This post is in dedication to my sister, who has been a saint over the last year. I owe her more than I could ever repay.
365. That’s the number we’ll be studying today, readers (my loyal friend-readers via FB and my very few-remaining/equally loyal readers who may arrive via email or various feeds if my blog is even still on them.) I’ve continued to write, btw. But I’ve done it directly onto my top-secret FB wall, to a “customized” audience. As usual, first (more like first and a half) draft. Thus, forgive typos and go with the general vibe where unclear. Back to the topic at hand.
365. In The Bible, Enoch lived to be 365 and entered Heaven living. In Gnostic texts, 365 signifies the levels of Heaven (which begs the question: How far up did Enoch go? And, because he was still a living human and, thus, wingless, how tired was he when he got there?). In days the number marks a year. In degrees it marks a circle. But you knew that.
So it is that year has passed between significant events in this writer’s life.
The first related significant events: My Transvaginal Mesh removal surgery, late September 2013 … and my vaginal/urethra/rectal reconstruction/scar-tissue removal/hopefully-alleviate-pudental-nerve-pain surgery about 10 days ago. I’ll get into a bit more detail about this later.
The second, related in a different way, event: The surprise/abrupt departure of my husband of 22 years/3 months. A surprise to me, anyway. A surprise that came, unfortunately, four days after I was released from UCLA Med Center with a filleted vagina/rectum/urethra, upon our return home to Northern Cal. It happened while I was on a walk, actually. Catheter in hand, I’d gimped about three houses down, trying to get my bowels to move … when I saw our mini-van pull out of the driveway. He’s looking for me, I thought. Turned out he wasn’t. Turned out he’d been fine-tuning the departure while I was under the knife. Turned out, well, a lot of things. Some I knew in my gut … but had dismissed. Some that had left me scratching my head/questioning my memory/sanity/intuition. Some, about which I had no clue. Some about me. Some about him. Either way, more than I’m going to write about. I’m going to write plenty. Just not about that.
We’d had a tough decade. All outside stuff, or I thought so, anyway. Stuff he went through, which I won’t write about. Stuff I went through, which I’ll summarize: Intense grief about a loss regarding my first child/deception by the agency that handled the open adoption. Some unskillful decisions I made in handling that grief. My sister and I first seeing our mother through lung cancer, then, after a brief reprieve, losing her to a fate worse than death. Our father’s subsequent cancers, deterioration, his own heartbreaking grief, and his anger. A history of familial dysfunction resurfacing upon my sister and I becoming their primary caregivers. My sister’s stress-induced meltdown converging with difficulties my youngest daughter was having/acting out and my skillful and unskillful — really good and really shitty — ways of addressing that. And then my broken vagina and, eventual entry into Intensive Outpatient Treatment for a stress/grief-overload meltdown not unlike my sister’s. (At which point I started this blog).
On the vagina front: We talk about the shame impotence creates in men. But the vagina doesn’t get its due respect. I knew, since 2008, that something was very wrong in the hoo-ha department. Surgeon dismissed it. His local colleague dismissed it. Long story short, by 2013, mesh had torn through me like barbed wire. First making sexual intercourse painful, then excruciating, then impossible. Is that ultimately why he left? Was it a matter of unsown oats earlier in life? Was it his wife’s bouts of agoraphobia or her gradually getting better? Was it her bouts of depression or his? I’ll never know. I know only that I bought a new bedspread and redecorated our bedroom, making a sacred space for our new life with my fixed vagina and an empty nest. A bedspread he would never sleep under. I loved him and have this peculiar (apparently) quirk wherein once I love, really love, it doesn’t go away. It changes over time but those I’ve truly loved, I still hold love for. Always will. Just the way I was made.
The week my husband left (a bit over a year ago), I wrote a poem and a post. The poem was called Monday. The post was called “My Writing Teacher’s Question.” Here they are, to refresh our memories:
It was a Monday, the last time I saw my wedding ring.
Monday, named for the moon.
The moon, I can see her now piercing the night sky, a luminous circle. How many years did I share her cycle? How I miss our kinship.
It was a Monday, when the anesthesiologist said, “I’ll need you to take off that ring,” just before he injected Ativan and Dilaudid into my I.V.
A Monday. To Christians and Jews, the second day of the week. The day, millennia ago, God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters …” God called that vault “sky.” And there was evening and there was morning …
It was a Monday when, before the doctor wheeled me to the O.R., I wrestled my wedding ring from my finger, handed it to my husband, said “Put this in a safe place. Your pocket maybe.”
My husband who had, in that tender and terrible hour, “let there be a vault” between us – one whose construction I hadn’t seen. One not near as lovely and purposeful as “sky,” with its circle of moon.
Since then, there has been evening and there has been morning, 21 of each. I, on my side of the vault, flow. He, on his side, ebbs.
And now it is Monday again. The third one since I last saw my wedding ring. The third one since a surgeon cut into the part of me that once channeled the moon’s pull, held the tides in me that rose and fell. The third Monday since the good doctor quilted together what was left of my husband’s long-time fitted home. My children’s gateway. My magic center.
A single slice above my pubic bone – a red, sutured line – is what Monday offers now. The circle of my wedding ring, the circle of my womb, the circle of my marriage … waned, all of them.
Only the moon, that dear lady, holds promise of return.
“Terri, these poems are beautiful and sad. Consider this just a literary question—what if the vault he created is as beautiful as the sky—how does the poem continue?” (My writing teacher/mentor asks. )
As my body does what it needs to do … goes about healing from a surgery that was much more than physical … as my heart attempts to begin a similar process, my teacher’s question shines in the murky distance, illuminated by something I can’t yet discern … somewhere far ahead of where I now stand.
It’s been a year, roughly, since my writing teacher’s question. Time to approach it … even if not yet in poetry form.
“…what if the vault he created is as beautiful as the sky—how does the poem continue?”
Two weeks after he left, sooner maybe, I got into our beater car (he took the newer one) and drove to the grocery store. Both had become things I did only when there was a crisis that prevented him from doing it. For some reason, when he’d go through something, I felt my power … and then, when he was better, it would wane again. So it was, with deep breaths, singing a John Denver song, I drove to the store … and it was a breeze. The drive. The shopping. All of it. Beautiful.
Soon after, I drove to church. When I first did this, I’d call my friend and check in “just in case I have an epic panic attack on the way.” I had a panic attack only once. Took a Xanax. Got myself where I needed to go. I love the drive to church. It’s in the country, what’s left of it around here. It stands on a hill above a pond, with a strawberry farm across the road. I’ve been a member since 1991, when I married my soon-to-be-ex-husband there. When I see the older sanctuary, where we wed, where my mother, who can no longer cry, wept with her big green eyes, my heart jumps to my throat. I tell myself, one day, it won’t. One day, the Divine love within me will reach up and bring my heart back to its rightful place. It is a peaceful place to me, still, the church prproperty. I went there when my mom was in a coma and the nurse said she wouldn’t make it through the night. I went there, many times over years, to trace the names of people I loved who died and had their ashes sprinkled by the pond. I went there to have CC baptized and helped lead youth group one year. And then, for a short while, I didn’t.
I went back even though I could no longer believe in The Bible as a literal text. When I could no longer pray. When I no longer believed in a God who stood by while the kind suffer and the cruel prosper. I went there when I figured the world was just a series of cosmic accidents. I went when I no longer understood what “God” was or what to call “God.” I went until I not only became okay with uncertainty, but rested in it. An
d now I drive there again. Regularly. And people there lov
e me and don’t subscribe to what I call “First World Spirituality” that says people with Ebola somehow manifested it into their lives. Are mere victims of their own deficient spiritual life. There where the pastor invites folks who aren’t sure what to believe up for communion and homeless folks sleep on roll-out beds on the sanctuary floor when it’s cold or too hot. And it’s okay to be broken because, in our brokenness, we are perfectly human. And I can drive there. Sit by the pond as long as I want. Imagine my own ashes there one day … where I’d intended them to be poured with my husband’s but, now, will be satisfied to have my ashes rub up against the ashes of some very good people — the real deal — whom I have had the privilege of knowing. That’s beautiful.
And check this out! After having been laid out for six weeks in April and May (Pudental Nerve), I was longing for some semblance of the summers I’d known for two decades. I still don’t drive the freeway far. The frenzy overwhelms me but I’m workin’ on it. But, by gaw, there’s an Amtrak Station walking distance from my house and tickets cost about the same as gas. So, this gal who hasn’t traveled alone since the mid 80s thrust a few clothes and toiletries into a backpack and headed west with a bus schedule and directions to the Buddhist Retreat Center, where I got my Sangha on and spent the night at some random lady’s house who had ties to the center.
Next day, I took the bus all the way out to the coastal visitor’s center, with reservations for a bunk at the hostel and no idea how I’d get there — as there were six more miles between the visitor’s center and the hostel and my pudental nerve was throbbing. So, I hung out in the parking lot, sized people up, and asked whomever looked the most friendly if they were heading to the beach. Turned out a nice couple from Santa Fe was. We chatted about the kind of things gypsies chat about, hugged, and left each other’s company the better for our brief meeting. Next morning, solo hike to the beach (with the kind of nerve damage I have, I can walk most of the time … it’ sitting and standing that hurt like a mofo). Then another hitched ride to town for groceries with a female musician who’d just finished a “Tiny Desk Concert” a la NPR (who also performed an impromptu concert at the hostel). Beautiful.
Even more beautiful: The day I chose to do this coastal trek would have been our 23rd wedding anniversary. I’d been scared of the memories this particular beloved stretch of coast would hold. That was “our” place. I couldn’t imagine it without him, without our family unit. And that’s when I knew I wasn’t going to give up one more thing to this divorce. I was going to claim that slice of beach. The whole damn vicinity. To this end, the hostelkeeper helped out. Upon hearing why I was there, she hugged me and said, “This is your place now.”
I went back again before heading down for my latest surgery. This time, I wound up in a bunkhouse with four other women whose husbands left when they were 50. We talked into the night like teenagers. And between those two treks, I figured I had memories to face in the Sierra, too. So I took the train to Truckee and hitched a ride to a nearby hostel and headed solo down a leg of The Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl Strayed’s got nothin’ on this 51-year-old. I figure a broken vagina and severe nerve damage at five or six miles in a day ranks up there with 12 miles a day as a spry, healthy twenty-something. I think she and I would have a few things to talk about. Losing our mothers in a horrific way … and what that does to even a “grownup” woman. It drove her to marriage-ruining affairs. It, without all the other “icings” on the grief cake, drove my sister and I to dual clinical depressions… which, I’m certain, affected my marriage. But, not unlike Strayed, I grew up friends with nature. Since I was 18 and went to Squaw Valley on the fly, since before that, I’ve always longed — pined — for solo treks into it. Again, like Strayed, I feel “less alone out there than I do in my ‘real’ life.” Sometimes, anyway. And, in traveling light and via public transport, I meet people and hear about their lives. “What you’re doing out there is gathering stories,” my wise friend, Pat, tells me. She’s right. Again, beautiful.
It’s late and my catheter is starting to pinch. (Also, my pyrotechnics-infatuated neighbor and his buddies are entirely too close to my bedroom window, doing something that sounds like a combination of drunkeness and breakage.)
I’ll leave you, reader, with this: When I was in L.A. last week, awaiting surgery, I had to fast for three days. Yes, fasting and double-dosing laxatives among the bistros and beautiful people. There’s a huge difference between NorCal and SoCal … and I am the antithesis of a SoCal gal.
By the night before mesh-related surgeries, I’m so past hungry and so emptied-out-exhausted that I enter some altered state of consciousness. One that allows me to roam around Westwood (the town in which UCLA sits) with my cell camera and find interesting things to photograph, which is to say … view the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Turns out, it was a good night for roaming. Not only a full-moon night … but an extremely-bright full-moon night. Not only a bright-full-moon-night … but a blood-moon night with an eclipse scheduled for some inhumane hour. A big, redish, celestial metaphor — the morning of vaginal reconstruction surgery – ripe for the interpreting.
I stood for a long time that night … looking at the pre-eclipsed moon. A bright, beaming moon. I could see the face in it. It looked like the painted man-in-the-moon face from retro-Halloween pictures. But I prefer to endow the moon with all of the feminine qualities that she exhibits. So does most Folklore. Moon goddesses are a dime a dozen, with the full moon mostly reserved for goddesses of the fertility/pregnancy ilk and the waning moon attributed to various crone deities.
There is no moon goddess of the 50-ish, newly-divorced, broken-vagina’d, solo-backpacker-with-pudental-nerve-damage variety. So, maybe I’ll be her. My special power? Coming to terms with the darkness at my back. It’s just shadow, after all. And I’ve learned, having spent 365-plus nights by myself, having taken to walking at night in the Sacramento summer, having trekked some miles from the beach back to the hostel as darkness set in, and having studied photography for decades … darkness and light are just qualities that cast upon a thing. They aren’t the thing itself. The whole moon exists even when we see none of it. The closet it still full of clothes on hangers when your bedroom is dark. The trail is still there even when it’s hard to see.
I am still me though I’m no longer a wife. You are still you when your particularly frightful shadow seems to blot you out.
It’s hard to remember this, I know. Still, there it is. And, yes, there is sadness. Sometimes so dense, with such a pull it seems we will implode. But we don’t. Or maybe we do and, because everything is transient, it doesn’t last. It’s a phase. A planet crossing the path between you and your particular sun.
And sometimes, a day at a time, it’s just a choice. Which story do we want to invest in? The one where love dies and we become separate … or the one where love transcends in myriad creative ways … and, on this tiny orb, we are relatively all shoulder-to-shoulder with each other?
It’s been one mother-effer of a year (I say “effer” because people from my church may be reading this, some who actually don’t use the F word). I came very close, at one point, to taking myself out of it (the year/the earth) and still the despair can overwhelm. For the world felt too unkind. Something I didn’t want to be part of. A place where my broken vagina has been rendered burdensome by the one I, for so long, shared it with.
But … or And … here I am today. Here you are, too, reading this after or amidst whatever has laid itself over us and, for now, has passed along its way. We’re doing the best we can with what we have … with what we know. Let’s assure each other that’s enough for a day. Let us assure each other that you are still you, I am still me, the moon is still whole, and love remains … even when we can’t see it.
Oh, and Enoch? The biblical character who lived to be 365 years old before he traveled, alive, into heaven? He was Methuselah’s dad. The week before my surgery, my best friend and I trekked up to see him. Methuselah. Not the man but the Bristlecone Pine Tree named after him. A tree that’s almost 5,000 years old and, like Enoch, is still living. So doing, the pine tree, by adapting to the roughest of terrains and climates. I relate to Methuselah the Bristlecone Pine. Gnarled, by all ordinary standards, malformed, barren. But strangely, exquisitely even, beautiful.
p.s. – 3.65 is roughly the price of the post-surgery/fast-breaking chocolate milkshake my sister brought me. Gorgeous!
Please, if you leave a comment, do not judge husband. In his heart, there is goodness … and we all know I can be intense to live with. My intention here is to address the larger scope of the year.