Like Jell-O


Saturday, April 30, 2016

5:32 am

Thousand Oaks, California

“Add mix to 1 cup boiling water, stir until dissolved.
Add 2 cups ice cold water, refrigerate until it sets.”

-Directions on a Box of Cherry Jell-O

Remember when Jell-O didn’t come in little pre-made cups that you could buy in a six-pack in the dairy case, already Jello-ed and ready to tuck into your kids’ lunchboxes?

If you don’t, just…stop reading.

And if you do…welcome to my world of Jell-O. The Jell-O of my childhood. The Jell-O that comes in a box, in powdered form, that, once upon a time, not so very long ago, mothers and wives like myself made with a pot, on a stove, with water (both hot and cold). Sometimes, something called a “mold” was used, sometimes not.

True story.

There was a time when Jell-O was a thing you made, not bought.

Something that you made with the permission of an adult.

Remember adults?

 The people inconceivably older than us? With grey hair? Or very little hair at all?  Wearing clothes we wouldn’t be caught decomposing in? Listening to the same 10 damn songs over and over and over again ( and insisting they were the 10 best damn songs ever written )? AND saying the same 10 damn things over and over and over again?

The people we’ve become?

The thing about Jell-O and the reason I bring it up is because I have found that my thoughts can be a lot like Jell-O. Kind of like “Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates”.
Only there’s no Lt. Dan or Jenny playing her guitar naked or Bubba Gump Shrimp.

Ok. So, once you’ve dissolved your, let’s say, cherry Jell-O powder (my personal favorite) into 1 cup of boiling water, added I cup of cold water and poured your Jell-O into a mold, dessert cups or Tupperware bowl (and now I am really giving away the farm here, age-wise…but at a post-menopausal 52 who gives a rat’s ass….) you have to put the Jell-O in the fridge, usually overnight, for it to become Jell-O, in order for it to…gel.

Thoughts can be like that.

At least for me they can.

At least I’ve learned my better thoughts are like that.

Turns out, my next best life, the one that’s happening as a recovering wife and mother, is rolling out like that, too.

Best when left in the fridge, overnight, to gel.

Being a full-time wife and mother of three was a lot like running a small and over-populated country. Or planing a land war where the enemy had you outmanned and out manuevered.

Time was a luxury. A precious and scarce commodity. Life was planned down to the nano-second.

In this new life I have to make, I’m begining to learn that there is time to slow down, to act and react less and to respond more, that I actually can sleep on it, take the time to think, consider, contemplate. Occasionally….I muse. Who knows? Tomorrow, I may ponder.

The things is, I don’t want to now, or ever, forget that these lovely insights took me winning an epic battle of Empty Nest Syndrome.

And that I had to make room for who I am becoming by leaving big parts of myself on that battlefield. The parts that had outlived their usefulness. Once the nest emptied, once things got quiet, once there was so much less to do and to say and so few less to do it for and to say it to, what I discovered was: me.

That was shocking.

Which is the three-word understatement of a lifetime.

It’s taken me nearly eight years to write about this shock, the first seven of which were a complete, total and wholesale disaster.

Seven and a half, really.


The first seven years and seven months. If I’m going to be completely honest.

It’s not that I didn’t know what the shock was. I did. I knew when La Belle graduated high school in 2008 and was getting ready to go away to college. The second of my three children in a year and a half to leave home, this was happening three years after an unwanted, unplanned for divorce that I hadn’t seen coming after nine and a half years of marriage. For the first time in my marital history, The One I thought was The One wasn’t and that was devastating in a way that I’d never experienced before. Life was changing, quickly and profoundly. I even knew the name of the change: Empty Nest Syndrome. I knew I wasn’t doing well with it as it appeared on my horizon, beginning with the divorce in 2005. And I knew I wasn’t doing any better as it began looming larger and larger with each child’s departure. My behavior became erratic, I began making terrible, life-altering decisions and mistakes that affected the kids and I in ways I couldn’t see at the time as I made them. One of those decisions was to marry a mistake named Delta in 2007.I saw myself trying to keep everything from falling apart. But, of course, I was blowing up the place. It took me three years to do it, from 2005 to 2008, to undo everything I’d done, to unbuild everything I’d built. And then, when I tried to die and I didn’t, I spent the next five years, from 2008-2013, running. Like hell. And when that nearly killed me and I had no choice but to stop ( I didn’t stop the running so much as the running stopped me) I literally stopped. And for the next three years, from 2013 until very recently, I sat. And did the least amount of anything I’d ever done in my entire life.

But only because I couldn’t.

Because at the beginning of 2013, I was, as I’ve said before, severely underweight and malnourished and nearly dead and done from alcoholism, nobody’s wife or mother, nobody’s anything, really, homeless, and jobless and I just sat on this terrace, with no place left to go and nothing left to say.

And made train wrecks look good.

Believe it or not, and I still mostly don’t, this was the beginning of the beginning.

I know that I got sober and stayed sober, that I went to church. I’m sure I did other things as well, but I don’t remember much else. There’s a lot of blank or misty fields and short, pale stretches and unfilled gaps I just can’t recall. It’s a strange, eerie, and sometimes frustrating sensation. Maybe it’s grace. Which Schwink tells me she recently heard defined as “unearned favor”. Sounds about perfectly right. If so, then I am very grateful, because it was hell. It was purgatory and then it was back to hell. And then back to purgatory, hell’s waiting room, and then back to actual hell. Back and forth and back and forth. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t cry. All I could do for about a year, was sit still and just not do something stupid. I was terrified to be alone because I was sure if I was, I would. So I made sure one of two people were always in my line of sight: my best friend Schwink and The Dude, a man I’d met in recovery meetings who would one day prove brave enough to step into the ring with me and become my husband.

But that would come a little later, though not much…when I could get out of the chair and speak. Intelligibly. Brush my teeth. Bathe.

The road from there to here began with a wide six-lane highway that looked vast, empty and endless. Emphasis on empty. And uphill all the way from where I stood at the bottom.

But at least I was standing.

Taking the first step was one of the most impossible, excruciating, exhausting first steps I’ve ever taken. As was the second step and then the third and the fourth . Because I had to walk backwards and walk that way for a while, retracing the preceding eight year journey in a big wide painful arc, revisiting all the people, places and things, all the ghost towns filled with spiky tumbleweeds of broken promises. And listen to the sound of doors slamming on rooms of broken dreams (mine, theirs, his, ours). Until I got back to the starting place, which was a path. The one that I’m on now, the one that I walk every day.

Starting at the ass crack of dawn.

Sometimes it’s a climb, sometimes I coast easily downhill, shaded by a leafy canopy, while still other days I plod under a cloudless sky where everything is brutally etched by the relentless, harsh light of an unforgiving sun. And I’m sure I can hear the hiss and rattle of snakes and I’m thirsty and dusty and hot and itchy and I want to stop. But I don’t. Because I’m learning that this is the hard part of the path that leads to the next part and that the next part is usually almost always easier. There’s usually a cool, shaded place to rest. And someone to rest with. Someone I love, like Schwink or The Dude or La Belle or The Badass Bunny.

Waiting with an iced vanilla latte.

And, if it’s Schwink, a smoke.

What, you may be asking (and, really, you should be….I got a little long again, didn’t I?) DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH JELL-O!?!?!?!?!?

Calm. Down. Brazil.

And I’ll tell you. from “the emptied nest” files didn’t happen overnight.

What you’re reading are thoughts from a life, like old-school cherry Jell-O, that have been sitting in the refrigerator a lot longer than overnight.

More like three years.

That’s how long it took for some of the recovery I’m living to set, to gel.

I’ve had to recover from a few things in this life, emotionally,physically and spiritually. I’ve lit upon my recovery from alcoholism a little, but that’s not what I want to write about, that’s not what this blog is meant to be about. And, frankly, my recovering from alcoholism is a waltz next to recovering from being a wife and mother and an empty nest.

Metaphor Alert.

When I open my heart, I see my thoughts, my sentiments and my feelings about my recovery as a wife and mother like old-school cherry Jell-O, the way my mother used to make it and her mother, my Nana,the greatest cook to ever cook in a kitchen, hands-down, made it. Inspired by the people they loved, with time, slow, careful precision, with care and purpose. And because it made them genuinely happy. I, like they had, poured the ruby colored steamy liquid into pretty antique glasses and placed them carefully into the fridge to gel overnight, leaving them alone, to let time set them into Jell-O. To become translucent and garnet red, soft, pliable, delicate and fragile in their fluted cups. Something sweet and beautiful and ready to be shared with those who’d inspired me to make them in the first place, those I loved the most in the world.

And, in this life to make, I’m going to have some cherry Jell-O too.
And I shall have mine with some of my favorite food.

Which, as anyone who knows me knows, is whip cream.

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