Second Saturday (aka, Divorce 101)

The funny thing about divorce is that it’s not something you learn how to deal with in advance. Sure, my high school taught me all about Home Economics–how to bake cookies, set a table, and sew a stitch. We had Driver’s Ed classes, too. But, I don’t recall any classes on the in’s and out’s of untying the knot. No siree, Bob!

Candace Bahr and Ginita Wall. Photo credit: Jim Spadoni.

And, if such a class had existed, who among us would have signed up for it? After all, don’t we all want to believe that when we marry, it’s for good? Happily ever after, till death do us part, and all that.

Had there been such a class, I might have been ready when my marriage hit the skids. Maybe I wouldn’t have been free falling, and feeling like it was the end of the world.

And, it wasn’t. More like the end of a dream. The dream of a house with the proverbial white picket fence, a dad and mom with kids, a tail-wagging dog and perhaps, a fluffy cat in the yard.

Instead, my reality was a husband with cheating ways, a house with a crab-grass lawn and ants wreaking havoc in the kitchen, and one over-flowing toilet. Plus, we didn’t have a dog—royal or otherwise—but we did have a cat that loved peeing on everything. The only part I seemed to have gotten right were the kids, and I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Ah, divorce. Suffice it to say, I was miserable during that time. And, I was flailing. But then, I learned of a workshop, called:

Second Saturday Divorce Workshops

I signed up and, I will tell you, taking that workshop was the beginning for me. It gave me an inkling of hope, something I hadn’t felt in a long time, and made me realize I wasn’t alone, as I sat in the classroom surrounded by women facing the demise of their marriages–and their dreams. It was like discovering there was a manual all along, on how to get started, figure out finances, family law and also, on how to get through the emotional roller coaster that comes with divorce.

They say knowledge is power, and I certainly felt empowered after taking the class. I even found a therapist through the Second Saturday workshop, one who offered a group therapy that focused on connecting with your emotions through–

WRITING!!

Talk about tailor made for me! I loved, loved, LOVED my therapy and looked forward to each session. Today, I thank my lucky stars that I enrolled in Second Saturday, a workshop that, to be honest, I haven’t thought about in years. Not until I sat down to interview two financial experts, and soon discovered that they are the brains behind Second Saturday, which is now available in over 40 states!

Candace Bahr and Ginita Wall have dedicated themselves to helping women with their finances, through their nonprofit website, WIFE.org (Women’s Institute for Financial Education). Not only are they responsible for creating the divorce workshops, their website is a must for any woman.

WIFE.org offers countless tips and free resources, such as:

  1. The 21-Day Makeover, where you can sign up to receive daily tips for three weeks, that will help you get on track for being debt-free and saving; and
  2. A Money Club, in which you and your friends can get together and help each other improve your finances. The tools to get started are all there—and it’s free!

In honor of March being Women’s History Month, be sure to check out my interview with Wall and Bahr. I think you’ll agree, their motto is a sound one:

A Man is Not a Financial Plan

Walk for Animals Update: In other news, you’ve been so generous in making contributions for the upcoming San Diego Humane Society’s Walk for Animals and, because of this, I’ve decided to hand out two awards, not just one.

So, congratulations to Valentine Logar and Susan McBeth!

You will each receive a Kindle copy of Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin. Please contact me at monicastangledweb@gmail.com and let me know the email address you would like me to use in order to gift you the Kindle book.

And, to all who have contributed to the Walk for Animals, Henry and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

The Road Taken: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

When I was young I wanted to be a cowgirl. I wanted to live on a farm and ride horses all day long, milk the cows and chase after the piglets. Of course, later, I realized I was allergic to hay and grass, and just about everything in between. Besides, as a Latina from Queens, what did I know about living the farm life?

As Pam drove down the freeway, passing the exit for the SeaTac Airport, I thought about my other dream. That of flying away. I loved flying, and had been doing so since birth. Getting on a plane was second nature to me.

I fantasized sometimes about embarking on a journey, with no care or concern as to where I was going. It felt thrilling to imagine taking off without telling a soul I was leaving, let alone whether I’d be back. I could be somewhere else, relaxing in Paris, along the Seine, with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Expatriates, we’d be, clinking our glasses, brimming with champagne, and laughingly toasting to our good health. We’d be joined, by Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, for a scintillating conversation about whatever novels we were working on. Then, Zelda would ask me to read one of my poems aloud.

These were the dreams that excited me. In each, I was doing something, making my mark, for I was sure there had to be more to me than this: being a married lady with a husband that was gone all the time.

But so far, I hadn’t figured it out. All I knew was that my entire life had led me to this point. Marriage. It was supposed to be the end all, starting with my Barbie and Ken dolls, and all the wedding scenarios I concocted for them. It continued through the Doris Day movies and Donna Reed shows on TV. Marriage, marriage, marriage.

The problem with marriage was the focus on the happily ever after part. It didn’t tell you what was supposed to happen after the vows. The road to marriage was like this big, amazing ride that builds and builds to this incredible crescendo and then you reach the other side and nothing. There is no manual on what to do. Just an abyss, and suddenly there you are, having to create your own rules, your own version of how it’s supposed to be. Only I was flailing.

Back to reality, I flipped through the latest copy of the Ladies Home Journal, one of the magazines I’d brought along for the drive. I had started buying it as soon as we tied the knot. Perhaps, I was expecting it to be my marriage road map, as all the articles seemed focused on helping young wives deal with their relationships.  So far, it wasn’t working.

The best part of the magazine was the monthly feature, titled, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”  I immediately opened to it, and offered to read it aloud to Pam. We both loved reading these seemingly hopeless stories of marital discord. The more futile the better and the editors of LHJ seemed to know that, too, because each story always seemed bleaker than the previous one. And yet, no matter what, the marriage could always be saved.

In this particular issue, the husband kept telling his wife he had to work late, but really he was having an affair with his secretary. And when the wife found out, she cried, but in the end she forgave him. The marriage counselor gave the wife instructions on how to revive her marriage and keep him close, and recommended to the husband that he avoid being at the office late at night with the secretary. The counselor, having put the burden of keeping the marriage together on the wife, now concluded that everything would be fine, as long as the couple followed his advice.

Pam laughed, “That guy’s a total jerk and the wife should leave him and leave him now.” Looking at me askance, she added, “I’m sure she’ll be happier and better off.”

Better off? I pondered this for a moment. I thought about G and my momentary lapse with Rick. A heavy dose of guilt pored through my veins, making me feel sheepish. I wasn’t sure which of us, if any, would be better off.

Looking outside my window, I noticed the skies were turning. Clouds were beginning to form to the south the direction in which we were headed.  It would start raining soon. As we approached the Washington State border, Pam got off the freeway.

“Let’s stop and get a bite to eat.” I nodded.

We pulled up to what Pam would refer to as a cheesy restaurant. The kind that had a flashing sign that read, “Cheap Eats,” only some bulbs were missing, so it only said, “Cheap.” Pam turned off the ignition, but I made no attempt to get out of the car. She seemed a bit agitated by my lack of movement. Raising one eyebrow, she looked at me skeptically, she said in a raised voice,

“Well? Are you going to snap out of it or what?”

Leave it to Pam to give me an ultimatum. She knew it was always the “or what” that stymied me. I knew I needed to pull myself together and make a decision about what I wanted, but the idea of taking any action was outside my comfort zone and made me numb. There was safety in staying the course. And then it hit me. Without realizing it, I had settled for the tried and true, and that was G.

I could no more get on a plane and fly to parts unfamiliar, than I could become a cowgirl and live on a farm. I was me, 26 and tethered to the path I’d chosen with G, whether here because of succumbing to societal pressures of marriage or because of decisions I’d made by my own, damned self.

How I wished I had one iota of Pam’s grit, and her tenacity to stand up for herself. But these weren’t mine for the taking. Sigh. Who needed dreams, anyway?

I opened the door and got out of the car, feeling a flicker of light extinguish inside me.  You know what they say, even cowgirls get the blues.

Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: Readers Weigh In

In last week’s post, Key West Redux, I mentioned that I needed to take a break from The Road Taken series, because I wasn’t sure where I was heading. I asked for your input and two of you offered it. I found this very useful, so thank you, Bella and Debbie. I’ve included your comments and questions below and, after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve added my responses, too.

Debbie:  As for your Rick saga, would it work to delve into your mixed feelings at going back home, wondering if you’d done the right thing, waiting for G to say or do something that would make you question your choice even more?? Just trying to help!

MTW:  Not really, because, at the time, I didn’t have mixed feelings. I never doubted, for a moment, that I was doing the right thing by parting ways with Rick. Hindsight is 20-20, after all, and I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight then. It was still early in the marriage and much was yet to unfold.

My brother said G was a cross between actor Alan Alda and...

The way I saw it, I hadn’t been married long enough. In my heart, I believed I needed to give my relationship with G a chance. I balanced the knowledge that Rick was a gorgeous, romantic adventurer with a shared love of writing, against the fact that I already had ties with G, who I considered to be a good guy, with a great sense of humor.

My brother used to say that G reminded him of a cross between Alan Alda (think, M*A*S*H) and the comedian, David Brenner. I think he was right. G was affable, intelligent and witty. If you recall, it was his humor that first attracted me to him. What’s more, in my estimation, G had the advantage, because he had already made a commitment to me through our marriage vows.

...comedian David Brenner.

Bella:  Regarding The Road Taken, I’d love to read about your emotional state when Rick exited the picture. Did you feel despair, regret, blame your marriage for standing in the way? What prompted G to go from loving husband to philandering jerk? Did you see the signs? But more importantly, once he exited the picture, how did you pick up the pieces? Would you have taken him back once you knew of his infidelity? I want to know!

MTW: When I said goodbye to Rick, my emotional state was one of quiet sadness, which I revealed to no one, then. I felt an ache in my heart, coupled with the knowledge that I had to go forward. Yes, I felt bad about Rick, but I felt worse, feeling that I had neglected G (although he wasn’t around much at all during this time, because of his studies, so if I did neglect him, he never let on).

What prompted G to go from loving husband to a philanderer? Good question. I cannot pinpoint “the what,” but I think it was a series of things and of moments. Looking back, I have a recollection of a time he actually tried to warn me about a dark cloud hovering over our future.

He had just completed his doctorate and we were about to move across country for his new job. My plan was not to find work right away, but to stay at home for a while with our newborn while enrolling our oldest in kindergarten. G looked me in the eye and said that if I went ahead with this plan, he would surely lose interest in me. That, as a stay-at-home mom, I would become uninteresting to him. Surprised at first, I actually shrugged this off, convincing myself he didn’t mean it. I would show him I could be interesting and yet not work. It was our children that I’d be taking care of, after all. Well, he turned out to be right. Within two years, we’d be seeing the beginning of the end.

There were about 12 years between Rick and the demise of my marriage, and how I picked up the pieces after G exited is a whole other story. A series of You-Will-Not-Believe-It moments. One devastating shock after another.  I lost my way for a while. I lost the will to eat. I hit rock bottom. It was one of the darkest, most difficult periods of my life. But I’ll get to it, in good time.

In the meantime, these comments have given me food for thought. Please continue to weigh in, and I will work on the next installment of The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: Slipping Away

Did I say that? Did I really say that? Did I tell him I was married?

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how I got here.  I had all of two hours to think of what I would say if we ever spoke. And what did I do?  I told my Adonis I was married. MARRIED! Blurted it out, if you want to know the truth.

Or did I?

Drumheller Fountain provides stunning view of Mt. Rainier.

Only Karen, the instructor, was left in the room by that point and she was sorting through some papers. But when I said it, she stopped cold and looked up quizzically. Her eyes, demanding to know what was going on.  Maybe, instead of saying, “Married!” as I intended, I actually shouted, “Fire!”  I have no idea. Whatever I said, I was mortified and, yet, I was thrilled beyond belief.

He was just being polite, anyway. All that stuff about liking my work and helping me up. The way he reached out with one hand and touched my elbow with the other. He didn’t have to do it. He was just being a gentleman. A beautiful one at that. And, whatever it was that I did scream, didn’t seem to faze Rick at all.

Rick Kildare.  That’s his name. Just like that old TV show I used to watch when I was a kid. Dr. Kildare, starring Richard Chamberlain. Handsome, debonair, Dr. Kildare. But Rick was just Rick. Rick Kildare. Mrs. Rick Kildare. Hmm…Wait a minute!

I’m still married. Why do I keep forgetting that?

Rick and I walked out together into the cool night that felt so warm. Sultry, even. I liked that word and made a mental note to use it in my next story. We were chatting. That’s all. Pinky swear, cross my heart and hope to die. Chatting. Actually, he was doing most of the talking and I was listening. Not listening very well, though, not in my stunned stupor state. Not yet believing that I was here. With him. Rick Kildare.

We meandered down paths, across the campus roads, while we talked about writing. Sometimes we walked closely and I could feel a burst of energy between us. I wanted to grab him and lock lips. But he was talking. Talking about his love for writing, a la Jack Kerouac. That’s who he found inspiring. On the road and all that. Rick told me about his dreams of traveling. First to Alaska, and then he’d see where he’d go from there. Or maybe he’d join the Peace Corps. He was young, I was young, and it was all so promising.

He carried a pen and notebook with him at all times and pulled it out to show me. He smiled gingerly—like that creepy Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, which I never liked. Until I saw Rick’s smile, that is. How divine! Stopping us in mid-step, he let me know that he planned to write about me and the moment we met.  I wanted to melt. Into a puddle, where no one could see me hyperventilating. Did he feel it, too? This thing happening between us, that I couldn’t put my finger on?

His voice exuded passion as he spoke of his writing, and for a moment something stirred in me. I was mesmerized. Captivated. Hearing about his love for writing reminded me of something that I had not felt in a long time. Not since moving to Seattle, anyway.  What was it? I’m not sure, but now his words gave me hope.  Yes, in that instant, I felt awakened and suddenly alive.

We reached the Drumheller Fountain on campus, from which, on clear days, you can see a perfect view of Mt. Rainier. At night, you can’t see it at all, but you can certainly feel the mountain’s ominous presence.  Sitting on the edge of the fountain in the darkness, Rick asked me what made me sign up for the class. He had been moved by what I had written, so quickly, so easily.  He couldn’t help but wonder what my plans and dreams were. His question stumped me.

I had been looking for something but didn’t know exactly what. The adult extension course catalog had arrived in the mail several weeks earlier, and I had been idly perusing it while watching the latest episode of Dallas on TV. Miss Ellie was giving J.R. yet another talking to, which I was sure he was bound to ignore.  As I turned the pages of the catalog, nothing seemed to interest me, more than watching Miss Ellie scold her grown son.

I turned another page and that’s when I saw it.  A description for a creative writing class. Which made me recall the creative writing class I’d taken in high school, and how much I’d loved it. I was always the first to raise my hand when my teacher, Miss Stern, would ask for volunteers to read their work. Now, seeing the creative writing course listed in the adult education catalog, made my pulse quicken. The timing felt right.

But I had no plans to write full time. This was just a hobby. After all, G was back in school, following his dreams. He’d been accepted into a graduate program at the university, so it was up to me to keep working and pay the bills. How could I explain that to Rick?

I looked at my watch and realized we’d been talking for an hour. I knew G was home and probably wondering what had happened to me, so I grabbed my purse and let Rick know that I had to leave.

“Can I walk you home?” He asked hesitantly. “Or maybe give you a ride on my bike?” He added with a laugh.

I looked at him. My sweet Adonis. So close and yet…I want to do this and yet. I started to leave.

“Tell me your phone number.” His voice sounded so sincere…and yet…

“That’s OK, I’m not too far from here,” I said a tad too wistfully. Then, trying to sound more carefree, as if it was all the same to me whether we’d meet again, I added, “See you later!”

As I briskly headed toward the north side of campus, along the path that led to the tree house I shared with G, my husband, I felt myself slipping. Slipping away.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: The Writing on the Wall

This is how my marriage ended. There was a bang, but first a series of whimpers, which, at the time, I did not recognize for what they were.  In retrospect, I can see clearly. Hindsight is 20-20, after all. But back then, my eyes did not see the writing on the wall. Later, some would say, I was in denial. And of course, they would be right.

Perhaps if I'd seen this writing on the wall, I could have been spared some of the pain. Perhaps.

Writing on the Wall #1

We’d been living in Southern California barely a year, having long left Seattle and, most recently, Maryland. Friends from Maryland came out for a visit and we were all supposed to spend a few days visiting Los Angeles together. At the last minute, G said he couldn’t go. Work was keeping him at home. I did not read into this. I did not think about the three days all to himself, to do what he wanted. The nights, in particular, I simply did not think about.  Nor did I speculate as to why I couldn’t reach him, no matter when I called. I assumed work in his new lab was to blame.

Writing on the Wall #2

Six months before the explosion—the one that I can definitely point to as the beginning of the end—we went on a vacation to visit my in-law’s at their summer home, located on the banks of a secluded lake in the middle of the woods of New England. My daughter was still an infant and had just learned to sit up.  My son was already six, having just completed kindergarten. The three of us arrived first. G stayed behind to finish a grant proposal.  That should have been a red flag, as we’d always traveled together, but I didn’t question. My eyes were shielded by a mantle of trust.

Writing on the Wall #3

A mere 36 hours after he arrived at the lake, there was a call in the middle of the night. This is before cell phones and, the house phone was downstairs in the kitchen. It was my father-in-law who answered it and shuffled upstairs to our bedroom shouting, “G! Phone call. Someone from your lab.”

Startled awake, I wondered what lab emergency could there be at 2:30 in the morning. Did someone forget to put a postage stamp on the proposal? Before I could say anything, G bolted out of bed and took the phone into the hallway. Ten minutes later he returned to the room to say he had to return to California because Louise, a graduate student in his lab, had just lost her younger cousin in a tragic accident, and needed to be consoled.

Louise? I had not met a Louise in his lab and though I asked him repeatedly why it had to be him that needed to console her, the only reply I received was, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand.”  When I nodded and told him he was right, I didn’t understand, that I needed more information, he turned three shades of red and blurted, “I want a divorce!”

Now, anyone else might hear those words and take them for what they were—a plea for me to recognize what was in front of me. But I refused to see the writing on the wall, instead, muttering through my tears, “You don’t mean that.”  And just like that, I wiped away any further discussion of the “D” word. That evening, G took the last flight out, insisting that I stay behind with the children and continue our vacation.

Writing on the Wall #4

That fall, G’s mother came for a visit. Most nights it was me keeping her company, as he somehow had to work around the clock. Sometimes he even told me that he had to work so hard that it wasn’t worth coming home.  Plumb tired, he fell asleep on a couch there.  I never saw this couch, and my dance of denial went on.

Writing on the Wall #5, 6 and 7

The incidents continued and slowly, a realization burrowed itself into my head. Like a small tumor lodged in my brain, growing steadily until I could no longer deny its presence. Oprah might call it an “Aha” moment. A connecting of the dots, if you will.  It was as if I could no longer hide from logic and was forced to see what was right before my eyes. Until finally, I had no choice but to confront the cancer head on. Which is why I asked the question hanging over our heads, thus forever catapulting me into the tsunami that is divorce.

Do you still love me?

Of course, the response anyone would want to hear is “yes.”  The one I still wasn’t prepared for was “no.” Like a sucker punch, a bolt of lightning, a cleaver landing smack down on my fingers. The same fingers used to knead dough whenever I baked from scratch his favorite egg bread, sweet and warm from the oven. The same fingers I used to intertwine with his, as we strolled through our neighborhood, with Katie, our cat, trailing behind us. The very fingers that massaged the stress out of his neck, when graduate school became too much and he was certain he’d have to drop out.  This was my one-two punch:

1. No, I do not love you.

2. No, I’m no longer attracted to you.

But long before this day, before the divorce bomb that landed in a minefield which had developed beneath us, before the explosion that signified the end of our marriage, and before that night of accusations, revelations and desperate cries, there was love. Deep, compassionate, tender love.

And there was Joanie and the camping trip.

           Missed a chapter? You can read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.