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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Stop Trying And Just Be The Person You Want To Be

Brooklyn '06

Max lasted long enough to see me through the worst year of my life: he solemnly accompanied me through the screaming/crying/panic attacks of Spring 2014; through the move from our home of several years - a move that signified divorce was our new reality. Max was my constant companion through the bone-rattling adjustment of shared custody; through starting a full-time job for the first time after several years of freelance writing. He saw me through it all and then he let go. At the end I whispered as much to him: It's ok, buddy. I'll be ok now. You can let go. It's ok...

His timing in my life was impeccable. He was impeccable. A fucking gentleman of the highest order. Probably loved me more than anyone in my life ever will. Still not able to think about him much without crying. I thought I felt lonely the first time Serge drove away with the kids after our separation, leaving me to my own deviant devices (youporn!) (kidding!) (maybe!) but that wasn't shit compared to what it's like without Max. Yes, Milo is still here but Milo is very different from Max. Max was a person dressed in a dog suit. I used to joke with him, pretend to search all over his body for the zipper while scratching all the parts I knew he liked scratched the most. "Where's the zipper! I know it's here somewhere. Come on, Max. Where's the zipper to your dog suit?" As if I could unzip his black labrador suit and Max the perfect human would step out, leaving his furry costume in a wrinkled heap on the floor around his feet.

He was so tuned in to every emotion I experienced, every movement. A finger snap, a sigh, a heartbeat and Max would twist his glossy noggin to study my face, often sensing something amiss and readjusting his body so he could rest his head on my lap or stick his velvety nose into my palm and lick. Who else on the planet cares about you so deeply their life is based on constantly monitoring whether or not you're ok?

Milo is all dog and instead of following me from room to room throughout the day - like Max - he prefers alone time, usually finding some nook or cranny in which to hibernate until the next time he's invited outside to play Frisbee. I don't know what he's doing: meditation, satanic rituals, listening to Morrissey and writing sad poetry, who the fuck knows? What I do know is he looks like a 12-year-old caught jacking off every time I enter the room: surprise then annoyance. What are you doing here? Get. Out.

All the hair I lost over the summer is starting to grow back. It looks ridiculous. All along the part in my hair are one and two inch hairs sprouting up. My hairline around my face is full of tiny hairs swirling every which way. It's annoying. And fascinating. My hair is reborn. And I'm in the process of being reborn. I feel a control over myself that I've never experienced before in life. It goes back to realizing that I am in control of my response to everything. My emotions don't lead me, I lead them. Life isn't happening to me, I'm happening to it. I can choose to let myself swirl down the drain of dysfunction or I can take a couple deep breaths and move forward. I still lose it from time to time but I regain control fairly quickly and often, if I can, order myself to bed because everything is always better after sleep. During the night fresh perspective always slips into the room and climbs into bed with me.

I was talking to Serge the other night about how hard it is to go through a divorce during a time of social media. We aren't friends/don't follow each other on anything but sometimes I stumble onto things I wish I hadn't seen. With our divorce final in weeks, the dreaded notion of him seeing other women is inching ever closer to reality. I know he talks to women, as he should, but it's a really fucking bizarre thing to witness women overtly flirting with your husband. Ahem. Ex-husband.

So I was telling Serge I was having a hard time not letting curiosity get the best of me and wandering into internet neighborhoods that it's in my very best interest to avoid at all costs. "I'm trying to be such a good person, I'm trying so hard but..." I trailed off helplessly and we stood there silently, looking at each other across ten years of history and the future divide of divorce. "Don't try." He finally said. "Just BE the person you want to be."

Just be the person you want to be. It just might be that easy.

Life Is A Predicament Which Precedes Death 

That up there. Henry James said that shit. I wear Max's dog tag on a delicate, silver chain around my neck. Sometimes it clinks against my other necklaces and jangles the same tune it did when attached to his red collar. Red was his color. There was one hiatus in 11 years; we tried a black number with white bones that I used in lieu of a garter when I married Serge - but we eventually went back to red because it looked stupendous up against his black fur and he knew it, boy did he know it. Magnificent bastard. Always red and always that jangle of collar buckles kissing dog tags. The tinkle of metal on metal that announced his arrival, his signature sound, a happy melody indicating his presence. The jingle is no longer a happy one. It's bittersweet. And startling, because every time it happens I think he's there behind me, watching me make dinner, readjusting himself as we watch TV or burrowing deeper into the bedding we're tangled in together. Within seconds I realize it's just me. Alone. He's gone. Faint jingling, as if his ghost was here and gone and I instinctively reach for the tag nestled in the creamy valley just below my collar bones. It's a tough thing to fathom, never seeing him again, and it's fucking killing me. He really was my best friend.

Sometimes, when I contemplate the rest of my life, I feel like I do when I'm in my car and realize I'm not wearing my seatbelt; all loosey-goosey-like with a hint of danger. Nothing is settled or safe anymore. Being married felt like wearing a seatbelt in life. No matter what happened, there would be Us. There is safety and comfort in the knowledge of a lifemate, you know? Even if you don't get along, even if you hate each other most of the time, the safety is still there. Like the seatbelt. It's confining, sometimes uncomfortable, but the safety and peace of mind that accompanies its snug presence around your body is undeniable. Without the seatbelt I feel unsettled. What's going to happen if I crash? When I crash.

Henry talks a blue streak. Always. A narration of his thoughts, made up stories about his stuffed animal families, 3-year-old speculation about people and cars and animals and the sky and the sun and the stars and and and... He's so lyrical and his wonderment often makes perfect sense in deep and abiding ways. He cuts right to the heart of things, plucking an arrow from his quiver and sending it straight into my damaged heart: Mom, are you still Dad's girl? I'll always be Dad's girl because I'm your mama, muffin.

Up at 4AM again today to tend to a fussy baby. Fumbling in the dark kitchen to mix a bottle, banging my shoulder on a door frame in my rush to quiet him with the liquid gold that is formula. We sat together as the blackness slowly gave way to a steely winter morning, nighttime seemingly erasing all color while we slept, transforming the world into shades of gray; sky, clouds, snow, even the air seems as gray as my mood today. Charlie is teething. Two pearly nubbins peeping innocently through shiny pink gums which I wager are causing me a hell of a lot more pain than him. I would like to go somewhere. Alone. Just me. That thing again, the scene of the movie in my mind I star in where the world is scrambling past me. City street: chaotic, cabs honking, people hurrying, voices shouting, brakes screeching and I'm walking through the chaos in slow motion, feeling like I see all the things and feel all the things everyone else is too busy to notice. The Carolinas have been calling my name for about a year now. Hailing from the west I've not explored the east coast much. Not at all, really. Never been below the Jersey Shore. A solo road trip, maybe? South Carolina? I need to start doing stuff like that. Visiting NYC once a month and hitting up other places I've never been. I'd like that. A lot. Any ideas? Where should I go? Up for anything within driving reason.

From Our Dysfunctional Family To Yours: Happy Thanksgiving!


You Can't Divorce The Dog: A True Love Story

Max was The Dog for me. If you're lucky in life you get one of those; The Dog. The one who is your everything. Friend/lover/therapist/child/soulmate. The one you get when you're young enough and maybe it's just you and The Dog and you belong to each other and the relationship changes you and shapes who you become and, yeah, there will be other dogs you love but there will never be another like The Dog. The one that was there for all of it. The one you grew up with. It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Forever grateful to Serge for writing about our guy because I can't right now.

Read You Can't Divorce The Dog: A True Love Story over on Babble.

Don't Know How To Live Without Him

Serge and I had the privilege of holding our Maxie boy in our arms this morning as he left this life. Sinatra played softly and the morning sun streamed through the window almost illuminating his body as he took his last breath. 11 years. Don't know how to live without him.