Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Next Thing

Tonight's cocktail, which I had at the Cherry Circle Room at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel in February, is called The Normans: "Rye, calavados [an apple brandy from Normandy], demerara [pretentious brownish sugar], angostura." Yes, please.

A photo posted by Kathleen Gordon (@middletini) on

Last summer, after more than five years together, my then-boyfriend, who promised me many things I now realize he probably never intended to deliver, discarded me like garbage and kept walking. He must have had his reasons, but he never told me what they were other than to say that he needed to find himself and that I had become “more obligation than joy.” I was devastated. There were days when I wanted to die. There were days when I wished he would die. I deleted every digital trace of him I could find, made a bonfire of his letters and T-shirts, and threw his stupid bracelet in the Potomac. As much as I ever loved him (and God knows I loved that man), that is how much I have hated him.

A photo posted by Kathleen Gordon (@middletini) on

I wasn’t raised to trust people. Although I craved the unconditional love I rarely got growing up, I was always such a raw tangle of nerves that I couldn’t bear to let anyone get too emotionally close, so I compensated by letting them get physically close and thought it was the same. With him, everything seemed different. I trusted him completely. He knew the best and worst things about me, and I thought I knew him just as intimately. I would have put my life in his hands. I would have taken a bullet for him without a second thought. I gave him the power to crack me open and bleed me out, but I never dreamed he would use it.

Imagine you have one place in the world where you feel completely safe, where you store all your treasures, and you’re terrified to let another soul inside. Then, imagine that you finally trust one person enough to let him in, and he sets that room on fire, leaving you with nothing but charred wreckage. That’s where I have been for the past year. I have spent a lot of time in therapy trying to get that space back, and while I’ve scrubbed the smoke marks off the walls and assembled a few jagged, rattling shards into a loose sack where my heart used to be, I still feel desecrated. He could not have harmed me more if he had beaten me.

Finally, though, I feel myself turning a corner. A fellow blogger recently wrote about the aftermath of her own breakup, and she used a phrase that stuck with me: “We cannot heal in acid.” As justified as I may be in blaming him, it requires energy he doesn't deserve, which I would prefer to use elsewhere. He wasn't the man I thought he was, but I shouldn't have projected onto him all the things I wanted to see. Also, I'm not perfect, either. I have made bad choices that have hurt people, too. I can’t change what he did or whether he ever takes responsibility for it. I can only move forward and do better for myself while he fades into insignificance behind me. He’s not my problem anymore.

Most days, I am happy. I adore my kids and pets, my urge to write is back, my garden is growing, my body is strong and healthy, I’m financially stable, and most days I like my job. It’s a good life. I do not see myself getting into a serious romantic relationship anytime soon, if ever. I haven’t wanted for company, but I’m too skittish to believe any man who claims to love me. Maybe that will change; maybe it won’t. What I finally understand is this: the best way to be miserable is to live your life waiting for the next thing, thinking that’s when you’ll finally be happy. The next thing is merely the next thing, and whatever that is, I'll deal with it when it arrives.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

By Herself

Tonight's cocktail is a Blueberry Buck, which I had during a recent visit to Atlanta.

Blueberry vodka (I don't really like the flavored stuff because I prefer to infuse it myself, but it was OK), lime, ginger beer, shaved nutmeg.
In the spring, I had the honor of reading an original piece for Listen to Your Mother, a multi-city project that "gives motherhood a microphone" by asking people to present stories about mothers and motherhood. I was in the D.C. show, which you can (and should!) view in its entirety here. Part of the proceeds for every show go to nonprofit organizations that help local mothers in some way. Our show benefited My Sister's Place, which provides shelter, transition, and support services to survivors of domestic violence.

While many of the stories in the show were poignant and insightful and will make you cry when you hear them, mine was not one of those. I was part of the comic relief. Regardless, participating in the show was one of the best experiences of my life. Here's my piece (text below), before which I was announced thusly: "Kathleen Gordon is avoiding a work conference and bringing shame upon her family to read for us today. She deeply apologizes to her beloved mother for what you are about to hear."

My mother is a Southern church lady who would just as soon praise the Lord as bless your heart. She serves on the altar guild, is past president of the women’s service league, and attends weekly Bible study in addition to church services. On her night table is a well-worn, bookmarked Bible, and she is always praying for somebody. Most likely it’s me.

My mother missed the sexual revolution altogether. She grew up in a strict Southern Baptist household and, in the early 60s, attended a women’s college where she wasn’t allowed to wear slacks and had to have written permission from her parents on file to leave campus. When she was 21, she married my dad, her high school sweetheart. By the time of the 70s Equal Rights Amendment movement, she was busy raising me, and she didn’t think much of those “women’s libbers.”

During the Judy Blume stage of my childhood, when I asked my mom questions about periods and where babies came from, she would always answer truthfully - there was no talk of storks or euphemisms for genitalia - but she never mentioned that sex was supposed to be fun. Imagine my surprise when I realized for myself that it really, really is!

Past settling the birds-and-bees issue, I hardly ever talked to my mother about sex again. After I graduated from college, I spent the summer traveling in Europe, and my mom decided to join me for the last two weeks in Italy. Traveling by train to major cities in Europe with a woman who has spent almost no time outside the United States and who does not understand for the life of her why people will not put more ice in her drinks was sometimes a challenge, but we had a good time. We saw transcendent art, strolled through the sun-bathed lanes of history, and ate delicious gelato and pasta. One night, I even got my mom drunk on cheap Chianti to the point where she was giggling and singing a slightly risque song from college called “Minnie the Mermaid” while walking beside the Arno in Florence.

Then, we got to Siena, and awkwardness ensued. It was hot, and after we pulled our suitcases uphill to the hotel, I wanted to take a shower. My mom said that was fine, and she turned on the TV. I didn’t think much of it until I turned off the water and started to hear noises from the TV. Moaning noises. Sexy noises. Wrapping myself in a towel, I poked my head out of the bathroom to see my mother sitting on the edge of the bed, her eyes wide as dinner plates, staring at the quickly turned-off TV.

Me: Mom, are you OK?

Mom: [a little too fast] “Yes, I’m just fine.”

Me: You look upset. Did something happen?

Mom: [reluctantly] Well, I turned on the TV to see if there was any news in English, and I got to this channel, and it was very strange.

Me: How so?

Mom: Well, there was this woman, and she was very … excited. But she was by herself.

Me: Mom, what were you watching?

Mom: I don’t know. But she was REAL excited. And I didn’t understand, because she was by herself.

Me: [horrified, but trying to be soothing] Well, sometimes they put stuff on TV in other countries that you wouldn’t see in the United States, so it sounds like it was pornography. You can just ignore it, don’t worry about it.

Mom: [increasingly agitated] Kathleen! You do NOT underSTAND! She was VERY exCITED! And she was BY HERSELF!

Me: [to myself] Really? Am I really going to have to explain this? Sigh.

Me: [aloud] Mom, some people like to watch women … touching themselves. And enjoying it. So they made a movie of it. But it’s OK, you don’t have to watch it.

Mom: [indignantly] Oh, Kathleen, you don’t understand anything.

I let that one drop like a stone. We changed the subject and never discussed it again.

But, now that I have a preteen daughter, and I’ve had a few sex talks with her, I’ve thought back to that conversation with my mother. I don’t know if my mom was truly unaware of female masturbation or was too embarrassed to admit that she knew about it, but either way, it made me kind of sad for her. So I made sure to tell my daughter that even though sex sounds “so gross, Mom,” that it feels good, and it’s a nice thing for consenting ADULTS to enjoy RESPONSIBLY when they’re READY.

I also got completely indignant when I saw that the American Girl body book doesn’t label the clitoris on its female anatomy diagram, and I made a point of telling my daughter what it is, what it does, and that nobody gets to touch it without her permission. Which she said she is “never going to give anyone, ever, because ew.” That’s fine by me. But at least she knows, and likely the information will come in useful at some point in the future. Even if she is BY HERSELF.

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