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

The Ghost of Monica Future

I didn't anticipate it would happen the way that it did. Me doubled over in the darkness, swallowing sobs. But then again, I didn't anticipate pretty much anything that's happened over the past two years, so there you go. If there is but a single take away it is that: life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. I'm no longer much of a planner. Nothing surprises me now; plan nothing, expect anything.

My friend Doug and I were driving around listening to music as the sun set a while ago and I ended up cruising out to my old house. The one out in the country. Where Charlie was born. The last house we lived in as a family before the divorce. I had wanted to show Doug where I'd lived before he knew me. But when I turned onto my old street I fell into some kind of crazy zone of painful remembrance and forgot about Doug. Ended up parking the car down the street and walking up to the house alone while Doug sat in the car fiddling with his iPhone.

The old white pastor's house was dark with the exception of the bluish tones of a television glowing spectrally from the room I used to call mine. I stood there looking up at that window, shaking, remembering everything that went down on the other side of the glass all those years ago. I don't know what I wanted or what I expected or what I was doing but I needed to get up close to the house.

Even though we moved out more than a year ago it is still all up in my blood. The bones of that home are my bones. I can close my eyes and negotiate my way from the kitchen to the bedroom by sense and feel. That horrible feeling of familiarity and foreign-ness battling in my brain. This is MY house. No it's not! It will always be my house! Someone else lives there now. Your memories inside those walls belong only to you and they're busy making new memories now.

It's not just a house to me, it's a character from my life. An old friend. The other day Serge and I were talking and I asked him of all the places we've lived what was his favorite. Without hesitation he said the Hublersburg house. It was the first house we thought we'd live in forever. It was the last house we lived in together.

I stood there in the violet twilight shadows remembering. I remembered my family there. I remembered triumphantly pulling up in the moving truck from Utah. I remembered lying on the porch swing and singing to my babies when it rained. I remembered planting trees I thought I'd witness into maturity. I remembered going into labor in the bedroom and racing down the stairs to give birth in a pool in the living room. I remembered tiredly holding my son for the first time and marveling at my body's ability to recover from childbirth seemingly within minutes while Serge laugh-cried beside me. I remembered love and laughter and hatred and fighting. I remembered the end; the moment I knew my marriage was over, right there in that kitchen.

My son took his first gasps of air in that home. My marriage died in that house.

I stood there, an outsider now, staring up at the home in which I used to live and imagined myself two or three years ago... Me on the porch singing quietly to my babies not knowing that in just a few short years a completely changed Future Monica would be hovering awkwardly on the perimeter remembering that very moment. Me confronting me. Me on the porch swing smoothing back the hair from my babies' foreheads and singing songs, Serge somewhere in the house doing his thing, both unaware of how it would all turn out. The heartache, the complete devastation.

Sometimes the pain is like a wild animal biting down on my flesh and shaking its fucking head until I pass out from the agony.

And I wonder... How many Future Monicas are hovering around me now? Like I said, I make no plans now.

I'm Going To Be Single Forever Because You Hate Cheese

I can’t date someone who texts “wut r u doing?” Is he trying to save time by eliminating letters? How much time can he possibly be saving? Well, I’m not going out with him tonight so he just saved himself a crapload of time.

How can I kiss someone who loves to jam to Steely Dan? It just feels so monumentally indicative of who they are, you know? It’s not going to work out. I just know it.

How am I supposed to show my naked body to someone who has never seen Goonies?

I refuse to engage in sexual acts with someone who doesn’t like cheese. Are you a Russian spy? HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE CHEESE? You better be lactose intolerant or else we have a problem.

You know the drill. To keep reading, click on over to Babble.

Sharing Custody: Snapshot of Kidless Life 

The other morning when the kids were with Serge I accidentally started watching The Killing on Netflix. I didn't really set out to watch The Killing. Upon daylight's unwelcome arrival I broke up with my bed and was becoming one with my couch, scrolling restlessly around my Apple TV thingies - I think the kids call them apps - avoiding CNN like it was an ex-boyfriend at a dinner party because goddamn CNN depresses me anymore and I will beat myself with a giant gay dildo if I have to see Kentucky marriage clerk Kim Davis trotted out like some kind of republican show pony one more fucking time.

As is usually my way, I ended up on Netflix and there was The Killing and I clicked play just to see, kind of like you read the first paragraph or page of a book before buying it, and much like one of those all-night frat parties in college, suddenly it was eight hours later and I was lying underwearless on a couch wondering what just happened. And I was hungry.

I looked at Milo, he looked at me and we were like, Chipotle, bitch. Ándale. Twenty minutes later I was standing in line at the Chipotle near Penn State which means this line rivals the line for cupcakes or cronuts or gluten-free pretzels or whatever baked good is currently fooling folks into waiting in line for hours.

This is a long fucking line, I thought. Really long. I should definitely buy two burrito bowls, you know, if I'm going to be waiting in a line this long. It's the right thing to do. Of course I'm not going to eat them both today. That's just ridiculous. One burrito bowl fills me up for a day. I'll eat one now and save one for lunch for tomorrow. Look at me! Planning my lunch a day in advance and shit!

It's funny how you can straight up lie to yourself even though you are you and you know you're lying. Eat the second burrito bowl tomorrow. Like that was going to happen. Like that second bowl ever had a snowball's chance in hell of making it through the night. That burrito bowl - with guacamole, OF COURSE I'LL PAY EXTRA - had as much of a chance of making it through the night as the last beer sitting in my fridge. Lone beers are fair game at any time of day, frankly. They should be consumed as quickly as possible because anybody who's anyone knows it's just wrong to leave one beer sitting in a fridge. What can anybody do with one beer? Nothing, that's what. Who are you single-beer-in-fridge-having folks? The only time there's a solo beer in my fridge is when I don't know it's there. So either finish that bitch up during the original drinking session or have it for breakfast the next morning. Otherwise, there should never be one beer sitting in your fridge. One beer is about as useful as the white crayon Crayola insists on putting into every box. It's like leaving a single chip in a bag of Doritos. Who wants one chip? This theory also applies to cookies.

I stood in line behind a college kid who looked like some kind of business professional lumberjack (suspenders/flannel/skinny jeans/boots/man bag/beard) reaffirming my decision to buy that second burrito bowl and save it for lunch the next day. Just lying right to my own face!

And then I took both those burrito bowls home and ate the fuckers right in a row while finishing up that lone beer and season 2 of The Killing just like I knew I would.

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Your Tits of Yore

Every mom knows your tits change sizes eleventy-nine times throughout the course of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and postpartum weight loss/gain/loss/gain. Buying a bra during that time is pretty futile, unless it's a bra designed specifically for breastfeeding or whatever.

You know the drill. Your boobs are suddenly huge, your friend points out an unfortunate case of double boob you didn't notice because you're so freaked out by all the other weird shit going on with your body, so you grab the cheapest bullshit you can find on sale at Target when stocking up on baby gear while telling yourself you aren't going to be pregnant forever and what's the point of splashing out on an expensive 'nice' bra if you're just going to change sizes again?

Several months later you find yourself splashing out anyway on a nursing bra because you realize tit flaps make everything easier - yay tit flaps! - and then, as your boobs deflate, you start fitting back into your old bras but now they're your old bras and they don't fit quite the same way anymore. Maybe the cups still fit but the part that goes around your rib cage area is too goddamn tight because backfat. Fucking backfat. What the fuck, backfat?

And then your kid is almost one and you're still wearing bullshit bras because diapers are fucking expensive and if you have to choose between bras and diapers you're going with diapers every time and you don't even have time to go to a nice place to get a bra that fits properly and if you do have time you're choosing between sitting on your couch and watching TV or going to the store to buy a nice bra and you're going with couch and TV every time so you keep grabbing shit off the shelf in Walmart as you push your cart past, kid screaming to beat the band and no time to even fuck around in a dressing room and if you do have time to fuck around in a dressing room you don't want to fuck around in a Walmart or Target dressing room because you don't even know what size bra you wear anymore so if you're going to spend the time fucking around in a dressing room you figure it may as well be a dressing room at Victoria's Secret or Macy's where a 23-year-old with awesome tits will hold aloft your tired tits and give you some kind of official measurement but when in god's name are you ever passing a Victoria's Secret and so suddenly your kid is almost two and you've got this rag tag collection of shitty bras of different sizes based on when you bought them and oh you're pregnant again so why buy a bra now or now that you're done having kids your tits don't even resemble your tits of yore and now that you're thinking about it GODDAMN but you used to have nice tits and you didn't even appreciate them until you found yourself with these old funbags and don't get me wrong, your funbags are still pretty fun but all you're saying is that just maybe you're kinda bummed that sexting wasn't around when you were in your twenties so at least maybe you'd have some kind of photographic record of your tits of yore and it's a crying goddamn shame you didn't appreciate your tits of yore back when it was yore.

In summary, two things: 1) APPRECIATE YOUR TITS NOW and 2) I need a new bra.

IN MEMORIAM: tits of yore circa '05:

The Trenches

Last year was all adrenaline. No time to breathe. Pregnancy, separation, have a baby, leave freelance writing from home for a full-time job at a real place for the first time in five years, move twice, start a kid in kindergarten, lose Max. Divorce.

Adrenaline like a coked up motherfucker. This year is adrenaline too but in a subtler way. I'm constantly aware of its quiet hum but the ferocious roar of THIS IS MY LIFE NOW is deafening. Divorced, nearly forty, a full-time job, three small kids and an ex 25 minutes down the road with whom I constantly negotiate the business of co-parenting while maybe trying to date other people, both of us knowing we're seeing people - talking about it together a little bit, even - and trying to be cool about it for the sake of co-parenting.

Co-parenting, when your kids are so young, basically dominates the entirety of your existence. In some ways, I am more beholden to Serge and his schedule and his life than when we were married because we're coordinating our children from two different locations. It's pretty much like running a company with him. Running a company with your ex. Except it isn't business, it's personal. Ha. How are we going to do this and that and the other thing and who's the sexy blonde leaving all the comments on your Instagram and who's picking up/who's dropping off and when and registration and oh you had a woman over for dinner that's nice and soccer practice and school concerts and yes, I'm kind of seeing someone and parent-teacher conferences.

All the complexity involved in the constant keeping alive of small humans who, if left alone, challenge death at every hazardous turn: Take the ping-pong ball out of your mouth, don't jump from there, sit down in the tub you're going to give yourself a concussion, STOP running ahead of me that car almost hit you, sit down in the cart, don't stick things in the outlet, get out of the road, don't touch that it's hot, don't hold your brother's head under the water, he can't breathe.

And simply keeping them alive isn't even good enough! YOU SAVED SOMEONE'S LIFE SEVENTEEN TIMES TODAY AND IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! You have to do other shit like brush their teeth and put clothes on them and wipe shit off them and force them into bed every night then beg them to get up the next morning. I knew this before kids, of course, but much like I imagine experiencing war from the frontlines, one can't fully realize the intensity and trauma involved until you're living it. You can read all the books, watch all the movies and hear all the stories about something but until it's your reality, you can't really know. You can watch Saving Private Ryan 800 times but until it's you in the landing craft storming French beaches you just don't know.

And it's not only keeping them alive and relatively clean but you kind of need to enrich the lives you are saving on a regular basis with quality time and reading and do you know your alphabet and smiles and can you tie your shoe and I love you so much it's terrifying and here's your chocolate milk and reassurance and unconditional everything and get in the car I'm late for work and I'm sorry I made the wrong dinner and inspiration and right from wrong and oh you wanted lemonade not chocolate milk I'm eternally sorry and here's your glass of water and no I won't buy that for you today and just one more story and holy shit.

Also, that's not enough. You must constantly deal with the ever-present, suffocating guilt that you aren't doing all of the above all the time and if you are you're probably doing most of it wrong. They say so. I don't know who THEY are but they told me you're doing it wrong and they probably know because they have 75,000 followers on Instagram. By the way, do you know how easy you have it? So easy. So many people are worse off than you. You should feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed because there's this thing called privilege and you have it and so you should feel guilty for not constantly acknowledging your privilege. They told me so. Your overwhelmed-ness is an offense to those who have it worse.

Oh. And savor all of the moments. All of them. Because it goes by so fast and in a blink it's gone and look Mom look Mom! Watch me! Watch me. Savor it all and if you aren't savoring feel guilty as hell because you love your kids more than anything, sometimes you just gawp at them and the magnificence of their being is so overwhelming you start to cry because you can't fathom that they are yours and you are theirs forever and of course you would die for them in three seconds but also can you just get a moment to yourself because you are tired as fuck. But your beautiful 4-year old boy is asking you to play Superheros and how hard is that? You selfish bitch, get off your ass and make the smashing crashing noises he likes. He's not going to be this magical age forever and in ten years you'll give anything for him to ask you to play. Who has time for savoring when barely surviving?

Dog paddling in the ocean. That's what it always feels like. Paddling like a sonuvabitch to stay above water. Tired as fuck. Too many thoughts. Too much alcohol muting thoughts that become louder anyway. Constantly wondering what constitutes too much alcohol. Wondering if wondering about what constitutes too much alcohol is my answer.

I do this thing a lot where I think about myself in my late-forties and I'll look back at me now at 38 - just like me now looks back at me in my twenties - with a kindness and compassion I can't ever seem to muster for myself in the present moment and be like; aw, I remember going through that. Fuuuck. You feel fucking awful, right now, don't you? I know. But we got through! I wish I could come back and tell you this thing and that thing and don't waste so much time worrying about that other thing because I know EXACTLY how you're feeling but, girl, you're gonna be fine. This is the trenches. We were in the trenches, but it's better now and look at all that you learned!

Or fuck. Maybe life will be so much shittier then that I'll look fondly back on this time as 'the good years.' But even if these years that feel so intense end up being 'the good years' I always think about that Louie CK bit about what you get with a basic life and it keeps it all in perspective.

We get to be on Earth. I mean, look at this place! We get to eat. Every time I eat a burrito I think about that. Like, shit, I am in debt or my job sucks or that relationship was lame but how bad is it all really when I'm EATING THIS FUCKING BURRITO and am going to sleep shortly thereafter in a warm bed after I look at porn and masturbate. I can masturbate! That alone is pretty miraculous, no? I can make myself cum. I know how! And I'm not embarrassed to tell you about it even though maybe you're embarrassed to read about it. Unclench your butthole and get over it, Uncle Byron. I also get to read heart-wrenchingly beautiful books and listen to unbelievable music. Sex. Sex with other people is also part of the basic life package. We get to fuck.

I'm getting older and wiser and in case anyone is wondering, fucking is way better when you're older. I want to do an 'It Gets Better' video for girls in their twenties enduring shitty sex for various reasons but mostly because they just don't know any better. If you're lucky enough for all your physical and mental shit to align in just the right way, you can really have a good time in your thirties and beyond. In stark contrast to the overwrought sexual/relationship/body drama of your twenties, you've maybe learned a ton about sex and relationships and are fucking the right people for the right reasons while giving less of a flying fuck about bullshit body issues and if you're really lucky you never lose that OH MY GOD, I'M FUCKING ANOTHER PERSON feeling from your teens and twenties. It can all come together in a really excellent way, is what I'm saying.

So there's that. Talking to you about fucking. But whatever. We're all grown-ups here. Quit being such a prude. I'm just trying to tell you that when I get down I like to remember how lucky I feel to be participating in the basic life package deal which is pretty much the greatest stuff ever: Earth and food and music and books and fucking. And dogs. Dogs save lives. Get one.

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