beauty for ashes.

Newish year, new old name! It feels so good to see that moniker in print again.

So much time has gone by that I really didn’t think this would be a significant occasion, having felt pretty much officially “single” ages ago. Maybe just seeing my own name again is a strongly pleasing visual, and an act of positivity in and of itself. I think I’ve been the first person to say “eh who cares about names, it’s just a name” in the past, but I’m too old and I’ve seen too much research about self-fulfilling prophecies to discount how important symbols are. And what is “Tess Dixon” if not a symbol of, well, me?

The great thing about going through a divorce is that any time you start feeling down, you can just listen to some history podcasts and realize afresh that your life could be much worse. I mean, Stuff You Missed has a whole (possibly inadvertent) series on Sad Royal Childhoods. My childhood and much of my adult life have been peaches and cream. Right now I work a fun job and live in a fun neighborhood with a fun kid and live in the weirdest and richest country in the world. Things are, on a whole, good. Not so good that I’ll ever use it as a way to talk myself out of standing up for what’s right again, but still! Very good.

Aside from the general state of my corner of the world, there are so many specific things in my life that have made the past year and a half much better than it could have been. For starters, how fortunate to go through a divorce with a toddler running about your ankles! A toddler doesn’t even give you time to be sad. You’re so busy laughing and chasing them and being driven up the wall by them and then laughing again, that you just physically can’t even think about yourself much. Every day since Morella was born, I’ve been learning with her and rediscovering the world with her. It has changed me, no doubt about it. Almost everything about her is delightful. Her tiny curls. Her tiny pajamas. Her tiny booted feet stomping on pavement. Her tiny snow shovel. Her requests for “anudder green pouch.” Her loud acting and singing performances in the bathtub. Even her temper tantrums are sometimes funny or adorable or both. And when, after she’s finally (really) gone to bed, and I’ve trudged back downstairs to clean up and finish household tasks, and I’ve trudged back up to get myself ready for bed, and I finally collapse in a heap on top of the comforter, even my mind has no time for pain or for replaying scenes in my head or for any other form of navel-gazing. By the time my head hits the pillow, I’m already asleep. I sleep the most satisfying sleep in the world: the sleep of an exhausted parent.

My family has been a safety net during this time. I wonder if my parents ever thought they would have to take care of me so much as an adult. From day one, their knowledge of the situation and their kindness have been a balm to me. We get together regularly with my immediate family and their spouses, and it’s so good to see Morella and her cousin growing up together so closely. She loves “MY FAMLY” and she asks for them all the time, and gets mad about it if we haven’t seen them in a few days. She talks about Siouxzie a lot and will take two of something (like a pouch or some other snack) and say “Dis one’s for Siouxzie.” Ugh, it’s really cute. In a general way, I think it’s been important for me to be around my family a lot because family is something you don’t choose, you’re born into it. So while everything else in the world that I considered solid was being called into question and in many cases torn apart, it was incredibly comforting to be able to always go back to this group of people who have always been with me, and will always be. Solid ground has never been so precious to me.

Let the record also show that work colleagues pretty much qualify as family for me these days, too. I spend eight hours a day with these people, so it’s safe to say they’ve seen me through every part of this thing. Just having these jovial, lunch-loving people to sit with every day is another piece of stability that I don’t take for granted. Sometimes it can be messy to work with your best friends. We definitely don’t have a nice tidy line between our professional relationships and our friendships. But I feel very close to them and very bolstered by them, both in times of work drama and life drama. We celebrate small victories together, and curse our failures together. Our quiet office has been a haven for me.

My best friend pretty much owns the game as far as loyalty and affirmation go. She has been here for me through everything, listening with her long-suffering self through hours of processing. In those moments where I felt like my worth was being torn down in front of me, she was there to speak truth, and remind, and encourage. And she still is. I’m lucky I get to talk to someone like her daily and be challenged by her strength and her uncompromising sense of justice. Just as much as she’s unwilling to step away from my side during hard times, she’s also unwilling to lie to me just to make me feel better. She has no problem telling me “no” or “I think you’re wrong because…” And I appreciate that. And I feel bad for people who don’t have a friend like that in their life. You should all go out and get a best friend like this. Except don’t take mine because she’s got her hands full with me. Okay thanks.

Old friends have been another comforting presence. A lot of people have reached out and gotten in touch, and I’ve reached out to some too. While in that season of life where I was getting married, changing jobs, changing houses, and having a baby, I would often think of old friends like “Ah I really want to catch up with that person, but only when I have plenty of time to give them…” But hey, guess what, you never have “plenty of time.” I’ve finally gotten to a place in my life where I have regular phone dates or some kind of communication with most of the big friends in my life, no matter where they are. I have an open guest room whenever these pals are in town. I want to hear all about their lives and what they’re doing and thinking. And throughout these conversations, just talking to them helps me remember who I am too. It’s important to me to keep people close who have known me a long time, and always have their extra context and their honesty. Every couple of weeks my friend Katie will call me when she gets off work in LA, which is right about when Morella has just gone to sleep, and we’ll talk for hours about everything — old stuff, new stuff, whatever — and just be able to pick up right where we left off. I’m so grateful for these friendships in my life that are like that, where instantly when we’re together or talking on the phone, it’s like no time has passed.

New friends have been there for me too. A new little group of younger friends have grown on me, and they’re the ones I usually pal around with when I’m not mothering. They have long, frank conversations with me over a glass of wine. They come over after baby bedtime to watch movies and make up cocktails with me. The neighborhood crew is still going strong. These are the people I check in with the most throughout the week, I think. The families whose clothes Morella is wearing now. The ones whose books she’s having a turn with. The ones who step in when I need help in a pinch. The ones who fill my house with laughter and casseroles and a huge mess and all the stuff that make winter gatherings great. I love mustering the troops and taking over the local playgrounds. I love running into these friends at the bakery. I love when we pass their houses and Morella says “Hey that’s so-and-so’s house” and I say, “Yep.” It was really nice, in the middle of a blizzard, to be able to trudge over to one of these sweet friends’ houses a block away and be fed at her table with her kids and other neighbors, and watch our kids run around the house together. Another of these couples will be feeding me dinner tonight and cheering me up as I dive into my first ever full weekend without Morella.

I feel really grateful to every person who’s listened to me, cried with me, or cheered me up. Every person who dropped by just to say hi, or helped me with some little task or repair around the house. Every person who thought of Morella and I randomly and invited us over for an impromptu dinner. Every person who has helped me get a wiggly toddler ready for bed, or entertained her for a few minutes so I could have a little bit of a break. Every person who’s reached out offering child care when schools are closed for weather, knowing that I will have to work anyway. Every person who’s happy to hear about all my painful stuff, or not hear about it at all, depending on the day. Every person who told me about all their embarrassing life junk and brought me into that circle of trust. These people make me feel loved and known, and really, what else is there?

* * *

This time has been a renaissance for me. It’s amazing how much energy and brain power is depleted when you’re maintaining a toxic relationship. The sheer amount of brain space that’s freed up when you’re not walking on eggshells (on a tightrope. across the Atlantic) is staggering. I’m reading and writing more. And getting to those things on my to-do list that I never seemed to get to before. Not just organizing the closets (of which I have more to do!), I mean important stuff like getting in touch with people, and studying almost every day.

It has been so good to read voraciously again, and read for so many purposes. History and local interest and YA and all the usual suspects are in the mix. And I think when most people go through a traumatic experience their brain is just dying to explain and rationalize what has happened. Like you know that officially “these things just happen, you can’t explain all of it,” but low-key you still just want to explain all of it. So it’s been therapeutic to read so many articles and books that describe eerily similar experiences and unflinchingly point out the patterns in these experiences. It does more than explain. In many cases it has challenged, demystified, affirmed, and comforted. I’ve been chronicling little excerpts and quotes and links and really anything I read that means something to me over at Unfamiliarize, and I’m really glad for the tagging system on Tumblr because I’ve been able to call back up an article any time I want to look at it again or send it to someone per a relevant conversation. It’s like the card catalog of my contemplations. All hail the systems in life that contribute to greater sanity and less flailing around.

Nerdy bible talk time: I’m also really into the Psalms right now because they’re all over the place. They acknowledge so many negative feelings and don’t dismiss them, but they bring the focus back to joy, too. I feel very understood by them, if that makes sense. Which is funny because I think a lot of the time I approach faith-related study like “I need to understand this story or concept” when maybe I should approach it like “I need to learn about myself by having my story echoed back to me.” Not that there’s anything wrong with coming at stuff from an intellectual or theological purpose, but I notice in myself a tendency to get overly excited about “figuring out” new things related to my faith and inadvertently divorcing (lol) it from personal experience a little bit. So this time period has been a good reminder of how similar I am to some guy beating his breast and scrawling angsty poems hundreds (thousands!) of years ago. I also did a “Hymns” series in the She Reads Truth app (crucial app, heavily recommend, A++, would download again), which pulled heavily from the Psalms and brought familiar music into the mix as well. All of which is fitting, because, you know, “It is well with my soul.”

Now that life seems to be on more predictable footing schedule-wise and I finally know my availability, I’ve reached out to a couple of organizations about volunteering again. Seasons of life come and go, and I knew that when I had a newborn baby I would not be spending a lot of time out in the community giving back. I would be lucky to survive myself. But I did miss volunteering, and I want to get back into it as soon as possible. One thing that stinks is that even when you have a sturdy little toddler who can do some small amount of work with you, most volunteer opportunities don’t allow small children to participate. I feel like I’ve said this before but if anybody knows of anything that does allow small children, let me know. If nothing else, Morella definitely has #myblockrva under her belt. Haha.

* * *

So to sum up, the state of the union on this momentous occasion is that I’m doing fine. Keeping my eyes on the future (and the wonderful, wonderful present with my babe) while sticking to standards as best I can for Morella, and having exactly zero time for anyone who approves of or encourages us being preyed upon in any way. It is hard to draw these lines and keep them in place, but it’s important and it’s worthy of my time. And it also gets easier with practice. I’m coming to terms slowly with the fact that there may never be a resolution to some of this tension, and that it may go on for the rest of my life, so in the meantime I will be living the best life I can while still shackled to this situation in many respects. I think the term I’m searching for is “having life, and having it abundantly, even while I drag this dead weight along with me.”

Today’s an eerie day. Bittersweet and mixed up. I’m relieved to finally not be married anymore, and still a little sad to acknowledge that as a failure (even though I know it was not my failure). And frankly embarrassed that I ever had that other last name or anything to do with him at all. And nervous about my first full weekend EVER without Morella, which starts tonight. And I’m excited about spending this weekend hanging out with good friends, and heartbroken at finding out that a friend just died of cancer. None of these feelings cancels out the others, they all just sort of sit there together weirdly. I’ve laughed with utter abandon and cried bitterly in the past several hours. I’m like one of those weird manic “Live Laugh Love” signs you can get at Hobby Lobby. Except my tackiness quotient just doesn’t measure up to that level.

Welp. Onward. ❤


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