’d barely get a breath in edgewise before Mimi started in again at the top. My mother often ran from the room, face in her hands either from laughter or tears, leaving me to break the news, again. Mimi wanted all the details for each person including cause of death, date of death, if Mimi had been notified, and if had there been a proper wake and burial. 

“I can’t believe nobody told me,” Mimi pondered with each one, both hurt and pissed, her heart breaking dozens of times every day. In the beginning, my mother and I were patient, and we’d give her the details, but after multiple rounds we lost our stamina for the specifics, and answered Mimi’s questions with one-word answers:

Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead

It was brutal and direct, but we were doing our best. We hated lying to Mimi, but my mother and I later learned that it’s best not to give more information than the dementia patient can process. For example, if they think their sister is alive but they just haven’t seen her lately, it’s best to keep it simple and respond with something neutral like, “Hmmm. You know, I haven’t seen Virginia in a little while either.” The middle stages of memory loss are tricky—Mimi couldn’t put her finger on it, but she had a hunch that she didn’t know. “I’m all mixed up,” she’d say to us, “I don’t know if I’m coming or going.” And then she’d laugh, because laughter was Mimi’s best defense. 

Mimi’s three sisters were her best friends and she saw them every day unless someone was traveling. They ate more meals together than they did with their own husbands, and it was as if Mimi could feel it in her body that she hadn’t seen her sisters. Lying to Mimi felt wrong, even if it was best for her, and when my endurance for the dance had worn out, I’d answer her question with another question. “How about lasagna tonight? We’ll make it from scratch, you and me?”

Shortly after I showed up to help take care of Mimi, it became clear to me that her mood was most manageable when we rooted in the present. We went for rides in the car, got manicures, and watched the news, but nothing grounded Mimi more than watching me cook. As the days turned wintery, we went for fewer walks and rides in the car, which meant more time in the house, which could be a danger zone for the three of us. “I can’t stay cooped up like this,” Mimi would say,  “I feel like I’m suffocating.”

I came up with the idea to prepare our main meal of the day cooking-show style, which meant I cut and measured everything into little glass bowls before starting the performance. I did this so that the putting together of a meal leaned away from the utilitarian and into the territory of an actual event, though Mimi was the sole attendee to my show. I usually started right after breakfast, afraid that if we missed a beat Mimi might wander into dangerous mental territory, might get upset, might forget that she loved me. Left alone in the sketchy neighborhood that her mind had become, Mimi could get nasty. She’d get up in my face.“Who the hell died and made you boss?” My mother was always afraid Mimi would throw a game-changing punch. “Cover your teeth,” my mother whispered, covering her own mouth with an open palm behind Mimi’s back, as if me losing a tooth to my grandmother’s unlikely punch was our biggest worry. 

“You have something to say to me, Maureen, you can say it to my face,” Mimi roared as my mother shrunk into herself even deeper. My mother was afraid of her mother—she was afraid to challenge her, afraid to confront her, afraid to lay down any sort of law. By default, it was up to me.

I tried to stay ahead of Mimi’s temper, like doctors advise staying ahead of the pain after surgery, so as soon as breakfast was over, I’d sit Mimi down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a cardigan draped over her shoulders. I peeled carrots, diced onion, and minced garlic. I filled little bowls with ingredients. I braised bones, caramelized vegetables, and reduced stocks into glazes. I deveined and reconstituted. I did not cut any corners. While I worked, Mimi and I chatted. We talked about what I was making, and I told her step-by-step how I was going to do it. I’d tell her about a childhood friend I visited, or a book I was reading, or a movie I’d watched the night before after she’d fallen asleep. As long as Mimi engaged in real-time conversation she stayed safe from the questions she couldn’t remember the answers to. I’d ask if she wanted to help, but she usually didn’t. 

“I’m enjoying myself just watching you,” Mimi said, “It’s like being in the kitchen with Nanny, with my mother.” I loved that she loved it, so day after day I hunted down time-consuming recipes from The New York Times, Zuni Café, Marcella Hazan, Julia Child. I felt like a disciple to advanced cooking techniques, and sometimes worked on two or three meals at once, sweating the eggplant for the next day, brining the chicken for the day after that. 

The downstairs kitchen, Mimi’s domain, remained like a warzone, but I filled our upstairs kitchen with smells of a home and loaded our plates with colorful, nutritious food. After dinner, my mother did the dishes while I sorted the leftovers, and Mimi stayed at the table. Sometimes, even after hours of being in the kitchen together, Mimi not only forgot that had I spent the afternoon cooking, but also that she’d just eaten a full meal. 

“I don’t know what you’re doing babydoll, but if you’re fixing something to eat don’t worry about me. I’m not hungry.” Her words took out my knees. I slumped against the sink. I didn’t want to get mad at Mimi, didn’t want to use a sharp tone. I didn’t want to say, “Of course you’re not hungry! You just ate a roast chicken dinner and still have chocolate frosting on your mouth from the cake I walked twenty blocks to buy!” 

My cooking-show pace wasn’t sustainable on a daily basis, and sometimes I was too emotionally drained to even think about cooking, so we’d eat leftovers or get takeout from one of the thirty ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood. There were also days that we had other responsibilities, like getting Mimi to a doctor’s appointment. It wasn’t the physicality of moving Mimi to the appointment—physically she was fit—it was the fact that Mimi had spent her life avoiding doctors at all costs. “You want to have something wrong with you?” She mused, “Go see a doctor! You’ll go in without a worry in the world and come out with ten prescriptions!”

Mimi’s prescriptions included Hershey bars, chocolate milkshakes, and jelly donuts. 

One night, after a particularly taxing day of wrangling Mimi to a doctor’s appointment, I offered to help Mimi get ready for bed. She usually wanted to do it by herself, but that night I saw the fatigue creeping up from her ankles. She was too tired to even wash her face, so after peeling Mimi out of her bra and snuggling her into flannel pajamas, I settled her into the broken-down recliner where she slept, the place that had been my grandfather’s until he vacated that throne. I found a clean facecloth and put warm water and a bit of soap on it. I brought the facecloth to the recliner and Mimi tilted her head up, closed her eyes, and let me wash her face. 

I looked down at my grandmother’s feet, toes squeezed together tight inside nylon knee-highs. “Want a foot massage?” She smiled. I squeezed my fingers inside the tight band just under her knees and peeled off the stockings. I fetched a basin of warm water and soaked the towel, then washed and dried Mimi’s feet. She was bashful, but didn’t resist. I cuffed her pajama pants as high as they would go, and rubbed lotion up and down her legs. 

“Well, shit,” Mimi joked, “I’d have shaved if I’d known this was going to happen!” I reminded her that she only shaved for weddings and funerals, and Mimi’s quick wit was on-point.

“Well I hope you’re not dressing me for my wake! I’m not dead yet! And I know I’m not getting married…Or am I?” Mimi couldn’t remember the basics of life, but she never missed an opportunity to crack a joke. 

I creamed Mimi’s feet, and then found a cozy pair of socks that I put on her before tucking the blanket in tight. I stood to leave, but Mimi held out her hands so I washed, dried, and creamed those too. 

“Ok,” I said, “You all set?” I should’ve known better, I should’ve known my Mimi.

“Do we have any cookies?” Mimi asked, “And maybe a little glass of milk?” I set a tall stack of Oreos and a short glass of milk on her side table that was cluttered with expired coupons and crystal dishes full of half-disintegrated rubber bands and paper clips distorted beyond utility. I kissed Mimi goodnight, and was walking away when she grabbed my hand.

“Nanny must’ve sent you from heaven to take care of me,” Mimi said, and I choked back tears because I felt it too, knew she was right. The strength I had was coming from somewhere outside me, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be. “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Mimi said, “Please don’t ever leave me.” 

How to Keep a Childhood Promise

part one—a taste

I’m in Oaxaca with my mother. I’m thirteen years old, and it’s the first time my mother has taken me out of the country. My grandfather thinks we’re on vacation in Florida, and my mother reminds me “not to tell Poppy” so many times that I start wondering if we’re really in Mexico or just a part of Florida that isn’t flat. 

Casitas the color of pomegranate and persimmon cling to the hillside at the all-inclusive, and my mother and I wear beaded bracelets to pay for extras. She posts up poolside en la mañana, and I do water aerobics with my hands in the air. My mother thinks I’m waving at her. I kayak, snorkle, and paint clay. 

Eventually, I make a few friends, white kids like me from the suburbs. By day we hit tennis balls, smoke cigarettes, and lay out topless on our windsurfing boards. By night we trade some of our beads for drinks at the on-property disco that allows kids. My mother doesn’t worry because we’re inside the resort. 

Some of these kids go on excursions with their families—catamaran trips to offshore reefs, horseback riding, fishing. My mother isn’t sure it’s safe to leave the resort, but she consults with the frontdesk and eventually we compromise on a short morning trip to a craft market. We go in a van with other Americans wearing coordinated outfits and clean white sneakers. 

My mother says it isn’t safe to drink anything outside the resort, but lets me buy a Coke that I’m allowed to drink only after she sanitizes the cap with a wet wipe from her purse, which hugs her body tight thanks to a cross-body strap. It’s not just Mexico; my mother’s home city of New York was full of purse snatchers in the 1980s, and she learned to take precautions. 

“Put it across your body,” my grandmother says, demonstrating “but be aware they might also cut the straps right offya, so holdontoit.” Decades before fuhgeddaboudit leapt the Hudson River and became known worldwide, my grandmother strung words together in that classic New York way so they appeared to be one—turning entire phrases into single words—rendering them both incomprehensible and beyond translation to non-native ears.

I learned a little Spanish in school, but I awkwardly counted pesos in the market and was too embarrassed to barter. I fell in love with the textiles and wanted to be wrapped in that brightness, but my haul was small—a woven ankle bracelet, a silver ring, and a few wooden figures. The figurines were bright and whimsical, not of this world—a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with bull horns—and when I got home I placed them around our home to lend light and promise to our beige-on-beige backdrop.

part two: a vision

I’m fifteen years old. I’m standing in the threshold of my great-grandmother’s galley kitchen in New York City. At the far end is a round table with too many chairs around it, though they only sit on three sides because nobody dares back up against the sizzling radiator. The radiator is under the window, so by default they’re all looking out of it and at a brick wall. 

One section of the wall has a carefully tended vine growing in the shape of a tree of life, tending to by the Tibetan neighbors. Another section has an old metal ladder that doesn’t do much beyond capturing the plastic bags that blow in on the regular. 

Huddled around the table is my great grandmother and her four living daughters, plus my mother and her cousin. They are having a conversation, but mostly it sounds like sighing. Somebody complains that the coffee is lousy, bic lighters flick, cigarettes tap into ashtrays. Their inhales sound like warnings and their exhales like whistles. I wonder if this is contagious. 

My great-grandmother tells me to go to her jewelry box and grab the two-dollar bill she left for me. “Go buy myself an ice-cream pop,” my great-grandmother says. “Get a couple boxes,” my grandmother says, “one is not enough.” My grandmother knows that one is never enough. 

Somebody asks if I can pick up a pack of cigarettes. Somebody else says that is ridiculous. Then they don’t want to let me out of the house alone. Finally they agree on something. Eventually they make a plan, and the whole pack of us goes into the street. 

We’re looking for two of the male cousins who’ve been on a bender for days or years depending on the angle. Nobody in the family has seen them in about a week, so we start asking strangers on the street, poking our heads into bars. My eyes cross the boulevard and land on a blond surfer-looking dude with a pink, popped-collar Polo shirt and a bomber jacket. My grandmother tells me that he’s my cousins’ drug dealer, and every syllable out of her mouth begins with a razor and ends with a knife. She folds me into her body and covers my face.

“Don’t look at her!” she yells to the drug dealer across five lanes of taxis and busses and everything short a rickshaw, but he can’t make out what she’s saying, so he comes toward us. We meet on the corner and I don’t dare make eye contact or sneak a peek. I remember him being polite and smelling like Drakkar Noir. He hadn’t seen the boys.

A few hours later the boys are still missing and anxiety has reached a new high. The women are gathered back around the kitchen table. The ashtray is filling. Most of them don’t drink, but a couple of them crack effervescent beers to take a bit of the edge off, though they don’t drink past the neck of the bottle. They need their wits! 

One of my great-aunts rubs her hand up and down her thigh, as if wiping a stain. She thinks she’s hiding her anxiety under the table. My grandmother picks at her fingernails, my mother files her edges. I stand there in the doorway, promising myself that I’ll live in another culture some day. 

part three: hear, listen

A dozen years later I leave for my first solo trip abroad. I’d gone to Mexico a few more times with my mother, and to Puerto Rico. I went to Jamaica with my husband, but now I’m his ex-wife and I’m going to Guatemala by myself. I don’t yet know what I don’t know. 

I’ll be meeting up with a writing group, but first I’ll spend a week traveling alone. I’ve read the guide books and know that Guatemala City isn’t an ideal place for me to stay by myself, so I arrange to stay in the colonial city of Antigua. The hotel will send a driver.

It’s not that I lack street-smarts. My mother taught me not to make eye contact with the junkies, not to walk alone after dark on deserted streets, not to open my wallet and show all my cash. I know that I should leave my expensive watch at home, and that a backpack will give me the look of someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, someone not worth kidnapping, though I’ll later learn on the streets of Tegucigalpa that almost any American is worth kidnapping. 

I get off the plane, file through immigration, and collect my pack, which is giant, like the kind you’d take on wilderness adventure in the backcountry. I don’t see a person holding a sign with my name it. I step onto the sidewalk, and still—no sign. I don’t realize it yet, but mine is the last plane to land for the day. This becomes clear as the crowd thins and doesn’t replenish. An American couple asks me if I’m ok and I tell them I have a ride coming. I wait an hour, then two. I’m still wearing the big backpack, and its weight increases by the minute. It’s getting late, maybe ten en la noche. I withdraw quetzales from the ATM machine and buy a bag of chips so I have a few coins for the payphone. 

I call the hotel and they’re glad to hear from me. They say that my first driver broke down and then they sent a second one but he got a flat tire, and gee, they can’t believe I’m still waiting. They tell me it’s about a forty-minute drive from Guatemala City to Antigua and that I should grab a cab. They say the drive might take an hour because there are hazards in the road at night—mostly livestock, probably not Zetas—but, and they laugh, at least there won’t be traffic leaving the city. They tell me they’ll wait up.

I’m angry and don’t hide it when I ask if it’s safe for me, alone, at this hour. There was a reason I booked their hotel and arranged for a ride in advance, to avoid this. They don’t make any promises, they just say, “Probably.” Then they tell me it might be hard to get someone to come this far so late. “So good luck,” they say. 

In the two hours I’ve been waiting, I’ve been asked thirty times if I need a taxi, but by now most of the drivers have called it quits. I scan the few that are left, and I try to be stealth but I’m also aware that stealth is not in my current wheelhouse. I wanted to dress low-key for my travel day, but my bright teal backpack and electric purple fleece make me feel like a Bird-of-Paradise in a sea of cinder block.

I pick the least eager-looking driver, sort of the way I pick puppies, and approach the passenger-side window of his car to ask if he’ll go to Antigua. I explain what happened with my other two drivers breaking down. I try to make it funny. I tell him the hotel is expecting me, not exactly as a threat, but more like a fact. 

He says yes to the ride and offers to put my backpack in the trunk. I quickly scan my brain for all the things I’m supposed to look out for while traveling, and tell him I’d rather keep my pack in the back seat. This leaves little room for me, so I’m pressed against the door of his small Corolla. I double check that the door is locked. Vamos. 

He starts speaking to me in Spanish and I’m a little uncomfortable that he’s looking at me in the rearview mirror and doesn’t have his eyes on the road, though I’m not sure which is more worrisome. “Más despacio, por favor,” I say. Please slow down. I mean his words, not his driving. He hears me. “Mi español no es muy bueno,”  I say, “Un minuto, por favor.”

I dig into the top pocket of my backpack and pull out my headlamp and Spanish-English dictionary specific for Guatemala. I ask him to repeat himself. He’d asked me a question and now I’m preparing myself to answer. I knew he asked me something about a man, but before I answered I needed to be clear if he was asking if I have a man or if I want a man. 

I blank on the verbs for have and want—tienes and quieres, such basics—but I know that my one-word answer has the potential to make or break this night. 

“No echcuche,” I tell him. “I didn’t hear you.”

“Quieres un hombre?” He asks me, looking again in the mirror. He asked if I want a man. 

I decided to remove want from the equation. 

“Si, tengo un hombre.” I say,  “No, no necesito un hombre.”

Yes I have a man. No I don’t need a man.

part 4: “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” (Rudyard Kipling)

I was thirty-one-years-old when I moved to Honduras for an undetermined amount of time, my only goal to fulfill that childhood promise of living in another culture. I couldn’t wing it with accommodations because I wasn’t traveling light. In addition to my duffel bags, I had my massage table and my long-legged wolfdog that required a jumbo-size crate. I rented an apartment sight-unseen off the internet and hoped for the best.

Because the dog crate precluded us from the smaller planes that fly directly to the island, our journey included several modes of transportation, and each leg was separated from the others by at least one night at a hotel because that was the only way to string them together logistically. 

We began at our home in Montana with an eight-hour drive, then a night in Salt Lake City before flying to Houston. Lucky’s plane ticket was already more expensive than mine, and if he left the airport the price doubled, so he stayed at the kennel and I stayed at a hotel. I ordered chicken fingers and fries and started an extended process of second guessing. In the morning I met a man on the shuttle back to the airport who knew nothing about me, but questioned my decision to live on a island thirty miles off the coast of Honduras.

“Do you know how remote that is?” He asked me.

“Have you ever been to Montana?” I asked him.

Next Lucky and I flew to San Pedro Sula, where we met up with one of my best teenage friends and stayed there several night because I wanted to buy a truck. That was unsuccessful, so we hired a guy to take us on a long, dusty pickup ride across Honduras, after which my black dog was so dusted he looked like a German Shepherd.

We stayed the night in La Ceiba, where we were entertained by an American military retiree who had a full-size tattoo of a hand giving the middle finger on his forehead. The end of the journey included a ferry ride to the island, which—let me assure you—was not like the ferry to Nantucket. Lucky rode in the cargo area with the luggage and other dogs and chickens who did not have luxury dog crates, but who were in cardboard boxes with tiny openings for their snouts and beaks. I spent the 90-minute ride leaned over the railing as I watched waves crash onto the deck and fill Lucky’s crate before flowing out.

This was a few years after 9/11, but the year that waterboarding made the news as a technique used in Guantanamo Bay as an interrogation technique. 

“You’re okay, baby, you’re okay,” I repeated to him, knowing he couldn’t hear me but hoping the message would somehow be received.

We got off the ferry in the hectic village of Coxen Hole, and needed to arrange transport to my place, which required two taxis for the three of us and all of my stuff. When we arrived at the apartment the manager wasn’t there to let us in, so we sat in the sun until a neighbor brought us beers and offered dog water for Lucky.

The Canadian property manager finally arrived arrived—several hours late—to show us around. She arrived in a Suzuki Samurai with the doors rusted off. Her yellow hair had turned to straw and she’d lost so much weight she’d given up on wearing anything more than a sarong, under which her deflated breasts swung like two tube socks with shot glasses in the bottom. 

“Don’t mind the smell of the water,” she said, “it’s rich with sulfur and you’ll love it—it’s amazing for your skin.”

The water wasn’t great for my skin. I got mosquito bites that got infected and turned into abscesses. I got a Hondureño boyfriend who told me he couldn’t shower at my place because the smell of the water made him gag. The sulfur smell increased daily, and my boyfriend said, “Sorry, baby, but that’s not sulfur.”

Eventually my water flow reduced to a trickle, and the property manager had someone come look inside the cistern, which was shared by a few people. They discovered that our cistern has almost no room for actual water because it was filled to capacity with bloated, decaying rats. I did the next logical thing: I bought my own house.

part 5: touch 

The power is out in the supermercado. In the absence of harsh, overhead light and conditioned air, the place is almost peaceful. The front doors are propped open with wedges of wood. Birds swoop and dive around the market. A woman shoos rats with a broom handle.

I know it’s hot because the bored cashiers fan themselves with rolled newspaper and the old, white men with beachball bellies walk around with their shirts unbuttoned. “Hey, lovely,” one of the old men calls to me with a Caracole accent. He runs the customs office, and the day I went to collect a few boxes, he was drinking Chivas out of a yoghurt cup at eight en la mañana, and he asked me to come around to his side of the desk so he could show me the papers. 

He went line by line through the paperwork, and at each one he dragged his pen across the paper, using enough force to make three carbon copies. The hair on my body stood on end as if that pencil was digging into me. When every line had a mark through it, he pushed his stamp into the ink pad and marked my page PAGADO. I owed nothing.

Now he’s standing in the doorway of the supermercado, which I’m trying to leave. The shelves had been picked over, and the only things left are boxes of crumbled saltines and dented cans of soup, but my shopping cart remains empty. I realize I’m leaning on it, using it like a walker, and it’s not just the heat that’s making me weak. My skin has that crawling feeling. The weight of my cotton dress feels like too much. The man touches me as I walk by. I try to ignore him, but he speaks: “Yuh burn fiyah, lovely, go si di doctor.”

I drive myself home, but by the time I arrive my head throbs and my hands shake and opening the corroded padlock on my gate is almost more than I can handle. I race to the shower, but the power is off at my house too, so no agua caliente. I get down on my knees and drag my suitcase out from under the bed. I’ve stashed a set of warm clothes in there on the off chance I needed to fly home during the colder months. I pull on knee socks, long underwear, fleece pants, a sweater, a wool cap. I wrap myself in a few cotton blankets and I get in my bed where I shake.

A few hours later, I heard noise from my upstairs neighbor and remembered it was his birthday party. He’d imported steaks from the USA and bought local lobster. I didn’t want to miss the surf-and-turf dinner, so I headed upstairs. As I reached the top of the stairs, I saw that most of the guests were still in bathing suits and sarongs. I was dressed for cross-country skiing. “You’re sick,” a woman told me, “It’s ninety-five degrees with ninety-five-percent humidity.”

In the morning I dragged myself, wrapped in blankets, to la clinica to get tested for both malaria and dengue, as the treatment is not the same, and taking the wrong one will make a person even sicker, though I could hardly imagine anything worse. I’d taken Tylenol for the fever and pain, and that interferes with the test results, so they sent me home to wait out 24-hours without painkillers.

The power was still out. I had no running water, no air conditioning, no fans, no light, and would be without for five days, the longest stretch I endured while I lived on the island. I attempted to mellow my fever by spreading as much of my body against the tile floor as possible. Inner thighs and arms, neck and check, belly. The absence of motors humming made everything more pronounced. Geckos chirping on the walls, crabs clicking on the tiles, my racing heart. I crawled around like a dog looking for the next cool spot. 

I soon found out that the treatment for malaria is almost as horrible as the disease itself, though the effects of the parasite and its cure lasted years longer than I could ever have imagined, which was sort of a prolonged hell.

I crawled around my apartment for days that felt like weeks. My toothbrush felt heavy, and my neighbor heaved pitchers of water into the toilet tank so I could flush. After the pain subsided, my skin began to itch. I couldn’t tolerate anything touching me, and the only thing that cooled the fire was floating in the sea.

six: hindsight— how not to be spoiled

I’ve returned from Honduras and I’m visiting my family in New York City. My mother and I are walking down Queens Boulevard, the main drag through heart of her neighborhood, which extends six blocks between two subway stops and boasts an impressive thirty-five different types of cuisine. 

A friend stops us on the street, asks me about my time in Honduras. I’m tired of trying to explain it to people who travel but don’t leave the resort, so I came come up with a schtick. 

“I went because I didn’t want to be a spoiled American my whole life, and I came back because I realized that being a spoiled American for the rest of my life wouldn’t be so bad.” Sometimes they laugh, gasp, or snort. Sometimes they just stare at me. 

“But by spoiled,” I continue, “I mean having access to things like electricity and clean water, being able to go to a store to buy basics like contact lens solution, tampons, fresh milk.”

I don’t tell them anything else. They need to see for themselves. If they want, if they dare, if they promised.

Break Is Not a Simple Word

Last May I attended a writing workshop in the North Cascades, and I drove the fourteen-hour roundtrip by myself. I listened to stories and podcasts, but I also allowed myself quiet time to think as I whipped across the Eastern Washington scablands, under Grand Coulee Dam, and along so many rivers. I used the voice-to-text option on my phone, and recorded hundreds of my thoughts. Some of them were specific to my memoir-in-progress, but many of them were around a common, unplanned theme:

this is what breaks my heart. 

As I traveled, I felt my heart breaking open not from grief, but from immense joy, extreme delight, and uncharted expansiveness. Often when something is described as heartbreaking it’s not because of its power to destroy us, but rather because of its potential to transform us.

Break is not a simple word.

Break means to sustain an injury, separate into pieces.

Codes break, revealing secrets. Fevers break, resetting a body’s internal temperature.

A break can be as simple as a pause, or as complicated as a last act.

Some breaks can be repaired.

We break promises.

We break camp and we break bread.

We break a fall, a silence, a step.

We break each other. We break contact.

Voices break when speaking with emotion.

Weather breaks, resulting in a sudden change.

Waves break. Yolks break. News breaks.

Some things break with intention, while other breaks are followed by cursing.

We break open, break clean, break trust.

We break down.

We break up.

We break out: with hives, from prison, in song.

We break in.

We break off.

We break away.

We break free.

We break even.

We break the ice, the mold, the bank.

We give someone a break. We take a break.

Day breaks.

My brain switched into overdrive after the workshop, and by the time I got home I had filled my phone with hundreds of notes about what I’d witnessed—both along the way and within myself—that broke my heart. The idea for this blog was born, but the following day I was rushing at work and I dropped my phone—with all of my hot-off-the-press notes—face down on a tile floor.

I broke it. The screen was shattered, and I couldn’t access anything.

I didn’t break down, but went to get a replacement, which I was due for anyway. The Verizon store offered to transfer all of my information, and many of my old notes moved to the new device, but not the most recent ones. Of course the notes containing obsolete grocery lists grapefruit, eggplant, yukon golds, toothpaste and tracking numbers for packages ordered two Christmases ago remained, but the most recent notes from leaving the conference were wiped out.

That in itself broke my heart.

Daunted, I put my new blog idea on hold, and took it as a sign to dive instead into the fire-like cycle of writing my memoir, which looks like this:

write-edit-write-edit-pout-write-edit-joy-write-edit-write-edit-doubt-write-edit-write-edit-write-edit-why the hell am I doing this-write-edit-write-edit….

I did that, and it was more fun that it seems, but one thing was missing from my writing life: the connection with readers I had when I actively posted on my first blog.

It’s been almost a year since I posted even a word on Sorry I’m Not Who You Thought I Was , and although my intention was to return to it and pick up where I left off, I decided to close that chapter and start something new. Six years is a good run for a blog, and I’m not taking it down, but just leaving it there as an artifact. Maybe I’m no longer sorry?

Instead of limiting myself to long-form essays every week or month, I’m going to post something on this theme every day. This is not a resolution, it’s a commitment. It’s an experiment.

My daily entries could be poetry or prose. They might be lists, paragraphs, single words. Sometimes I might post a song or a photo, an essay, writing that isn’t mine.

I don’t know what it’s going to look like in the end or even along the way. But nevertheless, I begin.

Here’s the link to my new blog: This is What Breaks My Heart 



Last summer I met a man. He surprised me, made me pause, knocked my socks off. I didn’t even know I wanted him until I met him, had no idea he even existed. If asked to sketch a profile of my dream man I’d never have set my expectations so high for fear of being disappointed.

Martin and I met online, but the night we met in person it was just for a drink after I’d had dinner with a girlfriend. It’s hard to tell from an online profile and some messaging if you’re going to like a person in real life. I need to know how the person smells, if he makes eye contact, if he has nice table manners. I was the one who pushed for the meeting, but because I didn’t want to give him too much of my time, I suggested we simply meet for a drink after my girl-date.

“I’m going to be more dressed up for our first date than I normally would be,” I warned him, and the disclaimer was unspoken but understood: I didn’t dress up for you. 

I live in a place where people get judged more for dressing up and having nice things than for being casual, and it would be reasonable for a person to show up for a first date straight from floating the river. I wore a cotton dress, but instead of flip-flops I had on sassy high-heeled clogs. My hair was washed and not in a ponytail and I wore both jewelry and mascara. Instead of a sweatshirt around my waist I had a pretty shawl in my purse.

Martin arrived first and told me he was sitting in the back. He stood up when he spotted me, and when I arrived at the table we hugged, but honestly it was more like him holding me up. He wore well-fitting linen pants, a pressed shirt, and dress shoes. He wasn’t wearing his blazer at that point, but if he had I might’ve just hit the floor right then. It wasn’t just his looks. He oozed confidence and sincerity.

“I figured you’ve probably had your fill of guys in Carhartts and Chacos,” Martin said, “So I got a little dressed up for you.” It wasn’t just a one off. Still, even when we go out for Sunday night burgers he wears a blazer and good shoes.

The beginning was thrilling and filled with the jitters and nerves that accompany the excitement of a new relationship, but it didn’t take long for us to fall into a routine that felt comfortable and safe. Martin does all of the little things that added up to the big thing. The first time he brought me coffee in bed I thought it was a fluke, a kind gesture to make up for him getting out of bed at 6:00 on a Sunday to run eighteen miles, but no. Then I thought maybe it was a Sunday thing, or a weekend thing, but no.

Even on days that Martin doesn’t have to work he’ll set his alarm so he can make fresh coffee and bring it to me in bed. Even on days that I don’t have time to linger, he sets it on the nightstand so I have the luxury of starting my day with a few sips while I’m still cozy under the covers.

We spent our first ten or so Saturdays together at the farmers’ market. I’ve always been a fan of going early to beat the crowds, but Martin likes to go later, eat brunch there, and then shop. It only took me about a week to adapt. Going to market with Martin quickly became my favorite thing. I loved that he’d take my hand and hold it, kiss me just because, wait patiently while I chatted with endless numbers of people. I’ve always hated the question, “What’s for dinner?” but with Martin I liked it and I wasn’t afraid to tell him. In fact, I wasn’t afraid to tell him anything, and our relationship—even in the early days—had a marked absence of fear.

I have a fourteen-year-old dog, and warned Martin that dating a girl with an old dog can be tricky. For starters,  Lucky comes first, which Martin reported was obvious from the start as Lucky had not only been in the car during our first date, but had also sniffed him out. More important is the reality Lucky will die sooner than not and I don’t know what will happen to me when he does.

“I could come unraveled,” I told Martin, “Completely undone.”

Martin held my face and looked me in the eye when he said, “He won’t leave until he knows you’re in good hands.”

My mother came to visit in September and Martin was incredible with her, but during that visit Lucky stopped eating, drinking, or walking for a couple of days. Martin showed me who he is in a crisis: clear, calm, and present. He’d baked my mother a cake for her birthday, but entered my house to find five of us hovering over the dog bed.

The cake he baked was a German recipe that translates into “gentleman’s cake,” which turned out to be perfect for Lucky’s funeral. Martin brought joy into the room where the air was heavy with heartbreak. It was a gorgeous late summer day, but we sat in the living room with the curtains drawn, the only light a thin column coming through the front door. It appeared we wanted to sit in the dark and wallow.

“Let’s take him outside,” Martin said, and we all looked at him like he was crazy. “He needs space,” my pragmatic guy continued, “and air. You’re all so crowded around him.” It was true. All of the fresh air in my house had been consumed by our sighing and heavy breathing. It was stale. It felt sick. It wasn’t helping. We carried Lucky out of the house on his dog bed.

“He’s like Aladdin,” I said, and he really did look like a little prince being carried into the sunshine on his magic carpet, his portal to the afterlife or maybe just to the yard. We let Lucky have some space in the last bits of light which turn quickly that time of year into alpenglow off the mountain across the street. In September this light is warm and pink, yet the air is cool.

It’s a decadent thing to have your dog bed in the front yard, and Lucky looked so peaceful, but eventually his body felt cold to the touch so we carried him back inside and into my bedroom. Everyone else went home, but Martin stayed with Lucky while my mother and I went to pick up slices of pizza; a whole pie seemed like more than we could manage.

Every breath seemed like Lucky’s last. The following days Martin did an extraordinary job bringing presence to Lucky’s downslide, while keeping us rooted in some of our normal activities. We went to the farmers’ market. We went to our friends’ house to pick plums. We hiked the mountain across the street—just the two of us, a first—while Luck’s grandma watched over him. Tears streamed down my cheeks all the way up the trail, and Martin rubbed my back and gave me kisses. It was nearly dark when we got to the top and nobody else was there. The sun dipped behind the mountains and my dam broke.

“I don’t know who I am if I’m not Lucky’s mom,” I wailed, “Who am I without someone to feed and walk?” One of the first things I noticed about Martin the night we met was his intense gaze; it’s unwavering. It made me nervous at first, but then I recognized it as a safe place.

“You will always be Lucky’s mom,” Martin said.

In the middle of the night I heard rustling from Lucky’s bed, little more than an arm’s distance from mine, so I ran to get a piece of bacon, the litmus test of life in a dog. He had no interest. I held the shallow dish of water under his chin, but he didn’t even seem to notice. Martin woke up, propped himself on one elbow and was patient while I sat and cried into my dog’s neck, which smells better than anything I’ve ever known. A quarter-sized piece of bacon sat perched on my knee.

I kept trying with the bacon, alternating between trying to get Lucky to recognize it as his favorite and wetting his lips with a paper towel soaked in water. Martin closed his eyes.

“He’s taking it! He’s taking the bacon!” I squealed. I ran to get more and then fed Lucky strip after strip of bacon. At exactly the same time—but I had no way of knowing—my father was having emergency heart surgery in North Carolina after suffering a heart attack.

The next day Lucky had almost completely reclaimed his groove, and my mother went home to New York. I had a visit planned later than week to see my father in North Carolina, but my flight was cancelled. Driving back home from the airport at 6:00 in the morning, Martin said that he thought Lucky had a hand in this, like maybe he knew his Mommy needed to stay home and rest.

It’s true. I was exhausted. It had been a long summer of running around and I need to be still. Martin set up his hammock with a sleeping bag and pillow so I could read and nap in the sun. He worked in the yard, then baked a cake with the plums we’d picked the previous weekend. He whipped fresh cream.

It had been a hot summer, so there hadn’t been any baking, but with cooler temperatures on the horizon and a few family crises I learned something about Martin: he’s a stress baker. He bakes everything from scratch. When things are falling apart he takes ingredients one at a time and carefully measures them, taking the bitter and making it sweet.

The first couple months of our relationship were filled with joy, yet there had been—for me—a low-grade, underlying grief: I wished I’d met Martin sooner. When my mother has a question she want to ask but is hesitant she prefaces it with another question, “Can I ask you a question,” she’ll ask. This annoys me sometimes and I’ll respond, “You just did,” but that doesn’t slow her down.

“Where has he been?” she asked as if I knew the answer, which I didn’t. The truth was, if Martin had showed up in my life five or seven years earlier there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have been ready for him. By the time he arrived I felt a bit overripe and perhaps ready to be made into a pudding or quick bread, but he quickly stopped the process and renewed my hope.

I hadn’t lost hope in a hopeless way, I’d simply removed expectation. After taking care of my grandmother with dementia I lived with more present-moment awareness than ever before; I was happy with the life I had as opposed to wanting something that might or might not be available to me. But then Martin appeared—a true vision in linen pants with an enormous heart and brilliant smile—and I felt grief. I’d finally met a man who I felt like I could have a family with, but I was forty two and he was forty seven.

The summer I was thirty I’d just broken up with a great guy and Lucky and I moved into an apartment by ourselves. Every morning we walked to a bakery for coffee and a croissant, and I taught him how to walk off leash because every few steps I’d give him a tiny bit of our pastry. I loved being a young mother to my pup. I got to know the owner of the bakery, and sometimes we’d chat. She told me that she never wanted children until she met her husband, and then suddenly it was all she wanted. I didn’t get it, but suddenly, twelve years later, her message was clear.

I talked about this fairly extensively with a few of my best girlfriends, but not to Martin. I know now that I can tell him anything, but I didn’t want him to think that I thought I was missing out. But really, I didn’t want him to run away. Talking about having a family—or lamenting the thought of not having one—was a premature conversation for us to have after two or three months. I wanted us to stay present; we were good there.

During this time my best friend Emily was pregnant. We’re exactly the same age and have embraced lives that were more adventurous and explorative than rooted and oriented toward family. If she could have a baby at forty-two then maybe I could too. We talked about it at length. And then some.

Emily’s baby was born in October. I’d been through an emotional ringer the past couple of months—my ex-husband died, Lucky almost died, my father had a heart attack—and I felt cut to the root and emotionally exposed. I was o raw and gutted over Lucky’s slow dance with death that I worried I didn’t even have the strength and stamina to be a parent. I reckoned I’m just too sensitive and emotional.

But I’d seen how Martin weathers a crisis or two and how much love and tenderness he extends with ease and grace. It made me want a family with him even more, so when Emily asked me—with her newborn in her arms—what I was thinking regarding making a family with Martin, I stood there in the shadow of the mountain and said, “I’m not thinking about it. I’ve stopped thinking about it. I’ve accepted that he and I—with Lucky and the dogs of our future—are enough.” She nodded the way she does, and we hugged and kissed goodbye.

Four days later I got something I wasn’t expecting: I got a positive pregnancy test.

I’d driven down to Jackson, Wyoming to visits a wonderful group of old friends, and was staying with my friend Sam, who’s like a sister. We were enjoying the afternoon sun on her deck, and I casually mentioned a few symptoms.

“Are you pregnant?” she asked, “Let’s go pee on a stick.” We giggled like kids en route to her bathroom where she sat me on the potty with a pregnancy test and told me to pee. She got in her bed, but with the door open we could still talk to each other.

“What does it say?” Sam asked before I’d even stopped peeing.

“Nothing yet,” I told her, then a few seconds later the air was sucked out of me. “I don’t know,” I said, “I feel like it’s dark in here and I can’t really see. I feel like I’m wearing polarized lenses and I’m seeing lines that aren’t really there. I’m not sure.” I touched my face just in case, but my sunglasses were nowhere to be found.” Sam came into the bathroom and took the stick out of my hand.

“This is a positive pregnancy test!” she squealed, “Oh my god. You’re pregnant!”

Not sure what to do, we climbed into her bed with our dogs, a scenario we’ve spent countless hours in over the past fifteen years that we’ve been friends. We do our best thinking in beds with dogs.

I had plans to go meet two other friends, and knew I couldn’t keep my exciting news from them, but I knew that the next person to hear this news was going to have to be Martin. I took a shower, and as I drove across town I called him. I had a hunch he was going to be delighted, but I was wrong.

“How did this happen?” he asked, and I had no answer, but reminded him that he’s forty-seven-years old and I didn’t think he needed a biology lesson. There was a lot of silence from his end. I asked him if he was still there.

“I had to sit down,” he said.

It was awkward. I couldn’t see him, feel him, or smell him. I wanted to reach out to him, but I was four hundred miles from home. I apologized for having to tell him this way, but I told him I couldn’t wait. He was glad I told him, but I felt doom from the other end of the line. The only thing Martin said during that conversation that gave me any confidence was, “Everything will be okay.”

I was fortunate to be seeing four of my dearest girlfriends that weekend and to be able to share shrieks of joy with them, which made up for Martin’s lack of enthusiasm. I held my friend Danielle’s miracle baby as I told her, I walked in the twilight at the Elk Refuge with my college friend Julia as I told her. There was so much joy.

Julia worked some magic and got me an appointment with her astrologer friend for the next morning. I sat with Lyn and told her that I couldn’t quite believe it, but I felt the presence in my abdomen. She told me she saw two babies in my chart, and I panicked over the thought of twins.

“Is is possible that one of the babies is a book?” I asked her, “I’m writing a book, and, well, now I suddenly have the deadline of all deadlines. It would be helpful if one of those babies is a book.”

“It’s quite likely,” she said with a smile. Lyn and I talked about Martin. As with everyone else, when asked about Martin’s reaction I described our conversation and said it was a little iffy. Lyn and I talked about the strong mothering presence in my chart and how I could do this alone if I needed to. I told her I had no doubt about that, but I was also honest with myself and with her as my witness.

“I want a family,” I told her, “My family has been me and Luckydog for years, and I could see myself being a single mom—having that family would be far more than enough—but that’s not exactly how I pictured it.”

The next day I drove home. The drive home was so different than the drive down just three days earlier. I started my drive fresh out of a soul-affirming brunch and walk with Mariah, who I met the summer after I returned from my year in Honduras, the summer after she graduated from college. Mariah and I were in different places then as we are now, and as we always will be—there are eleven years between us—but our hearts are aligned in a way that transcends time. I started home with sore cheeks from so much smiling.

The first couple hours of the drive were a breeze. The sun was shining and I listened to the recording of my reading with Lyn. I knew it would mean finishing the drive in the dark, but I stopped at the Patagonia outlet anyway. I wanted to buy myself some long underwear, and I didn’t go in looking to buy anything for my four-week-old embryo, but I couldn’t resist the little down jacket and fleece vest that would fit him his first fall and winter. I know now that this was not a wise decision.

I got back on the highway headed north, and had the unfortunate happenstance of stopping for gas right as the last light was fading. When I got back into the car it was pitch black. Hunting season was in full swing and I kept my eyes peeled for animals crossing the road, but also for pickups with big game in the bed. I knew it was likely many of these drivers had been drinking. Beer and hunting—especially when the hunt fills a tag—is a natural pairing in Montana. One driver rode the center line for miles, and when he finally edged to the right I drove faster than I usually do in the dark, but it felt safer than staying behind him. I pushed my odometer to ninety—knowing that’s nuts at night—but I begged a cop to pull me over.

If I got stopped I knew the first words out of my mouth would be, “Where have you been?”

It felt different out there on the interstate knowing I was pregnant. I felt like I needed to be more careful, but I also felt desperate to get home. I drove the last eighty miles clutching the wheel both because of what was going on around me, but more because of what was going on within me. I had a lot of practice conversations in my head.

When Martin and I made the decision to have less-safe sex I presented him with a bullet-point list of facts. I’d never stated it quite like this before, but perhaps my intuition had a suspicion something might be at stake. The most important thing I told Martin was that if I got pregnant I would have the baby. I also told him that I would always let him know where I was in my cycle, and that I would share the contraception responsibility but not take it on as my sole responsibility. I was clear that I wouldn’t consider an abortion, but I’d consider taking Plan B if we thought it was necessary. I also told him that if he thought that having a baby with me would be life ruining and the worst thing to happen to him that he should never even consider unprotected sex because a woman’s cycle can be fickle, especially at my age.

Based on this succinct conversation I figured that while Martin might’ve been surprised by the news of our pregnancy to the point of needing a seat, he’d accept responsibility and be happy about the family we’d create. But on that dark drive to his house I also prepared myself to let him go. I wanted to be clear that this was something I really wanted, and if he didn’t I would understand. I wept as I said the words aloud to myself in the car.

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” I practiced, “I understand, and I don’t want you to force yourself to do something you don’t want to do. Worse than not having a family with you would be you doing it out of obligation, so please don’t do that.” I made myself cry.

“I will tell our child about when we met,” I continued, despite the fact that adding tears to this already dicey driving situation was probably not wise, “I’ll tell him about what a kind, smart, beautiful man you are and how wonderful you are, but that you just didn’t want to be a father.” I was sick to my stomach by the time I arrived.

When I turned the corner to his house I saw Martin in the kitchen, and when I opened the door the first sensation that hit me was the evidence of baking, the warmth of cinnamon. If I knew nothing else to be true I knew this: nobody bakes a breakup cake. Lucky ran toward the kitchen while I took off my boots.

“Hey, stinker,” Martin said, “Welcome home!” I heard joy. I felt love. I was home.

Martin greeted me with a soft, gentle smile and a strong hug. I cried into his chest, and for awhile neither of us spoke.

“I talked to Marietta,” he said finally, “And Thanksgiving dinner will be at 2:00.” He wasn’t dumping me. That was all—in that moment—that I needed to know. We went out for burgers, and then home to eat his apple cake and get to sleep early. We were exhausted.

That whole evening we didn’t even talk about the pregnancy. At first this concerned me, but then I realized that the most important thing was that we connected to each other. We held hands, looked deeply into each others eyes, and fell asleep cuddling, but in the morning I was anxious. As we ate breakfast I told Martin that I was glad we took that time to just be together, but that we needed to actually talk about the pregnancy. He agreed, but the next time we both had available was Thursday evening, otherwise known as an agonizingly long time away from Monday morning.

In the meantime I got to see Emily and baby Nina, I hosted some of my dearest friends for a birthday dinner, I met friends for hikes and tea. I got to tell a lot of people my exciting news. The news of my pregnancy was just a week after the election, and I got to be the bearer of good news in a world that had, overnight, turned more complicated and confusing than ever. I got to feel a lot of joy that week with many of my closest friends, but I still wasn’t sure how my boyfriend felt about all of it.

I was already pregnant the week before I found out, and I put on a pair of jeans before heading over to Martin’s. He put his hands on my waist to pull me in for a hug, and I said, “Ick, my jeans are tight today.” Martin kept his grip on my waist and looked at my belly before looking at me and asking, “Are you pregnant?”

“No!” I laughed, but the sweet way he asked the question made me believe he wouldn’t think pregnancy wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to us.

Thursday came around and I made a beef stew to bring over and Martin picked up fresh bread. We chatted about the week as we ate, but the longer it took to talk about the baby the more my anxiety grew. Finally we settled in on the couch. I curled myself around him and prepared for the worst. I’d yet to see joy from him regarding the pregnancy and I wasn’t expecting it. I asked him how he felt.

“Concerned,” he said, and I peeled my body away from his a little bit. “I’m concerned because of our ages, because of all that can go wrong with a pregnancy. I’ll be close to retirement when the child graduates from college, my parents are getting older and it’s harder for them to travel. This will mean more trips to Germany. I worry about what having a baby will do to our relationship, what losing a child would do to our relationship.” He also talked a little about the upsides, that we’re more financially and emotionally stable than many people in their twenties and even thirties who are having babies, but the scales were far from even.

“I worry about our energy,” he continued, “Do we have the energy for a child? What about a child with special needs?” He told me that ten years prior if he thought he wouldn’t have a chance to be a dad he’d have thought he was missing out, but as he grew older he let go of that. I laughed and told him that ten years earlier if I’d had a baby I’d have thought I was missing out. We were coming at this thing from completely different points of view.

Martin’s points were valid and I told him so, but I also told him that I was optimistic. I told him that statistics are complicated and we’re both healthy. He told me that paternal age is more of a factor on a baby’s health than I might realize; he’d been doing research.

When he asked me how I felt I answered, “Excited.” I struggled to see this guy, whose heart is light, force a smile. I fell back into the headspace I was in on the drive home from Jackson, and I told Martin that he didn’t have to do this with me, but I was going to do it.

“You don’t have to do this,” I said, “You don’t have to make a family with me. You can’t want something you don’t want.”

“I want you,” he assured me.

The next four weeks were a challenge. I was tired and Martin wanted his girlfriend back. Things that hadn’t been a question before were suddenly looming large. The major upside was that the most pressing question of all had vanished. I’d been pondering for years how I’d survive the death of Lucky—even in Martin’s good hands—and what I would do with myself on a day-to-day basis. The answer had eluded me, but suddenly it was clear.

“I’m going to take care of my baby,” I realized, “When Lucky dies I will take care of my baby, and if the baby hasn’t arrived yet I will take good care of myself.” I no longer had to worry if I’d sell everything and run off to Bali or if my sadness would wither me away to nothing. Just like Lucky had a hand in delaying my trip to North Carolina, I started to believe he had a hand in bringing me an against-the-odds baby.

Those of us who witnessed Lucky’s near death in September knew he was close. His eyes were vacant, his breath labored, his body lifeless. For a few hours that Saturday afternoon we gathered in Emily and Jeff’s yard as Martin picked plums, and over the course of a few hours we all felt Lucky slipping away. He might even have crossed over briefly before returning to us. Lucky is an old dog. He’s almost fifteen now, and it’s not like he’s going to live forever, we just get to enjoy him a little longer.

What I enjoy the most about Lucky—and the list is long—is not his cheerful demeanor, not his unwavering love, not even the smell of his neck. It’s his wisdom. He is truly the smartest person I’ve ever known, and he only became brighter after his near-death experience. It didn’t take long to convince me that the only way I’d conceived a baby at age forty two while trying not to get pregnant was if Luckydog had a paw in making this happen.

It made sense. Perhaps Lucky thought I was prepared to let him go. Martin was the guy we didn’t even dare dream of, and he liked us too. Perhaps Luck had thought I was in good shape, and he had every reason to believe. That day in Emily’s yard we all got down close and talked to him. We told him he’s been such a good boy and that we love him very much. We said everything we could think of to let him know that he didn’t have to hold on if he didn’t want to, that he could let go if he was ready.

Martin crouched behind me and spoke to Lucky. He said, “You’ve taken such good care of your momma, Luck, but you don’t have to worry anymore. I can take care of her now.” Martin and Jeff wrapped Lucky in a blanket and placed him in my car, all of us certain we were taking him home to die. But he didn’t; he wasn’t ready.

I was eight weeks pregnant when I went for my first ultrasound. I’d been so worried that the images might show two babies, that I’d completely forgotten to worry about the absence of one.

Before the ultrasound I had a thorough exam and answered a lot of questions. I had many symptoms of a healthy pregnancy, and no reason to think anything was wrong. It was a transvaginal ultrasound, which means a probe is placed inside the vagina. Right before the midwife stuck it inside me she asked me why Martin hadn’t joined me for the appointment. It felt like an accusation, but I gave her the only answer there was.

“I didn’t ask him to,” I told her. I knew if I’d asked Martin he would have joined me, and I’d even booked the first morning appointment to make it easier for him with his job. But I didn’t ask him. In part I didn’t ask him because I knew it would be a long appointment that dealt with a lot of my health history and I didn’t want to waste his time, but I know now that I was afraid of the outcome.

Emily had asked me the day before if Martin was joining me and I’d told her no, for the same reason, and she pointed out that hearing the baby’s heartbeat is a great way for a father to connect with the baby. The mother is automatically linked physically, but the father just has a tired, cranky, swollen mother and that doesn’t always lead to feeling connected.

Of course she was right. But what happens when there is no heartbeat? What happens when the midwife turns the screen away from you to get a closer look and then turns it toward you, and with the cold probe still in your vagina, shows you the emptiness in your womb. She pointed out the size of the gestational sac and the slight fetal pole—the egg had implanted—but told me the baby had stopped growing after five or six weeks and that the pregnancy was most likely not viable.

When I heard that the egg had detached, the big question of what I’m going to do when Lucky dies came rushing back at me larger, louder, angrier than before. It was a slap. It had bite, now, when previously it only had bark. The option of having a baby to take care of had been removed from the menu, and now there was just me. I could just take care of myself, if I could.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t believe it. I was in denial. Grief can be like a moving target, but I refused to buckle under the weightiness of this unexpected plot twist within an unexpected plot twist.

I consulted other health professionals, some of whom are close friends, and I read everything on the internet. In some cases the ultrasound is wrong, and I held onto that hope. There had been a distinct shift to my nighttime fieldwork; I transitioned from staying up late researching non-toxic cribs to staying up late at night asking Google for how long will I bleed? I tried to be both realistic and optimistic, but until my water broke I didn’t fully believe I was going to lose the baby.

For nine days I waited to miscarry, which I now know is like waiting to exhale. I never considered a D&C, but I did consider taking a drug called misoprostal to encourage labor. I wanted the miscarriage to happy naturally if it was going to, and taking misoprostal felt like giving myself an abortion. I couldn’t personally do that without being 100% sure. I still felt as pregnant as I had before the ultrasound showed my blighted ovum. I felt I could breastfeed on the spot, and in many ways felt like my body had betrayed me. Purgatory is a lonely place.

I got another ultrasound that confirmed the first, and hoped it would help my body let go but it didn’t. I went to my writing group wearing a nighttime pad just in case, and despite my red-rimmed eyes and hollowed out heart I participated in the conversation as if nothing was wrong. I went to work. I told a few of my coworkers who I share shifts with what was going on because I wanted them to know in case I started cramping during a massage and had to leave in a hurry. One of my coworkers had a miscarriage and when I told her the waiting was the hardest part she said, “No, the worst is yet to come.”

It was the most honest thing anyone had said to me regarding the miscarriage process.

“If it happens at work you won’t be able to drive home,” she said, and that was actually the closest I got to comprehending that a miscarriage is far more than heavy bleeding and bad period cramps. Women don’t like to talk about their miscarriages, about how their body failed at the one big job it was designed to do. Some bodies fail at the simpler tasks, the ones we take as a given—breathing, digestion, happiness—and when those systems fail us we don’t do much like to talk  about them either.

By day seven my patience had worn thin. A dear friend was having a double mastectomy the following day, but she stopped by in the morning to bring me chocolate because we know that chocolate always helps. She was also the first person to bring me a congratulatory gift—tea, chocolate, prenatal vitamins, and a note telling me I was going to rock it. Neither of us wanted to believe we were in danger, but we worried about each other.

At a birthday party we laughed—even though it wasn’t funny—and agreed that I could worry about her and she could worry about me but we wouldn’t worry about ourselves. It seemed easier, I guess, to keep that distance from our own potential pain. That night at that party neither of us knew how complicated our situations were going to become over the next few weeks. She only needed a single lumpectomy, I was having a healthy first trimester. Boobs seemed to be our only problem.

Three weeks later things had changed dramatically for both of us, we could hardly keep up with the emotion and it felt easier to be strong. We stood there in my living room and cried, though neither of us really let go. We were both scared, yet at the same time fearless. The list of unknowns lengthened by the minute, and questions we didn’t even know we had multiplied until even our questions had questions. It was hard to determine which ones needed answering and which ones would remain mysteries. Neither of us drowned, but we swam hard.

I went to work that day, but not the next. Day eight was spent preparing. I saw my Osteopath and my Naturopath for care and supportive therapies. I changed sheets and cleaned the house. I stocked the fridge. I’d bought all the right stuff: apples, almond milk, letting go bath salts. I put together baskets of items I’d need—one with dark towels, one with cozy pants and tops, one with undies— so I’d have easy access to it all. I’d bought pads and wipes and set those in the bathroom in another basket. I mothered the shit out of myself.

I’d made a soft decision earlier in the week that if the miscarriage hadn’t happened naturally by Friday that I would take the pill so I could recover over the weekend. I laugh now—a month later and still recovering—that getting back to work on Monday was a priority. Blake gave me advice I wish I’d had the wisdom to heed, “Protect yourself. Don’t push pain.”

My body finally cooperated. For nine days my body had fought an inevitable process as it refused to let go of an embryo that had stopped developing three or four weeks prior. Martin came over. I was in the bathtub when he arrived, and he sat on the little stool and rubbed my head while I wept. I wept because of the agony of waiting, because of my fear of the pain, because of the outcome that I wasn’t sure I could accept. I was in it. This was not a story I could step out of.

I was weary and weak, and after soaking for well over an hour I asked Martin to dry me off, and he did. I put on underpants and a pad and he tucked me into bed. I don’t know how long Martin sat on the edge of the bed, but it was long enough that I was drifting off to sleep. I told him I had slight cramps, but nothing too bad. He left and we said we’d talk in the morning.

I was crampy during the night and aware of it, but I slept. About an hour before the sunrise I got out of bd and started moving about the house without thinking. I turned up the heat. I put on the kettle for tea. I ran water for a bath. I moved with purpose, yet it felt like a walking meditation, like maybe half of me existed on another plane.

I added salt to my bathwater and set my tea on the ledge of the tub. I was cold and ready to submerge myself. My water broke as I slipped out of my pants. I felt it burst and heard it hit the bathroom linoleum. It seemed louder than it was supposed to be, and at first I didn’t even know what it was.

I wasn’t expecting my water to break. I was only nine weeks pregnant, and despite all of my reading on the internet I didn’t have a grip on what was actually going to happen during the miscarriage. This is in part because every miscarriage is different, but also because I’d mostly been reading the stories about the cases where the ultrasound was wrong and the woman went back at ten weeks and the heartbeat was strong.

The other part is that a lot of women don’t want to talk about it, not to their friends, not to strangers on the internet. It’s an incredibly emotional thing to go through, and difficult to process on the fly. Then, when these mothers have recovered, they just want to move on and don’t necessarily want to relive the experience.

I wiped up the floor and got into the bathtub. I texted Martin, Emily, and Charlotte. They all offered to come over to provide support, but I told them it was an inside job.

The contractions took me by surprise. I hear from people who’ve experienced both miscarriage and live birth that the contractions during a miscarriage are almost worse. I think that’s in part because of the body’s physical experience of grief and knowing that in the end there’s not going to be a baby, but rather a void. I think the other part is purely physical, sort of how it’s almost more painful to dry heave than it is to vomit. During a miscarriage the cervix is dilating and the uterus is contracting to remove the tissue, placenta and sac, but there’s so little in there it aches against the pressure of itself.

As the contractions increased I quickly changed my mind. I was screaming and writhing in the bathtub and I had no idea how long I’d be there, but wanted to make sure Lucky was taken care of so I asked Martin to come walk him. It had snowed overnight, but was hovering just above zero that morning. Martin told me he’d clear the car and be over.

I discovered pain that has edges. It didn’t appear to have limits.

I put on classical music and tried to remember to breathe. At some point I texted Martin, “Please come straight into me.” I was worried he’d walk Lucky right away, which was silly, and I’d be left freezing in the bathtub, which I’d since drained. I was sad the night before when he found me crying as I soaked, but this was a whole new level. I was full-on primal, squatting in the bathtub, streaming blood and rinsing it away with water from a plastic cup. I was so cold.

“Get me out of here,” I pleaded when he opened the bathroom door.” I had a contraction then and fell back in the tub. “This is so much harder than I thought,” I confessed, “I had no idea.”

I repeated that line a lot over the next days—I had no idea—and still, as I continue through this process, I have no idea.

Martin got me into bed as the contractions continued. The pain was close to unbearable. The morning classics played and were calming, but the music sounded both near and far, a perfect metaphor for my experience. Martin gently stroked my face and brushed my hair off my forehead. The contractions got closer and the intensity continued to build. I hadn’t expected labor or delivery. There are a dozen “What to Expect” books for pregnancy through the preschool years, but nobody thought to write a book—or even a measly pamphlet—on what to expect when you lose your baby.

Exhaustion took over and I closed my eyes. I fell asleep for a few minutes, but I was aware of Martin’s presence, his weight on the edge of the bed like an anchor holding me in place. When I woke up and opened my eyes I asked Martin how much time had passed, and he told me it had been about thirty minutes.

We asked each other, “Is it over?”

It was. In many ways it was over, but a hundred times more ways it was just the beginning.

I texted my friends, and told them, “Emotionally I feel calm, clear, and aware. I love this aftermath of a trauma: even though it was difficult, stretching, exhausting, devastating…I still wouldn’t trade the experience and know I’m better for having had it.”

Charlotte, who in addition to being a friend who guided me through this, is a midwife, and she commended me for trusting myself to allow the process to happen naturally and for trusting my inner wisdom. She recognized the empowerment in relinquishing control over the inevitable, and tapping into my own insight and groundedness to find my reserve tanks of strength.

She said, “Seeing a best friend be so in charge and in control and trusting and working with things like this.. such a mysterious process…is pretty much the central love of my career. I work everyday and have for years for patients to have this sort of experience, so to witness my friend being so in tune, just sends me to the Stars, although it has been a very hard and perplexing couple of weeks. It makes me know that I am doing the right thing, in my cells to see you be so Amazing.”

My mother said, “I’m always so proud of you.”

Most people don’t share their pregnancies in the first trimester, and even though I felt like I didn’t tell everyone—just my local friends, people at work, a few old friends across the country, people I saw and told because I couldn’t contain my sweet secret—the numbers added up. I sent several dozen texts to relay the sad news.

It was crushing to have my friends’ hearts break along with mine, but I was glad for the support, which would’ve been harder to ask for had I not told people I was pregnant in the first place. So many people suffer silently—with miscarriage as well as with illness, heartache, etc.—and that only leads to a deeper struggle, to more suffering, to more disconnection from ourselves and the world. Breaking open is difficult, but it’s worth it.

Friends delivered candles, flowers, soup, chocolates, essential oils, books, sexy tank tops and cozy leg warmers. I sobbed over a goody bag with a mug, my favorite teas, a candle then when lit looked like a little sun, and an apology note from a friend who hadn’t intended to hurt my feelings. I drank fresh juice, herbal teas, and broth. Friends told me stories of their own miscarriages, and how they grieved and healed and built strength. I felt guilty for not knowing how to support them when they went through it, for not having the empathy to understand the depth of the loss.

My dear friend Julia—who hooted and hollered with me under the rising moon in Wyoming when we were celebrating—offered to drive half a day over the snowy mountain passes to support me. I knew that all I had to do was reach out and a hand would be there, but for the most part my friends knew that what I needed was space to grieve and the security in knowing I only had to answer the question, “What do you need?”

A lot of my grief was silent. I didn’t take much time to recover and I went back to work, to the gym, to making dates for lunches and hikes. It was too much. I was physically, emotionally, and hormonally depleted. I continued to downplay the emotional and physical trauma of a miscarriage until it played me down.

Most of Christmas weekend I sobbed. Martin, Lucky, and I hiked through deep snow to cut down a tree, and when I stopped to pee I saw my blood in the snow and it unhinged me. Martin asked if I was tired, and I was. I told him yes, but I as far as I could. I didn’t trudge through the even deeper snow to the place where he found our perfect tree, but I stood and listened to the rhythmic saw, soaked in the pine smell which invigorated the air.

By the time we got home I’d whipped through my already low reserve tank and had nothing left to even help him decorate the tree. I drank tea and snuggled on the couch with Lucky and watched Martin wrap lights and hang ornaments. I cried over my lack of involvement, and he gave me a simple job of tying silver string on cookies so I could participate in our first Christmas together. Martin never faltered, and has cared for me throughout this ordeal in a way that is nothing less than extraordinary.

The next night we drove through a blizzard to have dinner with his family up the Blackfoot, just past my favorite beach, where we’ll go when it thaws and have a ceremony. We went to church and sang Silent Night with candles in our hands, and he rubbed my back when I cried not because it was sad but because it was so beautiful.

Emily and I talked about how loss is sort of a homecoming, how enduring a great loss can be the path that leads us home. I thought Lucky had this miracle baby sent to me to pick up where he leaves off, but I was wrong. The baby came to show me intense loss, Lucky stayed to show me how to endure it.

This miscarriage has left me emotionally strong but physically weak, and I’ve had to accept that. I did too much, too soon, and I learned a lot of lessons about how to heal. I pride myself on my strength—both inner and outer—and confessed to my Osteopath that I’d been hiking and lifting weights at the gym, but that it wasn’t working. I told him I wanted to go running because that’s been how I’ve regulated my emotions since middle school, and it was driving me crazy that I don’t have the energy. I wanted to feel strong by building strength, and I didn’t realize that in order to feel strong I was going to have to submit.

“I don’t feel energized,” I told Matt, “I’m just so exhausted.”

He laughed. “Energized isn’t the goal. Calm is the goal.”

Matt told me to just be tired, and wrote me a prescription for rest. He told me to stay home until 1:30 for four days in a row, drink tea and broth, and watch and read lighthearted movies and books. I texted Emily a photo of my prescription, and a question.

“What’s a funny book?” I asked her because for the life of me I couldn’t come up with one measly idea. She rattled off a list and offered a delivery. It was frigid cold, and I didn’t want Emily and the baby running errands for me. Not only did she insist, but she also knew just the book.

When Emily and I celebrated our fortieth birthdays together in Portugal we were both grieving. I’d brought a funny book on the trip that I finished before we met, but it was worth lugging across Spain to watch her giggle as she read it.

That book (Where’d You go, Bernadette?) was on our bedside table the night we heard a sound like someone breaking into our apartment. I was fast asleep when Emily grabbed my hand in the middle of the night and told me she was scared. I held her hand and we were quiet as we waited for the noise to return. When it did I listened closely and took a deep breath after determining it had come from the apartment next door. The doors on the ancient buildings were five inches thick and swollen from the salty air; our neighbors were trying to close their door, not open ours.

“That’s the sound of a door closing,” I told her, and in that moment we both put a lot of our grief behind us. The book Emily bought for me is from the same author who wrote the book that made us laugh as we turned the pages on a new decade, and this one has a title that couldn’t be more perfect: Today Will Be Different. 

Maybe we need to stop encouraging people to keep their chins up, and instead give them books, leg warmers and permission to sit with their grief. At the end of my line, I submitted to the deep grief. My vitality and fire are returning.

With my renewed clarity and a little distance I’ve realized that I didn’t just have a miscarriage; four weeks later I’m still having it. When I sat down to write this essay my intention was to write a lot more about the miscarriage process itself, but I realized once I began that what I needed to write was everything that led up to it. The essay about the miscarriage will come when its ready, when I’ve completed the full circle. When that will be is still a mystery, and I’m okay with that.

There were dozens of photos and quotes I wanted to include with this post, but I decided to let the words speak for themselves. Except this one.


I took this Wednesday driving up to Hot Springs, where I go to rest and restore, and where I also hoped to locate the strength to write this post. It worked. The catharsis from writing this essay has been tranformative.

After I posted the above photo to Instagram, my dear Emily commented, “…driving to the core.”

Yes, that’s what I did. I drove right to core. I drove it home. I drove myself straight to love.

Just in Case, Just in Case

Today my baby turns 14. I can’t believe it; if he was (slightly more) human he’d be off to high school in the fall, though he’s smart so I’m sure he’d have skipped a grade or two, maybe even dropped out, gotten his GED and gone to trade school for something badass like underwater welding. You know, because he’s so smart.

Luck is also sensitive. Two days ago I had a busy day, and he spent a lot of time in the car waiting for me to be done one place or another, then I did a quick turnaround and flew out the door to go work my five-hour massage shift. After work I stayed out to attend one of my favorite Missoula events, Tell Us Something, where I told a story four years ago about “How I Got Lucky.” This link is HERE

Because I went out after work, Lucky was home for eight whole hours by himself. He has no clue that many dogs live this way day after day, week after week. I fed him before I left and left lights on. He had his two beds, his couch, my bed and his rubber chicken that I brought home (gift wrapped and everything) from Barcelona.


The previous night a friend and I made delicious chicken drumsticks, and six of the bones were in the garbage. Lucky has never been a dog to get into the garbage and I didn’t even think about it. It didn’t even occur to me to put the garbage up or secure the door “just in case.” Lucky isn’t very naughty, but he is very sensitive. And chicken is his absolute favorite food.

I didn’t see the mess at first. Lucky wasn’t waiting for me on the couch, but was in the dark in my my room on his own bed. I could tell from his body language that he was crabby—mad that I’d been gone so long—and didn’t want to get up. I figured if I went to the kitchen to fix myself something to eat he’d follow, but he didn’t.

I flipped on the light and saw that he’d opened the cabinet under the sink and helped himself to a chicken drumstick buffet. I searched all corners of the house for bones, but he’d completely consumed them. He’d also licked the smoked oyster tin clean, and—always the optimist—I was grateful he hadn’t also devoured the tin itself.

I called the emergency vet and told the sweet girl who answered what had happened, but I prefaced it by saying that he’s eaten chicken bones before (scavenged from the streets of NYC and the beaches of Honduras) and been just fine. “But six legs is a lot,” I said, and she told me that making him vomit would double the danger of the splintery bones and the best thing to do was make sure he’s still eating (he scarfed down his third dinner) and keep an eye on him.

I was fueled by a mother’s adrenaline and suddenly wide awake, when I’d been ready for bed when I walked in the door. I washed a few dishes and hugged the dog. I folded some laundry and spooned the dog. I washed more dishes and stuck my nose in the dog’s ears. He burped in my face.

I got down on the floor with him and held his face. I told him he did something very naughty, but that I loved him very much. I told him that he’s done an incredible job taking care of me but that the job isn’t quite done and I’m not ready for him to go. I told him that if he gets sick in the night that I’ll clean it if he can’t make it outside, but that he knows how to wake me if he needs to.

I told him that he’s a healthy, strong, old boy and it would be a shame for him to die because of something like gluttony. Shaming wasn’t going to save him, so I went back to hugging.

I OCD-cleaned as a way to assuage my fear. I had a lot of good talks with myself about love, about loss, about grief. I thought about how I’ve never lived so completely and happily in the present moment as I have this winter, loving my old dog and doing lots of old-dog things.


Luck still gets on the mountain to hike a few miles miles almost every day and loves to be the leader. I take a picture of him almost every day. Some of them are great, some of them not so much, but I do it “just in case.”

going his own way

Lucky is a survivor. He not only survived the over-salted streets of NYC but also the humiliation of me making him wear booties. He also survived eating rat poison in New York.


In Montana he had a chunk of his heinie bit off by a dog one time, and another time ripped his entire inner thigh open on barbed wire when a bigger dog hip-checked him into it. He tried to hide the barbed wire incident from me, thought he could tuck away in a corner, lick it, and clean it out himself. It’s amazing someone so sweet can also be so tough.


He survived being dragged all over the country by me and sleeping in a lot of different places. Lucky will make himself at home anywhere.


He also knows how to take a moment for himself—just in case—because he never knows what kind of shenanigans his mother has up her sleeve…


Luck survived me leaving him for three months so I could go to Europe—though it’s an understatement to say that he was in good hands with his grandma—and so far it looks like old Luckydog has survived eating an unprecedented amount of cooked chicken bones.

I wrote that last line—the one about him surviving—well after midnight when I wasn’t sure if either of us would make it through the night. I’d already called in reinforcements, asking a friend if he could do his work from my house while I went to work, just in case. Another friend texted and said to call her if Luck or I needed anything, that she’d come get him or check on him if I needed her to.

Just in case.

Just in case is not my preferred setting, though it’s the setting genetically hard-wired into most of the women in my family so therefore in me. I don’t like to live with my finger on the panic button, and my Osteopath recently told me that I’m actually allergic to worry. But still: I worry.

In between checking Luck’s belly for pokey bits and making sure his nose was wet and his paws were warm, I scrubbed the bathtub, (over)tweezed my eyebrows, and paired my socks.

Just in case makes me uncomfortable. I prefer a laissez-faire strategy; a cross-your-fingers, say a prayer, and light-a-candle-if-things-really-feel-dicey approach. I don’t panic in emergencies, and if the shit hits the fan I’m the friend you want on deck. Except with Lucky; with Lucky I worry my little brains out.

Because just in case.


mimi coloring

I love this picture of Mimi. I love that she’s content and coloring. I love that she started with some peach and is now adding purple. I love how her left hand is perched like she’s thinking about steadying the paper, but is concerned about leaving a smudge. But Mimi is at the ready if that paper even thinks about shifting. Coloring outside the lines doesn’t seem to be an option for this lady. I love that the flowers she’s coloring look exactly like the flowers she used to draw on construction paper for me to color when I was a kid, and I hate that she probably doesn’t remember that.

 I love that she’s wearing her wedding ring.

 I can’t see her face in this shot, but I know it so well I don’t have to. She’s calm and focused. She’s in the present moment. Living with dementia is frustrating and scary, and the present moment is all they have. When I lived with my grandmother and took care of her she was often terrified to the point of tears because she couldn’t remember if she’d eaten, or what day it was, or if her sisters and husband were dead or alive.

She could sit for hours in the kitchen while I cooked, and then we’d eat our evening meal, which was often in the afternoon because we had a hard time filling the days. When that meal was over I’d be packing up the leftovers and she’d say, “I don’t know what you’re doing, babydoll, but if you’re fixing something to eat don’t make me a plate. I’m not hungry.”

I’d crumble against the kitchen counter—sometimes in laughter if it was one of those days, and sometimes out of exhaustion because we had days like that, and with each passing day it became more obvious how sick my grandmother was becoming and how there was neither a cure nor a reversal for her disease. It was an agonizing time for my mother and me. We had no idea how we were going to get through it or what the outcome was going to be.

We tried to figure out how to keep my grandmother at home, but in order to do that we’d have to unravel decades of extreme hoarding. Mimi’s apartment was so degraded that in order to bring in someone to help, we’d have to get the apartment squared away and it was impossible to do that with Mimi in it. She wouldn’t let us remove so much as a single broken flashlight.

We came up with a million possible scenarios, but none were actually feasible. We thought about taking her on a vacation for a month so we could get the place together, or having her stay with a relative so my mother and I could do the cleaning out. We came up with these ideas out of desperation, and had no idea how many months it would take to get the apartment cleared out and cleaned up. (When we were in the thick of it I wrote a blog post that you can read HERE about what it was like when I was first taking care of my grandmother and thought we could clean up around her.)

When a family is in crisis they often grasp for hope where hope does not exist. Often—as was the case in my family—there are other factors driving the decision-making process. It was emotional, and the emotional components muddied our thinking. There was guilt, anger, resentment, and regret. There was shame. We cycled through the five stages of grief more times than I care to count. We dipped our toes into acceptance (sometimes defined simply as having more good days than bad days), but on the bad days we found ourselves spiraling back to anger and depression.

The one stage we had to avoid at all costs was denial. Denial would not get us through this. I continually reminded myself that the only way out was through. I wanted to simultaneously curl up in a ball and pull the ripcord on my parachute, but that was denial and I had to get the hell out of there.

Denial plagued my family, both the one I know and undoubtedly for the generations that preceded me. Denial kept them safe—in a way, for a time—from feeling their emotions. As a coping mechanism denial keeps emotions in check, but it doesn’t facilitate change. Bargaining is also a dangerous neighborhood; it keeps us in the past and wishes it had been different. Bargaining’s language is plagued with statements starting with “what if” and “if only.”

Nothing changes when a person stays in either the denial or bargaining stages; that work begins when we become angry. Anger is uncomfortable and once we go there it can feel bottomless. It’s so tempting to slide back to denial—and a normal part of the process—but anger is where the magic happens.

Anger is where we find strength. Strength is where we facilitate change. Love helps us to do this.

 When I first started caring for my Mimi I wrote this:

        My cleaning is not going to mend my grandmother’s brain or heart, but yet I continue. I dig through the rubble and scrub surfaces in part because it needs to get done, but also because an organized exterior might calm some of the agitation that percolates inside her. I have faith and hope in that possibility, but I do this work for a different reason: I do it for love.

        On some level I’m doing this work more for me than for anything or anyone else. I do it because loving someone when it’s difficult is one of life’s greatest challenges and rewards.

I believed we could love our way through it, and we did. Love was the antidote to our anger and denial, and love is where we found our strength.

 It’s been almost two years since Mimi moved into assisted living, but two Februaries ago we were still very much in the thick of it, still unsure of the way out and hoping there was actually a way through. We subsisted on hope, but we were panicked and afraid. Our doubts often outnumbered our faith. We felt despair most of the time, but we kept going. We had no choice but to push back against inertia until we found a strength that was more powerful than fear.

The angst didn’t subside once we moved Mimi into her memory-care facility, but there was a peace knowing she was safe and we could move onto the next project of cleaning out and remodeling her apartment. It took a long time—most of the past two years—but I think my mother and I have finally gotten to the acceptance stage. It was a hard choice to make, but making a choice was where we found our power, and Mimi is not only happy but also thriving in her new environment.

I follow a few Alzheimer’s groups on Instagram, and this post came across my feed last week.


The instagram followed in the footsteps of the picture of Mimi coloring that my mother sent to me. Mimi was never a crafty kind of grandmother, so it surprised us that the aides who work at her assisted living have gotten her into coloring. The truth is, if my mother or I suggested coloring to Mimi she’d probably smirk and say something witty and dismissive, but she has a few “boyfriends” at assisted living who can get her to do almost anything.

These boyfriends aren’t other residents, but young men almost half my age who work there, though they seem closer to angels than anything else. Mimi still has bad days, but when one of her boyfriends is on shift she always has a good day. Her birthday was last month, and one of her boyfriends was not only working a double that day, but his birthday was a few days later, so Mimi asked my mother to get a cake—one cake—that said, “Happy Birthday Cathy and Sal.”

When my mother went to get the cake they didn’t have one big enough to fit all the writing on it and that would feed everyone, so she had to get two cakes. I figured Mimi would be upset not to have both of their names on one cake, but she didn’t care as long as she had a grip on Sal.


If my mother visits when one of Mimi’s three boyfriends is on staff she gets irritated and sometimes outright ignores her until a few hours pass and when my mother suggests she might head home Mimi is quick to dismiss her. She’d rather have visitors on the guys’ off days, because when one of them is working she just wants to follow them around and do whatever they are doing or whatever activity they suggest for her. Jonathan was Mimi’s first assisted living boyfriend and can even get her to go for a haircut, which she hates, but at his first suggestion she leaps to go.

 My grandmother is totally boy crazy.

I spoke to Mimi on Valentine’s Day, and she told me she’s “Fit as a fiddle and ready for love.” I was driving and almost choked. She went on to tell me that she just hasn’t “found the right guy,” and I said, “I heard you have three boyfriends!” She consulted Maureen, who was also driving, who confirmed that Mimi does in fact have three boyfriends. Mimi seemed a little shocked, but hardly missed a beat before she told me, “I’m just trying to figure out who is the right one, but until then I’m keeping all of them.”

Mimi might not remember from one moment to the next, but she hasn’t lost her sense of humor. She also hasn’t lost her belief in love. I think Mimi was nineteen when she met my grandfather and he gave her a promise ring (that I have) before he left for the war. She married him when he got back and the rest is history. He died four-and-a-half years ago, but I’m quite sure it’s never occurred to her to take off her wedding ring.

I love that ring. I’m torn between knowing she should be buried with it and wanting to have it as a reminder of how my grandmother has forgotten a lot of things, but she’s never forgotten to believe in love.


Last night I posted a picture to Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #welovenighthikes. It’s true—we do love night hikes—but the hashtag could easily have been #welovewhatevergetsusthroughit.

Wondering what’s fair play in social media is a valid question and a worthwhile conversation. We criticize those with piles of unfolded laundry as the backdrop as much as those with nary an item out of place. We criticize those who whine about how hard life is on them as much as those who gloat about being #blessed and #grateful. Sometimes we are those people and sometimes we hate those people.

I have a diverse group of friends and posts in my feed run the gamut from “Look at us going from skiing to surfing in one day!” to “Can someone bring me a bottle of wine and a sandwich?”

Finding the balance on social media is a slippery slope. I’m not sure I understand why we care, but I know that we do. I’d estimate that over 50% of my Facebook feed is news and information, which I love because I mostly get what I signed up for, but it’s overwhelming and I don’t have time to actually read it all. I read very few articles in full, and the rest I skim for the gist before saving the link for the ubiquitous “later” and, well, you probably know the rest of that story.

Like many of us, I show up mostly for the pictures both to post and to peruse.

After I posted the night-hike picture I wondered if it was fair as a stand-alone photo. It was and it wasn’t. A photo is not a film, and a single shot is not a documentary; that’s the thing about any kind of expressive art: it allows for interpretation. And while deriving personal meaning is the beauty in art, it can also be the downside. We’re all free agents here.

Some people (maybe the ones asking for wine and sandwich delivery) look at social media photos (maybe of the people in the members-only lounge at the airport en route to or from a beach or a mountaintop) and they only see the smiles and the wide-open eyes and not the delays or the diarrhea or the fits.

And this is how it is.

I have to say that last night’s hike was crucial to my mental health. I’d had a headache all day. I’d gone to the gym, ran a few errands, walked Lucky in the park, and gutted the crap out of my closet. Nothing had helped the headache, and the headache got in the way of my writing, and then I was just grouchy because I wasn’t using the day the way I’d wanted to. I’d failed to meet my expectation of myself and it was nearly crippling.

I’d also slipped on the ice as I was getting into my car outside the post office and saved myself from hitting the ground (thanks, Pilates) in a way that has my deep abdominal muscles feeling shredded today. Because I’m no stranger to adding insult to injury, I came home and spent some time pulling half-frozen dog poo out of the melting snow. I cleaned out the fridge and the pantry and the linen closet. I cursed myself for saving this or that. I wanted to go for a hike in the sun, but there wasn’t any. It was starting to get dark and I knew there was one last-ditch option for saving the day. I needed that hike.

The truthier, extended version is that I shed some tears on that hill last night. I ran into a guy with his dog, a dog who attacked Lucky and sent him rolling backwards on his bony, old-man spine a couple of months ago. I confronted him about the attack, and although I’m a proponent of dogs running the hills unleashed, when he described his dog as a rescue who is “unpredictable” it boiled my blood. He told me he was sorry, and I’d say the exchange was overall positive, but my takeaway from the encounter was a reminder of was how damn fragile life is and, well, unpredictable.

With that man and his dog heading back down to town, Lucky and I had the whole mountain to ourselves. I kept him on his leash because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him in the dark and I blasted some of my favorite songs and sang my heart out for no one to hear. I ran, I cried, I lost my breath, and I dropped to my knees. And I felt a lot better. Toward the end I let Lucky off his leash, confident he’d stay with me in the bluish light of dusk, and I took a picture of him because sometimes it’s hard to see where we are when we’re in the thick of it. I needed to shift my perspective.

I saw where the city lights roll right up to the mountain and the companion I’ve had for a long time. I saw a truth that I always end up seeing, that life can be both heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.night hike

I returned to the cleaning when I got home. I skipped dusting and vacuuming in favor of culling toiletries and tea. I cleaned out as if moving, which I appreciate both in theory and in practice. In my last blog post I wrote about how content I am to be here—and that’s the absolute truth—but then there are those days where I want to be anywhere but here.

Here is relative. During the years I was near constant motion I felt an exhausting weight whenever anyone asked “where do you live?” If my car was near I could point, because it was obvious with a glance that there was a lot of living going on in there, but sometimes I had no props and was reduced to using my words. Sometimes I’d give a long-winded response of explanation and excuse, but then I discovered a better answer. “Right here,” I’d say, pointing to myself, “I live here in this body.”

Because “wherever you go there you are” is true whether running away, moving toward, or sitting still.

My heart has this edgy feeling right now as if poised to spring into action. I might not have one foot out the door, but I’m light on my toes like a boxer or tennis player. I’ve moved so much and gotten rid of entire households several times over, and although I’ve felt tinges of regret over handing over some items I can say without hesitation that I haven’t actually missed any of them.

I hadn’t felt compelled to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, but I visited a friend last weekend and found myself thumbing through the book. I knew the theory, but hadn’t put it into practice until yesterday when I asked myself over and over if various items “sparked joy.” If it wasn’t a quick yes then it was a no and into the giveaway bag it went. It’s a process, though, and there are a few items remaining on my hit list because I have to do some deep digging to figure out if I still need them in my space and if they spark joy or, it’s opposite: regret.

I never got around to the vacuuming or dusting, but my house felt “clean” in a deeper way than if I’d wiped surfaces and stuffed unfinished projects into drawers and closets. By the time I went to bed my headache was gone and I got the sleep of all sleeps. I could’ve gotten up earlier than I did for writing, but made an adult decision not to beat myself up over that one. Luckily there’s also a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck  so in the spirit of balance and riding that slippery slope like a wave…









Today is my 15th anniversary with Missoula. We’ve broken up a few times, and have even gone so far as to say “I am so done with you.” We’ve stormed off, slammed doors, and pouted. But either I can’t stay away or she lures me back. Or both. It’s hard to say. My returns have been with joy, but more often than not the moves have been slightly more by default than by choice. When I returned this time, for round four, it was an intentional choice though I had no idea how good it would be or how right it would feel. I assumed I’d live here as I always did, with one foot inching out the door.

Fifteen years ago I was in the process of getting divorced. The marriage was over, but Massachusetts requires a ninety-day waiting period before inking the final signatures, so I decided that instead of restarting my life, I’d put myself on ice (literally, in this case) in Missoula, Montana. So on the morning of New Year’s Eve 2000 I flew with two duffel bags to this faraway town to be with a boy I knew from a faraway time.

I felt old at twenty-six. I’d worked in investment banking and then, despite my success, quit to go back to school to be a Montessori teacher. Then I quit that and worked in development at a private school. I’d gotten married, moved back across the country, and remodeled a hundred-year-old house. I had a good life, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t know what I wanted, which is why I quit everything. What I really wanted was to reclaim my twenties, and what better place to do that than Missoula, Montana, which, as a friend’s father once said, “is like a retirement community for thirty year olds.” He was kidding, but he was right.

Missoula is a good place to be young and an even better place to stay young. This is the delightful double-edged blade of this place, and it begs the seemingly unanswerable questions: Can we stay here and grow up? What does it mean to grow up? Do we have to? Are we supposed to? Can the answer just grow and change along with us? Do we have to….?

These are the kinds of questions I asked myself incessantly for a dozen years, thinking the answer would appear in neon or flown behind a blimp or—worst-case-scenario—in a dream. There was no such luck, but what I got was even better: the wisdom to stop asking.

It’s generous to say I do my due diligence, but it’s more honest to say I tend toward overanalyzing, overthinking, overquestioning. To outsiders it might appear I make impulsive decisions, but that’s only because my debating occurs deep in my gut, the place where the answers already live.

I’m one of those annoying people who claim “no regrets” even when dangling from a cliff or sleeping in a laundry room or after hitting an elk on a cell-phone-free back road in Colorado.  I claim to love all of these messy bits and with optimism and forward-thinking declare them “part of the process” and “making me who I am” and “growth opportunities.” It’s true, I do feel that way, but there’s this other part of me that’s often asked myself why I’ve had to make everything so damn hard. A concrete answer to this continues to elude me, but that’s okay because for the most part I’ve stopped making things hard. The answer is not in the questioning; it’s in the listening.

Following extensive error in this department I’ve learned to pay closer attention to my gut. As my friend Soph and I say, “We took that class and passed.”

Passing the class (and there are many classes…) doesn’t mean that you don’t have to sometimes go back and look over your notes. Maybe you aced the class on the first shot, or maybe you had to retake it a few times. Maybe you retook it and then aced it. Perhaps it’s wise to go back and read your own thesis—surely packed with wisdom that can never be unlearned, though there are plenty of things in life—patterns, for example, and habits that no longer serve us—that can, and dare I say should, be unlearned.

These past six months I’ve done a lot of work with my Osteopath to repair some old injuries, and in the process of healing the physical we’ve had to do some emotional work because one cannot be separated from the other. My Osteopath is Matt, and I’ve had some intense moments in his office. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve laughed and cried at the same time, but every time I leave his office I feel more connected to myself, more sure of my path, less inclined to question myself into a corner.

Matt does osteopathic manipulations and cranial sacral, but of the therapies he uses BodyTalk is by far my favorite. This is not a scientific explanation, but for those who don’t know, BodyTalk reconnects lines of communication in the body thus enabling the body to resynchronize. It’s kind of like rebooting the body or, in extreme cases, reinstalling the software and starting over. It feels like magic, but it’s based on science.

Although I’m a proponent of talk therapy, sometimes we just get talked out. More than that our brains take over and give the “correct” answers or the answers that we want to be correct, but in BodyTalk the body gives the information and tells the brain it can take its overthinking, rationalizing, and bargaining and buy it a one-way Greyhound ticket. Of the findings that have come about during my BodyTalk sessions, these are some of my favorites:

  • I’m allergic to schedules and to worry.
  • I can allow more sweetness into my life, but sugar is not my friend.
  • I’ll meet the man of my dreams before I stabilize my sacroiliac joint (he’s funny, too).

One of the first things Matt told me was that I’ve suffered from a broken heart, and I was all “yeah, who hasn’t.” It reminded me of the time the animal communicator told me Lucky would like more steak, but like the time with the animal communicator (who upped the ante and her credibility when she told me Lucky also appreciates the yoghurt I give to him) Matt clarified and told me that the broken heart was from when I was four. Matt had no way of knowing this, but I was four years old when my parents got divorced. It’s impossible for a child not to be broken hearted when her parents split, though in my case I’m quite sure I held onto that heartbreak far too long—well into adulthood—but as Matt reminded me, “…that is not your heartbreak story.” He’s completely right, though it’s often challenging to know where our stories begin and end, tough to draw clear lines between ours and other people’s stories.

I went into Matt’s office one morning in November bundled up. I grumbled and did my scrunchy nose thing as I dehatted and unwound my scarf and unzippered myself out of my sleeping-bag-like coat. I undid the laces on my tall snowboots with frozen fingers and, after pulling my sweater over my head, fussed with the static that was on everything. I sighed. He smiled.

I told Matt that I missed the ease of running out of the house in flipflops and that I hated the dark that got darker every day. “Winter is not my thing,” I fessed and he said we could fix that. I suggested he might not set himself up for failure like that, but he was confident. After the initial adjustments we settled in for a few minutes of BodyTalk.

“It’s not winter or the dark,” Matt said, “It’s a fear of restriction, of not being able to move.” I thought about what he said and felt the tightening in my hips and shoulders just thinking about being held back in any way. He was right; it wasn’t winter.

One of my favorite things about living in Missoula is being able to hike the hills around town every day. In winter it’s harder not because of the weather—I have the right coats and boots—but because of limited hours of daylight. It actually makes me mad. Winter takes one thing that I love and that makes me happy and removes it. In addition, winter makes travel harder, and even though I love this little valley where I live, I always like to have one eye on the door just in case. I like an exit strategy.

But just because these things are hard does not in any way make them impossible; it just requires more planning. It means I might have to prepare my lunch early and then squeeze in a hike when I’d typically be having lunch and getting ready for work. It means that I might not be able to get on the highway and drive myself three easy hours to a change of scenery, but I can sure book a plane ticket.

The solution suddenly seemed simple: I made a promise to get out on the hills every day with Lucky even if it’s just twenty minutes at dusk and I booked a plane ticket to visit friends in California. I’m quite sure my change of attitude—in seeing the solution to winter, not the complication—is the BodyTalk, though it could be surely be written off as a fluke or a coincidence. But I haven’t hated winter yet. In fact, I’m loving it. I’m grateful for cozy nights at home and early bedtimes, for this wintertime of recharging from summer, because as much as summer is my season it always leaves me slightly exhausted with all of those endless days and long, bright nights. I wouldn’t be surprised if next summer I start longing for a little bit of winter…

It appears there has been a major shift.

On my December TODO list was to renew my passport. It had also been on October’s and November’s lists, but I’d put it off because I wasn’t keen on the concept of being without my freedom pass for four-six weeks (despite having zero plans for international travel), but with the clock ticking I got over myself and rectified my aversion of restriction because being without a passport for a few weeks is not the end of the world, but simply a requirement every ten years. Matt and I have worked on the distinction between what is really a big deal and what is just something that is, something we can feel neutral about because it falls into the realm of what we can’t control.

By the very nature of the validity period, each decade of a person’s life is marked by the process of turning in an expiring passport in exchange for another. I was thirty one when I got my last passport, and just starting to work out some of my place-related kinks. I’d expedited that renewal so I could go on a trip to Honduras, because a woman who wanted me to work for her needed me there ASAP. Because it was February in Montana and my dog had been playing with tin cans in the ice-encrusted alley while I slept too late, I said “sure,” although I’ve since learned that when someone says “jump” it’s never wise to ask “how high” or “how fast.” That passport reminded me not only of why I wanted to go to Honduras and what experience I longed for (I lived there for just over a year), but also of the circumstances driving my choices and how the grip I had on my wheel was so loose I might as well have been steering with one knee. Or not steering at all.

I carried that passport for ten years though I often thought of replacing it because I never liked the picture. I’d prefer to say it’s because I look downright terrified, but it’s also because my hair was flat and it only occurred to me retroactively that I could have used a little color on my cheeks. The collar on my coat stood awkward and sharp and inside it my neck looked thick and stiff. My eyes looked creepy and terrified—open yet dark—and my entire self looked as if bracing for a crash, which in many ways I suppose I was. Soph and I refer to the passport pictures of our thirties as the ones that represent “The Revolution,” something we had to go through but nothing we’d willingly return to.

My previous picture, taken when I was twenty-one, was amazing. I carried that passport around instead of my driver’s license claiming it was easier, but honestly I just wanted the physical evidence of how good I looked on that one day in March 1995 when I was twenty-one years old and just happened to have a killer suntan on the day my mother took me to get my passport renewed. I may or may not have just gotten off a plane from Florida, and was wearing a creamy, white, Irish-knit sweater and pearl earrings and my sun-kissed face looked airbrushed and my eyes were completely wide open yet lacking that hideous deer-in-the-headlights look. There was plenty to be wary of then, but I dwelled securely in that lovely ignorance-is-bliss space of young adulthood.

The truth is, I hydroplaned through my twenties, hoping a wheel might touch down before I crashed or spun completely out of control. That passport represented youthful innocence and naiveté. If I was sad to send it in for renewal I was equally delighted to turn in the one from “The Revolution,” the decade of questionable choices that I’ve since declared an official end to.

When I went to get my forty-one-year-old picture taken I made a mature choice to go as myself though I took a few basic precautions like showering, brushing my hair, and remembering that a little bronzer goes a long way in December. Though I rarely do these days, I wore my pearl earrings only as a throwback to twenty years ago, not because I was hoping for a miracle. I’m might be optimistic but I’m also quite realistic.

Standing among the office supplies at FedEx Kinko’s is not the best place for a glamour shot. The guy pulled down the white screen in front of binders and presentation materials and positioned me under the unforgiving fluorescent lights. Then, contrary to most photos taken in the history of forever, instructed me to not smile.

The clerk said we “nailed it” on the first shot and he let me take the briefest glance on the small screen before he went to the printer. I cringed opening the tiny folder, and was initially unimpressed. It might have been the light, but if I really have dark circles under my eyes I wish someone would drop some concealer in my mailbox or at least send me an Amazon link so I can set myself straight.

I am, however, pleased to say that my neck looks really good in the picture. An Italian man told once told me that you can tell a woman’s age by her neck, and he said my neck was incredibly youthful and shaved at least seven years off my actual age. I thought of him when I saw how damn good my neck looks in my new passport picture, so good I might give up my beloved scarves. I’m quite certain that by the time this passport is up for renewal I’ll be clinging to the picture as the next decade begins. It’s not that the picture will get better, but by the time I’m fifty one I’ll probably be in absolute awe of the things I hated about my face when I was forty one.

My eyes themselves also look good, and by good I mean they look normal. The whites of my eyes look healthy and white, but more than that they look calm. I don’t look like a woman who’s running either toward or away, but like a woman who is content right where she is. Oh, and I got my new passport in a measly two weeks. The anticipation of the wait was the hardest part.

Here’s Lucky and I together on the beach in Honduras in 2006, and just a few weeks ago hiking on our hill on a snowy December day.
















I fashion myself a person who isn’t scared of much. I play it cool even when shaking in my boots. I recount past horrors with a detachment that is borderline frightening in itself, and I recall the details with such intense detail that listeners often say they felt gripped, like they were watching a movie. What they don’t say is that sometimes the movie I show them is one that needs to be leveled out with a piece of pie, a slapstick comedy, or a cocktail on the rocks.

Despite my ability to talk and write about my life with distance and perspective—sometimes even when I’m still in the thick of it—there’s one thing that when I talk about or even think about springs tears to my eyes. It lumps my throat, twists my gut, and takes my mind down the darkest, dirtiest avenues. I suppose I’m emotional about it because it’s still very much in the abstract, the kind of thing that it’s wasteful of time to worry about in advance. But, simply put, I don’t know how I’ll survive the loss of my dog.

Despite my transparency on this, it makes me uncomfortable when people express worry about how I’ll handle the loss. Sometimes well-meaning comments don’t come across that way. They’ll tell me about their own beloved-pet losses, and how it was easier because of their husbands, kids, other pets. Sometimes they come straight out and say, “I’m worried about you.” One part of me hackles my Mohawk—as if I’m a dog myself—and thinks “I”ll be fine…” and another part says, “Jesus Christ, you’re totally fucking right.”

The part that bothers me, as is often the case, is the part that’s true. When Lucky dies I’ll be alone. I describe myself as a person who’s happy being alone, who can read or write for eight-hour stretches. I can eat alone in a restaurant without any awkwardness or discomfort, go to a movie, move to foreign countries. I do an awful lot of things alone, by choice, despite loving spending time with friends.

I grew up an only child, and am always proud to say that “I know how to self-entertain.” That’s all true, but the other truth is that ever since Lucky picked me up at that party in June 2002 I’ve not really had to ever fully be alone. I have my friends and my family, but I wonder what it will feel like to wake up without Lucky, to wake up alone. Nobody to walk or feed or say good morning to.

I used to say that I’d need all of my friends around me when Lucky goes, then I upgraded to a fantasy involving a vacation to someplace tropical and lovely where I could erase my mind and then come home to a house where a team of cleaners had meticulously removed every dog hair and evidence of him so that I could move on, I suppose, like nothing ever happened. This past year, as Lucky turned thirteen, I started to believe in a more dramatic ending to this love affair where I’m put into a medically-induced coma. I say this last bit tongue-in-cheek, in part because I have a hard time believing that my heart just won’t stop beating on its own.

This is absurd on so many levels. Why would I want to erase evidence of the greatest love I’ve known? Why would I want to numb the feelings of such an intense love when I’ve dedicated the majority of my life to diving intentionally out of my depths simply so I could feel everything deeply?

It’s safe to say I’m unprepared.

I am a prepared person. I pack for a trip with a precision that borders precariously toward obsessive. I’m rarely caught without a sweater or a raincoat. I travel daily with Band-Aids and a few other first-aid supplies. Mini scissors are my best friend. I’m currently packing (I’m also skilled at procrastination) for a five-day trip that includes camping, a river float, a country club wedding, and temperatures between 30 and 80F . I’m pretty sure I’ve got it all and more, but despite my neurotic preparedness, there are things in life we simply cannot prepare for.

A friend lost her dog a few years ago, and she told me, “It doesn’t leave a hole in your heart; it opens you up to a bigger love that you didn’t even think was possible.” I believed her because I wanted to. Another friend recently told me that when he lost his dogs a few years ago it spawned a mid-life crisis. “Yes,” I said to him, “Yes. That will be me. Mid-life crisis is already on my calendar.”

Right when I was visualizing said crisis and myself in a muumuu for days or months, he told me something that surprised me, something that gave me a little hope. “You’ll love your next dog more.” His words hung in the late-summer afternoon light, and I asked him, “How? How could that even be possible?”

“It’s simple,” he said, “You’re able to love more because you know how it feels to lose them.”

Some of my friends have lost their dogs this year, this summer, this month. Some of these people have husbands and other dogs, but some don’t. Some buy plane tickets. They all survive.

Summer is a busy time everywhere, but it seems that Montanans log more miles than most what with our two national parks and all of the rivers and lakes to be accessed. Winter travel can be tedious with all the hours of dark we have up north on top of the ice, snow, and blowing snow. I drive very little in the winter, but usually, like others, I get out and explore my pants off during the summer. This summer has been different.

When people have asked me, “What’re you up to this summer?” my answer has been both clear and complicated, “Not much, sticking close to home.” Depending on who it is that could mean barely leaving Missoula or barely leaving Montana or barely leaving North America. For me it has meant sticking close to Lucky.

I declared this the summer of Lucky. Nine months ago when we were heading back to Missoula I didn’t think he’d last this long. If he was still alive by August I’d have guessed he’d be more like a bag of bones that I had to lift to a standing position, help up and down stairs, and boost into the car. Nope. Not even close.

But the guy came alive as we drove back to Montana and he was a hiking machine this winter. He slowed down when the heat arrived, so we’ve limited our hikes to early mornings, late nights, and less than three miles, though on a couple of cooler days we hiked over four miles and he finishes with a smile every time, and even some last-minute disappearing shenanigans just to let me know he’s still got it. By far the best parts of his summer have been our days on the river. We haven’t done any boating or anything fancy or exciting. We’ve just gone to the river to be.


I always focus on his smile, though it’s hard to not also notice when his back legs look tired and rickety, when he needs a boost after hard playing. My friend Soph and I always spend Mondays together. In the winter and spring it was hikes and barre class, but this summer we’ve spent our Mondays at our favorite beach on the Blackfoot River. This past Monday the smoke had finally cleared, but it wasn’t really a “beach” day. We could have gone on a hike, though it may have been a little hot for Lucky. “This could be his last swim,” I said as we sorted out our game plan, and she said, “Yeah, of the summer,” and I said, “Well, maybe ever…” That sealed the deal with cement. “I’ll be right over,” Soph said, “And I have snacks.”

That’s the story I’m telling myself right now, the story that my dog is getting older and our days are numbered. In a way it’s ridiculous because three winters ago I thought it would be his last to  get out and play in the snow, but I was wrong. I figured he was going to conk out last winter after he ate rat poison in NYC, but the kid got his groove back. The problem doesn’t lie so much in the fact that Lucky is aging (albeit gracefully), but the damn story I’m telling myself about how much time I have and how completely I’m going to come undone when he goes.

Brené Brown wrote a great essay that was published recently in O Magazine about the power we have to change our narrative. She said:

“In navigation, dead reckoning is how you calculate your location. It involved knowing where you’ve been and how you got there—speed, route, wind conditions. It’s the same with life: We can’t chart a new course until we find out where we are, how we came to that point and where we want to go. Reckon comes from the Old English recenian, meaning “to narrate.” When you reckon with emotion, you can change your narrative. You have to acknowledge your feelings and get curious about the story behind them. Then you can challenge those confabulations and get to the truth.”

I’m working on modifying all sorts of patterns and narratives I’ve grown tired of, and this weekend I’m doing a bit of an experiment: I’m taking my first road trip without Lucky. My guy definitely gets jazzed about traveling…


…but he’s become a very sleepy guy.


The pace of the five-day “weekend” is going to be intense, and even if Lucky was a younger dog it would be tough on him, but I know I’d have dragged him around. I have always dragged him around. But I have to be smarter now, less selfish. Yes, I want him with me. No, it’s not what’s best for him. He’s in very good hands with his dog sitter who lets him sleep in bed with her and who met him at the door this afternoon with treats and a hug. He was fine when I dropped him off and he ran to play with the young dog who lives there, but me…not so much. I sang my heart out on the way home, but even still I may have even sprung a few hives, which I know seems ridiculous.

Then I went to work and just about lost my footing when my first appointment slot was empty, leaving me with extra time that I would have used differently had I realized it. I had a few errands to run, so did that, and even navigated a small repair on my car. It was just aesthetic and I used double-sided tape to do the job, so I’m not exactly a mechanic, but I still threw myself a small “You go, girl!” because. Yep, just because.

Massage work is wonderful for a number of reasons, among them the fact that for an over thinker like myself it is a mental vacation. I’m constantly doing nine million things at once, but when I go to work I make a concerted effort to forget it all and focus on the one thing I have to do: give my clients the attention they deserve. Despite a mile-long todo list, work was a blessing in disguise today, and I was even surprised by Soph, who dropped by to give me a care package. She knew. It’s amazing how our friends know.

Every bit of the package was meaningful and came with a note. One part was a bag of goldfish crackers that we’ve used this summer to coax Lucky into coming to hang out with us. Even though we go to the river “together,” he usually waves goodbye at the car and tells us he’ll catch up in a few hours. He does his rounds, hunts, scores carcasses in the woods, and is so cute that strangers give him Doritos and friend chicken. We coined the goldfish “Lucky bait” and Soph’s note said, “Lucky’s always with you!”

And she’s right, as spot-on as it gets.


It was so sweet and thoughtful it nearly killed me, but it’s funny how the things that elicit that response also fill our sails with air. Unfortunately something else struck me, something that Soph most likely realized before I did. Not only am I taking this trip without my kickass co-pilot, but I’m driving a familiar route, a route that I took almost three years ago when I left for an adventure that was mostly unplanned and that took me on the ride of my life.

I didn’t know how it would feel to live and write in that remote cabin in New Mexico, or to retrace my roots all over New England, or to shack up with my mother and grandmother for a year of caretaking that was the hardest things I’ve ever done. I didn’t know I’d leave Lucky for three months and spend the summer in Spain, or that when I was in Rome—making my way slowly back to New York—that I’d wake up one morning knowing I had to put a plan in place to get back to Montana. I didn’t know how, but I did it. The not knowing is sometimes the best part of the journey.

I didn’t know that shortly after my arrival home from Europe Lucky would eat the rat poison. Prior to that day I didn’t know if I could carry him, but when he couldn’t walk that’s what I did. I carried him out of the house, into the car, into the vet’s office, and then down the long hall wondering if I’d be coming back down that hall with an empty collar in my hand. I remember exactly how I felt in that moment, how I didn’t cry, how I told myself that I didn’t imagine him going out like that but we’d had a solid run.

In the moment I was fine. Not great, but fine. I was appropriately emotional, but not crippled by it. I was strong, and not only because I was carrying my big dog. Most of my friends say I’m great in a crisis; I’m the one you want around when the shit hits the fan. It’s not the moments I’m afraid, of; it’s the anticipation. The anticipation gets me every time. That lesson is still in progress, but damn it: I think I am getting there.

A few months ago I may have jumped the gun a bit. I got a tattoo on my left wrist that says “luck.” I’d been pretty solid on the placement for a while, but wasn’t sure about size or font. I wasn’t sure if it was wrong to memorialize my guy before he dies, so I opted for “luck” instead of “Lucky.” I used my own handwriting, which I practiced, and I love it.


This is hands down the only tattoo I could get that wouldn’t piss off my mother.


Some of my favorite questions are the ones for which there is no answer, and what happens next is at the top of the heap. Through extensive trial and error I’ve found that grounding in the moment and taking care of just that second is exactly what happens next.

Two weeks ago when I posted “Discovering My Boyfriend Has a Wife” I had no idea what would happen next, but to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised is understating things in a big way. For starters, the post generated almost 7,000 views of my blog, and the most important thing this told me was that people respond to (and are hungry for) honest, authentic, vulnerable storytelling.

Opening myself up in a raw way was nerve-wracking, but so many readers responded in return by opening themselves up to me that my nerves settled quickly. An alternate title for this post was “We Are Nothing Without Our People,” and I really mean that. All writers wonder at one point (or many) if our work matters. We wonder if we’re just hammering away on keyboards for naught, or if—when we find the courage to free the words from the hard drive—if we might actually make a difference for someone.

creative process

Years ago a friend walked into my house, looked at my bookshelves, and announced, “You don’t have nearly enough self-help books.” I was at a point in my life where I’d just begun to do some long overdue introspection and self-examination. I believed I had nothing to lose, so I said, “Oh. You haven’t seen my nightstand…”

One of the writers whose work has taught me the most about courage and daring is author and psychologist Brené Brown.  She wrote:

“Our secrets definitely keep us addicted, which is probably why there are online sites where people can divest themselves of their secrets, anonymously. But because shame happens between people, there is no substitute for telling on ourselves, so to speak, to someone else and making ourselves vulnerable. Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.”

I’ve read the above passage so many times it’s  become woven into me, but it wasn’t until I hit the “post” button on what is, to date, my most vulnerable work that I realize something kind of amazing: I’ve become the person I wanted to be.

I had several long talks with myself in the weeks leading up to the actual writing of “Discovering My Boyfriend Has a Wife,” and I had to repeatedly ask myself the questions: Are you going to walk the talk or not? Do you have what it takes or are you kind of a phony?

It was as effortless as it was demanding to make that leap.

what we are - what we want to be

I soaked in the hot springs immediately after posting and tried not to worry. But I did. I worried that I’d be judged. I worried that someone might say I asked for it—or worse—that I deserved it.

That wasn’t even close to what happened. Instead I received the opposite: an outpouring of love that swelled my heart. The support that I received was both instant and ongoing.

Readers told me I was strong, loved, and impressive. They also told me how they felt reading my words, and used words like proud, inspired, captured. They said the writing itself was eloquent, riveting and raw. I could hardly believe that I’d clawed my way through a very uncomfortable place and found the light, let alone that I’d somehow spun that into something that was positively impacting others.

I didn’t have a lot of expectation for what would happen after I bared myself so nakedly, though I supposed my friends and some family would give me a pat on the back or at least a hug. What I was completely unprepared for were the words from strangers.

“Thank you, I don’t know you but I love your sincerity, your soul, your story. Your story has shaken me up and inspired me to tell mine.”

 “Your strength of character is an earthly blessing.”

“Thank you for being a truth teller. Maybe someday I’ll have the courage to write down the lessons I’ve learned from seasons in my life. If I do…& I truly hope I do…it will be cause of your bravery!”

 “I didn’t enjoy the fact that you were hurt, but your writing…it’s amazing. It’s simple and intricate at the same time and I was sucked into the story you laid out for us. I was fascinated by the psychology behind this; how you explain every step, every level and every thought, fact and conclusion.”

 “I’m so proud of you! I can’t wait to see you published! You truly speak for those of us who are simply too upset/ashamed/embarrassed to share our story with the masses.”

 This one is probably my favorite:

 “So engrossing I missed my bus stop. Bob’s not an anarchist, he’s just a dick.”

I also heard from classmates I hadn’t seen in years:

“Too many people put in your position would put themselves in a rabbit hole and never come out again. You not only came out but you also turned in a light for others. Amazing. The true measure of a person is not how high they climb but what they do after being knocked down.”

“Thank you for you raw honesty, vulnerability and well placed humor. Our world needs more humans like you to expose their truths rather than cower to victimization. You are such a buoyant female.”

Although I was unprepared for the stream of support, I was also unprepared for what didn’t happen: all these readers and not one hater. Not one nasty person telling me I should be ashamed of myself or who do I think I am. Nada. There were one or two comments that could be possibly classified as snide or underhanded, but nothing truly malicious.

The biggest surprise of all was the ex-Jehovah’s Witness who wrote to me. She and I had never heard of each other, but a friend of hers liked my post on Facebook and she couldn’t pass up the title. She opened by saying she hoped I didn’t mind that she was writing to me. The she told me about her husband’s affairs, and how calm she was when she found out about them despite knowing that her husband had opened himself to other women and connected with them in ways she hadn’t seen from him since they’d first fallen in love.

She and her husband have a handful of kids together, including one with special needs, and they chose to stay together. It was only in the aftermath of her husband’s last transgression that this woman found out she has a high-risk type of HPV that has lead to several biopsies and even discussion of a hysterectomy. This sounds like just the absolute pits, but she told me that since her diagnosis her husband has been treating her like he did when they first met ten years ago.

It was only at this point that she told me she’s an ex-Witness and that she received the “short end of the stick” as far as education goes. She didn’t finish high school, and stayed with her adulterous husband out of fear and complacency. She said she’s thankful for the “reality bitchslap” and that not only is her husband treating her better, but she’s gone back to school and getting herself into a position where she can take care of herself and her kids if she needs to. She’s making herself better not for him, but for herself. She didn’t use the word empowered, but that’s the sense I got.

When I read that she’s an ex-Witness I worried if an attack was coming, but it never did. She told me that at times she felt uncomfortable reading my story, but that she respected my openness and willingness to tell my side of the story. I asked her if I could share this exchange without mentioning names, and this generous woman (who I’ve never met and didn’t know two weeks ago) responded, “Totally fine!” I love her for this.

It meant a lot to have a former JW confirm that what I said was accurate. She told me she ran away from it as soon as she was old enough, but that it took her a long time to get over the constant fear of demonic possession and some other fears ingrained in Witnesses that she referred to as “silly.” She also confirmed that adultery is quite common among the JWs, but only for the men. Jehovah (apparently) judges the women differently and hold them to a different standard.

None of this was a surprise. But goodness did I welcome confirmation.

I had old friends call me from across the country to tell me that changing the locks is a must and not to rule out a restraining order. I agreed on the locks, and when I texted my kind landlord (without urgency) he wrote back immediately and said he’d do it in the next couple of days. He came over that afternoon and the first thing he said was, “I read your blog post…” I told him I wondered if he had when he responded in twenty seconds that there’d be no charge to me and he’d get it done ASAP.

I never really felt like I was in danger, but when someone has lied to you on a pretty deep level (and lied to someone they’re married to on an even deeper level) it just makes you wonder what kind of depraved behavior that person might be capable of.

Another friend—who has had her own share of heartbreak asked me, “If you get rich and/or famous from this story, will the heartache have been worth it?”

I very quickly answered, “Fuck yes worth it!” and then stared at the screen for a few minutes before I responded. I knew it was worth it—I’m a firm believer of better out than in, and what was I gong to do? Stay home and cry? No way. What happened next surprised me. I didn’t think about what I was going to say, but what I said was the absolute truth and I found myself sorting through the last bits of the mess in a live chat with a friend. I told her, “My heart wasn’t really broken about this though. I didn’t love him. I think inside I knew the “him” who was so wonderful was an imposter.”

Aha. Ahem. Etc.

In the meantime I’m considering starting a progressive, modern convent where all the women wear an Ani Defranco-inspired uniform of yoga pants and leather bras, but that’s only in the very early planning stages.

What happens next is a very good question. I’ve been plotting my next moves in my writing life, and have sent a shortened version of “Discovering My Boyfriend Has a Wife” to a few periodicals hoping they’ll think their readers will enjoy it as much as so many of you did.

A friend from school works for Hearst Corporation and got me the name and email of an editor at Cosmopolitan. Woah. I was grateful, and a bit afraid. Intimidated. But I got my head together, and when I sent my query letter I used the words horrifying and humbling to describe my experience, but there one word that I didn’t and would never use: humiliating.

I am not humiliated, not even embarrassed. This is life, and this is what life does. We can exist with our hearts hermetically sealed or we can get out there and live life despite the fact that it doesn’t always work out the way we intended and more often than not there are consequences. Accepting the consequences is the key. I have a beautiful life filled with amazing people and endless opportunities. I am happy most of the time or at the very least content.

I understand that we are not what has happened to us.

I know too many people who’d be humiliated if others knew they sometimes eat an entire row of Oreos, or that that they punch the pillow when they get in bed at night, or that if they can’t get their belt to hook into a certain notch their day is ruined.

I’d be a flaming imposter if I didn’t admit that I know all too well about keeping secrets. I’ve kept my own, I’ve kept others, and I’m pretty much done with that. I’m not say that if you confide in me I’ll blab your business; that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is when a person I’m involved with asks me to keep a secret for them in order to perpetuate a charade of some sort I might just say, “I’m not comfortable with that but I wish you the best.”

I always hoped that some day I might grow into a person who could really speak the truth. Why? Because sneaking and hiding and pretending are exhausting activities. Someday became now, and it feels so good being honest that I can’t imagine why I’d ever go back.

There’s no going back for me.

Bob had only briefly met a couple of my friends, and I could have easily let the relationship fizzle on the radar. I could have told a few white lies about the end of our relationship, though that never really occurred to me as an option. I’ve witnessed the omission of far greater relationship sins, and I’ve witnessed marriages come undone with hardly a mention of the details. This is the stuff that makes us lonely and sad, sharing is the stuff that brings us together.

daring adventure

Discovering My Boyfriend Has a Wife

*names have been changed

I’m no stranger to men capable of lying, and have dated the full gamut of emotionally unavailable men who’ve spun everything from half-truths to full-on whoppers. In my quiver of failed relationships are drug addicts, drug dealers, and a Latino, but the one I was blindsided by and wholly duped by was the one I’d promised to avoid at all costs: the married man.

I met Bob online and had no reason to find it suspicious that he was in town on business. The fact that he even had a job was a promising start; so many Missoula men aspire only to make enough money to have a new pair of skis/fly rod/dirt bike and a few extra bucks in their pockets. Bob works for the top medical device company and his work brings him to Missoula weekly, though he lives a few hours away. I now know that might have been one of the few things he told me that was actually true.

Bob promised to make me laugh or at least pick up the dinner tab. I analyzed the two pictures in his online dating profile and couldn’t tell if I thought he was cute or not, but he formed complete sentences and used proper grammar, which gave him a leg up on the majority.

I’ve never been a fan of long-distance relationships—they always seem neither here nor there—but I was up for trying something new, and a boyfriend in town just a few days every week could be exactly what I needed. Given my above-mentioned dating history, I tend to toward emotional unavailability myself. I’m certainly capable of more, but until the lesson is learned it’s easier to stick to what is familiar.

When Bob invited me to dinner I was currently having it, but he was persistent—only in town for the night—and suggested a glass of wine and dessert. Without putting too much thought into it I agreed, but forewarned him I’d be showing up in my dog-walking clothes. I called it my “Missoula casual,” and was proud of my confidence to show up in yoga pants for a first date, but truth was I didn’t feel like putting too much time or effort into someone I hadn’t even met yet. So I showed up for our first date in pants I’d picked up off the floor.

I told Bob I’m incredibly direct, and that if nothing else I’m authentic. I made it clear that I have no intention of pretending to be someone I’m not. I told him I passed that class years ago, then promptly retired. He found me clever. My confidence impressed him.

I wasn’t sure what to think about Bob’s Western getup that included a salad-plate-sized belt buckle and a black Stetson, but we dove into conversation and connected quickly. He’s from Idaho and has a hick accent, but he’s not a redneck, and he complimented me on my ability and willingness to see through his exterior and not judge him. He warned that his personality grows on people like something of a fungus, you just have to give it a chance, some time, and the right environment. I thought he was both witty and sharp, two of the top things I look for in a date.

Bob asked, “I’m not like the guys you usually date, am I?” I thought about the fact that when I told him I like to travel he mentioned he really liked Charleston and Laguna Beach when he went to those places for work, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that when I said travel that wasn’t even close to what I meant. Instead I said, “Do you mean the Wranglers, the part about you being from Idaho, or the fact that you have a job?” We both laughed—it was all of those things and more—but inside I wondered if it was the Idaho bit that would be the great divider.

Bob told me I’m not like the women he usually dates—he always dates women who also have children—and that it would take some getting used to for him. He also told me he’d never dated a woman on his level, someone who’ll correct his grammar, someone who asks questions and seeks answers. Someone with the gumption to call him out when he’s incorrect. I’m guessing he’d also never dated a woman with a New Yorker subscription, a heavily-stamped passport, or a self-reliance that is both a blessing and a curse.

Although I willingly went out with him, I didn’t buy any stock. I didn’t think I drank his Kool-Aid, but it appears he’d metaphorically roofied me. I was proud of my newly cemented boundaries, boundaries that had previously been only lines in the sand. I didn’t see any patterns repeating and really thought I’d broken the mold on my past behavior with men.

We had a good enough time on our first date that Bob rearranged his schedule and took me out the next night too but this time he told me to pick the place. I chose one of my favorite restaurants and he paid, of course. He even used his corporate AmEx for his dinner, and a personal card for mine. Wow, I thought, what an honest guy. 

I’d amped up my program and wore a skirt and boots—which Bob wasn’t shy about admiring—though he complimented me in a respectful way, not an “I-want-to-tear-off-your-clothes” way. He confessed that on our first date he’d been so engrossed listening to my stories that he’d completely forgotten to check out my boobs, and he’s a boob guy. My heart broke open a bit—he was more into my mind than my body—and it only barely occurred to me that he might have been full of shit.
After dinner we went for a drive up past my house toward the wilderness area and I made him promise not to kidnap me. I didn’t feel in danger, but made a joke to play it safe, “I know a lot of people who live up here, so if you’re looking for a place to dispose the body this is not it.” He laughed, told me not to worry. We drove around for over an hour, and as we crept slowly back to town he put his hand on my knee, looked me in the eye and said, “Can you tell I’m not ready to say goodnight just yet?”

I could, and it was sweet; we hadn’t even kissed yet. There was something lovely and old-fashioned about the pace, and because I wasn’t sure if I wanted a boyfriend in town, a long-distance relationship, or a boyfriend at all, I figured it was worth a shot to spend time with a kind man I could have interesting conversation with.

Bob texted me when he got back to his hotel to say he was sorry he’d promised not to kidnap me, and that I smelled fantastic. He sent me a link to a country song about a guy who wishes he hadn’t been too scared to kiss the girl goodnight. He asked, “If I stay tomorrow night will you go out with me again?”


He picked me up for our third date with wine and flowers. Earlier that afternoon he’d asked me my favorite colors, and then wore a shirt that was both blue and red. Bob believes himself clever, and in many ways he’s right. I invited him into my house after dinner, and we talked for hours before finally kissing in front of my bookshelf. With books as our witness I thought it auspicious.

I knew Bob has three kids in Bozeman he’d be spending the weekend with, and that I might not hear from him much. That was fine with me because I had my own plans and was on the verge of suffocation from three dates in a row. Bob texted me all weekend and then called early Monday morning because he had more work in Missoula and hoped I’d see him again. He told me he can usually “take it or leave it” when it comes to dating—his work and kids are the most important—but he felt different this time. He really liked me.

Bob spent three nights at my house that week, and I showed him the location of my hide-a-key. Our budding relationship catapulted to new territory. When we went to the supermarket together he grabbed my ass and kissed me, told me to get used to his public displays. We cooked together and he told me that was something he could definitely get used to. I introduced Bob to French Press coffee, to which he quickly became addicted. I showed him how to make it and helped him shop for his own pot, but he said it wouldn’t be as good without the beautiful view.

He leapt out of bed in the morning to let the dog out and feed him. It crushed my heart seeing them pad down the hall together, Bob calling Lucky “buddy” and then, on the way back to bed, saying “Don’t tell Mommy I gave you a little extra.” He noticed I was running low on dog food, and I told him I’d bought it but left it in the car. He immediately started toward my car and I said, “I can do it myself,” to which he replied, “But you don’t always have to.” Bob hauled in not only the forty-pound bag of dog food, but had tucked my gum, almond butter and garbanzo beans under his chin and armpits. Like it was no big deal.

This was not a casual hookup, not a booty call.

Bob made himself at home very quickly, which I appreciated, though it was slightly unnerving the way he inventoried my cupboards and cabinets, how he knew where to find floss and aspirin. He left an entire suitcase at my house that second week, and when I asked him if he’d miss anything he’d left in there he told me “No, I only miss where I left it.”

It was borderline too much, but it felt too good to deny.

My arrangement with Bob was unlike anything I’d had before, but it seemed to be just what I needed. I tend to be feel suffocated and need more space than most in my togetherness, so the fact that Bob is a traveling salesman and would be in Missoula a couple of nights most weeks seemed great. I’d have time for my friends, for writing, and for myself. I’d retain my personal rhythm and sense of self.

When partnered I tend to lose my grip on my own needs, so the time away provided a natural governor. Bob worried he wasn’t around enough for me, but I told him that my life was complete without him and that I’d long since given up thinking a man could bring me happiness.

He told me I was refreshing. He told me two of the hottest things about me are the fact that I have neither a full-length mirror nor a television. I liked the way he was thinking, and the night he suggested we get in bed at 9:00pm to read I had one of the best sleeps I’d had in years. I thought I’d won the jackpot.

Bob continued to spend several nights at my house every week, often driving several hundred miles out of his way so we could see each other. He told me “You’re not out of my way; you are my way. I’m here because I want to be.” Despite the fact that he told me he loved being “home” with me, he always booked hotel rooms so his boss wouldn’t wonder why his expense reports lacked lodging, and said any night I wanted to we could get a hot tub room and room service though we never did. Another reason he booked rooms was so he could maintain his diamond status with Hilton for free upgrades. His reasoning sounded pragmatic and didn’t raise a red flag for me, at least not overtly.

Despite the fact that Bob and I were playing house, we were still very much getting to know each other and had a lot of questions and background to cover. I was confused because his online dating profile said he was thirty-four and lives in Dillon, Montana, but he was actually thirty-seven and living in Bozeman. It seemed fishy, so I asked. He never missed a beat, and told me that he just hadn’t updated his profile in a while. I took this as a good sign that he’d been divorced and dating for at least three years. This was comforting because I didn’t want to be the first after a fifteen-year relationship, basically his entire adult life.

He also told me that when he took the job in Montana he thought he was going to live in Dillon, because it’s the center of his enormous territory, but his kids’ mom wanted to live in Bozeman. He drives 80,000 miles per year and spends 180 nights in hotels, so he’s rarely home and it didn’t much matter to him as long as the kids were happy and in a place he could easily get to them on weekends.

He told me he rents a room from friends in Dillon (in three months he never went there, and after the first mention it never came up again), and also has a little cabin down the road from his kids and their mom for weekend convenience. He went into details about the cabin (one room, no kitchen) and it’s historical significance in the Gallatin Valley. Because he’s rarely home, or so he told me, he didn’t need much of a place, and gave me details that bolstered his story but were unnecessary.

The parts of his story added up; at the time I had no reason to doubt.

One night Bob was doing paperwork at the desk in my kitchen while I heated up chicken soup I’d made over the weekend. The room was quiet, and felt more calm than eerie. My thoughts drifted, and then without thinking I turned to him, and with my spoon still in the pot, I asked him, “Are you married?”

I think I expected a fight. But instead his face softened, he made eye contact and said, “Yes.” He extended a hand to me, but I’d planted my feet. I returned his gaze but jacked up the level of hardness and intensity until he spoke again. In the weighted moments between words I wondered, depending on his answer, if I had the guts to throw a pot of boiling soup in his face. My pulse closed around my throat.

“I’m separated,” he said, and “have been for five years. We’re still married because it’s the only way for me to have access to my kids whenever I want. If we went to court I’d get Wednesdays and every other weekend. I’m not always around on Wednesdays, and I don’t see them enough as it is.”

“Your dating profile lists you as divorced,” I said, and he told me that it actually said he was separated, but I couldn’t go back and check because he had deactivated it after our third date because he liked me so much he didn’t need to keep looking. I don’t want to say he looked smug, but I’m quite sure now that he did.

I’m fairly certain his profile said divorced; I would never have gotten involved with a separated man. Married men looking for dates are on my permanent blacklist. In my opinion separated people need to wait it out. I’m leery of anyone getting out of a relationship who needs someone else waiting in the wings.

When I was a teenager and young adult my mother had relationships with married men and I saw how sad it made her. I never wanted to be on either end of that grief. I vowed to never engage in a relationship with someone who didn’t or couldn’t make me a priority, someone who still had a pair of boots under someone else’s bed. I promised myself before I even had a driver’s license that I would never get involved with a married man. Never.

Not even if he was no longer in love, not even if he wasn’t happy, not even if he though I’d hung the moon.

The previous year had brought a parade of married men into my life, all of them old friends, and it felt like a test. I was living with my mother, and together we were caring for my grandmother and facing the effects of dementia complicated by hoarding and an unwillingness to let people in her house to do repairs or assist with her care.

I’d been working on it, but had some lingering resentment toward my mother. She and I had both had advanced degrees in loving someone despite not always approving of her actions, and were both well aware that the door swings both ways on that.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the married men were showing up to test me or if they were showing up to offer me a different perspective on my mother. All I know was that they did show up and their agendas ran the gamut. There’s always a silver lining, and the silver lining was that I found myself able to truly forgive my mother.

Some just wanted to tell me of the crushes they had on me since the early 1990s that had remarkably stood the test of time. Some told me how much they admired my independent life out west, and that they were happy to see how well I’d grown up. Some of them wanted to take me out, some wanted to hook up, some just wanted to talk. One even said he’d leave his wife for me despite the fact that we hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years, though I neither asked nor wanted such a thing.

I sometimes engaged in more conversation than I should, out of curiosity more than anything—a curiosity to fathom the mind of a man who strays—but in the end I always told them the same thing: I deserve more than that and you know it.

One guy and I had unfinished business from a relationship in 1992 that almost got a second chance in 2001 when I was getting divorced. He’d asked me to move to his city, but I decided instead to move to Montana and we never spoke again until years later when he requested my friendship  on Facebook.

It turned out he was coming to New York on business, so we arranged a lunch. In his blazer pocket he had photos from when we first fell in love and he spread them on the table between us. I asked about his wife and kids. We ate off each other’s plates, and after lunch we navigated lower Manhattan’s slush puddles and finally talked about what had happened between us.

I told him I was sorry; I owed him that as I’d basically disappeared on him without much explanation. I told him I was happy he’d found love, that he had a good life, that he’d gotten more than I could have given him. The conversation was way overdue, and it was an enormous relief to get it off my chest, to provide us both with closure.

He had time before his dinner meeting, so after walking all the way down to Ground Zero and looping back we popped into his hotel for a drink. While we sat there, semi-awkward with the elephant now comfortably bellied up between us, he received a call letting him know that his business partner’s flight had been delayed due to snow. He not only had reservations at one of the city’s best restaurants, but it was a fully comped meal.

“You’d be silly not to join me,” he said and I wasn’t sure, but I called my mother to tell her I wouldn’t be home for dinner. “I had a feeling,” she said, in a tone that sounded neither nice nor approving.

The comped meal included every course the restaurant offered and each one came with wine or cocktails. Although we sat there cozied up for hours in a corner booth, the end felt abrupt, so we walked around the corner to a French place with tin ceilings and a light that sparkled but was muted and understated as if partially eclipsed. I drank far more glasses of rosé than anyone should have in a moment like that.

We talked. Nothing intimate, just talking, and then around midnight we stumbled into a cab to his hotel, a cab that we’d arranged to also take me home to Queens. “I’m not ready to say goodbye,” he said, “I can’t have another goodbye like 1992.”

I was really too drunk to show up at my mother and grandmother’s house, so we went up to his room. We stayed up most of the night talking on top of the covers until we fell asleep in our clothes. We laughed in the morning—there wasn’t much to feel guilty about—and then headed to Grand Central where he’d catch a train to Connecticut for his meetings and I’d go underground to board my subway home.

We had a little time before his train, so we got coffees and a croissant to share. We walked through Grand Central Terminal, one of the most romantic places in the world, and the backdrop of millions of partings.

I walked him all the way to the track. We referred to the “best lunch ever” and laughed. All we’d done was delay the goodbye from the night before, and he said, “I’m still not ready. I can’t handle another goodbye like this.”

“But this is all we have,” I told him, “Another goodbye.”

I gripped my latte and walked away.

After the 7 train crosses inside the East River it goes above ground, and in the unforgiving light of the morning I sobbed behind my glasses. Most New Yorkers don’t notice much of what other subway riders are doing, but I felt exposed. Walking home I ran into my mother on the street and we went into the house where, once safely in the kitchen, I let it rip. I stood there in clothes I’d been wearing for twenty-four hours, and I cried. I showed more vulnerability to my mother than I had in decades.

I rarely admit to regrets—claim to have none and love buckling up for the roller coaster of life—but I revealed to my mother that morning that I might have actually blown it thirteen years earlier.

“Why didn’t you want to be with him after your divorce?” she asked, “Why didn’t you go?”

I didn’t have a great answer, but I wailed, “Because I wanted to move to Missoula.” Some things are better kept from mothers, and I’d never told mine of the disaster that had ensued when I shacked up with my boarding-school boyfriend in Montana. In real life, removed from the emotional turmoil of an extended lunch with a great guy I’d foolishly snuffed, I don’t actually regret moving to Missoula—it’s given me so much—but in that moment I wanted to something foreign to me: I wanted to turn back time.


After Bob fessed to being married I had a lot of questions, so we spent the next three hours sitting at the table while he explained. We had a light dinner and too much wine, but it seemed like he needed liquid courage for this one. I wanted to know how someone has three kids with a woman he’s not in love with, why he’s still not divorced after a five-year separation, I wanted to know if Donna knows he’s dating. He had an answer for everything. He opened up, he was vulnerable, he told me what felt like a complete story. I didn’t dump him and made a concession I wouldn’t normally make. (See above: NEVER.)

Bob told me about his father’s alcoholism and abuse, about his mother taking the kids to Oregon, about his sisters running away, about how every one of his siblings (minus the adopted gay brother) had kids pretty much out of school. He told me that he got involved with Donna when he was young and for all the wrong reasons. Then she got pregnant. They tried to make it work and she got pregnant again. He told me they only got married before their third child was born and only did it for the health insurance and because his family pressured him.

He told me that when he moved to Eugene for college his mother told him that he needed to go to church more so he promptly stopped going. I knew he grew up in uber-religious Southern Idaho, but he’d told me he wasn’t Mormon. I didn’t think to ask what religion he grew up with, and realize now that I probably didn’t ask because I didn’t want to know.

It’s funny how that works. 

Bob never mentioned that he ever started going to church again, but only that there had been pressure from his family to marry the mother of his children. He loves the kids but referred to the marriage as his biggest mistake. I offered him a contrasting story—my story—about getting married and divorced young. I told him that when I was married I took my birth control pill at the same time every day because I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to get myself into a situation where I was stuck. He flinched when I said “stuck” and I felt sort of bad. I told him I had a hard time understanding his story, but know he’d grown up differently than I had and that it’s wrong for me to judge.

In addition to having access to the kids whenever he wants, Bob told me that another reason he’s stayed married to Donna is because his company offers some of the best health insurance, and she not only has some shoulder problems, but also some mental health issues. He knows that keeping his kids’ mother happy is what’s best for his kids.

And now I’m saying: I’ll bet Donna has some mental health issues!

I periodically asked Bob about Donna. I wanted to confirm that she knows he dates, that she wasn’t under the impression that they’re in a committed relationship but just on a break. I wanted to know that she didn’t want him back.

Bob seamlessly assuaged my feelings and alleviated any guilt that he determined was unnecessary for me to feel. He told me their relationship was limited to talks about finances and the children, but one week he told me that over the weekend Donna had made him laugh, which he said was something I wouldn’t hear from him very often. She’d commented that he smelled like sandalwood and asked if he’d been in a “hippie house.”

I didn’t think it was all that funny, especially when he told me he’d told her no. I thought to myself: the Hilton doesn’t smell like sandalwood…I wanted to know why he wasn’t just upfront about the fact that he’s dating me and he said that he encourages Donna to date, but she’s “let herself go” over the years and lacks the confidence. He said that given her low self-esteem he didn’t think it was fair to flaunt his hot Missoula girlfriend.

He was cunning and crafty the way he used flattery to divert the graveness of his indiscretion. I don’t consider myself easily conned, but I fell for it.

Like I said: I’ll bet Donna has some mental health issues.

Despite the fact that we were full-on playing house, I never really considered Bob my boyfriend. I’m not sure why I shied away from that label, but he felt more like someone I was trying on than getting serious about. Deep down I knew he was more of a lesson than a love, though that line is often blurry. Regardless of the kids in Bozeman and the job that took him everywhere, I just wasn’t sure if he and I could have a future together.

I continued to have concerns about the fact that he grew up not only in Idaho, but not even in a town, just at an intersection between two rundown dots on the map, a place riddled with poverty and a deeply-rooted belief that God would save them all. Bob assured me he’d come a long way from there and had worked hard for it. He sent me essays from Elephant Journal and I joked that he must be the only boy from that intersection reading articles like that. He added “For at least two-hundred miles around, more if they never left.”

It put things into a perspective I wasn’t sure I was willing to either grasp or accept, but dating guys from my neck of the woods hadn’t actually worked out for me so I was being open-minded and trying something different.

Bob told me in the beginning that he wanted a relationship with me. He said he was so relieved to have met me, because all of the women he met online seemed to only want sex. He wanted sex too, he said, but he also craved connection, something he never had with Donna. He told me in the very beginning that he’d had a vasectomy, but if I wanted children of my own he certainly didn’t want that to be the deal-breaker. “There are ways around it,” he said.

We never used a condom. Not even once. Compared to my relationships in the past, the intimacy didn’t feel premature—I felt like I knew and trusted him—so I focused on that. I compared the present to the past—dangerous business at best—and drew conclusions with very incomplete information. We’d spent at least twenty hours staring into each other’s eyes and talking before becoming intimate, and even though I knew that pregnancy wasn’t the only concern with unprotected sex I did what so many do: I got caught up in the moment.

The night we went all the way his condoms were in his car. “I bought them right after I met you,” he said, “because I wanted to be prepared.” But then he wasn’t. I had some in my nightstand, but I knew they’d be too big for him and didn’t want that embarrassment for either of us, and, well, I think most of us have been in that situation. It’s not smart, it’s not right, but it just is what often happens when two people who like each other are naked in bed together.

Over the few months we were sleeping together I brought it up a few times—“I can’t believe we’ve never used a condom…”—and I don’t recall him every having anything to say about it.

Bob was attentive; he paid attention. If I told him I had a meeting, he called to check on how it went. If he knew I had a long day and he was getting off work earlier than I was, he’d text me and asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner or stay home, and if I picked home (always his choice) he’d have my favorite food waiting for me. He chose wine similar to what I ordered in restaurants, so I knew he was paying attention. He set the table, he walked the dog, he greeted me at the door with a kiss.

Bob liked coming to my house, and had told me that Donna was a slob. He said that for years he worked 60 hours/week and did all the house cleaning, but he tired of it and stopped. Then he moved out. I always made sure my house was tidy when he arrived even if the visit was unexpected and I’d spend a frenzied hour before work putting clothes in the hamper, doing dishes, wiping all surfaces and vacuuming. I always, always vacuumed, which strikes me as a bit odd, though I’m not really sure why. Bob appreciated it and told me, so I kept doing it.

Bob kept up his end of “house keeping” and he stocked my fridge and freezer. He’d stop at Costco for my favorite oranges, for salmon, for chocolate-covered almonds. He bought bacon and eggs so we could have a good breakfast together, because although we went out for breakfast once he just liked being in the house with me. He bought in bulk.

Bob told me out of the gate that it takes him a long time to introduce women he’s dating to his kids, and I respected that. I get uneasy when someone wants me to meet his kids too soon, or if I feel like he’s prematurely cleaning out half of his closet for me. I wasn’t in a hurry; the pace was fine with me. He was concerned that he thought I “deserved a weekend with him,” and I assured him that his kids are the number one priority and having him a few nights every week was enough. I wasn’t lying.

Regardless of what I said, Bob put in effort to show me that I mattered. He had a business trip to California and booked his ticket to and from Missoula so he could see me on both ends, including one weekend. I was grateful for his effort, and only felt a little bit guilty that he took time from his kids to be with me. Although I said it wasn’t important to me, Bob was adamant that we spend Valentine’s Day together. He stayed four nights with me that week, including Friday—when I roasted a chicken I’d prepped days in advance, just in case—and stayed until noon on Valentine’s Day.

I sent him a text thanking him for his effort and for starting his day with me. He accidently took a screen shot of that text, and when he synced his phone it saved to his photos. Neither of us would know this for another eight weeks, but it’s when Donna confirmed my existence in her husband’s life.

He said I was a friend.

My fondness for Bob waned considerably in March. He came to see me the night before I left to visit my mother in Florida, and he hoped to pick me up from the airport, because we were going to be apart for eleven days. I thought I’d miss him—and at first I did—but had no idea the turn the story was going to take.

Without any possibility of making plans to see each other, his communication was poor. I heard from him, but his messages were short, cryptic, and felt like riddles. I hate riddles. We’d gotten into a habit of sending interesting articles to each other and I sent him one, fairly benign, about parenting. It somehow took us down a rabbit hole of politics, and he became irate.

We noticed on day one that we have a lot of similarities. I told my friends “his brain is like mine,” and that makes me a bit nauseated now, but what I meant was attention to detail, excellent memory, inquisitiveness. Bob and I joked that we needed to have a fight to see how that went, and we’d tried to have some but with no luck—we always wound up agreeing!—though it now seems he was playing a game and agreeing so he could keep seeing with me. But finally, via text and email from across the country, we had our first fight.

One of his emails attacked my “typical liberal rhetoric,” which he’d previously been enamored by, and he used a lot of exclamations and told me to back up my position and “cite examples!!!” Within two minutes I sent him an article from The Atlantic that also cited references from the New York Times and other sources that, while left-leaning, are well-known to be top-quality fact checkers.

Bob didn’t reply for twenty-four hours. When he did he’d changed the subject and simply asked, “How is the beach?” I’d been irritated over his lack of response though it revealed to me how he acts when he’s wrong: he disappears.

I was concerned about Bob being politically or religiously conservative (there’s that Southern Idaho thing again), but he assured me he listens to all sides and considers himself more of an anarchist than anything. By his definition that means people should have absolute freedom to do whatever they want without interference (especially government interference) as long as they’re not bothering anyone else. I now see that Bob’s manifesto and personal definitions of “bothering” and “interfering” were self-serving and limited in point of view; he just wants to do what he wants without consequence.

That was the turning point for me. I couldn’t see him the same way again, and in fighting with him I saw what happens when his feathers are ruffled and it was not attractive.

The Universe stepped in while Bob and I were having our political spat. A guy I’d grown up with appeared in my life and we started writing to each other and talking. Over a few days we were in near-constant communication, and while I told Matt I had a boyfriend, I know that what I was engaging in would be classified as an emotional affair. I’m not so myopic to think that just because Bob was cheating on me (with his wife, if you can wrap your head around that, though it’s quite possibly there were others), that what I was doing wasn’t morally okay in a committed relationship. Though I was, of course, the only one who thought we were in a committed relationship.

Matt is also a writer and traveler, and we had interesting and engaging conversations talking about the interesting parallels our lives have taken since we left our suburban Connecticut hometown. Our commonality and shared history made me realize (again) how important those things are to me, and how it’s not feasible for me to have a relationship with a person like Bob who could even tolerate listening to FOX NEWS unless it was being parodied on Comedy Central. Matt remembered things about childhood—some that I did and some that I didn’t—and I had healing conversations with him I didn’t know I needed.

Bob didn’t pick me up from the airport, and that was fine, but then his work brought him to the other side of his territory, eleven hours away, and it was impossible to see each other. I didn’t care as much as I would have before our political spat, and because I hadn’t built my life around him I was happy to back in Missoula spending time with my friends and with Lucky.

The Universe intervened again, and after a weekend of not hearing from Bob I received a flood of messages from him on a Monday morning. For some reason they hadn’t transmitted through wifi, and arrived all at once when he entered back into cell-phone range. He’d told me that he wanted to come over on Sunday, but because I didn’t received his messages he got no response. Even though my silence was only because I hadn’t received anything to respond to, Bob started to shift. I was fairly sure I’d break up with him the next time I saw him, but when I picked the bones about the argument and his reaction to being wrong he said the magic words: “You’re right.”

We’d made tentative plans to go to Wyoming together at the end of the month because he has customers there and it’s a beautiful place where I also have friends it would’ve been fun to see. Lucky and I could tag along on the work trip and then we’d make a weekend out of it. Bob hadn’t followed up on a plan, and because his communication had been shoddy when I was in Florida—and he’d been working close to the area while I was away—I figured he might have just gone without me.

I’m intuitive, but not actually a mind-reader—which I see worked more in his favor than not—so when Bob told me he was looking forward to our trip I told him that I’d booked appointments for myself and couldn’t go. There was a flicker on his face that looked like rage, but he cleverly disguised it as disappointment. The real truth was that on a deep, cellular level I didn’t feel comfortable getting in a car with him to drive six hours. I have friends down there, but couldn’t shake the image of Lucky and I stranded on the side of a highway. Or worse.

The dynamic had permanently altered. I was booking appointments, making plans with my friends during the week, and setting clear boundaries. The shift in me caused a natural shift in him as well and it started to feel seismic in both strength and depth. I kept thinking I’d break up with Bob, but he kept driving hundreds of miles to see me, and then acted sweet and chivalrous upon arrival.

One afternoon I sat in the pedicure chair reading emails. Bob had surprised me by saying he was coming to town that night, but I’d made plans to have dinner with girlfriends and told him that I couldn’t change it. He was fine and said he’d hang out with Lucky and keep the bed warm. It seemed reasonable, and I was proud of my boundaries. But then I got an email that changed everything.

I saw that Donna, the wife he’s been separated from for five years, had looked at my profile on LinkedIn. No other social media websites let you see who is looking at you, but LinkedIn—because the whole purpose is networking—does. I sent Bob a screenshot with a one-word comment: interesting.

He concurred, said it explained why Donna had been acting “funny” the past few weeks. He said the last time she acted this way she’d hired a lawyer and he had to prepare himself for that. I thought back to their awkward arrangement of staying married for the kids and wondered if Donna doesn’t think it’s as fabulous as he thinks she does.

While I was at dinner with my friends, Bob messaged me that his grandmother was “in a bad way” and he was headed to Idaho to pick up his dad and go see her in the hospital. I didn’t think much of it beyond worrying about his grandma. It takes a real sinister character to lie about a sick grandma, and while I thought Bob might be a secret conservative, I didn’t think he was capable of that low-level lying. I hadn’t yet pegged him as a sociopath.

Bob could have just fessed then, but he didn’t, and he came back one more time to see me, armed with an elaborate story about his grandmother’s condition and how tired he was from spending the night in the hospital with her over the weekend. When he announced he was coming to Missoula that Monday I was honestly surprised, and lacked enthusiasm. He sent a text that said, “salmon for dinner?” but I felt a knot in my gut, not a rise in my heart. I’d grown tired of him thinking he could drop in whenever. There had been another shift.

Bob picked up food for us and we talked a little, but we were both tired and went to bed early. I felt unmoored and emotionally unwound by the fact that Lucky was turning thirteen the next day, and that I’d once again fallen short of the mark in finding a suitable partner for myself so my loyal, loving dog could rest. Bob thought it important to be there with me for Lucky’s birthday morning (he sure had a way of reeling me back in), and said he was looking forward to a lazy morning together.

But I had bad news: I’d booked a morning appointment then a coffee date and walk with friends for Lucky’s birthday. A lazy morning simply wasn’t in the cards. Another shift, another glimmer of rage on Bob’s face.

He tried to get me to cancel, but I was firm. I was seeing a Physical Therapist about issues related to my previously fractured sacrum, and how I could retrain my body out of its old holding patterns. It would take a while for me to see that healing my spine held weight, and was more metaphor than not.When I left that morning I barely hugged or kissed him goodbye. I didn’t do this intentionally; I just did it. He said he might make it back later in the week, but I was flippant. He got the message. I’d detached. The entire week went by and I heard nothing from him. I knew he was taking the kids to Idaho to visit family for their school break, but it was odd. Nothing.

After a full week with no contact I sent a message, then another three. It might have looked a little psycho—after all, I was done, wasn’t I?—but I’m no heartless tinman and I worried. I’d said to him in the beginning of our relationship that it occurred to me that something dire could happen to him—a car accident, a broken leg—and nobody would even know to tell me. All he said was, “Oh how sweet. You care…”

My wheels came off and I reverted back to an old behavior: I snooped. I mean, I didn’t really snoop, but I found his well-concealed Facebook page. He told me he had an inactive account, but I suspected otherwise and finally located him. The challenge was not so much that he has a fairly common name, but that he had himself listed as living in Oregon, a state that according to him he hadn’t lived in in over fifteen years. Tricky. Cagey. Sneaky. I didn’t like the way that felt.

I saw that he’d not only made a post a day earlier, but that he’d tagged Donna in it. I sent him a text about getting “Chummy with Donna again? Does that explain your disappearance?” I also remembered something he’d told me in the beginning that I’d subconsciously filed away for future reference. He’d told me that if he sensed me losing interest or backing away that he’d just disappear. I wrote another message (yes, I’m displaying all my crazy) letting him know that by not responding he was making it clear that he was disappearing. “Message received,” I said.

Bob had tagged two other people in his recent Facebook post, and I clicked on their profiles. I saw that he and Donna had sent a gift to a relative (ironically the same French Press coffee pot I introduced him to) and that he was in a few photos from something called “Memorial.” There were so many things in this situation that are outside the realm of Google, but this one was easy. I quickly learned that Memorial is the Jehovah’s Witnesses version of Easter.

I started researching the Jehovah’s Witnesses and learned that while adultery is frowned upon, if a man repents then the submissive wife is obligated to forgive him. A cornerstone of the JW cult is repenting; if they do then Jehovah forgives. The JW website says, “What a relief it is to know that Jehovah will forgive our sins—even sins as serious as adultery or murder! He will do so if we have a forgiving spirit, if we confess our sins before him, and if we manifest a changed attitude toward our bad actions.”

How convenient! A person just changes his attitude and he’s forgiven.

I became sick to my stomach. I sent Bob a frenzy of messages and he finally replied, to say goodbye, to wish me the best of luck with my writing, and that everything I’d figured out about him was true. At this point I didn’t know that he’d lied about his relationship with Donna, but I’m sure he was just beating me to the punch and apologizing in advance.

The following day was a daze, but after work I went to Donna’s Facebook page and sent her a message letting her know that I was no longer seeing Bob. I told her he’d stopped responding to me, but he’d left some things at my house and I would send them to her if she wanted them. I wondered if she really had hired a lawyer, and if so, Bob’s left-behind items might come in handy. When Bob had fessed about being married (though separated and living apart) I warned him, “Above all else I believe in the sisterhood.” I suppose he thought I was bluffing.

Over the next two hours I found out that they’re not separated and they live together as husband and wife. There’s no cabin down the road. I found out that when I backed out of the Jackson, Wyoming trip he took Donna and the kids. I learned that grandma was never sick. 

Donna found out that I wasn’t just a friend and that her husband and I had been having sex. Unprotected, at that. She never got too riled up. She just kept saying he would deny everything.

I offered Donna all the evidence a woman needs to prove her husband was having an affair, but when I asked her point-blank what she was going to do she said, with unnerving ease,“I don’t know.” I couldn’t believe it, and realized that there was only one person in the equation who was really surprised by this information: me.

Bob hadn’t lied to me about his previous dating; the guy is a repeat offender.

Donna said she’d wanted to contact me when she first learned about me, but didn’t want to seem psycho. She seemed glad to have heard from me, to learn the score, though it didn’t seem she was really keeping one. She told me she’d read a lot of my blog and said, “You sound like such a nice person and very down to earth. I’m so sorry this happened to you.” It had happened to her before, so she’s used to it, but she knew I’d been blindsided.

My boyfriend’s wife was sorry this happened to me…

My heart broke for this woman. 

Donna had to get the kids to bed and said we could talk more the next day if I wanted to, and it didn’t occur to me until later to wonder what Donna wanted, or if Donna even knew the answer to that. In the morning I worked, and then went to the post office to mail Donna’s adulterous husband’s things to her at work, hoping she’d present them with divorce papers, though in reality she probably slid his clothes back into place in his closet as if nothing had happened.

The next morning I messaged Donna with a direct question, a question whose answer had kept me awake most of the night. I asked her if her husband has or has ever had any STDs and her response was the kind of stuff that is beyond what anyone could make up, but sadly isn’t. (This is why I prefer non-fiction.)

thumbs up

I asked her about STDs in relation to her husband and she sent me an emoji. Very specifically, as you can see, she sent the blue Facebook thumbs up. That is some very sick shit.

if there is no wind

Translation: If there is no wind, row.

I really hoped Ashton Kutcher might knock on my door to tell me I was being punked, but no such luck. I asked Donna, “Is that a yes?”

She replied, “Yes.”

Donna told me he has HPV, which despite being incredibly common is also potentially deadly. I hear it can be passed through kissing—not just through oral and genital intercourse—and that because it’s so common and easily transmitted nobody even talks about it or discloses their status. I’ve never tested positive for HPV, but told Donna that because her husband and I had never used condoms I’d keep an eye out for it.

She responded by asking me why I was having unprotected sex, and I felt the sting of the stones she threw at me from her glass house. I stared at the blinking cursor for a while and debated sending an emoji, but finally decided on a numbered list. I said, “1. Because I’m stupid and 2. Because he has a vasectomy.”

Donna’s next response was almost as good as the thumbs up. She said, “He told you he has a vasectomy?” It was the last thing she said to me.

I had to get to an appointment so figured we’d pick this up later, but by the time an hour had passed Donna had blocked me so we could no longer communicate. I had no idea if she’d even tell Bob that she heard from me, or if she’d just be glad—for the moment—to have her husband back to herself.

Having been the victim of untrustworthy behavior doesn’t mean that I can’t or won’t trust again, but I also know that when we’ve been lied to—and when we’ve denied our intuition and not trusted our guts—it is challenging to return to a place of trusting our own judgment again. In general I am an excellent judge of character, but when I’m wrong I’m very, very wrong.

When I lived in Honduras I dated a native who promised me he wasn’t like other Latino men, but it turned out he had girlfriends (he was a lawyer and called them clients) on neighboring islands. I’ve never had island fever or wanted out of a place as badly as I did the day I learned that news, but I survived. 

I wasn’t sure I’d survive that one. I had to figure out how to rent my house and how to get Lucky and myself off the island back to the States. I didn’t even know where we’d go or what we’d do when we got back, but we needed to go home. That adventure is another story, but it serves as a useful reminder: I survived. In fact, we all survive. I can now say I’ve survived being on both unfortunate sides of the adultery equation, and I have no doubt I’ll be better for it. I already am.


I’ve survived dating the sweetest drug addict you’d ever want to meet, who repeatedly and habitually lied to me about being high. He didn’t mean it—he was sick—but it carved away at my ability to trust myself, my judgment, my inner knowing. It was torture, though in that equation there was also love. He survived. I survived. We all survive, though the truth is that none of us get out of life alive.

A week after Bob and Donna erased me from their lives, I came home from work to find a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet stuck inside my door, a pamphlet called “What is the Key to Happy Family Life.”


My heart raced. I opened the door to make sure Lucky hadn’t been messed with, then I ran back out onto the sidewalk to see if any of my other neighbors had a pamphlet. It was garbage day, so I looked to see whose garbage cans were still out: those people weren’t home. I check all the doors on both sides of me, but nobody else had a pamphlet. Of course they didn’t.

A pamphlet is not an apology.

I knew that the JW literature was not for me. It was for him. It was for Donna. It was for his religion that he’s committed to when it’s convenient. I’m sure its placement in my door jamb was simply a piece of the repenting process which was most definitely not about me.

I’ve learned a lot about the JWs. I’ve learned that they believe yoga opens a person to demon attacks. Jehovah’s Witnesses are advised against pursuing a higher education and see it as an improper use of time, but really they don’t want their people to educated themselves into a position of doubting the church. As an interesting side effect, Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest average education and income levels of any religion in the United States.

While they are against higher education (they call the educated “wordly”) they are not opposed to domestic violence. Watchtower articles praise women for staying with husbands despite violent abuse, and Witnesses are encouraged to stay with violent husbands except in extreme, life-threatening situations.

I couldn’t be further apart from these people if I tried, thoughgoodness I have tried. But I was duped. Bob outright lied. He lied by omission and he did it meticulously. Months later I still can’t figure out if I’m more disgusted that I had sex with a married man or with a Jehovah’s Witness. It was like the equivalent of doing an emotional speedball (heroin and cocaine mixed together, for those not in the know), when you think you’re simply taking a Tylenol and drinking a strong cup of coffee.

Before posting this, I did something I’d never done before: I sent the essay to my mother. I wasn’t looking for her permission or approval, but I wanted to make sure she was okay with the part that mentions her and told her that although it’s part of my story, I’d remove it if it made her uncomfortable. I also wanted her to have the opportunity to read about my most recent upsets before it went public. I owed her that.


Her initial reaction was that I think twice before “putting it out there,” but after a couple of days she felt differently and understands that as a writer I’m committed to telling my truth so that others may feel more comfortable with theirs regardless of whether they ever speak about it. But really my mother wanted to make sure that I’m okay.

In a lot of ways I’m more okay than I’ve ever been. I feel strong. I feel vibrant and alive. I have a huge smile on my face more often than not. I feel supported by my friends. In an odd way I feel healthier—both physically and emotionally—than I have in a long time. My mother asked me to promise her that I’m taking care of myself, and I did, with full confidence.

“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” she asked me and I laughed. “No,” I said, “I wouldn’t. I mean…I would. I would lie to you about my current state to protect you.”

She laughed and I did too, and then I said, “I promise I’m not lying now.”

There is always a silver lining.

mary oliver

For Some Things There’s No Replacement

This has been a big year–already–and we’re only one-third of the way through it. January started with such a rush that three weeks felt like three months. February threw down non-stop action and I started to joke with friends, “2015 sure does have a good sense of humor…”

At that point I had no idea how truly hilarious 2015 could be, and at this point I’m quite sure I have no idea how downright gut-busting 2015 is going to get. She seems to be building strength  both from momentum and from something that I can only describe as seismic tension.

{insert sound of seatbelt clicking}

March came and I found myself beyond exhausted, but it was okay because I had a ten-day vacation planned in Florida visiting my mom and friends. But was it okay? I started my vacation with a red-eye flight and then it took me a week to get my feet back under me. Because it takes me a long time to learn some lessons, I ended my vacation with a flight that landed at midnight, less than nine hours before I went back to work.

Of course I could have flown home a day early, had a day at home to regroup, but that’s just not how I roll. I mean, I don’t even nap. I have napped, but not without a fever or a parasite. I’m just all about maximizing my time.

For someone who always has a cursor blinking on her computer—a blog post unfinished, a chapter unedited, a book to revise—there is no such thing as “nothing to do. There’s no such thing as bored, though as it turns out there is such a thing as tired.

Sometimes it’s hard to identify where the tired comes from. Is it from stress? Is it from not sleeping enough? Is it simply from doing too much? Is it from being asked too much and given too little? Is it from a complete lack of balance?

In my case it was from all of the above, so a few times in as many weeks I’ve snuck off to the hot springs to sun, soak, and have a few hours to reconnect through disconnecting from cell service. The burn is that in order to find the time to get away I had to jam work into the other days, but to have a day to soak with a friend and then two days solo poolside: it was more than worth it.

Sometimes we know what we need.

I read books poolside, sang out loud in the car sipping iced coffee, and stopped by the Flathead River with Lucky for wishes and belly wetting. Those trips to the hot springs were good ones, as they all have been, but it occurred to me that the first time I went to “take a rest” in the town of Hot Springs, Lucky was a pup. I’ve never driven that route without him smiling in the backseat, ready for the next adevnture.

It’s not an exaggeration to refer to me as time obsessed. I remember dates and I’m a sucker for anniversaries. My friends joke that if they want to know what they wore to a wedding in 2008 I can probably tell them. With ease I recall…one year ago….five years ago….a month ago…and in this case: thirteen years ago Lucky was born. Lucky’s birthday, March 31 is a date we’ve always celebrated, but it’s not as significant as June 1, the day he picked me out to be his mom.

I’m pretty terrible at public speaking, but a few years ago I got on a stage and told a story about how I was “Picked By Luck” for Tell Us Something, Missoula’s terrific storytelling event. I survived and Lucky got a biscuit on a stage, in a bar. You can listen to a podcast of that story by clicking HERE.

I was far from prepared for how Lucky’s birthday would unhinge me, for how I’d feel about the fact that thirteen years have passed. It’s hard to believe the shenanigans Lucky and I have gotten into and the messes we’ve worked our way out of. In many ways it feels like I was twenty-seven yesterday, and now it seems that I’m suddenly forty with my next birthday just a month away. In many ways twenty-seven is so far away it’s just a pinprick on the horizon in my rearview mirror.

It’s an exercise in strength to ponder all that has changed and all that has not. It’s intense. All the reflection takes my breath away. Done well, it can be empowering; done poorly, it can cripple.

My life was not unlike a pressure cooker when I met Lucky. I was lost and pretty unaware. I was searching, but for what I was unsure. I wasn’t sure why I was even living in Montana and had no regular employment. I hadn’t yet decided to go to massage school, I was somebody’s ex-wife, and my then boyfriend and I were about to break up. We were so close to splitting that when I presented him with the tiny, undernourished pup tucked in side my jacket he said,

“Oh, shit. That guy’s my replacement.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was totally right. We split, I put my stuff in storage, and Lucky and I spent our first few months together essentially homeless. We stayed with friends, housesat, and traveled. It was liberating but exhausting. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t sit still. At one point I’d had a good job, a husband who adored me, and a big old house. Then I made a series of choices and a few downward spirals later I didn’t have much beyond my puppy.

Though it turned out that having that puppy was having quite a bit.

For years I didn’t even know how much I had, but I knew Luckydog gave me a bit of purpose. I had someone to walk, to feed. Somehow this little guy and I managed to keep each other alive.

That first “Summer of Luck” a friend noted my frazzled ends and suggested I head north to Hot Springs for a regroup. I’d never been there, but he told me about the cheap cabins, healing water, and positive energy. It had to be worth a shot.

I rented a cabin, soaked several times a day, and walked my puppy in loops, circles, and curlicues around the town that is actually just a sloppy grid of streets that dead-end in three directions. It was exactly what I needed, and it’s a place that never fails to deliver to me home to myself. Back then you could buy a little bungalow for about thirty thousand dollars, and I thought about it. Hot Springs feels safe and snug, but after a while it becomes stifling; that’s a distinction I struggle with.

I have a true love-hate relationship with Hot Springs. I love soaking in the mineral water. I love the funky people who show up around The Symes Hotel. I love the impossible slow pace of the town that questions whether still is really still moving. I love that I leave the place feeling like someone has taken me out of the shed, dusted me off, and given my pull-cord a solid yank.

I love that I can travel seventy-seven miles from Missoula and feel like I’ve gone somewhere. Hot Springs is a terrific place to escape and recharge. The town’s motto is “Limp in, Leap out,” and I concur; I’ve gone there with a stiff, sore body and come home twisting my spine and touching my toes. There are times I’ve sobbed all the way there due to one heartbreak or another, but I can’t recall sobbing on the way home, at least not all the way.

The drive itself is transportive. You drive west out of Missoula on the interstate a few miles, then climb through a thick forest and onto the Flathead Reservation, through an open valley with views of the Mission Mountains, which this time of year are capped white. Another turn to the west goes along the Flathead River. I  have a ritual where I throw a few coins from the bridge and make a wish, then pull over on the north side to let Lucky stretch, sniff and get his paws wet. Last time I stopped I took a picture of us, and in my head I titled it: whatever blows your hair back, kid.

ma and luck flathead

The river crossing marks the volta of the trip, or the turning point where something goes from an idea to a statement. The shift from concept to goal. It represents choice, choosing, and intention. After the river there are a few turns as the road narrows and follows Clear Creek and before the landscape widens again before widening around the mountain for the final stretch into Hot Springs.

There’s an abandoned house out there on the prairie, just before the straightaway, on a stretch of road that has remarkable head-clearing capabilities. A place where my stereo always knows, instinctively, the perfect song to play. The last two times, I swear on Luck, it was the same song at the same spot.

As far as I can tell not much has changed with that house over the fourteen years I’ve been driving by it, except everything that changes whether we want it to or not. The grass greens or browns or is covered in snow. The light is intense or muted and sometimes just right.

abandoned house

As I stood with my iPhone ready to take a picture of the abandoned Little House on the Prairie it felt almost like an invasion of privacy, though there’s no question that the house has long been uninhabited. I couldn’t imagine how anyone would ever want to leave that place with the wraparound porch and the view that extends for days.

But it’s just as easy to imagine the longing to bust out of there, to walk away without looking back, to experience life that doesn’t exist on the side of a deserted highway. I could imagine the comfort of sitting on that porch, rocking and drinking tea every night of my life. I could also imagine putting on my nicest dress and best boots made for walking and standing where the pavement meets the grass until someone picked me up to take me anywhere but there.

That’s always my blessing and my curse: the ability to see multiple angles.

The truth is this: I have been feeling fragile lately. I’ve been struggling with the squirrely balance between work and life, between yes and no, between who I was and who I am. Every single one of those lines has been blurry lately, so I’ve done the only thing I could: I just sat with it. And now the reward is that the proverbial vaseline has been wiped off my glasses and life is getting more clear again.

I can get myself worked up into a serious tizzy when I think about life without Lucky, which is one of those things that will happen whether I want it to or not and there’s no way to stop it. When Lucky was a three-year-old young dog I read a book that made me weep. It was primarily about a woman and the dog she loves, but about other pets, and about men, sickness and loss. The dog was sick, but he stuck around long enough to teach his human how to love and be loved. He needed to make sure she was okay before he left.

I’ve never earnestly applied this story to my life with Lucky, and would never want to put that kind of pressure on anyone, not even a dog. But over the years a few guys have even been brazen enough to suggest they might be man enough to fill Luck’s shoes when the time comes. (Ha!) The last guy I was seeing actually claimed that Lucky was grooming him to be his replacement, but I can say with full confidence that he couldn’t have been more off base.

For some things there’s no replacement.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that drive to Hot Springs, and how I’ve never done it without my canine copilot, but that someday I will. I’ve often said to friends that I don’t know how I will ever live without Lucky, and they’ve said both gently and firmly, “But you will. You will live.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the abandoned house I’ve long admired and finally stopped to photograph. It was something I’d never done, but something that was always available to me.

Every single moment is a choice. One day you’re the person who never stops to take a picture of the house, then suddenly, there you are, on the side of a highway taking pictures.

Every day is an opportunity to begin or end something, to decide to pause or to keep going, to say yes or no, to you or to me. One day you’re the person who never does something, but then you do. Another day you’re a person who always does something, but then you stop.

It’s amazing, really, the power of choice and how much control we have over our lives, the nuance of difference between yesterday and today, between today and tomorrow. Every single moment offers an occasion to make different, better, healthier choices. Some day (weeks, years) we screw up even though we’re trying our absolute hardest, but it’s crucial to remember that we are all doing the best we can. Every. Damn. Day.

And now, because this is leaning toward the heavy side, I’ll end with a picture of a guy who doesn’t hold back when it comes to loving ice cream. Or to love.

ice cream love