Two years ago today I did a brave thing and I’m so glad I did. The world may be collapsing right now, but it’s collapsing around us, not in on us. We are safe inside together. Laughing, crying, fighting, forgiving, growing, playing, creating and eating whatever we damn well please. Thank you God for delivering us.
We got engaged in December. It was cold and clear. In front of cameras of course (it doesn’t count if no one’s watching).
The next day, it began. It was cold and sharp. In my car along the Turnpike (with no one watching, of course).
I wouldn’t say the real you came out because I don’t think there is a real you.
You are honey mixed with gray silver micah. Lacking form and shape. You cannot be held but you stick and don’t let go. Clinging to my hands and I cannot quite get all of you off my skin. Dirt and remnants of what was and what wasn’t latched on.
I soak them in water. Warm and clear. And I watch as you dissolve and wash down my drain.
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
I like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh. . . . And eyes big love-crumbs
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you so quite new
for the other shoe to drop, to drop and disappear
for the dust to settle, to see if you’re still here
is it still you or someone else
someone with fangs and claws
someone from the darkness
see that’s why I need this pause
the earth and the wind and the water and the fire
spinning round and round and round
down the hill arms crossed hitting bumps, rocky ground
and once I hit one of those rocks just right
it knocked the wind out of me
and I was so scared that I might
never breathe again, might die right there and then
might have already had my last breath
but didn’t know it when
I drew it because I hadn’t hit that rock
and I never saw it coming
tumbling down the hill so innocently humming
the songs that go round and round your head
when you’re young and stupid and
sleeping in your twin bed with
your Kurt Cobain poster on the ceiling above
on the phone til 1 AM because
you’re so fucking in love
the way you love
when you’re young and stupid and
don’t see the rocks coming
the ones that will knock the wind right out of you
as the end of innocence comes running
to take away
go head and pray
it’s end of day
now you’ll find your way
in this brand new play
whose lines you don’t yet know
a different kind of show
all the other players, though,
seem to know which way to go
and so you follow along
mouthing the words to the songs
Mama said don’t watch the other girls dancing
don’t copy them
You know the dance
the way mama taught you
But those days are over
you’re standing on a a new kind of stage
you can look but there’s no lines on the page
it’s a brave new world you’re making up as you go
now on with the show
Love came and
cracked open my ribcage.
Reached in and grabbed my beating heart and dug its nails in.
not hard enough.
My myocardium stuck on the shards of my ribs like jaggers.
Lacerated and bleeding, still beating.
Contractions spurring more
My chest empty,
a hole where my heart should be
(even though it is technically still there)
you are physically not
(even though you technically are)
And it kills me
I threw my wedding ring into the river today
into the Allegheny it sank
To the bottom where there is
we met on a river
got engaged by a river
lived by a river
moved and made a home by another river
In a river we were born and
in a river today we died.
He tried to pull me
to a place where there is
But I broke free and swam
to the light.
you tried to starve the light in me
you’re still in darkness, I am free
I am not yours, you are not mine
these waters broke the tie that binds
I am not yours, you are not mine
these waters broke the tie that binds
I am not yours, you are not mine
these waters broke the tie that binds
So mote it be
Tears and the ocean both being salt water is not
Tears met with comfort release our pain
connect us to one another.
For a moment we are weightless,
surrounded by the warm salty water of the Womb.
Beneath the surface, the sounds fall away
(There is only Her heartbeat)
The salt stings our eyes and we must close them now
and wipe away the salt water.
Emerging from the warmth into
the bright light of the Sun,
the cool air moving past us,
the noise of ordinary life around us.
(the tears dry,
their molecules moving into the air, into the sky, to the clouds
to be returned again to the rain, to the ocean)
We are renewed now.
Returned a little closer to who we were
before we left the safety of the ocean we all began in.
And knowing this is one to which we can return
I cried a little on my way into work this morning. Well, not work exactly. I was actually driving to the tire place near my office because I got another flat. Presumably due to hitting the curb too many times trying to squeeze into a parking space in front of my house, a popular place for people from all corners the earth to park. Not that I’m bitter. Anyway, back to the crying. I was crying because I didn’t have a head scarf on. I was crying because my divorce was a little about more final now.
I started wearing my headscarves five years ago. Was it really five years? It went so fast. It was after my husband and I had reconciled, for the second time. I decided to wear the scarf for a lot of reasons. I’m sure I’ve written posts about it on here. I covered my head on my spiritual journey of my youth. Covered it studying Judaism, covered it exploring Islam, covered it, ultimately as a Catholic (turned post-Catholic). It was a way for me to remember God each day. But it was also because I was married. Muslim women who wear hijab do so whether they’re married or not. Same with the Amish. But Orthodox Jews cover their hair when they’re married.
And I’m not married anymore. Mostly.
Divorce doesn’t happen in a day. There’s the day you file, the day you tell the kids, the day you tell everyone else, the day you move out, the day you change your name back, the day you write up your custody agreement, the day you divide up your assets and debts (the physical ones anyway. Not sure you ever stop dividing up the blame and resentment but I hope so), the day the decree is handed down. But these are just the outward signs of the true divorce, the one inside you.
I chose to stop wearing my headscarves this weekend after a year and a half of considering it. I thought and contemplated and prayed and searched my heart and consulted the cards. And I knew it was time. I’m still devoted to God and I’ll still wear it on certain occasions. But, for me, a head scarf is for married women. And I’m not married anymore.
But as I was crying, I thought, why are you crying? It’s not that I miss my husband. I reeeeeeally don’t. It’s definitely not that I wish we were still together. I reeeeeeally don.’t. It was something else. A marriage is more than the two people in it. There are the two of you and then there’s who you thought they were and who they thought you were. There’s the couple you thought you were and the couple they thought you were. There’s all the people in your life and what you thought your marriage was to them. There are your kids and what it was to them. And there are your hopes, the life you thought would unfold over the next 30 or 40 years. Your identity as a married woman, now a twice divorced woman. It is a slow, painful death. But.
It is followed by rebirth. All those contractions and dilating and blood and fluid and pushing until you think you might split in two like a wishbone, are worth it in the end. You emerge bloody and red and crying. You might even have some meconium in your lungs to work out. The air is cold and you miss the comfort of the womb, but there’s no going back. Here you are.
I wish I could say there’s a big boob waiting there to comfort you, but there’s not. After all, you just gave birth to yourself. The only teet is your own. Okay I’m going to drop this metaphor now. It’s getting a little bit too weird.
Where was I? Oh yes, scarves.
When I started covering my head, after we reconciled, if I’m being completely honest with myself, it was about more than God. And it was about more than being married. It was to contain the part of me I had to put deep inside in order to keep my marriage together.
We reconciled because I couldn’t financially afford to leave but we also reconciled because I couldn’t stand to be alone. It took me 40 years to get to a place where I could be alone and not fall apart. Okay, 42; I’ve definitely fallen apart during this divorce process and had to have some very strong external motivators to keep me going. Anyway, when I went back five years ago, it was in resignation. Resignation to the fact I couldn’t afford to leave, resignation to the fact I wasn’t strong enough to leave but I wasn’t strong enough to stay. I knew if I went back this time, that was it. I was in it for the long haul. I couldn’t keep putting my kids through the back and forth. Or myself. I needed to be stable and give them a stable home. I needed to grow up and accept my life for what it was. And so, I knew I had to resign myself to the parts of my husband that always made me want to leave. I had to accept the control and paranoia and misogyny and irrationality and the messy house and everything else. And I had to dim my light, so I didn’t outshine him. And so I covered it with a scarf and said goodbye.
How many of us spend our lives dimming our light to keep the people in our lives happy?
Well, fuck that.
It’s been a long journey of spiritual growth and therapy and a lot of blog entries and a few very good friends. But I have started shining again. Gradually, over these past few years. And now, the scarves are off and I’m aiming for supernova levels.
It’s not just him. It’s so many people who’ve been in my life. And that’s life. That’s the fallen world we live in where people are insecure and jealous and afraid and don’t realize there’s room for all of us to shine. A million white hot suns. Feel free to stare directly at us, it will not damage your retinas.
And so, I find myself thinking of Gloria Steinem and Rhoda Morgenstern and all the other fabulous, confident, free spirited 40-something women with good hair. I am not someone new. I am just stripping away all the layers I’ve used to dull my shine. The self-imposed vernix. I am becoming more me.
I’m throwing my deep purple scarf in the air, ’cause I’m gonna make it after all.
I recently asked a patient how their Mother’s Day had been and they replied, not good. Their mother had found out her partner had been slowly poisoning her. I asked them if this person seemed the poisoning type, any history of violence or mental illness? No, they responded. It was a total shock. And I thought to myself, why would someone poison their spouse instead of just divorcing them? And then I thought about what divorce is like and I wasn’t as stumped.
My friend told me about a prominent pastor who’d slowly poisoned his wife and made it appear as though she had a terrible chronic disease so he could garner attention and sympathy (narcissist much?). Another friend related to me a tale of a man who had poisoned his wife (by slipping it into her prenatal vitamins) right before she got into her car, hoping to make it look like a car accident but the poison kicked in too quickly and he was caught.
And then a friend told me the tale of Aqua Tofana.
Giulia Tafana lived in 17th century Italy. She made cosmetics and holy oils for women by trade. But, she also helped over 600 women kill their husbands with a poison she made called Aqua Tofana. She succeeded for decades but in 1659 she and her daughter Girolama Spara were put to death for their crimes. Well, by one account anyway. Another has Tofana dying peacefully of old age and her daughter taking over the family business.
Spara operated as a kind of “cunning woman” who sold charms and cures to the gentlewomen and nobility of Rome. These activities would not only have introduced her to potential customers, but would also have given her a shrewd idea of which of her clients were happy in their marriages and which unhappy – not to mention which might be desperate enough to seek drastic remedies, and be able to keep a secret.
The thing to keep in mind is that in 17th century Europe, women had no rights. Your husband could beat and rape you as much as he pleased. Your father could pick your husband for you. Women had very little control over their lives and divorce was not a thing back then. What was a girl to do? Giulia Tofana had the answer.
Aqua Tofana was a unique poison. It was colorless and flavorless and only 4 drops was enough to kill a man (or, as the primmer source goes, “sufficient to destroy a man”). The wife would put the first drop in his food or wine and he would feel a bit off, a bit tired. Then in a a day or two she would slip him the second drop and he’d feel worse. By the third drop, he was vomiting and diarrheaing all over the place (which she probably had to clean up) and calling for the priest. And the final drop did him in.
Administered in wine or tea or some other liquid by the flattering traitress, [it] produced but a scarcely noticeable effect; the husband became a little out of sorts, felt weak and languid, so little indisposed that he would scarcely call in a medical man…. After the second dose of poison, this weakness and languor became more pronounced… The beautiful Medea who expressed so much anxiety for her husband’s indisposition would scarcely be an object of suspicion, and perhaps would prepare her husband’s food, as prescribed by the doctor, with her own fair hands. In this way the third drop would be administered, and would prostrate even the most vigorous man. The doctor would be completely puzzled to see that the apparently simple ailment did not surrender to his drugs, and while he would be still in the dark as to its nature, other doses would be given, until at length death would claim the victim for its own…
To save her fair fame, the wife would demand a post-mortem examination. Result, nothing — except that the woman was able to pose as a slandered innocent, and then it would be remembered that her husband died without either pain, inflammation, fever, or spasms. If, after this, the woman within a year or two formed a now connection, nobody could blame her; for, everything considered, it would be a sore trial for her to continue to bear the name of a man whose relatives had accused her of poisoning him.
She initially disguised it as cosmetics but soon moved to hiding it in holy oil bottles marked Manna of St. Nicholas of Barri. This was appropriate because a priest, Father Girolama, was getting them their supplies. (A crooked priest??? Shocking, I know, but it’s true). It was also appropriate because what gal doesn’t want jolly old St. Nick bringing her some Aqua Tofana? Slip a bottle of that potion under my tree, Santa!
We don’t know if any of this is true, of course. The witch hunts were still going in the 17th century as part of a broad and violent effort to suppress female healers, midwives, artisans and craftspeople. Maria Mies refers to this process as Housewiferization . European women were being removed from the public sphere and confined to the private sphere of the home. It’s possible the tale of Aqua Tofana is entirely a result of the times. But I think most women would like to think it’s true. Not because we’re homicidal, but because, well, patriarchy sucks. Being powerless sucks. Why shouldn’t those 17th century men have at least been a little afraid their wife might poison them if they treated her like shit?
We don’t have to poison our husbands these days. We can just divorce them. There’s less vomit to clean up. But it doesn’t make nearly as good a story.
My receptionist is back and I had an in office appointment today. Almost all of my appointments have been by phone since March 13, 2020, but even with the rare in office appointment, I would greet the patients and have them go into the room with me. Now, she roomed the patient and then I went in. Before I did, I did the doctor knock. That sort of quick, short littler knock you do as you’re opening the door. You pop your head in first and then walk into the room and give your excited greeting. I came really close to crying. I had no idea how much I missed that knock. That moment where you’re standing outside the door and you pause and prepare yourself mentally for what’s on the other side. Sometimes it’s a brief, happy moment. Sometimes it’s a frantic review of the chart that you really should have done sooner. Sometimes it’s a feeling of exhaustion and dread and “can I really make it through another patient today?” If it weren’t for this pandemic, for this seismic shift in how we do medicine, I would have never appreciated that knock, that moment, that island of time and place that is the outer edge of the intimate relationship between doctor and patient. There is joy in my bones right now. The quiet sound of angels singing. A feeling of home in my heart.