Held Aloft By Friends
I know why people ask, why they want to check in. I know I was more than a little raw during the divorce. I know many of you were worried about me. I gave an entirely new meaning to the phrase, "Wearing your heart on your sleeve." That's no big surprise. It was the most painful period of my life.... I think. It sure feels that way, but when I think back to my childhood I have to wonder how this could be worse than all of that and if time had maybe just dulled all the old wounds.
My openness about my emotional state also meant that I made some really strong connections with many of you, but it is also a bit of a 'chicken and the egg' scenario. One of the reasons I was open was because so many of you were open with me, so many reached out to me, consoled me, offered sweet words and deeds. My friendships helped me to open up and my openness helped my friendships. It proved to be a powerful and positive perpetual cycle. That and I decided to just be honest about it because I suck at remembering which friend knows what, so it was just easier to be more open. I say more open because for all that I've shared, very few of you know all the gory details... but more of you than I ever would have imagined.
It's not just that I understand why people ask how I am, but more, I deeply appreciate it. I know this comes from a place of love and caring and that I'm extremely lucky to have been surrounded by so much love, to have all of you in my life.
There are many things I had to do in order to get to this good emotional place, the hard work that comes with any healing, any recovery and mourning, and most of these things difficult. However, if you asked me what the one thing I'm most grateful for is, what the most powerful asset I had was, I'd have to answer, "Friendship." So I'd like to keep the whole open thing going a bit longer and talk about my friends, and yes, that includes so very many of you.
I'm going to mention some names, but that does not mean I value any other friendship any less. Some I mention because of a pivotal role they played, some I mention because in that time and space they were particularly significant to me and some I mention just because the memory stands out in life's peculiar editing process. Most names I have not mentioned because conversations were in private messages, emails, phone calls and the like.
I'm also reminiscing about a very intense time that I'm now looking back on from a new calm but slightly scattered space, and being me I know I'll forget things, so please forgive me and don't, "Curse my sudden but inevitable betrayal." Let me know if I left anything out or if privacy is not an issue and I'll gladly edit the piece. It is after all in homage to all of you, but also a piece of writing that I'll return to in future days, a reminder to that future Grant who may become inoculated to this time and fuzzier on the things that got me through it.
It's hard to believe, but the marriage has only been over in anything close to an official way for just under seven months. It's longer than that if I look back to when I knew in my gut it was over, or even to when we both acknowledged it was over, but those were turbulent times and in my own mind nothing was clear or certain. Past experience has taught me that it's not really over until you actually move out, so if I had to pick a day, I'd pick move-out day, May 9th, 2011. Though the divorce only became official a couple of months later, it was friendly, uncontested and fairly straightforward, so it felt like just paperwork to me, a symptom, a sad necessity that came when I was already well along in this journey.
Damn. Damn and wow. As I write this I cannot help but think, "Holy crap. What a year." It started with conversations about having a kid and buying a Toyota Prius as our baby-seat-friendly car, saw reality careen into a sudden wall and me bleed through a period of despair and disbelief, and left me mourning all that we ever were together... and all we were ever going to be. Now, as the year fades to grey, I'm living alone, enjoying my own company, having adventures, expanding my friendships, planning solo hikes, riding a bicycle regularly, joining yet more social clubs and finding myself in a pretty decent headspace. I'm upbeat and full of positivity.
Put another way, it's not just that I never saw the divorce coming, it's that I never saw the recovery coming either. Who could have guessed that I'd really find my true self in all this, that there were so many gifts to be grateful for and answers that only reveal themselves when tears have washed the illusions away. I wrote the previous line and it reminded me that of course I'm not the first to put that sort of thought onto paper. As the old song about healing goes, "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone." But I'm lucky to have reached this point faster than so many others, and I had plenty of help in this.
The journey to this place began on May 9th, when I moved in with Jeff and Lisa. Since this is a tribute to great friends, it is with this wonderful couple that I need to start. What they did for me was colossal; they gave me a safe, quiet and welcoming space to exist in during a very turbulent time. And a loving space too.
They invited me to dinner while I was still in Theresa's house and offered me this sanctuary to me while offering me support and comfort during an evening where we'd enjoyed food, conversation and friendship. I was touched and deeply appreciative of the offer, but uncertain. At the time I was already actively looking at accommodation options and torn between moving in with a roommate or alone.
Several people, including both my ex wives, felt I should move into a place where I had roommates, where I would not be alone. They felt I was not a man who liked to be alone. My gut told me I'd rather be alone, and Jeff, a man alike enough to me to be a brother, agreed with me. His support therefore counted for a lot, particularly in the confused head-space I was in, and we were right. I love being alone; I often refer to myself as an extroverted introvert, one who enjoys both his own space and social settings of all kinds. I also love couple-space and social-space, so maybe I'm more of a chameleon, but I know that I like living with a woman and I like living alone. I suspect I'd hate having a roommate. I know this without doubt now, but at the time I was still uncertain.
I had another problem. The man I used to be was all about the giving and not about the receiving. Often in the past I felt compelled to tough things out alone, but this time I was aided by a growing friendship and strong connection with Jeff that had predated the offer. And I have to also give credit to dear Veronica, the friend who cracked my 'tough it out alone' shell during my first divorce, who really showed me how a friend can help you through this kind of loss.
But also... something had changed in me. Whatever walls were left in me all came down. Really, I felt naked to the world, vulnerable... but open.
The first therapist I saw quoted something profound to explain the change, something that resonated deeply with me at the time and explained best what was happening to inside of me. The quote was, "When the heart breaks, it breaks open." It was so very true of me. Something had changed in me. I'd gone from a shy and defensive adolescent who was determined never to get or need anyone's help, through two botched marriages, to being this new man, this real me, this long-lost, newly-discovered self. It was obvious to the new me that if I was going to get through this one, I needed to reach back when people reached out to me. I needed to need people.
So after a stewing on things, I sent them an email asking if the offer still stood. Jeff did not email me back. Instead, he called me. That's a really big small touch. He wanted me to know that it was an emphatic yes. The moving out was brutal, as you might expect, and I moved in with Jeff and Lisa on that Monday evening with just a couple of suitcases and that overdose of bewildered devastation that usually accompanies such a time. No surprise there as the day will always be a top candidate for being the worst day of my life. I was welcomed with loving kindness from both of them, and heartfelt words from Jeff, the sentiment of which I'll never, ever forget.
Jeff told me how he'd been through a rough divorce, how he'd also stayed with friends, but friends who had never been through a divorce and did not understand how it is so very much worse than a normal breakup. As a result they failed to expect or understand the emotional turbulence and resulting behavioral oddities and things did not go as well as he might have hoped. He told me how hard that had been and how it gave him insight and compassion, and he finished with words something like this:
"You are welcome here. We both want you here. Stay as long as you need and don't worry about your moods and emotions. If you want to talk, come sit and have dinner with us. If you want to hang out come watch TV with us. And if you don't want to talk and can't face anyone, not even to say hello, just go right up to your room and be alone. We understand. We've both been there. We know what it's like. It's all just fine by us. We're not going to be angry or judgmental. You're welcome here. We want you here. This is a safe place for you."
He was emotional as he said it, and I'm emotional as I remember it.
What a gift it was, the words, the love and the safe space. I'd hear them talking and laughing downstairs. They do both a lot. It is a house with much happiness in it. Sometimes I'd see a kiss or a cuddle and it made me happy. I might have expected it to make me sad, but instead I was comforted by their great love. One evening I came down stairs to find Lisa curled on Jeff's chest and lap, his arms wrapped around her, a wonderful vision of love and caring, one of those memories that will stay with me a very long time.
How much difference did it make? Well, the day I moved in with them I also went to see a therapist. It was an hour of despair and tears and I felt lost enough to ask to see her again as soon as possible, which was two days later... and it felt like too long to wait. After two days in that safe and comfortable space I returned to her office so calm and collected, so clear and together, so pragmatic and determined that the therapist asked me if I still needed to see her. That's a lot of change for so short a time, almost unbelievable. There was much sorrow to come, and I knew there would be, but for the first time I was rooted to the soil and knew I could weather anything... all of it.
My dear Jeff and Lisa, I'll never forget what you did for me and I'll always have your backs. Thank you.
There were others who reached out to me, many others. Some had been through divorces and some had even been through what I'd been through. They shared their stories with me, their anguish, their memories and their lessons. So many stories, such a gift of sharing and information. Information is core to who I am. I do learn from the mistakes of others, so I soaked it all in. I learned I was not alone in how I was feeling, that we all go a little mad at times like these, that some hurts really are much bigger than others, and I learned about every stumbling block that had held them back and slowed down their healing. So often it was fear, fear of being alone, fear of facing the loss, fear of letting go, fear of facing the big hurts. I learned not to be afraid of any of it, not to run, but to turn and look it in the eye with defiance, even if it knocked me down.
I made mistakes of my own, including the mistake of overcompensating for being alone by constantly hanging out with friends, even though your mind cries out for a pressure valve to the things bubbling beneath. I posted something about keeping busy and another dear friend, Karen, said something like,
"You can run from the pain, but you can't hide from it. Sooner or later it's going to find you. If you're lucky you will have a friend with you who can hold you in their arms as you cry, but more likely you will be alone, in the dark."
This too struck a chord with me and I recognized the truth. It was a big part of why I learned to face my fears. I saw days of sadness, like the day Theresa and I filed the divorce papers, but now I saw them as opportunities. I knew the emotional backlash would be brutal, but I also knew that I needed to go through this and getting it done all in one go was actually going to be better for me in the long run. Most of those I knew who took a long time getting over a divorce had spent a lot of time hiding under the covers, sometimes literally, sometimes with the help of alcohol of medication, and I was going to have none of that.
I received a lot of love, opinion and advice from Karen and I totally loved that she remained firm friends with Theresa too. It provided a balance and perspective to our discussions that I valued very much. She is wise and funny and not afraid to speak her mind, which was like gold to me. She also remains the only friend to have been to my new apartment so far, and that just a quick tour before we went out for breakfast.
I'm not sure how this lack of guests happened. I planned a house warming, dinners, movie nights, boys nights... you name it. But it never happened. Instead I've just kind of being basking in this alone space, continuing my personal journey, taking positive steps, doing the hard work... and I guess having a hermitage has been working for me and I've just not been ready to change that. However I think I'll be ready for that soon, maybe in the new year. I continue to visit with friends often, just never here in my hermit hole. Maybe I should think about a little holiday party... or something. Maybe a combined January birthday party and housewarming party? Ideas welcome... but I digress.
Brandy is another whose sweet kindness, solid wisdom and unyielding friendship were so valuable to me and is one who also remained firm friends with Theresa. There was a time when I thought it was her husband Brandon who would become my good friend, but the sod went and moved to California (though we still managed to have a couple of great conversations on his visits to Portland, and I'll go visit them in California soon enough).
Before Brandy joined Brandon, she and I ended up sharing many a lunch and other events. We worked just a few blocks away from each other and lunches were convenient. We'd always been friends, but now we became much closer. Someone I know raised an eyebrow upon hearing that I was having lunch with a married woman most weeks, but there was nothing untoward going on. Quite the contrary, it was her and Brandon's deep love for each other, and the many sacrifices made for each other and their shared future, that made our conversations richer and more hopeful. Or maybe sacrifices is the wrong word. It were more like gifts to each other. I really miss them both a ton.
I can't tell you how much those lunches brightened my days and how thrilling it was to develop these sincere friendships with these two, and other wonderful women. So screw you, Harry (from the movie When Harry Met Sally), you and your theory that men and women can't be friends. You were wrong!
Denise is another surprise friend in all this. When my divorce started we did not know each other at all. She was an online friend of my sister in law and had become a Facebook friend of mine. She was drawn to our wedding photos, as clearly Theresa and I had radiated love and she'd really like that. When it was suddenly over, Denise reached out to me to say a kind word and it turned out she was going through a similar emotional rollercoaster. We ended up becoming fast online friends, a problem shared and all that. We remain good friends and even talk on the phone from time to time.
Denise sent me my second housewarming gift and we really have been there for each other through some very difficult times. It is a friendship that means a lot to me. When that bad day that Karen predicted came, when I was in tears, alone in the dark, Denise was there with me online. I could not have talked on the phone if I'd wanted to, but a virtual hug can be a powerful thing.
Bill had been through a similar breakup, one that had cut him very deeply, and he immediately wanted to help me heal. Occasionally you'll see me post about going to see him play a gig. Back in my darkest days, he and I shared a great dinner, a walk along the river and a long chat. He shared so much with me, confidences that heal, and it was a milestone evening, but later he said one of those other phrases that have just been so vital to me in my healing. He had invited me to his birthday party. When I got to his house I gave him a top-quality bottle of whiskey and he thanked me but was clearly distracted and just put it down. I realized why when he pulled me to one side and said something like,
"Now remember, none of these people knows you or knows that you're, 'that guy getting divorced,' so you can choose to tell them, or you can just be yourself for the night."
It was one of those memorable moments where words just strike a chord, where you recognize hard-earned wisdom... and an opportunity. So I was just myself again, not Grant the guy in pain, not Grant the guy who's going through an inexplicable divorce... but Grant, the cool guy from Africa who has done a bunch of cool stuff, can be very funny, is great at conversations, gets on well with people, makes friends easily, and so on. It was nice to be free of all this mess for a night and just be myself. In fact it was fucking wonderful. It was a milestone and a mindset changer.
Another one of those little life lessons that resonated deeply with me and that I quickly adopted and used myself, came from Jay Lake. We chatted in a coffee shop during the thick of the divorce, while he was busy fighting cancer for the third year in a row. He asked me how I was holding up and I told him he did not want to hear my whining, that my problems were trivial compared to his. His reply? "My problems in no way diminish yours." It was a good answer, balanced and touching. We all too often trivialize our own pain when speaking to another who we feel is going through something worse. I myself had heard many of you play down your own pains because you considered your own problems to be lesser life challenges and since that day, many of you have heard me quote this story and Jay's words. And if I didn't, I should have. It's good advice. None of you should ever diminish your own pain. It is just as valid as mine or anyone else's.
Jason also reached out to me in a big way. He lives in LA and is a long-time friend of Theresa's. He's the kind of guy who would drive all the way from LA just to be at our wedding, and he did, and then went out of his way to help on the day. He may be guilty of being too giving, a fault I too have. In fact, at the time I referred to him and Jeff as, "Brothers of my heart," because the three of us are so very alike in many ways. We shared long and frank conversations on the phone and he and I became much closer in the process. The conversations were powerful and memorable.
Susan, my Worldcon dance partner and my boss for the best fan volunteer job I ever had, who also shared much good advice and was the first to tell me, "Be gentle with yourself." Such sweet words that I have regularly used on friends ever since. So many of us fail so miserably at being gentle with ourselves, putting huge pressure on ourselves at all the wrong times. It is wonderful advice that also came up in other venues later, but you always remember the first time you hear something that resonates with you and moves you.
And speaking of dance partners, Kirsten of the easy smile, who went to concerts with me, including a particularly momentous and healing evening with the restorative powers of the wall of sound and energy created by The Builders and The Butchers. When the person next to you is as immersed in the music as you are, and not afraid to dance, it's a wonderful and freeing thing. That there are great conversations and support too, well, that's just icing on the cake.
Most of you know about the three-week solo driving trip that I took to help me clear my head, find myself and enjoy my aloneness, but a couple of weeks before that I went to Worldcon, quite the opposite experience. I was not planning to go, mostly for financial reasons, but a series of friends persuaded me to go, mostly with variations of this argument, "You'll never find a larger source of people who want to surround you with loving hugs." I've been to ten Worldcons and done a lot of volunteering, and this means I've made a lot of friends there.
There is no practical way to mention all the many touching moments from Worldcon, but I'll mention a few. There were plenty of hugs, but I have to mention Dave McCarty's hug in particular. There is something about a big old bear hug from friend who is a big guy, particularly since we guys can really squeeze hard if we want to, but Dave's hug was also surprising in its unusual intensity. That's a strangely moving thing.
I remember Cathy Mullican on the last night of Worldcon, holding my hand and looking up at me from her scooter with emotion in her eyes, while wishing me all the best. Empathy that moved me. And Eric Zuckerman. He was so supportive to me during the divorce, via calls, texts and online, and with such powerful honesty. As we stood in the middle of one of Worldcon's busiest thoroughfares, with tears in his eyes he told me how proud of me he was. That's a powerful human connection right there.
That's just a sampling. There were many other hugs, many other friends with sweet words. Please know that each and every one of you who gave me your words and hugs, filled up this once empty little cup of mine to overflowing. It still makes me emotional to think about all of you.
The road trip also saw me visit with friends: Larry (thanks again for the couch!), Laura Jean and David in Minneapolis, Melinda in Wisconsin (thanks again for the couch space), Helen, Dave and Elizabeth (thank you both again for the use of your guest room), and Leane. That trip was an adventure, but also a kind of spiritual journey. It let me hold what was left of my hurt up to the light, examine it, watch the last of it whither and die and the ashes blow away on the wind. As such it was also hard at times, and you all made an oasis for me in the middle of it, and became a part of my journey.
I also have friendships at my job, a place filled with the kind of people who have spent their lives trying to make the world a better place. It's a workplace, so I'll avoid names, but a few of them are FB friends too, and most of them fall into this category. So much love, sympathy and understanding came my way. Sometimes I thought I didn't have two bosses, I had a mom and an aunt. At divorce group I'd hear about people in such a divorce funk that their work performance suffered and they lost their jobs, or were threatened with termination. Not me. I was wrapped in love and kindness and became closer to a lot of my coworkers in the process. There have been so many long conversations, lunches and the like. It's one of the reasons why it will always be an extremely difficult place to leave. I'm deeply grateful to be working on the side of good and to be surrounded by such marvelous people every day.
Even within my family my friendships have grown. I'm closer to my brother, Adrian and my sister-in-law, Monica than I have ever been. The stories and confidences shared have made us better family... better friends. My brother told me that he did not remember us ever being this honest with each other. He told me how proud he was of me and how I was going through this. He was proud of me. This is not a phrase we used often in our family, so the significance was powerful and deeply moving. And Monica told me that she thought I was a great catch with lots to offer, but the sincere way she said it really touched me. This too has been such a gift.
Then so many of you sent me emails, texts, FB messages and the like, even comments on Facebook, LiveJournal and other social media. There were so many people who reached out to me in so many different ways, it was astonishing. I cannot account for what I did to deserve all that sweetness. I can't mention the names of those who sent me private correspondence, but I can convey my thanks and broadly mention the sentiments involved.
Many of you who have been through big bad breakups before and know about all the crazy shit that goes on in our heads at the time, reached out to me, saying variations of, "I know you feel worthless right now... but you are not at all worthless. You are a person of worth because... [fill in the personal story here]." Or who just told me how much they wanted to give me a hug, or that they were proud of me. Said they were proud of me, really. Just awesome. Some of you said kinder things still, and even thanked me for sharing some of my story. I cannot tell you how much all of this meant to me.
An email or message may seem like a small thing to the sender, but they were not small to me.
Many of you were originally Theresa's friends and wanted to keep me as a friend beyond this divorce. Your messages, regular contact and in many cases socializing as well, all meant a hell of a lot to me. One of the great things about Theresa and my divorce is how we both want each other to keep all the friends we made and to continue to share friends, but to have you ping me and send your sweet words was just... beautiful. And powerful.
I learned from all of them and so many of you (too many to mention), some of the many ways I was lucky in all this. I am instinctively a guy who sees the good in all things, in fact, the guys at the divorce group nicknamed me, "Silver Lining Guy." But to see the silver lining clearly you also need to see all the other clouds in the sky. All of your shared wisdom and lessons, along with your friendship, encouragement and compassion have held me aloft at times I thought I might drown in it all.
Most people come out of a divorce feeling like less than they used to be, like they have somehow been diminished. I come out of this divorce overwhelmed by a full and deep recognition of just how much I actually have, how lucky I am, how rich all of you make me. You folks, you friends in need who are friends indeed, you gave that to me. I'll never forget these gifts of love. I'll never stop paying them forward. Thank you.