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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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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.


Weeds or Wildflowers

I was fine in the waiting room, all things considered.

Tears threatened constantly and my insides churned ferociously but I was sitting quietly, my charade of equanimity securely intact, is what I mean when I say 'all things considered.'


The second she called my name panic hopscotched up my throat and blackness crowded my vision. I stood up anyway and followed her down a hallway where she asked me to step on a scale then sat me down and proceeded to velcro the cuff thing to my arm and pump for blood pressure.

Despite the fast-approaching panic attack I had the womanly gall to experience the familiar, deeply ingrained, split-second bolt of disappointment over the 132 that had beeped redly on the scale rudely broadcasting my weight: 132? What the fuck?

Chicks and their weight, man. It's a goddamn tragedy, ain't it? I love looking at a big, round ass except when it's on my own body. Makes no fucking sense.

The societal brainwashed part of my mind that can tell you how much various celebrities claim to weigh and the "health regimens" they've utilized to get there briefly cursed all those late night cylinders of Pringles inhaled while catching up on The Walking Dead and then joined the rest of my brain with the freakout already in progress.

The nurse noted my blood pressure then told me to get undressed and put on one of those glorified sheets with ties in the back that hijack a person's dignity faster than a zipper mishap during an important business meeting. I stared at her, mouth open in an attempt to force out words that stubbornly resisted my effort and then I froze. Knees weak, heart thumping, I could feel the earthquake coming; rumbling up from my guts, rattling my ribs, stealing the air from my lungs and then tunneling wildly through my esophagus like a tiny freight train. There was this bizarre moment when I tried to speak but the quake was happening and there we were staring awkwardly at each other like lovers about to kiss and then I fell apart.

A full-blown panic attack at the doctor's office.


I had been waiting for this appointment for several weeks when just one day would've been too long. In early May I received an ominous call after my usual yearly physical. "The doctor would like you to come in and discuss your results." I've seen enough hospital dramas on TV to know this is not a good thing. The doctor was not seeking a friendly chat about the general state of my well-being. Never before have they asked me to come in to discuss my results. It's always a call or a voicemail, even, telling me everything looks good.

A moment of vertigo and then I rejoined the conversation in time to hear the receptionist ask me if I could come in on Monday. I agreed and hung up in a daze. What could it be? Then I realized it was Friday. I was supposed to wait all weekend to "discuss my results" with the doctor? Aw, hell no. I called them back and said they needed to make room for me today. They did.

Turns out, they found Something during an ultrasound to check out my lady parts the doctor had requested I have done because of some irregular appearing things combined with my family's medical history and that Something that was found on the ultrasound was the same Something someone very close to me found several years back. A hereditary often deadly Something that terrified her and was now threatening me. The someone very close to me is fine, some things were removed and all is well but my doctor sent me to a specialist where I was certain I was about to be sentenced to a similar fate and was not handling it as well as I might have liked.


I'm fine. Everything is fine. After I lost my shit in the doctor's office they sat me down, called in the specialist - a very sweet, young man and what the everloving fuck I am now older than all my doctors, IT HAS HAPPENED - who looked at my charts and said the Something was not a big deal, they would initiate some increased monitoring but it was just a precaution and all is cool so hey girl, here's a tissue and stop all that blubbering. You're fine. You're good.

I like doctors younger than me, turns out.

Still, though. Doctors needing to discuss your results in person and hereditary things you're barely aware of only because you have to put them on paperwork about your medical history actually manifesting in real life and all the waiting waiting waiting will take it out of you. Because as much as your loved ones assure you that it'll be fine and it's not a big deal, that same shit gets said to the people who get the bad news too and you become acutely aware of that as you wait: One minute you're living life all worried about a zit on your face or the fact that your roots are gray as fuck and the next minute you're fighting for your life. It's how it goes. You realize "at least you have your health" is truer than true and not just something said when shit is hitting the fan in your life even though it is totally something an asshole says to you when shit is hitting the fan in your life.

Unrelenting awareness of a possibly serious health issue for nearly a month coupled with speculating about mortality and such gives one pause, you know? Lots of contemplation and evaluation and Who are you and what the hell are you even doing, Monica? What is important to you in the grand scheme of what you got going on, girl? GET IT TOGETHER.

I think I've been selfish since my divorce. I didn't mean to be. I was doing what I thought was the right thing. I initially tried to move back to Utah for a really great job and to be near my family and when that couldn't happen I moved in a panic and landed in a really beautiful area near where I now work. It made sense. A home with a huge yard in which I imagined my three kids running and playing. I was coming off a stint out in the country where I learned that although I very much like the idea of living out in the country where I envisioned wandering around a huge garden in a flowy sundress plucking giant heirloom tomatoes for dinner, in reality I don't enjoy weeding every damn day and mostly I don't like being so far away from things.

So while I got myself situated in the nearest city, Serge moved out into a small country town where rent is extremely affordable. We're thirty minutes apart. It's not that far but it's a lot of car time for three small children who didn't ask for a divorce and have been through enough. Lately, instead of the beautiful home in town in the fantastic school district I thought I was giving them as some kind of divorce consolation prize, I just see lives filled with division. One life in mom's town with one set of friends and a separate life in dad's town with another set of friends and a thirty minute road trip in between. It all sucks any which way you look at it.

I can't do that to my kids. I need them to be minutes from their dad. In the same neighborhood with a very fluid custody schedule. Close enough that in a few years Henry can tell me he wants to go watch a movie at dad's house and be home in time for bed and maybe even walk there himself. Same town. Same friends. It ain't about me or where I want to live, it's all about them.

Holy shit. I can't fathom moving again, don't want to move again. But it feels right. Right?


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.

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.


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.

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.