And I Quote

Divorce is kind of like the story of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. One day you’re married. The next day you awaken sleeping next to a cockroach. Who is this creature beside you, you wonder, and what ever happened to the person you married?

Illustration for the book cover, "The Metamorphosis," for the Simon and Schuster classic series. Selected for the 2009 CA Illustration Annual.

It’s a time of upheaval and massive change. You’re being wrenched in so many directions, wondering how you’ll get through it, drawing on all your coping mechanisms and figuring out where you go from here. You may wonder about the future and what’s in store for you, and how you’re going to take the reigns of your life, once and for all. Divorce is the time for all these things, and at the other end of the divorce spectrum is the discovery of who you really are.

I’ve written about some of my coping mechanisms, which helped me through the process. Like talking to strangers, finding comfort in music, and fighting my ex’s perception that I would never amount to anything.

Well, here’s something else I did. I started collecting quotes. At first, the quotes related specifically to divorce and love and being single again. But then I started expanding (which was a good sign that I was healing), and pretty soon I had a journal of quotes. Many of these quotes are from famous people. A few are from ordinary citizens.

And, all of them provide something to think about, whether or not you’ve ever experienced divorce.

Here’s a sample:

“How many torments lie in the small circle of a wedding ring?” – Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker’s longtime friend and writer

“Find your blessings every day because none of us is going to get out of this life alive.” – Capt. Harry Jenkins, who died in a small plane crash, August 2, 1995.

“Lick it, put a stamp on it and mail it to someone who cares.” – Kyra Sedgwick’s character in the film, Something to Talk About.

“Being alone. There’s a certain dignity to it.” – Bridget Fonda’s character in the film, Singles.”

“You seem so different, yet the same. It’s as if someone turned the light on inside of you. Why wasn’t it me?” – Timothy Hutton to Meg Ryan, after he had broken off their engagement in the film, French Kiss (My ex actually said something like this to me around the same time, which gave me no small satisfaction.)

“One of the things that needs to happen after a divorce, it seems to me, is to let go of the bitterness and anger or disappointment about what happened in your marriage and turn the page. You can’t do that if you keep rereading the old chapters.” – From an article about single mothers in Redbook magazine, October 1996 issue.

“I spent too many of my younger years looking for guys, trying to be in love—and therefore ignoring the things that I needed to do for me, such as reading, learning, and opening up to new places I wanted to find in myself.” – Sally Field

“I think life is a series of difficult choices and then life throws the inevitable curve ball. I think more and more, getting through life is finding a sense of humor and being this wise person who laughs at everything.” – Glenn Close

“People, like angels, come when they are loved, wanted and expected.” – Deborah Tadman, my son’s art teacher when he was nine. I didn’t really know her, but one day, when I arrived to pick him up, she could see that I was in need of an angel.

“There’s absolutely no point in sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself. The great power you have is to let it go, and allow it just to be their crap. You focus on what you have, not what has been meanly, or unkindly, removed.” – Minnie Driver, discussing her then recent breakup with Matt Damon.

“If everyone has someone who is perfect for them, then perhaps everyone has someone that they are drawn to like a moth to a flame who is all wrong for them.”—From an article about a bigamist in Entertainment Weekly, circa 1997.

“I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, traveling. Looking for something what can it be? Oh, I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you some. Oh, I love you, why not forget about me?” – From one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, All I Want

“We women need to stop taking ourselves so seriously 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We need to put our foot in our mouth more…Listen with our hearts. So what if they get broken? We are resilient. We always have been able to pick ourselves up and keep right on steppin’.” – Author Terry McMillan, in an interview for Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year, 1996.

And one more:

“I can’t believe I’m making moral choices based on a B-movie.” – Phil Hartman’s character, Bill McNeal, speaking to Dave Nelson (played by Dave Foley) in one of my favorite shows, News Radio, referring to Dave’s favorite film, Logan’s Run.

So, tell me. What’s your favorite quote?

In Good Company

My mother’s in good company, and by this I mean, she died in good company.  This month marks the anniversary of her passing, as well as  the passing of such notables as Frank Sinatra, Phil Hartman, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to name but a few.  And, of these, Jackie O passed away the same year as my mother, but a couple of weeks earlier. Jackie’s life was celebrated with scores of magazine special editions that came out in the days following her death, and I went out and purchased a few.  I grieved for Caroline Kennedy who, like me, was still in her thirties, as I felt a connection with her that dated back to our childhood years, when she was in the White House and I was playing hopscotch in Queens.

JFK & Jackie, circa 1960. Photographed by Frank Fallaci.

But no sooner did I learn of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ passing, that my own mother had a seizure and fell, hitting her head hard on the bathroom floor.  Brain dead, was the verdict upon arriving at the hospital in the early hours of Memorial Day. I was awoken by a call from my sister telling me the news.  Not sure what to do, my sister’s words sprung me into action:  “Come. You need to get on a plane and come.”

I flew out the next day and on the way there, I wrote a poem for my mother, not realizing that this poem would end up becoming the eulogy and that I would be the one to read it.  The words poured out of me, along with my tears and pain, and when it was finished, five pages later, I was devoid of any feeling except one:  The moment in my life that I had dreaded most had arrived—I had lost my mother.

Unlike for Jackie, there was no televised funeral, no dignitaries in attendance.  But there were a lot of friends and family, and even come cousins and one of her sisters, who flew in from Caracas for the occasion.  Together, we shared our sorrow, love and relief.  Relief that the Alzheimer’s could get to her no more, and could not frazzle her brain any further.

The week is mostly a blur now, but I have fleeting memories. Of seeing folks I hadn’t seen since I was a kid in Queens. Of posing for pictures with my siblings and playing in the front yard with my nieces. Of collapsing twice, under the weight of my grief—once upon saying goodbye to my brain dead mother in her hospital room, and once while on a walk with friends.

I remember sitting in the office of the funeral director, going through the motions of choosing everything from the casket to the service, and how, at the last minute, one of my brothers insisted on buying a wooden cross to put in the casket, tucked into her folded hands. I remember the funeral procession and how the police escorts were able to control the traffic lights so that they stayed green for us all the way to the church. I recall, too, not being able to console my father, and arguing with my sister over what flavor ice cream to buy for the wake. Finally, I remember placing a copy of the poem I’d written into my mother’s casket, and wondering whether Caroline Kennedy was faring any better.

Since then, I brace myself at the start of May.  For me, it is a month of reflection, starting with the feelings elicited by Mother’s Day. During the month, I quietly remember Jackie, Frank Sinatra, and Phil Hartman (who was tragically murdered by his wife), who each contributed greatly to this world and were favorites of ours.  And when Memorial Day weekend rolls around once again, my brain compels me to relive that  time, 17 years ago. Which is when it hits me:  May must be a hard month for Caroline, too.

So I leave you today with an excerpt from the poem I wrote for my mother.

There is so much more I want to say:

I want to thank her for showing me the moon, the stars,

For making a romantic out of me,

A Dreamer.

For taking me into her garden of creativity,

Filled with roses, tulips, pussy willows,

Lush with life and grace,

For taking me to story hour at the library,

Encouraging me to read, to discover,

To Feel

The Wonders of my youth…the unexpected possibilities,

Amazing me time and again,

Over and over,

With her passionate love and devotion,

Strength and resilience.

For forgiving me my rebellion, my trespasses—

Sometimes frightening, sometimes maddening—

For allowing me to pursue my own life on my own terms.

For loving me–Right or Wrong.

Before the Alzheimer’s began to take her from us,

Mercilessly, relentlessly.

Before she lost her memory, her identity,

I can remember her.

My Mother.

My Selfless, Fearless, Loving Mother

I want to thank her now but I know,

I can never thank her enough,

Yet I want to thank her,

For to me she is still the most beautiful mother in the world.