Carrots

Here’s some flash fiction from Anonymous about the simple, ordinary, maddening things that can loom large when a marriage begins to unravel:

I’m at the kitchen counter, chopping carrots. You walk into the kitchen to remind me that you don’t like carrots and peas in your shrimp fried rice.  I chop harder, faster. I’m furious because you have a preference as to what goes into your shrimp fried rice.  You care enough about what goes into your shrimp fried rice to come and remind me.  You are not indifferent about what goes in your shrimp friend rice.  But you are indifferent about me.  You don’t express strong preferences about me.  You don’t register strong emotions about me.  I don’t move you to want me a certain way, and not some other way.  After all these years–fifteen years–you don’t have a favorite way that you like me.

But now I can’t just write you off as indifferent about things in general.  You’re not indifferent about life in general. No, because you do feel something about your shrimp fried rice.

So I chop the carrots, for me.  You can pick them out.  And the peas too.  Fuck you.

Keeping Them Safe

by Petra McQueen

We are in my front room. Richard is perching on the arm of a chair and I am on the sofa still in my pajamas. This morning he dropped the boys off early and they are rattling through the house finding what they need for school. There’s time for a quick chat and, for a change, we don’t negotiate the next week’s timetable, nor discuss the boys’ activities. We are congratulating ourselves.

“We’ve worked hard,” I say. “You and me. We’ve both worked hard.”

“Yes,” he says. “Some of my mates look up to me as a role model.”

I smirk at this particular Richardism (he’s never modest), but can see why he says it. We’ve negotiated our way through an awful break-up. We’ve worked and worked so that we can now sit in the same room together and see each other as parents of equal weight and stature.

The alternative – bitterness and court contracts – is in my mind because a friend’s ex-wife had him arrested for breaking a court order when he was five minutes late taking his children back to her. Since then the children panic if they think they might be late, they rush and temper those important last minutes.

I have another friend, grown up and with a family of her own now, whose father decided to run away with her and her sister and take them from England to Canada. The airports were put on alert but he sidestepped the authorities by leaving on the QE2. Her mum fought and fought but by the time the courts gave her custody the girls were almost grown.

These stories are horrific. But I can see how it happens. When Richard left, my emotions were fear, bewilderment and hate. I wanted to block him out, never see him again. I didn’t want him to have anything to do with the children. I felt that if he was going to reject me in such a way there would come a time when he would reject our children, become bored with them as he becomes bored with many of his hobbies. I wanted to protect them, but mainly I wanted to protect myself. I couldn’t look at him.

I am surprised I never crashed driving away after dropping the children off because I was hysterical, blind with tears. It was only fear, fear of yet another row, that stopped me curtailing his hours with the kids, telling him that he couldn’t see them so much, because I couldn’t see him so much.

Then I spent a strange and miserable weekend at an ex-boyfriend’s wedding. The best man’s speech revealed that the happy couple had met while I was still going out with the groom. This was another blow. I was afraid that I would never be able to function again. The only thing that I had was the children. They were what I clung to. “I love them so much,” I declared to one of the guests at the table.

“Oh, of course you do,” she said.

Then, leaning over and tapping the back of my hand, she said, “Kids don’t need to feel loved, you know? They need to feel safe.”

What an odd thing to say. Kids need to feel loved, right? First and foremost. But the idea mushroomed. She was right. Kids need to feel loved and safe.

When I was honest with myself, I knew that my children’s safety didn’t mean I should bunker down with them, protect them from someone who had hurt me. It meant letting their father love them his way, and letting them express their love for him. Ultimately, they had to feel my approval: they had to know that their dad’s love was as safe as their mother’s love. And they had to feel safe enough to express that love back to him, and in the presence of the other parent.

It hasn’t been easy. It’s been the hardest lip-biting, soul-twisting thing I have ever done. It took years, too. Probably three for it to start to feel half normal. We don’t always get it right. As the boys grow up they will be able to tell us precisely how we went wrong.

I know we bicker – I don’t want to wait outside his house on a freezing afternoon when he’s late; he doesn’t want to schlep over to my house for the umpteenth time. I can find a million things to criticise him about – but not his fatherhood, rarely that.

Over time, I have come to see what his love is. And what it means to our children. It is different in its tone and timbre from mine. I could nitpick endlessly. But I don’t. Richard loves our children fiercely and well.

What he knows, and I know, and many other single parents know, is that in loving your child fiercely and well, you have to let other people love them too. You have to let a whole raft of people love your kids. It is only through the clear expression of this love in the everyday details of life that they will be safe.

The woman at the wedding was right: they need to be safe.

 

This essay first appeared in The Guardian.

Numb

by Anonymous

When I was numb in my marriage, the numbness extended to physical sensation as well as emotional feeling.  I didn’t fully understand this at the time.  I sought out someone other than my husband because I wanted a man to feel the opposite of numb about me, the opposite of apathetic.  I wanted a man to desire me; I wanted his desire to be so over the top as to be unmistakable.  I found that someone, and he introduced me to pain and bondage in sex.  Ropes, spankings, ball gags, nipple clamps.  And one time, a box cutter.  And it hurt, but I took it, and I loved it.  I felt alive and desired and beautiful and sexy. I felt like someone other than someone’s mother.  I went back for more, and more again.

Years later, after my divorce, I found another man who liked to play those same kinds of games.  I told him that I did too, and we made plans.  But this time, it hurt. It really hurt. And I made him stop.  He was confused, and so was I.  Something about this pain felt different.  I didn’t enjoy it at all.

I believe now that I was so numb during my affair–during my marriage–that I literally did not feel the pain as intensely.  I also believe that the transgressive nature of what I was doing, the affair itself, acted as a kind of analgesic to the pain.  The espionage of orchestrating our trysts, the creativity in our sex play and costumes, the mind games before, during, and after our times together.  Entire days spent in hotel rooms, stopping only once, to eat.  It’s such a cliché, but the rush of it all really was exhilarating.  Yummy, my therapist at the time said, after I described it to her. And it was, in fact, delicious, like something sweet and wonderful I could hold in my mouth, to savor, remember.

But it was, still, an affair.  I could also endure the pain because my mind welcomed it, as punishment for breaking my marriage vows, for daring to pursue more and different than what so many women would have gladly accepted as more than enough.  Surely satisfaction came at a price.

Once I was no longer married, once guilt had no currency with me and I had experienced both the depths and heights of desire, my pain threshold plummeted.  Or so it seemed. With the new man, I thought I wanted the pain again, but it felt all wrong. I cried sad, humiliated tears, not sensual ones. In the absence of any transgression warranting punishment, the slaps and the restraints felt disrespectful, not satisfying.  In divorcing, I had lost so much, including, apparently, the need for sexual extremes.  I had assumed S&M as an identity, my true sexual identity that I’d been forced to sublimate during my marriage.  But now I craved something else, something tender but still strong enough to never be mistaken for apathy.

Is one’s pain threshold a changeable thing? Even if it is, I can’t fathom how something like a divorce could change it.  Perhaps a better explanation for what happened is that I wasn’t completely numb at the end of my marriage and during the affair.  Though I was numb to pain, I was alive to pleasure.  But after my divorce, something shifted.  Not my pain threshold, but perhaps my sensitivity to pain came to outweigh the pleasure I derived from it.

Am I less alive to pleasure than I was back then, or was S&M just a passing phase?  The latter is more likely.  I had been plain vanilla sexually active for over 15 years before becoming curious about and then desirous of S&M in my thirties, my sexual peak years.  True, it had not been welcome in my marriage, but there was only a very small window of time, about 2 years, between my experiencing these desires and the end of my marriage.

At present, plain vanilla sex is still a turn-off, and I’m more desirous of what would be described as rough sex (hair pulling, pounding, pressure) than I am of S&M.  S&M wasn’t my true sexual identity, but it did rouse me from the sexual and emotional coma that my marriage had become.  Like pain itself, it served as a messenger to my brain, and the message was, “Wake up and live.”

Who Does This?

by Anonymous

Ever wake at 1:30 a.m. with a nagging feeling of loss, abandonment, an overall numbness?  I have. But my ex’s behavior in our divorce, though disappointing, isn’t what has left me feeling this way.

Our divorce, while not easy, made sense.  We were not getting along.  Why should children be in a house where love, compassion, understanding, and  support are not present? How can parents be good role models of a behavior for their kids if they themselves aren’t living it?

My ex and I knew for the sake of our children that we had to make the hard decisions so that in the long-term they would be better served.  I thought it was amicable. I thought we were truly looking out for each other’s best interest as well as our own. Isn’t that what you do after 20 years together and 14 years married?

Well, what I thought was wrong. But it was something else that completely blind-sided me…a betrayal that left me with an unnerving lack of clarification of who I am and what friendship means to me.

Here’s my story:

I relocated for Jake, my ex-husband, because he had a job here.  There was a plan. Move, get engaged, get married, have kids. Live.  I didn’t say “happily ever after,” because I am a realist.  As in nature, things ebb and flow. The sun sets and moon rises.  The waves come in and go back out.  The seasons create change.

My moving meant no one was here for me, except Jake. No family, and of course, no friends. So what does one do in this situation?  Your significant other’s friends and girlfriends and wives become your friends.  Then, as you raise a family, the people you meet at school and church become your friends.

That is the route I chose.  Now one caveat: I have lots of acquaintances, but not a lot of people I would call friends.

But in 2006, while pregnant with my second child, I made a friend.  My friend.  A woman I met while interviewing for a job, and then began working with after my son was born.  While I am very slow in opening up and cautious about trusting people, I did share with this person.  Not right away, but I did.  Let’s call her Candy.

Candy actually shared with me first. Her story. It had life’s messy moments and pain and two children, children she put first.  I, at some point, also opened up with my messy story.  A husband who really didn’t like me, who may have loved me, but disliked more about me than he liked.  A man who, when drunk, was verbally abusive.  Now, I’m not saying I was perfect.  I have my own issues. Not feeling good enough, suffering my own insecurities.

Candy and I shared, we laughed, we went out to shows and dinners and talked a few times a day. This continued even after I left that job for a new one.  It felt, in a way, we were closer then because there was more to share once we were not together every day.

Her marriage was getting worse, and so was mine.

Six years….

Six years of friendship.

When Jake and I split up, Candy helped me move into an apartment. I asked her to take a trip with me for my birthday to Curaçao. I paid for the hotel. I put all our charges on my card to figure out later.  That trip was filled with lots of flirting with men we met, getting our groove back, talking about life after spouses. (I was divorced and she had just filed.)

Well, what happened next ripped my heart out.  And it made me value my role as a friend.

Candy and I arrived back home from the trip. I remember I took my kids to get a Christmas tree, and five days later, Candy tells me, “Jake asked me out.”

“What??” I said.

Candy said again. “Jake asked me out, and I said ‘yes.’”

My head started spinning. I felt sick.  What? What could she mean.  My old Jake?

“He asked me out,” she continued. “We are going out Saturday. It’s not like you two will get back together. It’s not like you both haven’t dated. It’s not like I haven’t always been attracted to him.”

Again, my mind went blank. What does one say? I am numb.  I am sickened. I say “ok” and hang up the phone.  I am shaking.  What just happened? People always say they think they are dreaming in situations like this, and I thought I was dreaming.  The past year had been hell with a sick child and a divorce and financial stuff…but this? This is a soap opera. Not my life.  This does not happen to me!  Not that I am above it, but I am a loyal, trustworthy friend.  I have a person’s back.

After crying, being mad, and bad-mouthing the both of them to family and some friends, I calmed down.  I get better. A date.  What could a date really mean? So what.

Four months after that, here’s what: Just when I am doing ok, again a Mack truck hits me.  I learn that Jake and Candy have actually been together for 10 months.  A whole six months before our trip to Curaçao.  Six months!  I planned that trip with her. We planned activities. We shopped for clothes.

Who does this???

These are the questions I ask.  When did it actually start? Why did you go on trip with me? What did our friendship mean to you? How would you move on, if you were me?

Don’t you know there is a law, maybe an unwritten one, but you NEVER date a friend’s ex!

As I explored my pain and grief, what I journaled about besides missing the signs Jake and Candy may have given, was why was I not as hurt by Jake.  Why didn’t Jake’s betrayal paralyze me like Candy’s did?

After some reflection, what came to me was that I didn’t care.  I had moved on from Jake.  Given his past treatment of me, this was par for the course.  But somehow a friendship meant more to me than my own marriage breaking up. Good grief. How does this happen?

I truly believe that years of disappointment in my marriage, and the slow yet painful realization that we were not going to make it somehow muted the impact of Jake’s actions, but not Candy’s,

I had no warning, no indication, no processing, only a head on collision.

In the end, shame on her. Shame on her for wanting my past. Shame on her for coveting what I had. Shame on her for not thinking of the impact on her kids and mine.

How do I move on?

How do I find peace?

How do I trust women again?

 

The Final Anniversary

Two posts reflecting the aftermath of a divorce, by Jennifer Santos Madriaga

 

The Final  Anniversary

Thirteen years was marked by

the passing of just another day—

the only fanfare was created

by our son, the living keepsake

of our now finished union.

He toddled and played with

his wooden trucks and trains,

pushing them around while

voicing his own version of

sputtering sound effects.

And I was the audience

who oohed and aahed over

his haphazard caravan.

Now it is just our son and me.

And the little dog is the one who

forms the trio of the family tree.

We sat on the living room floor with

the door ajar, and the changing leaves

from the hickory out back supplied

the afternoon glimmer through the windows.

I waited for something to happen that day.

And nothing did.

Even our son made no mention

of you, and the dog napped by my feet

like there was nothing to note.

 

Waiting

“…she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming

like a relentless milkman up the stairs.”

-Adrienne Rich

And once morning settles in, and I’ve shaken off

the stupor of dreams that concern a former life

where I picked out shirts and ties for a man

I no longer love, I step out into the sun to walk the dog,

who knows which way to go despite the chronic

state of my own uncertainty about where to go next.

Life is different, but is it better?

I ask the clouds to give me a sign, and they shift

accordingly to the direction of the wind though

I’m not fluent in the hieroglyphics of the heavens.

What messages am I missing in those wisps

that curl like feathers or waft like a dragon’s exhaled breaths?

The dog pulls me along.  He says the only way is forward.

My God, it is that simple though I look behind my shoulder,

still wondering, still hoping for that miracle to erase my doubt.

~

Jennifer Santos Madriaga has completed several residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Byrdcliffe Arts Colony, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, including the international location at the Moulin á Nef studios in Auvillar, France. She recently received a 2010 Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists grant from the Durham Arts Council and NC Arts Council. Her work has appeared in Bamboo RidgeBellevue Literary Review, Crab Creek Review and others. Her website is www.jenmadriaga.com.

The Deep Fryer

This anonymous writer shares how during divorce transitions, the ordinary and the mundane can be triggers, often in unexpected ways.

The last Thanksgiving I spent married to my first husband, he fried the turkey. He researched deep fryers, visited several groceries at the last minute to get enough peanut oil.  For some reason, it had to be peanut oil; I think it had to do with smoke points…or something.  Anyway, he gathered all the information and ingredients, and we had fried turkey.  I don’t remember if I liked the turkey fried or anything else about Thanksgiving 2001, except that he fried the turkey in the backyard, and then he left the fryer there.

I was a lot like that fryer.  Untended. That’s how I felt at least.  My then-husband felt that his obligations to me ended after providing a very comfortable life and his commitment to being a good Christian husband and father.  In many ways, he was both, but for the entirety of our marriage, I’d had emotional and sexual needs that went unmet. For example, aren’t Christians allowed to be freaky in the bedroom? I’m pretty sure there’s a Scripture that says that… At any rate, I felt untended.  I was lonely and married, and I can think of few worse combinations.

After announcing that I wanted a divorce, followed by an announcement that I was willing to try counseling again, followed immediately by a bout of depression that left me unable to get off the couch except to tend to my kids’ most basic needs, followed by a gradually increasing dosage of Lexapro, followed by enough mental and emotional clarity to understand that I would die inside if I remained married…we separated in January 2002. He left the house…and he left that deep fryer in the backyard.

The year 2002 was quite the bullshit year.  My best friend was in a near-fatal car accident that February, I briefly dated a con artist sociopath in September, and in October, my father died after a long illness.  In November, I spent a week in Vegas with a guy three years my junior who was amazing in bed but not worth my time outside of bed.  And my brother attempted suicide in December.

In early 2003, I decided to take a break from dating…sort of.  During this hiatus, a friend came to visit over Memorial Day weekend and help me out with things in the house that needed to be fixed or thrown out. I asked him to properly dispose of the grease in the deep fryer in the backyard and then get rid of the deep fryer.  He did this efficiently as he did all the other jobs I asked him to do or help me do. But when he dealt with the whole deep fryer situation in a matter of minutes, then came back and asked, “What next?”, I burst into tears.

I had become complicit in the shame of leaving the deep fryer in the backyard. My ex had technically only left it there for 2 months.  I figured I had picked up where he left off and left it outside for a year and a half. I was pissed off at him for leaving the deep fryer and for leaving me alone, emotionally and physically, during the marriage, always promising to get around to us, but never doing it.  I was pissed at myself that I couldn’t get my shit together enough to do a simple thing like dispose of the goddamn oil, and clean and put the deep fryer away.

And I was pissed that I stayed and allowed myself to be taken for granted as long as I did.

So I cried and cried.  My friend was confused.  Between sobs, I told him about feeling untended for so long, and he nodded and held me.

Then I slept with him.  A beautiful man, originally from the the Dominican Republic. It was underwhelming.

Taking The Helm

by  Helen Yendall

“Not that one,” I said firmly, as the boatman pointed to a narrow boat at the end of the pontoon.

He scratched his beard and frowned. “You said you wanted a small one, lady. And that’s the smallest we’ve got.”

He reminded me of my dad: gruff, but with a kind twinkle in his eyes.

Freddie, my youngest, who was all kitted out in his pirate outfit, pulled up his eye patch. “But I like that boat, Mom. It’s red!”

Sophie pulled a face. “We are still going, though, aren’t we, Mom? You promised..”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “It’s just  – “

I’d spotted the boat’s name, painted in bright blue letters on its side, as we’d walked through to the boatyard from the car park. It had jumped out at me, bringing on that now familiar twist in my heart and threatening to ruin the day.

The boat was called ‘Sally-Ann’. What were the chances of that? It was the name of the woman Mike had had an affair with; the woman he’d left us for. The reason for my divorce.

I forced a smile. “Do you have another one for hire? If it’s not too much bigger, I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

I wasn’t sure at all but I couldn’t let the children down. Not now. The boatman nodded and we followed him along the towpath.

“Mom, is this our summer holiday?”Sophie asked.

“Not exactly,” I said. “It’s more of – an adventure!”

“Yeeees!” Freddie raced ahead, waving his foam cutlass and making me wince as he veered close to the edge of the water. I wanted to tell him to be careful but managed to resist. After all, wasn’t this what today was all about: having fun? I didn’t want to spoil it.

We stopped next to a barge that, the boatman confirmed, was only a foot longer than the first. It still looked the size of a blue whale to me but I nodded quickly, before I lost my nerve.

Mike, my ex, had always been the one in control, the one to make all the decisions. Some people – like my dad – thought he’d been too controlling.

If we went anywhere, Mike drove. On the odd occasion that we had a barbecue, Mike had been in charge of lighting it. Mike would have steered this boat, no question.

But Mike wasn’t here anymore. And if I didn’t do it, no-one else would.

“I’ve never been at the helm of a boat before,” I admitted, as we were kitted out with life jackets.

The boatman winked. “You’ll be fine. You’ll only be doing three miles an hour.”

I nodded. “Well, I can drive a car and I used to drive my dad’s old tractor as a teenager. How hard can it be?”

He smiled. “That’s the spirit!”

I’d spotted the signpost for the marina on our way to visit Dad on the farm the previous month. The kids had been through a lot recently and a day trip on a barge would, I reckoned, be fun.

Freddie’s latest obsession was pirates and the sea and as we lived nowhere near the coast, a canal and a diesel-powered barge was the closest we could get.

The boatman patiently demonstrated the throttle for going forward and the tiller for steering.

“Push it the opposite way to the one you expect. To the right, to go left and to the left, to go right.”

I nodded. I’d learned to expect the unexpected recently. After all, Mike’s decision to leave had come as a bolt from the blue.

Oh, I’d known we weren’t particularly happy. There were constant rows and tears but we were muddling through. Wasn’t that what most people did? But then Mike announced he’d met someone else – ‘Sally-Ann’  – and that he was leaving.

The boatman started the engine and amidst whoops of delight from the kids,  he steered us out of the marina and under a narrow stone bridge.

As we emerged into a sudden burst of sunshine, he hopped off, onto the towpath.

“There you go then,” he said, without looking back.

We were on our own.

“There aren’t any locks, are there?” I yelled but he’d gone. The narrow boat wobbled as I grabbed the tiller and a few yards later, we’d bumped into the grassy bank and stopped.

“You’re not supposed to go into the side, Mom,” Freddie called from the front.

Sophie tutted. “I knew we should’ve brought Grandad.”

I shifted the gear lever into reverse and we gently moved backwards, away from the bank. Then I straightened the boat up. “There,” I said, feeling suddenly more confident. “Full steam ahead!”

Even Sophie stopped frowning as we glided through the water and a family of moorhens and then some ducklings, bobbed past.

It was unexpectedly beautiful. There were rolling green fields on both sides of the canal and the sky was a cloudless blue.

It was so quiet. So peaceful.

I breathed out and felt my shoulders drop.

We chugged along for another half hour, only passing one other boat. The couple on board waved back at us until they were just a dot in the distance.

“They were nice,” Freddie said and I nodded. People, on the whole, were nice, I reflected. People had been so kind, since I’d told them the news about Mike.

As we rounded a bend, I spotted a pub at the water’s edge and a man standing on the bridge.

“Hey!” Freddie called. “It’s Grandad!”

My dad came down onto the bank to meet us. “Here, Sweetheart, throw me the rope,” he called and then he looped it over a metal hoop.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked.

He looked sheepish. “Well, you said you were picking the boat up at ten, so I thought I’d come and meet you.”

“And see how I’m coping?” I said, laughing.

He lifted the kids off and then held his hand out for me. We’d never been a family that hugged and kissed but he squeezed my hand as I stepped onto the bank.

“She did OK,“ Sophie said. “You were good, Mom.”

I ruffled my daughter’s hair. “Well, don’t speak too soon. We’ve still got to get back to the marina!”

Dad looked at me. “You looked firmly in control to me, Lou.”

We turned towards the pub.

“Kids, do you want your usual lemonade and crisps?” I asked. “And a small beer for you, Dad?”

“We didn’t like the first boat but this one was better,” Freddie was saying.

Dad frowned. “What was wrong with the first one?”

I shook my head. “I didn’t like the name.”

“And have you seen the name of this one?” he asked. In all the rushing around at the marina, sorting out a new boat and life jackets, I hadn’t noticed.“It’s ‘Lucky Lady’,” he said. Then he lowered his voice. “You can steer your own boat from now on, Lou.”  I nodded. He was right. Being divorced, with two kids wasn’t going to be an easy ride, but I could do it.

I put my arms around my children. I hadn’t seen them smiling like this for a while. The sun was shining, the water was sparkling and I was with the people I loved.

I am a ‘lucky lady’, I thought. A very lucky lady indeed.

~

Helen shares, “Although the story is fictional, I think I understand something of my heroine’s predicament. I got divorced in 1997, after a (long!) relationship that went wrong within a few weeks of the wedding. Building up my confidence again and realising that, actually, I was more capable than I imagined, was all part of the recovery process.

“Now I live in the English countryside with my new partner and a cocker spaniel puppy and life is good – and busy. I teach Creative Writing, I work for a children’s charity.

Due Us Part

by Kathryn Madrid Hipke

Recently someone DARED to criticize me for being an incurable romantic, in that I’ve been married more than once…okay, 3 times. (So far). This person threw it up to me as if it were a character flaw.  “You are an immediate gratification person,” this person accused, pointing her shriveled and unadorned ring finger, spilling her gin drink onto her Saharan crotch.

Actually, I am an immediate gratification person. I’ve said it many times and if she hadn’t heard it from me in the first place, she’d be calling me something she could come up with on her own, without my help, like ‘a-hole’ or ‘sloucher’.

These would not begin to illustrate how I happen to be so prone to wedlock, though, and that does seem to be her main complaint with me these days.

Truthfully, immediate gratification has little to do with my multiple spousings. It does have to do with almost everything else about me though, including why I’m writing this.

Needless to say, she’ll never be MY MAID OF HONOR again.

Still, I think I should say a few words on marriage since I am:

a) Really good at it

b) Periodically having to defend myself against the criticism of narrow-minded puritans.

c) A recently ordained minister, so that I can marry myself from now on, as well as my friends, and strangers, even dead ones…like the Mormons… for the most immediate gratification of all.

When I was a kid, eleven, actually, my family moved from Los Angeles, California to a very small town in Northern Idaho. Needless to say, this was a profound change for all of us, but everyone was very happy. We were a happy family.  My mother was a 3rd generation Californian. My father was born and raised in LA, an only child of immigrant hillbillies, both of whom moved to Idaho with us.  My grandparents were not immigrants in the classic sense…more of the Organisms Found in a New Habitat sense.  From the hills of the Appalachians to Los Angeles, really, during the Depression.  My grandmother, in particular, spoke in a dialect so peppered with weirdness, that it was years before she was understood by “normal folk”…but at least she knew how to order a beer! The UNIVERSAL language of drink.

My grandparents’ families were generations of hillbillies, and before that, like most hillbillies…Scotland

My grandfather was ecstatic to be retired and living in paradise.

He loved fishing and the outdoors, so Northern Idaho with its abundance of lakes and rivers was a dream come true.  Sadly for him and his dreams, he was married to an out of control drunk 3 times his size and she preferred the indoor environment.

Goldie, six feet of solid angles and sinewy muscle, enjoyed Darvon(tm) and huffing cooking spray as an appetizer to her violent drinking sprees.

She made pies and crocheted garish slippers on her days off.

Though they both smelled funny, my grandparents’ relationship seemed normal enough to a 12-year-old me.

Every year, they had their picture taken together.  They had cheap dentures and smiled like clever dogs.  In those old photos her eyes look too shiny; his, wary.

My grandfather spent his days of glorious retirement pushing my “fragile” grandmother in a wheelchair all over Coeur d’Alene, looking for a doctor who would prescribe her something that went well with wine or cleaning solvents.  He spent his nights peeling her crazed dancing naked bulk off of bar tables or patrons.  She went from shawled and feeble to naked and whirling right around sundown. She had an aluminum walker that she wielded like a weapon.

She baked an award-winning pie crust.

I think he had actually been fishing twice when, barely a year into living in Idaho, my grandfather was diagnosed as having ‘End Stage Heart Failure.’  He was 72.

My grandmother was doing her annual rehab, so my grandpa lived with us for his remaining few weeks, too weak to fish, though you could see the lake from almost any window in the house.

My brother and I fished constantly, though I have always hated fishing. We brought Grandpa strings of trout and blue gill, perch and …whatever.

He was a man with an odd sense of humor. He enjoyed scaring us with horrible stories and dark gestures. “I’ve got your thumb,” he’d say, holding some bloody looking thing in his palm.  It seemed likely that he had somebody’s thumb, even now.

“We’re going to die!” he’d scream, driving us over the train tracks barely in time.

During those final days, he sat in a recliner, too weak and tired to threaten or scare anyone in the traditional way.  He still took out his teeth and threw them at us, but it was half-hearted.

We knew he was dying.

I overheard him tell my mother one day, “I don’t have many regrets, but I wish I would have left that crazy woman years ago…”

I was 12.  For whatever reason that made a big impression on me.  Not the idea that being saddled with a crazy hillbilly alcoholic could cut your enjoyment in life down to a few sad days, which you’d relive to a pathetic degree in the end; not that marrying the wrong person could ultimately translate into being your biggest last regret.  I pared it down to the horrible reality of Marriage, in general, and, specifically, the literal context of Until Death Do You Part.

Day after day, into year after year of watching the same person turn into a ham-scented human doilie who didn’t share your interests but made sure you endured theirs.

One’s life being molded into what someone else has chosen.

He died and Goldie barely noticed.

I love the beginning of any relationship.  The passion, the interest, the fun.  I do not care for the creamy comfortable center, and the aftertaste of bitter hostility I cannot stand.  The Ron and Lisa syndrome as I’ve come to call it: You are in a grocery store and you see a couple: He is androgynous: white, skinny, or fat legs peaking out beneath ironed chino shorts. A shirt clearly purchased with emasculation in mind. She is almost always overweight and irritated. She wears a sweatshirt with a Disney character on it, perhaps. Or something from The Gap that’s just not right, would look better on a toddler.

One of them puts something into the shopping basket and you hear,

“YOU don’t need those!”

…and the reply, in equally nasty tones, “I want them!”

“Put them back.”

And a power struggle ensues over a bag of Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips or some Fudgesicles.  They make a mini-scene over a snack food.  They hate each other, but it won’t occur to either of them to divorce until one of them inevitably ends up being caught furtively humping the neighbor or co-worker.  If ever. Maybe one of them will be lucky to enjoy a few years after the other unhappy limb dies ahead of him/her.

At least my grandparents had whiskey and barbiturates, the dream of fishing… At least they were interesting.

My first marriage was to an abusive alcoholic. It lasted less than a year, really.

My second marriage was to a man I still count, fifteen years later, as one of my best friends.  We got to the point where we were barely civil to one another and I moved out.  Divorced, we spend quality time together and are kind to one another.

My last marriage was to a man who was only home for half the year.  We were more like good roommates.  I enjoyed missing him.  When he quit his traveling job, we divorced.  I didn’t recycle faithfully enough, and he hated all my animals.

This was a year ago.

I’m single now and I doubt I will marry again. Each time I’m alone I value my space more. I see fewer benefits to trying to adapt or make someone else adapt to the luxury of personal eccentricities.  But, who knows? Maybe.

I marry for love.

I divorce for what’s left.

Katy lives on a small farm in Wilder, Idaho with her soul mate “Pat,” an aging border collie who doesn’t care what she does with the number 7 plastics.

All The Lift I Needed

by Sally Jenkins

I pressed the lift button labelled ‘GF’ and dropped my fixed smile. That awful 50th birthday presentation had totally exhausted my cheeriness.

“This will get you a man, Julie,” young Susie had said, handing me the gift-wrapped parcel in front of all our colleagues. “Even Adam might succumb!”

Everyone had roared with laughter at this remark, including Adam. I wanted to die with embarrassment. Were my feelings for him so obvious and so amusing? Being only three months into this new job I couldn’t tell whether people were laughing with me or at me. It also didn’t help that I hadn’t yet started dating again since my divorce – but I had got around to fancying people.

Things got even worse when I tore open the present and showed my naivety about the contents. Susie had then gleefully demonstrated how they should be used.

“I’m not taking my top off to show you properly,” she’d said. “But I never go out without some extra padding and support up top.”

Another roar of laughter had filled the room.

Now a black leather shoe appeared between the closing lift doors, forcing them to slide open again. The foot turned into Adam.

I couldn’t look at him after that terrible birthday scene. Thankfully, he was busy texting on his mobile phone.

Adam and I were about the same age. He reminded me of a mature film star, with his craggy, lived-in face, muscular build and a healthy tan.  I knew that he was divorced like me.

A sudden thud threw us both off balance. I clutched at the metal rail running around the wall.

“We’ve stopped.” Adam stated the obvious.

“It’ll only be for a second.” I crossed my fingers.

The seconds turned into a minute. The minute turned into five.

“Where’s the emergency button?” Adam moved over to the control panel next to me.

His closeness made me tingle. It was a feeling I wasn’t used to and I had to step away. Adam prodded a red button illustrated with a telephone. Nothing happened.

“We’ll just have to sit it out.” He lowered himself to the floor and closed his eyes.

I was relieved he wanted to doze. What’s the protocol for a middle-aged woman who’s been out of the dating scene for years but now finds herself trapped in a lift with a man she fancies?

Then he opened his eyes and smiled.

“It’s getting warm,” he said.

He was right. I was hot and thirsty.

“You don’t look too good.” Adam sounded concerned. “I saw you put a bottle of water in your bag earlier. I’ll get it for you.”

The bag was between us on the floor, nearer to Adam.

“No! Let me!” I snatched the bag, scared that wretched present would fall out. I’d stuffed it away as soon as possible but it hardly fitted in the bag with everything else I carried around.

As I reached inside, the torn gift-wrapping spewed out anyway, discarding its contents.

Adam started to retrieve the bits and pieces. His fingers caressed the ‘oval bust boosters’, which resembled chicken rather than human breasts. He stared at the roll of tape and lingered over the fully illustrated instruction leaflet entitled “Boob Enhancement Kit.”

I tried to make myself invisible.

“Do women really tape themselves up with all this extra padding?” he asked.

I shrugged knowing this was the end of any chance I had with Adam.

“You don’t need enhancing – you look great as you are.” He got full marks for politeness.

“Thanks,” I managed.

“On my 50th last year, they bought me a potion to ‘enlarge my manhood’.” He used his hands as inverted commas around the phrase. “All I could do was laugh – Susie means none of it personally.”

I smiled as I imagined how well Adam would’ve reacted to his presentation. Taking a swig of water, I wondered if I’d blown this afternoon and the terrible present out of proportion. I had to admit that Susie had looked hilarious as she held the bra inserts over her blouse and paraded around the office earlier that afternoon.

Perhaps it hadn’t been personal at all. Maybe the divorce had sapped more of my confidence than I’d thought.

“Me and you should think up something really gruesome for Susie’s 30th next month. Do you fancy…” Adam stopped mid-sentence as we felt another thud.

The lift was moving again. In a moment the doors would open and whatever Adam was about to say would be lost forever.

But wasn’t 50 the new 40? Didn’t that mean I got another chance at life beginning? I needed to grab some confidence before it ran away again.

“Do I fancy what?” I asked and banged my hand against the button labelled ‘Emergency Stop’ – we needed to finish our conversation.

Adam grinned and winked at me as the lift thudded to a halt again.

Sally shares: “This story was inspired by my male co-workers reaction to finding a Boob Enhancement Kit in a shopping catalogue they were leafing through. They found it hilarious and I realised that giving the Kit publicly as a gift could make a highly embarrassing situation.”