Saturday, September 30, 2006

Where My Heart Sings

In her comment on my last post, the brilliant and talented
Corey Amaro
asks where my heart sings. The question has not left my head or my heart since I read her words.

In no particular order, here are 10 places where my heart sings:

1. In the presence of my children's laughter, especially when they're together.

2. At home, watching life unfold on the pond: Sunrises, full moons, flowers blooming on its banks.

3. Any place that challenges me, whether it's traveling to NYC alone or attempting a difficult hike or bike ride.

4. At my computer, writing.

5. In the midst of big rocks, moving water, fern glades. Anywhere I can hear the songs of the Universe and feel its spirit. (photo: me beside Alaskan waterfall on bicycle journey)

6. In my closet, getting dressed for a special occasion.

7. In my kitchen, cooking delicious food (well seasoned with love) and serving it on beautiful dishes.

8. Anywhere reading: Memoirs, blogs, stories of real people who face real struggles with courage and humor and grace.

9. Around my home, helping something grow: Flowers, children, pets, my business.

10. On my meditation cushion and yoga mat.

It's an interesting question, isn't it? Corey, with her lyrical language, asks not what makes my heart sing but where it sings. It's a subtle but important difference, n'est pas?

And you, dear readers, where does your heart sing? Think about it and share, if you will.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Safety in Numbers

Well, folks, I saw his soft underbelly. He didn't shake it at the sky or at me, but he exposed it. Bravely.

He wants to move to Missouri and marry me. Ever muscle, every fiber of my being wants to scream NO, but instead I said I'd think about it. And I am.

This morning I sat down in front of the windows in the sun room to meditate. Before me were two geese and one duck, citizens of my little pond. One of the geese, a guy we call Marvin, has been on the pond since I bought the house almost two years ago. The flock comes and goes, but Marvin always stays, always alone. Occasionally he tries to join the group but gets chased away by snarling ganders.

The other goose and the little brown pin duck are newcomers. They swim with the flock when it's here, but stay behind, together, when it leaves. On land or water, they stick close to each other. With the flock gone right now, they stay close to Marvin.

This little pin duck is so much smaller than the geese and seems so much more vulnerable. But when surrounded by Marvin and the new goose, it can curl its head onto its breast and sleep safely. When they swim around the pond, the little duck is flanked by the larger geese, who face whatever is to be faced before it has to.

On Tuesday evening when The Man and I were carrying my things (vintage pieces he brought to me from storage in MN) into the house, he suddenly called out to me to stop, to stand still. From the tone of his voice I simply knew there was a snake nearby.

Snakes terrify me.

The Man walked quickly but carefully to stand beside me, telling me to stand still all the while. I tried but failed at that standing still thing. I did stay in one place but did a fair amount of nervous bouncing up and down. When he reached my side, The Man told me to carefully back up. Not to run but to move away slowly.

I managed that.

After I was safely out of the area, he moved away, too.

There had been, of course, a snake about 18 inches from my feet. He had deliberately stepped between me and danger, had put himself in harm's way to give me time to get away.

The whole thing upset me so badly I nearly vomited. It was half an hour before I could breathe normally.

Before he left yesterday (when I was away from the house), The Man went to a farm and garden supply store and bought some sort of organic snake barrier powder, which he spread around the perimeter of my house. After he left, I found a pair of tall, heavy-duty rubber boots in the front hall. Bright pink. Just my size.

It would be so nice to have someone to swim ahead of me. Someone to step between me and danger.

But what price would I pay for that? And what price would he pay for marrying a woman who doesn't love him the way a wife should love a husband?

Greater than rubies. Greater than I can envision or imagine, I'm guessing.

Hmmm. . . . Why do you suppose that lone pin duck lives with two alienated geese? Does it know it can never mate or have a family with a different species? Does it care?

What price is it paying for the safety of their numbers?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Wild Goose Chases

Dozens of Canada geese have flocked to the pond this morning, repeating a strange ritual I first saw last fall about this time. The whole flock is huddled toward one end of the pond, some on the shore and others in the water. Territorialism is rampant among both the squatters and the floaters.

When an unattached gander gets too close to a goose for her gander's comfort, hissing and spitting commences. Those ganders sure know how to express anger, boy. They stretch their necks to their greatest possible lengths and advance toward the interloper with intent and speed. No room for doubt about what they mean: get away from my woman or I'll peck your eyes out!!

I have seen this many times. What I had not seen until I moved to the banks of the pond is the way some geese repeatedly turn themselves upside down (and practically inside out) in the water to shake their lower regions at the sky in some kind of mating ritual. At least, I think it's a mating ritual. After all, it's not the much different from the ways we humans try to attract mates. (While I rarely shake my lower regions at the sky, I've turned myself practically inside out on far too many occasions.) And, it only happens about this time of year. Winter's coming on and I think they want mates with whom to weather the siege and with whom they can immediately get busy come spring.

A man I dated for four years is driving here from Minneapolis today. He says he's coming to return some of my things and to ask me to read a children's book he has written. I don't believe those are his only reasons for driving 1000 miles. He could mail me the book text, and I go to Minneapolis often enough that retrieving my belongings is no problem.

We stopped seeing one another a few months after my move to Missouri. My decision to move was very difficult for him, but his reaction to it was only the final straw. Our relationship had been in its death throes for years before I finally had the courage to end it.

Although he is, on the surface at least, a lovely and loving man, down deep he is one of the angriest, most fearful souls I've ever encountered. His wounds are so deep and so understandable that I confused compassion for love for a long time. It took years for me to come to the unavoidable conclusion that my need to live without the burden of his expectations was at least as important as his need to have me in his life.

Until he called to let me know he's coming here, we had not spoken in almost a year. And now, with winter coming on, he's driving to Missouri.

God, I hope he doesn't flop upside down and shake his lower regions at the sky.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Time to Be a Child

More Girl stories. Happy ones this time.

One day The Girl came home from kindergarten, skipped straight to the refrigerator, and put up a magnet. Next, she pulled the door open and got out her favorite snack—a handful of red grapes. While she munched happily, I glanced at the magnet, a red wood heart with white script letters that spelled out, “I Love You.”

“Hey, Sweetie,” I said, “Where’d you get this magnet?”

“From John,” she replied matter-of-factly.

She had never mentioned anyone named John and I didn’t know him. Ever aware of the danger of strangers, I followed up.

“Who is he? And why did he give this to you?” I asked.

“Oh, he’s in my class. And he’s in love with me,” she answered with about the same tone she might use in describing what she had for lunch. Totally unconcerned and unimpressed, she breezed into the family room to watch cartoons. Over her shoulder, she called back,

“I told him he’ll have to wait. I’m still a child.”

I had to leave the room so she wouldn’t see or hear me laughing.

Boys continued to pursue my bright little girl throughout the next few years. She tolerated some of them and discouraged others. In 5th grade, for the first time she accepted a boy’s invitation to be his “girlfriend.” When I asked what this meant, she explained they would talk to each other on the phone and sit next to each other at lunch.

Seemed harmless enough.

The boy, whose name escapes me right now, began calling right after school each afternoon. He also called after dinner and before bedtime. If The Girl wasn’t home, he called friends and neighbors until he figured out where she was playing. Even when she was home, she didn’t always want to talk with him and sometimes told him she was busy. This only made him call more often.

Finally, one afternoon she came home from a friend’s house with a weary expression. “Mom,” she said. “I’m just going to have to tell him I can’t be his girlfriend. He doesn’t want me to like anyone but him. And that’s crazy.”

Not wanting to eavesdrop but unable to stifle my curiosity, I was relieved to find I could hear her side of the conversation from my room.

“Sorry to tell you,” she said. “We have to break up. I’m too young to have a boyfriend. I’m a child.”

Back to the closet, this time to stifle laughter.

Boys weren’t the only people with whom The Girl defended her childhood. Even I got the treatment once.

When she was in 6th grade, The Girl started swimming lessons with the other neighborhood children. After the 2nd lesson, the teacher called to tell me that The Girl didn’t need a swimming teacher, she needed a coach. She was, claimed the teacher, extraordinarily gifted and could be a top-notch competitive swimmer.

That night, I told The Girl about the teacher’s call and asked if she wanted to join a swim team.

“No, Mom. I do not want to be on a swim team,” she replied in a tone that suggested she was speaking to someone with cognitive difficulties.

“Just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean I need to compete at it or be on a team. I already take too many lessons and stuff.”

Finally, her knock-out punch.

“I’m a child. I need some time to just be a child."

‘Nuff said.

When we moved out of the house in Minneapolis, we took the heart magnet off the refrigerator for the first time. It had stayed there almost 12 years, a constant reminder that we all need time to just be a child.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

I promised a story about The Girl, and there are many happy ones to be told. But right now I’m concerned about the boy’s she’s dating—I don’t trust him—so this is on my mind.

When The Girl was in 5rd grade, the entire 5th grade did a poetry unit. Although she had never been one to read for pleasure, for some reason she loved the poems they studied in class, loved writing her own poems, loved it all. Naturally, she was beyond thrilled when her teacher invited her to be one of five students who would read one of their poems at an open house for parents.

For the next week the poetry reading was the topic of discussion at every meal, every car ride. She obsessed about how to do her hair, what she would wear, how she would look. She fretted about losing her voice or making a mistake as she read. She practiced ad naseum.

Finally, the big night arrived. Shortly before we had to leave the house, her father called to say that he was stuck in an airport somewhere and wouldn’t be able to make it home until the next day. She was crushed but stoic.

I, on the other hand, was furious. These were the days when caller ID was new technology, a separate gizmo you could attach to your phone. While she was on the phone in the kitchen listening to his elaborate story and heart-rending apologies, I was in my room shaking with anger. The caller ID on my phone—the only one in the house—showed that he was calling from his home 10 miles away.

After a few minutes in my closet with the door shut, I pulled on a bright smile and a denim jacket for the trip to school. I tried not to lie to cover his butt, but I was a master at not pointing out hurtful truths, either. Seeing no reason to tell her the truth, I did my best to let it go.

When her turn came, The Girl did a fabulous job: stood tall, projected, read without faltering. The teacher and many parents congratulated her throughout the remainder of the evening. It was one of the proudest moments of my parenting life, and one of the most bittersweet. How could The Wasband choose to miss this?

After a stop for celebration ice cream, we drove home. The Girl bounced into the house, full of happiness, and upstairs before I gave it a moment’s thought. While dishing up ice cream, I heard her voice from above, clearly talking into the phone.


She had called his house, thinking she’d leave him a message. Of course, the SOB answered the phone. He didn’t have caller ID yet, I’m guessing.

Nobody’s fool, she knew immediately that he’d lied, despite his feeble attempts to cover his butt with more lies. She was heartbroken. Crestfallen. Whatever words exist for bitter disappointment, they applied to that sweet nine-year-old girl. Every single one.

I gathered her into my arms and together we settled into a rocking chair. When her tears slowed down, she cleared her throat and looked up at me with a serious expression.

“I know Daddy lied, Mom,” she said. “But he mostly tells the truth. When he can.”

There was a long pause.

“He’s not so good with the truth all the time,” she continued. “That’s his wound. Everyone has one, you know. Lying is his.”

Everyone has a wound. What a thing for a nine year old to know. She'd always been wise beyond her years, but this was stunning. My thoughts were interrupted by her final words on the subject.

“He made a mistake. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me.”

Suddenly, I was no longer in the family room. Instead, I was in the bar area of The Steak and Ale in Bloomington, Minnesota, where I encountered my husband of less than 6 months French kissing the co-worker sitting in his lap. He was clearly drunk, which sometimes happens at company Christmas parties. My first order of business was to get him out of there. Figuring out what it meant would come later.

“He made a mistake,” I thought the next morning. “It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me.”

Hearing my own thoughts echoed back to me so many years later took my breath away.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Or people who tolerate habitual dishonesty and disloyalty.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Maybe it's the autumnal equinox, maybe it's all the photos I looked through the other day hunting for Halloween costume pictures, maybe its the colors and smells of the farmer's market this morning. Whatever. Today I am thinking about the cycles of life. The stages.

If my life were a movie, it sometimes could be considered a tragedy, sometimes a romantic comedy, sometimes film noir. It would depend on which scenes were playing and what was being portrayed. There have been so many times that could be considered the denouement, so many events over which the music could have swelled and the credits rolled.

As evidenced by my thoughts on Halloween, I prefer the Light over the Dark. Pollyanna had nothing on me, boy. But even I, the eternal optimist, recognize that one only appreciates the Light having known the Dark. Someone—Rilke, I think—said that sadness cuts furrows into us that can later be filled with happiness. Don't know about that, but one of the few things I know for sure is that the darkest times of my life have immediately preceded the happiest, that the things that have hurt me the most have made possible the greatest joys.

As I practice equinimity, I'm getting better about not getting blown off course by my personal dramas, but these are tough lessons to learn. And I seem to need to relearn them again and again.

Honking Vs of geese are landing on the pond right now, their wings reflected in the water's surface until the moment they splash down. The wind through their wings is one of my favorite sounds in the world. Turbulence that serves a purpose. As it all does. As it all does.

More stories soon. Some about The Girl, I think. My darling daughter has been under-represented here, though certainly not in my life. She's an old soul, and the light of my life. I sometimes think The Boy came to be my son because he would need me, and that The Girl came to be my daughter because I would need her.

I try to be mindful that that's an unfair burden to put on a child, but her sweet soul has kept me afloat through many a storm, simply by her existence in the world.

I am such a lucky woman.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Halloweens Past

Haven't yet found photos of The Boy at Halloween, but here's one of my beloved Girl. Lo, those many years ago.

Holloween Humbug

Halloween becomes a bigger event every year, it seems. And I become more of a Halloween Scrooge every year.

I loved it when the kids were young and I worked for weeks on their little costumes. Some of my favorite memories are of The Boy as Captain Hook or The Girl as Tinkerbell. They both wore the elaborate stegosaurus costume I made so painstakingly. On the appointed night, our neighborhood rang with the laughter of children and their various trailing adults. It was fun. It was sweet, in all ways.

But now it seems that this well-intentioned holiday has been taken over by things that do so much more than go bump in the night. Ghouls and soulless looking things glare at us from television commercials advertising haunted houses. Spooky looking figures hang out at the ends of the grocery store aisles, emitting ghastly shrieks. People set up "graveyards" in their yards.

My years as a hospice volunteer in Minneapolis taught me that death is not to be feared. Honestly. But they also taught me it is not to be mocked. Should we really take our children into dark rooms filled with "decaying" creatures and call it fun?

There is so much unrest in the world right now. The lives of several members of my bloggy tribe are swirling with anger and misunderstanding. The lives of several friends are being ravaged by fear and illness. Hundreds of thousands of service people and their families are facing the idea of death every day.

Is the new version of Halloween something like the proverbial "whistling past the graveyard?" Or is it inviting darkness to sit with our souls?

I wonder. I really wonder.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Course in Miracles

Reading Michelle O'Neil's fabulous blog, Full Soul Ahead, this morning, I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite quotes from The Boy (now 24 years old).

When he was about four, The Boy stayed all night with a friend while we celebrated our July 1 wedding anniversary. He came home filled with enthusiasm for Matthew's "Nintendo Entertainment System," and announced that Santa would be bringing him one.

The Boy had slight problems pronouncing certain kinds of words (repeated ear infections, tubes, speech delays--you know the drill), and I didn't know what he was saying at first. When I found out what he was saying and what it was, I assured him that no, Santa would not be bringing electronic death rays into our house.

This went on for months. The Boy was adamant that he would get a Nintendo Entertainment System. I was adamant that he would not.

Then came the day, 5 days before Christmas, when he was telling me once again how excited he was about the coming gift from Santa.

Me: Santa won't bring Nintendo because I don't want you to have it. Santa doesn't bring toys Moms don't want little boys to have.

The Boy: Oh, he will, Mom. He really will. Because I truly believe. And when you truly believe, you can get a miracle.

Me: *&^%

As soon as he laid down for a nap, I launched into the Great Hunt for a Nintendo. Brand new on the market, it was the hottest of hot gifts that year, and there were none to be had. Not anywhere in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. I know this. I called every possible store.

Not willing to dash his dreams but leaving for my folks house in Missouri in the morning, I got a map, pinpointed towns along the road between Mpls and my home town and called all those stores.

Still no Nintendo.

Christmas Eve. My brother was driving down from Des Moines, following a different route than we had taken. More maps. More phone calls.

Eureka! A Nintendo Entertainment system at a Wal-Mart in a tiny town only 15 miles out of my brother's way. The lovely clerk agreed to let me pay for it by credit card over the phone (unheard of in those days) and set it aside for my brother to pick up. He arrived 10 minutes before the store closed, scooped up our treasure, and brought it home, strapped to the top of his tiny, overfilled car like a trophy deer or something.

Scene: Grandma's house. Christmas morning chaos. The Boy beaming as he spots Mario running across the TV screen sitting smack in the middle of the living room floor.

The Boy: He brought it! He brought it! See, Mom, I knew I'd get my miracle.

Me: (silently) After The Wasband's cancer, after the sterility-inducing radiation treatments, after the torturous infertility treatments, artificial insemination, miscarriages, and years of waiting on adoption lists, I got my miracle, too.

When you truly believe, you can get a miracle.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Live from New York

Well, I am here and I have done it. I have taped the show and I have braved the wilds of New York to go have dinner last night in Grand Central Station with one of my favorite bloggers, Suzy.

Let me repeat this amazing news. I am in New York, where I taped an appearance that will soon be televised nationally, and I had dinner at The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station with a woman whose heart and soul I encountered on the internet.

When I was a child growing up in the absolute middle of nowhere in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri, the odds against my being able to write that last sentence were incalcuable. Twenty zillion to one, at the very least. Yet, here I am.

This morning I am filled with gratitude.

To Suzy, whose courage inspires me, whose humanity humbles me, whose sheer guts stop me in my tracks, over and over. I find myself driven to try to write better, to live more fully, to love more deeply because of her stories and her life.

To Shirley Piland, my late, great high school journalism teacher, who believed in me and my writing long before anyone else. Mrs. Piland gave me the foundation of knowledge upon which my writing career has been built. She also gave me the enormous gift of her faith in me.

To Dee Ready, my first editor and boss in the world of publishing, who taught me most of what I know about writing and editing. Dee's work and her life are a shining example of what humans can do and achieve when they are motivated by love and faith in humanity.

To Bryan Trandem, the editor who gave a scared but audacious woman a shot at writing books and then taught her how to do it. In the years since, Bryan has become a brother to me, and much of my ability to remain semi-sane through the chaos of my life has come through him. Our marathon talk sessions are among the delights of my life, and I've learned more about myself and my Self from B than I can express.

To my mom and dad, who send me out into the world wrapped in the armor of their love.

To That Which Is, for leading me to these people.

Namaste, dear readers. Namaste.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life, at Last I've Found You

Last night I went to dinner alone so I could mine my memories of the trip to the Rosewood Inn for this post. My laptop battery was dead so I used a red crayon to cover the paper tablecloth with notes.

Looking at those notes now, I am amazed. More than twelve years have passed since that trip, yet the details are practically etched into the walls of my memory, like cave drawings or petroglyphs.

Here are some of them.

When we arrived at the Rosewood Inn, The Counselor expertly swung the Porsche into a parking spot and shut off the engine. Turning to me, he cupped my face between his hands and kissed me. Gently at first, then tenderly, then passionately.

After several long minutes, The Counselor opened the car door and unfolded his lanky frame from the seat. Coming around to my side, he opened my door and offered me his hand. No princess was ever helped from a car with more gallantry. When I was safely on the sidewalk, he turned to gather our bags from the back.

Inside, the innkeeper handled the formalities and then led us up a narrow staircase to our room (The Rebecca) on the second floor. I had never in my life felt so abundantly alive. After months of anticipation and 45 minutes in the car since discarding my panties, the juice of life, of sex, flowed through me like a river. In fact, it dripped from between my legs to water the flowers on the carpet runner protecting the scarred hardwood stairs.

In my real life, this would have embarrassed me beyond words, beyond imagining. But here, in the land of enchantment, it was something to celebrate. In the last years of my marriage, my body had known things my head wouldn’t accept. Our oh-so-rare entanglements of the sexual kind had left me dry. And cold. And sad. Oh, so sad.

I had believed myself permanently dried up, but now—thank all the Gods and all the angels—I’d tapped into the wellspring once again.

We reached our room and listened politely as the innkeeper gave us the run down on how things worked. When she finally closed the door behind herself, The Counselor and I broke into nervous laughter.

“Well,” he said. “We’re here.”

“Yeah.” I answered. “Here we are.”

We stared at each other from across the room , not sure what to do next. The Counselor broke the stalemate by busying himself with his bag. Digging around in its depths, he produced a small black boombox, a bag of ice surrounding a bottle of Murphy-Goode chardonnay, and two stemmed glasses.

“We have dinner reservations in an hour at a place called ‘Jack’s,’” he told me. “Let’s have a glass of wine first.”

Through a daze, I watched The Counselor deftly open the chardonnay and pour us each a glass. He popped a cassette into the boombox and punched some buttons. As he crossed the room to hand me my wine, Julio Inglesias crooned, “When I fall in love, it will be”

And it was. But that’s a story for later. Now, we’re talking about sex. Pure, unadulterated, I’m-not-married-to-this-man sex.

The Counselor had a black belt in the art of seduction. Hell, if there’s anything beyond a black belt, he had that, too. He started slowly, with gentle kisses that deepened only when I took them there. By the time he unbuttoned the first button of my dress, I didn’t think I could stand wearing that damn thing for one more second.

We did not make it to dinner.

We did make it to the sofa, the bed, and the floor. I did make it to Paradise.

Even now, more than 12 years later, I can tell you how the dying light glowed in window-shaped patches on the chintz bedspread, how the candles cast flickering shadows on the deep green walls, how the purplish label on the wine bottle stood out against the colors of the room.

What I can not tell you—will not tell you—is exactly how The Counselor unlocked for me the secrets of my own body, how he taught me its intended uses. I will not tell you these things in part because I do not completely understand them my own self and in part because some things are better kept secret, held close to the heart.

I have kept those memories close to my heart for all these years. I have also kept the cork from that wine bottle. I never see the cork or the name “Murphy Goode” without thinking, at least for a moment, of the night I learned how Goode sex can be.

For me, life truly did begin at 40.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Road to Hastings

In the weeks between The Counselor’s announcement that I had to fire him and the time I hired another attorney, we met often for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Occasionally, we even had dinner together. And although we danced slow and close at every opportunity and kissed like hormonal teenagers, that’s all we did.

Honestly, it was a good arrangement for me. I got to explore the gray area between friends and lovers with no concern about where any given date might lead. There was no doubt—for either of us—that we would each go home alone at the end of the night. At least, we would until he was no longer my attorney.

When the choice of a new attorney had been made and the papers drawn up, I began to get nervous. Very nervous. I had not slept with anyone other than The Wasband in 18 years; had not had an orgasm in all those years. Not once.

Would I know what to do if sex took more than 3 minutes from lift off to splash down? What if I couldn’t respond, even to someone whose kisses made my toes curl? Would he notice? Would he care?

All these questions and more raced through my mind, night and day. One evening shortly before we were scheduled to sign the papers terminating our legal relationship, I admitted my fears (some of them, anyway) to The Counselor.

“Relax, Jerri,” he said, his voice reassuring and gentle.

“We’ll go someplace special and let nature take its course. It’s not a date with destiny, you know. If you’re not comfortable, we’ll wait until you are. It really is just that simple.”

It really was that simple for him. For me, not so much. According to my friends, I needed two new outfits, pretty bras and panties, a nightgown that was sexy and attractive without being too “come and get me,” and a sophisticated new suitcase in which to carry all this stuff.

Then there was the matter of having a bikini wax, an absolute necessity according to these women. When I complained about the pain, they pooh-poohed me, saying, “Beauty is pain. Get used to it.” They also scheduled me for an eyebrow wax, a manicure, and a pedicure to make sure there were no unsightly hairs or ragged cuticles anywhere to be seen.

Finally, the girls pronounced me ready.

On the 19th day of July in the year 1994, The Counselor and I met at the law offices of DPM, my new attorney, to sign the necessary papers. The ink was barely dry on the documents before we were on our way to Rosewood, a charming bed-and-breakfast in the historic town of Hastings, Minnesota.

Riding down the country highways in The Counselor’s silver Porsche was surreal. It was, after all, a Thursday afternoon, and we were headed for an assignation the likes of which I’d never experienced in my life. I was wearing a black cotton sundress over a lacy new black bra and panties. The rest of my “go-have-sex” wardrobe was folded carefully into my new duffle bag, which was sitting in the back beside The Counselor’s old black gym bag. (He obviously had not had the benefit of my expert shopping consultants.)

About halfway through the hour-long ride, I decided to cast my fates to the winds, to “act as if” I knew what I was doing and was ready to do it.

“Suddenly, I’m feeling overdressed for the occasion,” I said. I reached beneath my dress, hooked my thumbs into the waistband of my panties, and pulled them off in one quick motion.

I twirled the miniscule scrap of lace around my finger, then threw it in the back and sighed, “There. Much better.”

I’m honestly not sure which of us was more shocked. The Counselor blinked his big blue eyes several times but said nothing. I didn’t say anything more either, just hummed along with the radio—Mary Chapin Carpenter singing “I Take My Chances.”

Truer words were never spoken. Er. . .hummed.

Sunshine for a Rainy Day

It’s gray and rainy here on the pond this morning. Just the right sort of day for a happy story. My last few posts may have left readers with the impression that my life has been filled with crap. Not true. There have been crappy moments, of course, but there have also been long hours of flat-out wonderful.

This is a story about some major wonderful.

Soon after my Elastigirl days, I turned to a friend and neighbor for advice and guidance. As luck would have it, she worked for the man who would become my divorce attorney.

When I left my first appointment, I asked Kathy if every woman who walked in the place fell in love with him. Compassionate, charming, aggressive when circumstances called for it—The Counselor was everything you could want in a divorce attorney.

He was also everything you could want in a man—smart, funny, tall, handsome. And single.

At first I appreciated all those qualities in a dispassionate sort of way but wasn’t in a place to think about it much more than that. I was far too wrapped up in trying to survive and trying to help my children adjust to the strange new world we now lived in. (Plus, there were the whole “Making Muffins for the FBI” and “crazy guy in my yard with a gun” things going on, just to keep life interesting.)

However, as the months dragged on, I began to look forward to our meetings for more than the progress we might make toward settling the divorce. I have to admit I trotted out the nicest pieces of my new, size-6 wardrobe and invested an inordinate amount of time on my hair and makeup each time we met. Still, it was beyond my wildest imaginings that this handsome, accomplished man could think of me as anything but a client.

Then came the final settlement conference, the one where we either came to an agreement or prepared to go into court with the whole sorry mess. I just wanted it to be over and was willing to settle for what The Wasband was offering. The Counselor was adamant that circumstances called for more. After hours of shuttling between mediators and a judge with this offer and that, we walked out of the old Hennepin County courthouse no closer to a conclusion than we had been when we walked in.

I was devastated.

Walking back toward The Counselor’s office, my head was bowed and my spirit broken. I saw every crack in the sidewalk, every cigarette butt and gum wrapper on the street. I watched my feet move forward—right, left, right, left—with no sense that they belonged to me.

At some point, I realized The Counselor’s feet had stopped moving, so I stopped, too. When I looked up, we were standing in the doorway of Alexander’s restaurant, a favorite haunt of lawyers and other downtown types. In answer to my questioning glance, The Counselor asked if I had time for lunch. Since I hadn’t eaten anything real in a day or two, it seemed like a good idea.

Shortly after we were seated in a booth toward the back, The Counselor cleared his throat and stammered out a word or two. He stopped, cleared his throat again, and started over. His obvious discomfort penetrated the fog of my disappointment. By his third try, he had my full attention.

“This is a difficult conversation. One I hoped we wouldn’t have to have. I really thought we’d get it settled today.”

He was scaring me.

“But we didn’t, and now I’ve just got to do this,” he said.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Direct you to fire me as your attorney,” came his reply.

My words tumbled over one another, fighting to be first. “What? Why? Fire you? Are you crazy? I’m not going to fire you.”

“I’m going to have to insist,” The Counselor responded, somewhat severely.

Tears spilled from my eyes onto the table, where they mixed with puddles of water from our sweating glasses of iced tea.

“What did I do wrong? I’ll fix it, whatever it is. Oh, please, you can’t abandon me just when I find out we’re going to trial,” I pleaded.

My panic brought The Counselor up short. A huge smile broke over his handsome face.

“Oh, no. I’m not abandoning you. I just can’t be your attorney any more.”

I still didn’t understand.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’ve developed strong personal feelings for you, Jerri. So strong I can no longer be an effective advocate for you. When The Wasband pulls his shit, I want to crawl over the conference table and pound the miserable little son-of-a-bitch into the ground. And that’s simply not a good negotiating stance.”

My heart stopped while he took a breath.

“Besides, as long as I’m your attorney-of-record, I can’t ask you out. And I’ve waited about as long as I can for that.”

Joy welled up in me and burst into my heart like the most radiant of sunrises breaking through a cloudy morning. Someone wanted me. Someone wanted me. And not just any someone: A smart, accomplished, successful man who could have any woman he crooked his finger at. He. Wanted. Me.

Meanwhile, back at the reality ranch, there was still the matter of the ugly divorce in progress.

“But, what would I do without you? I need you on my side,” I squealed, none-too-attractively.

With reassuring words and gestures, The Counselor explained that he would continue to represent me until I had chosen another attorney. He planned to set up meetings with three or four prominent attorneys around town and help me interview them. Only when I found one with whom I felt comfortable would I actually have to fire him.

“And then,” he said with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes, “the fun can begin.”

I can’t remember anything from the rest of that lunch or the walk back to The Counselor’s office, only the feeling that I was floating among clouds, buoyant with excitement, tingling with a touch of fear. I must have driven home, because I was there when the kids got off the bus that afternoon. We cooked dinner on the deck and the backyard rang with our laughter. Unused to happy sounds from our house, neighbors came out to see what was going on.

I didn’t explain to anyone. When I was alone, I took out the memory of that lunch and turned it over and over, examining the glowing truth that after 17 difficult, demoralizing years, a man I liked, liked me back.

The adventure of my life had begun.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Dating Sucks

More stories soon, I promise. No time to write one of my long-winded posts right now. My business is participating in a community festival this weekend, which means long hours and not much sleep for this wicked one.

Just a quick note, though, to protest how much dating in mid-life really, really sucks. Really.

After one of my posts last week, it was suggested to me by a wise and wonderful reader that perhaps the problem was my selection process. That maybe, just maybe, I should choose a different type of man. No denying it. My ability to choose men is definitely a few potatoes short of a peck.

Under the theory that if you keep doing what you've always done, you keep getting what you've always gotten, this week, from among the men who wrote to me from, I answered a guy totally out of my normal scope. Average height, non-executive career, interested in fast cars and big motorcycles, a conservative.

SOOO not the thing to do. Yesterday, in the only hour I had free from dawn to midnight, I met this guy for a glass of wine. He chose a bar so dark and smoky I could barely see him across the tiny table. The only white wine they served came in an itty-bitty bottle with a screw top. One glass gave me a headache that's still pounding at my temples this morning.

The whole thing started badly and went downhill fast. He pulled up in a brand-new, bing-cherry red Corvette. Gunned the motor for me a few times, too, just to make sure I saw him. After a brief review of his interests (fast cars, big boats, televised sports of all sorts), the conversation meandered to politics and religion. At that point, this man asserted that the Muslim religion should be wiped off the face of the earth. AND he admires the President. Anyone who doesn't isn't a patriot, you know.

I could not get out of there fast enough.

But of course, this gun-toting, fast-driving, big-drinking, Bush-loving Son of a Gun just loves me. Wants to go out again as soon as I have a moment free.

Lord love a duck, what did I do to anger the Dating Gods? And how do I balance the Karma of it in a double-quick hurry?

All well-intentioned suggestions welcomed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The All-true Adventures of Elastigirl

Anyone is capable of anything. Any. Thing.

I know this because I once showed a surprising aptitude for espionage when circumstances called for it.

After I shoved the cards and letters back into the Wasband’s trunk (if you’re coming into the story late, check out yesterday’s post), my main concern was not letting him or the kids see me until I’d gotten myself together. I crouched in the sewing room closet with my body wedged between boxes of quilt fabric and my head tangled in the out-of-season clothes hanging there. Some chiffony thing kept wrapping itself around my throat and a stray knitting needle poked my side a time or two before I shoved it into the corner.

I concentrated on breathing until my heart slowed down to a survivable rate. When I could think again, I reviewed the situation, which held both good news and bad. The bad news was that my worst fears were true. There was no longer even a shadow of doubt that The Wasband was having an affair. (There never really was, but that didn’t stop me from trying to believe.)

The good news was that I now had my one true thing. Now I could formulate a plan, could figure out what the hell to do next.

But first, I cried. Oh Lord, how I cried. Silent streams until The Wasband and kids left the house, then loud, aching sobs that racked both my body and my brain. Over the next few days, I took refuge in the shower anytime I couldn’t contain the tears when someone was in the house. When alone, I cried with reckless abandon. My eyes were semi-permanently swollen and ships could have followed my nose to safe harbor, but at least I was keeping my misery to myself. (Yeah, sure I was.)

But back in the closet on that Saturday morning, I gathered myself for the acting performance of my life. I knew that my only chance to keep The Wasband from annihilating me was to continue the charade we were living until I had a plan in place. It was time to contact a lawyer, time to protect myself and my children. He could screw my life—and had—but he was not messing with my children’s future. That, I would not allow.

While the house was silent, I emerged from the closet and straightened my face and my attitude. Truly, Oscars have been handed out for performances less convincing than the one I put on at dinner that night and over the next few days.

When The Wasband announced that he needed to move out in order to get right with himself, I agreed it was a good plan. He rented a house and packed his things. I helped. In fact, I bought a housewarming present for his new place—a duplicate set of the mixing bowls I wouldn’t give up to him. Before he walked out, he assured me he’d probably be moving home in a few months. I smiled and said, “I hope so.”

Oscars, people. Oscars.

For some reason it seemed important to me to have proof—absolute proof—of the affair. Honestly, I think it was just so he could never convince me I’d imagined the whole thing. Whatever the reason, the moment I decided to photocopy those damning pieces of paper, I transformed into Elastigirl, able to stretch my boundaries beyond anything I ever imagined. A week after the Big Move, an appointment with our family counselor provided the setting for my debut.

After a quick review, the counselor suggested that The Boy and The Wasband spend a few minutes with him alone. Perfect. While they were in the counselor’s inner sanctum, I would be alone in the waiting room. Showing no more enthusiasm than seemed reasonable, I politely excused myself.

As soon as the door closed behind me, I slipped out the door and crept quietly down the stairs. Out in the dark parking lot, I walked to his BMW, glanced up to the counselor's windows to make sure no one was looking, and opened the trunk. (I still had a key to his car because when he asked for it, I just couldn’t seem to locate that set of keys.)

My breath caught in my throat when I peeled back the carpet over the spare tire and saw the folder still in place. I was nervous about taking the damn things, but if he discovered them missing, what could he say? “Where are the cheesy cards and creepy letters from my mistress?” Probably not. Besides, having pictures of the truth seemed worth the risk.

I snatched the folder from its hiding place, closed the trunk firmly but quietly, and walked quickly to my van. After opening the sliding door, I shoved the folder under the front passenger seat, then closed the door and hurried back into the building through the frosty November night.

The next morning I was on my way to Kinko’s before the school bus doors closed behind the kids. I copied the cards and notes with single-minded thoroughness and plotted how to replace the folder without getting caught.

A day or two later I suggested the kids and I meet The Wasband for lunch at a restaurant we all knew well. The restaurant was near his office, but I didn’t choose it for the location. Or the food. I chose it for the design—three solid walls and one bank of windows.

The kids and I arrived early and parked the van on the far side of the parking lot, well out of sight of the windows. Before leaving the van, I tucked my purse beneath the front seat, directly on top of The Wasband’s infamous blue folder. Inside, we seated ourselves at a booth near the back and I strategically placed myself on the side facing the windows.

When The Wasband showed up, he greeted the kids and, naturally, took the other side of the booth, away from the windows. While the kids were chattering excitedly, I “realized” I’d left my purse in the car and went out to get it.

So full of adrenalin that my ears were buzzing and my head felt hollow, I walked to my van in a daze. I’d never done anything so deceitful in my entire life. How in the world had I even thought up all this? I didn’t know then and don’t know now, but surprising things happen when you find yourself backed into a corner.

At the van, I quickly grabbed the file and my purse, and then approached his BMW. I unlocked the trunk, replaced the folder in its hiding spot behind the spare tire, and closed the trunk again. It took several minutes to stop shaking enough to walk calmly back into the restaurant. Once there, we each continued the conversation as though we were normal people and not the liars and sneaks we’d become.

I never did anything with those photocopies, never even told The Wasband I had them. But any time he tried to gaslight me, I remembered them and knew that I knew. They helped me hang onto what little was left of my sanity at that point. And that, let me tell you, was worth every single one of the risks I’d taken to get them.

X Marks the Spot

Freelance writer extraordinaire and fellow blogger Jenny Rough left this comment on my last post:

...I have to say it's sorta cool that once you decided to step back and ask yourself what you knew to be true your inner compass led you straight to X marks the spot.

It's been 12 years since the events described in the post actually happened, and it was only as I read Jenny's comment that I understood. I have continued to ask myself, journal, make lists, and ask close friends about what one can know for absolute certain. The answer sadly, has continued to be "Nothing."

And while I've come to accept that nothing in this life is certain (well, there is that "death and taxes" thing"), I've railed against that Truth too many times to count or mention. And now, with one simple comment, Jenny has shined a light into my Life.

One issue at a time, when you ask yourself what you know to be true, your inner compass will lead you straight to what you need.

Maybe that can now be the one thing of which I am certain. Cause it sure is true.

Thanks, Jenny.

The second installment of the story is almost ready, but I have to run payroll this morning. Will finish and post this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

SO Mickey Mouse

Was going to write something else, but this morning I am so in the mood for a clueless Wasband story.

The final crisis in our marriage brewed for a long time before it burst upon the scene. Kind of like those tropical storms that swirl in the Caribbean gathering strength for their assault on the Florida coast. During that ugly and storm-lashed period, The Wasband and I took the kids on a Disney vacation. (Yeah, I know. Irony again. But people—this is my life and while memories are mutable, basic facts are not.)

The kids (5 and 10 at the time) loved Disney World and adored what was then called "The Big Red Boat," a Disney cruise ship. The two of us, on the other hand, were totally miserable for large but unspecified reasons. I tried to talk to him, but he clammed up tighter than any of the faux shells at the spectacular Under the Sea review, showing nightly at the Little Mermaid auditorium on the Lido deck.

Not long after we got home, the bills came due for the mess our lives had become. (Among those bills was one for the transatlantic phone calls The Wasband made to his secretary from what must have been every working pay phone in the Caribbean. What—he thought I wouldn'’t notice that he spent $900 talking to her in 5 days. Waay after office hours.)

Okay, so comes the see-him-making-out-with-her-in-the-office scene, then the phone bill shows up, then a few other thrown-down-the gauntlet things happen (as I seem to say so often, I’ll tell those stories, too, just not right now). Finally, I opened my mouth and the fact that I knew marched right down my tongue, out of my mouth, and pitched a tent on the front lawn.

His response was to admit that they were involved but claim they were not having an affair and to promise that it would stop. And yes, I was stupid enough to believe it. For a while. As the days wore on, I tried to ignore what I intuited and concentrate on what I wanted to believe, but that strategy failed miserably.

Much later a counselor suggested to me that The Wasband controlled me through chaos, a truth that was painfully accurate. The chaos of this period was particularly painful—so much that I honestly felt I might be going crazy. Not "you’re making me nuts” crazy, but “does this mental hospital take my insurance" crazy.

Every day I struggled to find one thing I knew for certain to be true. Just one thing. I thought if I knew one true thing, I could construct a picture that made sense to me, build a foundation for what life was becoming. Trouble was, search as I might, I couldn'’t find a single thing The Wasband said or did during that time that I could ascertain to be true.

Then one bright Saturday morning, an answer popped into my head like a bubble on a Pop Up Video. I knew that if they were screwing around there would be mushy cards and notes. AND I knew where they would be.

I walked straight to the garage, opened the trunk of The Wasband's car, and pulled back the carpet over the spare tire. There, nestled in a bright blue file folder, was a stash of cards and letters from Joey. I read one: “I dreamed about you last night. You came to my door with a can of Hershey’s syrup in one hand and a can of whipped cream in the other. Oh, and you were naked."

If there had been a plate handy, I would have barfed into it. Lacking that, I shoved the cards and letters back into the folder and replaced it as close to its original spot as I could manage. With my heart beating so hard I could hear it in my ears, I stumbled into the house and into my sewing room, where I hid in the closet to think.

The idiot told me where he hid things. He told me where he hid things. Just how stupid did he think I was? Or, how stupid was he?

Back on the horrible Disney vacation, I didn’t want to carry my purse one day but didn’t want to leave it in the car in the MGM parking lot, either. With flamboyant, “I’m-so-smart" gestures, The Wasband opened the trunk of the rental car, peeled back the carpet over the spare tire, and stashed my purse in the open space behind the tire.

He even commented on what a great hiding spot this was and mentioned—more than once—how clever he was to have figured it out.

And then he used the same freakin place to hide proof positive that he was, indeed, having the affair he so vehemently denied.

Jesus help us all.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my incredible transformation into Mata Hari and Elastigirl, all rolled into one. Right now I have to go LMAO about this again.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Today is a somber day.

Before writing anything else, I want to acknowledge this sad anniversary and encourage you to include everyone affected by the tragedy of 9/11 in your thoughts or prayers or meditations today. Certainly the families and friends of those killed in the terrorist attacks, but also those whose health was damaged when they joined the heroic response to the death and destruction and all the families who have been forever altered by the war being justified by those attacks. And while we're at it, let's not forget people who are now regarded with instant suspicion because of their religion or nationality.

Whatever the question, love is the answer.

Last night I was reminded by an intrepid blogger of the value of laughter, even—no—especially on a day like this. So today I am going to share one of my favorite sources of laughter: the book Blessings by Julia Cameron.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I've read The Artist's Way, treasure it, and practice many of its suggestions. I've also read many of the other genuinely helpful books Ms. Cameron has written on spiritual growth and value them as well.

After enjoying Ms. Cameron's book, God Is No Laughing Matter, a few years ago, I went back to the bookstore for more of her work. Blessings was the book I selected that day.

Yikes! I'd never read such silliness. It was so bad that—for the first time in my life—I took a book back to the bookstore. My brother-friend, B, was with me on the return trip. When he asked why I was taking such a radical step, I began reading passages to him. We sat in the bookstore's parking lot for half an hour, reading aloud to one another and LOAO. We howled. Tears streamed from our eyes. Maybe it was the mood we were in, but we laughed so hard it was physically painful. At one point, we looked up to find people in the car next to us staring intently. We still believe they were contemplating a phone call to the men with the little white coats.

We did not return the book. In fact, it has become one of the treasures of our lives. During moments of stress or sadness, we often get it out and read passages to one another. B and I worked together for years, and we used to start potentially tense staff meetings with a passage or two from Blessings. Members of the department practiced impersonations and special voices for these readings and they were always pee-your-pants funny.

Here are two of our favorite passages. Imagine hearing these words in the voice of Julia Child, an evangelical preacher, or Edith Ann from Laugh-In. If that doesn't get you, try Mike Tyson or Dustin Hoffman as The Rain Man. A stoner dude works especially well for the second piece.

My Sense of Touch Gifts Me with Pleasure

I take pleasure in my sense of touch. It grounds me in the physical world. It connects me to my surroundings. The silken feel of a baby's hair, the sleek coat of a dog, the satiny feel of my lover's skin, the sleek hide of a horse—all these bring me pleasure. The cool blessing of water, the hot gift of soup, the warmth of the sun, the gentle touch of wind—all these grace me with their feel. . . .

Yep, you read right: the hot gift of soup.

My Life Is a Jewel Box of Precious Moments

. . .As I experience the power and goodness of the universe, I experience my own power and goodness. I experience that I am enough—more than enough. I experience flow, increased flow, and expanded flow. Opening to receive this flow, I become larger and more magnificient. I am part of a grand and glorious design. A grand and glorious design is part of me. I celebrate the grandeur of this fact with a humble heart.

Flow on, Dude.

Honestly, this is a guilty pleasure. It's not like me to make fun of someone's heartfelt words or their work. But as the contrarian title of her book indicates, God appreciates laughter. And so, I believe, does Ms. Cameron. At least I sure hope so.

Shante, Shante, Shante
(Peace, Peace, Peace)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Rolling On

Okay, people. If you're in the middle of yet another round of the perpetual struggle with your weight and self image, what do you do?

I don't know what your answer is, but here's the answer handed to me by the Universe: Go on national television.

That's right. I've been invited to appear on a nationally-syndicated NBC show hosted by the Today show's home improvement editor, Lou Manfredini to promote my book about fireplaces. The final confirmations arrived via e-mail late Friday afternoon.

I'll be going to NY for the taping a week from Monday. Not enough time to lose any significant amount of weight first.

I am scared sick. Totally at a loss about what to wear. Worried about seeing the true total number of my chins if I ever accidentally see a tape.

How truly sick is it that in the face of such good news, the only thing I can think about is how I look? Well that, and how frightened I am to travel in NY by myself.

During a particularly tough period in my son's adolescence, a psychiatrist told me he was "neurotic but not psychotic." It's a measure of how bad that time was that I considered the doctor's pronouncement truly good news. I am not sure I myself would get the same reassurance from said doctor today.

I should be dancing in the moonlight, making offerings of thanks and praise, and figuring out what to say or do that might be at least mildly interesting to the viewing public. Not me, boy. I'm obsessing about foundation garments and peering intently into the mirror to figure out which bra produces the smallest fat rolls at my armpits.

Self doubt is a most peculiar and virulent form of narcissism.

A friend's father once told him he'd be far less concerned about what people thought about him if only he knew how rarely they actually thought about him. I really need to remember that right now.

Please wish me luck. If not about the show, then certainly about growing the hell up.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I am—once again—engaged in a major struggle with my weight. Over the last few months I have been rejected by two men, one I sort-of liked and the other I seriously thought might turn out to be the love of my life. The one I sort-of liked told me he loved everything about me except the package I came in. Then he suggested that I sign up for The Forum, a personal development seminar that might "help me address the issue" so he could develop an interest in sleeping with me.

That story gets worse and I will tell it soon, but for now it's enough to know that it happened.

Remember the biblical admonition that goes something like, "Don't worry about the splinter in your neighbor's eye when you've got a log in your own"? Well, I've got a major case of that, and last night I opened a magnum.

My family and I attended a small ceremony honoring my niece last night. At dinner before the ceremony, I watched two morbidly obese family members cram bread and olive oil into their mouths as though they were preparing for famine. Two more (merely overweight) family members consumed two or three days worth of calories apiece during the 40 minutes we were in the restaurant.

When we got to the auditorium another family member joined us. From near the center of our group I watched three family members on my right painfully wedge themselves into their seats. Trying to accommodate the spillage from my immediate neighbor, I angled myself to the left, which seriously cut into that person's space. To say that all this made me uncomfortable is to suggest the Titanic developed a slight problem en route.

As I watched the three loved ones on my right doze off, one by one, I wondered what they could be hiding from under all that weight. I don't see their size day-to-day. They're my family and I love them. But somehow, squeezed into those auditorium seats they appeared to be trapped in their own flesh, and it worried me. I gave deep and serious consideration to the ramifications of all that weight on their lives and their health.

It was only as I was driving home alone that I realized I should be concerned about those issues for myself, should be looking at my Self, not others.

Although I've been every size between a comfortable 6 and a "can't-breathe-but-won't-wear-anything-larger" 16, I am now a size 12. Not my favorite number, but hardly elephantine, either. The big difference between my pre- and post-menopausal body is that I've developed what used to be called "midriff bulge" and is now known as "muffin top." I literally do not know how this happened.

I didn't gain any weight at the time this bulge developed. For all I know, in some sort of great fatty rebellion, hundreds of thousands of fat cells from other parts of my body decided one day to trade in their cheap seats in the back for center front. I do not like it but have no uniformed usher to hustle them back to wherever it is they belong.

I also do not appear to have the self-discipline to diet and exercise enough to banish them.

I start out every single day with the idea that today I will eat right and exercise diligently. That lasts until the first frantic phone call from the business I own or the first delicious morsel my mother offers me when I stop by her house for coffee. This is a daily and agonizing cycle.

Having a body this size and configuration is limiting my life. Mostly figuratively, because of the way I feel about myself, but the jerk-of-the-month mentioned above can not be ignored. He is not the only man to reject me recently because of my weight, just the most direct about it.

And now we've come to the heart of the matter. I say—and believe—I want to be in love, want to share my life with a man. I also recognize from having read roughly a gazillion personal ads and profiles on that being thin and fit is the single most important factor for attracting the type of man I'm interested in (smart, funny, engaged in his own life). And yet I do not do the simple things required to move me from where I am to where I want to be (or think I want to be).

Last night I realized that I am hiding behind the fat cells that have set up camp on my midriff. Yes, I have a profile on Yes, I write to interesting looking men and respond when a likely candidate contacts me. BUT I do all this from the relative safety of the fair-to-middlin certainty that it will go nowhere.

I am afraid. I have trust issues that Ray Charles could see. In the dark.

When I get this log out of my eye, I'll figure out what to do about it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Quite Alarming

Writing yesterday’s post about the visit from the FBI reminded me of another “how the hell could you have gotten us into this” moment during that era.

Before we get started with the story, I have to tell you that at the beginning of our little family drama, Joey was also married, to a man we’ll call “Jack” (as in Ass).

The phone rang late one night on a weekend when the children were visiting The Wasband at his new little abode. When I answered, a rather shrill version of The Wasband’s voice rang in my ear.

“Jerri, is everything all right over there?”

“Of course. Why?” I asked suspiciously. No way in hell he was calling to check on my health and well-being.

“Jack just left my house. He said he's coming over there. He’s pretty drunk.”


“And he has a gun.”

My stomach plummeted to somewhere near my ankles.

“What did you say?” I gasped.

“He has a gun. But don’t worry. I have a gun here, too,” The Wasband boasted.

“What the hell do you mean you have a gun? My children are there. And both of you assholes have guns?" I screeched into the phone. I couldn't think of a single thing scarier than two angry idiots with guns. Near. My. Children.

“Calm down, Jerri,” came his condescending reply. He sounded—as always—as though the fault for this situation were mine. “He just found out about me and Joey, and he’s pretty upset.”

“Okay, I get why he’s mad at you, but why is he coming over here?” I asked.

“He knows you’ve known for quite a while, and he’s really mad that you didn’t tell him,” The Wasband replied.

He's mad that I didn't tell him. He's mad that I didn't tell him. I kept repeating the phrase to myself as though it would somehow make sense if I thought about it long enough.

First things first.

“Are the kids all right?” I demanded.

“They’re asleep, Jerri,” came the same condescending tone. He had a way of drawing out the second syllable that made my name sound like the vilest of cuss words.

“We have to get them out of there. What if he comes back?” I demanded.

“And where should they go? Not to your house, that’s where he’s headed,” came the self-righteous reply.

The world was tilting on its axis and I truly believed I might slide right off the edge. This was what our lives had become. A drunken man with a gun was running around in the night, looking for me.

“Well, we can’t just leave them there in the line of fire.” I was back to screeching.

“Look, the kids are fine. I’m going to stay up until morning. I’m in the foyer with a gun in my lap. If he comes in here, he’ll never to get to the kids’ rooms. I promise you that.”

Boy, did that make me feel better. A picture of The Wasband, sitting in the tiny foyer of his 40's bungalow with a gun in his lap leaped into my head. I could see his dark brown hair resting against a white wall and his pajama-clad butt resting on the mosaic-tile floor. I could also see the flash of temper in his eyes. His temper and a gun were not a good combination.

The Wasband's voice drew me out of my frightened—and frightening—reverie.

“Just set the alarm and go to sleep. If you see or hear anything, call the police.”

“How could you get us mixed up with people like this, you son-of-a-bitch?” I was shrieking into the phone, but the line was dead.

He’d hung up on me. The bastard had hung up on me. Unbelievable.

There was nothing to do except set the alarm, and I didn’t have the vaguest notion of how to do that. A short search turned up the owner’s manual, which I read by flashlight, afraid to turn on the lights.

Standing in front of the alarm panel in my closet, I tried to push buttons as instructed, but the tears in my eyes made it hard to see the numbers. My hands were shaking too badly to get through the sequence correctly, anyway. After five or six tries, I was pretty sure I’d gotten the job done.

I stepped out into my bedroom and dove to the floor. My windows, the ones kept open in decent weather, faced the street. The screens and the sheer curtains covering the lower half of the windows were all that stood between me and whatever lurked outside. I tried to make myself go over and crank the windows closed, but I absolutely could not move toward them.

The light of the full moon streamed in, and the shadows created by the fluttering sheers were enough to scare me out of my ever-lovin’ mind. There was no way I could move even an inch closer to those windows.

I crawled out of the room and down the hall to my daughter’s bedroom, which faced the back of the house. I closed the door behind me and scrambled up into her double bed.

Our lives were once as pretty—on the surface, anyway—as her beautiful room. I had made the comforter cover, bed skirt, and pillow shams myself, from the sweetest pink prints you’ve ever seen. I’d recently added a chair rail, built shelves, and painted the whole room myself. (More evidence of the home improvement obsession that was my only link to sanity during those days.)

Although pretty things comfort me, there was no comfort in that room that night, only fear. Fear so cold that it numbed my limbs as it circulated through my veins, mixed with adrenaline and dread.

I desperately wanted to look outside, to see if Jack was out there, but there was no way I’d move from the relative safety of the back side of the house. I perched in the middle of the bed, that sweet comforter over my head, until my heartbeat stopped drumming in my ears. Probably 20 or 30 minutes, I’d guess.

All at once, all hell broke loose. The alarm sirens blared, lights flashed, and I screamed bloody murder. The failure of my “stay-in-The-Girl’s-bedroom" plan became immediately apparent as I realized my 6-year-old had no phone. No fucking phone from which to call the police.

Damn. Damn. Damn. I had to go out into the hall, no matter how scared I was. I had to get to a goddamned phone.

I opened the door and started to crawl out, only to come eye-to-eye with my beloved Wheaton Terrier, Muffin, lumbering up the open staircase in front of The Girl’s bedroom. Nothing—and I do mean nothing startled that dog. In the middle of the shrieking (the alarm’s and mine) and flashing, he was as calm as ever.

Not me. I was not calm. Not calm at all. But even in my state of panic, I realized that Muffin was the reason for the bedlam. He must have come looking for me, and it was his movement that set off the motion detectors in the hallway.

I rolled onto my back and cried for several moments while Muffin licked my face. This simply could not be my life. But it was, and at that moment in my life, my security alarm was waking the entire neighborhood.

I stood up, turned on a light, and walked to my room, where I opened the alarm panel and turned off the system. Then I picked up the phone and called the police to let them know it was a false alarm and to ask that they drive by the house anyway.

With those tasks completed, I sat down in the floor and laughed hysterically. The dog. The dog. My harmless Muffin had nearly given me a heart attack. It was all so ridiculous.

I never went back to bed that night, but I didn’t hide in The Girl’s room anymore, either. Jack be damned. If he—or anyone else—was going to attack me, they’d have to come at my face. In the light.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Making Muffins for the FBI

When we left our story*, Coach had just dropped a major drama in my lap and walked out my front door.

Not yet having learned that you can’t turn to the cause of a problem to find its solution, I called The Wasband as soon as the door’s bolt slid into its latch. Of course, I got no real information. No comfort, either. Only condescending demands to “Drop it, Jerri,” as if this had nothing to do with me. Like my future wasn’t on the line right along with his.

After the initial panic wore off, I figured out there was little to do other than drop it. Oh, and pray that we’d seen the last of Coach. Rumors swirled throughout the team parents, but other than that, life went on in the strange new pattern that now passed for normal in our lives.

Before we move on, let’s review, for just a moment, the B movie our lives had become: I was about to turn 40, my CEO husband had run off with his secretary, who was younger, thinner, and blond, with all those stereotypes imply. What could I do but go back to college? That’s right, as soon as the dust settled, I matriculated at a local learning establishment, hoping to learn how to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Now that everyone's up to date, let’s return to our regularly scheduled story.

One day I returned from my “Social Problems” class (oh, the irony) to find this message on my voice mail: “This is George Reagan of the Minneapolis unit of the FBI. I’d like to talk with you as soon as possible. Please call me at 555-BIG TRBL immediately.

The FBI. The FBI! Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The FBI wanted to talk to me! How could that be? When did our lives come so completely off the rails? How did we get so totally F’d?

I sat in a straight-backed, wooden kitchen chair for an hour, staring at the white phone on the white wall as though it might rise from its blankness to answer some of my questions.

It didn’t.

Eventually, I picked up the handset and dialed. When I reached Mr. Reagan, he asked to come by the house to talk with me. We settled on 9:00 the next morning.

Sunrise found me pacing the kitchen. I literally did not know what to do. After endless deliberation, I decided to treat Mr. Reagan as I would any other guest.

As my kids got ready for school, I stirred together a batch of blueberry muffins and made a pot of coffee. Yes, indeedy, there I was in my very own kitchen, as though it were a normal thing, making muffins for the FBI.

It was a beautiful spring morning. After the kids clattered out the door, I set the table on the deck, using cheerful pastel placemats and my favorite dishes. Seconds after I arranged the muffins, orange juice, and coffee on the table, the doorbell rang.

Walking to the door, I took several deep breaths and tried to still my pounding heart. I finally opened the door, and, for a split second, helpless laughter burbled out of me. I quickly straightened my face and my attitude and grasped the hand of the FBI man standing on my doorstep. As we shook hands and introduced ourselves, I stole glances at George Reagan’s tan trench coat and ugly black crepe-soled shoes. He must have noticed my efforts to stifle myself, because he broke into a smile himself.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “Such a cliché. But my parents gave me the coat when I graduated from the academy. What can I do but wear it?”

George gestured ruefully toward the driveway where a non-descript maroon 4-door sedan sat in the sunshine.

“The coat isn’t any worse than the car,” he chuckled. “I might as well be a cartoon character.”

As we laughed together, I led George to the back of the house and out onto the deck.

“It’s so nice this m-morning, I thought we’d s-s-s-sit on the deck,” I stammered.

George’s eyebrows did a quick loop-de-loo as he took in the table setting then settled back into place as he sat down. He accepted coffee and a muffin, and shook his napkin onto his lap. After stirring a dollop of cream and two spoons of sugar into his coffee, George reached into his briefcase and pulled out a small tape recorder and a ratty looking notebook.

His first question set the stage for all that followed:

“Do you know Mr. D. T. Coach?”

When I nodded, George asked me to answer aloud.


I’d seen cop shows. I knew enough to answer only and exactly what I was asked.

“How do you know Mr. Coach?” George asked.

We continued for an hour or so, the questions getting more complicated as the interview went on.

By the time we got to questions about The Wasband, I was shaking. My coffee was long since cold and my muffin was nothing but a pile of crumbs on my plate. I hadn’t put a morsel in my mouth, but I couldn’t keep my hands off the damn thing.

George, on the other hand, suffered no such issues. He drank cup and after cup of coffee, each flavored with one dollop of cream and two level spoonsful of sugar. At least three muffins disappeared from his plate, one small bite after each question.

Finally, the Big Question: “Did you know Mr. Coach asked your husband for money?”


“How do you know that?” asked George.

Pretty sure he already knew the answer, I took a deep breath and departed from my “answer only the question mode” to tell George about Coach’s visit to my home.

Next, George told me that he knew about The Wasband and Joey and asked whether the situation had created money issues for us. When I asked how that related to the matter at hand, he told me that many a CEO had gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar after supporting both a wife and a girlfriend turned out to be much more expensive than he’d reckoned on.

George’s forthrightness opened a door between us. Abandoning the simple question-and-one-word answer format, we broke into a wide-ranging conversation. After another half hour or so, he said,

“Well, that just about does it. But I do have one more question before I go.”

His voice sounded ominous.

“Okay,” I ventured warily.

“Do you think The Wasband is guilty of sharing insider information?”

George had handed the chance to get back at The Wasband to me on a silver platter. A few well-placed words from me and the investigation would take flight. The kind of investigation that could embarrass and inconvenience the hell out of the SOB at the least. Send him to jail at the most.

For a second or two, I was so tempted to go there that I literally could not breathe. I picked through the muffin crumbs on my plate, concentrating on trying to take in oxygen. In the end, I knew that only the truth would set me free.

“That depends on exactly what you mean,” I began.

“If you’re asking whether it’s possible that he had a few beers and said more than he should to make himself sound like a big man, I have to say yes. That’s not just possible, it’s very likely.”

I paused: The temptation to stab the bastard in the back still nagged at me. With what felt like a physical effort, I pulled forth the truth as I knew it.

“If you’re asking whether I believe he shared information with the intention of profiting in some way, no. I don’t. The man may be stupid, but he’s not a criminal.”

That’s when George Reagan uttered the words that will remain in my heart to the end of my days.

“Well, I’ve met Joey, and now I’ve met you. He left you for her. That alone proves he’s stupid."

No one had said anything that nice to me in more than 16 years.

At that moment, George Regan, FBI man extraordinaire, could have had his way with me. Anything he wanted. Right there on the deck, in front of God and all the neighborhood children playing on the swingset in my backyard.

Fortunately for us all, George did not know this.

Instead, he finished his coffee and replaced the tape recorder and notebook in his briefcase. We walked to the front door, where he shrugged back into his trench coat. Finally, George shook my hand and wished me good luck. I never saw or spoke to him again, but we’ll always have our blueberry muffin morning.

In time, Coach was convicted of a variety of SEC violations and sent to prison. His wife divorced him and his children grew up without him. What could have been worth that?

*"Down the Rabbit Hole," the post from Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006, includes this story.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tincture of Delight

Still working on "Making Muffins for the FBI."

Meantime, words woke me up this morning, tumbling around in my head, trying to arrange themselve somehow.
Never written poetry and don't know what this is. But here it is.

Your kisses distill pleasure.
Touch, textures, tastes boil together,
Producing a tincture of delight
While time slips by

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Down the Rabbit Hole

The tale of my divorce is long and filled with twists and turns. No more than many, but no fewer, either. I’ve long since moved past the anger and bitterness. In fact, most of it feels like a movie I’ve seen or a story I know really well rather than something that happened to me.

Still, I am working on a memoir and those years take up a big chunk of my life. And this episode is on my mind today for some reason.

The Wasband and I took part in creating a corporation that grew from a good idea to a $200 million dollar, publicly traded corporation in seven years. Seven years is a short time for such growth, but a very, very long time to put every available ounce of energy into a business venture.

He was the CEO. I wrote the sales and marketing materials as well as the investor and public relations. I had no official title and was paid no salary. Publicly, his position was that he didn’t want anyone to think he was taking advantage of the company by paying his wife. Privately, he admitted that he didn’t want anyone to know how much of his job I actually did.

My awareness of his relationship with his secretary developed almost concurrently with the merger of our corporation with another, larger corporation. This was the end of the rainbow, the goal toward which we had been working. But by the time we arrived, it was clear there was no pot of gold waiting. Not for me, anyway.

When The Wasband returned from the press conferences in New York announcing the merger, he didn’t celebrate with me. No, it was Joey, his younger, thinner, blond secretary who drank champagne from her slipper and basked in the glow of “his” accomplishments. It was the proverbial line drawn in the sand, the first shot in the long, pathetic battle that commenced.

A few weeks later, I had a most unusual visit from a man I knew slightly, a man with whom The Wasband coached our son’s baseball team.

This man, we’ll call him Coach, was a stockbroker. When he came to the door that night, he looked like a beaten man—wild eyes surrounded by dark circles deep enough for nocturnal animals to nest in. After a terse greeting and a minimal exchange of pleasantries, Coach told me he’d been accused of trading with other people’s money, a very serious transgression that carries prison sentences measured in years. Decades, even.

I can still see Coach, hovering on the edge of my sofa and his sanity, wearing the boys’ team T-shirt, his coaching shorts, and an air of total desperation. His voice was so tight, so filled with panic, that I wondered how he could force it out of his throat.

Coach’s terse monologue moved from explanation to accusation to threats. His main point was that he’d gone to The Wasband for money, hoping to close the SEC investigation by returning the money he'd embezzled. The Wasband, evidently, had told him he had no money to give him because our assets were frozen until the divorce was final.

Coach threatened to accuse The Wasband of being a co-conspirator to insider trading if I didn’t somehow release money to him. He had, he claimed, lost the money trading in the company's stock and believed we owed it to him to help him out of this jam.

Feeling like I’d fallen down the proverbial rabbit hole, I grasped the edge of the grand piano. As Coach talked, I glanced at my reflection in its glossy black surface from time to time, just to make sure I still existed in the real world.

When Coach wound down, I told him his problems had absolutely nothing to do with me, and that I was not going to get involved in any way.

For a long moment, Coach appeared to be considering violence. He raised his fists toward me, shaking visibly, then let them fall helplessly to his sides. He paced the length of the room a couple times, muttering to himself, then whirled back toward me to repeat his threats about implicating The Wasband.

Just then, my children and a few neighborhood kids trooped noisily through the front door, which broke the standoff. Deflated, Coach allowed me to usher him out the door and, I hoped, out of our lives.

No such luck.

I’ll be back tomorrow with Part II of this story, "Making Muffins for the FBI."

Puzzle Pieces

Writing the Truth or Lie post was tough. Posting it was tougher. In fact, it sat as a draft for several hours while I previewed it over and over. Finally, I clicked Publish and asked my brother (the one of my heart and soul but not my blood) to read it.

A few minutes later I dashed off this e-mail:

B: It feels SO wrong to quote the guy about "beautiful woman," but the story doesn't make sense without it.

Does it sound arrogant?

Please tell me the unvarnished truth.

The story rolled together easily except for the difficulty of writing that. I may not be able to leave it up. When I read it after it was published, I cringed. Big time.

B's response was totally typical of him——smart, loving, and reassuring. It also contained a challenge to write about how difficult it was for me to tell that story.

So here we are, talking about my bad body image. It really is very bad.

When I was a very young child, I was rail thin. My folks even consulted a doctor about how to fatten me up. I don't know whether his suggestions worked or it was simply Life that took care of that problem. And created another.

Either way, I started second grade with the other kids my age, but after a short time the teacher and my parents decided to skip me to third grade. With no warning and no explanation, one day my teacher told me to gather my pencils and crayons and then led me to a third grade classroom.

Let me tell you, throwing a 7 year old into a classroom of 8 year olds is like throwing raw meat to jackals. The younger, smaller child gets eaten for lunch. Keeping up the class work was no problem, but being accepted by the other kids was no day at the zoo. Check that. Maybe that's exactly what it was.

That summer, with no warning and little explanation, our family packed up and moved from a small city in California to a tiny town in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri.

By the middle of next school year, I was a chunk. My mother's worst threat was “Do (whatever I say) or I'll make you wear Chubby sizes."

This was a punishment worse than being spanked with sticks I was forced to retrieve myself from trees in our yard. I would have done anything to avoid the humiliation of Chubby sizes.

Shame shadowed me until the summer before 7th grade, when I somehow morphed into a shapely teenager. No major dieting, no crazy exercise regime. I just grew into myself somehow.

7th grade was a revelation. Boys who hadn't known I was alive in 6th grade now fought for my attention. These were guys who had known me for years—boys who had sat next to me in class, laughed at me on the playground, and acted like I didn’t exist when we first got old enough for speculation on who “liked" whom.

The whole thing confused me. I was exactly the same person. Same brain (carefully concealed so it wouldn'’t intimidate the boys). Same sense of humor. Same values. Yet everything was different.

For the next decade or so, I was appreciated, valued, and rewarded for the way I looked. It did not always feel good.

Then came the years of my marriage. I wore a size 6 in year one and a size 16 by year 16. The longer my marriage dragged on, the more energy it took not to let myself know anything dangerous to the status quo. And the more spoons full of sugar I swallowed to help the betrayals go down.

Periodically I would get on an exercise or diet kick and drop a few pounds, but it rarely lasted more than a couple of months. When men—not including my wasband—began to shoot admiring glances my way, I unconsciously slipped back into the comforting embrace of carbohydrates. Far less dangerous than the sort of embraces my body—and my soul—craved so desperately.

The leader at my Weight Watchers meeting once asked, “If what you need is a hug and what you reach for is cookies, how many cookies will it take to fill you?" I tested the limits of the question but found no definitive answer.

When my wasbund’s betrayals became so blatant they could no longer be ignored, one of his justifications was, “How could you let yourself look the way you look?"

Now the answer seems so obvious. It was easier to put his apathy down to my size and general dishabille than to the truth that he didn't love me.

Boy Howdy, how I did not want to know that.

But one Sunday afternoon I blundered head-on into the unavoidable truth when I stopped by the office on my way to the grocery store. Instead of information on what he would like for dinner, I got an eyeful of him and his secretary making out on the lovely tapestry sofa I'd picked for his office.


I crept back down the hall and out the door. They never knew I'd seen them. I actually went to the grocery store and then cooked dinner. I simply didn't know what else to do.

He came home later, full of details about how well his conference call had gone and what a rosy future was in store for the corporation we'd been nourishing together for seven years.

When he began to say grace before dinner, I threw up in my plate.

It took another month or so for the full drama to begin and many, many months until it reached the denouement. In that time, I could barely choke down solid food but drank cup after cup of hot water, which I found soothing for some reason. Literally before I realized what was happening, I was a size 6 again.

There's more, of course, but I'm going to save those gory details for another post. For the moment, I'm going to conclude with words of gratitude for the people who have loved me through every stage and every size I've been. They are my true tribe and I thank God for them.

People who can only accept me in single-digit sizes have worn as thin as the sole of a dancing slipper never meant to touch the mean streets of the real world. I'm trying so hard tnot to invite any more of them into my life.

The trick is recognizing the difference in time to avoid crash-and-burn scenarios. I'm a slow learner, I guess. Details to follow.