Saturday, June 30, 2012

Memoir Excerpt -- The Irregular Sheets

Last year I entered my first writing contest.  I didn't win, didn't EXPECT to win, but it was the action of mailing it off that made it worthwhile.


I found it difficult to write about a specified topic, just like I always found it hard to read an assigned book in school.  I love to write, and I adore reading, but being TOLD what to read or write -- that's an entirely different thing.


The topic given by the contest was "tell us when you first knew true love".   I immediately knew I didn't want to write about having a baby or getting married, but something else entirely.  Before either of those two things could have happened, I had to learn to love myself.  It was a battle I very nearly lost and if I hadn't somehow struggled through it, I wouldn't be here to write this now.


I decided to go ahead and share the story here. It's certainly not the most interesting story I could tell you, but it's absolutely a turning point in my life.





I knew true love when I smelled the irregular sheets.


In 1999, I spent a miserable, lonely day moving my paltry belongings from a catastrophically failed relationship into a house I was fairly certain I couldn't afford.  The house was old and quaint, an adorable 1940's cottage.  Every room was tiny, which seemed fitting, considering how small I felt, how battered my emotions were, how incredibly microscopic I felt in the grand scheme of life.


A year ago, I thought I had it all.  I'd graduated from a stellar university with a promising future.  I'd found what I thought was the strength to leave a complicated three-year relationship only to fall right back into the same pit I'd just climbed out of.  


"I'll take care of you," he said.  


"I'll treasure you."


" I love you.


The relationship started with sunshine and promises.  Weeks passed, then months ... a year.  As if on a predetermined schedule of existence handed to me at birth, life started derailing right on schedule.  Slights, then fights.  Slammed doors; nights left to steam alone in bed; angry, nasty taunts.  


A couple of shoves.  


Insults.


Lies.

And then, the ultimate denouement -- I was told to move out.


As miserable as this man had made me, as unequipped as he'd been to sustain a lasting relationship with so much as a house plant, I was still utterly and completely crushed.  I'd been chosen and then abandoned by people for years.  Years.  Even my childhood had been a series of neglect, upheaval, and complete crazy-making. 


I was thirty years old and I'd finally hit rock bottom.  Rock bottom had been searching for me for those thirty years, sometimes fading into the background, but all too often rising up to yank me closer to the depths of dashed hopes and anguish.  Rock bottom was being too confused and tired, too miserable and beaten down to consider anything as dire as suicide.  Rock bottom was being forced to live.


The irony didn't escape me.


Struggling to hold myself together, I reached out to a co-worker to help me look for an apartment.  The idea of walking into empty rooms alone was more than I could bear.  We quickly discovered that living in a university town meant skyrocketing rental prices, so I attempted the previously unimaginable -- I started house-hunting. 


Newly out of college and with no savings, my price range hit somewhere between "tenement" and "does not exist in this market".  The first house my agent showed me had plastic sliding doors, three windows, and a resident mouse.  The second house had so much mold and mildew in the basement that both the realtor and I bolted up the stairs and out into the dirt yard gasping for breath. The third house showed promise until we climbed the stairs to the second floor and realized no one taller than 5'8" could possibly live there in an upright position.


Hot, dirty, and dejected, we drove through the neighborhood toward the agent's office.  As we sat at a stop sign, still trying to catch our breath from the moldy basement, the heavens opened up and the angels did sing -- another real estate agent was right at that moment hammering a "For Sale" sign into the yard of an adorable white cottage.



I was all for accosting the agent then and there, but apparently, that's not how things are done in polite society.  My realtor made a phone call and we set an appointment for the next day.


For the first time in ages, things didn't look so dismal.


I'll never forget walking into that house.  Only 888 square feet, it was a haven built for one.  A miniscule fireplace, but plenty of windows.  An adorable little kitchen and a narrow but deep back yard.  Two tiny bedrooms and one dollhouse-sized bathroom.  It even had a sweet dining room just big enough for a table for two -- should I ever find a "plus one".


We wrote a contract immediately.  There was only one catch.  The owner couldn't move out for two months.


Two months.  Two torturous months living holed up in a room in my ex's townhouse.


Could I do it?  Could I handle the put-downs, the new girlfriends being trotted in front of me, my inability to feel the slightest bit of self-worth?


I had no choice.   I had no where else to go.


Living with family was not even on the table.  Most of my friends still lived overseas, still enlisted in the Air Force, where I probably should have stayed.  I couldn't afford a hotel for two months.  I had to swallow what little pride I had left and fall deeper and deeper into self-loathing each and every day.


I nearly didn't make it.  To stay out of the way of the ex-boyfriend, I woke up at 5am to go to the gym, went to work, drove back to the gym again as soon as work was over, and then limped to my personal room in hell to swallow a handful of pain killers left over from a recent surgery so I could fall comatose and forget where I was.  I lost too much weight.  More frighteningly, I lost time.  I found myself sitting at a traffic light with no idea how I'd gotten there or what road I'd just driven.  I was close to a catatonic state most hours of the day.


Finally, moving day arrived.  All my possessions fit in the back of a pickup truck with room to spare.  With a promise of marriage given early on by the ex, I'd sold or given away my entire household when I moved in with him -- furniture, dishes, anything remotely useful to a new home owner.  I had nothing but a couple of suitcases, boxes of beloved books, two cats, and fear.


I spent the first three days in my new house in a haze of cleaning, painting, hammering, patching, and organizing.  I visited a furniture store for a mattress and sofa, the grocery store to stock my empty fridge, and the hardware store to buy light fixtures and paint.  I spent that weekend -- Thanksgiving Day weekend, interestingly -- building a nest for the broken-winged bird I'd become.  I needed to heal, and I needed a home.  I needed a safe haven, and it needed to be mine and mine alone.




I had decided to give up on dating.  One failed marriage and several disastrous long-term relationships were enough.  The pain and anguish were just not worth it.  I needed to learn to love myself and figure out who I was when not defined by the man I was with. In a fit of pique, I decided if I was going to spend my nights alone, then I deserved luxurious high thread count sheets -- even if all I could afford were the irregulars from the discount store.


That night I lay on my back in my tiny bungalow, clutching my irregular sheets up to my chin.  I watched traffic lights pass across my ceiling.  I buried my face in the sheets, taking in a deep breath, smelling the calming scent of fresh laundry.  I'd expected to dry tears on my sheets that night, but instead, I felt a strange calm.



 
Suddenly, I got a chill as I realized in a moment of crisp clarity -- this, this room, this house, was all mine!  


I couldn't control the grin on my face.  I knew tears hadn't been completely vanquished, but I felt myself fall in love with my house, my home, and I felt I could learn, over time, to fall in love with myself.


All it took was the spark of hope from the smell of irregular sheets.





Photobucket


Lori Anderson creates jewelry and bead kits as well as collaborative mixed media art with her son, Zack.  Visit her shops by clicking here.  She is also the creator of the Bead Soup Blog Party tm  and author of the book Bead Soup.


Join her at the Facebook group Bead Soup Cafe for bead chat, swaps, challenges, and lots of eye candy!

64 comments:

  1. You should have won, your story was wonderful, I felt your pain and I felt your joy! Great job, keep writing!

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  2. Thank you for sharing this. I think there are a lot of gals that have had to start over without a man in their life. Not easy I am sure since we have made it clear that in this life we must be two. I have been married to the same man for 48 years. I was very young but he was my best friend. We liked each other before we loved each other. Take care of you, Mary

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  3. What an amazing story. I love this, it just filled my room with warmth, encouragement for women, and touched me deeply. Maybe it is because most women have been "here", I know I have. You are just an incredible writer Lori, never doubt that, and please never stop. xoxo Riki

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  4. I was hoping for something like this when I started reading the story. Only when you begin to love yourself can anyone else really know and love you. I have yet to get there! This is inspiring!

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  5. And I hope you still have those irregular sheets even if they are in no condition to be used!

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  6. Lori, words fail me after reading your blog today... I felt so much part of your experience, think many of us have been in a similar situation at some stage in our lives and it takes courage and perseverance to pick ourselves up and start again. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Oh Lori!
    Made me cry.
    Beautiful story!
    There IS something very special about freshly washed sheets. I've always felt so. Now I know they have a magic effect on more people than me. Wonderful magic on you. What a journey!
    xxx

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  8. Thank you for sharing Lori. You have to love yourself first, I'm so glad you learned to!

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  9. With tears in my eyes, Lori, but happy tears for you!

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  10. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful piece. I have tears in my eyes. I almost envy that feeling of a new beginning. Most of us are so wrapped up in the daily grind that it is hard to remember a time when we had to find the strength to go on, and did. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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  11. A touching piece. I could feel you anguish, and ultimate relief. So glad life has turned around for you, especially with that budding entrepreneur, Zack.

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  12. That is a beautiful story. I'm so glad that you were able to get that little house where you could find love. You probably know this already, but your ex was an ass and probably still is.

    I still live in a 1920's Arts and Crafts Bungalow that is only 980 square feet. I love it, I don't think I could leave it to live in the biggest mansion you had. I've lived here since 1990 when we moved to Kansas City, MO so that I could attend law school. It is within walking distance of the college.

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  13. Thank you for letting me read your story.
    English is my second language therefore I won't be able to write a story the way you did.
    I found your writing very interesting and down to the point and personally I think you should've win the competition. We all had our share of "good" relationship and sadly lot of us can't stand up and find ourselves after that. I am still looking for my irregular sheets :)
    You are a very special person

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  14. What a wonderful memoir, Lori! Writing that comes from the heart is the best kind, and so powerful!

    I had a similar experience when I moved into my little crayon box (793 sq. feet) after my husband died. Got everything moved in, sat down in a chair to catch my breath and was just overwhelmed with emotion at my brand new life.

    We women, we are amazing creatures.

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    1. Skylar you are so right we women are strong, resilient and caring nurturing individuals!!

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  15. Lori, what a beautiful piece of writing! Although I have been fortunate not to suffer such a difficult situation, I found myself identifying with your pain and even heaving a sigh of relief at your restored hope in the end. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful connection with the ordinary treasures that can be our emotional salvation!

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  16. Wow! What a great story of truimph and rejoicing in the end with the lil' things that can bring us comfort.. Only thing missing is I would love to see renovation pictures!! thanks for sharing something so personal. Take care, DEB

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  17. Bless you Lori, what a life story to have and to tell. thank you for sharing!

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  18. I am always amazed at peoples resolve and strength to love themselves despite all. You truly were loving yourself through that ordeal otherwise you wouldn't of been looking for something to call your own. Inside we all know that we are worthwhile but sometimes we have to hit a bottom in our lives to find that mustard seed of hope for ourselves. Beautiful heartfelt post!

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  19. Dear, Dear Lori how wonderful of you to share this story. It nade me sad...just for a moment as I continued to read the rest.

    I too need to learn to love myself, not to be so critical.

    I am happy divorced for almost 7 years now, had to sell my house because my ex wouldn't let me keep it to raise my 2 sons. I moved into a small 2 bedroom coop which I hated for a very long time.

    I Watched as my older son graduated from Carnegie Mellon then my younger son from Purchase College. Now my sweet home, the same small apartment holds so many warm memories. No I do not have a big house with a pool, backyard, basement but I have my own place. Never did I live on my own. I went from living with my Mom to living with my husband.

    I can't say I regret being married for 22 long years...afterall I walked away with the love and respect of my two boys who love and respect me today as men. I am truly blessed.

    Wow, I never thought I would share this on a blog no less but your story has touched me.

    Thank you gor sharing.

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  20. Thanks for sharing your story Lori. Because of the pain you've gone through you have a much better appreciation of love. Thanks for letting us in your inner circle :) Hugs!

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  21. <3 and sunshine to you. Thanks for bringing these things and more to my life. Hugs, Kel

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  22. Cassie Donlen1:40 PM

    Wow, what an inspiring story and a beautiful silver lining. That is true love. So proud of you and where you have settled into your deserving life you have now. Keep on rocking it!

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  23. I am so glad you treated yourself to those sheets!!! I am glad you are where you are today.

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  24. Amazing...so many of us come from the same place (figuratively speaking), and somehow manage to become happy, productive women with joy in our hearts. Hats off to you, Lori, for reminding me of how it once WAS, and to feel content with how it now IS!

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  25. Beautiful, Lori.
    Yes, you should have won.
    You leave us wanting to know "the rest of the story"...

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  26. This is a wonderful story of hope and the beginning of better things, including a better life. A more rich and fulfilling life.

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  27. Thank you for sharing your story and a bit about yourself. You are very brave. It's a wonderful story and we are stronger than we think.

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  28. Wonderful story!! A hard story... really well written ...about the most important love of all.
    I am teary eyed and cheering.. Hooray for you!!
    Writting can be such wonderful therapy and much cheaper than a shrink! ;)

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  29. I love the way you write. That story got me a little teary eyed as well. I hope you've had a fantastic weekend.

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  30. I've been down this road too. But we are survivors and come stronger on the other side.

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  31. Great story...you are a talented writer Lori! I can totally relate to your words "learn to...figure out who I was when not defined by the man I was with". I remember those days all too well.

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  32. Really, really wonderful writing! Thank you for sharing your story, so happy about your happy ending...you deserve it and more! You are an inspiration Lori!

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  33. I hope this means you're working on the autobiography. I loved this and completely was drawn in. I want the full book, now, please! Thanks for this post, Lori. It's lovely.

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  34. Loved your story Lori, I felt your fear, pain and sorrow at yet another loss and then your wonder as you realized you were home.

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  35. Thanks for sharing your story with us. I always tell my step-daughter that she needs to live by herself before she ever decides to live with a man. She needs to know that she can stand on her own to feet and take care of herself. So glad you took the huge step to learn to love your self. You are a beautiful person both inside and out.
    Sonya

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  36. Lori, thanks for sharing your story with us. I always tell me step-daughter that she needs to live by herself before she ever thinks about living with a man. She needs to know that she can stand on her own and take care of herself. Good for you for taking charge of your self and your well being and learning to love your self. You are a beautiful person both inside and outside.
    Sonya

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  37. Nice piece. Well written and well done.

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  38. In every word you wrote I could feel your angst and then finally your joy of knowing YOU could love YOU and life would be good. Thank you Lori Dear for writing from your soul. Blessings...

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  39. ~i just love you....~

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  40. Loved the story (and the photos)! Your descriptions came across perfectly. Keep writing.

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  41. Loved the story (and the photos)! Your descriptions came across perfectly. Keep writing.

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  42. Thanks for sharing such a personal story I have sent this to all my nieces and printed it for my granddaughter she's 9 I will save it until she's a little older. All woman should first learn to live alone and love themselves .It took me years a more than one failed marriage. Take car of your self great story great writing

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  43. I love this story more than I can describe. I think it's so very relate-able for so many of us and really shows your strength as well as the strength each of us can possess. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  44. Absolutely fantastic writing Lori. Instead of the usual "speed & skip reading" I usually do when faced with a whole lot of words, I actually was sorry when I got to the end - I wanted to read more!!

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  45. You definitely have a talent for writing! You are a survivor.

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  46. Lovely story Lori =)
    *aja aja fighting*

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  47. Beautiful story. I bet you didn't know at the time how many women were keeping you company or how many you eould later inspire!

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  48. You may not have won the contest Lori, but you are one heck of an incredible writer.

    This story just screams strength and survivor and it came straight from your heart; one place that you can never go wrong writing from.

    You're such an inspiration Lori!

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  49. Thanks for sharing Lori. WHat an ordeal to go through - but what a triumphant ending! Your little house was lovely. And when everything had been about him, how important and wonderful for you to have this significant thing all about you.

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  50. I didn't get to read this until today, and I knew I wanted to read the comments as well. Just finished with all of it, and I truly love how you touch each one of us with your style of writing. I could FEEL your joy in your home, and it reminded me of our first cottage home, and how much we still miss it. I could FEEL the anguish of enduring, and for me, that is what makes a successful story. I too, am an avid reader, and I know within the first couple of pages whether it's a keeper for me or not. Your writing hits the mark, and I feel so blessed to 'know' you. I pray I will get to meet you in person one day soon. Much love and hugs!

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  51. Your strength and courage are amazing! You are such a wonderful person for it all.

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  52. You spoke to my heart and from my heart, Lori!

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  53. yeah....what MoonRae and everyone else said.

    you, my friend, are someone very special indeed....thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story with us.

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  54. You never cease to amaze me! Beautiful writing...thanks for putting yourself out there!

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  55. Lori - you are a brave person who has a talent for writing things that touch people on the deepest levels. Your stories are so relatable and heartfelt. Thanks for sharing your journey!

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  56. swopemelmel10:14 AM

    We will certainly be awaiting the next chapter !!! You may not have won the contest but you have futher won the hearts of your many fans. I too live in Maryland and truely hope to meet you some day.
    Thank you for sharing your story with us. It is incredible the amount of memories that a simple smell can bring back.
    swopemelmel @ aol dot com

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  57. Wow, I just love how you are so candid with your readers.

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  58. What a beautifully written story. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. You are an amazing lady!

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  59. Well written Lori! I can almost vision everything as though I were there. Thank You for being Brave to share your story. It certainly puts things in a perspective that we're truly not alone with our feelings. I know I've had my personal struggles. Thank You for sharing your personal story. :-D

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  60. I was probably living in Charlottesville at that time. I wish I had known you. I would have been your friend. Thanks for sharing and I am glad we are blog pen pals now.

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