Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
That's What She Said
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Tuesday
May102016

The Idea of a Thing

I never even went to the chocolate shop. Not once. So I'm not sure why I was so disappointed when I spotted the GOING OUT OF BUSINESS signs decorating the sidewalk out front.

The shop is situated back from the main road in my tiny town. Massive trees older than your great, great, grandma guard it from the elements and emerald-colored ivy has insinuated itself into all the cracks and crevices, as all respectable ivy should. A smallish brick water fountain sits outside the front door - more of a glorified bird bath, really - and next to that some white metal chairs cuddle around a sweet table for passersby in need of a chocolate respite. The kind of joint that begs for a hand-lettered wooden sign featuring words like "shoppe" and "olde" in English font; bait for the white socks, sandals-wearing tourists who regularly happen through my historic village in Central Pennsylvania. Tourists around these parts straight-up lose their minds over that kind of thing. Olde Shoppes selling goat milk soap, hand-churned butter and artisanal bread they spend a fortune on and convince themselves is the greatest thing since, well, since sliced bread. That, and the Amish. They go fucking bonkers for the Amish.

You're probably impressed with the Amish. Would probably lose your shit if a horse and buggy boasting an Amish family clip-clopped its way past. They are pretty cute; saucer-eyed Amish boys in suspenders peering at you from beneath black-brimmed hats, sweet girls in bonnets, you would dig it and I get it. They don't even seem like actual people, sometimes, more like extras from some historic period drama or maybe Colonial Williamsburg employees gone AWOL. There's just something about the Amish and their adorably, eccentric ways that fills people with quaint thoughts and respect, even, yet Scientologists continue to weird us out.

Makes no sense to me.

I'm not fooled by the Amish. I was raised Mormon and the whole Amish scene reminds me of that backwards, narrow outlook. A dangerous viewpoint. Brainwashing. Minds closed tight. Men know best, gay people don't exist, sex outside of marriage is worthy of a good shunning. The Amish do not mess around when someone decides to leave the community. They will shun a motherfucker and not think twice. Mormons prefer the term excommunication and while they don't usually kick you from the family dinner table like the Amish, they will exclude you from their fancy church weddings like the Amish. Quaint, my ass. Tourists get a kick out of Amish folks, though. And they DO make a mean pie, but I think we can all agree a killer shoofly pie doesn't erase homophobia and sexism that'd make your grandpa blush.

But, I digress. The chocolate shop is no more. I keep thinking about it and it's not that I'm going to miss being able to avail myself of artisanal chocolate at six o'clock at night on a whim because, like I said, I never did that, don't think I'd even really want to do that. It's just that the idea of living near a chocolate shop really appealed to me. It was a part of the narrative I have struggled to create for myself in the wake of divorce. I've lived in this beautiful neighborhood for almost two years and for almost two years I've been telling my kids weekly that we should meander (you don't walk to your local chocolate shop, you meander) down to the chocolate shop and get ourselves some fresh-made, hand-whipped something or other. With peanuts, maybe! Marshmallows? Nougat! The idea of the thing was so much nicer than the actual thing, I think. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they mixed up some bangin' chocolate but I didn't need to actually taste the chocolate to fall in love with the shop, is what I'm saying. I just really liked that it was there.

The ideas of a thing is often better than the actual thing, I am realizing. It can be hard to know if it's the idea of a thing that appeals to you or the actual thing. You welcome an idea into your head and like the way it makes you feel and so you maybe even make it a part of your identity in some way and then you become attached to it based on what you think you want and not actual experiences and then the idea starts to mean more to you than it should and maybe I'm not even talking about chocolate shops anymore.

I never even went to the chocolate shop. Not once. But I miss it.
Sunday
May082016

The Incredibly Loud Silence

I alternate between blowing kisses and a toothy smile punctuated by enthusiastic two-handed waves like some kind of coked out summer parade float queen. Their dad tells them to Wave to mommy! Blow mommy kisses! because he's all too familiar with the emotions that accompany this moment and then they’re gone.

Here/Gone.

New Order rides the air in their wake for a split-second, a few notes escaping open windows even after I can no longer see them, before disintegrating like fog in the sunshine.

And all is quiet.

The silence that immediately descends upon this tiny post-divorce kingdom I’ve worked so hard to carve out for myself and my three children is far louder than any fighting and tears over toys or what to watch on TV that went down over the past couple days.

I stand barefoot on my driveway as May dusk slowly suffuses the neighborhood with violet shadows, staring at the point in the distance where I last saw Charlie’s blonde head peeping out the back window. I briefly allow myself to wonder what he's thinking as he's whisked to his dad's house. Two-year-old thoughts; a kaleidoscope of innocent images and feelings, not yet shaped or tainted by anything other than his own perfectly pure brain. Mama happily waving goodbye and mama inspires feelings of comfort and safety and love and now he's with daddy who inspires the same and this is all he's ever known. I stop short of wondering what the older two are thinking. Mostly, I already know how they feel about this two-house existence, we talk about it as often as they need to.

Back in the house every previously disregarded routine sign of child life now takes on deep, sentimental significance. The spiky drawing of Godzilla my daughter left on the kitchen table is not just a few crayon scribbles but a masterpiece clearly indicative of a special mind; the SpiderMan costume my son stepped out of and left in a heap on the floor – as if he simply evaporated from within its cloth confines - is now worthy of emotional contemplation, like staring at a sculpture in a museum, and not the annoyance it would be if he were still here creating another damn mess to clean.

Violet was here.
Henry was here.
Charlie was here.

A plastic toy fire engine spins on my record player. A scene that a mere hour ago would’ve prompted scary mom face, angry voice and stern finger points; now the sight of the little red truck on an endless journey around my turntable seems to take on all the meaning in the world and I become hypnotized by its fireless trek. A fire truck with no fire to put out. A mom without kids.

That first hour after they’re gone is a jangly, awkward adjustment that hasn't improved with time. I wander, my mind wanders, unsure what to do with myself. Guarding the lives of three small human beings is an intense, consuming, emotionally exhausting and extremely physical existence and when it's gone your mind and body continue in that elevated state of being. Your mind circles and circles, a stuck record player that wants to play, searching for something that can absorb all that energy but there is nothing. Like finishing a marathon, you have to walk it off, let the adrenaline dissipate and try to channel the intensity of parenthood into something different. This unnatural childless state of being is a strange, clumsy existence to navigate in an otherwise chaotic, child-filled life.

I could take a long shower now. A shower without anyone opening the bathroom door and letting in all the cold air before whipping open the curtain to point at and vocally label my naked body parts. But it’s not the same. A luxurious shower stolen in the triumphant moments after I’ve put them all to bed at night is far lovelier than a shower that can last forever because nobody needs you.
Monday
May022016

Gazing at You Like Calculus

His shocking vanishment from my life was not unlike his unexpected entrance. One minute I did not know him, the next moment I couldn't imagine not knowing him. And then I didn't know him again.

I want to shut this whole thing down, he wrote. Unplunge: The title of the email I've read over and over again until the words haunt me when I close my eyes; floating shapes behind puffy eyelids like lazy cigarette smoke rings in a dark bar. An email, his medium of choice for the ending, denying me the pleasure of hearing his voice one last time even if what he was saying was painful. Not allowing me the satisfaction of his response in my ear when I asked the one word that permeated my system: Why?

Perhaps he did me a favor with the unwanted electronic missive, saving me from myself. Maybe the email, although certainly less personal, allowed me to retain some small bit of dignity instead of pissing it away as I unraveled during a final phone call. It doesn't matter. The manner of ending isn't as important as the ending itself. Welcoming anger at trivialities like when or how it ended would be all too easy right now but that would just be digression from the fact that what I'm really upset about is the why.

To dig someone so much, be so intrigued by another human being, so fascinated by the thought process behind the intoxicating words that come out of their mouth that you want to crawl inside their flesh and live life as them for a spell just to better understand what it's like to be them or, fuck, just being inside of their themness, a sensual collision that even the best sex doesn't stimulate. This is YOU. I'm inside YOU. Experience me seeing through your eyes, feel my tongue in your mouth, your thoughts are my thoughts are your thoughts. Your bones are my bedframe, your flesh is my pillow. I'm you and you're me.

All of these feelings happening to you just as you had accepted life without them, convincing yourself that you could finish your days without love, that it wasn't necessary for happiness. And it all felt like magic.

In the beginning, when I expressed my usual flurry of doubt and fear, he deftly brushed it away like tucking an errant hair behind my ear. He eloquently explained that worrying about what might happen would take away from what was actually happening and look how rare and beautiful this all is so enjoy it while it's happening! Love makes your chest hurt, he said, and it's scary and you think about all the shit that could go wrong but you can't avoid disasters and the only way to find some semblance of relief is to just kind of leap right into the disaster.

So I leaped.

Something clicked inside of me and for fucking once I was starting to allow myself to fully enjoy the ride without my brain going crazy with what ifs. And then he went and fell victim to his own admonishment. That's what he told me, anyway. Stuff about an inevitable bad ending due to geography and minimizing devastation now is way better than forging ahead. It could be that. It could be a million other things he's choosing not to say for reasons I'll never know. In the end, and it IS the end, it doesn't matter. All that matters is he chose to unplunge, to break our magnificent fall.

We should suffer it out now instead of later when it will be a way bigger mess than it already is, he wrote. But you asked me to fall forever and never hit the ground, I thought.
Saturday
Apr302016

Romantic Egotism


Sometimes, usually as a result of the inbred nature of Facebook, I stumble onto my ex-husband's words about me, our marriage or divorce, and it sucks me into disorientation. It's hard to move forward when you're constantly yanked back into another existence.

First song lyrics, and now these articles, his written words have always been my weakness. Better than the reality, usually. Oh, sure. I absolutely believe he loved me so much he'd die for me, open a vein and bleed out right in front of me if I needed, as he vividly phrased it once. Threatened it a time or two way back in the day, even. Theatric more than threat, it was still scary as hell for a twenty-something fresh from Mormonville trying to make a go of it with a stranger in the Big Apple. That first year of marriage was wild. Coupla crazy kids who didn't know each other abandoning reason and following pounding hearts all the way to Brooklyn, New York. I still believe it's one of the best things I ever did.

"Young hearts need the pressure to pound..."

The intense love for me that painfully bangs around inside his heart and mind has never been in question, and that's the love he writes so eloquently about. Who wouldn't want to be the object of such passion? It's how that love manifested in everyday living that led, in part, to the wreckage of a nine year marriage.

"How can you leave someone who is so clearly in love with you?"

Something got lost in the translation from heart and mind to action and speech. Intense love can translate into opposite actions if someone feels frustration and then spite. Sometimes, beneath all that authored sentiment, I smelled the opposite. The rancid breath of resentment whispered sourly in my ear.

Resentment is the foundation of hatred.

***

F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors. The love story between him and Zelda has fascinated me for many years and I've looked at all of their exchanged letters. While reading their frequently penned missives you're routinely taken aback by their frenzied intensity and inevitably find yourself longing to be a participant in such a passion-filled relationship. But then I began to wonder how much of it was based in reality and how much was two dauntless writers masturbating with words. Their relationship took on a darker filter.

***

The realist living behind the prose begins to wonder how much of the fervent sentiment is woman specific and how much of it is something the romantic needs in his life, regardless of object of affection. Was our love extraordinary or did the power of his words make it so? Is there a difference? Does it even matter?

When married he clothed himself in the intensity of our love and upon divorce he dressed himself in the heartbreak. But maybe that's what the romantic requires to feel truly alive. Maybe he was always writing for himself and not me. Maybe it was never really even about me.

And then the pendulum swings and I wonder if I've given up on the one man who will love me in the way that true, passionate love demands, regardless of the day to day manifestation. But those moments always occur after reading his words about "me" and perhaps that's my own mental masturbation happening regardless of writer. It's worth noting Zelda ended up in a mental institution...
Monday
Apr252016

Check Engine Lights Are Bullshit and Other Stories

I got a flat tire on the way to work today. It was the universe's way of letting me know who's boss in the immediate wake of finally managing to clean my car yesterday. I munched on weeks-old McDonalds fries from car seats and melty Easter candy I found in Violet's cupholder as I Armor-Alled vinyl that looked the exact same when I was finished.

Clean car, huh? Flat tire, bitch! Do not get cocky, I will destroy you.

I kept on driving in the face of the telltale whappity-whap-whap which delivered the bad news to my ears. Just pretended I didn't hear my tire angrily slapping roadway. That right there says all you need to know about my boredom with car drama as well as my tremendous capacity for denial and improper automotive care. Flat tire? I don't think so. Imma just keep on keeping on. What flat tire? Rush hour do-gooders were pulling up next to me mouthing and miming F L A T T I R E in all kinds of entertaining ways and I just thumbs-upped the good samaritans and turned up Prince. Dig if you will the picture...

I just didn't feel like pulling over. Fuck you, flat tire. I will drive until fiery sparks explode from my blackened rim before I let you win.

I eventually eased my rig off the road because, you know. Flat tire. It's getting fixed now.

"As long as I've gotta be here take a look-see at that check engine light that's been harassing me for months now," I told the guy.

Check engine lights are bullshit. I told the guy that too. I've never had one come through for me. They get all up in your face all the damn time just to mess with your slippery grip on peace in this world, force you to drive all uneasy-like, hands at ten and two, butthole clenched tighter than an inmate's while showering for the first time. And just when you're like, "OK! Fine! You win, I'm calling the mechanic," they go off for a spell. Then POW. Guess who's back, asshole? But they never indicate checking anything.

I used to take my car in whenever the Eye of Sauron glowed fiery from my dash and they'd look at it and say "Welp. Can't rightly see what the trouble is. Could be your gas cap wasn't screwed on right? I'll just go ahead and reset the light for you."

Gas cap? Go fuck yourself, check engine light. How about a light that says "Hey, your gas cap is loose, dumbass."

*I wrote this while waiting at the hospital for a transvaginal ultrasound with forty ounces of water sloshing around my body. Peeing is verboden. Quite a Monday I'm carving out for myself, people.