• allisontgruber

Love is still there

ONE VERSION Cancer came back. Breast. Metastatic. Stage iv.

Dog died. Sudden. Stroke in your lap. Pandemic hit. Job went to Zoom. Job ruined forever. No healthcare on The Mountain. Bad healthcare on The Mountain. Leave beloved Mountain. Move to Tucson as medical refugee. Wife has family there; you are not afraid. Fall, detach retina. Require surgery. Quit drinking forever. Start new job in Tucson. Wonderful school. Progressive. Perfect fit. Love Tucson. A best friend from The Mountain moves there, too. Meet new friends. Pandemic has changed many things. Chemo kicking in. Physical, high stress job. Wife doesn’t talk to you anymore now. Feel alone in Tucson. Miss your wife though she is always there at home, scrolling.

Leave for brunch. Hand on the door, wife from the couch says,

“We have different values.” Say, “Oh for fuck’s sake. Divorce me then!”

Doesn’t wait for you to get back from brunch, leaves forever.

Has a divorce attorney by Monday.

Credit cards cut off. No money. Stranded in Tucson. Crack-up. Quit job in Tucson. Homeless for approx. three weeks

before going back to Chicagoland with your tail and your tale between

your legs and your heart in your stomach and your mind in meltdown. Perspective dawns, soul, body, and mind bend toward Love. This is better.

Buddhists have taught you this.


When I was young, I felt this phrase was best reserved for family and lovers. When I was older, I thought it was for lovers and family and very close friends. And then I fell in love with a lover, and moved to Arizona where I ended up teaching in a school on The Mountain that was full of artists and eccentrics and the smartest people I’ll ever know, and there I learned there were all sorts of ways to say “I Love You.”

And I was glad, by the end of my first year teaching on The Mountain with the strange, the creative, the best of colleagues and students, that I had a broader application for the word “love” because how else would I ever describe the bittersweet sting of losing my students to common changes: moving, expulsion, graduation. And on The Mountain, in a time and place that has moved on to make water like any good cloud should, I had a space to love and I allowed myself to love more broadly and deeply than I ever knew possible.

And after a year of teaching on The Mountain in the place that taught me more than my highschool, bachelor’s or master’s combined ever did (or could have), and taught me all I know on the subject of Love, I got comfortable and familiar enough with Love in all of its infinite forms, that I felt comfortable telling students and student cohorts that I loved them. And reader, it was always true. I loved my students because I never had children of my own. I loved my students because I never wanted any children of my own, and I could do for my children what I knew how to do: I could teach them how to love language, certain complex ideas, and above all to love the unfathomably bright primordial life force that is and always will be Love.

Children and young people, when you water and feed them properly (metaphorically, literally) live in Love. Before cruel systems built by cruel humans break us, before the business (literally, metaphorically) of living breaks us, before we first comprehend our weakness or strength, we live in Love. And when I came to children and young people this way, I never had troubles in or out of the classroom. Many of my former students are still friends of mine. A small percentage feel like my own children, and I care about them and their futures the way a parent might, looking on helplessly as they make the painful-but-innocuous rite-of-passage mistakes that will break their good, tender hearts in the end.

On The Mountain, in my classroom, I learned a lot about Love. And recently I discovered that I also learned that Love cannot be lost. Love cannot be possessed. We do not own love. We can feel, act, and allow Love, but we can never kill or capture Love, and Love always is even if the space where the Love was first felt is gone. The real good stuff, which so many Americans miss, is the Love.

This is graduation time at American Secondary Schools. This is the first year in many, many, many years (think decades) that I have not been with students in May. And I miss the energy of the last days of school. Pre-pandemic, I never liked summer break. Never knew who I was when I wasn’t actively working with students. Never knew how (and still struggle to) rest for myself. Fortunately, I gave out my cell phone number to my very young students in Tucson (middle schoolers), and they have been texting and calling often. “Wanna hear some new drama?” A sixth grader texted me last week, out of the blue. “Sure?” I replied. “I have a new boyfriend,” she wrote back, going on to name the boy (another student of mine). Within minutes, the boy was texting me to tell me he was dating this girl. “Be nice to each other,” I wrote back. And sometimes they make small videos at the park where I used to take them, and they say they miss me, and they ask all manner of highly specific questions about Chicago.

And the silly texts, the phone calls, the videos from my former students in the Sonoran desert, remind me that the Love is still there even though I’m not physically there with them. The texts, silly phone calls, peculiar videos show me that even if I was there in Tucson for only a short time, I taught in Love and with children, Love only begets more Love. Though I was with them for several small months, I loved them because children are impossible not to Love. And while middle school teaching in a pandemic was not my “forte” at this juncture in my life, I went in compassion, in good faith, in Love, and I reap the benefits in remaining a part of my young students’ hearts and minds.

Yesterday was the first day in three months that I have not cried. And I’m a crier, even in the best of times. I come from a long line of easy-criers. Great joy, sorrow, anxiety = tear production. But I’m firmly team “pro-crying,” so it’s okay. And my recent crying has not been tears of “joy,” but tears over Love and the ridiculous notion that Love can ever be lost or destroyed. My students from The Mountain, from Tucson prove to me this is not possible. I have left the space, but not the Love.

My marriage died in silence, died in a silence whose origins were unknown to me until I was left by my wife for a troll from The Internet. My marriage ended and I learned that for at least three years, I’d been sleeping with a Trump Republican. Can’t make this shit up, reader. My ex got flipped by Trumpers on The Internet.

There are no texts, no phone calls, no emails or funny videos from my ex. No evidence now of that Love. Not from her, anyway. However, as I heal from this shock and trauma, as I heal from years of domestic abuse, I remember this Love also. I never stopped loving my ex, even when things were unbearably bad inside the home. Silence was, and remains, my ex’s number one “violence.” And that’s okay, now, too. The truth is when my ex left me abruptly, she did me an enormous favor: she removed my primary torturer.

And while I look back on my years in Arizona, my memories will not be dominated by the bad years of my marriage, which if I’m being honest were all after about year three, with red flags thrown in my face constantly between years 0 - 3. I did not listen because I loved my ex. I had never allowed myself to love another human being the way I loved my ex, and I knew when I started the adventure there was heartbreaking risk involved. I took the risk. And as for my marriage, I have one regret: I stayed when I knew I should go because, as it turns out, it’s damn hard to leave the torturer you love who sometimes, also says “I love you.”

Stockholm Syndrome? Is that the one?

And even that love, the love I felt and still feel against my better instinct, is not gone to ash. Love is a cloud. Love moves and turns to rain that waters more Love, and I know now that I am capable of the kind of Love one might reserve for a single, special person. And I know now that I don’t give this Love out to people who are constitutionally incapable of returning Love because they have hardened their hearts against the reality of Love.

My YouTube channel is up and running. Some weeks ago, I deleted all my blogs, most of my videos, and some social media posts. When I get very sad, I wish to go inside – inside my apartment, inside my favorite hoodies, inside my head. When I get very sad, I lock Love out, and I cry and cry and feel very afraid.

Tuesday, a friend invited me to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, where she has a membership. At first, I thought to decline. I didn’t want to leave my apartment. I didn’t want to be “seen.” I didn’t want to see. And then my soul told me “go, go, go, you fool.” And so I went, and though the day was a bit chilly, the gardens were (as always) breathtakingly gorgeous – the colors, the smells, the shapes all make you quite certain of a God. We walked a lot. We talked. I shared details of my suffering that I reserve for close friends like her. And she put my mind at ease. She’s older than me, and has been some places I’ve been, too. She shared perspective and wisdom with love while we walked along, and I tried to learn the names of flowers I liked.

When my friend dropped me off from our garden visit, she invited me to Shabbat. “Bring ‘Birds!’’ she said, knowing how weirdly fixated I am on Wingspan, the game I just call “Birds!” (Even my friend Kelly drops by some nights, when her kids are in bed, to play a few rounds of “Birds!” Love is everywhere.)

When I returned to my apartment, my body was tired from walking, but in a good way. I slept well that night. (That exercise shit is no joke, people. Gotta at least take some walks.) The next morning was the first day in three months that I have not cried, and I know why: in her kindness, her gentleness with me, she reminded me that Love is available to me always. Love is always here, even when I just can’t seem to feel it.

So I’ve rebooted my blog. Different now, though. And I am making daily “contemplations” and “stories” over at YouTube. This process is far too easy and entirely too much fun – like digital “stitching.” Today, is storytime. Theme: The Blues - Harmonica. Enjoy.


Go in Love, hooligans.

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