Category Archives: Moving Forward

Having It All

Recently, I asked a friend of mine how many breakups he endured before he got married.

He thought for a moment.

“About eleven,” he answered, matter-of-factly. “I remained friends with just one of them.”

My heart sank. A couple of months ago I ended my second post-divorce relationship. It was a good, brief courtship that simply could not withstand distance. It didn’t end as dramatically as my marriage, or as passionately as things did with my first boyfriend. There was no fight, nothing. It just went away with a phone call.

Afterward, I dutifully prepared myself for a roller coaster of emotions and the five stages of grief. When it finally hit, I felt (in no particular order) relieved, frustrated, listless, sad, depressed, numb and raging angry. I burst into tears on sidewalks and airplanes. I had put everything into this new relationship and it didn’t work out. I cut myself off from social media. Then I cut him off. I deleted any and all evidence we existed as a couple. That was the saddest part.

I now feel resolved.

And, for the love of God, I cannot imagine having to go through this nine more times.

*****

I just so happen to be in Los Angeles for the album release show and party with Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses, so I figured I’d pay a visit to my shrink.

I’ve been seeing my therapist five years now – from the initial discovery of my husband’s affair(s) to the very day my earthly belongings left on a moving truck across the country. She’s seen it all. Lately, our visits have been jovial and celebratory.

“I’m really proud of you,” she told me in March. “You’re a miracle.”

This morning, I sat in the center of the familiar floral couch and shared the latest news: gorgeous apartment a block from Central Park, breakup, Japan tour with Brian Setzer and new album and tour with Louis Prima, Jr. I verbally processed how, since moving to New York over a year ago, my lifestyle has become less stable (for lack of a better term), but I now have a solid home base in the city I have always wanted to live.

I have been greatly hashtag blessed with my home, career and community. One thing is still missing, however. I want to share my life with a partner.

“I just don’t know how I will ever meet anyone,” I mused. “I am on the road a lot. I refuse to date online. I did it for years and hated it. I tried a long-distance relationship and it crashed and burned.”

My therapist nodded her head.

“My hope for you,” she said, “is that you’ll meet someone who has his own thing going on, and, at the same time, is flexible and supportive.”

I hummed in agreement, but left thinking, No such man exists.

*****

There’s a huge part of me that is annoyed and angry that I am such a dynamic and talented person. It feels weird to write that without sounding narcissistic, but it’s my truth. For example, if I weren’t so passionate about — and good at! — singing, I wouldn’t be on the road so much. If I were less independent, opinionated, divorced or foul-mouthed and a bit more submissive, googy-eyed and/or mousey, I might land a date with a guy from Christian Mingle who isn’t threatened by my accomplishments, or very presence.

Perhaps if I had a “real” job I’d have time to join a community group at my church in NYC and finally meet someone in the city, get married and have babies. But I won’t do it. I won’t quit what I love just because it’s what everyone else is doing. Other women my age are corralling their two toddlers while the newborn sleeps soundly in a sling tightly wound against their breast. Their husbands still gaze after them adoringly and actually write Facebook posts about how much they love their wives of two, six, 15 or 20 years.

Interestingly enough, neither my ex-husband nor two ex-boyfriends ever acknowledged a relationship with me on social media. No photos. No kissy-face pictures. No adoring posts. Nothing.

The bright side is this: it took less than a minute to erase the relationship and “unfriend” these men I loved. Realistically, I do not believe in the staying power of acknowledging relationships over social media. People come and go, which is why we should all choose our “friends” carefully. As C.S. Lewis says, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” I’m talking to you, serial Facebook-relationshippers.

A true relationship doesn’t need social media to acknowledge, strengthen or sustain it.

*****

Today, I do not believe I can have it all. Based upon experience, I do not actually believe I can have a successful career as a singer and have a family at the same time. It only realistically works for Gwen Stefani and Beyonce, and they were already rich and famous before they met their also-rich and famous husbands.

I am not sure if I believe, at present, there is a man in this world capable of being my partner. Dating is like playing a game of darts with a bunch of squirrely teenagers. They keep trying to hit the bullseye, but their aim and technique is staggeringly immature; unfocused. The result? Consistently off-mark. And I lack patience for the players to become skilled at the game.

Perhaps I still have a lot of work and self-reflection to do. Well, go ahead and throw all the clichés and Christianese talk in the world at me. Tell me how much you think my life is cool. How hashtag blessed I am. How the grass is always greener. I will not argue with you. Yet, at the end of the day, I go to bed alone. My eggs are dying. I am starting to feel jaded. I certainly feel duped. At the same time, life does not owe me a damn thing.

So, right now, if I had to pick one, I choose my career. It’s all I’ve got. Christian Mingle can go fuck itself.

*****

Where is God in all your complaining, Leslie?

Listen, I don’t mean to complain. I prefer to think of it as verbal processing. I try to encourage myself with phrases such as, “This, too, shall pass.”

Jesus never said that, by the way. It’s just another cocktail of Christianese to numb the pain.

I’ll take a double, please. Neat.

Here’s what I do believe today:

  • God is in control. He has never abandoned nor disappointed me. I am not going to live anything less than a full life, even if — or when —  I want more. God is like the ultimate chiropractor. If I’m willing, He’ll adjust me so I’m walking straight again.
  • The two relationships I had post-divorce were real, beautiful and worth every moment, even the breakup grief. I am finally learning you can love someone and let them go. You don’t have to marry every person you love. It’s an amazing concept. I wish I had grasped it years ago.
  • I’m most likely 100% wrong about not having it all. You can have it all when you surrender your hopes, dreams and desires into the capable, loving hands of God, Himself. He may not give you what you want, when you want it, but He knows what you need. He can change your heart. He can mold your desires. You just have to be pliable.

I don’t think I’m ever going to stop desiring a successful career, a partner in this life to love, honor and cherish me (and I him!) and a family. It’s okay to want those things. Hope (and humor!) is what keeps me going. Even if that day comes and I meet a good man who will choose to lead me on the dance floor of life, I guarantee I’m going to continue to want more (I’ll start with a Grammy, please!).

After all, it’s what makes me endearingly human.

Dear 21-Year-Old Leslie

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Dear 21-Year-Old Leslie,

I came across a bunch of your journal entries today. I read through your pre-marital struggles, your very evident unhappiness in your two-year engagement to X, your breakup, re-engagement and your enabling and tolerance of his wishy-washiness about you, from early on.

I wish you would have had the strength to stay broken up with him, from the very minute he had doubts about you. I wish you would have heeded your instincts. I wish you would have truly believed what you wrote about knowing you could be happy without him; knowing you deserved better.

I wish you had never married him.

But you did, because you loved him. And that’s okay. I want you to know 36-year-old Leslie forgives you. Your struggles, your cries to God even this very day are similar. You crave love and partnership, but I’m proud of you for finally standing up for yourself. I’m proud of the woman you have become. I’m sorry for the pain and suffering that got you here, but I’m really glad you made it.

I want you to know it’s okay to have loved and lost. It’s good to love people. It’s okay to open your heart and be vulnerable. It’s scary and painful, but it’s better than the alternative, which C.S. Lewis so beautifully illustrates:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

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Leslie, I want to encourage you to keep believing in yourself. Keep moving forward. Look where God has brought you! Look at the cherry blossoms blooming in your gorgeous New York City apartment. You have prayed and longed for this city for years. And now you are here. It took time, heartache, tears and a massive leap of faith, but you are right where you are supposed to be.

Keep believing. Keep loving. Keep trusting your gut. Keep trusting the Lord.

God’s got you. He’s never going to let you go.

Love,

Me

New Me in New York, Part Deux

I’ve been in New York for two weeks now.

Even in winter, it’s everything wonderful I remember: towering architecture, flashing marquees, glowing stage lights and bright, yellow taxicabs; crowded subways and quaint cafes filled with people from all walks of life. The bustling noise and busyness is always offset by a quiet, wooden park bench, and the harsh wind and cold, made warmer by the coo of a lone dove perched on the fire escape.

I love this city with all my heart.

I’m staying in my friends’ apartment in West Harlem, while they are away for several weeks. A couple of months ago, while I lay sick in my bed in Pasadena, I declared over social media I was going to allow people to love me this year. Almost immediately, I received a phone call. My friends responded with, “Come to New York, stay in our place and pay what you can. And by ‘what you can’ — even if we don’t get a dime, it’s okay.”

I burst into tears, accepted their more-than-generous offer, and started packing.

Here I am, and I even survived – I’d say frolicked in — the big blizzard of 2013.

I heart blizzards.

I heart blizzards.

There is always beauty after the storm.

There is always beauty after the storm.

It’s hard to not project into the future, however. I started looking for apartments so I can live on my own, but quickly got discouraged because I can’t afford it. I’ve been auditioning as much as I can, but nothing happens overnight. I need work, and badly. I want so desperately to be able to support myself and really make this happen. I am determined to not have to move back to Los Angeles, with my tail tucked between my legs, and nothing to show for my time here.

I’ve been given a second chance and do not want to fail.

*****

I’ve lived in New York City before. I moved four years ago, on February 13, 2009.  X accompanied me on the plane ride out, for I didn’t want to go alone. I was still reticent about the decision we had made – and prayed for – together, but somehow I knew it was a huge step forward in my life.

We arrived at JFK and lugged my three tattered suitcases through the subway, towards Morningside Heights (Harlem). The same couple housing me now had offered their couch for a couple of weeks while I waited for the room I had rented in Queens to be available.

As we crossed the threshold into my friends’ tiny apartment, I immediately felt at home; peace.

X and I sat down on the blue, velvet couch and sipped homemade coffee with our friends. We all marveled at how I had finally arrived in New York, with a job, and an opportunity to shoot for the stars — at least for six months. I complained about having to swing the off-Broadway show I was in (I want to go back and slap my entitled attitude!), and worried about how I’d manage a six-month separation from my beloved husband.

The answer was simple: we’d endure. It was only six months. The potential opportunities were worth the possible struggle of loneliness and separation.

Yet, those six months – February to August, 2009 – were the cruelest, saddest and loneliest times I have ever experienced in my life.

“I love you more than anything, Leslie,” X reassured me, after we had finished our coffee, and were waiting on the curb for his airport cab to arrive, to take him back to Los Angeles.

I kicked a chicken bone out from under the heel of my boot and brushed the tears from my eyes.

“I hate the thought of not being with you,” I cried. “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and your unwavering support and encouragement means the world to me. I could not do this without you. I honestly couldn’t have dreams without you, because I think you believe in me more than I believe in myself.”

“I support you one million percent,” X replied.  “I will hate being away from you, too, but we’ll make it work. After all, we love each other and are most important to each other.”

The cab arrived. My husband hugged me, slid his tall, thin frame into the back seat, and drove away. I would see him in New York just once more in the following six months. Little did I know then, I had already lost him.

*****

Four years later – I have gained a whole new me.

As I have wandered the city these past two weeks, I know I am different.  I feel it.  I may be alone, but alone doesn’t necessarily mean lonely. I have bigger dreams than I ever had the courage to dream before.  I feel calm. Humbled. Confident. Expectant. Excited. My future has never been more unsteady or unsure, but I know it will be all right.

I am not worried about failing.  Just by being in this vibrant city this very moment, and every millisecond that follows — for however long I am able to remain – I have already succeeded.

Lost Entry

I’m moving to New York in less than two weeks.

It’s surreal. It’s terrifying. It’s beyond exciting, it’s crazy, and it’s about time. I’m packing up my beloved, cozy Pasadena apartment – the place I have healed from my divorce for the past two years – and cramming it all into a 5×10 storage unit. A week from Monday I will board a plane with a suitcase, my book of audition songs, a pair of really good heels, my computer and a huge-ass smile.

I am going back. 

Since I made the firm decision to go just four days ago, I have little time to pack and move out.  Last night, my friend Lisa came over to help me sort and toss things I don’t – and didn’t ever – need.  For example, I have a plethora of Post-It notes and an abundance of Scotch tape. I have rusted tools I don’t even know how to use, and I’ve kept a box full of tax returns dating all the way back to 1999.

Lisa opened up a bottle of ironic red wine and we got to work. Her task was to organize the Scotch tape. Mine was to sort and toss documents.

When I moved out of my house in April 2010, I made a point to keep only important or necessary things regarding my marriage (original marriage license; tax returns and receipts; mortgage and divorce papers).  Still blinded by hurt, betrayal and raw emotion, I threw away almost anything else that reminded me of X and our marriage. I couldn’t bear even his handwriting in my new apartment.

I wanted all evidence of him in my life, gone.

I opened the box containing the ancient tax returns and found a mid-sized, bright, red notebook. I almost tossed it, sight unseen, but was more curious as to why my 2010 self had saved it.

I flipped it open, and took a sip of my wine. The first several pages contained audition information dating back to 2002. I wrote down every audition I had – including the Brian Setzer Orchestra (which had “BOOKED!!!” and a huge smiley face written all over it). Each successful page contained evidence of my marriage: scribblings on paint colors for each room in our house, a home repair “To-Do” list, plans for a happy dive vacation X and I took to Panama in 2005, and then, suddenly, notes from my first, desperate phone call to our marriage counselor, concerns about leasing our home, and a preliminary division of debt and assets.

For having covered so many years of our 10-year marriage, the notebook was only half full.  The last writing contained a journal entry I don’t even remember penning.

I gasped as I scanned the pages.

“Lisa! Listen to this,” I exclaimed, as I set my wine glass down on the coffee table.

I leaned forward and began to read, aloud, the carefully printed lost entry.

October 4, 2009

I feel like having sex with X displays total weakness. I need it, and he gets it, but he doesn’t have to work very hard at — or for — it.  There’s still no sign of emotional consequences for his actions. I don’t doubt at all he thinks of her while he is having sex with me.  He doesn’t even really kiss me – and this new way he kisses is extremely different, which means he kissed her A LOT and apparently was taught not to slobber anymore. It makes me beyond angry to think that my husband’s lover taught him anything.  She was 14 years old when X and I got married.  I wish he would have done her then and gone to jail.

But I am weak.  I am getting what I want, too, and if I can pretend he’s actually really into me, it’s a good day. I don’t feel so rotten and ugly and rejected.

X leaves for Spain tomorrow. I don’t even know when he will be back. No doubt he’ll pine after his lover – with all those romantic places and it being Europe and all. I don’t doubt there will be many a Spanish, Portuguese or Brazilian girl to catch his eye, and with his [male] companion there will be late nights and lots of parties.

Perhaps X won’t be tempted, but he certainly won’t be thinking about me. Me, the last person on his mind for the past six months.  Yeah, it’s going to take time. What a rotten predicament. He’s the first person on my mind and I’m the absolute last on his.  I feel like the nerdy, zitty, overweight teenager who is desperately in love with the popular, attractive and charming athlete – who doesn’t even know she exists.

X is barely aware of my existence.  My own husband doesn’t notice me.

So I have given in and given him his needs and he gives back nothing but a hug or an arm touch here and there.  What a stupid fool I am.  Stupid, stupid fool. Thinking I can desperately try to get him to notice me, love me, need me, miss me – those days are over and another person has taken that place.  I am cast aside like yesterday’s garbage. Maybe there’s something worth salvaging in the stinking, rotting trash can but there’s always something new or better where that came from.

I have no pride. I am totally broken.  God, my only hope is in You. I still believe You can/will redeem my relationship with X, and I confess my total impatience. I also can’t force anything to happen.  People don’t change, which absolutely includes me. He got tired of me and my “deal” and found, quickly, someone to take my place. And that connection is still stronger to him than anything he or I ever had because I am too familiar, too predictable, too blasé.  Too “moral”.  Too Christian.

All X can see is his career. Now I know what it felt like for him when I was in New York.  It’s like some sort of cruel payback.

“Oh, God, you are my God. Earnestly I seek You.  My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You. In a dry and weary land, where there is no water…” (Psalm 63:1)

“People,” says God’s wisdom, “do not expect either truth or consolation from other people. It is I who made you and I alone can teach you what you are.” ~Blaise Pascal

God, I feel like I am a walking contradiction. I am totally impatient for X – I so desperately want him to fall in love with me again and love me more fiercely and passionately than ever, yet I neglect my relationship with You in the process. No matter how much X rejects or hurts me I keep coming back for more. I concentrate on his unfaithfulness yet I am doing the exact same thing to You.  I have been unfaithful all the while, to You.

God, I still pray for wisdom and strength; hope and trust.  Just because X utters the words, “I love you,” and has sex with me does not mean he is faithful or true.

I want so much to believe him.

God, I pray for this trip he is taking to Spain. It could be the culmination of everything good and healing; of redemption, else it will just be a continuation of the same old story; of limbo.

But that is for him. Not me.

God, I seek You and trust that X will return to You (and me); I fervently pray for him; that You would protect him from the predictable, yet devastating wiles of the devil.

It does seem as if X has taken some steps forward – third time’s a charm! – but I am still hesitant to believe or trust him fully.  I want to.  I want our marriage to survive. And so I will commit to it and trust that You, Lord – You alone will move mountains and redeem us.  I want my marriage to be beautiful and holy. But I might be the only one at this point.

Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of the heavenly realms.”

God, have mercy.

* * * * *

God did have mercy. Additionally, He showered me with His love, kindness, goodness and grace. Because of Him, it has been revealed how strong, worthy and beautiful I truly am.

I am never cast aside. I will always be noticed. I will always be loved.

I want so much to travel back in time and tell my hurt, betrayed, dejected self everything will eventually be more than all right.  That is not to say times will have been easy. Even as the pain and memories have faded, my divorce will always be a small part of who I am.

I surprised myself last night when, in addition to the lost entry, I found one of the very first (and only remaining) pictures I have of X and I together.  We were standing on a beach in Santa Barbara, holding one another and grinning from ear to ear.  It was obvious we were happy in love. Both my arms were wrapped around him, tightly.

I stared at his face, then mine, and his again. And I remembered, even last night, how I loved that boy. My first love.

I felt a strange sensation in my chest, and my throat tightened.

“Oh, my goodness, I’m going to cry,” I admitted, slightly embarrassed.  I passed the picture to Lisa.

“It’s OK to cry,” she soothed, as the water welled up in my eyes.  “You knew, even then, who he truly was.”

I nodded my head and allowed the tears to wet my cheeks.

“I did. That – I pointed to his fresh, smooth, familiar and happy face – “is the X I knew and loved, and want to remember.”

I dried my brief tears, and carefully returned the picture to its original envelope. I then placed it into the deep recesses of the accordion file, along with the single person tax returns I do need to save, for a few more years. It will all go into storage, until it’s time to move again.

And so, my life continues to catapult forward.  This new adventure upon which I am about to embark is a huge leap of faith; a swan dive into the unknown.

One thing is for certain, however: God is with me. He was with me then, He is with me now, and He will be with me in the days, weeks, months, years and eternity to come.

Lines in the Sand

I am home again.

After wrapping an incredible six-week Christmas tour via national television on December 23rd, I spent one night in my own bed. I awoke the next morning, sprawled as far sideways across the sheets as possible. Bleary-eyed, I glanced at the clock and realized I had slept for 13 hours straight. I chuckled to myself, and was grateful to have slept, deeply.

It wasn’t but a day before I was on the road again.  This time, it was for a week-long, desert camping trip.

I was invited and warmly welcomed by Joy, Micah and a troupe of their loyal, down-to-earth, yet adventurous friends. We did nothing but eat, drink, play cards, and giggle and groan at bad Lifetime movies.

We also sped across miles of sand dunes in really fast cars.

It’s the most exciting feeling, riding in a souped-up dune buggy. Most of these guys have been off-roading for years.  They all know which lines in the sand to follow; what gear the rail must be in to accelerate into a wheelie going downhill on a dune, and they can even shift, mid-air, with nothing but the back tires gripping into the soft, unpredictable sand.

I want to ride in the fastest car with the craziest driver.  And I do.

As a passenger, I scream with delight (sometimes terror), clap my hands and chew the sand that instantly sticks in my teeth.

It takes experience and wisdom to maneuver the dunes, but more than that, it takes absolutely no fear. The minute a driver second-guesses is the most dangerous moment for everyone.  Sometimes the sand peaks into the most daunting, steep mountain, and you cannot see what’s on the other side.  The minute you peer over the crest, you may find a gentle, easy edge, or a sharp cliff that can immediately turn into a plummeting hole.

Once you find a deep, soft bowl, however, safety abounds. You can go as fast as your heart desires, drift across the sand into sharp turns and truly trust your wheels, driver and leader — because you can see exactly where you are going.

Imperial Dunes at Glamis

I’ve camped out at Glamis with Joy, Micah and their friends once before.  It was November 2011, and my first time duning. I immediately jumped onto a quad (ATV) and charged towards the dunes, alone.  After all, I’m a damn fine driver, if I do say so, myself, and I like to ride with the big boys.  At first, it was easy and fun.  I have some experience riding, so I confidently took off.  It only took one large dune for me to realize I didn’t know what I was doing. Instead of charging uphill and over the steep peak with no fear, I let off the gas. It was then I was in the most danger, for the quad was too heavy; the sand, unsteady. I began to slip backwards down the hill, towards the hole.

I panicked. I was sliding out of control. I needed to make a decision, and fast.  Not moving forward was the most perilous situation of all.

Luckily, with the help of a burst of adrenaline, I gassed it and kept the quad from sliding any further. Instead, my wheels became lodged in the sand, halfway down the side of the precarious dune.  The engine roared with authority, but my wheels simply spun in place, spewing sand.

Son of a suckass! I’m not going forward, but at least I’m not speeding backward. I’m stuck.

There wasn’t anything I could do but wait, and hope someone would find me.

After several minutes, I heard the sound of a motorcycle in the distance. “No Shirt Mike” (that’s what we called him) appeared, rushing to my rescue. He was relieved to find me unscathed (“Where the hell did you go? You just took off!”), laughed and congratulated me for my fearlessness (really?!). He gently coached me out of the mess I had created for myself, and instructed me to follow him for the rest of my ride.

I was embarrassed, but safe.

I had been so excited to charge by myself, I forgot the rules. No one should dune alone. You always need a leader. Preferably one who is experienced and trustworthy, yet fearless enough to be the one who tackles the sand first.

The best leader is one who knows the lines in the sand.  One who carves out your path.

Once I agreed to follow No Shirt Mike, the rest was absolutely exhilarating. The hills that appeared insurmountable ended up being easy to tackle. It’s amazing how such tiny granules form the steep slopes and shaded — sometimes disguised — valleys in the desert.  By following my leader, I gained confidence, skill and the ability to conquer the ever-changing lines in the sand.

……………

2013 is newly upon us, and I have a confession to make.

I’m scared.

My fear stems not from the peaks I am unable to traverse, rather, it is rooted in the knowledge that I can actually tackle anything.

This, of course, is only and ever due to the God of the universe, through whom I can do anything, because He gives me strength.  (Philippians 4:13)

He’s gently lead me up wild, joyful slopes and through desperate, dark valleys.  He’s comforted me. He’s taken care of me.  He’s never once abandoned me, even when I doubted; even when I screamed, threw tantrums, made mistakes and declared I was angry with Him.

For the record, I think God understands our anger.  I can’t stay angry with Him for long, however.  He’s just too good to me.  He is good, all the time.

Life is still — and always will be — hard. There are already major mountains to begin climbing.  I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent next month. I don’t know what I am going to do for work. I don’t even know where I’m going to live.

The sand is shifting, once again.  But I am not plummeting downhill.  I’m not even stuck.

I have a Leader.  He rescued me a long time ago. I will trust Him. I will go where He leads.  It may not be easy or safe, but He knows every line in the sand. He knows the best and most adventurous route; the one that makes for the wildest — and most fulfilling —  ride.

After all, He designed it.

From the Rose Bowl to the Hollywood Bowl

I just met the man of my dreams!

Kidding.  I actually went on a run.

I’ve been running the loop around the Rose Bowl and Brookside Golf Course for several years now.  I’m not a huge fan of treadmills, simply for the fact that I don’t have anything to distract me from checking every five seconds how long and far I’ve been running.  Since I just want the ordeal to be over, running outside makes more sense to me.  It also makes me run faster, longer and harder.  Bonus points: a stunning view of the San Gabriel mountains, interesting characters along the route, and you can always count on a fresh, California breeze, no matter how slight.

This evening, I parked my car in the same spot that I have for years, walked towards the faintly-scribbled, chalk START line, and began a slow trot.  As I quickened my pace in the still-too-warm evening air, my mind raced ahead of me.  I thought about the amazing week I just had. My day job has been extremely busy, yet exciting and fun. This morning, I got paid to play the piano and belt out worship tunes at church with some impressive musicians. It’s not overly glamorous, but it’s completely rewarding, and I’m getting more confident in using my piano skills as an actual, decent (and employable) talent.

Last weekend, I performed at the Hollywood Bowl with Brian Setzer. We played three nights of sizzling swing and riotous rockabilly music, backed by the luscious Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.  There were ninety-six musicians on stage, plus adorable swing dancers and dramatic, scorching fireworks.

Thanks, Jess, for the pic. #fireworksformyfriend

Of course there was Brian: a legend; a man who will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best guitarists in the world. He is a true Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

Brian is backed by two beautiful, energetic singers.

One of them is me.

My boss is better than yours!

The performances were epic.  I will forever cherish being on that stage, in front of at least 12,000 people each night – singing my heart out.  Most of all, I owned it.  This might sound haughty, but I deserved to be up there, and loved every minute of it.  I will never forget the exuberance and joy that was emitted from my very being.  It comes out in many different forms, but I feel it is most pure when I am singing.  My soul soars.

Performing at the Hollywood Bowl was a dream come true!

*****

A smile widened across my face as I rounded the first corner of my route. One mile down. Suddenly, I had a memory of a September day in 2009, running the very same loop.  The recollection was quite the antithesis of the warm, grateful and happy thoughts I was entertaining at present.

The memory was this: I had just discovered X searching for jobs in the Ukraine, even after he had promised me that he would end his (first) affair.  All hope that my marriage could survive the near-fatal blow, crumbled.  I didn’t know what else to do, but flee.

I ended up at the Rose Bowl, ready to run.

I stuffed my earbuds in as tightly as I could, cranked up the music, and started off.  I was attempting to exercise my feelings of anxiety, depression, desperation and fear, to music.

I wanted loud, pulsating, strong beats, to remind me that my heart was physically working.  I was alive, even though I felt at any moment, I might collapse and die of a broken heart.

The first song helped the endorphins kick in, so I put it on repeat. I picked up my pace, found a comfortable stride, and settled in for the first mile. As I rounded the corner, I carefully listened to the lyrics.

You used to light up the dark
with your unrelenting spark
It always put a fire in me

You used to say I’m the one —
the only ray of sun you could touch
without a fear of burning

What are you telling her now?
While you hold her in your arms,
are you pretending she’s me?

And just how long will you go on
before you realize you know she’s
‘The One” but you’re gonna lose her anyway?

Well, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over
and my world shuts down.
But this comes close, I’ll have you know
It’s just a matter of time

But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over!
But I won’t be made a fool

‘Cause leaving me the way you did was just so
Unforgivable

I found myself mouthing, singing, then shouting the words, “unforgivable”, over and over and over and over.  Immediate, uncontrollable tears streamed down my face.  Passers-by stared at me in horror.

I was dying right in front of them, and didn’t give a shit. Nobody would have been able to help me, anyway.

My husband loves another woman. He discarded me so quickly. There’s even a cheesy techno song that accompanies this story.

This is happening.  It’s happening to ME.

Unforgivable. Unforgivable.  She’s the one.  She’s the one. He wants her. Not me. 

I ran and shook; I ran and flailed my arms; I ran and sobbed; I ran and screamed.  I threw my head back, opened up my mouth as wide as I could, and allowed blood-curdling cries of deep anguish to escape my body.

The pain was so overwhelming. I couldn’t hold it inside anymore.

I kept running.  Harder.  Faster.

Eventually I pressed “Shuffle”, and a new song came on: “I Won’t Stand in Your Way”, by the Stray Cats.

I got a low, down, dirty feeling
That I’ve been cheated on, and lied to
If it’s so, then it’s wrong, we’ve hung on for so long
Why don’t we have that magic anymore?

I got a strange, sneaking suspicion
That it’s been going on for some time now.
Something shines in your eyes;
something stirs deep inside.
I won’t stand in your way anymore

You said that I’m just a little boy
Who’s easily led astray
Well, aren’t you the same little girl?

I got a strange, sneaking suspicion
That it’s been going on for some time now.
Something shines in your eyes;
something stirs deep inside

I won’t stand in your way anymore.

I won’t stand in your way
I won’t stand in your way.
I won’t stand in your way anymore.

I couldn’t listen to much of my boss’ song that September day, 2009.  It was almost too much to bear. I don’t remember how I calmed down, but it happened, eventually. I stopped screaming and allowed the sweet, California breeze to dry my tears. I finished running, stretched my legs, and went home.

Three years later, I would stand in the wings while Brian Setzer serenaded me (and an extremely large audience) with “I Won’t Stand in Your Way”. I sneaked a crude video as the spotlight framed him and his shining instrument.  Brian slowly strummed the guitar and began his song as a simple ballad.

And then, it turned into a vastly different experience than when the song was first performed, so many years ago. Brian’s crooning voice soared through the monitors and out into the crowd.  As the orchestra swelled, so did my heart. Tears sprang into my eyes.

This song – one that was once too painful; too raw; too close to my experience; too piercing to my soul – became one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.

I had a flickering moment of grief —  but it wasn’t the kind of running, sobbing, screaming, out-of-control grief that was so commonplace three years ago. The dull pang of familiar pain was recognized, but quickly replaced by the intense beauty of the life that surrounded it; life that keeps moving forward.

Life that is accompanied by a swelling orchestra and spectacular fireworks.

That, my friends, is evidence of healing.

A Shooting Star

It’s amazing what can happen in a year.

A year ago, I started writing The Christian Girl’s Guide to Divorce. I had no goal in mind. For whatever reason, I wanted to tell my story, so I opened up. I didn’t think anyone would actually read it, or even really care. To me, divorce is ugly, yet so common, it’s actually uninteresting. Still, I was vulnerable. I portrayed myself as nothing other than real. Oh, and I exercised my potty mouth. A lot.

One year later, I have (almost) become a published author. In addition, I’ve finally accepted my talent as a writer. Mind you, I have always written, but it was in secret. For years, I wrote stories and hid them. I threw most of them away. I felt silly, writing things I knew nothing about.

Sometimes I still feel that way. Yet I am compelled to write.

Recently, I made a grandiose public announcement about going to the mountains and divorcing myself from society for four days to finish my book.  You see, after I signed the contract with Burnside (who, by the way, I am even more in love with because of this very blog post by my publisher, Jordan Green), I felt it necessary to stop blogging the story of my divorce.

I had to save it for the book.

And so, I made an abrupt transition from writing about the past (upon which I have perspective) to the immediate present, and it has become even more — say, poignant?  Messy? Vulnerable?  Powerful? — than even I can handle. Every post feels like a disaster, yet somehow I know it isn’t.

There is more to the story of my divorce. I’m just interested in living and processing today. I have moved on. I fell in love again, and ultimately lost that love, but I’m still standing. I feel stupidly hopeful. As I’ve continued to grow, I simply haven’t felt like writing about X. The details don’t matter much anymore, even if they are shocking and can capture an audience.

This is a problem, though, because books have to have endings. Admittedly, I feel paralyzed, and I’m not exactly sure why.

Perhaps it’s simply because I’ve placed so much pressure on myself to be good; relevant. I know I have a following (this still baffles and excites me!), and I have to deliver. Yet, suddenly, I feel like a horrible writer. Perhaps it’s just that there is an end in sight, and I may wind up being a one-hit wonder. Sometimes, I am afraid I’ll never get asked on a date again if I’ve penned a book on divorce. I’ve imagined the criticism I will face, especially from the Christian community. I’ve already endured a little bit of difficulty in personal relationships.

I hate to break it to you, people, but if you’re in my life, I’m probably going to end up writing about you. My birthday party last week was hilarious in that most guests ended up meeting one another and exclaiming, “OH!!! You’re so-and so?!  I feel like I know you! I’ve read about you in Leslie’s blog!”

I stood back and marveled at the amazing creatures in my life that took the time to celebrate me. And the conclusion I came to is this: if I write about you, it means I love you.

*****

Back to finishing the book.

Once in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I was overwhelmed with the fresh, clean air; the blue sky, warm breeze, cool lake and familiarity of it all.  My best friend Joy and I have been trekking to Hume Lake every summer since we were children. Her parents own an enormous family-sized cabin that is nestled on a hill, in between the most fragrant pine trees. As kids, we spent countless weekends swimming, jumping off the rock and paddling boats in the lake; riding four wheelers to the point of complete filth and exhaustion; hoping the two cute brothers that stayed a few cabins down would want to ride/hang out with us, and strengthening our bond of friendship, which, to this day, is the most loving, loyal and stable relationship of my life.

Hume Lake

The summer after I graduated high school, I worked at Hume — in the Snack Shop.  It was a horribly crappy job with long hours — definitely not as cool as being a lifeguard — but the people with whom I worked made it worthwhile. Almost every evening, while all other staff members had to observe the 11:00 p.m. curfew, we were closing up. Afterwards, we’d sneak out around the lake, lay on our backs and gaze up at the brilliant stars.

I have never seen more shooting stars in my life.

I was 17 years old. My whole life was ahead of me. Little did I know, I’d leave that summer job early to attend my orientation at U.C. Davis, only to decide that I hated it with a passion and didn’t want to go.  Less than a month later, I found myself registering for classes on campus at Biola University: a last-minute, spontaneous decision that greatly impacted my life. Four years later, I was married.

In 2007, Joy and I began an annual tradition of returning to the cabin at Hume together.  We returned again in 2008, but 2009-2011 were too difficult to take the time away. Joy got married, and I got divorced.

Finally: August, 2012 lent the opportunity.

We swam, jumped off the rock and paddled a canoe across the lake.  We rode the very same four-wheeler, which is now a bit rickety, but relaxed in the hot tub afterwards.  We interacted with wildlife, talked for hours and watched every Jane Austen movie imaginable.  I kept intending to turn on my computer and finish the last few chapters left in my story, but I ended up devouring two books, instead.

I just couldn’t bring myself to write.

One evening, Joy went to bed before me, and I decided to sneak out. I didn’t go far, but it was the first time since 17 years old that I had the opportunity to lay on my back again, and gaze up at the pitch-black sky, which was speckled with dazzling, brilliant light.

Oh, God, I whispered in my soul. This is amazing.  

I breathed in the pungent, sweet air, and heard branches crack below the deck.  The raccoons were out, eating the leftover peanuts, gluten-free pancakes and rotten nectarines we had thrown over earlier in the day.

I kept gazing up at the night sky.

God, would You show me a shooting star?  All I need is one. Prove to me that You are here.  I dare You. Just one.

I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again, expecting a majestic display of solar fireworks, all because I had asked.

Nothing.

A satellite cruised across the sky, followed a few minutes later by a noisy jet.

Still, no shooting star.

The raccoons finished their snack and waddled off into the darkness.

Come on, God, please? Remember all those shooting stars You showed me years ago? Maybe I didn’t appreciate them as much as I would now. All I’m asking for is one. I know You can do that. No pressure, though. Only if You want to. I’ll just be down here, waiting. Well, until the bears come out. So…PLEASE?!

I started to realize how ridiculous I sounded.  Me, a broken human being, demanding that God give me something just because I wanted it so very badly in that moment. The truth is, I didn’t need to see a shooting star to know God exists. I had the vast array of the heavens twinkling before me.  I just wanted one for the sake of nostalgia; to say I saw a shooting star. Maybe even more so as a symbol that God hears me, loves me, and is willing to indulge me.

I started laughing, and then, to my surprise, tears of thankfulness rolled down my cheeks as the realization (part deux times twelve hundred) hit me:

I’m exactly where You want me to be. I’ll finish this book with Your help. Right now, I just need to enjoy this time with You.

I smiled, and let the remaining tears slide down the sides of my face, then onto the redwood deck. In the distance, I heard another  branch crack, and decided it was time to go to bed.

I stood up and brushed myself off. As I headed back inside, I briefly craned my neck, one last time.

There it was.

It didn’t even last a second. It wasn’t the most brilliant or memorable shooting star I have ever seen, but I’m quite certain I’m the only person in the world to have seen it.

It was for me.

While I’m Waiting

I’m impatient with my impatience.

I know better.  I really do.  Yet it still doesn’t stop me from (a) being angry, (b) feeling sorry for myself, (c) crying pathetic tears into my pillow at night, (d) trying to take things into my own hands (ONLINE DATING IS HEINOUS!) and (e) wanting to give up, altogether.

I’m embarrassed at my fickle heart.  I go from being extremely happy with my life “as is”, to completely devastated that I’m not where I want to be.

Yesterday morning I dressed myself for church, feeling obligatory, pudgy and tired, with touch of low-grade frustration.  I arrived a few minutes late and picked a new place to sit, alone.  I’ve been attending church alone for over three years now. I’m quite used to it.  I’m okay sitting by myself.  In fact, I’m getting so good at doing things alone, I sometimes forget what it is like to have a companion.

My problem is that I’m okay with all of this.  I have told myself I have to be. For the most part, I’m just fine being single.  I’m fine with not getting asked out on dates.  It’s totally understandable, because it’s not the right time, or the “right” guys aren’t asking, or whatever other stupid-ass reason. It’s okay that I have to suppress my raging sex drive (I write about this a lot, don’t I?!), because I know better.  I want to have sex when it’s right, with the right person: one who will not just use me, empty me of my full, capable heart, and then leave.

Side note:  When you’ve gone from having a very regular, healthy (except in the end) sex life to NOTHING — ?!?!?!

#((^)@M#%(O)#@T)($*&()H)*(***(E)$&^*(&(#$R)(#@=F)($@U#)(C$)(%#K@)(*E@#%)R(@#%Y*(!!!)@#%*()

F   R   U   S   T   R   A   T   I   O   N.

Tears.

Of course, it’s not just about sex.  I long for relationship.

So, I’m waiting.  Hoping.  At the same time, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be held, desired, caressed; loved – specifically, by a man.  And in those recurring moments of despair I know the answer is to turn to God for help.  Except that I feel stupid, selfish and silly, because I should be stronger than this. 

The truth is, I’m not strong at all.

I’m sick of this “single” bullshit, and pretending that it’s okay. It’s not. It sucks.

And so, a few minutes after I slipped into my seat and greeted the friendly, churchy-hipster faces around me, Joseph began his sermon.

It was about “the meantime.”  Waiting.

Oh, come on, God.  I don’t feel like listening to this today.  I know I have a bad attitude, and I’ll try to fix it.  I don’t want anything to apply to me, personally. I want to be left alone. Can’t Joseph give some illustration about somebody else?  An update on the Kenyan mission team, or maybe a typical four-pointer on how to love my neighbor, all beginning with the letter “L”?  I just feel like checking out today. 

Alas.  His intro was really good, so I decided to cast aside a little bit of my negativity.  I pulled out my journal and pen, and began taking notes.

The “meantime” is the time between wanting something and having it, I wrote, almost as quickly as it left Joseph’s lips.  We equate waiting with wasted time. If we have any hope, the meantime can bring up negative feelings.  We begin to distrust, disobey and despair. 

Sigh.  It’s so true.  I am chief of the triple D’s.

We need to wait…for the RIGHT thing.

How many times have I heard this??  Yet, I can’t poo poo it, because I know it’s truth.

I then started to think about all of the warm bodies in the room, and for what each person might be waiting; hoping; longing.

I know a few couples who are waiting to get pregnant.  They’re trying everything they possibly can, all while praying, hoping and believing that God will answer those prayers.  It just hasn’t happened yet.  Time is running out.

I know families who are waiting to hear news – good or bad – about their loved one’s illness.  What an agonizing place to be: wondering if your child/husband/brother/mother is going to suffer and die, and soon.

I know a woman who is waiting for her husband to “come around” – to see her for who she truly is, and to love her deeply; intimately.  He’s just not capable of it right now.  She still believes in the potential of the man he can become, and is waiting.  It’s caused a lot of pain and confusion in her life.

I thought about my own journey, and how I’m waiting for God to answer all of my prayers.  I’ve been praying about moving back to New York since July 2009, even when I was still married.  I’ve been praying for my dad, step-mom and sisters to plunge into a deep relationship with God.  I want to spend eternity in heaven with them.  I’ve wondered and prayed about a second husband. I actually started writing to him — whoever he is — two years ago.  It feels so cheesy.

And dare I even pray and ask for a career and children?  I do.

There’s nothing that I can do to make the waiting easier, not even with a good attitude.  I just have to sit, and wait, in the meantime.  I know I do a horrible job at it, but I also know that God is in control.  I get frustrated with myself at how small and petty my complaints seem to be, but they’re real, and I know they don’t go unnoticed.  I know God cares, and I know He’s not going to forsake me.  He hasn’t done so thus far.

My mind drifted back to the sermon, and I continued taking notes.  I started to tear up a bit when Joseph pointed out, “As long as we are breathing, God is not done with us.”

Okay, God.  I surrender.  You got me. And I KNOW You’re not done with me yet.  

As if that weren’t enough, Joseph “landed the plane” (hilarious pastoral terminology for wrapping up a sermon) with a 5-minute film. The lights dimmed, and a beautiful, blind teenager named Alyssa was projected onto the screen.  She’s been blind since birth.

Great.  I feel even more like an ass.  My life is good, and this poor girl is blind.  She wins.  I suck at being a Christian.

“If I could see,” Alyssa said, “I don’t think my faith would be as strong.”

The camera then cut to her walking onstage and sitting down at the piano, and Alyssa played and sang – like an angel — an inspiring, beautiful song that she had written.

I started to cry harder at this point, and heard a few other people sniffling around me.  The woman sitting one seat away from me dug in her purse for several tissues.

“I have so much joy and so much anticipation,” Alyssa’s voiceover soothed the congregation, “because I know the first face I’m ever going to see is Jesus, and that means the world to me.”

Wow.

I realized something at that point:  Alyssa will never see.  Not in this earthly life, at least.  She is waiting for something that you and I take for granted, daily.  Her whole life is a “meantime”.

Yet she still has hope.  She still has joy.  She still has an impact on — and purpose in — this life.  She literally walks by faith, not by sight.

I have struggled with this post simply because it doesn’t feel poignant or special.  I have no “plane to land”; no physical evidence of my hope and faith, or even my prayers being answered.

Yet I still hope.  I wait.  I trust.  I believe.

Over two years ago, a friend of mine made me a CD to help encourage me as I endured the real-time pain of my divorce.  I never used to listen to Christian music (I was way too cool for it).  Now that the scars have begun to fade, certain songs pop into my head.  Today, “While I’m Waiting” is on replay in my mind.

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord,
and I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience

While I’m waiting
I will serve You

While I’m waiting
I will worship

While I’m waiting
I will not faint

I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait.

It’s hard to wait.  The meantime can really suck.  But may we keep moving forward, with boldness and confidence; may we keep running with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1), and hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

Broadway, Broadway, Broadway…

Re-entering “regular life” was difficult after such an adventure, but I was grateful to return to a job.

I had been hired to play the role of “Cindy Lou” in The Marvelous Wonderettes, the show that I had performed off-Broadway.  This time, it would not be anywhere near New York.  The very large, professional theatre was located in La Mirada: a small, suburban town at the edge of the Los Angeles-Orange County line.

La Mirada is also where I had attended college.  I had wanted, and been trying, to work at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts ever since my youthful, naïve, carefree and X-filled days at Biola University.

In addition, since I had only ever covered The Marvelous Wonderettes in Los Angeles and New York (performed three of the four parts, 61 times in my six-month contract, but who’s counting?!), it felt amazing to finally make one of the roles my own.  I also was able to put to bed my association of the show with the ending of my marriage.

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream!

The show must go on.

Rehearsals began almost immediately after I returned from Paris.  I had a problem, however: I wasn’t able to drive.  Part of the reason I took off to Minnesota and France was that my license was suspended for the month of May, due to my “Wet Reckless”.  I had to wait almost two weeks before I could apply for a restricted license, and I didn’t want anyone to know about my stupid mistake.  I was embarrassed and ashamed.

God provided.  He always does. Andrea and Lisa, a mutual friend of ours, drove me to and from rehearsals.  I was able to carpool with the amazing girls in the cast.  My stage manager even hauled me around, and no one seemed to mind.  In fact, everyone was willing to help, without even knowing the real (shameful) reason why.

Missy, Cindy Lou, Suzy, Betty Jean and a hanger

Losing my license for a month might have been one of the greatest things to happen to me, for it forced me to slow down, ask for help, and not be so damn self-sufficient.  Also, I got an amazing vacation out of the whole ordeal.

God is so good.

After “Wonderettes” opened and we settled into performing eight shows a week, I decided to tackle that old “Bigamy and Contempt” problem I had shelved for the past couple of months.

I wrote a letter to X, explaining that I was attempting to resolve our issues one last time.  I firmly requested his compliance with our Marital Settlement Agreement, and gave him two weeks to send the money (which I knew he had).   I sent the letter to him at Sister Wife’s house via certified mail.   I also emailed a copy to him.  I was fully prepared to take him to court.  After all, I would win, hands down.  There was no way he’d be able to charm his way out of jail.  I mean, I couldn’t even do it, for my wimpy little misdemeanor.

Bigamy is a felony.

Yet, I still struggled with just letting the whole thing go.  None of it was fair, but I wanted it all behind me.  Furthermore, I didn’t actually care that X was married, legal or not.  He made choices, and he had to live with them.  They didn’t affect me anymore.

Our ties to one another had been brutally severed, but we were destined for separate lives.

June 7, 2011

Father,

I release to You my anxiety over the remaining money X owes me.  I accidentally came across old texts last night from/to him and they were so unbelievably painful.  He was so unresponsive in a time of darkness, and I was asking so many questions.  How on earth were we going to heal?  And then I’d apologize for asking, but he just didn’t step up.  WHO KNOWS what all was actually happening then.  It was painful to read and I am so glad I got out.  Thank You, Lord.

So, I pray about my worries over the final step of this divorce.  I need Your help in letting go, and I need your help in forgiving X and Sister Wife.  I am still angry, Lord, and I think that is OK.  Yet, I don’t want to carry over this anger into a new relationship.

I just want it to be done.

June 11, 2011

Lord,

I need help to get through today. Two shows.  I am tired, especially vocally.  I have thoughts of fear – of which I need to let go.  God, I pray about dealing with X and the final part of my divorce. I do not want to spend my money on lawyers and court battles.  I know he will not do anything, though – of course.  I have to keep hounding and nagging to get anything out of him.  NOT SURPRISED. 

Lord, I just pray he sends the check.  I do not want my life to get bogged down by him, or thoughts of him.  I am still very angry, God. Maybe it’s because I’m back in La Mirada?  I don’t know.  I need help.  I need help forgiving him; I need to move forward, continually.

And my mind wanders to dating.  I don’t know what will ever become of it.  I am not without potential suitors, but I am not interested in ANY! 

I want to fall in love, I truly do.  Part of me thinks that is so silly – or maybe I don’t deserve it because I already got my shot at love, marriage and a family.  AND I recognize that as a LIE from the enemy and I REJECT it!

Holy Spirit, control my mind!

I lift up my dreams, my desires and my fears to You.  I will wait for You, Lord.  I wait.  I need help with patience!

I long for NYC.  What am I doing in California?!  It’s ridiculous.  I just don’t know how I’d do it (move to New York), but maybe I just have to.  I love my little place here, but my dreams are in another city. 

I feel like a loser, but I know that You have plans for me. My body aches and my soul cries for You.  God, I give You my desires and pray that You will lead me to where You want me, instead of me forcing Your will – rather, me forcing MY will as Yours.  I feel anxious for no good reason.

 Oh, God, if only I could continue my theatre career in New York! 

Broadway, Broadway, Broadway…

I have to go!  God, will you lead?

Little did I know then, God would graciously lead me back to New York.

“Please, Please, Please, Please, PLEASE Kiss Me!”

Happy divorcée in Paris!

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.
~Thomas Jefferson

Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant.
~Honoré de Balzac

The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Our days in Paris were busy with activity.  Andrea figured out how to rent the bicycles that we had seen the locals riding all over town, and we were off to explore the entire city. I am convinced that the only — and best! — way to see Paris is on a bicycle (with a baguette in the front basket, of course!).

Best bikes in the world.

I like to ride my bicycle!

Our first mission on that gorgeous May day was to ride up to the Sacré-Coeur.  We hunted for fabric in the neighboring garment district, and then lunched on goat cheese-stuffed tomatoes atop butter lettuce with a drizzling of vinegar, and a freshly baked, still-warm-from-the-oven baguette.  Afterwards, we biked to the Eiffel Tower, stood in line to enter the Musee de’ Orsay (but got tired of waiting) and sweated through 90 minutes of Bikram Yoga.

It was my first experience with Bikram.  The cramped room was cranked to 105 degrees (Fahrenheit), and almost as soon as I started breathing, sweat poured from every inch of my body, including my kneecaps.  Somehow the offensive and pungent French body odor/sweat didn’t bother me, for I was distracted by the attractive, muscular instructor who sported a Speedo.  He screamed at us the entire time from his platform at the front of the room.

“Tirez! Tirez! Tirez!  Verrouiller le genou, bloquer le genou, bloquer le genou!!!”

It was…hot.

The next morning we did more yoga (who knew that a trip to Paris would turn into a yoga retreat!!?) and (illegally) rode our bicycles through the Arc de Triomphe.  Cars, busses and motor scooters honked and whirled around us as we furiously pedaled (and screamed!) our way through the roundabout.  It was exhilarating!  We made our way up to the Bois de Boulonge, where we rested our legs a while before continuing on our newfound mission: to find the racetrack.  As we rode through the park and into the thicker woods, I noticed random, scantily-clad women standing along the street.  Some were creepily concealed in the trees.  Others were simply men dressed as women.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Andrea casually called over her shoulder, as she pedaled ahead of me. “There are prostitutes in these woods.”

(Chortle!)

You just need to know these things.

That evening, bodies screaming in happy exhaustion from our day’s adventure, we set out with a bottle of champagne to drink along the Seine River.  As we traipsed down the worn, cobblestone steps of the Île de la Cité and towards the water’s edge, I was once again approached by a Frenchman.

This one was considerably younger than the first two.

He started speaking, quickly, in his beautiful language.  He immediately wrapped his arm around me and gestured with his free hand as he spoke.  Occasionally, he would gently touch my chin as he whispered sweet nothings into my ear.  I allowed him to carry on for a while before I spoke up.

“I…I don’t speak French,” I apologized.

The Frenchman – who was definitely in his early 20’s – looked surprised.

“Oh!  But you look…so…so…oh…S’il vous plaît embrassez-moi!  Please kiss me!”

I stopped in my tracks for a moment and gazed at him, almost incredulously.  This would be Frenchman #3.  I was definitely getting what I had asked for, and then some!

He clasped his hands together, and his piercing blue eyes met mine.  One of his iPod ear buds hung, lazily, from his right ear.  He smelled young and fresh.  He was definitely attractive.

He shook his hands at me.

“Please, please, please, please PLEASE kiss me,” he begged.

Andrea and I burst out laughing, and she covertly reached for her phone, readying it to capture the moment.

I looked up at my suitor.  The River Seine shimmered behind me in the glowing city light.  The historic cobblestone beneath my feet seemed to propel me forward, into this young man’s arms.  There was a buzz of conversation between crowds of friends and lovers gathered along the riverbank, and the gentle breeze flirted with my freshly washed hair.

It was the perfect moment for even just a minute of romance.

I tucked a piece of disheveled hair behind my ear, and shrugged.

“Okay,” I smiled.

And so, he kissed me.  Eagerly.

Oh, those Frenchmen and their kisses.

Shameless, Part Deux

I finally pulled away, and Andrea and I continued to walk.  The young man followed us, attempting to coax me into his arms again.

“Please, please, please – more kissing!”  He pleaded.  I smiled, but kept walking away.

He continued to beg and plead and follow, until I finally turned to him:

“Je suis vieille — I am too old for you!”

He looked extremely disappointed, but finally got the hint, and darted back to his friends.

Andrea and I laughed and laughed.  I was having quite a successful run as the “kissing bandit” in Paris!

As we made our way to a less populated area along the riverbank, I reflected upon this newfound confidence that I had developed on my journey – literally and figuratively.  I couldn’t believe it, but it felt so damn good to be single, even if it were inappropriate to be kissing some random strangers on the street.  I didn’t care.  It felt amazing to be noticed, even by much younger men.  What is more, it felt good to be free.  I could just walk away, without my heart hurting; without it longing for, or being attached to, a man.

I could give away sweet, innocent (enough) kisses, but I could hold onto my heart.  It might sound crazy, but it was empowering.

And so, our time in Paris rapidly came to a close.  We ultimately decided to scrap the usual touristy things and headed (on bicycles, of course) to the horse races at Longchamp.  We put money down on a Yankee horse and won!  We picnicked again with Cecile in the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, and conducted a therapeutic ceremony in which I tossed an entire apple pie off the top of a monument.  We dined with British actor Rupert Friend (who tried to disguise himself  as “William”) at Jim Haynes’ 30-year old tradition of a Sunday dinner.   I was determined to make Mr. Friend Frenchman #4.  I chatted and flirted with him for about thirty minutes, but, decided that, alas, he couldn’t be my next French kiss, because he was English.

Okay, okay.  He wasn’t interested.

We invested in the most amazing tea at Mariage Freres, attended mass at St. Germain des Prés and listened in awe to the massive pipe organ seemingly shatter the impeccable stained glass windows.  We patroned the Opera Bastille and purchased tickets to see Andrea’s favorite: The Marriage of Figaro.  It was my second opera, ever — the first being Offenbach’s “La Périchole” at the Sydney Opera House when I was on tour with my church choir at the age of sixteen.

To my surprise during Figaro, I started to sob at the Countess’ solo in Act III, wherein she ponders the loss of her husband’s love.

Dove sono i bei momenti,  she sings.   “Where are they, the beautiful moments?”

Andrea and I both sobbed tears of joy and empathy; tears at the overwhelming beauty of the piece; of art.  Angst.  Love.  Marriage.  Loss.  And comedy.

In the afternoon of that last remaining day, we again drank champagne, just on a simple park bench in the Bois de Vincennes.  The bench overlooked a glistening lake that was populated with happy ducks and happy people in rowboats.  In the distance stood a ferris wheel, and the air was fragrant with a mixture of blossoms, freshly-cut grass and cotton candy.

This time, I definitely saw a single, red balloon floating in the breeze.

Andrea and I vowed to return to that same park bench when we are 80 years old.  We also vowed to return to Paris every year we are able.  (So far, we have kept our word, for, just two short weeks ago, we returned from a ten-day jaunt!)

We will ride bicycles, drink champagne, and frolic throughout the most romantic city in the world, for, as Michael Simkins puts it, Paris is a place in which we can forget ourselves, reinvent, (and) expunge the dead weight of our past.