Friday, July 13, 2007

Day Five

I sipped a cup of jasmine tea tonight, brewed the right way with loose tea leaves and an infuser and a little bit of patience. I'm not really a tea drinker unless it's something sturdy like black tea that I can drink with milk and sugar and pretend is coffee, but sometimes when things slow down, I like to make and linger over herbal tea.

The first time I'd ever had real jasmine tea was nearly two years ago, the first week after we moved to Kansas City in August of 2004. Some old friends from college were meeting up and invited me to tag along. I drove in from the far south suburbs, nervous about the way my JC Penney couture and boring haircut and equally dull life would clash with my friends and their bohemian, artsy roommates and acquaintances. And I thought it was funny, as I parked my car on the side of an oak-shaded road in the part of Kansas City where the gracious neighborhoods just begins to brush against the ghettos, how far removed I felt from a lifestyle that my friends still carried I used to be so flamboyant, so crazy-wild in my own way, so utterly hungry for the future and how fabulous life could potentially be. I wished more than anything, as I walked up the stairs to the decrepit but still magnificent porch of the erstwhile mansion that now housed my college student friend and her roommates, that I was so ashamed of who I had turned into and what she would think of this quiet, mousy, dumpy woman who rang her door.

The evening was remarkable for me as a series of firsts: first taste of Middle Eastern cooking that would begin my lifelong quest for the perfect saffron rice recipe...first cup of French press coffee at the little Westport coffeehouse known for its flamingly unique clientele and the fact that it trumped the neighboring Starbucks for business every day it had been in existence...first tango lesson...first cup, then two, then five of jasmine tea on her leaf strewn porch as we wrapped ourselves in down blankets and watched an unexpectedly early autumn wind whip rainbursts and tree branches across the yard in the twilight.

And it was also the first time I admitted to anyone I was desperately unhappy about the way things were transpiring in my life. My oldest friend had just proposed to his girlfriend and asked me for marriage advice, and in searching for something wry and witty and helpful to say, I finally just broke down and told the truth...that I felt trapped, unfulfilled, terrified that nothing would ever change. That I had considered leaving him but was afraid he couldn't take care of himself. And as we sipped tea, and talked through that night, and assuaged our respective fears and concerns about the future, I remember thinking that this night was a truly extraordinarily bright spot in a long stretch of pretty dark days.

I don't know what I expected my friends to do after the night we met. Somehow I wanted us to form a bond over our secrets and insecurities--kind of a broken hearts club that we could use as an excuse to meet, to interact, to heal. Selfishly, I wanted a reason to drive up to Westport each week, wanted a buddy to push me into meeting interesting people, wanted to become interesting again myself. But as old friends tend to do, our promises of staying in touch and getting together often fell by the wayside; my oldest friend proposed to his girlfriend and went back to Austin for the school year, my college friend stayed busy and eventually moved to Switzerland to live with her boyfriend. And I didn't see another soul besides my husband and my family and my coworkers for seven more months, because it had just gotten that dark. Day after day after day of despair and unhappiness, with just that one bright spot--"the night I had jasmine tea", as I framed it in my mind--to illuminate my memories.

A few days ago, I walked into my county courthouse with the intention of filing for divorce. I had researched the process of filing a no-fault, no-lawyer divorce petition on the Internet, and assumed that walking into the circuit clerk's office with a driver's license, a checkbook, and a winning smile was all I need to have to start my path toward dissolving my marriage. The very unamused assistant at the front counter informed me that I should've also proffered the appropriate forms with the identification and the money and the smile, and when I asked her where I could get them, the numbers of eyes simultaneously rolling itoward the office ceiling probably would've challenged the Guinness World Record for bureaucratic exasperation.

"You'll have to consult with an attorney about the proper forms." Her eyes never glanced up from the fish tank into which she was irritably tapping food flakes.

"But I don't want an attorney, and the Internet said you'd give me the appropriate forms here."

I could hear my voice approaching howler monkey pitch like it does when I realize I look very stupid in front of a lot of people. I found out later that if an employee helps you find documents, or helps you prepare them, then they can be considered a contributor to the overall case and can risk being subpoenaed for the hearing or even sued for bad information by a litigious person. The pro se divorce FAQ I consulted included neither this information, nor the fact I had to show up with my own papers. I turned and walked out quickly, embarrassed and annoyed that something I thought would take thirty minutes, something that would be worth a pithy blog entry at the end of the day, actually required effort and seemed a little complicated.

So this morning at 8:00 I woke up, got online and peeled a banana while I looked for divorce petition forms on the Internet. I had a bowl of cereal while they printed out--all seventy-three pages of information. I drank a large coffee while I read the instructions. Three hours later I was ready to finally fill in blanks.

After seven years of college and grad school, countless term papers, research projects, technical writing portfolios, reviews, essays, and comprehensive exams, I can honestly say that filling out the paperwork for divorce was the most complicated thing I have ever done. The resources available for an individual trying to navigate the judicial system on their own are scarce, and the ones available for Missouri residents all linked to the same Missouri Divorce Code...a labyrinthinian mess of legalese, statutes, and absolutely no useful information at all. I finished the petition, the social security verification, the proof of residency, the financial affadavit, and the request for service at 3:00 pm, packed the last three years of my life into a manila folder and went back to the circuit clerk's office with what I hoped was the appropriate paperwork in hand. I handed her everything I had, sort of half-begged her to blink twice or tap a pen or something to let me know she had everything she needed to make the hearing packet (she didn't fall for that), and then was informed that I needed to come back with 120 dollars in two money orders and I would be partially on my way to a divorce. I went through six security lines, had my purse inspected four times (by the same security guard who recognized me EVERY SINGLE TIME but apparently couldn't bear the idea of not fondling the lid of my Chapstick as I went through). I wrote down Google search strings and website addresses for pro bono family law advocates for two women who had come in searching for help and advice and who were near tears and close to being kicked out of the courthouse for expressing their frustration in the loud, defiant way that low income people from the country get when they can't get the help they want.

And then I had to call my husband, because I had lost the apartment number for his address and he can't get served if they don't know where it is.

I expected things to go better on the phone than they did, because a month ago my husband called to ask why I hadn't gotten around to filing for divorce yet...he wanted to move on with his life and I was holding him back. So, you know, I thought he'd be glad, and he seemed okay when I hung up the phone after I thanked him for the address. Then he called a second time, and a third, and a fourth and a fifth and a sixth time, and with each call he got increasingly agitated and irrational, as is the pattern with my husband. He emailed three times, threatening suicide in one, proclaiming his loyalty and love in another, and demanding his scuba flippers and a set of music books back by the end of this week in the third. During his final phone call, he broke down sobbing and asked me how I got through the last year and what he could do to handle this better...that he wasn't getting any better.

And I really wanted to tell him that I hadn't done so great. I didn't have a secret, except that I failed most days and I was miserable most days, but that I had to start small and work on the tiniest things before I could even conceive of feeling normal again. It was a good day back in August after he moved out when I remembered to feed the cats, and it was progress in December when I could go out in public alone and not start crying at the couples and the lights and the intimacy and the hope of the holidays. I was proud of myself in January for starting this blog, and in March when I started making friends and going out once in awhile, and in May when I began to feel good about my job and the way I reached out to kids and other people, and in June when I got my hair cut and I remembered that I can be attractive if I try and two weeks ago when I finally...finally started not being angry at my friends or angry at my parents or angry at God and myself for all the shitty things that have happened. And then there was this challenge on Monday and how each day is a little better than the last one, and each day some part of me that got ripped open and was raw and scarred for so long finally gets to heal a little and that I can finally look at the future and not be too terrified of it to move...

And I really wanted to tell him all that, but he wouldn't have believed me. I wouldn't have believed myself if I had heard it last year. It's not my place to be his best friend or his shrink or his emotional support right now and I had to tell him that even though I just wanted to let him know that if he can forgive himself, it'll be okay. That he wasn't a bad person...that we both screwed up in our own ways. But I don't think it's possible to tell someone who's not ready to heal on their own that it's all going to be fine.

And so, for the food part of this entry, since I was at my desk all day assigning value to assets (few) and debts (copious) I forgot to eat. I had the breakfast and then at 7:00 when I got home after some errands and a run to the movie store, I didn't want to make anything. So I cheated, and I got a veggie pizza and some breadsticks. But it wasn't because I needed to punish myself for my life mistakes like I used to, or that I needed cheese and grease to fill some sort of emotional void; I just didn't want to cook. So I had two (okay, two and a half) pieces and a couple of breadsticks and I put the rest in the freezer and it was what it was. I had pizza. I didn't binge. I don't hate myself. I ate and I'm full and I'm satisfied. And tomorrow I will have oatmeal and weird Asian vegetables and whole grains and it'll all be fine.

A few months ago--probably a few weeks, even--I would've labeled today a "dark day". Maybe one of the darkest in awhile, because of the significance of the divorce filing and my husband's pain and my pain and the fact that it's only the first Friday of a month-long challenge and I already broke my main rule, but there were also good things about today, too. I opened a savings account at my bank, and I planned it so I'll have enough money to turn it into a money market account in a few months. I paid down a third of my outstanding debt with a little bit of money I saved up over the summer, and I doubled my payments for the rest of my contract with my debt people. My debt manager lady said she was proud of me and I think she really meant it when she said it. My mom said she was proud of me, too. My first statement from my mutual fund annuity came in, and my little 100 dollars in the fund is already chugging away at building interest. My loud, trashy neighbors have moved out and were replaced with a little family that's quiet, sweet, and who have children who bounce beach balls in the backyard and who like to hang wind chimes from the privacy fence. I think I'm going to bake them cookies.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that dark days do not have to be monumental if I don't want them to be. Today is just a day. Day 5 of 30, or Day 194 of 365, or Day 9,684 in my life so far. It had some bad things, it had some good things, but as long as it teaches me something to help make Day 6 an even better day, then it counts as a positive. I don't want to live a life where the good days are buffered by weeks or months or even years of darkness anymore. I don't want to sustain myself on pride or anger or self-pity. I want to be able to eat pizza and have it just be food. I want to keep learning lessons, and having After School Special types of moments where I get sheepish and realize the world doesn't have to be as difficult and upsetting as I'm making it. I want to just keep...breathing.

I'm sort of glad I drank jasmine tea tonight, even though I didn't realize the significance of it until I wrote this blog. It's finally time to let the old "jasmine tea night" from two years ago slip into the past, where it belongs.


Nickole said...

You write beautifully. I don't know how I found your blog, but I'm glad I did.

Hang in there.

Melissa said...

Yes, well done. You should be very proud of yourself for being brave enough to take care of yourself. Keep going, and I will keep reading!

PastaQueen said...

I've got to try some of that Jasmine tea.

BTW, beautiful entry.