Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Red Dress Playlist: "Picture To Burn"

A few weeks back, I started a self-improvement project, inspired by Jenny Lawson, the Great Bloggess. To read about the origin of my project, look here. For the short version, each week I will set out to conquer something that is holding me back from being the person I want to be. A relationship, a memory, a fear. . .anything that makes me less than I am. I will attack each challenge wearing my red dress as a cape for inspiration and as a symbol of the superheroes we all are inside. My goal is to undertake the daunting task of taking one crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable woman and molding her into a productive member of our crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable society.

I have this bizarre inability to throw anything away.  Newspaper clippings, notes from friends, long outgrown clothing. . .  I'm not exactly a "Hoarder" per se; more of a "Doomsday Prepper"  in that in the back of my mind I somehow believe that these seemingly innocuous items might actually prove to be crucial to my future survival.*

*When I need to barter for provisions at The Hob in post-apocalyptic America those expired red Robin groupons are gonna come in handy, yo!

Or maybe I'm just egotistical.*

*Pfft!  Like there was any lingering doubt about that.

And maybe my raging narcissism makes me want to leave a legacy;  a flag planted squarely on planet Earth that says "JEN WAS HERE".  Shit, maybe that's why I blog. And maybe that's why I've saved every love letter I've ever received going clear back to elementary school when Garrett Meyer asked me if I liked him and could I please check "yes" or "no".*

*Of course, today Garrett is a successful cardio-thoracic surgeon and I'm just some dipshit with bad insurance and a hoopty laptop.  In retrospect, I chose poorly.

Some of the letters and notes I keep because they make me happy.  The note from Garrett.  The handmade Mother's Day cards from my short people, a printed copy of the Tweet I got from Nathan Fillion.  Umm, yeah...have I mentioned that Nathan Tweeted me?  Oh, I have?  Yeah, well, I shall continue to mention it because aside from the birth of my lovely children that is the closest I've come to seeing God.  Anyhoo, these are all happy notes.  Birthday cards from dear friends, letters of recommendation from professors; things that make me feel special and loved.

But then I have another desk drawer.  This one is crammed with memories that are bittersweet and I find myself delving into that drawer on the nights that I feel lonely or when my self-esteem is lower than the combined IQ of the "Jersey Shore" cast.  This drawer is filled with pictures of my ex-husband and I when we were dating, and newly married.  Atop these photos sits a bundle of letters, held together with a simple rubber band -- love letters my ex wrote to me when we first met, letters filled with promises of a long life together after we were married, and letters of apology; swearing that this was the "last time" he'd ever hurt me and that he would "never, ever cheat on me again" that ran throughout the course of our marriage.  In truth I don't know why I've saved them as reading them and gazing at the photos only brings me pain and sorrow, but the tiny self-harming voice inside of me, the one that led me to a life of eating disorders, alcoholism and self-abuse can't seem to look away.

My friend Kelly wanted me to burn these letters as a way of "exorcising" past demons for this week's project and in truth, the thought of a kick-ass bonfire sounded pretty magical.  I also considered tie-dying my wedding gown or using it as a dropcloth, but the more I thought about it, the more my thoughts came back to my nine-year-old twin sons.

One small part of me thought that my boys may someday want to know that there was a time when Mommy and Daddy didn't despise one another and could actually be in the same room together for an extended period of time.  I want my short people to know that before we became "Mommy" and "Daddy" we were "Jen" and "Gil".  I want them to know that they were desperately wanted children and that they truly were conceived in love.  I hope that as they grow older they will recognize that we were only human, faults and all, and that we did the best we could with what we had and that for better or worse I will always be thankful that their father was a part of my life because he made me stronger by tearing me down, and he gave me the two greatest gifts in my life.  And yes, maybe some grandiose part of me felt that by keeping these relics around I would be cheating Death in some way, but hey!  That's okay too.

So, in the end I did not burn the photos and letters.  Instead, I boxed them up with my wedding album, taped it tightly closed, and brought it to my bank's safe deposit box.  I no longer have access to the painful and self-destructive memories, but someday my boys will have those photos and have that little sliver of our world before they existed.  Someday they will open the box and be stunned by how young Mom and Dad were and understand that there was love.  Perhaps not healthy, functional love; but there was in fact love.  Don't be afraid to put your heart out there, boys.  It will get broken, it will get tarnished, but it is only by being broken down that you can truly be broken open.  Don't be afraid to let your red cape fly.



Andrea said...

i don't really have any words, but goodness knows that won't stop me from saying parents separated when iu was three and over all of these decades, i haven't spent much time questioning why they divorced, but rather why they married. your boys will be able to see what was there in better times. it may still be confusing to figure out where things went from there, but i love where you said that they will know they came from love.

Front Desk Ninja said...

I don't have babies to pass that information on to yet, but I know I can't throw away certain things from exes. The ones who have shaped me, who have broken me and made me into the woman I am now are the ones I have things from still.

It's good to not dwell on the past too much, but you always need to remember where you came from. Or at least, I do, to understand where I am now and where I'm heading.

Love you!

Jen said...

ANDREA - I am just so afraid that they'll see my anger and frustration and witness their father's three failed marriages and grow jaded. I want my boys to believe in love.

NINJA - We all need those nightmares from our past to remind us that "NEVER AGAIN!" I love you too, my adopted daughter. :)

Andrea said...

They will most surely believe in love from what you have for them! :)

Tainted Fibers said...

I have a very dysfunctional divorce. Oh, it was okay for a few years, but since my children are grown and have children of their own, my ex has turned into Lucifer. He has not spoken to my son or daughter in years. 2 grandchildren he has never seen. One that if he knows about, he heard through family gossip. My daughter is at peace with her relationship (or lack of), my son, not so much. He goes into a funk every year around his kids birthdays. My point is YOU have a fabulous attitude. Some of what your boys get is gonna depend on your ex. I hope his attitude is as open minded and not vindictive. My biggest fear is that my ex will die without my son having made peace with the situation. And he will live with guilt the rest of his life for something he could not control. You are a good Mama.

Jen said...

ANDREA - Thank you!!! <3 <3 <3

FIBERS - Sadly, their father has other issues: multiple subsequent marriages and divorces, abusive tendencies, substance abuse, and inability to pay child support in a timely manner. He also repeatedly "forgets" when it's his weekend and leaves me tries to soothe two heartbroken children. It's hard to not be angry. I can forgive him for what he's done to me, but I cannot forgive what he is doing to our children.

mark said...

Nicely done! I hope you printed this post and included it - the context would be invaluable (as opposed to the boys wondering why their mom was saving all that stuff in a safe deposit box instead of valuable jewelry, money and a last will and testament). I'm a "collector" too, but you already know that and we've previously established how similar we are.

Chillin'Villain said...

I wish I could've had at least one parental like you.

You're a really, truly amazing Momma Bear! Don't ever forget that...

Jen said...

MARK - Oh all of that other stuff is in there too...but I never thought to include this blog post or a similar note of some sort. Judging by how they've been feeling about their dad lately, that might go a long way toward accepting him as he is.

CV - Thank you so much. In the unlikey event of my untimely death I am bequeathing you my Nathan Fillion mousepad and my Mal Reynolds action figure. Treat them well.

WeezaFish said...

You did such an awesome thing lady, I'm kinda stunned for words. My parents divorced when I was six, I LOVE that my Mum still has the wedding album and I can look at old pics of them happy together. You're a great Mum. I hope Hubby and I never have a box of memories that make me sad, but should the unthinkable happen - I'll remember to keep as much as I can of the good stuff for our boys.

L-Kat said...

:) The short people will really enjoy that some day. I think that's wonderful.

Sheila said...

Awww Jen, we have more in common than I realized. I am a twin but I think you must be my alter-twin. I also have a hard time throwing things away because I feel that one day I might need them later or sentimental reasons, etc. I could come up with a reason for keeping most anything. I follow Jenny too and know about the red dress. My first wedding dress I did cut up and use for something else. I am good a interior designing so I like to use a lot of things around the house to redecorate. I have had different substance abuses throughout the years also but fortunately right now, not. I have 2 children that are the light of my life and am forever grateful for having met their father, who I am now divorced from. I could go on but I find it hard to put all my bad things out there right now and you bloggers are so good at doing this. I admire you all for doing this. I enjoy your blogs very much and maybe one day we can ride that wienermobile together, lol.

Bloggertobenamedlater said...

Good for you Jen. Someday, your kids may really be pleased to see all those things and as for you, it's best that you live in the present and not dwell on the past. Well played.

Jen said...

WEEZA - If nothing else it's cool for them to see Mommy and daddy when I was skinny and he had hair. :)

L-KAT - Thanks, Girly!

SHEILA - I have so many dreams of riding the Wienermobile, you have no idea. . .aaaand, that sounded a lot dirtier than I intended. Much love, my long-lost twin.

SHEILA - I'm trying to rip off those rear-view mirrors but it is a constant struggle, for sure.

mistyslaws said...

Damn, girl. That is so mature and shit. ((Sniff)) Ma little gurl, all growns up!! :)

Yeah, you just wanna keep 'em cuz you looked hot on your wedding day. Who you kidding, bitch?

Just listened to the podcast. (Hi!) That was MAGICAL. You were great!! Rock on with your bad self.

Jennifer Clark said...

You have just given me yet another reason to be intensely grateful to my husband and my step-wife. When their marriage when bust, they agreed to act like grown-ups and not fuck up the children with their shit. Today, a decade later, we all (4 parents, assorted grandparents, step-sibs) spend holidays and birthdays together. Our twins fling their arms around their older brother & sister's step-dad and his daughter from two marriages ago. It's a gift I never take for granted. And you know what? It's still really hard sometimes, the whole blended family thing.

Your boys will know their mom loved them enough to put aside her own feelings to their betterment. That's huge, girl. Good on ya!

Stacey said...

I am using my wedding this year as my costume for Run Like Hell- Thank goodness the man who most recently broke my heart was not my kids dad so I don't feel too bad about it. You are a Kick Butt kinda Gal and your short people are lucky to have you :) Enjoy the sunshine!!

Bill Dameron said...

Jen, goodness knows I have been there and just went through the same thing, packing up my memories and moving on. We can't throw out all of our memories, because without some of the pain, there wouldn't be the good.

Jen said...

MISTY - Did you seriously listen to the podcast and then call me mature? Pfft! Bitch, please! :)

JENN C - I really like the woman my ex is married to now...I hope he doesn't screw this one up.

STACEY - Are you really? That's rad! I'm planning on running dressed like Katniss Everdeen.

BILL - We have led parallel lives my brother. I just hope that someday I find my 'Paul'.

NellieVaughn said...

I am glad you didn't burn them. I kept every love letter I ever received, until I met my ex-fiance. He is my future, I said. The past no longer matters, I said. Two years later, I broke off our engagement, and while I no longer miss him, I miss my letters.

Stacey said...

Jen- Yes I am so going Zombie Bride or something along those lines. I've has friends try and convince me that I should repurpose the dress as a cocktal dress etc, but screw that jazz ima mess up that dress and then stomp on it :) Funny thing though all my weightloss - I may have to get it altered hahaha he looses!!