Tattoo on My Forehead

This is not going to be a political post although to news junkies, it might seem like it at first.

Last week, a well-known political commentator talked about how some people will never be employed because they “have tattoos on their foreheads.”

I thought about it. Then looked in the mirror.

Do I have a tattoo on my forehead?

Yes. Yes, I do.

It is invisible and it probably changes every day. But it still stops people from seeing the real me.

The tattoo distracts to the extent that I can’t even see the real me.

I’m going to generalize and guess that maybe we all have tattoos on our foreheads.

Mine says I’m a bad daughter, bad mother, overweight and aging wannabe writer who is misunderstood by everyone and never invited to the party. Ahh, poor baby.

Yet, some people do love me, even my children occasionally say nice things about me, and I am surviving cancer. Those things don’t seem to show up in my tattoo.

Where is the doctor? I’m going to get that damn tattoo removed as soon as possible.

Then when thinking about the tattoos marking me, I wander over to the sticky web of love and traps.

Love traps. Loving someone but knowing that she is caught in a trap that prevents you from being able to help her without getting caught in the trap yourself. I realize the trap of my own making is the one of feeling helpless and out of control. (Hence all of the bad things screaming out to me from my invisible tattoo.) I don’t want to sweep the people I love into that trap. I will have to get out of it myself. How?

By letting go and accepting what is, I suppose.

This trap theme is something I need to keep front and center in my writing. Making my memoir and other stories look back to this tragedy of not being able to change the fate of the people you love.

Now, back to the ink. Is there a tattoo on your forehead keeping you from getting what it is you think you need? A tattoo that tells us something about the trap that has caught you?

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Set in Stone

Two years ago we set a stone to mark the grave of the person who had been my spouse. The one who I wedded and then divorced. The one who made our children with me. Allison.

Death caught me by surprise. Death pushed me to write. Death reminded me of how much I had loved my husband. Of how much I loved Allison though she confused me. Death scared me. I’m still scared, but now I understand it all a little bit better.

Being ready for death doesn’t mean worrying about it. Being ready for death brings new life to my heart and my thoughts.

I’m sure I’m not saying this right.

I don’t want to die. But being ready for it to end and always saying thank you just in case your last breath is your next, that is peace. After being diagnosed and then treated for ovarian cancer, I glimpse it from time to time.

But when Allison died, cancer wasn’t a known entity in my life. I thought I had known grief. I thought divorce and Allison’s transition from living life on the outside as man to living fully and openly as a woman was like experiencing a death. I didn’t know what I was talking about.

At Allison’s funeral, I said nothing. I let my children, Allison’s siblings and parents and nephew and uncle and her fiancé do the talking. I made myself small and quiet. This was Allison’s moment. Not mine.

But, when we left the chapel and walked to her gravesite, my knees buckled. I tossed a rose atop her lowered coffin. My sister’s hand gripped my forearm. I brushed against her. She kept me standing. All I wanted to do was sink into the grass.

Still, this wasn’t my moment. My tears couldn’t be the loudest. She hadn’t belonged to me at the end. She wasn’t mine. I was just someone who had loved her once.

Her headstone was ready seven months later. When we dedicated her grave under a gray and leaderless sky, this time I was ready. There would be no more waiting. She would never understand if I just stood silent.

During her life, she always had something to say. I didn’t want to let her down now that she couldn’t speak for herself. I couldn’t be the coward who thought she (meaning me) didn’t have a right to speak. I couldn’t be the one who stood in my way.

I wrote the following while flying from Houston to Mexico City. My hand grazed my cheeks in a futile attempt to hide my tears from the man sitting next to me. Finally, he asked me, “Is everything all right?”

“I’m writing something sad. I’ll be OK,” is all I could say.

I didn’t tell him that it felt like my dead spouse was sitting next to me instead of him, the concerned passenger, and that she was helping me write her own tribute. She disappeared an hour later as I arrived into the arms of my own fiance waiting for me in Mexico City. Into the arms of someone who was alive.

A week later, I stood in front of the carved granite with Allison’s chosen name.

Here is what I said at Allison’s graveside two years ago. I wrote from my heart. Is it too much as a piece of writing? Is it too emotional? Too private? Writing that could not win an award because it is just too sentimental? I hope so.

Ode to You

I never see you in my dreams. But, you visit me every day.
You sit with me as I think of you, as I cry because I miss you and as I scream and thrash and pull because you’re gone.

You tell me that all you feel now is love.
Your two selves are together in a healing union.
You are at peace. This is what I hear – when I listen.

We had a catch phrase. A code.
“Maru means submarine in Japanese.”
It was something you said to me within 10 minutes of our first meeting.
A secret knowing we shared through the next 27 years
reminding us of how a random encounter and a chance comment could connect two people for decades.

Remembering our days together on the water, we would wake in the morning to see the shoreline at a safe distance, relieved that our anchor held for the night. You would leave our berth to return with a cup of coffee. The steam rose from our cups and the children slept as we plotted our course for the day.

You were our captain. Together we navigated the waters at our bow.

We will share the passages of our boys lives. Please guide us as they steer through their own rough patches. Stay with me for those moments when their happiness swallows them whole.

You now rest upon the calmest waters. I watch you from the shore – knowing that we will meet again.

Maru means submarine in Japanese.

Remembering September 11, 2001: We were married still.

I had a blog going a few years ago and nothing moved me to return to writing in a public space until a recent morning when I turned on the television to see a replay of the TODAY show broadcast from September 11, 2001.

Watching the broadcast fourteen years later, I was not filled with fear anymore. Instead of thinking about the incredible loss of life and terror instilled in us that day, the crumbling buildings, the revenge being planned, all I could think of is that my first husband and I were still married, living an almost idyllic life in our mountain home with our two young children, surrounded by thousands of tall and swaying redwoods and protected by a gate at the end of a dirt road. Removed. In our own world.

Of course, we weren’t in our own world at all, but we pretended otherwise. There was a lot of pretending going on. More than I knew.

Four years after the terrorist attack, my husband revealed to me that he was living a secret life. During the next few years, after the initial reveal, he fought back his true identity, but ultimately made the decision to live as the woman she really was. I had married a transgender person without knowing it. And we suffered alone. It didn’t feel safe to discuss it. It wasn’t a trending topic.  There weren’t multiple hit television series starring transgender characters and actors and there hadn’t been a major magazine cover with a 65-year old former Olympian introducing her to the world as her female self.

After finally understanding that we couldn’t stop the family earthquake that results when one makes the transition from one’s lived identity to one’s true identity, we divorced. The divorce and my forced entry into a different kind of life prompted me to start a blog. Not this blog. I was singing an anthem of finding joy in later life and breaking taboos.  My spouse broke all of the rules. Why couldn’t I, I reasoned. Oh well. I was being immature I suppose because none of it was really about breaking rules. My spouse had a journey that was too difficult for me to traverse. My spouse wasn’t trying to hurt me. I know that now.

The harder part was coming but I didn’t know it. My former spouse died suddenly at 56 and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer just as our youngest child left for college. All in the space of three years. 

I had to finally grow up. I learned that I am loved. I try harder to be ready every day for the end (feeling only love and happiness) while at the same time trying to live each day as I want to live it. Not an easy feat. I try. I try. I try.

This new blog space is part of my growth. This is where I will use the craft of writing to birth new adventures, new longings and new perspectives. The old blog is gone. I liked what I wrote, but that isn’t for me anymore. I’m not even that same me.

So, I guess I should circle back to the 9/11 tragedy where I started this post?

No. We were married then. We aren’t anymore. We don’t even share this earth. But, we shared that terrible day when we were scared and vulnerable and we shared many other great days, many of which were great.

The rerun I was watching? I said a prayer for everyone. Then. I turned it off.

And, about all of those rules I was going to break…that was silly. What I need to do is write my own.