Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Divination Project: Part 5: Mordor

<Click here for Part 1:  Mind Fuck>


Alice was so excited about the possibility of finally loving herself completely.

She was waiting to hear back from Adam about John's availability on Thursday, watching taroscopes on YouTube when she heard Carl's loud footsteps hurrying into her studio.

"You can't do this. I don't like this," he told her. "You're probably not going to listen to me, anyway, but I'd like you to talk to Siggy. I think there is something wrong with you."

A few moments before she heard him coming, a cloud of negativity descended upon her. She suddenly felt strongly that she was delusional, controlled, and having problems with substance abuse. Since her trip to New York, she had been using a lot of cannabis to control her anxiety, but her use was limited to after dinner. It's just that she went from maybe 4 nights a week to 7 nights a week. Alice's mother occasionally had a contemptuous demeanor, and it had been in full force for most of the trip. Alice didn't even know it, but this kind of air from anyone at all - an air of judgment - felt like she was getting stabbed in the heart over and over and over.

Looking back at the trip, that was the most significant thing she learned. She learned her biggest PTSD trigger. Contempt.

Here's the thing about being human. You think you're doing okay - you're enlightened or whatever - and then some random behavior by someone else finds a button in you that you didn't even know you had, and hits that button as hard as it possibly can.

Being treated with contempt makes Alice's stomach knot and her heart tighten and race.

She doesn't even know what it's like to not live in fear of someone holding back a judgment of her, pretending everything is okay, and then, just when she thinks she's moving forward, having the rug ripped out from underneath her.

She read somewhere that people who lived in poverty are constantly worried about the other shoe dropping or the rug getting ripped out from underneath them, and she wonders if she has been living with the fallout of that fear in her and Carl's ancestors' lives for her whole life.

"Okay," she raises her voice, irritated, "But you can't just barge down here whenever you want and come at me like that! I can't deal with it anymore. I don't have the energy for it. I'm working my ass off to feel better, to heal, and it's exhausting, even without not being able to control who and what is in my head at any given moment."

It's true. Alice is exhausted. For years, she has lived with difficulty wanting to even get out of bed in the morning. She finally was able to push past the idea that she should kill herself, not just because it would be a terrible legacy to leave her children, but because she finally believes she actually has something beautiful to share with the world. Not just her body, but everything she has learned on her painful journey, through the Divine thread that kept her alive all these years. She just couldn't figure out how to do it with Carl's insecurities constantly rearing up. How could he stand to live in such fear all the time?

They argue about what her intentions are with modeling, and he worries that she will not be able to teach art classes to children if she is a nude model. She said she didn't even think about that, but that teaching kids is not her first choice for a career, anyway. After not very long, he decides to leave her alone.

Argh. She thinks. Here we go again. Whenever I have a plan to do something, he freaks out. I am seriously never going to be anything besides a trophy wife if I stay here.

She sends Adam a message that Carl is not okay with the model training anymore. Adam texts back and says he understands. She apologizes, feeling like a total asshole. She is so tired of feeling this way, being told she is free to do whatever she wants, and then quickly running up against Carl's fear or shame.

She sits at her computer desk, just staring at the giant pile of papers she was beginning to sort when he comes down. She did have a job doing the accounting for their business, which took her approximately ten hours each month. This month had been particularly frustrating because they were in contract negotiations with their client for the month, and she had invoiced them late, meaning they got paid late. She got paid for her 10 hours of effort, but never received any remuneration for all the time she spent listening to him talk about work issues, which was a lot. Every day. Well, okay, she got some remuneration - a handshake from his boss at a bar in Vienna, and the words, "Thank you so much for supporting Carl." She had acknowledged the handshake, thinking, Yeah, you have no idea, but thanks for recognizing it a little bit.

I could sit here and take care of the accounting before I go see Shayla, or I could do the right thing and call Siggy. Is it the right thing? Does he now get to decide randomly when he doesn't like my behavior and order me to therapy? Carl had gone to several couple's counseling sessions with Alice in late 2016. Carl's mother had told Alice that she didn't get Carl and his siblings therapy when they were kids because she didn't want to "stir things up." What the hell did that even mean? God dammit, Alice had thought, how different and how much better Carl and Alice's life could have been had Carl had some fucking therapy. Alice detested that part of Carl's family - the part that doggedly pursued an illusion of perfection. She was pretty sure that was the original evil int he world. They probably just didn't have the money. That is an acceptable excuse. Pride is not.

She wants to reach out to Campbell, but Campbell met a new woman over the weekend, and they are hitting it off. Yeah, that shouldn't matter, one would think, but Alice had a sneaking suspicion that Campbell's new girlfriend might not like their arrangement. She didn't want to interfere with Campbell's happiness. She was jealous, too, but it wasn't for wanting Campbell all to herself. It was because she had lost so many other exciting opportunities over the past two years that she was terrified about losing this one, too - she was afraid of what it would do to her already sinking morale. Also, She was beginning to think there was nothing out there for her and that she would never be more than a validation dispensary for Carl and her mother. She wished they could find it in themselves to become strong for themselves, even just a little bit, because, as mentioned before, Alice is exhausted. Campbell is old enough and mature enough to give her the balanced masculine view she needs to know she isn't as shitty as she thinks when things are hard with Carl.

In fact, when she thinks about it, she realizes she has not heard anything else from the publisher of the book one of her blog posts was going to be included in, so maybe that isn't going to happen, either. And her project submission for a huge exhibit in Denver - which represents a large labor of love for her, and a manifestation of all her highest hopes for humanity - well, if she doesn't have Campbell, she would have to do it all herself. Which, she figures, is fitting, because apparently she is a total shit who can't work well with anyone, not even a guy who can facilitate the IP transfer of a very complicated project successfully to a client with native Chinese-speaking employees.

Or, she's just not any fun. She's spent so many years being a therapist to her mother and Carl that she didn't even really know how to have fun. So why would anyone want her around? She's just too heavy.

The moon was new. Her horoscope said her mood would be low. Her period is going to come any second.

She picks up her phone and texts Siggy. Hi, Siggy. I hope you are doing well. I have something urgent Carl would like me to talk to you about. Do you have any time soon? Alice has a regular appointment scheduled with Siggy for the next day already, and she feels ridiculous for bothering her. But she needs to get help with how to talk to Carl as soon as possible, because when he is in this mood, she doesn't know what to do. The only way to knock him out of it is to get him to smoke some pot with her, but if he gets too far into the mood, he feels too judgmental of the idea, and can't do it.

She wonders if he had any alcohol or MSG recently, because those things could bring on negative thinking, too. In her, as well.

Her phone rings. "Hi, Alice, what's going on?"

"Well, you know how Campbell was going to do molds of my body? I kind of thought I might need to baby step toward that, and so I was going to have a friend who trains models help me out. But now he thinks maybe there is something wrong with me and wants me to see you," Alice explained.

"Can you come in this afternoon?" Alice said.

Hmm. She wants me to come in and sit down. Maybe I am crazy.

***

Since her appointment is only 40 minutes out, Alice goes straight upstairs and puts on warmer clothes. She will have a little time between her appointment and her meetup with Shayla, but she wants to be ready in case she and Shayla walk anywhere in the cold.

As she leaves, she gives Sally and Nolan hugs, tells them she loves them, and then tells Carl she loves him. He does not answer.

"I said, I love you," she says again. Silence.

When he acts like this, she can struggle with some pretty serious suicidal ideation. She realized, though, earlier in the year, that there are a lot of people who actually do care about her, and that she is not stuck. Now, she tries to mindfully visualize herself in an apartment of her own when he emotionally blackmails her, rather than so many of the other ways she used to envisioned getting relief.

She knows too much about psychology. She knows it's all how you look at it. She knows how easy it would be for him to argue that she used cannabis and maybe even neglected her children, if he decided not to let her have custody or even visitation. He had said once when she was packing a suitcase a few years ago that if she left she would never see the children again, and so she stayed. She learned later that many men say this. He also said that if she left he would quit his job. He really believes that he can't do his job without her, because he hates paperwork so much. But of course when he said that, she thought it was a threat. Because it was.

She and Siggy have talked about this before, but Alice doesn't want to put Sally and Nolan in the middle, even though they are the only witnesses. Sally and Nolan have seen how other people use Alice, and it's her biggest worry that they won't be able to advocate for themselves because she hasn't done a good job sticking up for herself.

She is worried that she will never be able to work in a job because she has become so sensitive, just a shell of herself, from all of the years of being torn down by Carl, and her parents before that.

She takes one of the old cars, in case he doesn't let her back in the house or something. He has never not let her in the house - usually he won't let her leave - but over the years she has gotten the distinct feeling that if their marriage ever were to end, it wouldn't be in friendship, because Carl would ensure otherwise. He is a self-professed fan of vengeance. His father cut down every single tree in their yard when his mother took out a restraining order.

Apparently that was a thing Vietnam vets did.

These are things that haunt Alice. That scare her to death.

***

Alice sits down on Siggy's slipcovered sofa and pulls the Kleenex box closer, just in case. She goes over the situation again, explaining that she thinks it might be good to get some photos of herself before she takes the plunge and has her body casted, and that Carl thinks she is trying to "torpedo their marriage." Those are the words he used to describe her decision to be a full-figured art model.

Alice tells Siggy that the two reasons she wants to do it are for the experience with Campbell - learning from him - and then to provide an example of a less-than-perfect woman as an art model for students. And maybe she would be okay modeling clothes, bathing suits, and underwear, because those models helped give her confidence. Siggy thinks those are great reasons.

"Also, I want Sally to feel that I would not judge her for anything she would do with her own body," added Alice. Siggy nods her head enthusiastically.

"So, I'm not just a voyeuristic slut trying to torpedo my marriage?" Alice asks Siggy.

"No. Definitely not," says Siggy.

Siggy asks if Alice thinks Carl would be willing to see a therapist now. Alice remembers that several months earlier, Carl had noticed how well she was doing, and thought maybe he could see a therapist. She didn't push the issue, because she didn't want to ruin it, but inside, she really wishes he would, because she is so, so tired of being his therapist. It's too much for her now. It has killed any romantic or sexual desire she has for him, and she sees why she should have just left. She told him a month ago how many times he almost lost her because they didn't just separate. And when she says it, she means how many times she wanted to kill herself.

Alice sought extra counseling from the women's shelter in the town where Nolan's school was earlier in the year. She felt guilty for seeking help as an upper middle class woman with well to do parents, but when she asked for help from her father, he said it would be too much of a burden.

The repeated message she received from the world was that she was a burden because she had children. This is why she could never get on board with the pro-lifers. Once you have children, you're a burden to society. The term 'welfare mother' conjures up certain pictures which don't do the struggle of raising children on your own in a society where two incomes are necessary because women are expected to work now any sort of justice. Society stigmatizes efforts to care for your own children, she realized when she first heard the term 'lawnmower parent.' Heaven forbid a woman should have enough time on her hands to advocate for her own children. Have the baby, go to work, put it (because the system sees your child as a thing) in childcare, then school, then college. You'll need a man for that, because otherwise, you're a drain on the system. We'll make sure you need a man for that, because the heterosexual married folks are raising the cost of everything for everyone. Alice wanted to be a giver, not a taker.

Carl was right to treat her with suspicion. She was trying to leave because the urge to kill herself was growing so strong. She was worried that if she didn't leave, she would take her 9mm pistol, stick it into her mouth, and pull the trigger. She had to kill lots of animals for her job as a scientist, so even when she confessed that to him and he hid the guns from her, she thought of lots of other ways to do it.

The only time she felt safe psychologically was when she was alone or just with the kids. Meditating was helpful, and so was reading tarot. Carl was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, and through being with Alice for 25 years became more liberal and forgiving, but eventually lost his faith altogether for watching how the dogma and judgment of Christianity as it is often practiced created so much pain in the world. He spoke vehemently about religion. It was the only thing he absolutely hated.

Alice, however, is agnostic, and always has been. She knows there is something. She knows, because whenever things get hard in her life, there seems to be a loving, protecting force which guides her through, leaving her with valuable lessons in compassion at the end. When she first met Carl, she identified as Christian, but explained to him that she felt the story of Christ was an important lesson of how to walk through the world with compassion, but not that it necessarily happened for real.

She misses that feeling of going to church for the community and connection to the Divine, but like Carl, can't do the dogma. But there is more than that to her dislike of church. Alice walks through life not worried about talking to anyone. She knows there is something magic in every person she meets, and she loves how The Universe randomly puts people in her path - unlikely people - from whom she can learn. She has a lot of friends who go to the Unitarian church, but they always seemed so distant. It is like they are all there to support each other, but have an unspoken feeling that if a person isn't with them, they are against them. It could just be a time and energy economics thing - and if they have repeated negative experiences outside of the church, maybe they are less likely to open up to people outside that circle. She is not part of that clique, has never been part of a clique, and doesn't want to be part of a clique. This is more a reflection of her isolation over the years than anything about her Unitarian friends. She hopes they understand that.

She had told Jeremy and Ruth one day that she wanted to start a cult. It was kind of a joke, but anyone who knew Alice would know that she really meant it. "The only rules are that anyone is allowed to join, and there is no judgment allowed, and you have to treat everyone in the world like they are part of the cult," she said. Alice has felt alone for so long that she wants to gather together all the lonely people who understand how horrible it is to feel lonely, and what makes people feel lonely (judgment!), to end loneliness.

That is actually the biggest reason she didn't leave Carl. She didn't want to be another person to reject him. He feels rejected by his parents and siblings, and feels that Alice is the only one in the world who helps him feel loved. He is the father of her children, and she can't live with herself if she casts him out like his father was cast out by his mother. Or like his father disappeared and left him. He is so traumatized by their divorce and the things that led up to the divorce that living with him sometimes feels like living in a minefield. He has such a huge fear of abandonment that he cannot not deal with much separation from Alice at all. He can't handle being alone for much length of time, and he hates traveling overseas without her. And when his parents moved back from Florida, it was like all the memories of the divorce and remarriage came right back with them. He never stood up to them or advocated for Alice, Nolan or Sally, because he was worried his family would reject him again, and so the dynamic between their families and in his own marriage became toxic. And he swore up and down when he and Alice started couples counseling because she was suicidal that it was all her. Maybe it was. She could have chosen to see it differently, and did try for many years, but the truth was that her opinions and the kids' opinions were rarely considered when the family was making plans, and there were a lot of plans over the years - especially over summers and holidays. Her attempts to establish boundaries were typically bulldozed. Alice never really figured out who was doing the bulldozing. She just decided it was okay for her to say 'no' and told the kids the same.

Yeah, she has her own baggage she brought along for the ride, but she has been continually putting effort toward dealing with hers for her entire life. She hasn't been pretending it doesn't exist. Everyone has baggage, she figured out early on. It's just that the responsible people do their best to deal with it instead of pretending it's not there.

She is so tired of analyzing herself. At the women's shelter, she was given a new lesson on cognitive behavioral therapy each week, for several weeks. It was all stuff she already knew, it turned out - all things she had either learned through her training in psychology, or stuff she had figured out through trial and error or reading on the internet. Ultimately, she asked the shelter what book their lessons were coming from, and they told her it was Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M Najavits, so she could look at the rest of the lessons herself. One of her friends was struggling with alcoholism at the time, so Alice figured if Carl noticed the book, she could just say she got it to help her friend. She did actually share it with her friend, too. Alice always looks for multiple reasons to do things as a sign to do them.

"Are you sure I'm not delusional?" Alice asks Siggy, "I do obsess over the tarot quite a bit, because it helps me connect with my intuition - to something bigger - it helps me feel whole, just like meditation."

"No, you are not delusional," Siggy reassures her.

***

Minutes before he came down into her studio, Alice was watching a tarot reading from a woman who now makes $6000 a month reading tarot on the internet. She has only been doing it for a year. She has a little altar where she has some lit candles, and she tells a story as she pulls each card.

"Someone is delusional!" the reader said. "Someone is not happy, and will never be happy until she gets away from this abusive, controlling man! And, it looks like there may be substance abuse in the picture. Oh yes, this woman is really fooling herself. She needs to cut this man out of her life, or she will continue to live in misery!"

Alice's heart sank.

It's me, she thought. This reading is definitely for me.

She stared at the dancing candles until she heard Carl's steps coming, and she quickly paused the video and clicked to a different tab on her screen.

***

After her appointment, Alice sits in her car and stares at the instrument gauge in the parking lot, wondering what to do.

It's not a hurry, she thinks, and besides, I am supposed to start my period soon and I'm bloated and exhausted. If I postpone, Carl will hopefully see it for the act of goodwill it is. That will give me more time to examine my motivations, too.

She calls Carl and tells him that she has postponed the training session.

"I was just worried about naked pictures of you getting out all over the internet!" he says.

"Oh, yeah. Right! I don't want that either!!!" she agrees. "I was just thinking of maybe being an art model, or possibly a swimsuit and clothing model," and she's not even sure she'll be considered to be pretty enough to do the latter, which is fine with her. She's no spring chicken, after all.

They chat a little longer, and she feels like things are going to be okay. But there's still a niggling feeling about how he spoke to her, and how exhausted she is that she knows she needs to handle.

Not right now, she thinks. Go have fun with Shayla.

***

She sits in the parking lot outside Harbor Freight in Fort Collins and thinks about the time she and Carl went to get air tools for her to carve stone. She thinks about how Jeff gave her coupons and how he lent her his tools, and how different he was. She knew he didn't have much to share, but he did, and he trusted her to bring his stuff back. She saw him lend things to students and then not get the stuff back, and she knew then that they were of the same cloth. She was constantly lending things and giving things, knowing she might never get them back, and figuring if she didn't, the other person needed it more than she did.

Shayla is often late, which is okay. Alice enjoys the time alone in the car, thinking happy thoughts. She takes a toke off her vape pen. It's been a long time since she has seen Shayla, who knows everything about Alice and Carl's marital struggles, and about their cannabis use, which worries her. Alice finds this funny, since Shayla's husband partakes regularly. Shayla is probably the hardest working person Alice has ever met. She is probably one of the most secure people Alice has ever met. Alice is worried about telling her what is going on, but she needs to.

When Alice and Shayla get together, they like to go to bookstores. They stroll through the aisles and talk about the books they have read, while catching up on each other's lives. Shayla's kids have both gone to school now, and Alice is surprised to find out that Shayla has a new job. They are both a little surprised that Alice didn't know, and they both know this is a sign that they are not as close as they once were. Their kids used to need to see each other all the time, and then Shayla's daughter went to high school and everything changed. Alice and Shayla still try to see each other once a month, but sometimes it goes on longer. Shayla tells Alice how well her son is doing at his new charter school, how he loves the project-based learning he's getting to do helping build a room for sensory-deprivation water tanks at his school.

"Wow," Alice says. Some of the dreams she had for schoolchildren are materializing.

Shayla is babysitting a little boy down the block, and they talk about how ridiculous it was that Shayla's son's decision to go to school triggered Shayla's husband to announce that it was time for her to find a job. "I didn't want to go work some grind," Shayla confessed.

Shayla is caring for her mother-in-law who is in her mid-eighties and is quite demanding, too. Alice can't imagine adding anything to what Shayla is already doing. Alice feels like a real slob, but Campbell has told her not to be so hard on herself - that doing the work of self-improvement is exhausting. It really is exhausting, Alice thinks.

She's wishing, just a little bit, that she and Carl had bought their house in Fort Collins instead of Loveland. When she had tried to participate in groundbreaking educational change in Loveland, there was a very defensive mindset within the school district, very concerned about liability, which made almost anything slightly risky or exciting off limits. The district was even giving serious thought to not allowing parent volunteers in the schools anymore, and Alice thought that meant the writing was on the wall. The educational system was making its final conversion into a machine without any soul, totally focused on test results.

"So, what's going on with you?" Shayla inquires.

Alice starts off tentatively telling her about her trip to New York to meet her "new" uncle who is not only a painter, but a writer and a book collector. She wants to give more time to this discussion because it was definitely a significant chapter in her life, but she also just wants to pull the nude model idea off like a band-aid. Alice worries when she's telling her friends what is going on in her life that she is some sort of drama queen, or that she is delusional. But she finds the braver she is with the friends she has, the more acceptance that she gets, and whatever horrible thing inside her she thought she needed to hide is not really there, whatever it is.

Shayla asks what the hell is wrong with Carl, why he feels the need to control her so much. Shayla says she would never put up with what Alice puts up with, and Alice thinks that is funny, because she thinks Shayla's husband is pretty controlling. But Shayla isn't nearly as exhausted as I am, Alice thinks.

"Here - look at these," Shayla says, handing Alice her TracFone. On the screen are tiny pictures of a nude woman in a waterfall. Alice has to pinch-zoom to see them better. She can't tell who it is on the first picture. "We took these pictures on a hike." Alice scrolls to the next one and figures out that the pictures are Shayla. She has been swimming with Shayla before, but has never seen her body. Shayla runs most days of the week, maybe 2 or 3 miles. She does not look like a model. She looks like a regular person. Beautiful.

"Yeah, my kids look at these and say, 'Aww, look at the nice pictures Daddy took of Mommy!'" Shayla adds."I would totally model. How much does it pay?"

"About fifty dollars for three hours," Alice says.

"Sweet!" Shayla says.

Alice thinks about how Carl said that was nothing.

Alice has forgotten that Shayla's family goes to a clothing optional hot springs near where Shayla grew up. She thinks of Shayla's boundless energy and good temper, and refusal to take bullshit from people, and she realizes that Shayla actually does love herself, and that's what Alice loves about Shayla.

***

The next day, Alice decides to try to write about what has happened with Carl barging into her studio, and she gets pretty far along, but the fear of his judgment if she chooses to share it with the world gives her pause. More than pause. She is terrified.

She hears him upstairs in the kitchen, she doesn't know for how long.

He calls her up for dinner and she sits down to keep him company.

They talk a little bit and she decides it's time to tell him how she's feeling about how he spoke to her. She starts off mentioning that now Campbell has a girlfriend and she's not sure if their art project will move forward at all. Or even if she will get to learn to weld.

"I was really hurt yesterday by how you spoke to me," she offers.

He gets really angry.

This part is all a blur to Alice. That's the thing about having PTSD. It's really hard to stay present during stress. Alice just dissociates. She goes somewhere else in her mind to minimize stress. As she's typing this, she's imagining Merlin the Magician in her favorite Disney movie, The Sword in the Stone, yelling "Blow me to Bermuda!" and disappearing for most of the rest of the movie, which was always a disappointment to Alice. It's kind of like that. It's been a subject of conversation multiple times in her therapy with Siggy - Alice broaching difficult topics with people and then dissociating so she doesn't even remember the exact answer, just that everything is okay. Or not okay, in this case.

All Alice remembers is that she decided to go meditate and have her dinner alone in her studio, leaving the family upstairs. She remembers Nolan rubbing his head, making the noise that Tina makes on Bob's Burgers. "Uuuuuhhhhhh..." a long vocal fry oozing from his throat. Sally being quiet. Probably biting her nails.

She hears them finish dinner upstairs - she can hear everything in the kitchen from her studio, and it's often unsettling - the feeling of guilt as her family does what she should be doing while she is writing, making art, or just doing whatever she needs to do to feel okay with herself, alone. When the footsteps stop, she works her way up the stairs with her dirty plate.

She looks around for Carl and he is gone. He has taken the car somewhere. Neither of the kids know where he is.

"Hey. I went down and tried to meditate. But Maggie called and woke me up. They want to come to the concert with us and invited us to dinner with them before. Do you want to go? I didn't realize you had taken off. I should have tried to meditate earlier," she texted him. Maggie had invited Alice and Carl to a mural dedication and dinner downtown, and Alice mentions they are going to a Strange Parade concert. The Strange Parade is a Doors cover band. Maggie thought Guido might enjoy that.

"That wasn't cool at all," Carl responded.

"I was trying to tell you that I was hurting. I feel I am a huge burden on everyone, now. I always feel like that what I want is a shame to you somehow," she replies. She goes further down the hole of self-deprecation to let him know how lousy she is feeling. She mentions that it would be better if she was dead, because then she wouldn't be such a pain in his behind. She won't be such an embarrassment anymore.

"I'm not going to engage you on that stuff now," he says.

She re-reads what she wrote, and wonders again if she has borderline personality disorder. Siggy, Alice's sister, and several other people have told her repeatedly that she does not have borderline personality disorder, but Alice is not sure. But she really does just want it to be over. She hates this feeling of angering him when all she wants is to be treated with a little respect. If respect is that elusive, she thinks, I don't really want to have to live anymore. It hurts too much. Surely hell is better than this.

"Well, that is how I feel when you treat me like a child," she says.

"I didn't treat you like a child, I made dinner," he says.

"I am talking about yesterday," she replies. "I tried to tell you how I felt and you blew up at me."

"Per usual you were going to do something without me," he says.

She was trying to build a support system for herself. She was trying to have fun. She needed to have a little fun for her sanity. They used to all go play trivia together, and that fell apart for other reasons outside them. Maybe the tension between us was the catalyst, she wonders.

"Why do I have to get your permission for everything I do with my career?" she asks. "BTW, I think you would be perfectly welcome to come to the training session, but when you treat me with contempt, it is not very confidence boosting for me."

"You're getting very reckless. Now you're going to do things that affect both of our lives and I don't get a say," he says.

"You are deciding what I do with my body! I realized this morning that you were actually *embarrassed* about it. There is no safety issue," she retorts.

Ultimately he tells her he is worried that neither of them will be able to go into politics, and she realizes that this all has to do with a conversation he had with his retired friends earlier in the week where they urged him to run for an office.

For fuck's sake, it's always going to be about him, she thought. When she was a little girl, and even a young mother, it was always about her mother. It was why she didn't allow her mother at the birth of her daughter.

"You are being ridiculous. There are tons of things you can do. Politics is one of them. City council. State legislature. You know tons of people. Everybody likes you," he offers.

Then, she loses it.

For three and a half hours, she hammers him with texts about how fucked up she is and that she is not strong enough to go into politics and never will be. She talks about how she had a low bar for her friendships because she didn't even know that human relationships could be good. She tells him that is why she had crushes all those years, because she was so hungry for human kindness.

She remembers Siggy telling her that her loneliness stemmed from a lesion in her primary relationship. When Alice asked what that meant, Siggy simply answered, "Your marriage."

He calls her and she answers, but hangs up almost immediately after he starts talking. Verbal arguments don't work with him, because they twist each other around. She wants this all in writing.

She tells him he should be the politician. She sends him one of Instagram user tonycorbittjr's nude sketches, which probably looks like her. She texts him about the fucked up dynamics around their sex life. She messages him about how emotionally alone she has felt, especially around the start of her period (which happens to be right then). She calls him out on giving her "permission" to do things and then rescinding it, which he does a lot. And then she says, one more time, how fucked up it is that he won't answer her texts, because he only wants to have the kind of conversation where he can call her names and toy with her head.

Maybe that's what his parents did to each other, she thought, as she has, many times.

He comes home and answers her texts. He doesn't understand why she is so mad. He agrees that she can model. He thinks she is projecting her frustration with Jeff and Campbell on him. This is bullshit, she thinks. I have no beef with Jeff at all, and Campbell is just trying to find his happiness.

"I don't understand why you were acting so desperate!" he says.

She starts sending him screenshots of her texts with Adam so he can see that she was trying to delay the training, but she immediately sees that he is not reading them. He is still focused on her being in such a hurry. She had talked about this with Siggy - that she wasn't in a hurry, she was just following the flow of The Universe.

Then he says something that really irks her.

"I heard about your 'lifelong dream' twice and it had been only the past week. You have never mentioned it before."

"I never said lifelong dream. You are putting words in my mouth!" she said, after carefully scrolling through the texts. She was sure she didn't say anything of the sort, because being any sort of model has been the furthest thing from her mind since, maybe, uh, middle school? Maybe since her mother called her a whale? Maybe since that guy in 7th grade called her fat?

This is exactly the kind of thing that happens in verbal arguments that she is trying to avoid. She is glad it is captured by text.

It goes on until 12:34 in the morning, with him upset about all the time she spent working on her novel, refusing to see how he is holding her to a different standard than he holds himself, and refusing to apologize for invading her headspace, or talking to her in a disrespectful tone, when she finally throws her phone across the room, puts the blankets over her head, and goes to sleep.

***

In the morning, she wakes up, reads the whole thing again with a clear mind, and responds to one of the last things he had written:

"I am sorry that what I said hurts you. I didn't intend that. But I needed to share my opinion on it," he had said. She copies it back into the thread and comments:

"This is not a real apology for HOW you did it. I would like to feel respected and trusted, and like you think I have something useful to contribute to teh world and that I can do what I see can help the world without you feeling threatened. To me, it feels like wherever I start having any sort of success, you are personally threatened by it. So, I feel imprisoned. Is that what you want? Did I not navigate the thing with Adam just fine? Have I not navigated everything just fine? I feel infantilized by you - like you are onlhy going to be happy as long as I perform the role your mother plays in her marriage. That is not okay with me. You are not my father, you are my PARTNER. I understand I am taking a lot of time to myself right now. I am trying to figure out how I can fit into the world at large and make a mark of some sort, even a tiny one. It's not fair to the kids or me to limit my potential. They also need me to model how to navigate risk safely, or they will be afraid of life. Do you want that? They need to see us being brave and supporting each other, modeling forgiveness, respect and love. I don't think that is too much to ask - although I know it will be challenging because we don't have that model to see. Our mothers felt they were nothing in society. Is that what you want for Sally? That is how I feel. And I don't want to go into politics for the reasons I said. I am not strong enough. I am, however, strong enough to write and make thought provoking art, and I need a support system to do that. For real success, you ahve to put yourself out there. With politics, you lose control over that ability. With art, you can do it as your strength ebbs and flows. If you view my attempts at building my career as torpedoing our marriage, I am not sure what to tell you, except that your insecurity is the only thing threatening to torpedo it, and I would encourage you to seek some clicking on that matter, because I think me trying to help you with that has only worn me down and obviously hasn't helped you feel any more secure."

Fucking autocorrect, she thinks.

"Clicking = counseling," she adds.

She goes downstairs, cleans the kitchen, and offers him coffee when she sees him stir on the sofa.

"No," he says, walking through the kitchen to the laundry room to get his clean laundry. He takes it upstairs to their bedroom.

This is the first time ever in their 25 year marriage that she sensed he might leave. She had tried to leave many times, never knowing where to go. Many friends over the years tell her she can come stay with them, but she never wants to be a burden. She is tired of feeling like a burden. She has felt like a burden her whole life.

Besides, she is sure if she leaves, everything really will fall apart.

***

Astolis App, Stardate Thursday, November 8

Aquarius Chattylove (Alice's Sun Sign)

An unexpected love life development could work in your favor if it helps to encourage an important and potentially pivotal conversation with a loved one or someone close. What transpires unexpectedly could shine a necessary light on how volatile a relationship situation or arrangement is that both of you believe to be solid. Creating a more stable future relies on consolidating what's positive but addressing what can be improved. The future starts here!

***

Daily Horoscope App, November 5 - November 11

Sagittarius (Alice's Rising and Moon Signs)

When a suit or a dress no longer fits, its wearer can have it taken in, let out, or whatever adjustment is necessary. We don't often think of relationships this way, but if you could try to see a special bond in this light this week, Sagittarius, you can do wonders to improve it. You may have given up on having the same level of closeness you once enjoyed with this person because things have changed in some way. But there are ways you can both adapt and make it as good a fit as it ever was. Don't hasten to write this off. This week could also bring a challenge you had not anticipated with a project or at work. This may come in the form of a task you have to tackle that seems beyond your abilities. But you may underestimate yourself, and you need to stir up your enthusiasm and confidence to take on this project. If you do, you will find that you are far more capable than you ever realized. A lesson you learned long ago may apply to a problem you face this week. If something is confusing, look back to a similar situation in the past, and you will find a solution.

***

Before Carl returns from his long drive (to Wyoming, Alice learns later - he must have been trying to return to the womb, she thinks, since he was born there), Alice pulls some tarot cards for strength. She learned from her astrological natal chart that she has several placements indicating interest in Occult subjects, and has decided that her obsessions with Ouija and the Magic 8 Ball when she was a girl are probably part of the very fabric of her being. Everything else in it is pretty spot on, and she really is curious about such things.

She has been reading her horoscope for about a year or so, fairly diligently, and it almost always "comes true." She has a much different idea about why, now, after a year. She reads it diligently every night and in the morning, and realizes that it plants seeds in her subconscious so she can deal with whatever life throws her way.

Tarot does the same thing. She often reads her tarot cards before a meditation for this reason.

She has used tarot in a few dicey situations to help herself, her mother, and Carl. She likes how it helps her feel like she is tapping into her own inner wisdom. She likes the readings that Nicholas Ashbaugh does on YouTube for personal development, and would love to recommend him to her open-minded friends. But make sure you also watch and read for your rising sign, too, she thinks. Yes, she is a whackadoodle Aquarius, but her Sagittarius rising sign, moon, Venus in Pisces and Mars in Capricorn is what she shows to the world. It's all there. Air, fire, water, and just a bit of earth. Carl is all fire, air and water. So much water. Poor guy, told as a child that he was too sensitive, with all that water, Alice thinks. On the last eclipse, she had a tarot reading done while visiting their friends in Colorado Springs, and the reader remarked on the water everywhere in the reading. Yes, my life is full of water. She wishes for a little more earth.

She wants to know if he is coming back, or what, even though she is finally open to whatever happens. She doesn't know if the tarot will tell her that, but she shuffles the cards, and does a nine card grid spread about their relationship. I'll use the Osho Zen Tarot cards, she thinks. They came with a little book to explain the meaning of the cards, which has different suits like clouds for the usual swords/air/mind, water for cups/water/emotion, rainbow for pentacles/earth/material world and fire for wands/fire/passion.

She has quite a few decks now - having weaned herself off clothes shopping, she gets two decks or so a month as a treat to herself for her new practice. Her very first deck was an illuminated deck in the style of Mucha. Then, for her tarot class, she bought a standard Rider-Waite deck, and Barbara Moore's Everyday Tarot deck. After meeting someone with the Thoth deck, which was supposed to be great for divination (seeing meaning in the cards without using a book), she ordered one of those, but got the small deck, which is not very good for divination, at least without reading glasses. For Halloween, she got the Santa Muerte deck, and then of course she got the Osho Zen Tarot deck after learning about the Osho, with whom she shares many philosophies. Her mother bought her a little travel deck as a surprise when they went to New York, and one of Jeremy and Ruth's friends who was dressed up as a Fortune Teller gave her a deck from Spirit Halloween store. Those pictures are the happiest, she thinks, which is neat because she had so much fun that evening.

The top row, representing herself, reads XVIII Past Lives (corresponding to The Moon in the regular Tarot, which is all about illusion) in the leftmost (past) space.

"The real point is to see an dunderstand the karmic patterns of our lives, and their roots in an endless repetitive cycle that traps us in unconscious behavior..." the description for the card says. Alice, as an amateur genealogist and friend to many has seen the patterns throughout society. That women often marry men to get out of their parents' households. They almost must, especially now, because it is so difficult to be financially independent. Most of the younger single people she knows have lives which keep them prisoner to the whims of flaky roommates and a volatile rental market. Alice knows, however, that since she is secure with herself, home is wherever she is.

The middle card for the present situation is III Creativity (corresponding to The Empress in regular Tarot), but is reversed. She is maybe misusing her femininity, she thinks. Maybe she is expressing the shadow side of the Empress - being too controlling. No. She is trying to fight for her independence.

"Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity that you are doing. It is an atittude, an inner approach - how you look at things..." the book muses. Alice wonders if other women draw tarot for help in these sorts of situations. She often knows what to do, but even before the tarot, she helped a cousin through transition in childbirth by finding the right passage in a devotional bible. She just opened the book randomly and found the perfect passage, which she can't remember now, but it was just the right thing to help the cousin know she had it in her to birth the baby, who was nearly 11 pounds.

The rightmost card in the future is 5 of Water - Clinging to the Past for the outcome.

Crap, she thinks. Even if I get through this with him, I'm going to feel some amount of psychological torment! I am way too tired for this shit.

"Everything is going to go out of your hands. Clinging will simply create misery. You will have to let go," the book tells her. This, she knows.


Carl's cards are the 3 of Water in the past, which is titled "Celebration." "True celebration arises from a joy that is first experienced deep within, and spills over into an overflow of song and dance and laughter, and yes, even tears of gratitude," the book explains. Carl had told her that the last two years were the best years of their marriage, which Alice finds odd, because she had spent so much time somewhere else in her head. But in a lot of ways, she was happier and more lively than she had ever been, which Carl definitely notices. In regular tarot, the three of cups often arises during situations involving a third party.

Alice shakes her head at the way the cards always come out so perfectly. The scientist in her shrugs her shoulders, looks up at the ceiling in the room and shakes her head. Yep, I'm totally crazy, she thinks.

In the middle for the present, he has the 2 of Water, which is Friendliness, which has two trees grown together.

"The branches of these two flowering trees are intertwined and their fallen petals blend together on the ground in their beautiful colors. It is as if heaven and earth are bridged by lvoe. But they stand individually, each rooted in the soil in their own connection with the earth. In this way they represent the essence of true friends, mature, each with each other, natural. There is no urgency about their connection, no neediness, no desire to change the other into something else. This card indicates a readiness to enter this quality of friendliness. In the passage, you may notice that you are no longer interested in all kinds of dramas and romances that other people are engaged in. It is not a loss. It si the birth of a higher, more loving quality born of the fullness of experience. It is the birth of a love that is truly unconditional, without expectations or demands... Marriage is out of fear, relatedness is out of love. You relate; as long as things are moving beautifully, you share. And if you see that the moment has come to depart because your paths separate at this crossroad, you say goodbye with great gratitude for all that the other has been to you, for all the joys and all the pleasures and all the beautiful moments that you have shared with the other. With no misery, with no pain, you simply separate."

Alice swallows hard. She knows these things. She wonders if Carl is capable of an equal partnership.

In the future position is the 9 of Rainbows, "Ripeness," which has a picture of an apple falling off a tree. "When the fruit is ripe, it drops from the tree by itself. One moment it hangs by a thread from the branches of the tree, bursting with juice. The next moment it falls - not because it has been forced to fall, or has made the effort to jump, but because the tree has recognized its ripeness and simply let it go," the book says. Hmm, Alice thought. Well how about that? It talks about love growing to maturity.

For their relationship as a whole, the past is the Queen of Rainbows - "Flowering" which has a damsel seated in the lotus position in a flowering lotus, with a halo around her head. "Your blissfulness, your benediction, your ecstasy should not be contained within you like a seed. It should open like a flower and spread its fragrance to all and sundry - not only to the friends but to the strangers too. This is real compassion, this is real love: sharing your enlightenment, sharing your dance of the beyond." Alice and Carl often talked about the wonderful parts of their relationship and family dynamic, and wished everyone could live like they did, with trust in themselves for just being, realizing that they are good enough, just as they are.

The middle position, the Present, is The Master. The Master has no numerological equivalent to the regular Tarot. It is a special card, with a picture of the Zen Master Osho. Alice often, when asking significant questions, would receive the High Priestess, signifying connection with the Divine, show up in her readings. When this happens, she looks at the card and subtly shake her head.

This is really happening, she thinks. Or she is fooling herself.

"Once your awareness becomes a flame, it burns up the whole slavery that the mind has created. There is no blissfulness more precious than freedom, than being a master of your own destiny," the book reassures her. She knows this to be true. It is why she stayed home for all those years and fiercely defended Carl and the kids' freedom, at the cost of her own.

And in the future is the 6 of Fire - "Success." The card is illustrated with a person riding a tiger through confetti.

Everything is going to be okay, Alice thinks. At least temporarily.

"The greatest wisdom to keep in mind with all the phenomena in the parade of your life, whether they be valleys or peaks, is that 'this too will pass.' Celebrate, yes, and keep on riding the tiger," the book advises her.

The overarching energy of the reading (bottom card) is the 9 of Fire - "Exhaustion."

"This is the portrait of one whose whole life energy has been depleted in his efforts to keep fueling the enormous and ridiculous machine of self-importance and productivity. He has been so busy 'keeping it all together' and 'making sure everything runs smoothly,' that he has forgotten to really rest. No doubt he can't allow himself to be playful. To abandon his duty for a trip to the beach could mean the whole structure might come tumbling down..." Tell me about it, Alice thinks. Isn't this the card of modern motherhood? Or maybe motherhood through all time? God, I am so exhausted.

She thinks of all the weekends when she had been running the kids around all week and how she would be summoned to Carl's family's house, and how if she tried to stay home to stare at the wall or pick her nose or masturbate or watch YouTube videos or whatever, he became angry with her. Yes, she found meditation, which was great, but how in the hell is catching 20 minutes of rest a few times a week enough? It just isn't. She thinks about how she has often thought that if she just had a room somewhere with a mattress, blankets and a pillow, she would just sleep indefinitely. She thinks of how Carl vehemently defends his time to play video games many hours a day, and how much extra work that meant for her over the years, and how he is this way because anything resembling sloth prompted intervention from his parents in the form of home improvement projects or house cleaning, and how he has projected that onto her for 25 years, and how she wants out. How she desperately needs some rest. 

And then a card jumps out while she is shuffling, X - Change from the Major Arcana. The Wheel of Fate.

"Life repeats itself mindlessly - unless you become mindful, it will go on repeating like a wheel. That's why Buddhists call it the wheel of life and death - the wheel of time. Once you see the pattern, you can get out of it." Oh yes, she saw a pattern. Carl would cling to her, and she would try to get a bit of independence, and he would lay down the law, and she would abide. The cycle of abuse.

All she can do from this point is act out of love and hope for the best. The Universe will decide decide the outcome, and either way, all will be well. It is time. She can't go on like this anymore.

That's what she would have thought without the reading, anyway.


<Click here to go to Part 4: Onions>

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