Category Archives: John

A quarter of a century ago

Twenty-five years is a such long time, over half of my lifetime.

On September 2, 1992 the temperature was somewhere in the 80s, a nice sunny California fall day. It was warm enough that I was glad that my simple white dress was made of cotton lawn fabric and had short sleeves as we snapped a few photos after our wedding ceremony in the midday sun.

There were so many things I didn’t know that day as I knelt at an altar and agreed to the LDS vows of a forever marriage. For example I would have been devastated to know that three close family members who were present at the ceremony would die too soon. My father would only live two more years because of pancreatic cancer, I would lose my brother-in-law to lymphoma five years later, and my grandmother a decade after that. I couldn’t foresee that I would move more than 15 times in those 25 years or that the wedding gift that I received that day, of a sewing machine from my mother, would become one of the very few possessions that would travel with me for each of those moves.  And of course it was completely beyond my imagination that the eternal wedding vows I agreed to that day would, seventeen years later, be erased by the action of a stake president when he excommunicated my spouse from the LDS Church, or that a year after that I would file for a civil divorce.

Perhaps above all, I could not have imagined that 25 years later I would find myself sitting in a sleeveless polka-dotted sundress in a hipster cafe in Los Angeles sipping a latte, once again a newlywed, as Stijn and I discussed which light fixture would look best in our living room.

this caring colored my life…(a requiem)

 Just came home and got this news.  Such an amazing way to start a weekend!

This poem has been in my queue for awhile, awaiting the day when “Remy vs. Remy” was finally settled.  And, that is today (will y’all raise a glass my way tonite, my friends?  This is truly a moment that calls for commemoration–a time to toast to life-lessons learned)…And as always seems to happen in my life, when one door closes, many more open up on the pathway ahead.  I’m turned towards all of those right now rather than looking back…

So, I don’t think John will see this (we’ve done the best we can to disentangle our lives from one another, which includes not following each others’ blogs), but this is for him anyways…a requiem for our relationship, for letting go of the weight of the care and the obligations that followed in its wake.

Ache’s end

My sweet ache
is gone.
Sweet and painful
caramel, honey
in a broken tooth.
You were with me
like a light cold
in the bones,
a rainy day gnawing.
An awareness
that would turn down
to a faint hum
to an edging of static.
This caring
colored my life,
a wine badly fermented
with sugar and vinegar
in suspension.
A body can grow used
to a weight,
used to limping
and find it hard
to learn again
to walk straight.

~Marge Piercy

catharsis and emergence (through ritual)


For a long time I’ve wondered what to do with my wedding dress. It had severe mildew stains so it was unwearable. And certainly since the divorce it seemed like something that I would never want to wear again. I kept pulling it out of the closet and looking at it, wondering if I should simply toss it. But I kept thinking that it would work far better to do some sort of art project with it. I loved the dress and its simple lace–a reproduction of an Edwardian garden party dress. The ‘romantic’ within me knew that I couldn’t simply cast it into a trash bin.

At the same time, I’ve been yearning for some sort of ritual to bring closure to my marriage. I had planned some spectacular way to throw my wedding rings into the Back Bay, but it just didn’t feel right. So it seemed more apropos to use the dress for my ritual. And I also knew that it needed to involve the ocean. My ocean. My beach. Near where John proposed and where we created all of our family memories of the Balboa FunZone, kayaking, and bonfires. As these ideas percolated around in my brain, a plan came together. And a photographer-friend was as delighted to be a part of this ritual as I was to perform it.

That we did this the day after the tsunami, when the ocean water was still roiling with storm, was coincidence that turned into something meaningful. The currents came from Japan and touched our shores–just as in my cross-cultural marriage to a Japanese-American man. All of that connecting, all tugging at each of us, all testifying to the sometimes-destructive tide of relationships pulling us towards each other and then apart again…

I thought this might be a somber occasion.  I thought I might cry, or even feel loss and anger.  Instead, I was ebullient. Emerging feeling washed clean of the ugliness that came from the end of my relationship.  Stepping out of the sea alone and full of joy, flower petals scattered along my path…

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”pilgrimgirl” id=”72157626352812872″]


Toby Joy in repose

This evening our vet put our TobyJoy to sleep, after her seizures had escalated to the point where further control with medication seemed unlikely. Her seizures started again a few days ago–small ones at first, then morphing into body-wracking shakes that contorted her small frame backwards and forwards.

Last night when Toby’s seizures began to escalate I texted John, unsure of whether it was appropriate to ask for his support. We exchanged a few messages as Toby writhed in my arms, and as her legs became paralyzed. I was so confused. I didn’t know whether to lean on John–as I had so many times before–or whether this was my own burden to carry. All I knew was that I was hurting and I couldn’t figure out who else to call on. For the past two decades when I’ve been weak, John has stepped in to “fix” the problem, to offer solace, to help me to decide what to do.

As I wavered with indecision, Toby was curled in a ball on my chest–so much like my babies did when they were little. Feeling her weight, wrapping my hands securely around her body, I settled into an armchair and sang some songs. I stroked her fur and told her how much I loved her. I rocked back and forth. I was unsure of what else to do but just be there with her. I alternately prayed she would die and then prayed that she would live. I cried. I hoped. I wondered. And eventually…the morning came.  When I needed help getting her into her crate for transport to the animal hospital, I chose to call on my friends rather than John.

Within a few hours John joined me at the vet to ascertain the extent of Toby’s ailment and we decided to put her to sleep to ease her pain. I sat, and John stood uncomfortably nearby as Toby’s doctor explained the procedure and our options. I signed the paperwork. Because Toby-cat was so ill, we got no last visit or chance to say good-bye.

When we settled the bill in the foyer (tears sliding down my cheeks) and reviewed the charges with the cashier, I pointed out some details to John and called him “sweetie.” It was pure instinct to address him that manner (as I always had).  The endearment spoken as we stood side by side, working through something hard together. I instantly regretted my slip, not knowing if he had even noticed it, but at the same time feeling an even greater loss than a moment before when all I was mourning was our sweet kitten.

We then walked out to our separate cars, me carrying Toby’s crate and collar.

John’s hands were empty.

one month

This is probably the last picture of our family, taken about a month ago.  We were picking up some dinner at Taco Mesa before the kids had some school-related activities.  John snapped this pic and posted it to Twitter, while making some comment about how “nothing really happened unless it was photographed and tweeted.”

At this point I’d already sent John the first volley in the email conversations that would be the catalyst for his decision to leave.  I was awaiting his reply while life carried on rather normally on the surface of things.

Such photos say so much.  And so very little.

and surrender…

When John told me that he was leaving me, he revealed some pretty ugly things–most of which I won’t write here.  But perhaps out of those the one that surprised me the most, was when he told me that he’d basically checked out of our marriage two years ago when I was ill with that mysterious antibiotic-resistant infection.  He explained that it was just too much for him to endure–caring for me with no certainty that I would ever get well again.

He was so gracious and kind during that entire illness, I never knew that it had been so terrifically difficult for him.  Indeed, I was quite surprised to learn that that was the breaking point.  Perhaps not coincidentally, I’d been thinking myself recently about how difficult it’s been to care for John during his ongoing degenerative issues with his back and hips.  For about four years John’s been nearly-unable to walk more than a few blocks (sometimes not even that far).  When we’ve traveled, we’ve pushed him in wheelchairs at museums and altered our typical on-foot walkabouts to short jaunts to accommodate John’s limited mobility.  For a long time he was unable to even walk through a grocery store because of the severe pain that it caused him. I’d wondered how I would handle life with a spouse who had such a long-term physical limitation, and was hoping that I could do so with as much aplomb as John had done with my various health problems…but I had concerns about keeping it up–his pain made him short-tempered and frustrated. He was so much more difficult to live with than before. He lost his energetic “bounce” (I missed that part of John’s personality quite a lot).

So what I wonder is this….at what point do we throw in the towel on our relationships when things don’t turn out as we expected? And when do we hang in there, even at a high cost to our own autonomy?

Some of my thinking along these lines also has to do with recent encouragement from friends for John and I to reconcile. Part of me wants to fight and hope that we could make our marriage work again (as I have many times before), but I fear that isn’t a choice I even have the liberty to make–John seems quite sure that he’s done with us (and with me). But I wonder, have I given up too easily? Is there something more I could or should do? Or some concession or change that I could make that would make John feel happy again?

Or is it time to wave that white flag and move on, realizing that I just can’t endure it any longer?

What not to say…

Ok, here’s a bit of a pet peeve coming…

What John told me after he said he was leaving me, was something like this:

“But you’re still attractive.  I’m sure you can find someone else.”


Since then several people have said a similar variant of the same thing to me.  I know it’s well-intentioned.  It’s a kind of hopeful twist on the awfulness of being left behind.  But it still really feels awful to hear (and, quite frankly, the last thing I want in my life right now is “someone else” to be attached to).

Have any of the rest of you been told this by a spouse or a lover who’s leaving, or by friends who were trying to cheer you up after you’ve been ditched?  If so, how did it make you feel?  And are there any other things that people have said to you in the divorce process that have particularly grated on your nerves?

UPDATE: One more thought: I wonder if anyone says the “you’re still attractive” line to men? Or is that a gendered thing that’s only said to women? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

Seeking Security

a family outingIn talking to a friend last night, I realized a few things about my personal and professional trajectory the past decade…

It was about a decade ago that John and I first had significant marriage problems.  At that point we’d been married for 7 years and as John was climbing the corporate ladder, he seemed increasingly frustrated with having married so young.  We had two small children at home and John was the breadwinner while I was a stay-at-home-Mom.  I was literally tied to our home given that John took our only car to work everyday and we didn’t live near anywhere that I could walk to to catch a bus or shop.  My entire world revolved around supporting him and caring for the kids.  So when things got a bit rocky with John, I was completely dependent and vulnerable.  I’d never had any jobs that paid much more than minimum wage.  I had a science degree but no lab experience to turn that degree into a marketable skill.  I had no savings of my own, no retirement money, nothing.

It was just about then that some things started to change in our family.   We had to buy a second car so I could drive the kids to school, which gave me a huge increase in autonomy.  I started taking classes at a local community college.  I began to think seriously about applying to graduate school.

While I can’t say for sure that my aims for advanced education were motivated by the fear that John and I would eventually split up, I think I can say that I knew I needed more security “just in case.”  I opened a Roth IRA and began depositing money into it each month.  I stopped thinking so much like Martha Stewart and took on Laurel Ulrich as my role model instead–thinking that even if it took me twice as long as anyone else to finish my graduate degree, at least I would have it eventually.  I began thinking far more pragmatically about money and my future.  Once I was in graduate school I began applying (perhaps rather ruthlessly) for as much funding as possible.  I wanted to ensure that I didn’t end up finishing my PhD with a significant amount of debt, knowing that that would only increase my dependence rather than decrease it.morning light, in my office

So maybe it’s no surprise that when I initially revealed to a friend that John was leaving me, one of the first things I said was how glad I was that I had a job!  It’s so empowering to know that I won’t be financially dependent on John for child support, health insurance, or alimony. For the first time ever, my income is larger than John’s.  I still feel quite vulnerable in today’s economy–and I know it won’t be easy to support the kids on my salary.  But I think I knew, perhaps even subconsciously, that I never wanted to be in that same awkward and dependent position again as I was when I first feared that we would split up.  It’s undoubtedly what’s kept me so aggressively focused on my educational and professional goals these past few years. 

A friend mentioned to me that when we feel powerless over the romantic aspect of our lives, we often try to take control of the financial part–because that’s one thing we can do when the rest is out of control.  That makes a lot of sense to me.  And I’m so glad that I did this so I’m not left in a financially vulnerable position now.

beyond the rainbow

A huge part of me is tempted not to blog right now.  My emotions are so mutable–it seems that if I write about what I’m feeling at this moment, in another few minutes I’ll feel radically different…

As I sat in front of our rainbow bookshelves this morning and passed my eyes over each title, I said good-bye to our home and what it’s been to us for all of these years.  By the time I return to our place, the books will be separated and sorted.  And I doubt that I’ll ever have the desire to have rainbow bookshelves again.

But other than a moment of wistfulness, I was okay with leaving.  There’s a part of me that’s looking forward to the new experiences that lie ahead, even if there’s occasionally a heavy aching in my ribcage that makes me wish this wasn’t happening.  I don’t want John back (given all the hurt he’s sent my way these past few days, I’m quite ready to let him go), but I still feel some longing for what we had as a family, and of the sweetness we had in our home before he was so unhappy.

Separation (or, some big changes ahead for our family)

rose archOne of my favorite parts of my garden was my climbing rose.  I’d dug this plant out of the flowerbed in our old apartment.  The gardeners kept whacking the rose to the ground (it wasn’t part of the landscaping) and it just kept growing back.  Whack-grow-whack-grow.  Finally one day I took a trowel and dug up as much of its root system as I could, and took it to my garden plot.  It thrived and soon became a beast of a bush with runners everywhere.  I tied them into a column and trained them over to a post on the other side of a path to form an arch.  During the summer that I was sick, it was this rose bush that I thought about most often.  It brought such joy to me.  I’d decided  that when John and I re-married (which we planned to do given that our Mormon temple marriage was so meaning-less to us after leaving the LDS church), I wanted to stand under that arch.

So a few weeks ago when our community garden was slated to be demolished, I left that rose arch as the last thing I dug out.  It was so big, I figured there was no way I could extract it from the soil and put it into a pot.  Some friends who were helping me with the garden said that they would try to rescue it for me, because they knew how much I loved that plant.  They dug away at that thing for well over an hour, we had to cut some of the roots with a hacksaw to get the main plant out.  But it seemed well-worth the effort for such a special rose…

roses, facing the sunWhen I took pictures in my garden, I nearly always used the macro setting.  I liked to get close and see the details and patterns.  The veins and textures.  To spy small insects.  To lose myself in a flower.  I never did very well with pictures that showed the entire garden.  They were too complicated and messy.  The showed the tools and the weeds and the plants that hadn’t been watered well enough.  Instead, I made my images close and tight and narrow.  I saw what I wanted to see.  That’s the PollyAnna in me, I suppose.  I have an astute ability to shape the world into something that matches my expectations.  While I don’t think that’s always a bad thing–and it’s certainly an excellent coping mechanism that I’ve honed after years of pain and discouragement–I am quickly learning that it has its downside.

All of my plants have stories.  If you point to one and ask me about it, I’ll tell you who gave it to me, how long I’ve had it, and lots of other details about its growing habits.  I especially love to tell the stories of my roses.  It wasn’t until I was watering all of my rosebushes this morning that I realized something I hadn’t thought of before.  Not one of them was given to me by John.  In fact, I didn’t have any plants from him in my garden.  I’m not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that–John is not a garden person and he rarely visited my plot.  But I think that’s part of this big picture that’s sort of hitting me between the eyes right now.  Our priorities and passions are so different.  I’ve seen what I want to see for so long.  Made assumptions.  Framed stories a particular way.  Molded my interactions with my spouse to fit a rosy narrative in my head.

Perhaps its enough to say that I don’t even know if John knew that I wanted to marry under that arch.  Perhaps its enough to say that I was so wrapped up in what I saw through the lens of my camera, that I wasn’t aware of what he saw through his–although over time I had noticed that we were no longer pointing our viewfinders in the same direction.  Perhaps there really isn’t anything to say now, except that I am sans garden and sans John.  He’s chosen to leave our marriage.  As of a few days ago we are officially Separated, with plans to divorce.

I don’t think I’ve intentionally killed a plant before, but I’m realizing that I can’t continue watering the climbing rose.  However, I don’t actually think it matters.  The plant is nearly dead already.  It couldn’t stand the shock of being uprooted and transplanted.

Note: I’m closing comments on this post.  If you are tempted to discuss my family’s situation on Twitter or Facebook or blogs, please keep in mind that our children also follow their parents online.  Please respect our privacy. You may contact me directly at janaremyATgmail.