I Don’t: Unmarried, Ignorant Bliss (May 15, 2013)

I Don't_Unmarried, Ignorant Bliss

As many know, by the age of 33, I was a two-time loser at matrimony. The second divorce was particularly shattering and in the fallout, I sort of arrived at the conclusion that I wasn’t entirely sure why I’d said “I do” in the first place (or second). To be certain, love was the motivation in both cases, but I’m not much for orthodoxy. I never looked at marriage in the more historically traditional sense – a strategic alliance of families, the consolidation or gain of wealth and status.

I did not require a legal union to provide me social cover or legitimize my life choices, though I failed to understand this at the time(s). Neither failed relationship produced a child, perhaps one of the few decisions rendered with foresight. For all I can figure, and the reasoning feels as weak in the present as I always sensed somewhere that it was in the past, I married for love because well, I didn’t know any other way. It’s what you were supposed to do according to the WASPy values with which I’d been raised. The fact that these values had borne themselves out time and again to be nefarious and illusory didn’t quite register for a young woman of age 23, and 29, searching for acceptance and legitimacy.

After the ink dried on the second set of divorce papers, I vowed to hang up my wedding dress (pleather skirt and sari, in practice) for good. I’m not bitter. For those who seem to know what to do with it, the institution of marriage is a powerful and wonderful phenomenon. What could be bigger than standing in front of a crowd swearing lifelong allegiance to a mate, to feel that level of confidence in oneself and another? But for a woman with whom permanence was always more of an ideal than a reality, starting with derelict, absent parentage, I’ve found myself far more comfortable with transitory commitments. At the age of 34, I’ve reinvented myself nearly as many times as Madonna. Though a more definite idea of who I am has begun to coalesce in the last couple of years, I can’t expect a binding commitment from another when I have yet to bestow one on myself.

None of this means I have shut myself out from the opportunity to attach to someone and grow with them. That’s precisely what I am doing with JC. I have thrown out the faulty road maps and guide books. There’s no timeline or real plan. The controlling, information gluttonous aspects of my personality were initially uncomfortable without an answer to the question: “Where is this going?” For the first time, I’ve decided to participate in the journey, enjoy it rather than fast forward to the conclusion. Because I’ve trudged on with the nagging realization that things will not end happily in the past and where did that leave me other than exhausted? If this show is a tragedy, I’ll find out at the end like everyone else. The mutual love and friendship are there. That’s all I need to know today.

Seasonal Attitude Disorder (December 12, 2012)

Seasonal Attitude Disorder

 

I am really trying to be enthusiastic about the holidays this year. On November 30, 2011 Eddie and I signed our final divorce papers and I was just emerging from a bout with cervical cancer. The complicated and conflicting emotions involved included being grateful for my life while wondering what on earth I was going to do with the rest of it. I was at a loss and that pretty much sapped my close-of-2011 energy. I was lonely, depressed, afraid and reclusive. I sat out December altogether and spent a low-key New Year’s Eve with close friends.

2012 has had its ups and downs but by and large, I am healthier and more whole than I can ever remember. The cancer is in remission, memories of an unhappy marriage began to recede and occupy their rightful, proportionate place. I grew professionally as I settled into a day job as the head writer for a housewares company, formulated new and interesting friendships, even took a couple shots at romance again. As the record currently stands, these forays into attachment did not end happily, but there was a time I believed I could never risk my heart. So there’s a simple pride in having put myself out there.

More than five weeks ago, as regular readers of this blog are aware, L’il Red (my beloved bike) and I were involved in a somewhat hellacious accident involving an unwise yellow-light decision and a moving SUV. I was thrown from the bicycle, landing squarely on my tailbone and sacrum (the base of the spine) in the process. Both of these bones are fractured but despite the weeks of discomfort behind me as well as the months of recovery ahead, I know it could have been much worse.

And dammit, I like to think of myself as a tough gal but continuous pain, drug side effects and the limiting of my range of motion are conspiring to upend this self-image. I hurt without medication. I struggle to eat and sleep when taking it. And no matter the state of physical discomfort, the holiday season is here to make me feel more pathetic and alone than I might otherwise. It’s frustrating because I was bloody determined not to be a humbug this year.

I have a pre-lit Christmas tree in my living room, a gift from the most recent boyfriend. When I find myself in the throes of pain, or sleepless from its relief, I turn on the four foot tall symbol of holiday cheer. Admittedly is is tougher to scowl when surrounded by glittering lights, but this kind of reminds me of those lamps doctors recommend to patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The light takes the edge off but it’s no real substitute for the sun you know? Likewise the flickering tannenbaum brings a fleeting comfort but it doesn’t replace the real sense of belonging, togetherness and celebration that the holiday season portends, and for which I yearn.

I’m writing about these feelings because I wish to master them. Know thine enemy and all that. I feel myself slipping into the usual Christmas despondency and the hope is that by recognizing it, I can hold it at bay. Growing up the eldest child of abusive and neglectful parents, the 12 Days of Christmas usually involved a rundown of why I didn’t deserve the blessings bestowed and what I had done to disappoint my progenitors throughout the calendar year. I am 34 years-old now. I don’t need or deserve to hear these voices this year – from my lips or anyone else’s.

America’s Health Care System is Still Broken Part II (April 24, 2012)

Our-Health-Care-System-Neither-Healthy-Caring-Nor-System

 

 

I will keep writing about this because I am one of the lucky ones. I will keep screaming about the system’s inherent abusiveness because I can and I must – for all those who are sicker, less financially solvent and don’t have a forum in which their voices may be heard.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this post, recounting the stress of divorce compounded by unexpected health news of the unfavorable kind. After being diagnosed with Stage 2A cervical cancer, I learned that I was considered persona non grata by prospective health insurance providers until I was in remission. At the time, I received the core-rattling news that none of my women’s health needs would be covered for 3-5 years, or until the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance companies from playing pre-existing condition roulette with people’s lives takes over in January 2013.

Since I wrote the first post in this series last year, a few important events have occurred:

  1. I underwent a successful procedure in June, 2011 that completely removed all cancerous cells from my body – no chemo or radiation required. A six-month checkup in December found no evidence of irregular growth.
  2. I have since gotten into the healthiest shape of my life. I was already no slouch in the exercise department, but have taken the upkeep of my temple in whole new directions. I have learned, through therapy and hard work, to better manage stress. I am invested in a romantic partnership that brings untold levels of peace and satisfaction. I am more careful about what I put into my body and my approach to preventive medicine has changed completely.
  3. I am officially divorced, no longer on my ex’s insurance plan and employed full-time at a housewares manufacturer with great benefits.

As I have already indicated, I was fully prepared for my women’s health coverage to be excluded for 2012. Whether I think the situation is fair or not (not) is irrelevant. You know the saying, “it is what it is.” I was planning to bide my time, and though I am not religious, ask Mother Earth to keep the cancer at bay. My single-adult premiums on the new policy amount to $6,000 annually and while I felt forced into a “cross your fingers” strategy as pertained to the cancer, at least I would be covered under all other circumstances right? Wrong.

The new Big Brother in my healthcare decision-making world, a company that will remain nameless but rhymes with Dew Toss, Dew Field of Iroquois, has declared a blanket “pre-existing condition clause” that covers EVERYTHING for which I have ever been treated. Surprise! This clause runs the full calendar year, so I have the honor of forking over $6,000 in the event I am shot or hit by a bus (neither of which has ever happened), but if I need therapy (you know because I was depressed about having cancer), antibiotics, birth control or my first annual cancer screening – all of that must come out of my pocket. My doctor and I jumped through numerous hoops and made many arguments, to no avail. A girl who rides her bike 68 miles to work and back, under the age 35 with the bad luck to get a little spot of cancer last year, is reduced to nothingness until 2013.

And as we all know today, the conclusion above represents the best-cased scenario. Subsequent to the decision by a bunch of corporate bureaucrats that I am too risky for any sort of benefits, though my money is still welcome, a bunch of mostly old ,white men on the Supreme Court will sit in judgment of my fate beyond this calendar year. By June we are told, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury will decide whether to throw the baby out with the bathwater on health care reform, because a few hundred lobbyists and Tea Party crackpots chafe against the individual mandate portion.

So we can make car insurance as a condition of vehicle ownership law, but this is somehow different? Can they really declare that no part of the reform benefits the American people? What about the part where, I don’t know, insurance companies can’t refuse you access to ALL TYPES OF HEALTHCARE because you had a treatable cancer that was cured in one shot?

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, I am out in the cold for 5 years, perhaps longer if an emboldened insurance syndicate decides so. I can’t believe this is America.

About the Supreme Court’s deliberations, the Daily Beast remarked in November of last year, “By agreeing to rule on the issue of national health care, the Supreme Court foolishly politicizes its deliberation process and needlessly damages its own reputation.”

But this is about more than a simple PR misstep, the negation of jurisprudence. This is about American rights and lives. I think I have a patriotic duty to protest my provider’s current right to kill or bankrupt me in the unfortunate event that my cancer recurs, or that I come down with the flu and need antibiotics and a short hospital stay. I want the Supreme Court to consider that with the same fervor with which they seem to regard a libertarian’s right to refuse health coverage when that refusal burdens everyone else.

In Memory Of Aai (March 20, 2012)

I looked for a photo in my personal archives that I could share with anyone who stops by to read this post, but unfortunately the prints in the wedding album from December 2007 are all that I have. Today I experienced a loss which dredges up so many difficult, conflicting emotions. A formidable woman in physical stature (almost 5′ 10″) and strength of character passed away after a long illness, my former grandmother-in-law, Mrs. Sudha Sarwate. I only knew her as “Aai.”

I am no longer married to my ex-husband Aditya but the funny thing about divorce is, you may split with your partner but family is forever. When you enter into and build a romantic relationship of any type, your mate’s loved ones are part of the package. With the right chemistry and symbiosis, they can infect your heart and soul in ways you never imagined. I firmly believe that one of the most gut-wrenching side effects to ending a marriage is losing a whole network that provides you with an identity, a place where you belong. The experience becomes more profound when you have gone without strong kinship for most of your life.

Aai was always the one to create a sense of security for her family. She was an impressive individual in so many ways – a working middle-class mom in India long before that was common practice. Moreover, she earned the degree that established her as an educator and school principal after marrying and becoming a mother. Here in the U.S. we take that sort of upward mobility and personal growth for granted, but keep in mind that this occurred in a Third World country in the 1960s. She was a pioneer without ever making a big deal about it.

The statuesque Aai broke with convention in many ways, while always making clear to her family and the society around her that husband and children were priority #1. Preceding our marriage, my future father-in-law suspected that, regardless of the language barrier (she spoke very little English, and I no Hindi), Aai and I might have a mutual understanding.

I respected her energy, the ability to balance work and home without complaint, immensely. She in turn welcomed a gauche American girl into a traditional family with open arms, and knit her a sweater for the “cold” Raipur nights to boot. We picked out the yarn to make it at a street vendor. I am staring at that burnt orange wool sweater with the hole I have been meaning to get mended as I type.

She was a loving and devoted family woman who never lost her thirst for learning. I tried to grasp Hindi while she took English lessons, and Aai of course, well into her 70s, rendered the paradigm that memory deteriorates with age laughable. I couldn’t keep up with her.

Several months before I met her in person for the first time, Aai lost her beloved husband of over 50 years, Waman Sarwate, the grandfather-in-law I never had the chance to know. Already beset with heart problems, Dada’s passing in 2007 shook this rock solid woman. In subsequent times of crisis or illness, it was not unusual for Aai to verbalize a wish to “go to” him. I know she was disappointed by the marital separation and eventual divorce that Aditya and I chose, the first in the family history. The regret of that additional burden brings pain.

While I feel personal grief, and sorrow by extension for my ex-husband, former in-laws and extended family, I am relieved that her physical suffering is over. I do not consider myself a religious woman but I hope Aai is at peace, reunited at last in some way with her beloved Waman.

I wish there were a way I could let Aai know how much her acceptance, love and positive example meant to me. This feeble post is the most I can offer now.

Have You Seen Me? (April 12, 2011)

I hardly recognize myself these days. Ruminating and paroxysms of despair are my norm, so is it strange, when going through a painful divorce, to work through the stages of grief this quickly? It has been six weeks since Eddie and I made the gutwrenching decision to move on with our lives alone, and once the words were uttered, I was on top of denial right away.

The part where I had to leave was definitely real, but I kept the naive, delusional hope alive that separation didn’t necessarily have to mean divorce. Because once I vanished, Eddie would begin to beat his breast, realize that he was lost without me, and somehow morph into the kind, supportive and attentive spouse I had been missing. Yes in the long run this temporarily split could even be good for us. We’d laugh over our impetuousness in the years to come, regaling our embarrassed children with tales of stubborn passion leading to mature contrition.

This phase lasted about a week until endless screaming, defiance and open disrespect made it clear that I could not stay in Fantasyland for an unlimited time. There would be no opportunity for reconciling, and even if we found an opening, the will is simply not there.

Then I spent about three solid weeks in anger. I am a hot-blooded Italian and was raised in a family of explosive emotion of all varieties. Anger has never been tough. I was mad that I am the one who has to leave the family home because my income will not allow me to stay. I have to let go of car, family, furniture, pretty much everything I have spent the last five years helping my partner build. It’s not about the money. It’s about disposability, loneliness and the struggle to start over that should have been avoided. Hell, I feel an anger flashback right now just pondering it. But I have laid my hair trigger reactions to rest. They will not change anything and will comfort no one.

Bargaining came next: time to utilize the health insurance coverage I enjoyed through Eddie’s job before divorce cuts me off. A short window to use the car that’s no longer mine to pick up new apartment essentials, run errands and visit friends and family I may not be able to get to for some time. In this stage of grief, the power imbalance in my marriage was never more clear. Out of a need to placate and survive, I became the pleading sycophant, dependent on the whims and good humor of my estranged husband to take care of business. At this stage of grief, I never hated myself, or him, more.

Two more weeks of solid depression followed, although truth be told, I had been languishing at this stage of grief for nearly a year. The stages are not necessarily linear. I lost weight, sleep, and more tears than I believed it possible to shed. I haven’t exactly cleared this phase yet and know that I may not for some time. Sadness and loss go together and I am not going to rush this one.

So what’s been left for the last week is a tentative form of acceptance. Acceptance is a tricky phase because knowing something can never be fixed is not quite the same as being OK with it. But awareness that my energies will be completely wasted in hoping for a happy ending has allowed me to start considering and planning for the future, a future of self-reliance and hard work. I am not a great fan of the dense, needlessly complex writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I have always ascribed to his philosophy that the self-made (wo)man is she who enjoys the most satisfaction. So I am all set to go with my move, every logistical detail planned to perfection. My career, the paid day job and the freelance endeavors, are starting to take off in ways I never imagined. Dating is a long way off, but I am reconnecting with friends, old and new, and feel a wider range of emotions suddenly available to me.

I feel better about myself and my prospects than I have in months, but there is a voice of doubt residing in my gray matter, hinting that I might be fooling myself. Is it possible to be somewhat ok already? Can I trust the endorphins that seem to be telling me life will actually go on?