Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:

Hall of Infamy

Like a recovering alcoholic making amends, I'd like to be cool with everyone in my life. No animosity, anger or flashes of rage at the thought of someone who once starred, or even guest-starred in just a few episodes, in the HBO series that is my life.

It's a nice notion, isn't it? Equanimity at the thought of anyone and everyone you've ever interacted with. Positive resolution for every not-so-great encounter or soured relationship you've experienced. Think how much mental energy that would free up! All the fucked up thoughts and feelings and rage and anger and regret and sadness and despair and martyrdom I impose on myself as a result of interactions and relationships that went bad somehow... GONE. Hell, half the people taking up real estate in that swampy acreage of my brain don't even know it, they're just out there trying to live their own lives, completely unaware I'm expending valuable mental energy on them.

There's this fucked up hall of fame up in my head where I've thumb-tacked 8X10 glossies of Those Who Have Wronged Monica. Here we have my dad, there we have a failed friendship from childhood that languished into adulthood when it probably should've ended in junior high. Oh look! Another "friend" from high school who began messaging my ex during our divorce. This guy over here is the ex-boyfriend from college who is a dick to me 20 years later; I obviously occupy valuable real estate in his Hall of Infamy. There's the guy who convinced me to fall in love with him then bounced in the unkindest of ways. There's the alleged "lifer" friend who wasn't around when I needed him most. That pretty girl over there is a potential friend who ended up being more interested in my ex-husband than me. There's that one guy at work, the secret sabotager...

I wonder what the size of my Hall of Infamy says about me or do we all have a sizable one just by the very nature of living life and having families and friends and relationships?

Regardless of size, we all have a Hall of Infamy. Even if you aren't one to hold a grudge, there are people who, when they occur to you, inspire a prickling of unwelcome emotions including but certainly not limited to anger, sadness, confusion. You feel like shit when you think about them not only because they hurt you in some way, but you're mad at yourself for not being able to move on. Sometimes you have a bad vibe with someone and may not even know why anymore. Most of the time, though, you know exactly why and your righteous indignation at feeling wronged has them locked in a position of honor in your Hall of Infamy.

Relationships are a perplexing tangle of beautiful Christmas lights: knots everywhere, but take the time and care to untangle them and plug them in and many lights will shine brightly, others are slowly dimming and several have gone dark. Yet the overall effect is still pleasing... Until more and more lights stop working. Can you replace the lights? Or is it time to toss the whole strand because too many have died?

Sometimes you pile on years without a member of your Hall of Infamy popping up and tangling your mind. Something inevitably happens, though, and you find yourself pacing contemplatively in front of their photo. Maybe you have a dream about them, perhaps a mutual acquaintance mentions them offhandedly or you inadvertently see them on social media and end up worm-holing their page for an hour and you come away unsettled, unsure how to feel.

I used to dwell on interactions I have with people a lot more than I do now. Shit, who am I kidding? In my quest to understand my relationships with people I analyze and obsess until my exhausted brain can't land on any kind of insightful perspective and begins haphazardly sifting thoughts like some kind of plastic beach toy draining sand through tiny holes. I'm infinitely better at recognizing my propensity for stewing but I still have to work hard to let it all go. Stewing only hurts me, of course. I know that but intellectual awareness can't heal a bruised heart. It's easier to let go when a person is someone from the past you have no cause to see; current and local Hall of Infamy-ers are another thing, entirely. I vacillate on the best way to deal: Pretend to myself that they don't exist and I don't care even though I know I do or confront them in a productive manner? Hey! That thing you did! It is still bumming me out and I'm having trouble moving past it. Can we talk about it? Can you explain your perspective of that situation? Direct confrontation with a positive outcome in mind is usually the fastest way to dissipate bad feelings and remove a photo from your Hall of Infamy, but not always. Sometimes you realize the other person just doesn't care to hear about how you feel or they're so lost in their perspective they can't find yours. You have to allow time to work its magic. People change, perspectives change and mutual understanding occurs. Or it doesn't but what went down doesn't seem as important anymore and the situation somehow gets resolved.

Lately I've been strolling through my Hall of Infamy, scrutinizing members, recalling situations and events that landed them there and revisiting my feelings for each person to see if time has afforded me a new perspective. The goal is to close up shop; no more Hall of Infamy. Who needs a Hall of Infamy taking up mental real estate? I wonder if it's even a possibility to get to a point where you've resolved all your relationships and interactions from the past? Where no one inspires a negative reaction within you?
Some people you can easily make amends with. You come together and realize you don't even remember exactly what went down and why bad feelings exist. With others you know exactly why they're in your Hall of Infamy but time has done it's thing and you can come together and explain your perspectives, apologize if needs be, laugh and move on. Other situations are much trickier, though. With some people the notion of ever reaching any kind of satisfying place feels impossible. You contemplate their photo, assess your emotions and realize you aren't ready...

As the year draws to a close and I analyze the people in my Hall of Infamy I realize I'm not ready in a lot of cases and I wonder if I'm not trying hard enough to move on; I wonder if I enjoy the martyrdom of feeling wronged; I wonder if some relationships just aren't worth it or if I should keep trying until my Hall of Infamy no longer exists and then I wonder if that's a realistic notion... But it occurs to me that maybe the ultimate point of being alive is to dismantle our Halls of Infamy.

Forever Within Numbered Days

I miss childhood when life stretched before me with vast, limitless possibility. It's not just the possibilities hiding around the corners of living that I crave, though. I miss the infinity of time that life seemed to present to me then. 40 was ancient and holy shit, 80-years old? Unfathomable! Even just one summer stretched for several lifetimes as you contemplated it from the end of a school year. Years were very sensibly divided by school grades, too. I distinctly remember what went down in third grade or seventh grade or eleventh grade. But, like riding a bike downhill, as you go along you pick up speed and the scenery eventually blurs. Adulthood becomes a busy haze and you start to mark the years of life with great and terrible events. That's the year Violet was born, that's the year I got a divorce... Your memory of what happened that year radiates out from around the event.

I turn forty in a few months. Like a lot of people approaching a definitive age, I feel reflective. It's awfully tempting to assess my current life circumstances from a failed viewpoint. I'm divorced with three children; finances forced me to downsize into a small duplex I would've laughed at a few years earlier; I live paycheck to paycheck. And this year: Jesus H. It kicked off with yet another failed attempt to make my relationship with Serge work. The untimely death of my dog that coincided with my car getting repossessed. My power was shut off. I made the surprising realization that I no longer care to write professionally, at least right now and, as a result, could no longer afford to live where I lived. Moving to aforementioned duplex in a town I never imagined living in. Learning to be honest with myself and realizing the uncomfortable actuality of certain relationships that have seen me through decades of life... Not to mention the state of America and the recent (ahem) election. It's been a real fucking slog, this 2016 bitch. Worse than the year I got a divorce, without question. We can all list those years in our lives that stand out as real motherfuckers. For me, that would be 2016. Nearly every, single day has felt like a teeth-gritting, grinding climb, no end in sight.

I wouldn't change where I am right now for anything, though. If life came easily I wouldn't receive the opportunity to learn these lessons and get close to understanding the truth of what it means to live. You have a choice when the bad stuff hits: You can feel sorry for yourself (I've spent a lot of time in that place) and then continue playing life's victim for the rest of your days and everything bad that happens after that is justification of your poor-me cause OR you can dive into the shit and fucking LIVE the blues. Feel them hard and recognize the lessons that only tough times can teach. You study them and learn from them and allow them to shape your responses to hard times. You feel empowered with understanding which builds the kind of character that will always see you through whatever happens and assist you in helping others going through the bad stuff. When your worst fears happen and you make it through... You can do anything - even write through your embarrassment, enhanced by a childhood on food stamps, about being broke.

My mind feels good, real good. When the length of your life feels considerably shortened, when you sometimes wake up at three in the morning with mortality hunkered heavily on your chest, as happens naturally with aging, (and divorce!) you are able to let go of the bullshit. Or you at least recognize bullshit when you encounter it so it has less of an impact on your daily life. You learn how to strategically react to the crazy, hard, sad shit life throws at you. Overreactions became infrequent. You learn to appreciate what's important, especially when your power gets turned off. It's stunning how quickly sitting in your cold, dark house can hammer home what really matters. Maslow and his needs heirarchy are correct: food, water and warmth are a pretty big deal and we mostly take them for granted, even when we're the ones who pay the bills to keep them flowing. When you don't have them it can make the excesses of others and even your own "needs" seem extravagent. Coloring my hair feels ridiculous in the wake of struggling with an electric bill, you know? Helllooo gray.

Anyway, I'm fine. We're fine. Because another beautiful lesson you learn when you're lower than low is who your real people are. You can quickly identify the good ones. There are so many people who came through for me this year in very real and meaningful ways; it brought me to tears every, single time and often, they were unaware of how intensely their gesture was needed. So many people; huge gestures and small ones. It meant everything.

That's what life is about. Like Maslow said: Physiological needs are a necessity and after that it's all about relationships and showing up for people. All the other bullshit falls away. At the top of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs is self-actualization: creativity, acceptance of facts. I am realizing that self-actualization, for me, as I decide what I want to model for my children, doesn't involve much in the way of materialism. I mean, yeah, I envision a non-duplex home somewhere here - near where their dad lives. A place they can run wild, have animals and roam freely between my place and their dad's house. And I look forward to experiences: Road trips to New York City and anywhere else we can get to within a day's drive. I see forever summers in between their school years filled with visits to the lake, hiking and camping. But that's it. I don't want a busy life filled with extra-curricular activities and rushing around and mindlessly scrolling social media in spare moments, no chance to really look at each other and understand who we are. I want to live mindfully and fully experience it all as much as possible because in a blink it'll be over for me. They'll be growing their own children using the seeds of what I am now learning and teaching them about life.

The Constant Death and Resurrection of Hope

After a couple post-divorce years of pretty much mocking the existence of love, I thought I fell in love twice in 2016. Yes, twice. And yeah, fuck you and your raised eyebrows. I'm not some love-starved fool wandering around searching - in the wake of divorce I have fully accepted the possibility of a future without a traditional relationship with a rare grace and equanimity that impresses even me - so I was as surprised as anyone that I allowed it to happen. I didn't even allow it, really. Before I recognized what was happening it had already gone down. Love is a sneaky bastard, it creeps up on you like that. I was shocked when I realized it had happened because, shit, I haven't just accepted the possibility of aloneness until death; eternal singleness often seems like the most appealing option to me. You divorced/unhappily coupled folk are nodding aggressively in agreement before looking around guiltily to make sure your significant other isn't watching.

You can look at someone's ability or willingness to fall in love a couple of ways: Maybe they're a desperate, hopeful fool or maybe they've just reached a fearless place in life, willing to take risks because why the hell not? Once you stop giving a fuck about all the bullshit you realize you should take all the risks because before you know it, you're dead. I'm not sure which kind of person I am; little of both, I reckon. A desperate, hopeful risk-taker.

In retrospect, the falling in love in 2016 was really only one time.

I think.

Love is weird like that, isn't it? You can think you're falling in love then shit goes down, everything cracks apart for one reason or another, time passes, and when you come up for air you look back at your infatuated, silly self all embarrassed-like. You fucking dumbass, you think. That wasn't love. You were just sad or scared or lonely or feeling old and fell for his brilliant way with words or his clever mind or the way he gently moved the hair from your eyes while staring deeply into them and telling you everything would be ok...

But you're only telling yourself it wasn't love because of the way it turned out. It coulda been love. Mighta been. All of the relationships we find ourselves in - including the best ones - begin somewhere, even from sadness or fear or loneliness; It's only the failure of the happening of the continued relationship and the clarity (or mental justification of the failure of the thing) the passage of time provides that allows you to boldly declare it wasn't love with such a mingling of authority and self-mockery. Admit it. At the time of the happening you totally thought it was love. If this thing and that thing had happened differently you might still be with that person right now so how can you mock with authority, even now? And is longevity of relationship even a requirement for love? The breaking apart of a thing doesn't negate what went down before it shattered. I've loved within weeks of knowing someone and I've spent significant time with people without feeling it.

A fickle fucking business, this love game. It's a melting pot of random factors, many of which we don't even control; mental connection and pheromones and timing, two people not only magically feeling all the feelings but willing and able to let it all go down without fucking it up somehow by freaking out or bailing or changing moods or minds or allowing any number of other interferences life inevitably tosses into the mix to ruin the magical thing you're feeling.

That said, I am still quietly mocking myself for the first time I thought I was in love. Silly girl. I shake my head and squirm and giggle uncomfortably. But the second time I thought I was in love... My god, it felt like the real deal there for a minute. But shit, who the hell can tell? Especially with the first scenario haunting me. Such is the mind fuckery of falling in love. Pile up some more days, let time do its thing, and who knows what my heart will tell me about the second time? It's only in hindsight that the revelations occur.


Maybe I'll unexpectedly run into him a few months down the road and, much like waiting for the triangle thingy to steady after shaking a Magic 8 Ball, I will impatiently wait for my heart to tell me how it feels... Holy shit he still makes my knees weak! Or: What the fuck were you thinking, you fool? That guy? Love? Pleeze.

That's the thing about falling in love. Do you stay in it and let yourself fall or do you stop and step outside of it for a moment to grasp for perspective at risk of your mind pulling you out of the falling?

Can someone just come hit me on the head with a hammer until I lose consciousness and stop thinking all the things for ten beautiful goddamn minutes?

One minute I am skeptically swearing off the possibility of love forever, the next minute I am open to everything, allowing my heart to wander down an unfamiliar alley, the end of which is hidden in shadows.

The constant death and resurrection of hope.

Marriages Go Bad Like Bananas

Because of the chaotic nature of solo parenting and life in general I haven't written much about my son, Charlie. I ran into my midwife at a party a few weeks ago. She's the pregnant one now. There was something thrilling to me about casually enjoying a beer (me, not her!) with the woman who pulled my son from my body. Empowering. Just a coupla kickass broads over here who brought a human into the world on our own, no big deal (huge deal). I pushed, you pulled, no drugs, no nothin' but you and me and here is a tiny, perfect person and that's that.


It put me in mind of Charlie's birth. I've been heavily pondering it for several days now. That magical experience was one of the most extraordinary, powerful, empowering events of my life. It completely rearranged how I view the world and drastically altered my perception of myself and what I'm capable of accomplishing. I figure ushering a human you grew from your body into the world is one of the most difficult things you can do both mentally and physically. I somehow managed it. Without angrily kicking Sarah (midwife) in the face, which had happened to her before, she explained, and became a legitimate concern of mine. This, of course, means that for the rest of his life, whenever Charlie misbehaves, I can launch into a speech about how I didn't carry his ass for nine goddamn months or labor without drugs and push him from my body without drugs only to have him acting a fool in class or whatever the hell he'll be up to in a few years. I'll yell it in front of his friends, girlfriends, I don't care. I earned that shit.

I never really wrote much about his birth because I was in the middle of a painful separation from Serge. At the time, and in the years intervening, more than a few people rudely verbalized concern that I asked for the separation that led to our eventual divorce while pregnant.

"You should wait. It's the hormones talking." Really? What if I ask for a separation when PMS-ing? Does that not count either?

Condescending but not nearly as bad as the "What kind of person intentionally brings a child into a broken marriage?" comments I also received.

The kind of person who wants to have a child, that's what kind. As if it's perfectly acceptable for a single woman to choose motherhood whenever they feel ready but a strong, capable woman who always dreamed of motherhood but languished in a sad marriage for years can't responsibly choose motherhood again with the same man who fathered her first two children? Would divorcing and having a baby with a new man have been more acceptable? Or would I get the Woman With TWO (gasp!) Baby Daddies label? And anyway, my marriage wasn't all that great when I gave birth to the first two, I was just more accepting of the disorienting confusion and sadness at that point.

What kind of person judges two people wholeheartedly devoted to parenthood for having another child, is the better question. When the sweet child already exists, no less. Thoughtless, compassionless fuckers. Besides, from what I've observed over the years, a lot of children are born into iffy marriages. It's kind of the nature of marriage. Marriages go bad like bananas. Young and green out of the gate. Naive. Bruises reveal themselves as they mature. The bruises get darker and slowly, imperceptibly blacken until the whole banana is bad. Peel back the skin and examine the inside before too much time passes and you might find some good, but wait too long and the whole thing is rotten. The only thing left to do is throw it away. Or make banana bread. I tried making banana bread for a long time. Years. But my banana was too far gone.

When Charlieboy was born my banana was obviously bruised but I guess I was still shooting for bread. Doesn't really matter now. IRRELEVANT, an attorney would shout in the courtroom of my life. Because Charlie. This exceptionally beautiful soul is a part of our family and we would be tragically different were it not for his wonderful existence.

Bottom line: I'm a grown-ass woman who tried for a long fucking time. To the point that I had to lie to myself in order to blur my perception of my marriage if I was going to stay in it. And then one day I couldn't do it anymore. SNAP. Years of muddling through and blurry vision and closing my eyes to truths and then just like that: Not another second. I happened to be pregnant when that moment occurred.

Look here, I've digressed into defensiveness, as many of you know I am wont to do here. It's been my modus operandi lo these many years. I'm getting better at it and I'll excuse it in this case because it's in regard to the existence of my son, the mischievous rascal, Charlie Max, whose home birth was, ironically, the easiest of my three births. I meant to write about that today but more on that next time.

The Dream Is Over/I Just Believe In Me

Throughout my life I've heard women proudly issue the statement "My kids are my life." But it always bothered me, this reduction of womanhood to that most basic female notion: bear children and devote your life to them. Being a woman is so much more than motherhood and for many, motherhood isn't involved at all, so why limit yourself with such a sweeping statement about the meaning of your life? And don't you need to be a fulfilled woman to be a solid mom? It always seemed to me that making your life NOT all about your children is paramount to parenting well.

I love women. Strong, smart, confident women trigger happenings in my heart and mind that no man has been able to inspire and womanhood, I'm beginning to realize, is a kind of superpower you learn to harness as you advance though life. This isn't meant as an affront to men in any way, they have different superpowers and do I really need to guide you down the path of explaining man powers? I just mean there are some things women inherently do better by nature of being female.

Let me put it this way; if you're sick, who do you want caring for you? There's something about the gentle yet assured touch of a compassionate woman that makes everything better. Does that sound sexist? I don't mean it to. I just mean, generally speaking, women seem to excel at taking care of others. It's why we all want our mommies when we're sick. I like being able to soothe my children within seconds or offering a particularly feminine brand of comfort or calm reassurance to someone in need. Being able to take care of people in that way is a superpower. I also like being a motherfucking badass who doesn't shy away from a challenge. To effortlessly swing from one extreme to the other, soft caregiver to a kickass broad who doesn't take shit, is one of the things I like most about being a woman.

All this to say that lately, I am feeling like... Wait for it... My kids are my life.

For a long time I was searching for someone. Someone to replace the dad that left when I was 5, maybe. A solidly grounded rock amidst the landslide that was my childhood, a chaotic upbringing that will reside forever in my mind causing this endless search for calm and stability even when I've convinced myself I'm not looking, that I don't give a shit.

I wanted it so badly. It was the dream. It's some of the reason my marriage went bad. I was subconsciously requiring him to be something or someone I didn't realize I needed at the time. He wasn't that person. It's not his fault or mine. You get married for this reason or that reason - some you're aware of and some you don't discover until later - and then stack days behind you and learn what is important to you and what isn't, what works for you and what doesn't. One day you realize what you desperately need from someone, take an honest look at yourself, an equally hard look at the person you're with, and realize that you have to let go to hang on to yourself. Sometimes you have to let go to survive.

Romantic relationships are a concept by which we measure our success in life. And it's all bullshit. I'm done subconsciously looking for someone to fix or complete me. The dream is over, which is to say that I want nothing but will expect anything because not knowing my future has been one of the most exciting (and terrifying) parts of divorce. I'm going to be the heroine of my life now. Simone de Beauvoir once said "No one knows me or loves me completely. In the end, I have only myself." It's that notion that's been roaring loudest lately. And I'm listening, dammit. I'm finally listening.

I just believe in me. My kids and me.

I would far rather be alone than try to force something with someone who isn't right and have to work, work, work at making it work. Once or twice in my life I've briefly experienced right. Connections with people who put everyone else to shame. A flow so intense it caused me to believe in true love even when I spend so much time in my mind deconstructing that ideal. So how can I go forward in anything less? I just can't. I'd rather be alone. I want it all or nothing and I don't want to settle for anything less. There is nothing lonelier than being in a shitty relationship and I won't do it again. Ever.

Men come and go and I don't place much stock in any of it anymore. But not because I'm jaded or pessimistic. I love men. God, I love men. I've met some beautiful men in my life. Men who get it. Deep-thinking, curious, smart, compassionate, cool-ass men who aren't afraid of connecting but are equally happy alone. Men who genuinely care what I think about things and who like to talk about anything and everything. Men who read. Men who have an eye for beauty in everyday life. Men who aren't caught up in ego and ambition and money and career. Men who enjoy simple things. I am a sucker for these men.

So many variables come into play when it comes to puzzling together a relationship with someone. I'm at a point where wading through the bullshit to attempt to dig through the layers we all present to each other is fucking exhausting. Give me genuine or fuck off. When I was younger I had a high tolerance for bullshit, specifically bullshit of the opposite sex. Hell, I was attracted to bullshit. Now I get one whiff and I'm over it. If it doesn't flow, if it's a struggle at all, I tap out pretty quickly. And I'm finding that intense flow is as rare as a successful marriage.

So here I am, living out my third year as a single woman and mom and feeling like maybe I'm in a pretty cool relationship... With myself. And my kids. I find myself convincing myself that I could live out the rest of my days alone but as happy as anyone in a relationship. Men are beautiful and I'll keep an open mind because who can resist men? Certainly not me. Just running my hand over a stubbled jaw or eyeing that little valley where hip swoops into stomach and strong hands or eye contact that causes your heart to lurch and conversation that's as good as any sex I've ever had... GodDAMN.

I'm still afraid of being alone. Only myself to rely on. But fear doesn't control me. It excites me and I feel empowered. It's liberating. I'm scared of the future even as I'm unbelievably excited about the idea that we never know what's around the corner, do we? Who knows what new person is waiting in the wings and will have a massive impact on who we are and who we're becoming? And in the end, that's all it's about, right? Connections with people. I'm open to anything and anyone. But I'm no longer looking or waiting.

In the end, we only regret the chances we didn't take,
relationships we were too afraid to have,
and the decisions we waited too long to make.