Tuesday, March 31, 2009

About this blog (Introduction)

As an angst-filled teen, and later as a Literature major in college, I wrote quite a bit of poetry. I enjoyed stringing words together, creating lyrical turns of phrase and evoking emotion and imagery. Lines of poetry would come to me in flashes, in the shower or while walking to class. I would carry a journal with me to scribble these fleeting thoughts down to later expand into a full verse.

In the years since, I have scarcely put pen to journal page. One day last year, my Gram asked me if I still wrote poetry, and it rather shocked me to have to respond, “No.” I still list it on my resume as an interest, but in reality I had not been inspired to write in quite some time. It was like my life was on Prozac: flat, listless, content with just getting by on an even keel. It seemed that the highs of first love and lows of first heartbreak had been lost. It shamed me to be leading an uninspired life.

At one point after my husband left me, I was suddenly struck with a flash of inspiration. In a single, crystal clear moment, I had a notion that I could develop into a poem. I was walking home from the bus after work one day, and had a bottle of water in my hand. As the wind blew over the top of the bottle, it made a low, plaintive whistle. That sound seemed to precisely mirror the howl that was building up inside me. This first metaphor stopped me in my tracks. Over the weeks more came, and I grew used to the idea that it was alright to feel the pain brought on by my situation and even more so to find some joy in life.

One day I was wandering the East Village of New York City. I had grabbed a bite to eat at a vegetarian pub (yes, New York has everything) aptly named Kate’s Joint. As I left the pub, I realized a friend I hadn’t seen in years lived nearby. I thought why not stop by since I was literally “in the neighborhood?” I popped into the bar next to her house where I knew she was a regular and asked the manager if she was around. He said he’d just seen her go into her apartment, next door, and dragged me over to her building. He shouted her name through her open window, and she welcomed me in.

Her friend, a poet and bookstore owner who I’d heard much about over the years, was in town from Buffalo for a poetry reading. As we drank wine, and the poet rolled cigarettes on her knee, we talked about men and life and poetry. I told her, “I am just getting my fragments back,” and she understood what I meant. She read us a poem she had written that day, and I felt a warm sense of being at the right place at the right time.

These chance encounters – my Gram’s question, meeting the poet – have germinated in me for several months. As I begin to process all that has happened to me over the last year (or five or thirty years for that matter), I feel the need to put all those experiences and emotions into the written word. My goal is to reevaluate my life and transform it into an inspired, fabulous, love-filled one. So “From Nerdy to Thirty” is the story of how I hopefully accomplish that as a single, thirty year old woman.

Perhaps it’s self-serving. Maybe it’s vindictive. Hopefully it is therapeutic for me in some way, and ideally will provide some insight to others. I am a bit nervous opening up my life to the world, and I hope that the stories I share do not embarrass those involved in them. It is my intent to tell the events of my life honestly, as I remember them occurring. I may not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but the version of the truth as seen through the filter that is my slightly off-balance brain.

I don’t think anyone involved (with one glaring exception) will be painted in a bad light. Just in case, I will use pseudonyms for the majority of the characters in this story. My ex-husband, for example, I have given the moniker “James” because he drinks Jameson. His son, who was named after him, I will call “Jamie.” It may be a bit confusing to follow at first for anyone who knows me, but I think it is the best solution.

It is my ultimate dream to have my story published, as a memoir, and maybe even end up on Oprah’s sofa. I know my story is not entirely unique, but I hope it is one worth telling. For now I am posting my chapters in a blog format. The feedback I receive is invaluable and will shape the story as it evolves. So I invite you to read, enjoy (or don’t!), and comment!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chapter 3: The Polyester Bride

I was so happy to be engaged. We pretty quickly set the date of the wedding as September 2, 2008, the Sunday of that year’s Labor Day Weekend. This meant our engagement would be about a year long, twice as long as we’d been dating up to that point. With the date set, I began envisioning what I knew would be an amazing event. I am the kind of person who likes to have a plan, which is a great asset when preparing for a wedding. However, I am also stubborn, so if things don’t go just as I’d planned, I can get really upset.

ceremony location

As a girl, I’d always dreamed of getting married under the weeping willow tree that stood next to the pond in my paternal grandparents’ suburban Chicago backyard. When they moved to another house nearby, and my parents moved into their house, I was thrilled. There was not even a question in my mind that we would be married there, especially since tradition dictates that couples get married in the bride’s hometown (I guess because the bride’s parents also pay). I even started thinking that Sara, who introduced us, could officiate.

When I laid out my plan to my new fiancé, he balked at the whole thing. James wanted to get married in a Catholic church in New York. To me, that made no sense.

I was set on having it in Chicago. In addition to my girlhood dreams, there were practical considerations. First, there was the cost. A suburban Chicago backyard wedding would cost significantly less than anything in New York City or Long Island. To expect my parents to front the extra money to have it in a town other than their own seemed presumptuous on his part. In addition, the cost of New York accommodations for the out of town guests could have become cost-prohibitive for them. Logistically, if my parents were hosting the event (and my mom was so excited to plan with me), it would make sense for it to all happen by them.

I have a much larger family than James does. His father does not talk to any of his side of the family, and his mother has many brothers and sisters in New York, California, West Virginia, and the Philippines. My family is full of cousins, second-cousins, step-siblings, great aunts, etc. on both sides and is pretty much based around Chicago and the Midwest. James' family only has a few members living in the New York area, so many would have to travel regardless.

As it turned out, many of James' family members did make the trip to Chicago, including his son, but very few of his friends. Most of his friends were still in school or working minimum wage jobs, so couldn’t justify the expense of the trip. Additionally, because of the drama associated with their parents, James' brother refused to attend. Yet friends of mine who I had not seen since graduation, long lost relatives, and a host of others showed up to support me on our big day. Final headcount: twenty on the groom’s side, eighty on the bride’s side.

With the venue settled in my stubborn mind as non-negotiable, the topic of officiant came up. I was marrying a Catholic man whom I had never seen go to church. Yet James was so insistent on a Church wedding. I didn’t understand why religion was suddenly so important to him. I wondered, “Is your God not going to look down over the beautiful willow tree and sparkling pond and bless our union just as he would in an edifice created for worshipping a religion that I did not believed in?” I was happy to go to church with James if he wanted, and support him in his faith. But for me to personally say something about “the Lord” or “Christ” in my vows would seem like starting off the marriage with a lie, because that is not where my faith rests. At the time I also assumed that I would have to convert in order to be married in the Church. This was something I was not interested in doing one bit. I found out later that we would simply have to agree to raise our children in the Catholic faith, but even that absolute made me uneasy.

We quickly discarded the idea of Sara as officiant. Partly because James did not think an online ordination was good enough in God’s eyes, but also because Sara was growing increasingly flakey. So I began scouring the internet for pastors with actual ministries who would be available for our backyard nuptials. After a few false starts we found a mutually agreeable pastor, and I thought the matter resolved.

It came to pass, however, that throughout the course of our marriage the location of our actual nuptials was a major sticking point for James. It was regularly brought up in arguments as an example of how I didn’t care what he wanted. Even though he selected the pastor himself, and resigned himself to the Chicago location, it was never fully forgiven or forgotten. Having the party in New York so his brother and friends who could not attend the wedding could still be part of the celebration was a compromise, I thought. But not enough of one, I guess. We are both Aries, and with that comes an innate stubbornness (if you buy into that sort of thing). As time passed, it became a battle of who sacrificed more.

There was no compromise that seemed to work. If we spent one holiday with his family, it seemed fair to me to spend the next with mine. I only see my family once or twice a year (usually for July 4th and/or Christmas), so it’s not like we were jetting off to Chicago for Thanksgiving, Easter, Arbor Day and Flag Day. His parents and brother lived locally, and we saw them with some regularity. The Fourth of July James told me he was leaving me, we had gone to Chicago. I really wanted to go since I hadn’t been since the wedding, had asked if he wanted to join me, and he said yes.

James' friends in New York had been talking for months about driving out of state to pick up a trunk full of fireworks to set off that weekend. But much like him, they were not the kind to plan anything in advance. No set plan by mid-June, in my mind, means nothing that requires planning will be actualized (such as an out of state drive). So when James said he would go with me to Chicago, I thought he was excited to go and didn’t mind missing whatever shenanigans his friends got up to. Once again, it turns out I was wrong, and he viewed it as me forcing him to go to Chicago and not caring about what he wanted to do for the holiday. This was just the last in a laundry list of ways James felt he had put in so much and received so little.

In the beginning of our relationship, perhaps James gave more than I did in terms of commuting time, with his long drives from Manhattan to Long Island. Then after we were married, we moved to Queens which doubled my commute to an hour and a half each way, and cut his to five minutes. When we were living in the city, we would see my friends with some regularity as a couple. With him living and working in Queens, and with his weekend job in Long Island, he would rarely be interested in coming to the city to see my friends. Yet every Friday and Saturday night we would both head out on the town in Long Island with his people. James worked an extra 10 hours at the restaurant on the weekends, for pocket money, and lorded that over me as being a much harder worker and therefore somehow better (no matter that the salary at his 9 to 5 job was about half mine)

The division of chores was a battle. When James would cook dinner for me, it was my responsibility to the dishes (which I accepted as an even division of labor). Never once did I see him mop the living room (“The only messes in the house are caused by your cats, so it’s your job to clean up”), scrub the bathtub (“I clean the bathroom floor by sweeping up my hair after I give myself a haircut”), or wipe up the grease splattered around the stove after preparing another one of his fried meals. The clothes in his closet spilled out into the middle of our bedroom, and his receipts, change and other miscellaneous detritus gathered during the day littered our dresser-top.

I am no Suzy Homemaker to begin with, but having someone else in the house who expected to be some sort of perfect wife, mother and maid all in one just frustrated me. When we were living in my old bachelorette pad, it was a bit of a different story since it was first and foremost my place so mine to take care of. Plus we had Sara living with us for a time, who equaled the two of us in messiness, so it diffused the situation some. But back then I was so excited to be settling down into engaged life and tried to play the good wifey.

The wedding planning continued blissfully for me. James had pretty much lost interest in the whole affair when he didn’t get his way with the location, but I didn’t see it that way. I just chalked it up to the fact that he was a guy and not the kind of person to plan things. He would weigh in on various options I presented him with, but was only really concerned with what he would wear, the DJ and the food. I needed to have my ring resized to fit since my Gram must have tiny fingers or have the stone reset in a new ring. I dragged my fiancé into a chain jeweler, and he looked around with me. When I found something I liked, he bought it for me, begrudgingly. It was probably the least romantic moment of my life. We spent much more time browsing online to select his ring, and in the end his cost about the same as having my stone reset. Seemed fair.

I was happy to do all the planning work with my mom, it was fun for me. I was on theknot.com constantly searching for creative ideas. I designed my bouquets and centerpieces, created all the paper goods (menus, program fans, place cards, etc), decorated votives, and shopped for candy for the old time-y candy buffet I was planning. Mom was busy shopping, spray painting decorations, sewing slip covers for the lawn furniture, and trying to put up with my exacting bitchiness. My dad visited vendors, prepped the grounds, built an archway to be our altar, and kept my mom sane after dealing with my exacting bitchiness.

The most exciting thing, of course, was finding the perfect dress. I tried on every dress on the market, or so it seemed. I had an idea of what I wanted, a vintage number inspired by a dress worn in a famous scene in a Marx Brothers movie. My groom had requested to wear the style jacket sported by Groucho, so it seemed like it would be a good fit. I shopped with my mom and aunts in Chicago; I shopped with my friends in New York. I shopped new stores and second-hand, ran with the brides at Filene’s, and met with a woman who could do a custom design. I went into a high-end Atelier in midtown Manhattan and found a gorgeous Italian-made silk dress that made me feel so amazing. Its $5,000+ price tag however, did not.

I settled on a dress that was one of the first I’d tried on in Chicago and that when purchased online would cost one tenth that of my dream dress. In the end I really loved it. It was lace, and had a long skirt with a train, which I would wear for the ceremony. Then for the reception, I could remove the long skirt portion, and the lace would hang down, about to my knees in the front and a little longer in the back. The lace was not fine, the beading not Swarovski, and the lining was, in fact, polyester. But it was fun and flattering, and I made it mine by adding a sash pinned with an heirloom brooch and swapping out the plain buttons for more interesting antique ones. I teased my poor fiancé, showing him lime green, turquoise, teal, or blue dresses (our wedding colors) in the stores and saying that was the color of my dress. I actually think he was shocked that in the end I walked down the aisle in white.

It may be cliché, but the actual day of the wedding was a blur. There was so much to do in the morning and early afternoon that I ended up being the last one showering and dressing, quickly doing my own hair and makeup. There were a number of small dramas. Sara, a bridesmaid, had to take a train in because of a chronic ear infection, and was not sure she could even pull that off for awhile. My father’s best friend came in from Arizona, and on the eve of the wedding, his mother passed away which he would have not been present for had he not been in Chicago that weekend. My dad had to walk me down the aisle on what turned out to be a broken ankle, after tripping a few nights before the wedding. Bridesmaids and groomsmen were hooking up left and right after the rehearsal dinner. But on the scale of dramas go, these were small and anecdotal. For me to have put so much into planning this day being able to just let things go and enjoy my day was critical. So I think for the most part, I did.

The ceremony was beautiful; with perfect weather, a lovely sermon, harp music filling the air, a poem read by my brother, a favorite hymn sung by my bridesmaid, and the man I loved holding my hand throughout it all. I surprised James again by reciting the Lord’s Prayer which I had learned for the ceremony. We said our vows, mine which I had been thinking about for weeks and his which he winged in the moment. We kissed, and then we were Mister and Missus.

The reception too was a great success. One of my biggest compliments were from my grandma’s cousins, who said they hadn’t danced at a wedding in forever, and had so much fun dancing at ours. The other great comment was from my aunt who works at a photo studio and sees way too many weddings. She said generally she hates weddings but was surprised to have really enjoyed herself at ours. Dancing with my friends, family and especially the little boy who was now my step-son was such a blast. It was a whirlwind, but I remember the food was good, the candy buffet was a hit, bridesmaids and groomsmen were still hooking up left and right, I had a cigar with my brother and dad, my little cousin fell into the pool “accidentally,” and everyone got eaten alive by the mosquitoes.

The only thing that upset me that night is that my new husband was running around with his groomsmen, drinking heavily, and not (as I envisioned) arm-in-arm with me all night. I had to drag James to the dance floor, drag him to the table to eat, and drag him around the room to say hello to each table of guests. It seemed he would have been perfectly content hanging out by the martini bar we had set up in the “cigar lounge” by the pool rather than dancing the night away with his new bride under the tent where most of the guests were.

At the end of the night, as we prepared to return to our honeymoon suite in a local hotel, I had the guests all light sparklers as a send off (instead of throwing rice). For some reason my inebriated husband decided to stick a few lit ones in the outside breast pocket of his brand new Groucho Marx jacket. Seeing as it, like my dress, was polyester, it started melting and burning and was immediately ruined. James thought it hilarious, I, less so. But he was my husband, so I shrugged my shoulders, climbed into the car taking us back to the hotel, and set off into married life.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chapter 2: Falling in Love with Narcissus

When I was proposed to on August 18, 2006, it felt like a dream. I was so thrilled to be joining the ranks of the “marrieds,” to have a stable life, a little family (of two, for the time being), and someone who would vow never to leave my side. Yet the notions of playing house, and the actual practice, are two very disparate things. I could say that I wish someone had warned me, but honestly, I wouldn’t have even listened. Heck, maybe some people did warn me. If that is the case, clearly I was not prepared to listen and have blocked their words from my mind.

I am pretty sure that our announcement pretty much shocked everyone. James and I had been dating just shy of six months when he proposed. The two of us had met through a mutual friend in the fall of 2005. Sara was the hostess at the restaurant that I worked at the time and had become my partner-in-crime. Together we would attend a weekly quiz night hosted by one of the other waiters. She started bringing along a friend of hers from college to be on our team.

The first time I saw James, his smile charmed me, and as I got to know him, his knowledge impressed me. He was well versed in topics that we two girls would have had no clue about, like old school hip-hop and sports. He was quirky too, with his penchant for Marx Brothers movies and oldies music. He knew, as did I, that when you say forte to refer to someone’s strengths, it is pronounced “fort.” I think I first impressed him when I identified the CD he was playing in the car one day as Nellie McKay, who at the time was a somewhat obscure chanteuse attending Columbia University. Over time we became friends, and one evening he drove me home, and we kissed. The rest, as they say, is history.

I once told James that if I had initially encountered him on an online dating site, I probably would not have agreed to meet him. He was two years my junior, less one day. He lived in Long Island (a long distance relationship, in my mind) with his parents, so he could finally finish up his bachelor’s degree. The reason for his delayed graduation was the birth of his son, so he had to drop out of school for a time to earn money to support the child and its mother. Lastly, if I had seen his photo on this hypothetical dating site, his photogenic good looks would have likely intimidated me. All of these things, on paper (or “on screen” as this scenario dictates) would have deterred me.

My saying so made James furious despite the reason behind my words, which was: none of those things mattered to me because I got to know him for him and not what he was like on paper. I was trying to show that I acknowledged my prejudices and to say that I was proven wrong. He probably still holds those words against me, as he would frequently reference this exchange in arguments as an example of how critical I was of him. The problem was, and likely still is, that he is a narcissist. Certifiable, diagnosed, capital N, Narcissist. This is a fact I learned well into our relationship, and if I recall James dropped this factoid on me during an argument as an excuse for one of his behaviors or actions.

Wikipedia describes Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as being “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.” So as was the case when I said I wouldn’t have dated his online profile, anything short of praise is read as criticism. NPD is, according to Wikipedia, “indicated by five (or more) of the following:”
  1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. believes that he or she is "special".
  4. requires excessive admiration
  5. has a sense of entitlement
  6. is interpersonally exploitative
  7. lacks empathy
  8. is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Wikipedia also lists several hypothetical causes for NPD.
  1. An oversensitive temperament at birth
  2. Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents
  3. Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem
  4. Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
  5. Unpredictable or unreliable care giving from parents
  6. Severe emotional abuse in childhood
  7. Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or talents by adults
  8. Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for poor behaviors in childhood
Shortly after James’ son Jamie (named after his father, of course) was born this “modern day Narcissus” penned a manifesto. He called it his “Life in Verse,” meant to be “spit” with a hip-hop beat (a non-freestyle freestyle, if you will). Looking at these cause and effects lists side-by-side with his lyrics to me paints a very clear picture that he is indeed a narcissist. It’s like one of those matching games you might do in grade school where you draw lines to connect words from a list on the left to, say, their possible synonyms on a list to the right. For the sake of formatting, I have extracted some corresponding lines from the verse and numbered them according to the two lists above. First, the indications:
  1. Or maybe I'm just some sort of twenty-first century Job
  2. …so I could go back to school/Dean's List consistently
  3. Teachers braggin, "One day, I could say that I taught him"
  4. Persistent feelin like I was in but always kept at a distance [about friends]
  5. So they withheld money from me and was strict as could be [regarding his parents during high school]
  6. Moved my girl in [to his parents’ house]
  7. 3 schools in 4 years, never got close though I had a few friends
  8. Got to stay strong to face the heat cause I wasn't #1 in the class
  9. Attained genius status young, my brain, it was awesome
And then the causes
  1. An oversensitive temperament at birth [this I can’t speak to]
  2. [his brother] moved out with his girl and succeeded [thus leaving essentially an only child]
  3. Parents were dependent, now I'm alone, began makin demands
  4. Attained genius status young, my brain, it was awesome [according to others]
  5. So they withheld money from me and was strict as could be
  6. Emotionally father was fucked, I bottled it up and hobbled along
  7. Teachers braggin, "One day, I could say that I taught him"
  8. Forced to be the smartest, eighty-five just wasn't enough
These examples may not be entirely clear out of context (both of the full verse, and of not having heard his whole story) or are a bit of a stretch, but they give a rough view of who James perceives himself to be in relation to the people in his life. It is probably impossible to love a narcissist because it is impossible to be loved by one. In fact in the spring of 2008, shortly before he left, James began frequently telling me that he didn’t love me anymore, and in fact never loved me at all. Knowing all this now, I have a whole different perspective on the course our relationship took.

But I didn’t know all this back when we first met, and I was ready to fall in love, so it may not have made a difference. The guy I had gotten to know week by week at the quiz night had made it so all those hypothetical online profile red flags weren’t important. James was generous with his time (and fuel), driving me home from work or out to see him in Long Island. He would stay in my Manhattan apartment at night and then in the mornings drive about two hours to his university, on the eastern end of Long Island. For the first couple months we were dating, we didn’t pass a day without seeing each other. We were getting along great, and it just felt right as though the Fates, and not Sara, had brought us together.

Around the time of his graduation in May 2006, James officially moved out of his parents’ house and into my apartment. This was a decision, like many more to follow, that he would later say I pressured him into. Between the dorms, the girlfriend & baby, and his parents, James had never lived on his own. He could have gotten his own apartment and gained some desperately needed independence, accountability and sense of responsibility. But at the time, I did not know of his personality flaws and figured since we spent so much time together it would make fiscal sense to shack up together. At this point the notion that we would end up married had been brought up – by James – so I felt living together was the next logical step in the progression. I see now that that jump from his parents’ house to mine meant that my role to him was not that of live-in girlfriend or even roommate, but of Mommy 2.0. James both loves and detests his mother, so that was not a great position to be put in.

I felt for the first time that James did love me when he asked me to go with him to visit his son. Jamie's mother Lisa had moved him to Summerville, South Carolina where they lived with her new husband Erik and their growing family. We went down for Jamie's birthday, in June 2006. Having heard only one side of the story, I was prepared to hate Lisa. The version I heard had her painted as a trashy, loud, mean, cheating, loser who selfishly kept her son from his father but had a “bangin’ body.” When initially confronted with this supposed monster, I was incredibly confused. Who was this quiet, almost meek girl with her beautiful home and military husband? She certainly didn’t look anything like the photos I’d seen of her from years before. Lisa looked, if anything… kind of like me!

We had a great visit primarily because Jamie is just so freaking sweet and adorable. He looks like a miniature version of his father, but with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. He is incredibly intelligent and good natured, and has developed evolving passions for Napoleon Dynamite, Sonic the Hedgehog, and most recently Guitar Hero. Over the course of our several visits with him, I don’t think I ever saw him act up or shed a tear. All in all, he was just a joy to be with. So how did he get to be this way with such a “monster” for a mother? Clearly Lisa had done a lot of growing up, in ways her ex-boyfriend, now my boyfriend, had not. I was in love with James though and so was on his side no matter what.

Flash forward to August 18th. I had gone out with my girlfriends during the day and mentioned that I thought a wedding was in the future for us. My recently-engaged friend Cathy got excited to go back on the prowl for jewelry. We started looking at rings on the internet to see what style I might want. I told Cathy that my maternal grandma had given her wedding rings to me for my birthday one year after my grandpa had passed away. I had always hoped to somehow incorporate the stone in a new ring or resize the existing one when I got married.

Upon arriving home that night, James asked me what the girls and I had talked about that day. I mentioned the engagement ring conversation and that I had my Gram's ring. He asked to see the ring, and took it from me to have a closer look. The next thing I knew, James was down on one knee asking me to marry him. In shock and wanting to be sure (in part because we were both a bit tipsy at the time), I kept repeating “For real? For real real?” Every time, he answered “yes.” James told me later that this, much like moving in together, was something I had pressured him into, and that he immediately regretted it upon waking up in the morning. I don’t know if that is just something he said to hurt me, but I do know that I sure as hell didn’t force him down on one knee.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chapter 1: From Nerdy to Thirty

Around this time last year, my twenty-ninth birthday was approaching, and I realized that meant thirty loomed close on the horizon. I began to think about the state of my life and what I could do to improve it. While my life at the time was seemingly stable, there were kernels of unease, malaise, insecurity, and latent ambition that left me wanting change. With that in mind, I set out to improve myself and my life. I set up a blog, made concrete plans, and for about three months stuck to them. This is the story of how, a year later, I am still searching for that change. Reading my first blog post takes me back to where I was a year ago:

Looking back on this entry, I am both refreshed by my optimism and crushed by my naïveté. Perhaps one of the unspoken reasons behind my desire to change was caused by a narcissistic husband who, in an effort to offset his own insecurities, would do his best to belittle me. James (a moniker I have given him for this narrative because he liked to drink Jameson) would regularly tell me that he was, essentially, better looking, smarter, and thinner than me; that his friends and family were more supportive than mine; and that I was basically lucky to be with him.

The vows we wrote and recited at our wedding in September 2007 were three promises we would make to the other. Mine to him were:

I promise to always support you in your dreams;
I promise to always hold you when you have a bad dream;
and I promise to always try to be the woman of your dreams.

I have to think that my promise to always try to be the woman of his dreams means that I knew deep down that I inherently wasn’t. I know now for certain that I could never live up to his impossibly high, ever changing standards. And yet in February of last year, I set out to do just that. I told myself, of course, that I was doing it for me. In a way I was, as an effort to save my already failing marriage rather than admit it was doomed from the start. Our honeymoon period had ended about three days into the honeymoon, and the following months were a struggle. I chose to focus on the good times, and not dwell on the battles. I had made vows (in front of a pastor, no less!) and I intended to keep them, for better or for worse. It just sucked that there was so much worse.

After deciding to change my life for the better, I set up some ground rules as to how I was going to accomplish my big change.

Come April 7, I was facing a challenge and some very hard truths. I figured one of the easiest rules to abide by would be number two. It was also one of the issues that resulted in much of the conflict between us. So I viewed my birthday as a bit of a last hurrah.

James' birthday was in fact the day before mine, so we had a joint birthday party. Of course his friends are based in Long Island and Queens, and mine are based in Manhattan, so to encourage everyone to come, we held the party in western Queens. At this point, I was still making up for the fact that so few of his friends had been able to attend our wedding in Chicago, so encouraging their attendance at any event we held was my way of trying to make that up to him. (We had even had a local party following our wedding, so that he could celebrate with his friends. One of his best friends couldn’t even be bothered to show up to that event!).

From: Katie
To: Recipients Surpressed

Date: Fri, Apr 4, 2008 at 11:07 AM
Subject: Katie & James' Birthday Party!

Hey All,
We're getting older. (One of us more so than the other.)
So come celebrate with us on Saturday (tomorrow) starting at 5, and going till late!

As of now, we will start out at Pizzeria Uno in Long Island City, where they will be showing the NCAA finals and offering an all-you-can-eat pizza special. Tip-off is around 5pm, so that's when the party will kick off.

After we get full or antsy, we will move on to some other local bar, likely with a pool table, so give us a call when you are heading over. We will try to stay close to the N/R/Q/W or 7 lines (or provide rides to subways) in western queens for all you commuters. Please RSVP on Facebook to help us figure out who will be joining the festivities.

See you tomorrow!
Katie & James

The crowd that showed up to the party was mixed, but our friends generally kept separate, like some sort of middle school dance. It started off fine, everyone enjoying pizza, booze and NCAA basketball at Pizzaria Uno. We ended up going to a second bar, with a DJ and enjoyed more drinks and some dancing.

Towards the end of the night James went to the bathroom with his friend Bruno and came out with a giant gash on his palm, with no recollection of how it had occurred. The bartender offered my husband whisky to clean the wound, which I recall him drinking instead. Needless to say, with one prior DWI under his belt, there were so many reasons he should not drive home that night. So I did.

When we arrived to our apartment, James and Bruno were both asleep. I roused James and asked if he would mind getting out and moving his mother’s van (she was living with us at the time) so I could pull into the garage. My husband’s response?

“Fuck you!”

I tried to reason with him a little, but there is no reasoning with someone in that state, so I told him I was going to find a parking spot on the street. My husband's response?

"Fuck you!"

So I drove around the block and upon parking, tried to wake the guys up to get them in the house. Bruno, in the back seat, was out cold, and my husband’s response?

“Fuck you!”

The next thing I knew, James' hands were around my throat, choking me against the car seat. I struggled to pry them off, but the more I resisted, the angrier he got. Finally I gave up and played possum. James lost interest in me, this mouse no longer fun prey for that cat to play with, and fell back asleep. I quickly and quietly gathered up my handbag, the car keys and my high heels, and literally ran in a panic back to the house. I deadbolted the door and sat wondering what I should do when they inevitably came home. That moment arrived, and I of course let them in. Neither of them seemed to remember the altercation in the car. I wondered then if they were playing it off, but came to later learn that neither actually did recall what happened.

Two days later I turned twenty-nine. James gave me a beautiful pair of aquamarine earrings, I was setting out on my new life, was willing to write off the events of the weekend as a drunken mistake, and all seemed right with the world. For the month of April, I did not touch alcohol. This worked out great for James, because it meant he had a designated driver at his beck-and-call. I managed to lose ten pounds in that month, probably by cutting out the calories from alcohol and the late night diner trips associated with a night on the town. By the end of April I was proud of my accomplishments and was waiting for James to notice and appreciate them. I had not told him of my plan, for two reasons. I wanted him to acknowledge my efforts without prompting, and I didn’t want his disapproval were I to fail.

Needless to say, he ultimately did not appreciate my efforts, but instead found alternative reasons to criticize me. There was no “Gosh, baby your body is looking great!” Instead there were demands that I not eat a piece of cheese straight out of the fridge, sans cracker. This pretty much destroyed my motivation to change, rather than encourage it.

Two months later, while vacationing at my parents’ house for the Fourth of July, James informed me he was leaving me.

Chapter 9: The Meat I Eat

Over the course of the last year or so, my life has undergone some dramatic changes. As a reaction to this upheaval, I made a decision to "try new things," since the way I was doing things didn't seem to be working. One of those things is to taste meats I may not have been exposed to before I became vegetarian in 1995. Additionally, eating meat here and there serves as a bit of an internal "F-you" to an ex-husband who promised in our marriage vows to always cook me vegetarian food.

I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes kind of family, in which Chinese food meant Green Giant frozen stir fry mix. Not to knock my mom's cooking, but there are only so many times you can have turkey tetrazzini in one lifetime. So in a way, vegetarianism opened up doors to new foods like chick peas, brussels sprouts, tofu, quinoa, etc. Born out of the necessity to eat a well-balanced diet, I was able to discover a whole new world of foods available to me.

Now, I live in one of the most amazing culinary cities in the world, so why limit myself from the experiene of trying even more new things? I was inspired by Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain who are known for traveling the world trying bizarre and exotic foods. My revised life view makes me think of the scene in Chasing Amy, in which Alyssa describes her justification of dating a man after many years of lesbianism:

Alyssa: You know, I didn't just heed what I was taught, men and women should be together, it's the natural way, that kind of thing. I'm not with you because of what family, society, life tried to instill in me from day one. The way the world is, how seldom it is that you meet that one person who just *gets* you - it's so rare. My parents didn't really have it. There were no examples set for me in the world of male-female relationships. And to cut oneself off from finding that person, to immediately halve your options by eliminating the possibility of finding that one person within your own gender, that just seemed stupid to me. So I didn't. But then you came along. You, the one least likely. I mean, you were a guy.

Holden: Still am.

Alyssa: And while I was falling for you I put a ceiling on that, because you *were* a guy. Until I remembered why I opened the door to women in the first place: to not limit the likelihood of finding that one person who'd complement me so completely. So here we are. I was thorough when I looked for you. And I feel justified lying in your arms, 'cause I got here on my own terms, and I have no question there was some place I didn't look. And for me that makes all the difference.

Holden: [pause] Well, can I at least tell people all you needed was some serious deep dicking?

So, much like Alyssa, I am justifying eating a little meat now and again because I got here on my own terms. I generally just try one little bite of anything, so don't feel like I have turned my back on my convictions entirely

Below is a list of meats I have intentionally eaten since becoming vegetarian.

  • French Onion Soup, Paris, Summer 1999
  • Caviar, I forget when & where
  • A mussel & grilled octopus, Las Ramblas, NYC, 9/2?/2008

  • Snowfish, crab and shrimp, Beijing, 12/8/2008
  • Duck feet, tongue, sausage,
    Abalone, sea cucumber,
    Shark fin soup, pate, fish cake
    Peking Duck
    Duck heart, giant prawn, Beijing, 12/8/2008
  • Fish eyeball, Lan Club, Beijing, 12/11/08
  • Cocoa rubbed ostrich, filet mignon, black pepper seared tuna, Meritage, Boston, 3/7/2009
  • Chicken fried steak, Marfa, NYC, 3/19/2009
  • Frog legs, Tia Pol, NYC, 3/21/09
  • Duck ham panini, Terroir, NYC 4/7/09
  • Wagyu beef nachos,
    fried oysters, and chicken wings with white BBQ sauce, Craftsteak, NYC 4/16/09
  • Frog Legs, Las Ramblas, NYC, 4/30/2008
  • Tuna & Salmon roll (with asparagus & mushroom), Sushi Samba, NYC, 5/14/09Photobucket
  • Tuna Tartare, Opia, NYC, 5/20/09
  • Bacon and Blue Cheese Butter, 10th and Willow, Hoboken, NJ, 5/22/09

So how did I enjoy all these exotic meats? I thought the octopus to be ok, but basically tasted like smoked gouda. This one "shrimp" thing I had in China was actually quite nice & buttery, but they weren't able to translate what it was into English, so I suppose I'll never know. And surprisingly, I didn't mind the duck heart one bit! The ostrich had a good texture, it melted in your mouth. The filet mignon (the very same dish that turned me vegetarian almost 15 years ago, upon realizing that the meat was actually flesh, and the red juices, blood) was not at all appealing, seemingly sinewy when served alongside the tender ostrich. Just goes to show my tastes haven't changed all the much! I didn't enjoy the sushi very much, it was mushy and a little flavorless. Nothing I have tried has converted me back to being a full-fledged omnivore, but it has made for some fun dinners. And no, none of it has made me sick. I don't think I have consumed a big enough serving of meat in one go to upset my generally strong stomach.

In an ideal world, I'd have a little farm and raise my own chickens for eggs or even meat, and goats for cheese, etc. etc. I feel if I could raise and slaughter my own meat, I could better justify eating it. But that's a little difficult in a one-bedroom New York City apartment. So until then, I may as well explore! However, I did not go so far as to try this, in Beijing's night market:

P.S. Holden's last line in the above quote makes me laugh, because I have always thought of Dead Eye Dick's New Age Girl (Mary Moon) as a classic (albeit tongue in cheek) vegetarian theme song. I'll let you draw your own correlations between the needs of vegetarians and lesbians. But in case you were wondering, studies show vegetarians have better sex! (this link NSFW)