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Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Charlie Max: 7 Months


I'm The Prettiest

Guess where I'm going this weekend? Isn't that the fucking worst, by the way? When someone seriously wants you to guess something you have, at best, a mild interest in hearing about and/or no idea what the answer could possibly be? Guess who called me last night? Guess what I just ate? Guess what I just bought? Too bad, though. You will hear about where I'm going this weekend and you will be fascinated. Or mildly interested. But maybe my digressive foray into annoying people traits has served to ratchet your mild curiosity into the fascination realm? We can only hope or the five more minutes it takes for you to read this post will be like trying to orgasm and not quite getting there.

On Friday I'm headed to the greatest city in the world, that's where. God, I love New York City. I spend most of my time strolling purposefully/aimlessly, grinning like a lunatic because the electricity gets all up in my body and shocks me into feeling alive like it just ain't possible to feel while walking anywhere else in the world.

New York City is a looming character in the story of my life. We've had to break up a couple times due to distance, but we never stopped being in desperate love and the happy ending of our relationship involves me dying within its ramshackle embrace. I fully plan to be a drunk, old woman lugging a laundry cart filled with groceries - half of them shoplifted - Gwen Stefani red lipstick smeared onto teeth and bleeding into the deep creases of my face, wild, white hair joyously dancing in the wind whipping off the Hudson River/East River as I talk/curse loudly to myself and anyone within a 30 feet radius and God help any motherfucker who dares mess with a drunk, old lady because I will wield my cane ferociously and should anyone try to call me out on my bullshit I will immediately feign helplessness, tearfully explain I'm lost and need help finding home.

I started this site more than ten years ago when I lived in Brooklyn. Fun fact: didn't own a computer then. I had just married, lived in Williamsburg and could barely afford my rent, let alone a new computer, so I relied on my job at WABC in Manhattan for computer time and when home I'd scribble all my blogs on paper and run up to the Internet cafe on Bedford and type the posts onto the site at an exorbitant per-minute fee - the blogging equivalent of using a rickshaw to commute an hour to work. And even after all that effort only one person was reading back then and no, it wasn't Mom. The one person who was tuning in to read about my life in New York city was and is my most loyal reader and I certainly returned the favor, reading everything she's ever written online and developing a debilitating obsession with her that continues to this moment. So I'm headed to NYC to meet up with Serge's ex-girlfriend from London. After a decade of online shenanigans I am going to meet her in person so we can figure out once and for all who is the prettiest. We've rented out a boxing ring at Chelsea Piers and are filling it with Jell-O so we can finally wrestle. She's screwed. I pull hair, twist nipples, poke eyes, whatever I gotta do. Her refined British sensibilities put her at an immediate disadvantage. For those of you newish to this website you have no clue what I'm talking about and it's hard to explain. A kind of you-had-to-be-there situation. I'd link you to the dozens and dozens of posts we traded back and forth but this site was scrubbed clean of all mention of her and she took down her blog about us years ago. A year ago, after nine years of online awfulness that kept trainwreck blogs chock full of content - including endless debates about who was prettier, we started messaging. The irony of her being the one person I can talk openly to about the failure of my marriage is not lost on me. Crazy how life works, isn't it? A girl who I allowed to be the cause of constant anxiety and frustration for nearly a decade has been one of my biggest sources of comfort this past year. Me neither, Caroline. You'll always be my favorite person to stalk online. It's just the way it is. See you Saturday.

Sometimes A Divorce Is So Positive It's A Negative

We hung out quite a bit throughout the summer. With the kids and without. Habit, maybe? The thought that reconciliation might be a possibility? Most of the time it was nice. Most of the time it was confusing. I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do, but when your loneliness is strangling you and you start flailing about for any kind of human connection you sometimes end up contacting the one person with whom you should probably be erecting boundaries, not inviting on a bike ride...

To read the whole damn thing click over to Babble.

The Experience of Beauty

"The experience of beauty comes when we put our interests to one side, when we look on things, not in order to use them for our purposes or to explain how they work, or to satisfy some need or appetite but simply to absorb them and to endorse what they are." Roger Scruton

My mind is cracked open. A saw to the skull, a sound like the dentist's drill in your head and there it is; open mind. So much of my life has been judging people on bullshit. Welcoming them to the friendship team, judging them worthy of a relationship or discarding them based on ridiculousness. Learn a fact about someone that doesn't jive with my preconceived notions of what is good/bad cool/not cool moral/immoral and then create an entire story about their personality and whether or not I will like them based on said fact: He likes pop country music? Pop country makes my ears bleed and his musical tastes must be indicative of his idiocy across the board. Next! There's a Seinfeld episode where Jerry explains why he broke up with his latest girlfriend:

George: So, what's going on with you and Melanie? I mean, I know you're not getting married, but uh, things are happening?

Jerry: Well...actually, we kind of broke up.

George: You what?

Jerry: Well, you know, we were having dinner the other night, and she's got the strangest habit. She eats her peas one at a time. You've never seen anything like it. It takes her an hour to finish them. I mean, we've had dinner other times. I've seen her eat Corn Niblets. But she scooped them.

George: . . . she scooped her niblets?

Jerry: Yes. That's what was so vexing.

That's me. Someone exhibits a quirk, a notion, an opinion, a personality trait that differs from my thoughts and feelings about life and I internally express disdain, manufacture an entire universe in my mind about their personality and mentally write them off. I can't date someone who eats peas one at a time! Note to self: KNOCK THAT SHIT OFF.

I want to just observe people - family, friends, strangers - without judgement. To absorb them and endorse who and what they are. Conversely, I want to be who I am without tailoring myself to the expectations of others. I'm getting there. Had a conversation with a lovely man the other day that unexpectedly segued into his onetime solicitation of a hooker. Initial instinct; withdraw and write him off based on my previous notions of who hires a hooker and why. But I just observed and endorsed his experience and as the story unfolded I realized it wasn't so very awful at all. It made sense. By the end of his tale I was very nearly good for you-ing him over his hooker experience. I believe my exact response was "Hooker habit; unseemly. Once; not a huge deal." And I really feel that way. I withheld judgment, observed and made new realizations about myself and how I truly feel about certain things. It makes me wonder what else I've been missing all these years when interacting with others because I responded with judgment, particularly the moral judgment that was my birthright as a Mormon, instead of just absorbing and endorsing. Funny how I've spent so much time shouting about how angry I was over what I feel the Mormon church did to me as a person and yet I haven't recognized that it was still infecting so many of my interactions. That's how insidious religion was to me. It polluted my brain and your mind is all you have to guide you in life, so even when you think you've overcome the brainwashing and are as open-minded as possible, especially compared to so many people you grew up with, you realize yet a deeper level of religious infection. I suppose these realizations will continue happening until I die. I look forward to overcoming each one.

New mantra: observe, endorse, experience beauty.

I feel as if I've learned more about myself in the past year of my life than I have during the 36 that came before. And yet I'm just wise enough to understand the realizations I'm having now will give way to greater understanding as I keep aging. I'm excited for that. To continue becoming the me that feels right and true, sloughing off old perceptions and expectations like so much dead skin.

Talking to a different friend the other night who is so perceptive he seems to be in possession of extrasensory powers and he described me thusly: "A restless spirit. This insatiable auto-didact. Starving for things. Always hungry. Still get that. Just more measured, outwardly contained."

Ask me to describe myself a thousand times and I'd never come close to those words and sentences but they bitch-slapped me so hard I still feel the sting. As usual my friend was on point. I've been starving for things since way back when. Starving, needy. Searching for something or someone to not only fill me up but lend me the approval I couldn't muster for myself. I intellectually understand where all this comes from. Tired cliches about childhood issues involving abandonment/neglect/religion. Recipe for disaster for anyone with brain enough to escape that scene and spend the rest of their life attempting to fill the potholes left behind.

There is a seismic shift underway. I feel it taking place. I am experiencing the dirty beauty of others just as they are while starting to recognize that my story is also beautiful in all its fucked-upness. Yes. My fucked-upness is beautiful, that's what I'm saying. Because each messy experience is a stepping stone to greater understanding. Ironically, my hunger is also my sustenance. Being hungry feeds me, a survival mechanism all this time, it urges me to keep clawing forward. The hunger and the neediness inspire intense connections with those willing to reciprocate. I like those connections, they make life worth living.

I'll always be restless and hungry, probably, but I like it. I want to be. The opposite of restless - to me anyway - isn't necessarily fulfillment but complacency. I choose restless. I'm not trying to find the prescription anymore, not trying to fill the neediness, just embracing it, observing it, endorsing it and allowing it to propel me forward, ever forward.

Not Ready For This

It is my longest relationship with a boy. Nearly 13 years together. In my bed for thousands and thousands of nights and I LIKE hearing him snore. For the first two years of my marriage he wedged his 100 pound body between me and Serge in the double bed (only size that would fit) in our tiny railroad apartment in Brooklyn. He knows me more intimately than anyone else drawing breath on this planet. He likes being in the bathroom with me, follows me while I clean the house, has watched me have sex more than I care to admit. He has traveled all over the United States, from chasing deer in the Utah mountains and splashing around in the Great Salt Lake to swimming in New York City's East River and dipping his paws in the Washington Square fountain in the West Village. He's crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge countless times on foot and by taxi and I only now realize and regret I never took him over the Brooklyn Bridge.

He is the great love of my life. Was by my side when I was an impetuous twenty-something who took him everywhere in my forest green Dodge, Durango. He barked at the men I dated and was right, they never lasted. I eventually wore his dog collar as a garter when I got married to the only guy he never barked at and should've brought him along as best man/maid of honor. He was by my side during the tumultuous New York City years, waiting for me in the window of 151 Berry Street in Williamsburg after every overnight shift at ABC, was sitting at the window of our home in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City when my daughter was born and was there to welcome home my first son. He rode shotgun in the moving truck from Utah to Pennsylvania and was in the same room in our old farmhouse as I laughed and cried and cursed until my Charlie took his first breath of air.

I've been preparing myself for this time, the sunset of his life, since the first moment I brought him home when he was 8 weeks old. We all know that's how it goes with pets. The clock immediately starts ticking. Anything after ten years will be icing, I thought, after reading the life expectancy for black labs is 10 to 12 years. Despite several near-death experiences involving a speeding semi, a belligerent Brooklyn Pit Bull named Roxy and dangerous spring run-off that nearly swept him down a raging Utah river, Max gracefully met 12 years this past April. Frisky as ever, bounding around, mischievously stealing food from the table, leaping up onto my bed at night without a hitch.

It happens fast, the end. That's what I'm realizing now. Nearly imperceptible at first. Weight loss, no more leaping around the backyard with the same old pep, the joyful frisking gradually dissolving into a tired amble. Lately he doesn't even stand up when I come home. A month ago he was still following me from room to room in his usual fashion, constantly underfoot, not wanting me out of his sight for even a minute while I load the washing machine, scrub the tub or even just attempt to pee in private. Now, more often than not, a tired tail thump is my greeting upon returning home. Instead of him dancing excitedly around my legs it's me getting down onto the floor to lie next to him and rub his bony body. Nose to nose, I look into his eyes and tell him how much I love him, what a good boy he is and how important he is to me. I tell him I'm sorry I didn't take him on walks as much after the kids were born but that I always loved him just the same, more even, for gently tolerating all the ear and tail pullings from the very people who stole my attention from him.

He knows how much I love him. I know he knows. He knows I'm his mama, the one who controls the food and the treats and now, recently, the one who can take away the pain. He comes up to me and stares intently into my eyes while whimpering quietly in the back of his throat and I know.

The limping started a couple weeks ago and escalated to the point he couldn't walk and was shivering in pain one morning as I got ready for work. I called my neighbor and good friend, Dr. Dr. Holly (two PhDs!) who is a veterinarian of the highest order and a girlfriend of an even higher order. She checked him out and said maybe bone cancer, it's hard to tell without X-rays. But I don't really want to know. It doesn't matter. At this point it's about pain management and walking the hellish line of deciding what is most humane for my baby. She gives him injections that help with the pain and inflammation and he always rebounds spectacularly, but I can feel a deadline looming. It has settled heavily into my soul, stinging me when I walk in the door and he remains in his spot on the floor, tail thumping the carpet quietly in lieu of the excited tap dance that was my welcome once upon a time.

Fuck that deadline! I don't want to deal with that deadline, can't be the one to decide when death is better than life for this dog of mine who has lived and breathed my life with me since I was 25-years-old. Waking up together, going to sleep together, all the small things; breakfasts, lunches, dinners, morning walks, sunset strolls, just sitting at the front window watching the world go by. With me for everything crucial that has ever happened to me; boyfriends, break-ups, marriage, births, deaths, Utah, New York, Pennsylvania, divorce. During those first nights after separating, when the kids were with Serge, it was Max who clambered up onto my bed and nuzzled me while I sobbed. Full circle; just him and me again after all this time. It's unfathomable to contemplate a life lived without him underfoot, next to me, behind me, waiting for me. He is my constant companion, my greatest friend.

I want him to go quietly in his sleep, his avocado-sized paw clutched in my hand, waking to find that he slipped away at some point in the night with his mama's arms wrapped around his body. That's what I want. For me and him. I can't play god with my dog and yet I know I'm going to have to be the one. The heavy responsibility of deciding when it's time is my job as his mama, what I signed up for when I walked away from his dog family nearly 13 years ago clutching his tiny, shivering body to my heart. And it's how I'll see him out; clutching his old, tired body to my heart until his very last breath and beyond.
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