A Love Stronger than Diamonds


I can’t believe you love me
I never thought you’d come
I guess I misjudged love
Between a father and his son
The Last Song, Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c) 1992 Big Pig Music, Ltd.

I once had a beautiful engagement ring.  I loved it because of the stories it told.  The stories began even before I received the ring.
Continue reading

Deja Vu, Part Two: Mom and Dad to the Rescue

In Deja Vu Part One, I described my own disappointing experience at my first college. In this post, we move on the next generation where history repeats itself.

Every Mother’s Dream/Nightmare

Every mother hopes that when she sends her child to college, the child will have an awesome experience.  It’s supposed to be a bit scary for the mom when the child leaves the nest.  Will he go to class or stay in his room and get stoned?  Will he take tye-dye or underwater basketweaving?  Will he eat magic mushrooms if offered to him?  Will he get a social disease?  Will he join a cult and quit school? Continue reading

Deja Vu All over Again — The Fall of My Discontent


I haven’t mentioned how my son is doing at college.  That’s because—he’s not.

Let me back up to 1978.   I went to high school in a small town in Maryland.   Purportedly, less than 10% of the students went to college.  I don’t know if that is true or not, but it felt like it at the time. Continue reading

Christmas Morning before the Age of Affluence

Renata on Santa’s lap circa 1960’s

Remember Christmas in the 1960’s?  Back when most people had real Christmas trees (or those aluminum ones) and decorated them with colored lights and lots of tinsel?   I used to sit in front of the tree at night, in my little white rocking chair, and stare up at the lights, thinking about Christmas morning.  Santa usually brought what I had asked for (up until 1971, that is), and then he would add a surprise or two.  Continue reading

A pilot, a cemetery and a three-legged dog

I’m in Woodbridge, Virginia for a few days, visiting my niece, who is a Navy pilot.  She just moved here and knows no one. Plus, with the winter hanging on, there’s not much opportunity to meet the neighbors, even though she owns two dogs.  Walking the dogs is a great way to meet new people.

I needed a change of venue, and so did Billy, I’m sure, so I came up on Tuesday to keep her company for a few days.  Tuesday we had yet another snow storm, but I-95 was clean and dry.

Woodbridge is located 20 miles south of Washington D.C. and is growing.  Growing is an understatement.  Exploding is more like it.  Once I left the interstate, I saw miles and miles of houses in new and nearly-new subdivisions.  Woodbridge, located in Prince William County, is a popular bedroom community for D.C, to say the least.

Wikipedia calls Woodbridge a “census-designated place” (CDP), which means that it’s not an incorporated city or town, but has a dense population so it is “designated” solely for purposes of counting people. I had never heard of a CDP before.

Most of the neighborhoods I passed appeared to be built on old farms.  I say this because I saw very few native trees in the subdivisions. Usually builders leave a few trees standing when they clear the land.  Here, instead of old trees, every house sported one or two saplings in the yard.

The houses looked lonely in the waning afternoon sun as I arrived.  When I rang the doorbell, it sounded like hounds had been unleashed from hell.  The sidelight windows were covered with blinds, but I could hear dogs banging against them.  I heard not one dog barking, but three.  And there was a bird screeching as well. It was a comical sound to me.

Well, I thought, Mel doesn’t have to worry about being burglarized!

Turns out Mel only has two dogs, not three.  The third dog I heard was from next door.  And only one of them was throwing itself against the front windows!

She has two dogs, both quintessential mutts. Both are short-haired and medium sized.  The female has white fur with black spots on her legs, neck and belly, a sign that there’s some Dalmatian mixed in there somewhere.  The male is mostly black.  Even though they are not related, they both have brown spots above their eyes that look like eyebrows.

This morning I walked them around the neighborhood. There was not a soul about.  No commuter traffic, no service vehicles, nothing.  Certainly no one else out walking–it was 34 degrees with a harsh wind blowing.  Yet the dogs, even though both are short-haired, didn’t seem to mind in the least.  I think it’s true that mutts are hardy; these two certainly were.

We walked to the tot-lot and in the middle I saw something unusual.  A cemetery surrounded by a black metal fence.  A very old cemetery.  I could see less than a dozen headstones.  Most of them were so worn I could not make out the inscriptions.  The ones I could read dated back to the mid-1800’s– pre-Civil War.  The names were mostly the same–a family cemetery.  This confirmed my suspicion that this used to be a farm.  There was a sign outside the fence that read “Maddox Scott Cemetery.”

When I returned to the house I did some digging.  I hit paydirt almost immediately when I found a website with a list of cemeteries in Prince William County.  According to the website, there are more than 400 of them.

The description for the Maddox Scott cemetery said it contained 33 graves, but only eight with headstones.  The dates on the headstones ranged from 1826 to 1857.  The oldest person in the cemetery was 83, which was old for that time.  The youngest was 29.

Personally, I think its pretty cool to have a cemetery right in the subdivision.  I wonder, though, if all the residents feel the same way.  It reminded me a little of the movie Poltergeist.

And the three-legged dog?  His name is Foster.  Before Mel and her husband rescued him, he had been attacked by a gang of dogs and when he managed to escape, he was hit by a car. Yet you cannot tell he is missing a leg when you look at him from the front.  He stands with perfect balance.  He has a little hitch in his step when he walks, but when he runs, there’s not difference.

He, like his friend Shandy (the one who charged the blinds), is a sweetheart.  After we walked this morning, they both snuggled against me while I watched T.V.

Oh, and Shandy talks.  I just heard her.

Please no naked men in the men’s locker room

Billy showed me this comment card on our way out of the Y yesterday:

Someone else must have written the “OLD MEN DON’T KNOW BETTER.”   For some reason, this comment really ticked Billy off.  I didn’t understand why until we got into the car.  As we were driving home, Billy said:  “I shave naked in the locker room.” 

I understand now.  Billy is obviously one of the “excessive number of men” referenced in the comment.  Billy is not, of course, the one drying his hair.  He has no hair to dry.

“Why don’t you put on your underwear before you shave?” I asked.

“Because I get out of the shower, shave, put on my deodorant and then bet dressed.”

I get it.  It’s his routine.  He shaves naked at home too, but I don’t mind.   Billy is not about to change his routine because of some prude in the locker room.

Speaking of routines, I have settled into one also.  Billy and I go to the Y almost every day.  I feel good while I’m working out and for a couple of hours afterward, but then the endorphins drain away and I go back to feeling depressed and anxious.  I’ve been eating a lot of Tums lately for the anxiety.  I get chest pains when I’m anxious.

We have only had one viewing for our house.  One.  I guess it’s because of the snow.

My mother has found a new apartment and is marginally speaking to us again.

I’m looking for a new job, but it has to be on my terms– less stress.  Finding a new job is proving to be more difficult than I thought it would be.  I’d like to combine several part time jobs into a full time job:  some teaching, some free lance writing, and some legal work.  My therapist keeps saying I have a lot of options, but I wonder.

Perhaps I could get a job at the Y as an attendant in the men’s locker room.  

The Missing Years Part 3: The One

And all I ever needed was the one
Like freedom fields where wild horses run
When stars collide like you and I
No shadows block the sun
You’re all I’ve ever needed
Baby you’re the one*

Stupid me still went on to divorce Billy in 1991, but we kept in touch. What a patient man he was, waiting for me to come back to my senses while I had the adolescence I had missed when I was a teenager. 
In 1992, we got sued by the woman who had bought our house in New Kent.  It was a stupid case but we had to defend it.  We hired our friend Allan who happened to be a darn good litigator.
Billy and I sat together during the trial.  You might have to be a lawyer to appreciate this, but we got a directed verdict.  That means we did not have to put any witnesses on the stand or even present a defense.  Allan used the plaintiff’s own witnesses to destroy the her case through a simple, yet brilliant cross examination. 
Sitting next to Billy, realized how much I still loved him.  I also realized—finally–that it doesn’t matter what a person does for a living.  What matters is whether you love him and he loves you.   This man had stood by my side during my darkest time, even though we were no longer together as a couple.  When you have something that special and unique, you don’t throw it away.  
Thank goodness he took me back.  Perhaps it was because I still had great boobs back then.   Just kidding.  What’s even more amazing is that his family welcomed me back also.  They saw how much I had hurt Billy and they were understandably concerned that I would hurt him again. 
We got married a second time.  We keep that wedding date a secret and we celebrate our anniversary on our original wedding date, May 25.  
I got pregnant with our first child soon afterwards.  We have never hidden the Missing Years from our children; in fact I made a scrapbook about that time.  They don’t seem the least bit interested, however.  It happened before they were born, so as far as they are concerned, it’s irrelevant.   After all, the world starts when you are born. 
We made it through the Missing Years.  I think my current situation is just as bad, but Billy thinks the Missing Years were far worse.   One thing I know for sure is that this period will end and life will get better.   

* The One, lyrics by Bernie Taupin

Trip Report: Beaches Turks and Caicos

It’s paradise here where the sun meets the sea
There’s nothing to fear and so much to be
But soon I must go, say goodbye to it all
That homeland of mine is beginning to call
Return to Paradise, (c) 1978 Big Pig Music


The Way Way Back

If you get the chance to see The Way Way Back, see it.  It’s a fun movie.  It’s notable to me because Steve Carell plays the villain.  He has the same charming demeanor, but underneath he’s a jerk.  He was way too good at it.   Creepy, yet adorable at the same time.  Not many guys can pass this off.  Continue reading

The Missing Years, Part 2

The purpose of the Missing Years was to find a new man who was more compatible than Billy, or so I thought.  I dated a few guys and they were mostly jerks (not all of them).  One guy clearly had a checklist in his head and I could tell he was comparing me to the list during our date.   Apparently I didn’t measure up because at the end of the date he said “nice meeting you” and drove off.  That was that.  
I started to get depressed.   One night in early December I just wanted to sleep and forget about what a mess I had let my life become. 
I woke up the next morning to the sound of pounding on my door.  My secretary and paralegal came to check on me because I did not show up at work.   I think they had seen this coming.  They convinced me that I needed to be hospitalized.
Who do you think took me to the hospital that night?  Billy.  Who came to visit me every day while I was in the hospital?  Billy.  He took care of me even though I was in the process of divorcing him.  Now you know why I say I was such an idiot.  Billy is, hands down, the best person I have ever known. 
The first day in the hospital I received a phone call.  The general counsel of the company I worked for took the time to call me, one of his many lawyers, while I was in a mental hospital, to give me his personal support.  I will never forget that. 
The first night, I woke up and I could have sworn I saw a light shining into the room from the doorway.  Turns out it was just that.  The nurses checked all the rooms periodically during the night.  Creepy.
I spent 11 days in the hospital.   Even though I went in voluntarily, I could not get out until the doctors determined I was not a threat to myself.   So I spent the time convincing the doctors that I was not suicidal so they would let me go home.  
I can’t say being in the hospital helped.   I went home almost as depressed as when I went in.    
The only thing I learned while there was that the other patients in my ward were just like me.  All of were seemingly normal people struggling with issues that were too big to conquer without help. I think the time I spent in the lounge talking to the other patients did more good than the therapy sessions.
Some of you reading this may be wondering—should she be disclosing that she spent time in mental hospital when she needs to find a new job?  The answer is a resounding yes.   At my stage of life, a new employer needs to be prepared for what I am, warts and all. 
More importantly, I want to emphasize that depression is an illness like any other.  If I had been hospitalized for a broken leg or a heart attack, I would not be ashamed to talk about it.  I might not go out of my way to bring it up, but it is a fact.   And I am not ashamed.   It happened, it’s over, and it’s not likely to happen again.  I stay on my medications and see a therapist.   I have children who need me, a family that supports me, and a lot of friends who have stood by me.  Plus there’s also the thing about not pissing God off.  I really don’t want to do that.
Although I went looking for someone new during the Missing Years, what I found was me.  I started to do all the fun things things I wanted to do, but never felt I could for some reason. I went on my first cruise, went skiing at Park City and Vail, and took my first trip to Europe.  I stopped limiting myself.  
Growing up, we always talked about doing fun things, but we rarely did them.  I don’t know how many times my dad promised to take us to Europe, but of course he never did.  He always said we couldn’t afford it.  Yet he managed to visit Europe several times on his own. 
One day early in my career, I got onto the elevator with a colleague from my law firm, and a friend of his was also on the elevator.  They started talking and the friend said he had just returned from a ski trip to Austria.  Listening to him describe his trip, I thought to myself that I would never be able to do that. Why, I don’t know.  But thanks to my good friends Nancy and John from the Richmond Ski Club, I did just that a few years later.  I had always wanted to visit the Alps.  They were just as majestic as I had imagined, even more so covered with snow.  
Skiing in Europe is quite different from skiing in the U.S.  Unlike resorts in the U.S., the trails in Europe are not marked very well, I think because people are allowed to pretty much ski wherever they like.  Unlike the U.S, Europeans are not concerned about legal liability.  People don’t sue as much in Europe because in Europe, the loser pays the winner’s legal fees.  That discourages frivolous lawsuits.  Why don’t we do that in the U.S.?  Because in the U.S., the policy is to encourage free access to the court system.  It’s a double-edged sword.
I learned a lot about myself during the Missing Years.  I’m not an athlete but I didn’t let that stop me.  I was a terrible skier, but I did it anyway.  I had so much fun traveling with my friends, visiting new places, trying new food and enjoying the magnificent scenery from the tops of the Rockies and the Alps.  It was so worth it and I’m glad now that I said “yes” every time Nancy invited me on a trip.  Thank you, Nancy.   And thank you John.  I hope there are well-groomed trails and ski lifts with no lines in heaven. 
I learned how to take charge of my life while in Austria.  In Europe, people do not que up for the ski lift, buses, or anything else for that matter.  In the lift line, everyone sort of nudges themselves to the front of the line.  If you are not assertive, you get left behind.  I went to Austria with members of the Richmond Ski Club, and Richmonders are unfailingly polite.  For example, it is considered  bad form here to blow your car horn in traffic.  I once sat in line to pay a toll on I-95 while the woman at the head of the line got out of her car, walked around to the back, and retrieved her purse from the trunk so she could pay the toll.  No one honked at her.  We all sat there patiently waiting for her to find her money. 
So in Austria, a group of us Richmonders would get in “line” for the ski lift.  I would nudge my way forward, looking down at my skis to make sure I wasn’t running over anyone else’s skis.  When I got to the lift, I would look behind me and see the rest of my Richmond friends still at the back of the crowd!   There I was, getting onto the chair while my friends waited patiently for their “turn.”   When you see your chance, you gotta take it.  
On to Part 3:  Billy takes me back. 
Below– me on my first cruise.  1990.  Check out the gold lame jumpsuit.  Audrey recently wore it to a party as a joke!  It was pretty cool back then, or so I thought.