I wrote this one year ago today. It’s just as relevant now.
Happy April 5, again and always.
Today would have been my seventh wedding anniversary.
When I left, I was terrified of — among many other things — facing the first year of major holidays by myself. But my holidays have been wonderful so far. I spent Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day with two longtime friends and their family. I spent Christmas with my family, who I hadn’t seen for Christmas in a decade. I spent Valentine’s Day with another dear friend. And today, I’m seeing not one, but two groups of friends: one that I’ve known and adored for years, and one that is new but has become an important part of my life.
If I was going to revisit my What We Found In The Divorce blog posts, what I’d add now is “Other People.” And not the way I would’ve written it a few months ago. A few months ago, I would’ve written about how awesome my friends are and how much I appreciate their support. But what I’ve learned recently — and what I don’t want to ever forget again — is that it’s not all about me.
Let me explain.
Don’t laugh, but I’ve been rewatching “Community” seasons 1-3 for the first time in years, and some of the show’s lines seemed like they were being spoken through a giant megaphone that I could only hear for the first time now.
Like the episode where Abed / Annie says, “But we love Jeff,” and Annie / Annie says, “No, we don’t. We’re just in love with the idea of being loved. And if we can teach a guy like Jeff to do it, we’ll never be unloved. So we keep running the same scenario over and over, hoping for a different result.”
Like the Blade episode, where Britta says, “I have to go to him,” and Jeff snaps, “No, woman. None of us have to ‘go to’ anyone…We can’t keep going to each other until we learn to go to ourselves. Stop making our hatred of ourselves someone else’s job and just stop hating ourselves.”
Like the last episode of season 3, when Jeff makes his epic speech about helping other people instead of doing what will only help us: “It’s that easy. You just stop thinking about what’s good for you and start thinking about what’s good for someone else, and you can change the whole game with one move.”
And like that episode where Abed starts making a movie about Jesus, to Shirley’s fury — and then Shirley hears him confessing how terrible his movie is and how he wishes someone would destroy it, so she risks the school’s hatred by destroying it for him. And he thanks her by finishing her religious music video. When she sees that, she grabs his hand, grateful.
“You humble me,” he tells her.
“You humble me, too,” she tells him.
When you’re a writer, you get used to being able to control your narrative. You think that, because you’re smart and hurt and good with words, you can will a new reality into existence if you just tell it to yourself enough. You believe that you’re in complete control of your story, and it is going to go the way you want.
But you don’t have nearly the control that you think you do. And you aren’t the only one telling the story. Everyone you know, everyone in your life, is part of it, too. And while you’re telling yourself that you’re the star of the show and the heroine of your tale, that might not be the story you’re truly living.
So, to everyone I have overly taxed or unintentionally hurt over the last several months: I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.
To all of you: Thank you. I love you. And, perhaps most importantly, you humble me. All of you do. I am in awe of each and every one of you. I admire and respect you so much. I am honored to have you in my life, and to have you helping to tell my story — and to help tell yours as well.
Happy April 5, everyone.
Copyright 2016, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
I don’t want to brag or anything, but last weekend, I’m pretty sure I reached a new level of enlightenment.
The day started with me in one of my “Let’s do all the things at a ridiculous hour” modes: driving to see a wedding venue in Driftwood at 8 in the morning. Raf and I went to Chapel Dulcinea, the free (yes, free, as long as you show up to collect your deposit) wedding chapel in the Hill Country. We walked around the grounds for a long time, listening to birds and enjoying the relative quiet of nature. I saw titmice (hee hee) and Carolina wrens, which I loved; but I forgot a coat, so I was freezing. But I refused to let my shivering get in the way of enjoying myself, for once.
We also toured another wedding venue — one that was most definitely NOT free. Never forget, kids: a wedding is a beautiful thing between two people and the companies that want to upsell the sh*t out of them.
I then drove at a frenzied pace to get to a friend’s krav maga birthday party on time (because I have friends so awesome that they have krav maga birthday parties). Several friends take classes regularly at this place. And while I was too wheezy to participate in the whole thing, watching my friends do something that would be all too easy to describe as “female Fight Club” but was so much more — it was like a religious experience. When the instructor yelled, “Attack!” as Rihanna’s “We Found Love” blasted in the background, I saw women fighting to escape an attacker with furious power, using strength and power to not just escape, but to win (because escaping with your life IS winning), and it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I want to go again. I want to be powerful and graceful like they are. Because grace isn’t just delicate beauty — it’s also being strong enough to win the fight you hope you’ll never have.
And then, THEN, I had my leg / back tattoo touched up. Which is hardly the same as getting one’s ass kicked in a krav maga studio. When I was sitting in the waiting room, I felt my usual guilt and self-hatred. Why am I spending money on something so frivolous and selfish? Why am I using my valuable weekend time on something so vain? At least I wasn’t worrying about the pain — because OH GOD DID IT HURT. After the entire leg / back tattoo was done in 2014, after 10 hours over three consecutive weekends and one more session three weeks later, I decided to never get another tattoo because the pain was too much. But yesterday, it was only one hour — ONE HOUR — and I could barely stand it. I thought my artist had covered about half the area, but it was only a small spot. And I stared at my bleeding leg and thought, “Holy sh*t — who WAS that girl who had this done? How the hell did she live through it?” I couldn’t believe it was me. That I had gone through that, and somehow been able to tolerate it. And for the first time in, God, forever, I was AMAZED at myself. At what I had done.
Because that’s the answer. Looking at yourself, even when you don’t feel strong or powerful enough, and being amazed at what you have done.
Today is Valentine’s Day, a day that routinely makes most of us want to barf. I am amazed that I have someone to be with this year. I am amazed that, despite all the apartment troubles and usual anxieties, I have gone from a hopeless place to one filled with hope: of more birds, of a relatively painless wedding process, of becoming stronger, of friends new and old, of amazing myself.
And this Valentine’s Day, I hope above all else that you find a way to amaze yourself. Because whatever you have gone through, whatever metaphorical tattoo you can look at and say, “How the hell did I live through that?”, you DID, and YOU ARE AMAZING.
Copyright 2016, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
(Note: all of this happened on November 7, but I thought it would make for a good end-of-the-year post. So long, 2015; you were WAY better than 2014. And here’s to an even better new year.)
We got to McAllen for the book festival on Friday, November 6. After meeting with my pal Serge at the library for a self-publishing discussion and library tour (great photos of the library renovation here), Raf and I headed to Quinta Mazatlan. Quinta is a bird and wildlife sanctuary — a wing (no pun intended) of the World Birding Center — and I love it for all that it is and all that it represents to me. It’s not huge; you can probably walk all of the trails in half an hour at a normal pace. But the diversity of birds is incredible. And the house there is unspeakably beautiful. Quinta was a private property until 2007, when it was donated to the city to become a sanctuary. I love that it’s been there all this time, private and hidden from view, and now everyone can see its natural splendor. Kind of like me.
That afternoon’s trip to Quinta was kind of a disaster, though. Raf was recovering from a twisted ankle, so hobbling around on a cane and a boot in densely humid weather was unpleasant for him. And my words “We don’t need Off; we’ll just be here for a little while” came back to haunt me when we met every single mosquito in south Texas. I told Raf that I wanted to come back the next morning, when it would hopefully be nicer out.
The next morning, I was NOT in the mood to go anywhere fun. My car got door dinged — twice. It was like the person dinged us, drove their car forward an inch, and was like “THAT WAS FUN LET’S DO IT AGAIN.” It was a little cooler out, but still threatening rain. Yet Raf insisted we go, so we went.
When we got to Quinta, the parking lot was full, so I parked in the nearby field with other cars. I opened the car door — and stepped right into muddy grass that smelled like poop.
“You still like it here, right?” Raf asked.
“Ask me later,” I grumbled.
By the time we got to the front path, I admitted, “Okay, I really do love it here. Even though the mud smells like poop.”
There’s a little amphitheater near the main house where you can sit on large rocks and watch a multi-birdfeeder and water feature setup. It’s a great place to watch a lot of birds interacting with each other. Raf wanted to go there and take pictures, so we sat on the rocks and watched the birds. A chachalaca jumped into a tray feeder, to a green jay’s irritation. A great kiskadee flew down and loudly sang atop one of the bird feeder poles. A female cardinal stood out among a house sparrow party, her Crayola-orange bill clearly visible. Despite all the people at the park and the group that walked by the amphitheater just when we sat down, we were all by ourselves — just us and nature.
I was staring at the birds while Raf snapped photos when he said, as if in passing, “I have a question for you.”
And I knew.
He turned to get something out of his camera bag. When he turned back around, he was holding a little jewelry box with a sparkling ring in it.
“Will you marry me?”
I sat there, overwhelmed by emotion, caught in the magnitude of the moment. I thought of everything I’d been through in the past year and a half, of heartbreak and divorce and wondering if anyone would ever love me again. And here I was, in this beautiful place that I loved so much that I based my leg and back tattoo partially on its logo; this place that came into my life in early 2014 just when I needed it, when things were going from Bad to Really Bad with my ex; this place where I would walk and feel at peace, content, at home, even when going through the worst of my divorce. And this was where someone I loved more than I thought was possible with my broken, misshapen heart asked me to be with him forever.
And then I realized I should probably stop crying, and say “Yes” and take the ring.
We sat there, leaning against each other, watching the green jays eat and the kiskadees sing. And a few minutes later, who should come by but my Facebook friend and birding expert Erik Bruhnke, who was leading a songbird stroll. Erik and his fellow birders sat down in the amphitheater with Raf and me and pointed out all the birds and butterflies around us. And my fiancé and I marveled at being able to recognize a curved-billed thrasher through its call, at knowing that pretty butterfly was a red-bordered pixie, at seeing a buff-bellied hummingbird right in front of us. And between the man sitting on the rock with me, people staring at beautiful birds around me, and birds and butterflies soaring in front of me, I realized that — after 38 years of looking for it — I had finally come home.
Copyright 2015, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
The path to heaven runs through miles of crowded hell.
–Imagine Dragons, “It’s Time”
One year ago today, I stood in front of a judge, a lawyer, and the man I’d married, and said, essentially, “I do not.”
Some people find closure on anniversaries. They rest comfortably on the one–year mark of something painful, dropping a white rose onto the ground (literally or metaphorically; whatever’s your jam) and moving on.
I am not one of those people. I stand on the anniversary of anything wretched — my estranged father’s death, my beloved grandmother’s death, my own divorce — and feel torn between the soul-consuming fire of the past and the intangible peace that the future might hold. I’m the Schrödinger’s Cat of mourning, both Over It and Never Over It.
But this…this is especially tough. He was my best friend for almost thirteen years, after all. I loved him; things got bad; I left him when I knew things weren’t going to get better; and now I can’t do anything to help him. You don’t get over a loss like that in a year, regardless of how bad things were before you left. Even now, most of my interactions with him — no matter how innocuous — leave me crying on and off for a week. Each time is like getting stabbed by the Nazgûl’s Morgul-blade sword; the poison doesn’t really leave you.
I’ve thought about this post for a while. I can’t claim everything’s perfect now, but nor can I honestly say it’s still as terrible as it was. My life has improved significantly, but it only takes a memory, a scent, a familiar face or car to make me feel like the world is collapsing again. To make me feel like I’m once again walking away from everything I built for over a decade because staying is even harder.
So what DO I want to say?
Well, let’s start with what I’ve learned, I guess. That’s useful, right?
- Don’t force closure. You can try your hardest, but closure is the most stubborn of all mules: it’s just not going to give, no matter how much you try to force it. Try to just exist in the inferno. My favorite meditation mantra is, “You must be okay with the things that aren’t okay.”
- Get a therapist, or keep seeing yours. Especially if you struggle with mental illness. This is paramount, as essential as food and shelter.
- Eat as healthily as you can. If you’ve lost your appetite, plow through the salad anyway. If you’re binging on ice cream, fill as many meals as possible with healthier options. Eating nutritious food is as crucial as having a roof over your head, seeing your therapist, taking your meds, and exercising. Which leads to…
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. Run away from your pain! It works. Well, the pain is still be there after the run, but it’s lessened for a while. Walking became almost pathological for me. I figured out all the answers to my problems, then found new problems, then lost all the answers to everything. But on a day when it felt like every nerve was in pain, exercise was the only thing that calmed me.
- Find a healthy creative / stress release outlet. I took flamenco lessons with a new and dear friend. I explored religion in a way I’d always wanted to, with the same friend. I started writing a second-person novel that might be the best thing I’ve ever written, though it’ll be a long time before it’s anywhere near ready for publication. I knitted baby birds nests galore. Find something you can do — something you’ve always wanted to do, that your budget can accommodate — and do it.
- Don’t escape into vices. I stopped drinking a long time before my divorce. Then, about a month after I left him, one glass of wine left me sobbing on my cousin’s dining room table. I didn’t drink again until I felt like my life had stabilized. I totally get the desire to just pause the world for a second and feel something other than this misery, but the fastest way to stop the pain of a breakup is to go through it. The only way out is through.
- Find friends you can trust. Spend most of your time with these people. And pay them back with love and favors when you can. Be their cornerstone after they’ve been yours.
- Don’t date your friends. Actually, scratch that. Maybe dating your friends might offer more safety and fewer unknowns than the wilds of internet dating. But know that you’re going to lose the friendship if this falls apart. And keep in mind that sometimes, people aren’t interested in you — they’re just being kind to you. Don’t confuse one for the other.
But everything is Your Mileage May Vary. You can start a ritual like seeing the same people every week or going to the movies by yourself, if you find comfort in that. Decide for yourself when to be social and when to be alone. Find the good voice in your head that gives you wise advice and comfort. Then listen to it.
I am the same;
I’m the same;
I’m trying to change.
–Florence and the Machine, “Third Eye”
I don’t want to make this a coroner’s report. The reasons why I ended my marriage will stay between him, me, and the lawyers. He was gracious and amicable through most of it, and I tried to be as well.
It should go without saying that I tried my damnedest to make it work. But even before I left, I felt like a failure in many ways, and I thought life would be an even bigger struggle without him. At the worst of it, I was too scared to go to the grocery store. To drive during rush hour. To call my friends and tell them how I was really feeling. I didn’t go home for Christmas for ten years. I tried to cancel my own birthday party two years in a row. And I thought I deserved it.
After I left, some people didn’t understand why things weren’t just magically better. But the job rejections were piling up (I’d freelanced for years, but my main copywriting and editing client made me sign a non-disclosure agreement, so I didn’t have a portfolio), my savings would only last so long, and the panic attacks were misery-inducing. My mind would wander to dark places due to fear and exhaustion. But I kept looking for signs, for signals to pull me back from the edge. I’d get a phone call from a friend, or an e-mail about a job interview. One night, when things felt particularly dim, I got a text from my mom. “We’re so looking forward to seeing you this weekend,” she wrote. I took it as a sign to take a deep breath, keep breathing, and keep going.
Sometimes, life is a pit. Sometimes, it’s a big, dark, terrifying pit that can be very difficult to climb out of. But, to an extent, you decide how you handle the pit. You decide whether to keep trying to climb out, or give up and build a defensive cave inside the pit and live there, or say, “What pit?” and go back to playing video games.
Or affectionately call it Brad Pit while you’re on your daily climb.
Sometimes I look at myself and feel like I haven’t changed a damn bit in a year, two years, ten years. I’m still a frazzled freak, an amped-up Jordan from Real Genius (only I can’t even knit that well). In those moments, it’s like being in a plane, convinced that everything is tiny and not that far. But the progress I’ve made has been epic, even if I don’t see it in every moment. And whatever progress you’ve made has been epic, too. Even if you’re still just trying to change. I know all the Star Wars people will jump in and be all “DO OR DO NOT DO THERE IS NO TRY”, and that’s fine (for them); but for something as overwhelmingly challenging as self-improvement, God, just the fact that you’re still trying is amazing. Just trying is a damn miracle. Because trying every day is what’s going to get you out of that pit — or at least to a spot where you have a better view.
And I have SUCH a good view now.
I lost my so-called dream job, but I have another job now — one I like a lot. The commute sucks, but the people are lovely. The good it offers is more than enough.
I see my old cornerstone friends regularly. And the new cornerstones I picked up along the way are the phoenix feathers from this nasty fire of divorce. I love them all so much.
I still have my dog. She had to have six teeth extracted recently, but she’s doing fine (albeit pissed that she has to eat dry rather than canned food again). I miss my other dog, but I know he’s taking superb care of her.
I miss my car, but my new one‘s pretty spiffy. The gas mileage is particularly great.
And a month after my divorce was finalized, I met a friend of a friend who ended up becoming much more to me than either of us ever dreamed. He has become my best friend, my writing and creativity partner, and my coach in my daily Brad Pit crawls.
These are all wonderful things. But the pain still remains. Like my brilliant friend Ben wrote to me when I was in the middle of the worst part, “Think of leaving a toxic relationship like the half-life of radioactive matter – even if the pain gets cut in half every six months, it’s going to take almost 3 and a half years for the pain to go from 100% to under 1%.”
So even though it’s a process I find unfairly slow, at least I know it’s getting better. I see it in my work, in my friends, in my new beloved — and on the good days, especially on the good days, in myself. I’m still working through the half-life of bitterness and anger and sadness. I’m still hurting from the Nazgûl poison. I’m still climbing daily out of Brad Pit. But the climb is getting a little easier.
Which brings me to the last and most important thing I’ve found in the divorce:
- Keep going. Don’t stop. Never stop. No matter how hard or painful it is, no matter how little savings are left in the bank, no matter how many rejections (in work or in love) pile up, keep going. It WILL get better. There WILL be light again. As Florence Welch sang in “Third Eye,”
Hey, look up!
You don’t have to be a ghost,
Here amongst the living.
You are flesh and blood!
And you deserve to be loved
And you deserve what you are given.
And oh, how much!
I hope that one day, he and I will be friends. I hope that one day, certain images and smells don’t tear my heart apart like they do right now. But that’s one day. Today, things are better. Eventually, they are going to get even better.
And to feel that way a year later, that’s more than good enough.
Copyright 2015, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
How did the McAllen Book Festival go, you ask? Well, the panel discussion was INCREDIBLE. Man, those kids brought some fantastic questions. Speaking to them with two other authors was a highlight of my writing career. I hope the audience enjoyed the event as much as I did.
Work on Book III continues, though at a slower pace than Books I or II. This is the first book of the trilogy that I’m working on while holding down a full-time job. My first two books were written under a much more flexible freelancer’s schedule. So please be patient with me — things are going as fast and as well as they can!
So I’ve been especially busy lately. I miss taking long walks to alleviate my stress and see nature. But this late summer and autumn, I’ve noticed that nature seems to be coming to me.
This summer, I had the joy of seeing a house sparrow fledgling on my apartment driveway. I named him Walter because his fledgling bill reminded me of Walter Matthau. Later, I realized he was probably a she, and thus became Walterietta. Of course, I didn’t have my camera with me the evening that the little bird hopped around my feet and cuddled next to my shoe. But a few days later, Raf (a.k.a. The Boyfriend) snapped some fantastic photos of the bird hiding under his car and, later, in a nearby shrub.
During fall migration, I went through a very sad phase at work where I kept finding dead birds outside of my office. The poor little things flew into windows, breaking their tiny necks. I found two Nashville warblers and a female hummingbird, two of which had just perished and one of which had died the previous day. It was awful.
But a few weeks ago, a coworker informed me that a live bird was outside and seemed confused, so I ran outside to try to stop the little guy from death-by-window. Sure enough, a tiny gray and yellow songbird — presumably another Nashville warbler — sat on the edge of a window near the restroom. Terrified that the bird would try to fly away with disastrous results if I tried to pick him up, I reached over nonetheless. To my surprise, the bird climbed right into my hand. His tiny eyes were closed, but as I talked to my coworker about the bird’s characteristic, the tiny feathered guy opened his eyes. His wee claws clung to my fingers. I tried to hide my excitement while I talked, not wanting to scare him. It had been years since I’d held a live bird — the last time was just before my freshman year at Harvard, when a house sparrow decided I was her new perch.
Since I didn’t have a box or something to place the warbler in while he recovered (more tips on what to do with a window-struck bird here), I intended to place him in a planter. But after I took a few steps, he flew out of my hand and on his merry little way.
Then, a few weeks after that, I found a butterfly on the ground next to the office’s doormat. His wings were a dusty shade of brown, camouflaging him almost perfectly with the ground and making him a prime candidate to get stepped on. I placed my hand next to him, and to my surprise, he climbed on — and hung on, refusing to crawl into any of the plants I tried to introduce him to. Eventually, he jumped from my hand to a plant, and I went back into work regretting that I couldn’t walk around with a butterfly on my hand as if it was a totally normal thing.
When I took a break a couple of hours later, I went outside and found he hadn’t moved. I offered my hand again, and he once again jumped on. This time, I did have my phone with me. After an impromptu photo session, I left him in the same plant. When I came back outside later that day, he was gone, hopefully on to another plant he liked even better.
The lesson from all this? Sadness can sneak up on you, but wonder and beauty are everywhere, too. You just have to keep your eyes open and be willing to help out a little creature in need.
Happy Thanksgiving, from this turkey to you.
Copyright 2015, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.
It’s no secret that I draw — mostly sassy birds and dogs — and that I’ve learned everything I know from the great Pat Falconer. Her “Draw Your Dog” and “Bird Illustration for Beginners” classes turned me from someone who could barely draw a stick figure into someone who could do a cheesy yet occasionally amusing comic strip. Her drawing classes even helped my writing.
And now, thanks to Pat, I’ve been invited to be part of a gallery showing! Stop by Jerry’s Artarama before July 30 to view the Consider Colored Pencil! exhibit. I have three works up: “Zelda,” “Johnny the Outsider Woodpecker,” and “T.S. Qualiot.” All the works in the show are fantastic, and I’m honored to be a part of this!
Copyright 2015, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt. All rights reserved.