I’m sitting at the picnic table in my parents’ kitchen, the mess of art projects and nubbins of flowers picked by siblings and half-finished notebooks and Costco packs of food surround me. Walking down the hill this morning to make coffee cake before they left for church, I had to stop and soak in the lilting sounds of life on the air—the birds announcing their delight at the change in the weather, my brothers laughing on the trampoline, the wind hitting the blossoms in the trees and setting them to whispering. My sister was playing Minecraft when I came in, and while I dumped spices into the flour, she darted through, clambered up the counter and plopped white azaleas into dishes of water dyed with food coloring. My mother hugged me from behind while I made my brothers and me our first cups of coffee, and then they were gone and the house was still while the oven chirped and hushed itself into heat and the cake baked.

Here, I have been very lucky. Here, I have circled back and through and am again facing forward, about to launch myself at something unknown, leaving behind something I know all too well. Here, I try to savor up these moments and be grateful.

This last year has been a year of intense periods of growth and learning, which is an abstract thing to say, intended to make you nod and smile and agree (for it must be that you feel the same about this past bit of time, too) and leave me alone about what exactly I learned and how exactly I grew. But it would diminish the lessons to tell you, to try to sum up the breath of moments hitting my soul and inflating and tapping me into new shapes.

Usually I think that I want to be a fiction writer, that some day I want to make my livelihood with my hands and my pen, cooking up stories to delight and amuse and provoke. But I have been compelled to write poetry for the longest time, and I suppose I should be honest with myself that right now, I am not writing fiction; that right now I have a life that demands poems for survival and for joy. Poetry is the necessary outcome of my experiences, poetry is the colors on the wall when light hits the shards of moments on the floor of my head. Poems change me, too, each one turning and turning a moment over and around to look at it from funny angles, catching glimpses of myself reflected in it, and laughing in surprise when I sometimes see the sky looking back at me, too. 

When I came back to Richmond this winter, I knew I had a chunk of poems about these last few months that could probably be shaped into a chapbook—the story they tell is a beautiful narrative, but it’s also intensely personal (which is scary). Every time I sat down to write something else, this story pulled me back in, and I found myself arranging and rearranging and revising and refining these poems. The story was wiling itself into life. I couldn’t resist.

This last year I started reading tarot, and it has been an utterly joyful thing to play with for this English major who loves tropes and archetypes. And as I kept coming back to these poems, the framework of a tarot reading—which is to say, the narrative of a major life lesson learned at a moment in one’s life—bled into the organization of the story and I found that I had a poem cycle in the shape of a Celtic cross reading on my hands. So here we are.

On Wednesday, I shut the door on this season of my life and leave the country for the next two years to serve as an English teacher volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic. I want to give this little book of poems to you as a parting gift, both to remove myself from it and let it live on its own (as it wants to do), and to try to share the beauty that blessed me with whoever wants to enjoy it as well. 

It’s a little terrifying to be leaving for so long, and it’s a little terrifying to trust that this is the right thing. And it’s a little terrifying to share these poems with the world and expose myself. But I’m learning that the things that scare me the most are the most satisfying things, well worth doing. These are the things that expand my capacity to love, to learn, to be present, to not be ashamed or afraid. So I’m going to give fear the middle finger and I’m going to go on an adventure and I’m going to share some poems with you. 

With love,
H

Poems


“Love and abuse cannot coexist.” – bell hooks.

It’s been over a year since I first read bell hook’s masterful treatise on love, All About Love: New Visions.  The book called to and was answered by changes stirring in my heart, little epiphanies cracking the surface of my reality, and it was the catalyst for a radical reevaluation of what love meant and how I practiced it.

I have always craved justice and sincerity. As a child, I distrusted adults who laughed too much or were effusive with praise or compliments. I gravitated toward those who were sarcastic, cynical, pointed. Pastors were suspect unless they seemed to have a healthy respect for suffering.

And yet, I was divided from myself in my own cynicism, emotionally connecting to missionary stories,  reading the Anne Shirley books over and over, and accepting the tenets of courtship and fundamentalist neo-Calvinism without question for the sake of the utopian emotional future they offered. I was too cynical to ever seriously write letters to my future husband, but secretly hoped that the gilded fidelity of guarding my heart and wearing a purity ring would secure me true love where I could hang my cynic’s hat by the door and stretch out by the hearth and have a marriage where I could get my belly rubbed and never fear betrayal or complicated emotions.

Emotional idealism of this sort is dishonest and lazy, and I paid dearly for my naïveté and blind trust. I could wear out pages with my experiential research on cultivated codependency in courtship culture and cultivated female helplessness in patriarchy, but the larger thing I have learned is less specific to male\female relationships or romantic relationships and more relevant to relationships in general, and is especially relevant to relationships touched by fundamentalist thinking on the part of one or both parties.

Fundamentalism, when I use the word, generally implies a measure of absolutism and hierarchy of belief. It is a relational militarization of ideology at its core (which is why I believe it is not something religious people have exclusive province over). Fundamentalism says “my way is better and our relationship is going to be defined by that assumption or we have an impasse.” It costs relational parity and ends humane discussion.

In the slice of human experience where I come from, fundamentalist Christian homeschooling, it exhibits itself when a parent asserts their “right” over their child in the name of ideological purity of some sort and negates that child’s right to autonomy and voice.

Example: “you will not bring Harry Potter into my house” because you, the parent, believe that witchcraft is worse than the sin of rebellion (see the story of King Saul) and rebellion is the sin that caused the fall, and witchcraft is aligning oneself with the enemy of God, and you want your household to follow in the ways of God (“as for me and my house…”) and you believe that God has called you to be the spiritual head of the home (circle of blessing) and your child is under your authority because you are under God’s authority, and Harry Potter does not condemn witchcraft as being of the devil, therefore: your child has no rights when under your roof because of God’s ordained spiritual hierarchy and you are accountable to him to protect your child from evil and Harry Potter threatens that order and your ability to be blessed by God for following in his ways…so Harry Potter has to go, no matter what your kid has to say about redemption narratives and metaphor and literary genres. By doing so, you are honoring God, and any opposition to this order is your child’s natural sin nature expressing itself and an opportunity to use corrective discipline to help your child along in the path to sanctification and honor God in their own life.

In fundamentalism, ideology and hierarchy > person and emotional healthy relationships. Every. Damn. Time.

bell hooks writes that “abuse and love cannot coexist” because (as Christian theology teaches) love is about considering another person’s best interest. When I chose to break the rules of courtship and tell my boyfriend I loved him before we were engaged, I did so because I believed that if we broke up, my promise of “I love you” would still be true: if our relationship ended, it would be because the relationship was no longer in his or my best interest and love does not demand the other partner to suffer to satisfy the other. Love should not be mutable, but the terms of the relationship will be in order to be consistent with love. Love respects the other as a separate, autonomous individual with unique needs. Love does not require the other person to fix your emotional problems. Love is considerate, respectful, ethical, generous. Love is not craven, demanding, or manipulative.

This cuts two ways. Loving others well is easier (and probably better) the better you are at loving yourself well. It’s hard to love someone else well if you are abusive toward yourself, and if you try you’re more  likely to expect the other party to love you the way you should be loving yourself, and then resent them for not fixing your emotional disassociation with yourself. No person, no religious belief, no creature comfort will be able to fix the fundamental need for self-acceptance. I’ve been learning this, and it’s not easy. I can deflect and distract myself, but there is no substitute for sitting with my own emotions and owning them to myself and accepting that the me I’m living with is messy and not quite all who I want to be. I have to live with (and learn to love) me in real time, as I grow and learn, and not with my idealized future version of myself. This means also recognizing when I’m in unhealthy relationships or situations and being responsible for standing up for myself, and not expecting others to read my mind or know my needs and rescue me. Boundaries, communication, and actively engaging my day-to-day life and owning my responsibility to and for myself: these are ways I can engage in loving myself well.

Loving others well is an extension of understanding how to love myself. I need to respect the fact that others need different things and that what is good for me might not be good for them, that my perception of reality might not be their story, that they may be growing and learning faster or slower than I am. I respect them as individuals and not as caricatures or emotional food sources for myself, and that paves the way for healthy relationship.

This means: I cannot demand my more fundamentalist friends to change their beliefs on things, because their emotional needs (and reasons for holding on to various positions) are different from mine. I can, however, write about what I’ve learned and how various elements of religious fundamentalism have been harmful. I can also limit the ability of their more negative positions to affect me personally by reducing my exposure to toxic relational dynamics, and I can also appeal to their desire to love others when I see them hurting people close to me and ask for them to change how they treat people based on our shared assumption that they care about the other person’s best interest. (In this vein, a great opportunity Clare had before her was recently leveraged against me to require that I change the offensive-to-patriarchy language in her “Fuck the Patriarchy” post. The situation has now resolved itself, and I have reverted the post back to the original content, but necessary steps have also been taken to remove myself from being able to be manipulated by those who value image and control over people.)

This also means: when a friend has to go no contact with a family member because of abuse, or when someone’s marriage ends and you don’t know all the details, respect their choices. You don’t know what’s best for them and we are in danger of practicing the fallacy of a “single story” when we require someone to meet our socially acceptable normal behavior because we think that they should be in relationship with someone that “normal” people have in their lives. Eliminating abusive relationships from my life seems heartless from the outside, but it’s been a way I’ve learned to love myself: by admitting what (or who) I can and cannot handle if I am going to be mentally healthy and thrive. It seems heartless, but in reality, it’s a way of having compassion for myself and not expecting others to do that work for me.

I recently had a treasured friendship end because of a non-conventional theological position (but one I think has sufficient evidence in the Bible to be supported) that I hold and have written some about. The details are moot, and were moot to the end of the friendship, too. The point, however, was: if you are a Christian, you cannot support this position, and until you recant, I cannot be your friend. It’s the same mindset as I demonstrated before with Harry Potter: ideology supersedes the individual. I’m saddened by the outcome, but there’s no way to debate the issue because our starting premises are so far divided. What has been healthy and freeing and brought light to my life is seen by this individual as a darkness that threatens to devour the “real” me and is an affront to their own perception of themselves: if I am right, then everything they’re betting on is wrong. As high-stakes spiritual premises go, they can’t afford to be wrong, and so I must go. It’s understandable. I love this person, and as I understand the emotional cost of this sort of gamble, I know that this decision is (in their estimation) in the best interest of this person for the sake of their mental health, and it’s not my place to question that. I’m sad for my loss, but if I am honest about caring for them, I need to let them go and wish them the best from afar.

And I need to be honest, too. In my pilgrimage to understand love and to heal, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that church and Christian culture are antithetical to my emotional and mental stability. The solvency of Christianity for some, I believe, is viable and good. I think the church can be better and radically change lives for good. I think the teachings of Jesus are precious and radical and good. There is much that I love, but I have had to remove myself from it and remove it from me in order to be kind to myself. All things are lawful, etc. For me this means: I’m not a Christian anymore.

The damage done to my brain by code-switching in Christianese and by tiptoeing around emotional land mines from my time in the cult outweigh the worth of holding onto the Creeds for the Creeds’ sake. If Jesus is the Christ and all of that is true, then I’d rather be a Calormen in the end and be sound of mind and live ethically and love well than be a martyr for something that has fostered so much suffering.

I do not recant anything I have written. I still love the things I have always loved. I still believe in the power of radical love to transform. I still believe in the magic of community and the mystery of burden-bearing and communion. I still love justice and mercy and crave light and truth.

But it is the learning of the loving that calls me to keep exploring, and so I’m discarding things that are impotent or emotionally destructive. I’m not merely disassociating from the label of “Christian”or organized church in pursuit of being a “Jesus-follower.” I am closing that chapter completely. I’m not sure if I’m an atheist or just agnostic, but I don’t think it’s salient right now. For now, what I know is: this path has taken me away from Christianity and that has been immensely freeing and healing.

I’ve known this for a while, but I wanted to sit with it for a season first, to be sure. And, honestly, I was afraid to tell you.

You readers have been along with me for quite the unexpected journey. I originally started this blog as a place to try to do some fiction and poetry writing, assuming that I’d be able to be productive in those things now that I was graduated from college, employed in an adult job, and settled into married life. What followed was so far from that reality that it seems a little hysterical to think about, now. I wouldn’t trade this journey for that reality, though, and I am thankful for how much I have learned and grown through it. And I’m thankful for those of you who have supported and loved and stayed with me since then. I’m excited to see what comes next, and I’d be touched if you are, too.

A housekeeping note: Once I can get a few things sorted out, the header image of this blog will change and I’ll just write under my name rather than a blog title–Wine and Marble has served a good purpose, but no longer fits what goes on here. Just a heads up.


For the last year, I’ve been sleeping on couches, borrowed mattresses, and at last, my own thin IKEA futon thrown down on the floor. I have lived out of a suitcase since last August.

This last week I spent wound tight, my attention turned so intensely inward that I left threads hanging to tangle in the wind out of sheer distraction. Calls left unreturned, texts half-started, emails glaring at me in bold letters, unread. I cooked a lot. It was all I could think about, though if I was honest I’d probably say I cooked a lot because I needed to be on autopilot so my brain could work overtime, like a computer empty of all but the most basic processes so you can run script through it in double time like they talk about in that hacking scene of every late 2000s movie. I made scones and cookies and soup and pizza, each without a recipe, each with a new twist. Raspberries in the scones, cinnamon and oatmeal in the cookies, soup with curry and kale and yams, pizza in a cast iron frying pan. Let me taste my way to culinary fullness so my brain doesn’t have to think about anything even so simple as a recipe.

It’s summer here, not spring. There’s no dramatic demarcation of seasons to announce the shifting, settling, creaking in my soulbones. I’ve been writing a shitty poem every day as part of a group project for the month of June. Greasing the wheels or somesuch–I thought it might help me dig my way out of the shell-hole Clare’s post going viral left in my brain. It hasn’t helped and I’ve been dry as a bone.

Back when I was in the church, I used to describe this restless shifty itching that leaves me without writing words and rusty-jawed socially as being in a spiritually dry spot. We had a book on the living room shelf called Streams in the Desert and every time I saw it this is what I thought of: the missing, the hamster wheel brain, the hibernating empathy. Now I’m more inclined to recognize it as an extension of me instead of an abstract force of a “season”–it’s a symptom and I’m learning to listen to it, to tend it, to be uncomfortable until I realize it’s passed me over and exhale in relief.

I really like my job when I’m like this, though I get cantankerous and set in my ways. The physical demands of sorting, shelving, unboxing, and moving product at the bookstore tires me out and pushes me through, much like the cooking does. I am Sisyphus but I am happy rolling up and down the hill because I know I am percolating something deep inside my boulder and then I can leave.

There were a lot of reasons for why I came to California. I suppose I was running away, on some levels. I was also seeking to undo curses that kept me feeling limited. This was my home, and I was exiled. Could I come back home? Was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I couldn’t return? Or would the mother-warm sun and the soft slopes of the foothills embrace me and hold me close? Even though that dream didn’t quite come true, I managed it. I came home. I returned. The curse is broken. Yes, it’s been a struggle and it’s seemed aimless, and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer exhaustion and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer pride. But I am still here.

And the sunlight has finally thawed something deep down, and I’m feeling like it’s time for one of those regulated burns they do in the mountains. I was up there two weeks ago with my childhood friend and her son, kicking pine cones and stomping through a mountain meadow to find “our” trees and a red spring by a creek. I indulged my ruminative state up there, away from cell service and the internet, and I came away feeling stilled.

And then reality bit my ass, reminding me that men like power and women don’t trust their own strength in the face of the blunt childishness of their men. I don’t blame them. Creature comforts are my security blanket, too. But if it is in my power to slice, to arouse, to startle, to blind with light, to burn, and the cost is not so great to those still dependent on these men, I will do so. And I knew I would, but the decision sat above my eyes and pressed down on me until I felt blinded by it. Days passed and everything was aching from the necessity of this little personal Alamo. And so I broke down my words into small pieces and mixed them with my tears (there were few–I can’t cry with a migraine) and poured us our tonic and lit the fire and walked away.

When I woke up from that hangover, all I knew was the clean blue of a June sky and the exhale of relief.

And then I looked around and saw I had been living like a beggar child, hoarding this and that, meeting my necessities alone and ignoring the music and the panache. So I set to clean house, dusting cobwebs out of high shelves and taking out books I’d forgotten out of necessity and drawing up plans again. Coffee was poured and I shifted into another time zone, chasing the zephyr across the horizon.

I used to be afraid of falling in love, and I think I am, still. But I used to worry about wasting a limited resource on the wrong person, of pouring myself out and seeing my everything puddled on the floor and not being able to catch it all back again in my jar. Now, I am afraid out of habit, but I know that instead of a secret stash in a jar, love is like that red spring by the creek where the water runs clear. It might get muddied, but there’s more where it came from and the dirt will either settle or get washed away or calcify and become beautiful in time.

20140607_133035

It feels like springtime in that the cobwebs are gone and the hibernation has ended and the growing things are forcing themselves toward the sun. It feels like spring in that the old hoary curses have been replaced with seductive promises. The miserly desperation of winter is gone, and I’m ready to loll around in the grass and gorge myself a little.


UPDATE

Everything crashed again, sorry, sorry, etc. We had a SNAFU with servers and switching and WordPress accounts and the fastest way to get this up and running again was to jump the gun on switching Wine & Marble to a domain of my own name, etc. It got complicated, Kiery King is a web fairy wizard, and everyone should go give hen lots of love and probably some alcohol.

Carry on.

::end update::

Hi and welcome, new readers!

I’m sitting here with my cat on my lap trying to take a deep breath and process the last couple hours. Thank you for reading, for your support, and for breaking my blog.

I think we’re up and running again, and so now I wanted to do a little follow-up on the Cracked piece.

First: my parents left the cult and my family’s doing a lot better. My younger siblings are getting much more normal childhoods than I did — all my challenging the system is finally starting to pay off. My parents sent me a big box of goodies this week for an early birthday present and there were references to Disney movies and birthday parties and I even got a chocolate Easter bunny!

Second: My friend whose novel was burned — she’s doing a lot better. After that she got into UVA and got a full ride (but her parents hid her mail and kept her from attending), so she ran away from home and got herself set up, living and working in another state. She’s healing and growing and has started writing fiction again (finally!). She wrote a short story for Swan Children’s inaugural issue. Right now, she’s saving to go to college (she wants to be a doctor) and has plans to do a workaway program this summer in Europe and write more. Freedom is sweet!

What to do if you want to help:

Raise awareness. This stuff is ongoing and hard to spot if you don’t know the signs. Cults are less about doctrine and more about social control tactics.

Patriarchal purity/rape culture infects the world of Christian colleges (and their horrific mishandling of rape cases) — see, for example, the ongoing story at Patrick Henry College.

Spiritual abuse is also rampant in independent evangelical churches, and my good friend Elizabeth Esther just published her fantastic memoir about her experiences in a similar cult to the one I grew up in. It’s a quick read and covers a lot.

On the positive side, there are folks working to reform and heal the American evangelical church from these horrific ideologies. People working on that include Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, the good folks at Deeper Story, The Wartburg Watch, and Convergent Books.

The homeschooling side of my story is where the biggest ongoing need for reform is, and a quick overview of that can be found in this piece by Kathryn Joyce on us “homeschool apostates.” Groups working to change the state of homeschooling to eradicate abuse, patriarchy, and religious isolationism and dominionism include: Homeschoolers Anonymous, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children.

If you want to help me out personally: recovery is slow, I’ll be honest. I’m doing a lot better these days than I have been in a long time, but I’m still underemployed and running a tight ship to stay afloat. There’s a tip jar on the side of my blog if you want to buy me a coffee or a tank of gas, but no pressure. I’d be thrilled if you liked The Swan Children and The YA Wallpaper on Facebook and followed us on YouTube — I’m super passionate about the healing power of art and beauty, and about amazing feminist writing and good novels.

I’ll also occasionally run a fundraiser project to help a Quiverfull escapee get on his/her feet. Right now my friend Becca is trying to pay off hospital bills from her gallbladder surgery by selling her music album, and there’s a scholarship contestant we’re upvoting for a chance to go to school without parental support.

And finally: If you related to my piece and thought you were alone:

HI. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.
::hugs::

Come hang out with us over at Recovering Grace, Homeschoolers Anonymous, etc. Find us on Facebook. We have support groups for you. <3

And if you want book recommendations for how to recover from this stuff, I highly recommend the following:

1) All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks

2) Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend

3) Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

4) Quivering Daughters, McFarland


I’ve been at this blogging thing for a while, and I keep forgetting that when you get new followers, sometimes they have a hard time finding a quick recap on what they’ve missed when you’ve got months and months of archives!

Welcome to my blog, folks, and here’s a little bit about me that you may find through reading old posts or my Twitter, but not what you’d find on my about page.

  1. I have an orange cat named Penny, and she thinks she’s the queen of the universe. I got her from Ken Cuccinelli. True story.
    Penny-cat

    Penny in 2011

    Penny now

     

  2. I’m an INFJ.
  3. I’m the oldest of nine kids, and I was homeschooled K-12.

    visiting home usually involves a lot of birthday cake

  4. I was born in California, moved to Virginia when I was 12 (we moved to join a cult), and I moved back to California last fall.

    at the end of the drive home

    at the end of the drive home

  5. I did the courtship thing and got married, but he ended things right before our second anniversary.
  6. Being an English major and my love of reading made me a feminist.

    once upon sophomore year

    once upon sophomore year

  7. I like to bake. And cook. And I like good company and good food. And coffee.

    this is my definition of sanity

  8. I do a lot of things for fun and for work, but most of them involve books or art. I’m for hire as an editor, marketer, or development whiz kid.

    the writing life

  9. But what I really, really want to do is be a literary agent. Or just live in France and write novels.
  10. You can find me on Twitter and on Instagram! I like to talk about how much I love coffee and cheese sticks, and sometimes I tell stories about awkward social interactions. Most of the awkward may or may not be my fault. Usually I just yell at the patriarchy and link to things I find interesting.

Any other questions? What else do you want to know? I’m so happy you’re here and reading!

If you’re new or have been lurking for a while, I’d love to get to know you a bit better. Introduce yourself in the comments and tell me about your favorite book!


I wrote a post about feeling displaced last January, three weeks after I’d had to move out to give my [now] ex-husband the space he thought he needed to clear his head and recommit to our marriage. I wasn’t able to tell you all why I was writing that post then, so I shrouded my grief in nostalgia, in childhood memories.

Sometimes people ask why I can blog such personal stuff and not be afraid. I have to laugh, because it’s not brave stuff I’m writing. It’s reactions and analysis, it’s carefully curated glimpses into my reality to bolster my message that you’re not alone and that asking questions and accepting yourself is not just not against the gospel or the teachings of Jesus, but foundational and essential to the health of a church and an individual. But it’s not very transparent.

And sometimes, that’s okay. I don’t need to tell you everything. It would be unhealthy if I was spilling all my guts on here all the time.

But I’m really tired and I’ve been thinking about Brené Brown‘s writings a lot, and this is my blog folks, so I’m going to give you a post with a little guts.

I’m tired of seeming unstable. I’m tired of not knowing if I’m going to have work or not this week. I’m tired of not knowing if I should be trying harder to show people my gratitude for putting me up. I’m tired of packing and repacking suitcases and then not knowing where my cute skirt is, or if I remembered to leave my jacket accessible. I’m tired of telling people that no, I don’t have enough work to support myself yet, that I can’t yet afford my own apartment, that I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.

I’m tired of knowing exactly what I want to do and where and why, tired of knowing who I want to be, but not being able to get there because I’m still stuck chasing these other life essentials. I’m tired of feeling guilty if I write things, because it’s detracting from job hunting. I’m tired of feeling both perpetually emotionally gutted and necessarily poised to respond to an impending crisis. I’m tired of telling my story and not knowing how to talk about my situation well. I’m tired of being afraid.

I’m tired of people being worried about me. It’s really uncomfortable.

All of that is vulnerability–I am in a vulnerable position, I don’t know what I’m going to do next, and I am losing my chutzpah to keep fighting for myself. It’s been almost a year and I just want to sleep for days, to get enough down time to begin to process everything that’s happened, and I just want to be able to take a day to myself not because I am stuck and don’t have work, but because I have worked hard and earned it and don’t need to worry about the financial ramifications. But I’m not there, and I do need people and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I’ve lived in relative privilege for a long time. This is a very white whiney post. I’m trying to keep things in perspective and not complain because I am still, contextually speaking, in a position of relative security and privilege. I haven’t yet defaulted on a bill. I haven’t yet lacked for a place to sleep at night. I am still able to feed my cat and buy gas and food. I have had a lot of really wonderful people step in when I needed help and have been love with skin on to me. If I started telling you about each of the people who has been generous to me this year, I’d never be able to stop. There has been so much good tangled up with the hard stuff and I am so aware of it.

But I’m also just plain tired. So, hi, it’s Saturday, and this is me being vulnerable.

#feministselfie?


I wish I had a picture of that last sunset on that last night.

It was one of those cloudless Valley haze sunsets, where the sky filtered evenly from yellow to blue to twilight dark behind the mountains. There was a small parking lot with a few guests, halfway to LA from Reno, unloading their SUVs and trickling in. A tall streetlight lit up the corner of the lot and interrupted my sky.

Everyone had gone inside. I was stalling to breathe, to take a picture in my mind like Laura Ingalls Wilder would have done. I looked west, thinking that this would be the last time I’d see the sun setting toward the ocean. And I turned and looked at the mountains and the stars piercing through the skyline above them and turned over and over the thought of an abstract future in the yet-unknown Virginia.

I’d said my goodbyes to my best friends the day before. We’d had our homeschool group friends over that day to load the truck. We piled into the rusty blue van, blankets and books tumbling around our seats, arguing about who sat where. We waited in the car at a friend’s house while my dad went in to pick up my sister from her last birthday party tradition with her childhood playmate. She had cake on her face and smelled like chlorine, and in the heat of August, we wished we did, too.

Then we drove — not far — to the hotel for our first night on the way to Virginia, and our last night in California.

I tried to collect in my mind my favorite California sensations. The smell of orange blossoms in April (I have now forgotten what they smell like, to my dismay). The smell of dairy farm country in the morning air. The sounds of the blue jay and the mourning dove and the walnut tree harvesters. The sights of Mineral King and Three Rivers. Sledding in Sequoia National Park and rumbling up the mountain with chains on the car’s wheels. The silky feel of Valley dust. The cool shade of orange groves and the soft, rotting soil below the trees. The taste of Christmas tamales, the taste of salt rub BBQ, and Sunday lunches at In-N-Out Burger. Sunday morning worship in the park under a tent. Shooting off rockets in a field behind a school. Rollerblading on sidewalks in the sun. Neighborhood chatter and gathering to set off fireworks in the street, to marvel at the rarity of a snowfall at 5am. The feel of chalk on my hands at the gym, the stretch and poise and soft thuds of ballet routines on wooden floors in a sunlit room with a record player. Walking the St. John’s river parkway and playing on sandbars with my siblings. Artichokes, fat and fresh, steamed and dipped in butter. Climbing skinny trees barefoot and smelling eucalyptus on the wind.

I clutched my bag with the journal inside for storing up everything I wanted to write about the trip, and walked into the hotel.

But I wouldn’t write about those things, for fear of losing them.


Divorce is hard. This year has been hard. The hardest part isn’t the logistics, the moving, the financial untangling, the stress, the aching, or the loneliness. It’s the fact that I still disassociate my self from the fact that divorce is now part of my story. It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I followed the rules. I did what I was taught was “right” and practiced integrity in how I lived and loved. I loved him and sacrificed unquestioningly for him, and it still ended with him telling me “I don’t miss you. I’m happier than I’ve ever been without you here. I want a divorce.”

The shock of that statement, coming about three weeks after I moved out to acquiesce with his sustained requests for a separation (and to keep me from being left alone in a tiny basement apartment I hated), and just days before our second anniversary, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn to accept.

This is my new reality, not that, that happy marriage teamwork and cuddles and inside jokes and serious talks and road trips and dinners and coffee and naps and home. Everything I had known was true, but also wasn’t. Everything had been real, but everything had been a lie. And now it was gone.

In the following weeks I fell into grief and a loneliness of a peculiar sort that I think maybe even widows/widowers can’t know–not just “this love/r is gone,” but “this love/r is gone and is not what/who I thought he was and now despises me.” I’d run into habits of the heart that left me reeling with the shock and despair of my new reality–I couldn’t go to him with ideas, weariness, excitement, inside jokes, whatever, and I’d have to accept once again that the man I’d loved was [functionally] no more.

Halfway through the subsequent depression, my counselor opened our session really excited. “Hannah, Hannah, I have another client with the SAME sort of story and she recommended this book and OH you have to read it. It’s called Runaway Husbands.”

Dutiful me bought it and started to read it, and found it incredibly hard to read. Everything* was my story. Everything was familiar. I couldn’t forget reality and I had to face it. And that was so good for me. And so hard.

Maybe the most healing thing for human suffering is to know that your experience is not isolated. That you are not alone. That someone else has walked this road before you and hears your pain. Runaway Husbands played that role for me, and I’m sure for countless others, and it made me feel a little more sane and a little more sure that I was going to make it to the other side of this grief in one piece, with my sanity, and with some joie de vivre left over.

Runaway Husbands is not an explicitly Christian book, and it doesn’t give you “five steps to wholeness after your husband bails on your marriage,” either. It doesn’t try to fix you or your situation, but rather provides story after story that shows you that your experience is common, your reaction is normal, and give examples of what others experienced and felt as they dealt with similar situations.

While this book is written by a woman, for women, and frames the discussion in terms that are stereotypically feminine, I think that this book would be a great resource for anyone who’s had their spouse abruptly leave the marriage and become seemingly cold toward their spouse’s shock and grief. This book teaches you to unclutch the shards of the relationship and accept that answers are cheap and unsatisfactory, and that recovery will be slow (but it will happen).

I’d love to hear from any others who’ve been through similar things–what books helped you? What other resources did you appreciate? What was cathartic? What was healing?

And, if you’re in a similar situation, but too newly into this experience to comment and haven’t yet accepted reality for what it is, message me and I’d love to mail you a copy.

***

*Editorial comment: “everything” is, of course, not literally accurate in every sense. The overall analysis, despite a few details that didn’t match because of courtship culture or personalities, was spot on.


I don’t know where to start.

A few weeks ago, I was at dinner with a friend in DC, and tried to make a list of all the crazy things that have happened since …I guess since I last posted. It’s been dizzying, and not all good. I feel like I want to go hide somewhere without people for three days just to try to make sense of it all, to write and think and breathe.

I haven’t been writing much, here. Telling stories for others instead of myself is a safe way to hide. I don’t really want to write much about my life here–I don’t want “messy life processing post-divorce” to define me. Here. At all.

But in another light, that stuff, the depression and awkward gestures toward healing, the gangly relational in-between as I grow into myself and my new life all over again, that is all part of my story. And to not write about it, for me, is a little bit of denial. I want to keep it all tightly private and hide it from all but a few close, safe friends, and then let you see the butterfly rebirth later. But that due date keeps getting pushed back and it’s a process that’s out of my hands and just so painfully slow and natural and un-time-able.

So maybe, maybe, I’ll try to straddle the divide and stay safe but let you see me a bit more. After all, I can’t be the only one whose post-courtship-ideals life fell apart. I can’t be the only one whose parents initially edged close to “I told you so,” and didn’t seem to understand that their involvement couldn’t have prevented things from going badly [but may even have made things worse with their attempts at “accountability”]. I can’t be the only CP/QF daughter whose marriage fell apart for reasons unrelated to courtship or parents, but possibly tied to the hurry and seriousness parents and courtship pressure forced on a nascent relationship. We’ll see if I can or will write about these things. I’m not sure yet.

I feel lonely a lot. I think that’s okay, though it’s hard. I keep wanting to react to it by creating busyness or change, by looking at job listings in California and New York, by committing to a flurry of projects. That’s not healthy, and this week I’ve done what I keep finding myself having to do with every element of this transition: go out alone and sit with it. Breathe into the stretch as it burns in the deep tissue of my soul. Feel not just the edges of the pain, but press into it and find the center.

Right now I’m living with good people who took me in and gave me a room. I saved up–finally got myself a car (despite no credit history!), working on getting an apartment, found a roommate, making plans. Things are coming together, I keep saying.

But even with things coming together, I’m going to be in transition for a while, I think. Filing for divorce in the DC area is really complicated, since there’s not a no-fault option in MD or DC. Being the organized one doesn’t really make my life easier, either. I’m really ready for that to be done and over, but I’m also stuck with the social stigma of “not-yet-legally-divorced” if I want to date casually or meet new people. I’m not quite a social pariah, but it’s uncomfortable.

Trying to keep some things stable, I’ve been gardening a lot. My host family has been so kind to let me use a couple of their garden beds, and I’ve got lettuce, cilantro, carrots, broccoli, peppers, garlic, squash, zucchini, mint, sunflowers, cosmos, poppies, alyssum, and bachelors buttons. I’ve recreated happy memories with these selections, pulling pieces of California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and buried them in the ground and watched them sprout, weeded and watered and thinned and harvested. It’s so healing.

I just finished the last day of Sunday school class, which I’ve been teaching weekly since last fall. This too has been a constant and a place where my life-mess doesn’t walk in the door with me. We sit around the table and fill out worksheets and talk about Jesus and the Israelites and the early church and ask questions and decide we don’t know everything, but we like that Jesus loves us.

Friendships have shifted, in all of this, and I’m not sure why (it’s not directly caused by people rejecting me because of the divorce), but it’s tangible and uncomfortable and strange. A lot of it is me changing and others not, and not being sure how to relate, how friendships work for this same-but-different self. I’m more introverted, more emotionally exhausted by social interaction. I like the slower pace of this, but it’s also awkward in general.

Expectations are low. I don’t know what tomorrow’s going to be like, how I’ll deal, what promises will be broken, what to do with trust cast off and thrown back at me, what to do with my constant need to withdraw and protect myself. I haven’t been writing much. I feel like when I do, it will be a long slow process of telling myself my own stories and then reintroducing myself to myself, the new version who embraces her new identity and is moving forward.

I’ve been reading bell hooks a lot, again. All About Love: New Visions has been a lifeline to sanity. Similarly, Runaway Husbands by Vikki Stark (I may do a review of this one here soon). And I’ve been plunging into a lot of novels, novels that don’t have much to do with my world. Escapism isn’t wrong when you don’t have time to rest sometimes, right?

So hi. Maybe I’m back again. And if I’m not back as frequently as before, know that I will be again, after I’ve sat on the floor and breathed into the stretch of this season over and over again until I can tell you how it feels without falling to pieces.

Posts that resonated with me recently:

When Too Many Things Are Happening
How to Weather June


When one of my friends starts dating someone exclusively, I like to ask questions, to capture in my head not just the story of how he asked her out or how she warmed up to him, but to understand the essence, the thingness of what makes their new relationship attractive to them. What do you like about him? Why’d you say yes to a date? What about her makes you want to spend time with her?

I’m a collector of stories, of people, of ideas. I soak it up. There is so much to the world and I want to understand things.

I get some really interesting answers to these questions. And I’ve given some really interesting answers to friends asking me similar questions, too.

One thing that gets me a lot, that makes me feel a little hollow inside and worry, is when I hear a man or a woman bragging about their significant other unduly much, and when I hear him or her saying things like “s/he’s just so good to me!” whenever he or she talks about the person they’re seeing. 

I promise I’m not just being curmudgeonly. I promise I’m not thinking of anyone in particular. And I promise, that what I’m about to say is not a universal thing. But I have noticed some trends, and I think it’s worth talking about it.

You see, when you’ve grown up in the conservative Christian world and hope to save your first everythings for your forever other, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to get it right the first time. To not get your heart broken. To push through hard things as a couple and make it work, dammit. I have good taste in men, really. He just needs to grow up. She’s not always like that–she’s really good to me! Just trust me. I’ve got this. We’re happy. 

Once you have this pressure on yourself from yourself (maybe you got to third base with this guy and you are ashamed and just want to marry him so it can be okay and romantic, instead of Potential Mistake And Regret For Lost Purity, or maybe you’re just afraid of heartbreak and being alone), it sets you up for codependence. Or it can, if both parties are subscribers to this way of thinking.

Codependence thrives on fear of loss. This is my realization of the week. Codependence has to have the potential absence or loss of the enabler, the person you’re dependent upon for emotional stability. You don’t notice your codependency until the security blanket is threatened. Once it’s threatened, you feel manic, naked, offended, and you may become possessive and jealous, or you may become cold and aloof and self-sustained, passive-aggressively determined to make the other miss you and make them come back to you.

I’ve played both sides of this game. I’ve seen it modeled for me over and over when I was growing up, and I’ve been slowly loosening the claw-grips of these emotional habits from my head and heart. Facing my deepest fears this year, against my will, was my personal Eustace-the-dragon moment. I couldn’t pick off scabs of codependency thoroughly, because I was afraid of how much it would hurt, and when my ex ripped himself out of my life in a matter of days, I was suddenly on the other side and codependency (what little was left after trying hard to unlearn it for two years) wasn’t something I could wean myself away from anymore. I had to quit, cold turkey.

And then I realized something. Yes, I loved him. Had been in love, still am working out the fact that you never really stop loving someone even after it’s over, and it was real, for me at least. But it was also childish in a lot of ways, and there were things that I had grown accustomed to about our relationship that were cramping me in unhealthy ways. Not in the sense of “he cramps my style,” because he didn’t. But there were things about who I am that literally had no place in our relationship. Things that defined me for ages before I met him, things that were always going to be part of me, but things I neglected to “fit” him better. I don’t mean this in a cheesy-finding-myself-better-off-without-him way at all.

What I mean is: I wasn’t done growing up when I met him, and started dating him, and did the Hard Thing and Made Things Work and sacrificed a ton to be there for him and be the right sort of girl for him. Initially this was smothering, and we talked it out and I learned how to not trip-fall-run all over myself to bring all these subservient and codependent emotional habits I thought were good things that would make him feel loved and make us closer. Our relationship had some really good times, and the best of these were when I was taking care of myself, not trying too hard to be there and be everything he needed, and when we treated each other like equals, with respect. When our relationship was at it’s healthiest, there was no sense of possession/possessing/being possessed by the other. There was give and take, but we were most whole and united because we were individuals being open with each other, as individuals. Without being afraid of loss of companionship or love, or autonomy and personal voice. But the thing is, it never lasted. It wasn’t safe like that most of the time, for either of us, for lots and lots of complex reasons.

And so, I see in my own story, that sweet teenage, godly girl bragging on her first boyfriend, “he’s so good to me! he got me this thing I needed when I had a rough day!” and I hear that young Christian guy talking about how wonderful his sweetheart is in all the right ways and how he never wants to lose her, and I feel sad. What if their story is like mine? What if they’re afraid of getting it wrong, so they force the first one to be the right one? What if they settle for someone who’s good, because they don’t know what they’re missing because they’re afraid to lose what they have?

This agonizing existential question is what my ex chased after, leaving me behind. It’s a real question, and it’s worth asking. But being afraid to ask it when you’re dating, when you’re engaged, when you’re so infatuated with the newness of everything sexual–this is the coward’s path. You feel the stakes are so high because they are emotionally so high.

But the mean little secret is: breakups suck, but you’ll live and it gets better. Being afraid of these questions isn’t worth stuffing them deep down in the back of your internal emotional landscape until they become so pressingly real and you can’t ignore them anymore, but you’re married and it’s too late.

Ask the hard questions. Do the harder thing. Don’t force it to work; face your fears instead. Don’t keep dating her because she’s a godly Christian girl and fits the list. Don’t say yes to him because he’s good enough and you don’t have any other options.

Being single isn’t that awful of a fate. Being married isn’t a heaven that will erase all your tensions and private lonelinesses.

[and please, if you’re single and lonely and reading this, don’t take this too much to heart. you’re held in Love’s arms. don’t tell me i wouldn’t say this if i knew how lonely it is to be single and face those hard things on your own. i know. we’ll be okay.]