E-mail written to a friend in Texas, who had asked me to explain some of the convoluted circumstances of my sudden move to Oregon.

Subj: Sunday Evening
Date: 97-11
From: SecraT
To: A/T

 <<< I assume that you and your husband split up since i gather that you live in different cities--question--why are children not with you? was setting up the new circumstances something that made it impossible with them?? >>>

These are questions, A/T, that I will be asking myself for the rest of my life.

The pain of being apart from them is almost unendurable. There isn't an hour that goes by that I don't think about them, miss them, wonder what they're doing, wish I could see them, wish I could go back in time and undo all the damage I've caused in the last twelve months ...

... but the truth is that they are better off where they are. And -- at least for now -- I'm better off where I am. It's as simple and as complicated as that.

And as far as "setting up the new situation" goes ... [heavy sigh] ... it wasn't quite that well-organized a jailbreak, I'm afraid. It was more one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions, fueled by exhaustion and desperation and lots of cheap chablis, that you don't really plan in advance because then you might wind up doing nothing at all .... and at the time "doing nothing at all" seems a worse fate than any other conceivable outcome. If that makes any sense. (Which, of course, it doesn't ...)

When my Big Romance blew up on me last spring, I just sort of went haywire. I tried a lot of different things to get over it, including counseling, anti-depressants, primal SCREAM therapy (albeit mostly alone in the shower with the doors locked, as my next door neighbors glanced towards my bathroom window in alarm) ... but nothing seemed to help for very long.

By mid-June I was questioning the value of waking up alive the following morning.

By mid-August I was composing suicide letters in my head. Seriously. The pain had become that intolerable, I thought. (Now I think it might have just been a toxic combination of heartache, bad wine and zero sleep. But at the time it seemed pretty insurmountable.)

Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it -- a nice man from Oregon suddenly appeared on my cyber horizon at that precise point in time and offered me a way out ... one that didn't involve razor blades or sleeping pills, that is. He quite conveniently decided to fall in love with me (or with "SecraTerri" ... I'm not sure which) and within two weeks of our online meeting he announced that he was saddling up the white horse.

The morning of my sixteenth wedding anniversary I kissed my sleeping son goodbye, took a last look around my house, packed an overnight bag and went to my office, where I informed my boss that I would be taking "a late lunch." And I never went back.

The next morning I woke up in Oregon.

My family was devastated, of course. I was too numb for the first few weeks -- unable to believe I'd actually done such a thing -- to feel one way or the other. The grief has set in very gradually, in very subtle ways. Driving past a school, I'll suddenly feel a stabbing pain in my heart. And I can't even LOOK at a McDonald's without bursting into tears. I don't even want to think about the upcoming holidays.

My eldest daughter (she'll be 16 in a few days) considers me to be dead. "I have no mother," she wrote furiously in the one and only e-mail I've received from her since I left. I communicate with my other daughter (14) and my son (11) as often as I can, primarily through e-mail when I'm able to connect with a computer. They have forgiven me. They might even understand, a little: my unhappiness the last few years was hardly a family secret. But we are all a long, long way from being OK. And I know I am to blame for that.

In my worst moments I can hear Grandma V. on her deathbed seven years ago, holding my hand and whispering to me, "Terri Lynn .... you are a wonderful, wonderful mother." Her dying words were like a benediction then: now they are an indictment.

<<< it sounds like the split was full of pain and turmoil--I hope that you are healing nicely and that depression doesnt become a constant friend. >>>

The marriage was full of "pain and turmoil." The split has thus far been amazingly free of rancor. But then again we haven't even started the legal stuff yet, so I guess we'll just wait and see what happens. Details as they develop.

As far as healing is concerned, the only thing that really keeps my head from flying right off my shoulders these days is staying busy. The new job is an unbelievable blessing, not only because I can actually afford bus fare now but because it gives me something new to think about ... even if it IS something as uninspiring as knives.

The "very nice man from Oregon" and I discovered, within days of my moving into his cramped apartment, that we are not merely from different planets ... we're from completely different solar systems. (In MY solar system, no one gives a fuck whether or not you *burp* the goddamned Tupperware, for one thing.) I think we're both just counting the days until I can afford to pack my overnight bag and go ... but at least we're civil. And once a month or so we have sex ... or a really good pizza. Things could be worse.

(I think I'm going to be a eunuch in my next life.)

I turn forty in a couple of weeks. This is giving me something else to think about. In quieter, more level moments, that Grandma V. voice in my head tells me that it's possible that all this stuff has happened for a reason ... and that eventually I'm going to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Like a WRITER, maybe.

Anyway, that's all I have time to write for now. I truly am on borrowed time (AND a borrowed computer) these days, and if I don't turn over the keyboard right now I turn into a pumpkin. I will have you know that this is the longest e-mail I have written to ANYBODY in months, btw.

Thanks for listening .... and write whenever you can.

Love (so to speak) -

Terri

 

 

I HATED the job at the auto body shop, and quit after just one day. Luckily, something better came along shortly thereafter. 

E-mail to my mother:

 Subj: Employed Again ......... [applause]
Date: 11/10/97
To: kbeeson

Hi Mom.

Thought I'd let you know that I took the job at the knife company ... I start on Wednesday.

(This morning I went in and took a pre-employment drug test ... it's always fun peeing on your fingers at 9:00 in the morning, isn't it?! And unless *St. John's* Wort is considered an illegal substance, I should pass the test with flying colors. So to speak.)

Even though I know even LESS about knives than I did about auto body repair -- -- I'm actually happy about landing this job. The vibes felt *right,* the first time I walked into the place to interview, and I have a feeling that I'm going to like it there. It's going to be mostly front office/customer service/data entry to start, but I'm going in with the (expressed) expectation of enhanced responsibilities in the not-too-distance future. Hours are M-F, 8:30-5, twenty minutes on the bus (each way) ... pay isn't fabulous but it's enough for now ... all things considered, I'm feeling optimistic about this.

HOWEVER .... until I've been there for a few days & I know for sure that it's going to work out this time, I don't want it made public knowledge just yet. [Call me superstitious.] This weekend, if it turns out as well as I believe it will, I'll write to Ray and the kids and let them know where I'm working & when they can expect some money out of me.

In other news, Kacie sent me a rather cryptic little e-mail yesterday, asking for "grama's screen name." I wrote her back saying that as far as I know you don't have a screen name, but gave her your Internet e-mail address. Have you heard from her?

How is everything else going? Any interesting news about/from any of my siblings?

I would love to write more, but Tim will be home momentarily & I'll have to forfeit the 'puter over to him. Just wanted you to know that I'm a little closer to getting my life in order. Details to follow, after I've been there for a day or three.

I love you a bunch.

Talk to you soon.

T.L.

 

Every once in awhile I would get an e-mail like this from one of the kids … The Ex-Husband, sending ominous messages to me via The Tots:

Subj: hey
Date: 97-11-10 18:01:57 EST
From: Daughter #2
To: SecraT

dad wants you to call him as soon as you can cuz dad has got a longggg list of bills and ya might want to talk to him while hesin a good mood which is today cuz hes off work.

 

kacie

  

Heard from my son finally, after another prolonged silence.

Subj: shut your trap!!!!
Date: 97-11-10 22:02:59 EST
From: Son #O
To: SecraT

ssoorrrryy! I have a social life you know. plus kacies been bogarten the computer. i miss you to. i hope i get to see you soon. Me and everybody else have tomorrow off so give us a call if you get a chance.Im doing good in school still just incase you where wondering. i think of you alot to.

 

love

your little turd.

 

My response:

Subj: Re: shut your trap!!!!
Date: 11/11/97
To: Son #O

In a message dated 97-11-10 22:02:59 EST, you write:

<< I'm doing good in school still just in case you where wondering. >>

Well OF COURSE I've been "wondering" about that. I "wonder" about everything about your life these days .... how you're doing in school, what you do for fun, who you hang out with this year, how you're feeling, what your plans are for the future, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. ETC. I will ALWAYS be interested in hearing all that kind of stuff.

And I'm not a bit surprised to hear it, by the way. Didn't I tell you that sixth grade was gonna be your year?

I wish I could write more, but I've got a ton of stuff to do tonight & I can't hang around on the computer ... maybe later in the week, when things settle down a little. And I will try to call sometime soon. I miss the sound of your voice.

Love you.

Mom

  

My mother was happy to hear about my latest new job.

Subj: Tuesday Morning
Date: 11/11/97
To: kbeeson

 <<< Glad to hear about the job. I hope it works out and gives you a chance to get your feet back under you. >>>

Thank you. I'm getting really excited today: none of that awful sense of foreboding I felt a couple of weeks ago, before starting the J & M Auto job.

Something tells me I'm supposed to be working at this place ... just as something tells me I was supposed to wind up here in Oregon.

Destiny unfolding?

Love you.

Terri

 

An e-mail to my friend Mike in Chicago.

Subj: Nothing Much
Date: 11/13/97
To: Mike

Hi M.

Just checking in, after two days at (the knife company).

I'm sort of the receptionist, I guess ... although at my elegantly-advanced age I guess I would rather describe my position as "Communications Facilitator." Or perhaps "Lobby Empress."

The good news about my first two days? I've only hung up on one caller.

(The bad news is that it was the owner of the company, calling from his business meeting in New York. HEL-lo.)

Anyway. I just got home, I'm absotively exhausted, and all I want to do is crawl into a giant bowl of soup and drink a bath. More or less in that order.

T.

 

A rare *real* journal entry.

Saturday. November 22, 1997

Crawled out of bed just after 5 a.m. this morning, hoping to carve out a little private writing time in front of the computer while Tim was sleeping. Unfortunately, AOL chose this particular morning to shut down the e-mail system -- plus, Tim heard me after awhile and insisted on milling around in the kitchen directly behind me -- so I wound up writing a couple of quick, unsatisfying "hi-how-are-ya" letters to Mom and the kids and throwing them into the "Send Later" bin. Now Tim is pouting in the bedroom because I expressed some desire to write in solitude. He doesn't seem to understand my need to be alone occasionally, let alone my hunger for writing. This is a situation that has always existed but is getting profoundly worse, now that I'm working fulltime and have almost no opportunity to enjoy either.

 

Thanksgiving letter I wrote to The Tots.

Subj: Ten Things I'm Thankful For This Year ... By *Mom*
Date: 11/27/97
To: Daughter #1, Daughter #2, Son #Only

My darling dears.

Here are ten things I'm giving thanks for this Thanksgiving ... besides the fact that 1997 is almost OVER, I mean.

1. Caffeine. It's cheap, it's legal, and it makes getting up at 5:30 a.m. somewhat tolerable.

2. The fact that EVERYBODY in Oregon shops at Value Village, so MOM fits right in.

3. "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba.

4. Tobler's Chocolate Oranges.

5. Bus drivers who do not in fact kill me totally dead when I accidentally whack them in the head with my broken umbrella.

6. "Ally McBeal"

7. The Clackamas County Library System, which quite trustingly (and stupidly) issued Terri Polen a library card the first week I was in town. Apparently their computer system isn't linked to the KING COUNTY Library System.

8. Daughter #1 ... whose hobbies (according to her AOL profile) appear to include "pimpin her ho's," "hot boxing" (I don't even wanna KNOW what that is ... sheesh) and the demise of some unfortunate soul named "Whitey." But it's nice to see that she's also into a nice normal hobby like horticulture, as evidenced by her interest in "shrooms." Maybe I could send you some fungus from Oregon to add to your collection ... ?

9. Daughter #2 ... whose AOL profile proudly informs me that she is involved in something called "I.O.R.G I.O.J.D." (OK, I give up. "Is Oscar's Raisin Gasping Insanely Or Just Deflating?" "I Ordinarily Raise Guava In Other Japanese Driveways?") I notice that Pepper, like her sister Pimp, is preoccupied with making sure that "Whitey" bites the big one. I don't know who Whitey is or what he did to get on everybody's bad side, but my suggest is that he enlist Kizzy as a bodyguard ASAP.

10. Son #Only ... "There is no profile for Son #Only." Hmmmm. Did Son #O watch "Secrets of the Great Magicians Revealed" and inadvertently cause his profile to disappear??

Love you turkeys. Happy Thanksgiving ... wish I was there to dribble cranberry sauce all over the computer keyboard in person.

Talk to you soon.

****Mom****

 

Sent this to my closest cyber pals.

Subj: A Big Rambling Grouchy Mess Of A Thanksgiving *E
Date: 11/27/97

 Hey there, hi there, ho there.

Thanksgiving morning, and I've been sitting here in front of the 'puter since my *beloved* left for work at 5:30 a.m.

My *Beloved*:  "You getting up or staying in bed?"

Me: (standing in FRONT of him in the KITCHEN, forcryingoutloud) "Uh .. I believe I'm 'up,' wouldn't you say?"

M*B*: "Put the turkey back in the fridge in a couple of hours."

Me: "If it doesn't thaw out we could use it for a bowling ball."

M*B*:

  

[sound of door closing, followed immediately by screechy modem noises]

  

It's like we've been married for fourteen and a half years already: we have nothing in common, we irritate the shit out of each other, and we never kiss anymore. I might as well be back in Tic Tac.

[first SIGH of the e-mail]

The other night after he picked me up from work, he dragged me to G.I. Joes   ...  my absolute LEAST favorite store in the universe. I was exhausted and cranky, I had just finished a ten hour work day, and all I wanted to do was go home and get my shoes off .. but that was gonna have to wait, apparently. Ostensibly we were going there to "look at gloves" for me, but I knew we were really going there to visit his fucking dual-mantle Coleman lantern ($49.99) again, as we do at least three or four times a week. And then of course we also had to "visit" the goddamned automotive section (GMC roof rack, $59.68) .... the goddamned firearms section (#15 belt clip/gun holster, $19.99) .... the goddamned WORM BAR (Plunkums, nineteen cents a lb.) .... ad nauseum. He has to "visit" this stuff a minimum of 3,465,019 times before he actually in fact PURCHASES anything, apparently. I always just sorta stand there and plan mix tapes in my head or something while he's looking at all of this mind-numbingly-boring guy crap of his. But this time I decided to try and do something cute, so when he came around the aisle there I stood wearing a red plastic gas funnel ($1.89) atop my head.

M*B*: "I'm going to go look at chains."

  

Sigh.

  

I dunno. He doesn't appear to be charmed or amused or even remotely turned-on by anything I say or do. At first I thought I was doing something "wrong" -- maybe a guy DOESN'T in fact like to come home from work and find his girlfriend standing there in a little green nightgown, fresh out of the tub & waiting for him. Who knows? But the more time that passes ... the more that I'm ignored and scolded and barely tolerated ... the less I care.

I've been thinking about this lately, and you know what? I think I got my first red flag during the drive down here from Seattle, but I was too knotted-up emotionally to pay attention. We were sitting in a Taco Bell in Vancouver, WA, and suddenly I dipped my finger into a little container of hot sauce and dabbed a little blob of it onto his nose, just for fun. He wiped it off, visibly startled and annoyed, and basically we didn't speak to each other for the next hour or so. I shoulda known right then and there: any guy who doesn't like food smeared on his face in a public restaurant is probably gonna turn out to own a lot of John Tesh CD's and plain white Fruit Of The Looms. (And I would have been right.)

I just really haven't ever been made to feel like I belong here, I guess. I tried to integrate some of my *stuff* into this apartment, right after I moved in, but it was clear from his constipated reaction that he didn't appreciate the 'Grilla postcards on his bulletin board, the photos of the Tots hanging on his bedroom wall or Grandma V.'s antique canning jars atop his fridge. So I quietly packed 'em all up, and now if you walked into this place you could swear that this man lives alone.

Which he does, more or less. He just doesn't realize it.

It's becoming clear to me that we are not only from different planets: we are from different SOLAR SYSTEMS. I mentioned the other day that I'd been working at Benchmade Knife Company for two weeks and I'd never once gotten a phone call from him, not even just to say "hi" or "how ya doing." So that afternoon he called me at my office ... to inform me that I'd "forgotten" to open the living room blinds so his plants could get some light. (I'd say that 99% of our conversations revolve around the things that I've "forgotten" to do. The Tupperware. The blinds. Setting the alarm for a.m. instead of p.m. Taking the ground beef out of the freezer. Using the squeegee on the shower door in the morning. Rinsing out the empty pop cans before I tenderly & reverently put them into the recycling bin. Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.)

I've quit asking him to call me at work.

Oh well. Not sure why I felt compelled to go off on THAT subject.

I'm honestly beginning to think that I would be happier living alone. I sorta have this vision of myself living in a dinky dark little apartment with nothing but a sleeping bag, a telephone and a computer ... and the interesting thing is, the vision looks wayyy better than my real life.

Maybe next year. Or next LIFE.

In the meantime ... I just tune him out. Thank god for headphones -- and library books.

And yes, we're sorta having Thanksgiving today, although I wouldn't go so far as to label it a celebration. I got a free turkey from work, so he's decided to go ahead & cook us both dinner this afternoon when he gets home from Starbucks. As usual, I'm not allowed to do any of the cooking. Never mind the fact that I cooked for a family of five for ten years: this is "his" kitchen, just like it's "his" apartment and "his" computer and "his" this & that, and I'm allowed to stand on the sidelines and cheer him on but god help me if I try to do any of it myself.

So I'm gonna read a book. Then I'll eat some turkey, and then I'll go to bed. (Alone, probably.)

The hardest part about Thanksgiving this year, of course, is not being with the Tots. Jaymi called me the other night -- Daughter # "I Have No Mother" -- sorta out of the blue. It was the first real conversation we've had since August, cordial but not particularly intimate or anything, just a lot of "how are you?, how's the job?" back & forth sorta stuff. She was calling from her cell phone, and it sounded like she might have had a drink or four, but I wasn't about to make an issue out of it. She was CALLING me: that's all that mattered. My heart was beating a bazillion miles a minute, I was so excited, but I deliberately kept things light and casual so I wouldn't scare her off. I was high on that phone call for three days afterward. Today I'm back to feeling a little blue, but like I said it's probably because I'm not with the kids for the holidays (nor will I be for Christmas).

The job is helping to keep my head from flying right off my shoulders, at least. I find it ironic (and humbling) that I'm doing exactly the same stuff -- answering phones and making coffee -- that I was doing twenty years ago, when I first began my "office career." Mentally challenging, it ain't. And the money is slightly less than inspiring. But I'm gonna hang in and try to build up some local employment history (and maybe actually stay at a job long enough to qualify for the medical benefits) before I start thinking about looking for something better.

Which reminds me. Remember me yammering on & on about consortium testing? That simply means that various county or state agencies pool their personnel departments and provide one employment testing service for all prospective employees to use. The day before I got the Benchmade Knife Co. job, I took the bus to downtown Portland and took the test, a rather lengthy (and amazingly difficult, even though I studied my ass off) combination of typing, language, computer, math and office procedure exams. I was nervous as hell .... but I knocked their socks off. I scored a whopping 98 percent, across the board. Even *I* was amazed at how well I did. And now I'm eligible for any county or state office positions that become available ... although of course now I'm sorta stuck at Benchmade for awhile, but it's nice to know that if or when I want to look for something better, I'm going to more than qualify. Y'know?

(Terri = Tooting Her Own HORN For A Moment ......)

I was looking at a college catalog this week, btw -- actually it's a community college, a couple of blocks from my office -- and there's a Fiction Writing class starting winter quarter (in January), Wednesday nights, that I am seriously giving some thought to enrolling in. It would give me something besides work & Tim to think about, for one thing. It might force "him" to acknowledge the fact that I a.) need to use the computer once in a while and b.) that I really do need to write, even if it's "only" for school. And it might actually motivate me finally. What do you think? Age 40 too old to finally decide whut I want to be when I grow up?

Anyway .... thanks for wading through this mess. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving weekend.

Love

Terri

  

Day-after-Turkey-Day missive written to all three Tots. I was absolutely thrilled that Daughter #1 was speaking to me again, although I downplayed it a little … I didn’t want to overwhelm her or scare her off.

Subj: The Day After Thanksgiving
Date: 11/28/97
To: Daughter #1, Daughter #2, Son #O

Morning, everyone.

Looked for you guys online a few times yesterday. How was your Turkey Day?

Today I've got to run some annoying errands (including opening a bank account & getting my OREGON Driver's License ... remember last time I tried to get a license??). Then I plan to spend the rest of the weekend doing as little as humanly possible.

Drop me a line and let me know what's going on in P.ville. (Christmas lists from you girls would be nice -- Kyle already sent me his -- or would you rather just have $?)

I'll try and write more, a little later.

Love you ..

Mom

 

 

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