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What We Found in the Divorce: Part IV — Yelling With My Feet

December 16, 2014

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“You start with Intro to Flamenco. Then you take it again. Everyone repeats Intro to Flamenco at least once. Then, if you’re ready, you move on to Flamenco I. And you stay there for a long time. Some people have been there for years. And eventually, if you want to, you move up to Flamenco II. And then you take that for years. And that’s just what you do. Forever, if you want. If you love it. It becomes your life. Flamenco por vida!” –my flamenco instructor

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If you look at it one way, I stumbled into flamenco lessons totally by accident.

After I moved out, I needed more freelance work — and fast. A friend who works at an ad agency set up a happy hour with me and some of his coworkers to see if I could become a freelance advertising copywriter.

About two minutes into the conversation, I realized that I might as well have been asking if I could do freelance medical work. These people had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in advertising. Polished portfolios, too.

“I’m so embarrassed,” I told my friend when the copywriters went to get drinks. “I’m so out of my element.”

“Then talk about something else. I don’t know; ask [one of them] about her flamenco lessons.”

I instantly dropped the professional façade I’d been working. “You’re taking flamenco lessons?” I gushed to the copywriter when she returned. “That’s so cool! I’ve always wanted to take flamenco lessons!”

“You should totally do it,” she said. “The studio where I take them is awesome. The instructor is wonderful.”

A few weeks later, when my income situation began stabilizing, I signed up for Intro to Flamenco at the studio. Around that time, I decided to visit my cousin and his wife in San Antonio. Conveniently, the US distributor for Miguelito’s, a brand of flamenco shoes, operates out of San Antonio.

From September 29:

While in San Antonio on Saturday, I bought flamenco shoes. It went a little something like this:

Man with mullet: What size do you need?

Me: Eight and a half to nine.

Mullet: What kind of flamenco shoes do you want?

Me: Um…what kind do you have?

Mullet: Leather and suede.

Me: Oh. Leather.

Mullet: We don’t have leather in your size.

Me: Then suede.

Mullet: We don’t have suede in your size.

He procured a pair of black suede flamenco shoes that were a half size larger, telling me that the brand ran small. Alas, I had half an inch of space behind my heel when I tried them on.

Crap, I thought as my heart sunk. Now I’ll have to buy flamenco shoes online and pay for shipping for something that might not fit, and I’ll have to send it back.

Then he said words that were so awesome, I hadn’t even dared hope to hear them.

“We might have them in red.”

My mind flashed back to my early childhood, to being obsessed with The Wizard of Oz and wanting more than anything to have a pair of red heels. Even now, I spend 99% of my time in basic black shoes, but oh, the red ones make me so happy.

“I’ll take them!” I said.

“You should probably try them on,” he pointed out.

They fit perfectly. I worried about the suede, but he assured me it was easy to clean. Then he got this big grin on his face. “You look like Dorothy!” he crowed. “If you click your heels three times, you could go home!”

“That’s the plan,” I said.

I tried them on again this afternoon. Verona kept sniffing the leather, wagging her tail. She rarely wags her tail at unusual smells.

I wore them to class for the first time tonight. They were magnificent. I didn’t want to take them off. Ever.

I might only wear red suede shoes now for the rest of my life.

But it wasn’t just the shoes. Or the frilly skirts (I somehow acquired six — and a second pair of red suede shoes — with alarming rapidity). It was the dancing itself. It was so tough. I told people, “Flamenco is the one thing that I’m not that good at and yet I’m determined to keep doing.” It was tough, and yet so familiar. Like discovering an ancient truth about myself that had always been lurking just under the surface.

On October 6, I joked on Facebook:

I have decided that flamenco dancing is basically yelling with your feet. Which is great for me, as I hate yelling with my mouth.

I look forward to communicating my frustrations with people exclusively through footwork from now on.

Later in the comments, I explained my newfound passion a little more articulately:

My flamenco instructor mentioned yesterday that her style is different from “modern” flamenco with its twistiness and flashiness / flourishes. It’s more traditional. I just love it. It’s a dance that finds grace through strength. No offense to ballet and ballroom dancing, which are beautiful, but I love flamenco because it makes being tough incredibly beautiful. And you essentially use your body as a percussion instrument. I’m not just a drummer — I am the drums. SO AWESOME.

As I wrote earlier, if you look at it one way, I stumbled into flamenco lessons totally by accident. But if you know more of the story, it becomes clear that this was something always orbiting around my heart. It just had to change trajectories…or I had to be pushed out of place to collide with it.

It probably all started with Strictly Ballroom. That’s not even real flamenco, but to a sixteen-year-old three-quarters-Mexican girl in McAllen in 1994, it was close enough.

I wanted to take ballroom dance classes so badly after that, but there was nowhere to take them. Then I went to Harvard — and the thing about Harvard is that there is no amateur hour. I stopped in at one of the ballroom dance group’s classes, and they were all practically professional dancers. No Intro to Anything there.

But the more I took Intro to Flamenco, the more I realized that real flamenco is nothing like Strictly Ballroom — and yet exactly like it. In flamenco (well, the intro class at least), you dance by yourself. You don’t have a partner. You don’t need a partner. None of this finding-love-on-the-dance-floor bullsh*t that I fell so hard for as a teenager and could never conjure into reality as an adult.

What flamenco is, however, is something you must do without fear.

Before I watched Strictly Ballroom, I hadn’t realized how afraid I was of life. That movie gave me my first taste of fearlessness. Even all these years later, I still find myself yelling like Fran in my darkest, most frustrated moments. “You’re pathetic and you’re gutless,” I yell at the ghosts in my life, the barbed and vicious memories of everything that’s ever held me back. “You’re a gutless wonder. Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias!

And that usually makes me feel a little better — but not nearly as good as that moment when Doug Hastings, having been ignored the whole damn movie and about to watch his son make the same mistake he did, yells out:

We had the chance, but we were scared. We walked away! We lived our lives in FEAR!

When you’re in the flamenco studio, there’s no fear. There’s no quiet meekness. Not if you want to dance right. Your feet have to be loud, your arms have to be curved, your knees have to be bent, and you have to be strong and graceful and totally unafraid.

My freshman year at Harvard, I may have discovered that ballroom dancing wasn’t in the cards, but flamenco was still there, in the background, beckoning me, as if saying, “Just wait. We’ll meet again. I promise.”

From October 22:

It’s late at night and I need to go to sleep — which is why it’s time for another story.

In this week’s flamenco class, the instructor said, “I’m not sure how many of you have actually seen a real flamenco performance, so I have a surprise for you.” (You can probably guess the surprise.)

Of course, I was psyched to see a live flamenco performance (and to rest for a minute; my GOD, class was tough this week). But watching her was incredible in ways I did not expect. I’ve been thinking of how to describe it for over a day and I finally had to just sit down and try, which is why I am writing this at 1 a.m.

When I think “dance performance,” I think of the cold, precise elegance of ballet, or the big smiles and flashy, flowing costumes of ballroom dance. But flamenco is not like that. There is no love story being told. She danced by herself to his music, both of them improvising as she whipped around and stomped on the floor, as if she was dancing with the music itself — like a little kid dancing with an imaginary partner, only with her sharp strong movements, I was totally willing to believe that imaginary partner was real. And I’ve written before how I love flamenco because it’s basically percussion — you’re drumming with your feet and, to some extent, your hands — but that night, as she leapt around on the floor, the wood planks visibly shaking under her feet, it was as if she was using the noise to call up ghosts, ancestors, things long dormant underground, telling them to come up, damn it, and dance with her, and be a part of the music, part of the unseen partner.

Tonight, that memory spurred another memory. (How glorious, to remember anything at all; my memory has been in an abysmally thick fog lately, and every time I remember anything good — song lyrics, a book or movie plot point, something fun that happened with friends — it’s like resurfacing after being underwater for too long.)

So: what I remembered tonight is the first time I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was during my freshman year at Harvard. Gorgeous and eclectic, that museum is one of my favorite spots in Boston. You genuinely don’t know what you’re going to see around the corner: what era the art’s going to be from, how it’s going to be arranged, etcetera. And as I was getting ready to leave, I turned around the corner on the first floor…

…and saw El Jaleo by John Singer Sergeant.

Let me clarify: I saw this massive, wall-sized painting of a flamenco dancer and musicians, surrounded by a huge gold frame yet shrouded in darkness, like it was an actual window looking in on a late evening performance hazy with wine and smoke. It was at the end of the hall, but no one was in front of it. As if it had been set up and left there specifically for me to find it.

It hit a chord deep inside my heart. I’d never seen a work of art before and felt so drawn to it, so tempted to climb inside it if I could.

It would be easy to say, “Well, there’s a simple explanation. You just like stuff like that. You’re drawn to it. You liked that painting, and you want to learn more about your family’s Spanish origins, so of course you’re doing flamenco.” But I can’t help but think that it’s not that B follows A, but that sometimes the rocks under our feet align so we stumble onto exactly the right path. I think of that painting — how I loved it so, how I still have a magnet of it on my fridge — and how, 19 years after stumbling upon it, things aligned in a way that let me stumble into a flamenco class, where I have shoes — red Dorothy shoes — that yell louder than I ever will. Where, for an hour each week, the fog shifts direction and I forget about everything that’s wrong and painful instead of everything that’s good and lovely. And where, for the first time in years, I am okay with being not perfect (and I am really, really not perfect or even that great at flamenco yet), because ultimately, even if you know the steps and the dances, it’s still improvised. And all there is is this moment, of striking the floor with my feet, calling to the ghosts and being a part of them, of remembering the past without being hurt by it, and trusting that even if I forget the next step, I’ll remember the one after that. That no matter what is around the corner, it will be astounding. And if it’s not, I’ll just improvise.

Flamenco isn’t for everyone. But I think this philosophy, of turning inward and finding something that’s always called to you and finally embracing it, is applicable to anyone going through a tough time. Doing that can give you such power during a phase of deconstruction and destruction. It lets you instill that long-term fascination and love into the foundation of who you’re becoming.

I had my last Intro to Flamenco lesson for the semester — and, according to the calendar, the year — this week. I want to move up to the next level so badly. The instructor says it’s much more challenging than Intro to Flamenco. But I’ve come this far. I show up every week in black clothing and red lipstick and red shoes, looking like some kind of giant irate grackle. Or like some kind of angry Spanish phoenix, still covered in soot and blood — but rising from the ashes. And still rising. Por vida.

From November 10:

Tonight in flamenco class, I channeled my inner April Ludgate and decided I was Not Messing Around. I got to class early. I got a space at the front of the room, instead of hiding in the back as usual. I practiced my floreos — too much, as it turns out, since my left thumb and forearm got numb 15 minutes into class. (They’re still numb, in fact.) But still, I threw myself into it. All in.

“Have you all seen Maleficent?” the instructor asked at one point.

I didn’t say anything. I haven’t seen it, partially because I don’t think Angelina Jolie glowering in pale make-up could do my favorite villain justice. Maleficent is the worst, and that makes her the best. She’s delightfully evil and wonderfully vicious. You almost want to root for her.

The instructor moved her arms upward. “When you do this, it’s like in the movie — when her wings, like giant bird wings, are rising up.”

Wait. Giant bird wings? This is a philosophy I can get behind.

An hour later, I left class thinking about how flamenco is one of the few things in my life — like, ever — that I am not that good at, but damn it, I am determined to get better. And I was so determined that I forgot to change out of my flamenco skirt and ended up wearing it to HEB.

That was fun for about, well, no time at all. I moved through the aisles slouching, trying to hide under my own cardigan, embarrassed at how costume-y I looked.

I turned the corner and saw the entertainment section. Sleeping Beauty was on. It was the scene where Prince Phillip has to slay the dragon that Maleficent has become. She’s not charmingly horrible anymore — she’s giant and terrifying. SHE is Not Messing Around.

But neither is Phillip, and neither are the three fairies. And neither are the dragon-fighting kids in my books. And neither am I.

Because, when you slay a dragon, you have to be all in. You can’t doubt yourself. You can’t worry about failing, or getting burned, or your arm going numb. You just have to keep fighting until it’s done.

And together, a lone HEB employee and I watched the scene where Phillip and the three fairies slayed the dragon.

The employee turned around and laughed when he saw me. “It’s a good movie, right?” he said.

I replied, “That was my favorite part.”

September 29, 2014. Copyright Sarah Rodriguez Pratt.

Para el resto de mi vida.

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

What We Found in the Divorce: Part III — The Truth

December 14, 2014

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“Everyone has at least one story that will stop your heart.”

“These things are true and I’ve seen them for myself.”

–Claudia Shear, Blown Sideways Through Life

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About a month and a half after I left my husband, I went in for my annual appointment, where I honestly did not expect to hear the words “There’s a lump on your thyroid.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“There’s a lump. I can feel it. Let’s get you in for a sonogram, and we’ll go from there.”

Everything happened very, very fast — and yet not fast enough. Austin Radiological Association got me in that day, but I had to wait three days to find out the sonogram results. It was part-cyst, part-something else. The radiologist who looked at the sonogram said it was under the limit of blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda, so no further whatever recommended. My doctor’s office said that if I wanted to take the conservative approach, I should make an appointment with a thyroid surgeon for a second opinion.

I had no idea what my health insurance was going to look like in two months. My current plan was platinum-level, thanks to my soon-to-be-ex. If I needed surgery or something beyond that, it wouldn’t be cheap; but at least it wouldn’t destroy me financially.

I made an appointment with the surgeon’s office. The soonest they could see me was in a week.

So I waited.

A week is an awfully long time to wait to hear the truth about your health. By the day of the appointment, I’d had terrifying possibilities hanging over me for almost two weeks. I was scared. I was exhausted. I still didn’t have a job. And if this was serious…

“You can’t think like that,” one of my friends said. “Stay positive.”

“I just know this is going to be nothing,” another friend replied. “I can feel it.”

Wrote another, “There is nothing actionable for you to do until you have the results. That’s the purely logical way to look at it and most likely totally useless in staving off the worrying. It is what I would be telling myself in between internet binges on useless medical sites that would drive me deeper into a morass of fear.”

Oddly enough, that philosophy actually made me feel a lot better.

I tried to stay upbeat. I joked to people that I wanted to give the lump a name so it wouldn’t seem so scary, but all the names I thought of were for terrifying characters like Sauron and Voldemort, so I finally decided to call the lump Garfield. It was found on a Monday. It loves lasagna. It hates Nermal. That usually made people laugh. Which was good, because the magnitude of the incident was so huge that — on top of being scared of the f*cking lump on my thyroid — I was scared that I was going to start frightening people away with my giant, super-serious grown-up problems.

My appointment with the surgeon was first thing in the morning on a Friday. I glanced constantly at my watch because I had to get back to my freelance work as soon as I could. I hoped the appointment wouldn’t take long. I figured it wouldn’t. She’d feel my throat and tell me to stop wasting her time, and that would be that. I know how surgeons are. My ex’s surgeon yelled at me after he had a small lump removed; he asked me a question about the last time my ex had lumps removed and I’d completely forgotten about the previous procedure, and he thought the proper response was to yell at me.

The thyroid surgeon was nothing like that. She was incredibly warm, friendly, knowledgable, and more willing to explain things than most of the medical professionals I’ve ever met. She told me about thyroids and thyroid lumps in clear, easy-to-understand phrases.

Then she put her hand on my neck.

“I’m going to get my sonogram machine,” she said after a moment.

My heart sunk.

A few minutes later, I was wiping cold liquid off my neck and trying not to scream over the image I was staring at. It was the first print-out of the lump that I’d actually seen. The thing was over a centimeter wide. Over a centimeter. I’d known its diameter, but there’s a difference between hearing a number and looking at an actual print-out of the lump inside your body that shouldn’t be inside your body.

“I’m just going to do a quick biopsy,” she said as the sonogram machine was wheeled out and another machine was wheeled in.

I despise needles, so I’ll spare you from the details of the procedure. Just know that I was very lucky that it only took three needle insertions (one for the local anesthesia and two to take samples). She said some patients needed multiple samples taken in order to determine what was in the mass; I think the most she ever had to do was eight. EIGHT.

The third and final stab was the worst as far as pain went. But lying on a table, knowing a huge needle was in my throat and that I had to hold perfectly still or it would have to be inserted into my throat again – discomfort laced with sheer terror is a truly unpleasant mixture.

With a small bandage on my throat and the local anesthesia subsiding, I drove back to my apartment. I tried to work, but panic was overwhelming me.

“I just wish I had someone with me during all of this,” I’d told a friend recently. “Not a boyfriend or a husband — just someone to pat me on the head and tell me it’s all going to be okay.”

She gently reminded me, “Even if you had that, though, you’d still have to go through this alone.”

I wrote on Facebook:

I want to cry but I can’t because of the pain. I feel really alone, I’m really scared, and I’m really really angry. YES, I’m grateful they found it when they did. YES, I know worse things are happening to people around the world every day. But I could have done without this right now on top of everything else.

By noon, I was a mess of nerves and tears. I didn’t know what else to do, so I did the only thing I could think of: I texted my mother. “I’m coming home for the weekend,” I wrote. I don’t think I even asked if I could. I’m pretty sure I just said I was coming home.

“Of course u are always welcome,” she wrote back.

I texted my soon-to-be-ex, asking if he could drop off the dog with him for a few days. He agreed.

I took all the laundry in my hamper and threw it into a suitcase. I’d wash it once I got to McAllen. Surely I could find some outfits among all of that.

I hit the road in the late afternoon, stopping only to go to the bathroom and get dinner. Around 10 p.m. at a Whataburger, I took a picture of myself in the car, the bandage still clearly visible on my throat. I wrote:

Tired-as-hell selfie in a Whataburger parking lot, because I have a Band-Aid on my neck — but I’m still going.

By the time I got home, I was so tired that I almost fell asleep on the dining room table. I was shredded. I’d only been sleeping two to three hours a time since I’d moved out. And yet, the more I talked to my mom, the more I woke up.

We talked until 1:30 in the morning, then watched TV for another half an hour. And that night, we had a conversation that changed my life.

Before I go further, let me say that my mother is an extremely private person. Out of respect to her, I’m not going to reveal what we talked about. But I will say that it was a story about our shared past that I’d never heard before. A story that explained one of the darkest, most painful things we’d ever experienced. It was like hearing her superhero origin story. And as I watched her recall the incident, I suddenly understood so much about her. I suddenly knew the truth. It was like seeing the source code to the universe.

She told me more painful truths the next day. It was a weekend of sharing. But I will never forget what we talked about that first night. And now, two months later, I look back and I can’t help but wonder if I ever would’ve heard that story if I hadn’t had a lump on my thyroid and ran home out of fear. And I wonder if, somewhere buried within every truly terrifying and / or horrible incident in our lives, there isn’t some moment of grace where we finally learn the truth. A small gift among the wreckage.

I drove back on Monday. The next day, I was having lunch with a good friend when my realtor (who I met through said good friend) called. She wanted to know if I could drop by the house for a final look-through before it went on the market.

My friend and I put lunch away and drove to the house. We said hello to my ex, who was gracious and polite. (We were — and still are — as amicable as possible.) I was in the bedroom, looking at the new coat of paint, thinking of how it looked exactly like we had when we moved in — as if we’d never even been there at all — when the phone rang.

“Hi, this is [the surgeon].”

“Yes?”

“Well, we have the results of your thyroid biopsy.”

“Yes???”

“It
is
benign.”

Sunlight.

Fireworks.

All the flowers bloom again.

The voice on the phone continues. “Now, there is a five percent chance that the test is incorrect. But considering the shape of the mass, and the lack of calcification, I think it’s fine to recheck it in six months. Now, if you really want to get it removed — “

“NO. That’s fine.”

“Okay. Great.” [friendly laughter] “You can check this off of your list of things to worry about.”

I hung up the phone. My friend, who heard my voice, wandered into the bedroom to check on me.

“It’s benign,” I croaked out.

She screamed and grabbed me. “I told you it was going to be nothing,” she said kindly against my ear.

“You were right,” I responded, the tears flowing freely now.

The realtor came into the bedroom to check on us. I told her. She engulfed me in a huge hug. Then my ex walked in; more hugging all around.

“How relieved are you?” someone asked me.

I didn’t know how to answer that. The truth is that relief didn’t settle in for days. Weeks, actually. I was still wound up so tightly from the stress of the divorce that I didn’t know how to process this one victory.

Eventually, I processed it, though it freaked me out. Hell, when I think about it now, I cry — partially with gratitude that things didn’t turn out worse, and partially with terror over how things could’ve turned out.

But there’s no point in thinking about how bad it could’ve gotten. If I’m going to do that, I might as well go on an internet binge on useless medical sites.

So I am grateful. And not just because Garfield turned out to be benign. I am grateful that I finally learned the truth about something very painful from the past. Even if it took two weeks of sheer terror, three huge needles, and a seven-hundred mile drive.

Because it was worth it.

October 10, 2014. Copyright Sarah Rodriguez Pratt.

And I’m still going.

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

What We Found in the Divorce: Part II — The Past

December 13, 2014

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Stranded in a fog of words.
Loved him like a winter bird.
On my head, the water pours
Gulf stream through the open doors.
Fly away,
Fly away to what you want to make.
Oh…
I feel it all; I feel it all.

–Feist, “I Feel It All”

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At some point in these modern times, we all wonder if we should put monumental news on Facebook. Even if we shy away from sharing information, we consider putting it on Facebook because that’s easy. Everyone will just know. You don’t have to individually e-mail or text or (ugh) call people on the phone.

But I kept the news about my divorce close to me for a while. Almost two months, in fact. I told people individually, one at a time. The only reason I shared it on Facebook was because I knew we were going to sell the house, and I wanted to be able to post the listing and share real estate information without having someone write, “OMG why r u selling ur house” and then have to deal with that.

It’s amazing, how that one detail about wanting to sell the house without questions became so important. It’s amazing, the details that pain us the most in this process. I gave him one of our dogs without a single tear — it just felt like the right thing to do — but when the dishwasher in my new apartment started leaking, I almost had a nervous breakdown.

So I posted something general and dignified, and appreciated all the kind comments (and was a bit amused by the “likes”).

After that, the illusion of stalwart positivity on my posts buckled. I was sad, and while I didn’t want to be self-pitying, I wanted people to know the truth. A common theme with me: truth above all else.

I went to see another play three days after the big announcement. That night, I wrote about how I cried for most of the show — and how the show was a comedy:

Oh well. Every day, I try to do at least one thing that scares me (though I usually do way more than just one); I guess today’s was, “Be vulnerable in public.”

Before the show, I went for a long walk around Hyde Park, where I lived once upon a time. During times of intense stress, I find that exercise — walking, jogging, weight lifting, flamenco dancing, whatever — soothes me. Walking is usually the most soothing of all. I’m like Neil Peart on two feet. I am the Ghost Walker.

But not tonight. I walked and walked at a leisurely stroll, trying to channel my inner “Run Lola Run” (albeit at a much slower pace) and wait for some kind of solace or answer to come to me. But I found no answers. I found no solace. I simply found something unpleasant that I didn’t expect: exhaustion.

“Can’t we just go home?” a voice in the back of my head pleaded. “I’m so tired. Let’s go home.”

“You mean the apartment?” I asked the voice. “Or the house?”

“Neither. I want to go home.”

I don’t know where that is. I just have to hope I find it sooner or later.

The idea of home is one I’ve wrestled with for years, and I’ve struggled especially hard with it over the last few months. As a kid, I didn’t get why Dorothy swore she’d never go looking beyond her own backyard for her heart’s desire. All I wanted was to get out of McAllen and see the rest of the world. All I wanted to do was run. Now, I hear Judy Garland’s voice saying, “Oh, Aunty Em, there’s no place like home” and I weep.

I never quite felt like our house together was home. There were moments where it got awfully close. Sometime this year in late spring or early summer, I wandered into the backyard wearing a vintage-style dress; the dog wasn’t coming when I called her, so I had to go get her. I scooped her up in my arms and kissed her just as the orange-yellow sunset light hit my eyes, and “Buggin'” by the Flaming Lips started playing in my head, and I felt for all the world like I’d finally come home.

But you can’t build a life around moments with the sunset. Not when the rest of the day and night are so comparably tough.

So our house wasn’t home. And my mom and stepdad’s house, as lovely as it was, never quite felt like home, either; she’d moved there my freshman year of college, so it feels more like a comfy hotel than a place to really hang up my heart and be okay. The only places I’ve ever felt at home were my grandparents’ old house in Roma, Texas, their tiny ranch right on the Rio Grande River, their South Padre Island beach condo, and my great-grandparents’ Starr County ranch. My grandparents’ current house still felt like home during my grandmother’s funeral, but now that she’s been gone for almost three years, that connection is gone. And the other places are gone, too:

  • The old house was sold when I was fifteen. (I revisited the neighborhood in 2010; read about it here.)
  • The ranch was a pain to keep up. Plus, the drug cartels made going out there a huge risk. My grandparents donated the place to a nonprofit, which let it fall apart.
  • The beach condo was sold after Hurricane Dolly. That broke my heart more than anything.
  • And my great-grandparents’ ranch, located not too far from my grandparents’  ranch, was slowly wrecked by gangs. (I revisited it in this blog post.) It burned down a few years ago. When I heard that, I lost it. Our great-grandparents poured so much love and work into that place, and we’d let it fall apart. All the memories were now covered in ashes and smoke. Then I realized it died a long time ago. Maybe this was its cremation. Maybe this let it become part of the earth again. And I felt better.

So I can’t go home again, because my home — as defined by my heart — doesn’t exist anymore. And I have no idea how to build a new one for myself yet.

Which begs the great question that Guns ‘n’ Roses posed to us years ago: Where do we go now?

In my case, I went where I always go when I have nowhere else to retreat. I went to the past.

From November 1:

I saw Birdman tonight. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was basically Punch-Drunk Love for the theatre. Phenomenal dialogue; I cried openly at points. The one-take camera angles started bugging me, though.

But more than writing about the movie itself, what I really want to write about the experience of seeing a movie by myself for the first time in 13.5 years. (This is why I’m not a critic anymore.)

I used to go to the movies by myself all the time in Cambridge. A boy introduced me to the Brattle Theater, and even after we parted ways, I’d still see whatever was showing there. I saw Hitchcock for the first time on a big, ancient screen, which felt so perfect. I saw countless indie and foreign films I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The Harvard Film Archives selections often left me uncomfortable or bored, but the Brattle always delivered. The last movie I saw there before I left was The Million Dollar Hotel, which I saw with my best friend Magda. I still remember us sobbing at the end, holding on to each other. It’s one of my standout memories from my last few weeks before moving back to Texas.

As much as I like the Drafthouse, I haven’t been able to get into movies in Austin the way I was in Cambridge, mostly because of logistics. Getting a ticket online, driving, finding parking: it’s a process. The Brattle was a place I could walk by, look at the schedule, and either stop in or not.

So partially because it’s a process, I haven’t been to the movies by myself since I moved to Austin. I almost didn’t go tonight. Everything is drenched in painful memories for me right now. I’m a bird that will grow new feathers, but I had to pluck off all the old ones first. I am so very fragile — even more so than usual. An emotional bullhorn is against my ear, playing songs and inside jokes that then explode when I remember that they’re from a life I don’t have anymore. Some pieces of the dialogue in Birdman hit so close to home, I felt like someone was smacking me across the head with a two-by-four.

I keep thinking of what I told a friend the other night: about how life is a cassette tape. It’s an outdated piece of technology, and we only get one, and sometimes it records terrible, painful things and you can’t ever fully erase them. So you just have to keep recording over that stuff. You keep recording over things, and the good songs layer over each other, complimenting each other; and the bad things will always be background noise, but you have to keep taping over them, blending the noise into something you can live with.

And that’s why I went to the movies by myself tonight, really. That’s why I try to face my fears these days instead of flinching and running from them. Because you have to keep recording over the tape. Because the more you record, the less the sad songs from the past can hurt you.

At least, that’s what I hope.

I really liked the cassette tape sentiment. But it’s a hard one to work with every day. Sometimes, you feel like you’re finally re-recording over the bad moments and making them softer and quieter. Sometimes, though, the old songs make you cry. Or they make you want to throw the damn tape out the car window.

And then, every so often, a memory rises from an old tape, as clear and crisp as the day you recorded it. That’s how I felt when I read a fabulous The Toast piece titled “Texts from J. Alfred Prufrock.”

I posted it on Facebook. Of course. From October 28:

College-aged Sarah: [busts into the room, tripping on her torn corduroy pants] DUDE DID YOU SEE THIS

Present-day Sarah: I did!

CAS: It’s like they wrote it just for us!

PDS: Tell me about it. I can’t even pick which quote to pull and put into this Facebook status update. They’re all so good. [looks at CAS] Damn, girl, I’d almost forgotten how into Prufrock you were. As if you’d never read it before.

CAS: I HAD never read it before! And my stupid boyfriend at the time was all, “Everyone got over that poem back in high school.” WHATEVER. It was still amazing to me.

PDS: Hey, remember a couple of years ago, when I did those Prufrock-themed bird drawings? “The giant quail that rubs its plume upon the window-pane.” “Till chirping voices wake us, and we swim.”

CAS: I do. [crosses arms over Beastie Boys shirt and glares at PDS] And frankly, I’m embarrassed that you forgot about our love of Prufrock.

PDS: I forgot about those pants, too. Holy crap. You paid what for those?

CAS: Eight dollars at the Army surplus store. [ties bleach-streaked hair back, then looks down at shirt] You won’t forget about this shirt, though, will you?

PDS: Never.

That’s the thing about the past. It’s not all burned-down ranches and sadness. There are beautiful moments of love and clarity. Sunsets while holding a dog. Hearing Hello Nasty blasting out of almost every dorm window for an entire semester. Crying in a movie theater next to strangers. Crying in a movie theater next to my best friend. Sitting in a car next to the wrong person, but still being able to look into the sky and see how the magnificent webs of clouds move over and against each other.

And one day, when I finally find my home, I want to carry all that with me. The sad, bad memories will sneak into the packing material; they always do. But there are good memories. And, more importantly, there will be good memories. I just have to start creating them today.

Because if you want a better past, you have to start by creating a better present.

October 12, 2013. Copyright Sarah Rodriguez Pratt.

And never forget about your awesome Beastie Boys t-shirts.

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

What We Found in the Divorce: Part I — Enough

December 10, 2014

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“In the Envoy Corps, you take what is offered, said Virginia Vidaura, somewhere in the corridors of my memory. And that must sometimes be enough.” –Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon

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I did not make the decision to leave my marriage overnight. “I can’t just be a hundred percent sure,” I told a close friend. “I have to be a thousand percent sure. There can’t be any room for doubt.”

Another friend said, “If you’re going to leave, don’t leave out of hate. Leave with at least some love in your heart. Don’t leave because you’re running — leave because you’re choosing to leave.”

And when I did leave, it was with love. But it was also because I’d had enough.

It’s amazing, how being in a bad relationship made sitcom-mom words pour out of my mouth. I’m pretty sure I said, “I’ve had it up to here!” at one point. All the fighting and fear and worry was turning me into something I didn’t want to be. And I hated myself for it. I hated what I had become.

But I knew that, deep down inside, if I could just scrape off all the layers of frustration and sadness that had built up lately, I could still be the goofy, gushy, charmingly bizarre girl I used to be. The girl who loved music more than anything and didn’t care that the neighbors heard her belt out the “Little Shop of Horrors” soundtrack. The girl who wore feather boas as scarves and didn’t care that she created a small cloud of feathery down every time she took her coat off. The girl who loved walking around Cambridge and Somerville — who worried like a mad person, but who found walking on the broken sidewalk among triple-decker apartments oddly soothing. The girl who knew the future would be better than the present, and way better than the past.

Just before I left, I went to see a play at Hyde Park Theatre. I then posted the following on Facebook:

Saw a lovely play tonight, then went walking around Hyde Park for…I don’t know. A while. It reminded me of strolling through Somerville late at night during those college summers, when the air was a little too warm and the leaves rustling were the only noise and apartments were temporary but possibility was everywhere. Sometimes, on summer nights like tonight, I walk around secretly believing that the membrane between the past and the present is malleable — but only on the nights from June through August. That if I just keep walking, I’ll stumble back into 1997, or 2001, or some other pre-Austin time. That my former self is not gone — it’s still there, just beyond my fingertips, and I can record over it like an old tape and make it better this time around. Everything changes when I get back to the car, the house, the daytime. But for a little while, possibility is everywhere. And I love that so much.

After I left, I walked all the time, desperate to soothe my panic and anxiety. I couldn’t put up bird feeders at my apartment — the balcony was broken, and remained broken for months — so I headed to nature. I walked in the same public park multiple times a week. It wasn’t nearby — in fact, it was a bit of a drive — but it was familiar, and I needed that.

I still hadn’t told most people that I’d left my husband, but I’d hint every so often that something tough was happening. From September 20:

Yesterday, I realized that this weekend is the Rockport Hummingbird Festival. I was supposed to go, but for a number of reasons, it didn’t work out.

Well, I told myself, I’ll just go walking for a while. Like my stepgrandmother said, “Remember, getting out in nature helps even if it’s for a short time.” So I threw on some yoga pants and my hummingbird t-shirt, and I set out.

I’ve been walking for maybe 5-10 minutes when I pass a couple who look about my age. “Oh,” the man says with delight as I pass by. “You’re a birder!”

I wonder if he can read my thoughts. Then I realize I’m wearing my hummingbird t-shirt.

He tells me with great excitement about the Anna’s hummingbird he saw just a few blocks away, just a few days ago. Apparently the bird has returned to the same spot for the last…three years? We chat about hummingbirds briefly. Then he mentions there’s a Baltimore oriole nearby too, and the other birds have tried to scare it away but it’s still there.

I thank him for his knowledge and express my determination to come back and look around more during spring and fall migration. We smile and say our good-byes.

And as I walk away, searching for that hummingbird and that oriole, I think how, more and more, there are really tough moments and really wonderful moments in my life, but my favorite moments are the ones that start off sad and end with that line from Altered Carbon: “You take what is offered, and it must sometimes be enough.”

And it will be enough.

But not even walking was enough to combat all the panic.

I budgeted as tightly as I could. I went to Walmart at 7 a.m. on Sundays to get groceries and a much-needed standing fan. (The apartment’s bedroom had a west-facing window that acted like a sauna, even with three — count ‘em, three — light-blocking curtains nailed over it.) I took on as much freelance work as I could.

Still, though, “I’ve had enough” was changing to “I don’t have enough.” I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough distractions. I don’t have enough security to be able to sleep more than two or three hours at a time.

“You’ve lost so much weight,” people said with envy. I’d lost over ten pounds in a month. None of my clothes fit anymore. (They still don’t.)

But I kept walking. I didn’t drink. I ate as healthily as I could. I took up meditation again.

And to my surprise, something wonderful started happening.

From September 25:

Any story that begins with “I have this voice in my head” can go badly. But, I assure you, this one actually goes quite well.

So: I have this voice in my head. It started appearing a year or two ago, either after my grandmother’s death or around the time I published my book. Maybe it was a childlike response to loss; maybe it was a new sprout of creativity as I developed my writing skills. Regardless, my internal monologue can have a lot of self-doubt and panic (as many of ours do, I know); but this voice was a random and welcome oracle of kindness and insight.

“Where the hell have you been all these years?” I angrily told it when it first started speaking (always a healthy response to something that’s trying to help you).

“I’ve always been here,” it responded. “You just haven’t been hearing me above the din of your own lack of confidence.”

Fair enough.

The other day, I was incredibly stressed out about something. Really stressed out. And suddenly, the voice said, “You know, maybe you’re looking at this from the wrong angle. Maybe you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Like someone who looks at an elephant and gets mad and says, ‘This elephant has no beak!'”

Incredible, huh?

So this morning, I was walking Verona. And every little patch of grass we came to had dog shit in it. Every. Single. One. But before I could get too grossed out and angry, the voice said, “Yes. Every single patch of grass has a piece of shit in it somewhere. JUST LIKE LIFE.”

Truth.

One of the projects I started working during this time was a magical realism fairy tale retelling of my divorce experience. Everyone and everything was a magical creature. I myself was part-bird, leaving the birdcage for unknown trees. I’ve titled it, “This Elephant Has No Beak!”: Bizarre and Beautiful Things We Found in the Divorce. It’s going to be amazing. It’s already amazing, and it’s not even done yet.

I keep going back to that Altered Carbon quote because, when you’re going through a crisis, it’s important to take help where you can. I’ve worked in emergency management and social services, so y’all can trust me on this. Seriously. Call your friends. Touch base with relatives you haven’t seen in forever. Ask other people about their lives; get lost in someone else’s problems for a while. And when someone offers you something out of kindness — food, a coffee date, a late-night drive, a trip to the arcade, an old toaster — take it. Especially if you need it.

My problems aren’t going to be fixed overnight. But every single day has something marvelous to offer. And somehow, it is always enough.

Fud. August 16, 2014. Copyright Sarah Rodriguez Pratt.

The first time I went home this fall, I wasn’t able to eat a lot. One night, my mother put together these leftovers for me. They were delicious, but the labels were my favorite parts.

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

What We Found in the Divorce: An Introduction

December 8, 2014

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“Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce. It’s really that simple. That’s never happened. THAT would be sad. If two people were married and they were really happy and they just had a great thing, and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times. Literally zero.” –Louis CK

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You can probably guess from the title of this blog post why I haven’t written in a while. (The quote above might have given it away, too.)

I write about a lot of personal stuff on this blog, but I try to keep the truly personal stuff to myself. I’m an oversharer, and yet a really private person. I make for an interesting dinner guest.

But, yes, this thing has happened. I am now divorced from my husband of over six years and partner of over twelve years. And while I don’t want to wallow in the sad, ugly parts of the matter, I also don’t want to pretend like it didn’t happen and like it hasn’t been wrecking me for months. I learned a long time ago that honesty is the best policy. Truth above all else.

So here’s what happened.

I left my husband in August, but we’d had problems for many years. I’d tried to work through them, but ultimately, a lot of last-straw stuff happened this spring and summer, and by July I knew I had to go. I’m the one who left. I didn’t have a full-time job, I relied on him for everything, and I’d spent more than twelve years of my life in this relationship — and I left.

Things are amicable. Well, as amicable as they can be in a situation like this. He is a good person with a good heart, and I genuinely wish him the best. I know he wishes the same for me.

But — as I mentioned — while the last few years have been a quiet struggle, the last four months have been a chasm of pain and weirdness and loss. Just because leaving was the right decision doesn’t mean it was easy on any level. I lost a lot in my divorce. A lot.

I lost my house. (We sold it in November.)

I lost my backyard, and the greenbelt behind it.

I lost a place to put my beloved bird feeders.

I lost my financial stability (well, my illusion of financial stability).

I lost the freedom to write whenever I wanted and work whenever I wanted, and still have the mortgage paid.

I lost the ability to say and think, “Well, things are tough between us, but we’ll always find a way to work things out.”

I lost any positive connotation of the word “forever.”

I lost the guarantee that, no matter what, this person would always be there for me…though that felt like an illusion, too.

I lost a lot. A whole lot. Our relationship had become toxic, and when you have to cut something toxic out of your heart, part of your heart gets cut out with it. And you realize just how alone you are. You may have wonderful friends who are there for you day and night, no matter what time you text them and no matter how long and frantic and plaintive your e-mails are (and I do, and I am so lucky to have these wonderful people in my life). But when it comes down to it, only you are going through this. Only you have the shredded heart. Only you can find your way through the darkness — and a lot of the time, you have no idea how long you’re going to wander through it. You have no map for escaping this place or breaking out of the loop. You have to wait for one to start materializing, and you have no control over when that will happen. And that’s the f*cking worst.

And then — THEN, on top of everything else — it’s the holiday season.

I considered banning Christmas from my heart and my life, and pretending that it just didn’t exist this year. I did that in 2012, after my grandmother died. Come to think of it, I’ve spent most of the past few years pretending that Christmas doesn’t exist.

But out of all the sadness and anxiety / panic triggers in my life, yuletide joy has ranked pretty low on the list so far. I got through Thanksgiving because of some very specific friends — people I’ve known for over a decade. And I’d gotten through every day up to that point — and this point — thanks to a small crew of devoted friends (they know who they are; they’re thanked in the last paragraph of the Acknowledgements in my latest book).

So even though I’m nowhere near the end of this darkness, even though I’m still trying to read the map and hope that it doesn’t disappear, I decided it was time to share at least part of this story. Because, to me, Christmas is really about hope. As Stephen Colbert sang in “There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In” (and this always makes me tear up):

The faith in what might be
And the hope that we might see
The answer to all sorrow
In a box beneath a tree.

And while I lost a lot in my divorce, I found a lot, too.

I found the courage to leave a bad — albeit comfortable — situation when I had no safety net.

I found strength that had been dormant for years.

I found freedom in giving away most of my crap. (Recycled Reads, the Austin Public Library resale shop, now has several of my first editions, many of them signed. Go buy them!)

I found my true friends — the people I can really count on.

I found out that my heart still works. I may never use it again, but it still works.

I found a deep appreciation for mastering (or attempting to master) the things that scare me.

I found that I still love driving and I still adore my car, and that it’s not so scary to take Oliver out on the road (even on MoPac during rush hour!) to see people I care about.

I found the courage to visit my family. Repeatedly.

I found the courage to reach out to family members I hadn’t talked to in years.

I found my dream job.

And, way back in October, when the darkness struck me particularly hard one day, I found that I’m still the warrior who Gets Things Done. I took my last freshman spring final two days after my father died. I worked in emergency management up to and immediately after my wedding. I went back to work the day I got divorced. And — on that October day, when I felt more broken than I ever had in my life — I found the energy to gather together everyone’s feedback and notes, pull my laptop into my bed, have a fourteen-hour marathon editing session, and finish my second book.

I lost a lot in my divorce. But I’d rather focus on what I’ve found, and nurture the hope that even though I won’t find the answer to all my sorrows in a box beneath a tree, I am finding the answers to them little by little every day. I’ve put together five collections of themed stories that I want to share with you — and that I want to keep close by me, for when the darkness hits again in the coming weeks and months, during Christmas and New Year’s and the dismal winter days that follow.

Because there has been a lot of darkness, but I’m finally starting to see the dawn.

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

Book II Is Here!

October 30, 2014

I know I haven’t posted anything here in a while, but hopefully today’s post will make up for that.

Plan Your Attack: Book II in the Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy is now available!

 

Plan Your Attack by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. Now available for purchase!

 

The e-book is available at Amazon right now, and the paperback should be coming within the next week or so.

And be prepared: this book is darker than the first one. A lot more intense. Early readers said they couldn’t put it down. It even made one of them cry — that’s how much it moved her. It is super serious and super awesome, and I hope you love it.

I’ll post another update here as soon as the paperback’s ready. In the meantime, go forth and buy the Kindle version, you guys!

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

Happy Bookiversary to Me!

July 13, 2014

One year ago today, I pressed the “Publish Now” button (or whatever it was called back then) and released my first book, Choose Your Weapon, into a world I wasn’t sure would welcome it. I’d had a few literary agent rejections. (More than a few, to be honest.) Were people ready for a book about a nerdy Latina girl who wants to fight dragons?

As it turns out, the world was more than ready for it.

  • “Dude! This is really good! You’ve derailed me most of the night. I care about these characters and want to know what happens next. I am enjoying the hell out of it! Great job!”
  • “Just FYI – I started reading your book at 11 p.m. my time. It is now 2:15 a.m. and I cannot put it down.” [later] “And I just finished it. And I loved it. I really, really loved it. And now it’s 5 a.m. here. I read all night. Can’t even remember the last time I did that.”
  • “I love it. I wish this book had been around when I was a kid.”
  • “My boyfriend’s sister finished it in one day. She wants to know when the next one is coming out.”

And what might be my personal favorite:

  • “My son thought your book was better than the Harry Potter books.”

Critics loved the book, too.

And then came the big one.

  • “Rodriguez Pratt’s skilled writing ranges from snappy, believable dialogue to evocative descriptions of an abandoned oil refinery and a terrifying dragon cave…A well-written, intelligent, exciting choice for readers looking to get hooked on a new fantasy series.” –Kirkus Reviews

It didn’t stop there. In December, Kirkus Reviews named Choose Your Weapon one of their Best Books of 2013.

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Screenshot from KirkusReviews.com.

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And distribution of the book is growing all the time. You can find it at:

So where do Helen and her friends (and adversaries) go from here?

As you know if you regularly read this blog or follow me on Twitter, I’m hard at work on Book II. My hope is to release it before the end of 2014. If that date gets pushed back, it’s only because I’m working on making the second Helen of Hollingsworth book even bigger and better than the first. But fear not, loyal readers: Book II is done. But it’s only okay so far. It needs to be revised and polished into something spectacular. And that is well underway.

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Coming soon. Copyright Sarah Rodriguez Pratt.

Coming soon!

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This past year has been one of the most intense experiences of my life. But, in true overachiever fashion, I’m only looking ahead now: at the next book, at Book III after that, and at seeing how far Helen Connor will go in this world. And if things continue the way they’re going, I think she’s going to be just fine.

At BookPeople. January 17, 2014. Copyright ThatsAGirlsCar.com.

Copyright 2014, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.

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