Just because things aren’t the same doesn’t mean they can’t be good.

I pulled the red and white notice off the door of my Heights house with a sigh.  We would be fined within days if the lawn continued un-mowed, if the landscaping wasn’t trimmed back.  Jeremiah and I (mostly Jeremiah) had been in a slow war with the code enforcement officer in the Heights most of the time that we lived there.  Our fence was the first infraction–built on a corner lot and requiring signatures of all the neighbors and a hearing at city hall to build–but from then on the inspector took every opportunity to cite us, and Jeremiah took every opportunity to provoke him.  We learned after the fence incident that bribes were the usual way of dealing with his red and white citations, and it seemed that forcing the issue with the city had been something of an embarrassment to him when all the council members immediately approved our “beautiful fence.”

But this time?  Honestly, I could see his point.

I was at the Heights house to meet with our carpet installer for a quote.  Getting that house on the market, so that I can stop carrying bills for two homes and re-appropriate some of my capital from the Heights into the farm, has been a long, slow, goal.  Earlier this year, I hired my contractor to put on a new roof and finish the drywall in our new addition; just a month or so ago I bought all new light fixtures and paint. But it’s not quite there yet.

Oh – and I would love to make the lawn someone else’s problem.

Since we moved across the river, the lawn at the Heights has alternately been the problem of my dad, my former brother-in-law (who I still totally consider family…actually, I’m keeping all of Jeremiah’s family), and Jeremiah (occasionally…when he’s in town).  This time?  My dad offered to help me pick up the slack, once again, and that’s how we found ourselves taming back the jungle that was my former house’s lawn just before dusk.

I drove over to meet him with a weed whacker, hedge trimmers, and a potato fork in my truck, ready to whack, trim, or dig as necessary.  When I pulled up, he was nearly finished mowing the yard.

My Heights house sits on a lot and a half in one of the nicer working class neighborhoods across the river.  It was built nearly a hundred years ago, when houses were smaller and ceilings were taller.  Nothing is perfectly square, the floors are, at best, levelish, and nearly every corner of the not quite 800 square feet (from one of our foundation walls to two staircases) made a valiant attempt to fall in on us while we lived there.

And it was completely perfect, and I couldn’t have loved it more.

It’s five minutes from anything you could possibly need.  Sidewalks make it pedestrian (and pup) friendly; the posh boutique restaurants and shops uptown are a relatively easy walk if you’re in the mood.  Our favorite pizza place was just up the block.  Starbucks was just around the corner.

It’s the sort of neighborhood where neighbors know each other’s names and say hello.  When my Amelia was a puppy, she made a habit of slipping the fence, running across the street to our favorite neighbors’ house, and waiting on the porch until Wade saw her, gave her pets, and walked her back home.  It was a ritual for both of them for a few weeks, nearly every morning, until we figured out where she was escaping.  He never complained once.

Thwarting Amelia's escap
(This, by the way, is how we had to fix the issue.)

There’s a lot that I miss about that place.

I miss the front porch with its steps that I lined with flowers. The landscaping that we scrapped together from free splits, plant sales, and the occasional splurge.

Our house last summer

I miss the sidewalks.  I miss the neighborhood cats who used to come visit while we sat on the porch and drank wine in the evening under twinkle lights.  I miss the people who would wave hello as I sat on the same porch drinking coffee and grading English papers.

I miss the utterly ingenious squirrels.

squirrel
Gotta admit this guy worked for whatever he got.

Mostly though, I miss the feeling of “knowing” what direction my life was heading.    I miss the security I felt there with my cozy little house and almost blissfully happy marriage.  I was sure of myself when I lived there in a way that I haven’t been able to reclaim since.

Nostalgia rolled over me as I pulled climbing weeds from the stems of the hydrangea plants that I worked for years to establish.  They bloomed this year without my noticing; I only rarely drive by.  The gardens that we had tended so exactly for years were overgrown and wild, a reminder that nature will reclaim whatever it feels it is due, even in town, even with a Starbucks just around the corner.

I bit back tears once or twice, not for the house exactly, but for the losses that my mind had folded into those walls, and that yard, and those pretty little hydrangeas.

When Dad and I finished up, we sat on the porch for a bit.  The evening was cool, and the front porch was still perfect.  One of the neighborhood cats, Bennie by his tag, sat with us and enjoyed pets.

“Things were good here…” I said to my dad, or maybe to myself, or maybe to no one in particular.

He nodded.

“Before the shit hit the fan,” he replied.

Yes, I thought.  Before all of the shit hit all of the fans.

Once upon a time, in what feels like another life, I used to teach English 101 to Freshman at the local four year college.  I had two additional goals for my students beyond what was specifically in the 101 instructor handbook: first, that they actually understand the rules for commas by the time they leave my class, and second, that they have a basic grasp of logic and logical fallacies.  I won’t turn this post into a lesson on commas–suffice it to say there really are only four comma rules, and they aren’t that hard–but I was reminded of my logical fallacy lessons as I sat on the steps.

There is a fallacy called “the golden age fallacy” or “romanticizing the past.” (Since I’m not a professor anymore I’m just going to link this to Wikipedia for the gist.)  Culturally, it’s prevalent as a bias for bygone times: “the good old days” when “men were men and women were women” (whatever the hell that really means) while ignoring ALL of the negative aspects of those decades or eras.  It’s easy to see in politics on a grand scale, but the truth is, we tend to do it in our own lives as well.

Memories are remarkably unreliable, mostly because they were never designed for perfect playback as much as they were designed to help us adapt and survive.  The memories that we keep for some time tend to be remembered as mostly positive or negative, while our current situations can be seen with more objectivity: the positive and negative weighed against each other.  (Also, we tend to remember our best days, and our worst, but the “mostly ok” days that make up most of our lives slip through our mental lockers like water through a sieve.)  Most of us have times in our lives that we remember with proverbial “rose-tinted glasses.”  For me, my time in that little house comes across almost glowing.

Ah, but here’s the rub: if you’re willing to really think about those times, it becomes clear fairly quickly that things weren’t perfect and idyllic.  That may make for a better story or a good memory, but it’s seldom the way our lives are actually lived.

I don’t miss the city noises, or the headlights that would shine through my bedroom window as people drove down the street in the middle of the night.  I don’t miss the code enforcement guy monitoring my lawn, or the overzealous animal control in the county. I really don’t miss the fact that most of town used the weeks from the middle of June through the end of July as an excuse to set off fireworks at all hours.

I miss some of my neighbors, but I couldn’t wait to leave a few of them behind me.

I miss the convenience of being right in town, but I wouldn’t trade my farm lane for all the tea in China (or, you know, something I would realistically have more use and desire for than all of the Chinese tea…)

I would give almost anything to move my front porch across the river and park it squarely in front of this big, old ranch house, but there are limits to what you can actually take with you when you leave a place.  So, instead of the porch, I’ll take the memories of the summer nights, and the twinkle lights, and the wine.  I’ll hope that the next owners love the little house as much as we did, that their good memories will outweigh the bad, and that love will live there for a long time to come.  Maybe I’ll even hope that their memories there show through rose-tinted glasses.

Mine do.

I’m mostly ok with it.

I walked around the little gardens and made a mental note of the clean-up yet to be done.  Hopefully, those flower boxes that Jeremiah so painstakingly built for me will belong to someone else before long, but in the meantime, I believe I can afford to give them just a little more time and attention.

Before leaving, I chose a handful of overgrown plants to split and replant in my butterfly garden in front of the ranch house.  We dug them up without much ceremony and loaded them into my truck alongside the tools I brought.

It was nearly dark by the time I made it home and began digging holes in the soft earth of my butterfly garden, the clayish soil mingling with llama manure compost, clinging to my hands and sticking underneath my fingernails.  I listened to the nighttime things wake up around me. The owls.  The crickets.  The toads.

No cars.

No headlights.

No sign of the city except for the tiny bit of light pollution that glows from the west.

Things will never be the same as they were during those years in my little house.  I may never quite reclaim those same feelings of security, but that loss made space for other good things that I couldn’t have imagined then.

I sunk the roots of my plants into the space I made them, and I watered them almost to flooded, knowing that the next day would be hot, and that they would need a lot of care to establish themselves.  They didn’t have the space they really needed in the little garden boxes, but in the butterfly garden, if they could make it past the trauma of the move to establish their roots, they would have plenty of room to grow.

 

 

 

 

The other side: More on Divorce

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become.  No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell.  There are no maps of the change.  You just come out the other side.  Or you don’t.”
~ Stephen King

My divorce, so long in the making, was final at the end of March.  My cousin, Erin, came down for a long weekend and stayed to hold my hand in a mostly empty courtroom on a Monday morning while I answered questions from a bored-looking judge for five minutes so that he could declare my marriage dissolved.   My ex didn’t come; in Illinois you don’t have to have both parties present to finalize a divorce, and I had decided that the whole thing would probably be easier if I didn’t have to face him.

Divorce is strange.  It can be equal parts terrifying and debilitating and liberating.  Even world-ending.  It’s unexpected for some.  It feels inevitable for others.  The cutting of a cord. The removing of a limb.  A decision that you make, but that feels as though it had been made without you.  One that somehow feels equal parts devastating and hopeful.

It’s the end of something you never thought would end, and the beginning of something you never prepared for.

At least, that’s how it was for me.

Divorces seem to be like couples; each one of them is different

Two years ago, my ex began chasing madly after a career a thousand miles away.  It seemed to make him happy in ways that his work here did not, so I encouraged it, and I sacrificed for it.  My time, money, and all of my needs were placed on a chopping block of my own creation.  I dutifully swung the ax without even questioning, because, after all, we were a team, and I was nothing if not a team player.  Don’t get me wrong.  He never demanded, or even asked for, such sacrifices.  Honestly, he didn’t even know I was making them.  I did that all on my own while he was away.  I believed the sacrifices were temporary and in service to our relationship.  My choice.  My consequences.

At first, he left for two weeks a month…then a month at a time…then six weeks between every stop home.  His priorities changed slowly at first, then seemingly all at once.  Looking back, I can see that his heart left this place…and I suppose me…long before he did.

When my marriage began falling apart, I felt scared and alone and incapable of living my life.  I went through stages where the farm felt like way too much. The animals felt like way too much.  My job felt like way too much.  It felt like I was treading water, barely keeping my head up, all the while watching the waves get rougher all around me.

Bills.  Sick animals.  Farm emergencies.  Broken equipment.  Collapsed ceilings from my then-leaking roof.  None of them had seemed so impossible when I was part of a team, when I had the emotional support of someone equally invested in building this life with me, but they began to pile on as I dealt with one after another mostly on my own.  There was so much to do.  So much to learn.

The truth is, Jeremiah is an incredibly capable person with a laundry list of skills that he always made look easy and that I didn’t possess.  He’s a gifted builder.  He’s good with heavy equipment.  And, damn, can he mend a fence and hang a gate!  When he left, I lost the most meaningful relationship of my life, and I lost at least half of the expertise that had kept the farm running.  The loss of the second made it difficult to find the emotional space to deal with the loss of the first.  It was the proverbial double-whammy, and it made me feel like every piece of my life was coming undone at the seams.

Putting a life back together that has come apart at the seams is a slow task.  Putting a heart back together that has come apart at the seams is an even slower task.  I’m still working on both.

Here’s the thing I’m learning: if you tread water long enough–and just float when you need to–you eventually get strong enough to swim.  People always say “it gets easier,” but when you’re facing a struggle, those words do you a disservice.  I believe the truth of the matter is a little different.  It doesn’t get easier; You get stronger

I’m not saying this in the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” so “stop being a pansy” and “rub some dirt in it” kind of way.  Rather, it’s worth acknowledging that the character traits we tend to admire–grit, compassion, self-awareness–they all come from living through the days we spend in that uncharted, unexpected territory in our lives.

I’m starting to believe that life gives us the experiences required to make us who we want to become, and that becoming the person we want to be is the result of walking through those experiences with all the openness we can muster.  You walk the “blue and lonely section of hell,” and if you let it, it will teach you.

This place, these animals, all of this work, and even the dissolution of the most significant relationship of my life…they are my teachers right now, and I’m discovering that it’s usually easier to let them teach me than it is to fight them on the lessons.

I am learning.  Everyday, I am learning.

Trees and Sunsets

I am the sort of person who has favorite trees.  I’ve always found trees to be a little bit magical, a piece of the past that roots into the future.  When I was a little girl, one of my favorite trees was the willow tree in our backyard (the namesake of our lane). Now, though I have many trees that I love, one of my absolute favorites is my backyard western pine.

Very few types of evergreen trees are actually native to Illinois.  If you see them here, it’s usually because they were planted, or perhaps their parent tree was planted.  They grow tall and lovely, and can rival the height of the native oaks and maples, but they don’t reach their true potential they way they would if they had rooted in their native soil.

And yet, they are the monoliths of the ridge line.  Apparently the result of depression era planting, there are rows upon rows of western pines scattered across the farm.  They edge the farm road, they frame the back fields, and one particularly lovely and tall evergreen commands the back yard.  I am the sort of person who has favorite trees, and this particular pine is one of my absolute favorite trees on the property.

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I sat in my sun room on Friday, reflecting on a particularly difficult day, starring out at the backyard and my stalwart pine tree in its field of oaks and maples.  It swayed gently in the wind as the sky faded from blue to pink behind it.

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The sunset was extraordinary; I watched the colors slip from one to the next like the tracks on a well loved CD, so quiet in their transition that before you realize one song has ended, you’re listening to a new one.  I feel like God gave us sunsets to remind us that endings can be beautiful.

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And I think maybe God gave us trees to remind us of our own brevity.  Those trees in the backyard have watched over this place for decades.  To their lifetime, I am a footnote. But not even the trees are permanent.  Everything is both stable and changing, all the time, all around us.

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I’m not sure why, but those ideas comforted me that evening.  Endings can be beautiful.  Nothing lasts forever.

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Pink to orange.  Orange to purple.  Purple back to blue before the night settled in.  The moon like an iridescent white pearl against the black, crushed-velvet sky.  By the time the night settled in, I felt much better. Because sometimes, endings can be beautiful. 

And, regardless, the sun is going to rise over my favorite pinetree in the morning. 

 

 

 

Writing the truth: on Divorce.

I have a bottle of wine chilling in my freezer.  I will need at least a glass of it to make it through this post.

Some of you have reached out to me since my post on depression, asking why I’m not writing much anymore, why I’ve dropped off of the WordPress radar.   I wonder the same thing sometimes.  Honestly?  I’ve wanted to write.  I’ve had words upon words ready.  Ready to talk about the two horses I’ve rescued since my 30th birthday.  Ready to tell you about the duckings that were hatched by a turkey hen then raised in the house, culminating in this little one wandering upstairs on her own in search of the bathtub.
ducklingduckling2

I’ve wanted to tell you about the creatures I’ve lost.  The ones I’ve found.  The everyday beauty of life in this little corner of the universe.  I’ve considered writing again about the depression that I’ve struggled with on and off for most of my adult life.  Sometimes the words have seemed almost ready to spill out.

But then I would start writing.

And I would stop writing.

Because, deep down, everything I was starting to write felt deeply inauthentic.  What I wanted to say and what I felt I could say, or maybe should say, were two different things.

The most pressing issue in my world wasn’t something that I was ready to talk about, and it seemed wrong to pretend otherwise.  No matter how much I love the horses I rescued, no matter how funny it seemed to be hauling a pet chicken to the vet in a cat carrier in the back seat of my Jetta, no matter how much my llamas made me smile, it all paled in comparison to the fact that my marriage was falling apart.  That things had been crashing down around me for the better part of two years.  That things weren’t ok, and that they hadn’t been for a long time.

I promised myself when I started this blog that I would be authentic, that I wouldn’t just be another voice on social media sharing only the good stuff and none of the bad, a voice making readers feel like everyone else has their shit together while they don’t.  For the most part, I think I’ve succeeded in some level of balance there, but divorce?

I didn’t know where to start.  I didn’t know how to tell my story without telling parts that don’t entirely belong to me.  I didn’t know where authenticity just became whining.  Mostly though?  I really didn’t want to admit that this was happening to me.  I didn’t want to see it in black and white.  I didn’t want it to be real.

But, I guess whether or not it’s what I want, this is what’s real:
Two years ago, almost to the day, the most important relationship in my life started to unravel.
November of 2015 marked the worst month of my life, and I spent the next year and a half fighting to leave that month behind, move past it, and save my marriage to the man I loved more than anything else regardless of how that relationship had hurt me.
Six months ago, Jeremiah moved out.  Not long after that, he sat across the couch from me and told me that he would never “stay here and make himself miserable.”
And now?  Well, he just signed the papers, which I guess is why I’m finally admitting that this is all real.  It’s happening.  There is no magical marriage fairy on her way to wave a wand and fix things.

A little over six years ago, I married one of the best men I had ever met.  Currently, I am divorcing one of the best men I’ve ever met.

That is the truth of my life at the moment.

Meanwhile, the world spins madly on, and I’m still here, still managing 50 something animals every day, working an office job, and trying to remember that “I can do hard things.”

Today, I felt the weight of all of this pressing on me and I changed it to “I can do hard things…for an hour…in my pajamas” before heading out to take care of evening chores.

The ranch is still here.  I am still here.  I am not going anywhere, and neither is this blog.

This isn’t really an announcement to most of those who are close to me.  Most I’ve told.  Many have heard it through the proverbial grapevine, which I realized this Christmas when cards started showing up from family to “Cherity” and not “Cherity and Jeremiah.”  Even some of my readers have hinted at his absence in my posts, or the fact that he seemed to always be gone, but I know this will catch some of you by surprise.  In a weird way, this whole thing caught me by surprise too.

They say that “life happens while you’re planning for it,” and I guess that’s true.  There is no cultural road-map for thirty, childless, divorced, and managing a farm–no psychology textbooks for that life stage—yet, it’s where I find myself.

Life is tricky, and divorce makes it trickier.

So, what now?

I keep asking myself the same thing.

I think, on some level, admitting what’s going on just opens the door for me to write about a hundred other things that touch on this subject without feeling like a fraud.  I think it opens the door for me to be a little more honest and authentic in my writing.  I think, as much as anything, maybe I’m just putting this down in words so that, maybe, someone out there going through the same thing might feel a little less alone.

And I think, for now, that’s all I’m going to say about it.  For now, this is enough.