• allisontgruber

At the age of 46

I am writing this on the eve of my 46th birthday, so that on my actual birthday I can immerse myself in Book III without the temptation to write here, these protracted Facebook Status updates, these automatic essays, these digital stains of my existence, my joy, my pain.

I am writing this from my Patio Plant Farm after spending the whole day on the phone with lawyers, re-telling lawyer after lawyer the story of one of my life’s greatest horrors – the end of my marriage – until I found one I could work with and, more importantly, afford. I am e-begging again for legal fees. I have applied for Disability. I am on Medicaid for cancer care. I have to rely on my parents for groceries and rent until Disability kicks in. I’m not gonna lie, reader, this is fucking awful. What a fucking awful, dreadful disaster. A pox on it.

Before I found my lawyer, I sent my ex and her parents one last email. I told them I was done. I told them I had my own representation now. I was tired of begging answers, tired of begging honesty, a little transparency, a “hello” from them. My ex hasn’t spoken to me since she dropped me off (in a strangely charitable moment) at the airport, where I flew on a plane ticket purchased with the generosity of family and friends. That first month after my ex left is hard to recall fully. I was so fucked up in the head after everything, and this was a sucker punch from the universe vis-a-vis my ex.

And then to have to discover what I know now. I won’t go into it, but believe me reader when I tell you it is Twilight Zone weird, and shocking, and so scary to me because I know now I was married for eight years to a complete stranger, an idea of a girl from Arizona who I met while living in Milwaukee. And she seemed rather fond of me then, and I of her. And that’s probably the sentiment that begins all great and terrible decisions. “Fond of me.” At least, in my life. I’m a sucker for human love. Maybe I need too much in this regard. Maybe I’m too sensitive. Too emotional. Too attached.

Definitely too attached to be the Perfect Buddhist I wish, on a spiritual level, to be.

My labs and chest x-ray and EKG looked serviceable to my doctors. I will have surgery, God willing, next month to finally remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes. I am looking forward, in a weird way, to this procedure as my ovaries feel like ticking time bombs in my body, and this procedure will allow me to NOT have to get Lupron shots every single month (truly, this was growing tedious AND tiresome). So this is a Happy Procedure in many ways. Do I like the idea of my body being operated on? Do you? How does surgery make you feel, reader? It makes me feel the same way.

I was supposed to have my ovaries removed in the winter of 2020. The pandemic, my job (I was a public school teacher), money (my ex always told me there was “none,” and I just believed it), and I wasn’t well. My sister reminded me recently about how when she visited me in Tucson, for my birthday last year, there was no food in the house. “Yeah,” I told her. “Because I got too tired of cooking.” So we just didn’t eat. And I was too tired to fight it. Ate when I could manage. Lost a ton of weight.

I need to lose a little weight again. I think. No one has told me so, but I know my body now. In the past three months, back in Chicago, with good medical care, I have become more in touch with my body than I have been since childhood. So I know when she needs to lose a few pounds, but not like I was last summer: damn near emaciated. When I didn’t cook, we didn’t eat, or maybe sometimes we ordered out. That’s how it was in my marriage. And all that time, I was sick and busting ass at work and trying to survive; I felt guilty that I was a bad spouse for ceasing to cook every single dinner we ever ate, as I had dutifully done since the first week of our marriage eight years ago.

I was so blind. Looking back now, I had intuitive feelings about my ex that I ignored because I thought I was being crazy, I was being ridiculous, this is how marriage is supposed to feel, I thought. And then I started talking a little. First back in Fall 2020, right before the move to Tucson, I started telling a close, longtime friend about what was happening inside my marriage. She was alarmed, but I wanted her to know because I felt (however paranoid the thought may have been) that my ex was actually out to harm me, or at best did not wish me well. Not anymore. Not by that time. Maybe long before.

There are answers I will never have. There are many questions I have that my lawyer cannot research because the answers are not there. They are inside of me. And I tell you this, reader, as God as my witness, I don’t know WHY I stayed. I don’t know. I have guesses, of course. But I don’t know why I remained long after it was clear she didn’t love me anymore, if she ever really did at all.

I wanted love. And I didn’t know then what I know today, on my 46th birthday: it is inside of me, and it is inside of you, reader. And I am surrounded by love, and I am filled to the brim with love inside of me. I see it every day: in the phlebotomist who laughs at my stupid jokes when she can’t find a vein, the parent who stops by when I’m away to water my plants, clean my kitchen, the friend who calls and says, “Groobs!” like you’re her favorite person in the universe and maybe for that moment I was. Love is in students who text me just to say they miss me. Those children I helped raise on The Mountain, and some I helped briefly in Tucson. How fearlessly, how completely I allowed myself to love my students because I was convinced, and am still convinced, that before reading, writing, math the human child needs love, to know they are loved, and deserving of love.

And in all of my relationships, even the ones where there have been disagreements, words, or brief falling outs – we’ve always come back. The people who I’ve argued fervently with, who I thought I would never even want back – if I loved them, and they loved me, they came back. Always. This is what’s good about Love, the real kind. I’m not talking about lovers – I’m talking about Love between people and all living things. What’s good is that they Stay. Usually. Not my ex spouse though.

And this has been the most crushingly difficult cruel Fact I’ve had to face this year: she doesn’t love me, she doesn’t wish me well, she feels nothing. She is motivated by money. She is motivated by rage. She is motivated by . . . I don’t even want to imagine because knowing that I lived a lie in Real Time for eight years is really upsetting to me. Call me old fashioned, but I took it seriously when I got married. Never wanted to get married. Never will (nor want to) again. The solo life is better, ultimately, for me. As my friend once put it so perfectly, “You are on your own, not alone.” (Hi, Lynn!) And I am so not alone.

I prefer that which is harmonious, soft, and gentle (exceptions for music & art). I have worked hard, particularly since the re dx of breast cancer back in January 2020, to improve myself and to let go of Anger. “Don’t forget your anger,” my psychiatrist in Tucson cautioned me the week after my ex left, during our very last appointment. “Don’t forget your anger.” We hadn’t worked together long. She didn’t know how much a sense of righteous indignation has guided my life, and how hard I’ve worked to not feel that way, and how The Mountain – I mean my colleagues, my friends, my kids – healed me. On The Mountain I was shown such love, and they knew nothing about me, my past, where I’d been or where I was going. And I was loved. And that’s the part of my 8 years married that I’m keeping, unsullied, in a golden box inside of my heart for later retrieval, and retrieval, and retrieval . . .

And 46 will be the first birthday of my life (except for maybe a few in early childhood) when I actually Love myself. I mean, I’m working on this, but, baby, I’ve come a long ass way. And I got there with you, reader. And you. And you, too, this time. (This is turning very corny, very Wizard of Oz-y, and I don't give a single fuck - not a one!) And in the weirdest way, despite all the awfulness in the end, my ex handed me an incredible Gift when she brought me far, far away from home to discover I can be Loved, for I am Love, as are You, so anywhere we go, there is Love. The real kind. The kind I'm talking about when I'm, as Megan might say, "Back on my hippie bullshit." I still laugh when she says these things, because she Loves me. She has known me Always. She knows who I am. So she can call it "hippie bullshit," she still knows and respects that it's important to me.

On the eve of my 46th birthday, I did one of the most American things ever: I found myself a lawyer. Spent my whole life staying out of criminality, paying my taxes, obeying the law and trying not to ever find myself, to quote So-crates, “in a lawcourt.” I hate the American Legal System for it is, like all American Systems, broken as fuck. I try not to participate in broken Systems when I can help it, and when I do have to participate it’s only after something has forced me: cancer, mental health, a divorce. And through this, I have asked my friends not to engage my ex in any way on Social Media. I have asked friends who knew her to respect her privacy during this time which is “difficult for her, too.” That’s how I’ve played. My ex family, not so. There are Americans who are just plain Cruel. And no amount of serenity and peace and decency is going to temper their Cruelty. And sometimes the Cruelty of others threatens to harm your Actual American life, and so you gotta get down in the mud with the rest of the human bacteria, and speak their languages, and play their stupid games. If I had more energy, I would have just represented myself. Apparently that’s a thing one can do. Not me.

So I got myself a Lawyer for my birthday. Whee. Feels like Christmas around here on the Patio Plant Farm. Actually, that was the saddest thing I've ever had to do in my life. It makes me feel dirty. And I absolutely hate that it was necessary more than I can ever express; also it’s very hot in Chicagoland right now. Heat in the midwest has an actual weight to it. The humidity. I never really got the “dry heat/wet heat” thing but conceptually. Now, I feel it. Quite acutely, to be honest.

I should have lawyered up a long time ago. Foolishly, though, I trusted my ex at their word. I was naive, until suddenly I wasn’t. I started sharing with trusted family and friends. And then they loved me, and in love told me I was being fucked with (they probably were more polite – it’s me in the family & friends circle with the chronic case of F-bombs). And I don’t wanna be fucked with anymore. I love myself too much now to allow myself to sit idly by, trusting people who have shown me only that they are untrustworthy, and hope for the Correct outcome. In such situations as this, hope does me no good.

You know that phrase, “fool me once”? Yeah, well I am there, but because I have been so willfully ignorant of Plain Facts, I am on like “fool me fifth” – and nothing even fucking rhymes with “fifth” and who even knows who the “shame” is on now.

The shame's not gonna be on me anymore. Not anymore. Through Love – the Love I knew on The Mountain: for a brief time my ex, then my colleagues, then my friends, then my students, then a community, and the Love I have returned home with AND to in Chicagoland – has sustained me, and through Love I have been awakened. When I gave the Class of 2021 Commencement “Speech” (it was more performance art) I spoke directly, pointedly to my female students, and I told them in no uncertain terms, in my words I commanded them, “Know your Worth.” Because I know, as one who is female, that this American life is no easy thing for us women. To gain True Freedom as a woman in this America is no easy feat. To be a girl is deadly. To be a child is even now deadly in America.

What I wouldn’t have given to have known my Worth at, say, twenty. Alas, it is usually not possible to find it this early in the course of a regular Human Life. Someone can’t just tell us or show us that we are Worthy, we have to teach ourselves, that’s a path we go alone – not to get all Bob Frost-y, but more Jerry Garcia-y.

But I know my Worth now. If nothing else, I know now that I am Worth something to Myself. For example, I know I have an extraordinary mind. A playground of a mind. I have been blessed, since returning to Chicagoland, to have kind and generous and loving parents who have done everything in their power, moved such mountains (damn near literally) to ensure that I had a soft place to land. And I do. And when I’m not dealing with medical shit or legal shit I am working on a Writing Project that has me more stoked than any previous Writing Project I’ve ever worked on mostly because I know already how it ends. Damn it feels good to be a Gangsta? More like damn, it feels good to be a Writer. I have a fine mind, and some days, I know I am only taking good care of my body to keep that mind (and the hands and really abysmal eyes, and sometimes mouth) functioning so I can make Art. So I can create something. So I can Write for writing is all I have ever wanted to do. And to write, entire days, only for myself? I have never known this joy. Never. Maybe in grad school. Probably in grad school. We did that shit all the time in grad school. MFAs are really just a big purchase of time to create art. Worth it only depending on what Art is worth to you. To me, it is truly Everything.

Also, reader, do take a moment to appreciate the Mind you were given. It, too, is extraordinary. Deeply irritating sometimes, as is my mind, and everyone else's.

There’s a Keith Haring mural in the Cancer Center at Rush. There’s a video about it on Youtube. I was so moved the first time I saw it, racing behind an “escort” who was “escorting me” to my appointment in the other wing. And when we were coming past it, I wanted to slow down. “Is that an original?” I asked my escort, but he did not know. We had to keep booking.

Keith Haring painted that mural a year before he died. He came to Chicago, to Rush, and painted this whimsical mural. Cats. Dogs. Androgynous happy people. Hearts. And while I’m not a huge fan of Haring’s aesthetic, I love this mural, and I’ve always had such respect for Keith Haring who, like so many artists (known or unknown) made Art when American Life seemed hopeless because they had or were in fear of AIDS and the government, and the majority of Americans were indifferent. And some were actively sick while they made some of the greatest American Art in existence, these beautiful minds: Mapplethorpe, Robilliard, Haring. Even when they were sick. Even when all felt Lost, they made Art. And when I went to the Roe V. Wade protest in downtown Chicago, newly back from Arizona, I felt sick as fuck, but I went anyway because it was important. I made my sign. I held it up. I walked and watched my feet so I didn’t have to look up, not just yet, at Michigan Avenue with all its memories of Hope that it once held for Old Me. You know what I’m sayin’, reader? I marched. Not for myself. Maybe for you. No, not for you, silly. And yeah, maybe for you, too. And I trust, with most people who Love me – like you, you, and definitely not you (ya psycho) – they would do the same if my Actual American Rights, my human rights, were on the line.

Now it is too hot on the Patio Plant Farm, and so I must retreat to the a.c.. One of my meds specifically says “avoid heat” - hahahaha – everything is dangerous, now. It’s ridiculous. A person has got to live, but I must extract myself from this hot wet dishrag air. And I’ll live. I’ll live. Even if out of spite, and likely just out of Love.

Wish me luck in year 46.

Be good, hooligans.

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