* (Right after I posted this the first time, I read Karl's blog-- which mirrors my own, but he has pictures of all of this, everything I described. So, go read his blog, too).
What I remember most when I think back to that time, three and a half years ago, is that it was dark and it was cold.
We frequently had the lights low in our little house, with candles burning, lining the fireplace and bookcases.
And even though we lived there through spring, I remember the winter the most. And it was cold.
When I told Rachel I was going to leave my husband, she immediately devised a plan to move in with me. She had been commuting to and from Iowa, and driving almost two hours one way to do it, and teach at 7:30 a.m. Often, her alarm would go off and she would wake up crying. She was worried about the winter. It was our final semester of graduate school.
A year and a half earlier it had all begun. We sat in a room and stared at each other, Dan, Rachel, me, Becky. There were other people in the room, but the four of us were the ones who would bond. Rachel was the other mother. Dan had long hair then, and bandanas and shorts and T-shirts, all of which he would eventually trade in for short short hair, a fedora, button down shirts, and suits, but all worn in a very Frank Sinatra, old world elegance way, not a young Republican way. Nobody could ever mistake Dan for a Republican.
Dan started dating Yumi at Christmas break our first year.
I won’t say we all bonded at first. I was still married, had been a stay-at-home mother for years. I wore mock turtle necks, and I had long long long hair that I often wore in a bun. Now I look back at that poor woman and think, “Who was that?”
This is what I looked like then.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.
I began working on a thesis the following spring about leaving the Mormon church. I was in a life-changing class with Dan, Yumi, Karl, Ruthann, Karen, Bryan, and Shawn. We read Finnegan’s Wake and studied Modernism.
We read Borges and Wallace Stevens and I thought my heart would break with the loveliness, and I thought I would die from the depression that overtook me at that time. Between the thesis, Borges, and Schopenhauer, I was in a bad place, so I changed my thesis and ended up doing a collection of poems.
Dan and I ended up somehow emailing about capital punishment and art. And we both ended up reading a book by Wallace Stevens about poetry, and discovered we had underlined many of the same passages. We took to eating in the Student Union building after our early morning classes with Rachel, Becky, and Yumi. We bonded over Simpsons, Kids in the Hall, Jim Jarmush, Hal Hartley, and Tom Tomorrow.
Around this time, the graduate students had a poetry marathon and shouted out Ginsberg poetry on folding chairs in the quad to raise money which was used to buy an enormous blue school bus that Karl still owns (to his chagrin). It was purchased for road trips, and indeed, we took one one wintry day to Fairfield, Iowa, for used bookstores, coffee, Indian food.
That summer, my then-husband and I had a Thanksgiving in July and invited Dan and Yumi and Bob over and played Sheepshead (a popular Wisconsin game with that crowd) over many many bottles of red wine.
That Fall, my marriage was falling apart badly, but only Rachel knew how badly. Dan and Yumi pretty much found out the minute it was happening, and Karl and Bob were chasing down strippers in Hawaii and found out when they returned to find me and Rachel living together in town in a little, cute house with built-in bookcases and five children, amid rumors that my ex had started that we were lesbians, that I was moving in with Bob, and that we smoked pot in front of the children at every opportunity.
We were so dreadfully poor. I had taken half of the money (between $2-3K—Christmas money too) out of my marriage’s joint account, and given $1000 to retain my lawyer. I had to apply for all new credit cards. I made $888 dollars a month. Rachel didn’t get much help from her husband, and I received nothing from mine.
I still remember sitting in my little house with Karl, Ruthann, Dan and Yumi, Rachel, Priscilla, and everyone agreeing that nobody would date a woman with three kids. And I completely believed and agreed with them. What was really funny was that they all knew Dereck at the time, but I didn't. Yet.
On the days we didn’t teach (MWF), I would get the kids up, Christian in kindergarten, Sam in 1st grade, and Chloe in kindergartgen, and walk them down the road to the bus stop. Then, I would come home and crawl back into bed, curled in a fetal position on my mattress on the floor, covered with worry about my divorce, money, jobs, custody. After awhile, I would get up and Rachel would be in the corner of the living room at the computer hunting and pecking, instant messaging with Becky, and the kids, Ali and Tommy who were only three then, would be eating their breakfast. I would go out to the garage I had strung with white lights and smoke and drink coffee.
Later in the day, Rachel and I would clear out the living room rug and do the Cindy Crawford workout (we used filled water bottles for weights because we were so poor), and Tommy and Ali would lie on the floor next to us, kicking their little legs. I listened to Fiona Apple a lot in those days, and I remember standing and listening to music one day before the workout began and I just started to cry, standing there in the middle of the floor with a water bottle in each hand. Rachel just let me cry and then we changed the music and did our work out.
Despite our poverty, Rachel really knew how to cook, and we took to feeding Dan a lot. I remember one morning I left to go to Victim Support Services for therapy and returned at lunch time to an Indian feast she had just thrown together. And oh, we were so happy! The kids loved having other kids to play with all the time. My kids still long for that time. In the evenings, we would crack open a beer—such a novelty to me! I always volunteered to go grocery shopping at night because I couldn’t believe I was out of my house after dark, out in the world. It was a terrific head rush. Rachel just shook her head in disbelief.
And Thursday nights, we went out. We would put the kids to bed, and then we would put on more mascara and lipstick and greet the sitter, and go to the Dukum. Everyone was there playing pool: Karl, Bob, Linda, Jerry, Priscilla, Ruthann tending bar, Yumi howling over a pool game, Rachel, Becky, Arnie, Alana, me, Jason, Lauren, all shoving tables together before the little bar and talking and drinking pitchers of beer and smoking, and this was how we spent our Thursday nights. And the beauty was that we didn’t even really plan it. This was by unspoken agreement, what we all did, where all of us gathered. We knew all of the bartenders by name and got terrific deals on our drinks. Bob was a faculty member (still is) and would usually end up buying all of the beer we consumed.
Rachel and I would go to Taco Bell with her kids sometimes when my boys were with their father, and we would talk about all of the changes that were happening to me and it was just one of those times in your life when you just feel with every vibrating cell of your body that you are alive, despite the fear, the gossip, the rumors, the ugly custody battle, that you have people you love around you and that you are so vividly vividly alive.