Remember my post about Elena Levon and her hyperhidrosis-dedicated dance where I mentioned her use of the bird/wing metaphor and how that metaphor is playing a huge part in my own life right now? Well, I am happy to report that I can finally fill you in, in a BIG way, about what’s been going on these last nine months or so. While this post won’t explain all of it, it will take care of a huge chunk. Drum roll, please…
I WON A WRITING CONTEST!
That’s right. Every year, the Denver Woman’s Press Club sponsors the Unknown Writers’ Contest. This was my second time entering, and this time I won! My essay, Alone at My Table, won second place in the non-fiction category. 😀
So, without further ado, please enjoy reading my essay below. I think it’s the most cathartic piece of writing I’ve ever done, and it was a painful process to bring this piece to fruition. But man, was it worth it. Lots of sweat and tears were shed, believe you me.
Alone at My Table
I’ve just sat down at my new dining room table to eat the dinner I mustered up the motivation to cook. I’m cooking for one now. There was a deafening reminder as the olive oil sizzled across the skillet as I sautéed Italian red kale. At night when I sit down, I try not to cry into my food. It has lost its taste. It is never as exciting as I try to make it when coaching myself through the food prep process. It should be called Cooking and Cocktails, just like Canvas and Cocktails. It’s a new routine for me; I’ve been high strung these last few months even thinking about cooking a meal. Hell, I was never the chef in the household to begin with. So here I am. Cut food, fork in mouth, a slosh of wine, repeat.
My husband has a baby on the way, but I’m not the one pregnant. It is the cherry on top of an unhealthy marriage sundae. In the fall, I mailed custom-designed moving announcements that said Spread your wings. Prepare to fly. The expensive, shiny card stock with the colors I so painstakingly agonized over was my way of telling the universe I would forge a new path and never go back. We teach people how to treat us. It was time that I practiced what I preached. As if I had any other choice but to be hopeful. It is the end of an unhealthy marriage and the beginning of a new and healthy life, whatever that is.
I feel judged. I didn’t receive the annual Christmas card I usually do from one of my favorite college professors. When I cautiously shared the pain in my heart with a group of my trusted religious friends, one of them fled to the opposite side of the room for the rest of the evening. My vulnerability was standing naked center stage. Had I done enough to try and save my marriage? What if I had worked just a little bit harder, or settled for just a little bit more of what I was being given? We were a couple who hung out with couples; they can’t nurture the two of us anymore, so they also push away the one of us. Either/or. Neither/nor. It’s hard to carry this burden. Others can push it away, but I have the weight of it every single day. Sometimes, it is so heavy I have a hard time lifting my fork to my mouth.
As I scoop the kale onto my fork, I admire the pattern in its leaves. How amazing that nature can create such a tapestry of color in one single vegetable. It is a superfood, after all. Perhaps if I consume enough of it, I will feel super, too. A stray piece slips off my fork and lands on the acacia wood from which the table is made. I bought the first dining set I saw in the store. I was drawn to the pattern in the wood of this table. Turns out the Tree of Tenere, an acacia tree in Niger, was once considered the most isolated tree on Earth, yet this one tree lived on thanks to its deep roots that reached the water table 118 feet below the surface of the ground. At least I have my roots to turn to.
I struggle with the lack of inclusion. I’m not a mother or a wife—a complicated life*, but it’s mine. Picking up the phone to call friends is a heavy-handed affair. Shouldn’t they be calling me? I’ve promised not to talk about my divorce all the time, nor do I even want to. The spontaneous crying, though, I can’t guarantee won’t happen. The time spent with friends is precious, yet also is a constant reminder of the house, the husband, and the family I do not have.
I no longer have to consider someone else first, just me—a liberating struggle to say the least. When I set my table tonight, I laid out the dark gray placemats, a woven texture that’s solid and strong. Tomorrow, I might switch to the silky soft oriental placemats, the colors bright and inviting possibility. I am a possibilitarian. My silverware is stainless steel, heavy with a twisted rope pattern on the handles good for anchoring my hands and providing reassurance that I won’t slip. I’m setting my own table now. Taking care of myself is a first for me, like many other things.
I’ve traded my life for a life of firsts I must do all on my own. The days I particularly hate him are when it’s three degrees outside; I trudge up and down three flights of stairs at least three times each day to take out the Pugs. One of them has a bad back and must be carried. Yet she and I press on, doing what we can with what we have right where we are. As I seethe inside with rage and a complete lack of patience waiting for my dogs to do their business, I remind myself that it’s okay. I’ve lost a lot of baggage. My clothes fit differently now thanks to these damn stairs. We treat anger like it’s a bad thing when it’s a completely valid emotion. Sometimes, it is perfectly okay to feel lousy.
I feel lousy in the grocery store as I push my tiny little cart for one up and down the aisles. Couples shop for dinner with their cute little lists, and I am sad. Mothers coo at their children sitting in the cart, and I am envious. I decide to check myself before I wreck myself. Be here now. The shaky wheel on my cart rounds the corner to the produce section. The fresh fruits and vegetables with their rainbow of colors call out to nourish my inner being. I stop and touch the fruit, picking up a cantaloupe. It is rough on the outside, yet oh so sweet when I lift it to my nose to smell its ripeness. Like me, it is ripe for consumption. I find my trusted superfood and figure I’ll up the ante on the kale salad this time. I stash more ingredients in my cart, encouraging myself as the groceries pile up that I can actually cook.
I lugged the groceries up the stairs all in one trip, conscious of the fact that I must put them down in order to let myself into my apartment. We must put down what we carry in order to let more of ourselves enter. The table is set. While the chicken that will adorn the top of the kale salad is baking, I’ve got time to enjoy the little things. I have been what poet Mark Nepo calls reduced to joy. The bird feeder that I was afraid to screw into the ceiling with the scary cordless drill now hangs on my apartment balcony. It beckons the hungry little mouths I was afraid would never find me again after I moved out of the first home I had ever purchased. The geese flying overhead on their way to the lake for a water ski splash landing call out to me. As I sit down at my table for one, I glance across the room and out the window. The birds are on the feeder, eating at the same time I am. I am not alone. I have been found.
I am nurturing what life has asked of me. Today I stand tall, in gratitude to the people I’ve lost (some good and some bad) and to those whom I’ve gained. They have either taught or reminded me of who I am and what I stand for. So thank you. Thank you for rekindling in me my honesty, grace, perseverance, and inner muse. Thank you for letting me know that I am strong without you and will, in fact, be okay. My future belongs to me, a testament to the unconditional love with which I’ve finally learned to shower myself. This is a new year, a new history, a new chapter. As I turn the page in my own story, I intend to write like a motherfucker**, love like I’ve never been hurt, be genuine with people while also setting healthy boundaries, and realize deeply that I am enough exactly as I am—always have been, always will be. I may be alone, but I am not lonely. I’m communing with myself, at the table I chose, with the meal I wanted to prepare and the wine I want to drink. And so, cut food, fork in mouth, a slosh of wine, believe in love, repeat.
Newly divorced and shame-free, Maria has found her wings. When she’s not busy deciding what to wear with all those magnificent feathers, she’s rebuilding her life, creating her own happiness, and hopefully inspiring others along the way.
*Adapted from the album Songversation by India.Arie. This album particularly saved my life these last several months. Thank you, India.
**From the Dear Sugar column written by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild
Stay tuned. Not only did I win the contest, I was asked to read my essay at the Winners’ Reception. You know what that means – public speaking and hyperhidrosis. Dun dun dun.
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