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The Eighth Puzzle

Last night Mike and I started a 1000-piece puzzle. It wasn’t really planned. I mentioned to him that if he had not gotten up at 4:45am with me that morning I probably would have started a puzzle. I don’t sleep well. I have no problem falling asleep, but I usually wake up sometime between 2-4am and lay awake before falling back asleep shortly before my 6am alarm. It sucks.

Yesterday morning I gave up at 4:45 and got up thinking I would either try to write or do a puzzle. Mike padded in while I was making coffee and though I encouraged him to go back to sleep, he said he’d rather be up with me. I’d rather he be up too, so we had one of those rare, dark mornings sipping coffee and chatting before we both began the mad dash to get ready for work.

It’s odd that I thought of the puzzle. This one, the last of eight, has sat on my bookshelf for over four years. I actually love doing puzzles, but the desire to pull this one off the bookshelf wasn’t there until yesterday morning. Perhaps it’s the holidays approaching. My ex-husband’s mother always had a puzzle going when we spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with them. I loved sitting in my flannel jammies quietly chatting over a puzzle with whichever family member sat across from me while a cold Ohio winter storm was brewing outside, then a cold and snowy Pennsylvania winter, then the dry, crisp, sunshiny Arizona winter.

The first seven of the puzzles I mentioned are long gone. After I put together a puzzle, always 1000 pieces, I’m done with it. I pass them along to someone else. These seven went to Sarah‘s mom when I moved and came across them. I had put together all seven of them during a cold spell in Healdsburg shortly after my husband had left. I was unemployed, alone, and wallowing in misery. I woke up one morning and wanted to do a puzzle so I drove to Target and bought eight. Then I put the seven of them together in a week’s time while watching Lifetime movies back to back, crying, alternately drinking coffee, then wine, then more coffee.

We find things to get us through difficult times. In my case, I needed distractions. Landscaping my front yard was a three week distraction. Doing seven puzzles and watching really awful Lifetime movies was a distraction too. Two years later I wrote a poem inspired by that week.

So when I mentioned the puzzle to Mike last night he asked me where it was. He took it off the top of the bookshelf, opened the box, and emptied the pieces onto our dining room table. We sipped wine as we separated the edge pieces and I was filled with a warm rush of nostalgia, rather than the other memory of that cold week of 1000 tears.


Boys’ breakfast this morning…

Mr. Roper – Part 2

Moving day wasn’t too big of a deal. It was just a couple suitcases, a few boxes of Jarrod’s toys, and a few other boxes of toiletries and pilfered kitchenware from my parents’ house. I was excited. The place was adorable. The front door led right into a kitchen with a small table and two chairs and off of that was the main room with two beds, and a bathroom beyond that. There was one good sized closet, but no laundry. I could live with that. Not far in Pacific Grove there was a very clean laundromat that connected to a cafe/bookstore. I had been there once with a friend and while her clothes dried we had coffee and read books.

The one downside to our new little place was the front door. It was solid glass. The exact kind you find in business establishments. It made no sense and there was no curtain or shade. The door was situated in such a way that no one could see in unless they were actually coming to the door, but it still bothered me. The day after moving in I went to Cost Plus and bought a paper shade and figured out a way to hang it in front of the glass so we would have complete privacy while in the kitchen. It was the shade that prompted the first knock on my door. I peered out to see Mr. Roper standing there.

In his rough and gravelly voice he asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a shade,” I answered.
“Well, I know what it is, but why is it there?” he asked.
“Because the door is glass and I don’t feel comfortable with it,” I answered.
“Well, why?” he asked. I couldn’t believe the conversation I was having. My heart was sinking. I knew right then and there that I couldn’t live behind this asshole. He couldn’t understand why I put a shade up?
He said, “No one can see in that door.”
Finally, I said, “I’m the one living here and I have to feel comfortable.”
He turned and walked away mumbling under his breath as he left.

It was the beginning of the end. Within the week I had started searching the classifieds again. Allow me to give you a sampling of why:

He looked out his back window at me almost every single time I came and went.

He yelled at Jarrod for being too noisy while playing on our patio. The third time I yelled back at him and told him he was not to speak to my son that way.

One Sunday morning I was sitting on the patio with a girlfriend and we were having mimosas. He walked out and told me that it was in the signed rental agreement that I couldn’t have parties. I said, “I’m not having a party, I’m having a friend over. Are you saying I can’t have a friend over?” Again, the turning away and mumbling under his breath.

Another day my toilet overflowed. Not wanting to deal with him, I called a plumber. Of course Mr. Roper came right over to see what was going on. The plumber pulled an ugly crystal nightlight out of the toilet. Mr. Roper said, “Is that yours?” I told him I had never seen it before in my life and that it must have belonged to the previous tenant. He grumbled that he would go and get his checkbook. When he came back he told me he would split the cost with me. I tried to argue that I shouldn’t have to pay, but then I decided it wasn’t worth it. I wrote my check for $35.00 and then he asked me if I would write his for him because of his eyesight. I did that, he signed the check, and then he asked me to record it. He had a balance of over $65,000.

I once had an overnight guest that I thought I did a very good job of sneaking in to the house. The next morning there was a note tucked into the front door telling me I owed him $10.00. It was in the rental agreement.

There was only one week of peace in that place. It coincided with my second month of rent being due so I knocked on his front door. The girlfriend opened it about an inch. I had only seen a glimpse of her and we had never been introduced.

I said, “Is Mr. Roper here? I have the rent check.”
She said, “No,” and not kindly.
I said, “I haven’t seen him around for a few days.”
She said, “He’s in the hospital,” and before I could say I was sorry or inquire she added, “He’s not going to die.”

He didn’t die. He came back in time for me to tell him I was leaving on the very day I was leaving. I was supposed to give him 30-days notice but I had no intention of giving notice because I wasn’t sure how he would react in the time leading up to my leaving.  He came outside to see what was going on and I told him I was leaving. He didn’t seem surprised. He just wanted to know why.

I said, “Do you really have to ask?”
And then he shocked me with, “I really like you, Jodee. You’re a good girl and you have a sweet little boy.”
I said, “What?! How would I know that? You were not nice to us at all!”

And then he turned around and walked away mumbling to himself.

Mr. Roper – Part 1

After spending three weeks in a shelter for battered women, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Don’t get me wrong, it served its purpose. It was very well run and the women in charge were the kind that would fold you into their soft bosoms where you could weep like a child. But there were rules. So many rules. I understood that the rules were in place for my own safety and the safety of the other women taking refuge from their own horrific situations, but I had just escaped from the control of another person and I didn’t want anyone else telling me what to do.

I can write a chapter on that place, but I’ll save that for the book. This is about the very first place I lived after leaving my husband. Still in my 20s, I was on my own for the first time in my life. I wish I could say I was carefree and happy, but my situation didn’t allow for that. It was as if I were on the run. This was before going through the process of attorneys, custody arrangements, the inevitable restraining order, and everything else I needed to separate myself from the life I’d been living for seven years. And I had a five-year old boy who needed to get through all of that as unscathed as possible.

While at the shelter, I perused the newspaper daily for a suitable place. I found a furnished in-law unit for $350 per month; manageable on my bartender’s salary, and furnished was a bonus since I had no intention of haggling over furniture or anything else with the man I was running from. I was doing my best to have as little contact as possible. I wouldn’t tell him where we lived and the child exchanges were always through the extremely patient, long-suffering babysitter.

I made an appointment and met with the owner of the home. He was an elderly gentleman who lived in the main house with his sort of younger girlfriend. There were a few red flags coming from my (soon to be) landlord, but the place was perfect. It was detached from the main house and sat in the back corner of the property overlooking Monterey Bay. It had a private entrance from a side gate and its own little patio. It was very tiny, a studio basically, but it was clean and rustic and it was furnished with two twin beds. One for me and one for Jarrod.

Spoiler: We lasted six weeks.

Happy Belated Anniversary, my Loves!

This is ridiculous. For the third year in a row I have forgotten my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding anniversary. They’ve been married four years. That means I have forgotten EVERY anniversary. I have no idea why I have a block to this significant date. I love Amanda beyond measure and have never had any doubt that she was perfect for Jarrod in every way, but every year this date just flies right by me. It was yesterday.

Their anniversary is the day before my mother’s birthday. A day that I NEVER forget. One would think I would just attach their day to her day, but I don’t and I have no idea why. One might also think I should put it on the calendar. I should! But I don’t calendar important dates like birthdays and anniversaries because I always remember them. Ha!

This morning while perusing Instagram, I saw a rare post from Amanda referencing their anniversary. If not for that I probably would still be going about my day, the day AFTER their anniversary, not remembering.

Speaking of the rare post, this is part of the problem. They aren’t Facebookers. Amanda is on her third fourth (?) break from Facebook and even when she was on it she rarely posted. Jarrod is on it, but the only thing he ever posts about is music and the occasional harassing of his closest friends. They aren’t like the rest of us who broadcast all our important dates with photos all over our newsfeeds. If he had posted a picture of them on their wedding day yesterday morning with the caption, “Happy Anniversary to the love of my life. You have made me the happiest man in the world and I look forward to spending the rest of my life with you,” or something like that, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Instead, there was this today:

TextSpeaking again of them never posting, allow me:

Awww... Early in the courtship.

Awww… Early in the courtship.

Popping the question in Budapest.

Popping the question in Budapest.

How could I possibly forget this day!

How could I possibly forget this day!


Last Summer

Their dog Frank last night on their anniversary, which is the Instagram post I saw this morning.

My granddog Frank last night on their anniversary, which is the Instagram post I saw this morning.

Nuts and Bolts

Mike and I are going on six months of living together. I guess we’ve made it over the hump. Not that I really gave the hump that much thought, but I think in the back of my mind I thought that if living together wasn’t going to work out, we would know it in a reasonably short period of time. Like weeks. Maybe a month. Not that it has all been sunshine and rainbows, though for the most part it has, but whatever differences we have about things gets ironed out rather quickly. We don’t let things fester. No silent treatments, no beating around the bush. Thank god.

I had a hard time leaving my cottage. I had carved out my own little space and my own life. I loved it. Then I went and fell in love. I didn’t fall in love with a single guy who’d carved out his own life quite yet. I fell in love with a guy who was going through a divorce, living in his first crappy apartment, and had two little kids.

So. There was that. But I (we’ve) told that story.

Now it’s the nuts and bolts. It’s the sharing of a small two bedroom/one bath bungalow with a kitchen the size of a bathroom and a bathroom the size of a living room. It’s joint custody of a 3 and 5 year old. It’s changing diapers, wiping butts, potty training, teaching one how to use a fork and the other to put the napkin on his lap instead of his head. Then there’s the what did I just step in?, stop chasing the cat, hurry up, you’ll be late for school, let go of your brother’s face, keep the water in the tub, and the laundry, my god, the laundry.

The nuts and bolts. The little dance we first did around each other. More than once he asked if all three of them were too much for me to handle. More than once I thought I would drive him crazy with my clean freakishness. Is he ever going to get that he should put the dry dishes in the dish rack AWAY before putting more wet ones on top of them? Is she ever going to fucking sit down?

In time I fell in love with the boys, too. That came with with their innocence. It came with raising my own little boy and knowing that I’ve always had room in my heart for more. It came with investing myself into their lives. It came with the trust that was placed in me by their father AND their mother. I don’t take that lightly. It came with wanting to be a positive addition in their lives. It came with a thank you text from their mom for making the sacrifice of going into work late because Mondays and Thursdays are my days to do the drop off. It came with one-on-one time and getting to know them as precious individuals.

Their giggles, hugs, and kisses. Their smell when you nuzzle their necks. The way they say my name. The way Mike had to come to me this morning with all the questions about the Thursday morning routine having taken over for me because of a work meeting. “What about Penguin? Does he go to daycare?” he asked. “No, Mike. He does okay without Penguin sometimes now.”

Because I know these things. The nuts and bolts.


There is a fine line between telling your story and not telling the whole story and that is exactly what I am struggling with at the moment. I have so much to tell, but I’m not the only person in my story. I keep going back to one of my favorite quotes:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamott

Easier said than done. I know I can’t wait until everyone dies before I write about them, but I do know that if my first husband were still alive, there are many things on this blog that wouldn’t be here. That would be a case of self-preservation.

I’m not talking about that extreme, but when I began toying with the idea of writing my story I was very concerned how my son would feel about what I wrote about his father. The picture is far from pretty and there are many details he knows nothing about. We talked about it and he said, “It’s YOUR story, mom. Write it.”

I feel I need to write what brought me to that traumatic time in my life. I don’t want to sugarcoat it. I didn’t have a terrible childhood or awful parents, but relationships are complicated, and while there is absolutely NO ONE to blame about what choices I made as an adult because I believe we are all responsible for our own lives and I have ZERO patience for people who want to blame others for the shit that happens to them (taking a breath and sorry for the run-on sentence), there was a path I followed and I want to write about my path without hurting those I love.

Yeah, them!

Yeah, them!

By the way, my father is perfect, and how I ended up marrying someone so completely opposite from him is, well, who the fuck knows?

Even day to day blogging would be fun because my mother has never had much of a filter and as she has gotten older, there is absolutely none. Not long ago she asked me this about Mike’s kids, “Why do they live with you? Why don’t they live with their mother?” Needless to say I raised my voice slightly in my response to her.

As much as she likes Mike, she is still having a hard time processing my life. She’s not quite sure of the “older woman, younger guy thing.” She’s still upset about my (second) divorce.

Okay, so what I just wrote right there about my mom was EXTREMELY difficult for me. Please, don’t anyone show my mother this blog.




Who do you think you are coming into this place? This place occupied by me, only. The door was closed. “But you left it unlocked,” you said. You, with your damaged spirit, threadbare and see-through. So open. So goddamned open. Laying your soul bare. Lifting it high into the air and letting it fall to the ground with all four corners of your heart showing. Not one corner tucked. And mine. Cracked. An open fissure mending slowly on it’s own. Your words, a cool, soothing salve. We suffered indifference. Like sand clinging to our skin we gently brushed it from each other. We were hungry. So very hungry.

Another New Year

October 1, 2014 - Dry Creek Valley

October 1, 2014 – Dry Creek Valley

Today begins another round of 40 Days of Writing which always serves as a good swift kick in the ass to WRITE. It’s also October 1st and I am not afraid. October and I have a better understanding these past few years. It won’t mess with me and I will continue to love it as I always have even though it has thrown me many curve balls throughout my life.

I just went back and read a blog that I wrote two years about October. Sort of. Well, that and a few other things. Not much has changed about the way I feel about this time of year or the stuff that I do right about now. I’m planning to call the doctor for an overdue mammogram and a redo of that colonoscopy that wasn’t. I also just got new tires again!

But a lot has changed. A lot. I now have a cat! And a few other things going on. So yes, 2013 did turn out to be a good year just as I mentioned in that two-year old blog. My heart was very open.

Here we go! Day One is done.

Funerals and Weddings

Another uncle has passed. My father has lost all four of his brothers now. I suppose it is the way it should go when you are the youngest of eight. It’s just he and one sister left. Despite (save for one) all of them living well into their 80s and beyond, it’s still sad.

Yesterday was Uncle Andy’s funeral. Though the circumstances aren’t the best, I look forward to seeing my cousins. We used to say, “Funerals and weddings.” Lately, it’s just funerals.

Uncle Andy, second from left, with my parents on their wedding day.

Uncle Andy, second from left, with my parents on their wedding day.

There was a slight hiccup before I was to make the one and a half to two-hour drive (depending on traffic). After delivering one kid to daycare, one to school and then getting my car back from Mike at his work, I decided to stop for gas in Santa Rosa at the gas station next to the Starbucks so I could get coffee for the road. When I pulled up to the pump and reached for my wallet, I realized I didn’t have my ATM card with me. Nor the one credit card I have for emergencies. Both were at home in a different purse. Crap. I sat for a second wondering if I should drive the 20 minutes back home and then decided to ask Siri where the nearest Wells Fargo Bank was. It was 9am, banks are open, and I was a little ahead of schedule.


I turned on the navigator and and drove to a Business Park in Santa Rosa where there was no sign of a Wells Fargo. In the process, and in my confusion, I was honked at by the car behind me following me into the parking lot. Okay, Jeez! I stopped my car in the lot to give Siri another chance then turned around to go. The woman driving the car that honked at me took a moment to scream obscenities at me as she walked through the parking lot. I love people.

The next Wells Fargo was in the Lucky store and it didn’t open until 10am. After asking a clerk is they could cash a personal check and being told no, my eyes began to sting with frustration. Back to the car, back to Siri, and on to the third location. An extremely friendly young teller helped my mood. I didn’t have an ID with me (also in the purse at home), but after we determined my identity through a series of questions and a correct pin number, he handed me $60 in cash. There was even fresh coffee on a table in the bank. And cookies! Thank you, Wells Fargo.

As I was pumping gas I wondered if I was meant to go at all. I wondered if all that was a sign that I should turn around and go home. Or just go to work. I thought about the two bald tires I’m driving around on. Maybe I’m going to have a blowout on Lakeville Highway and veer into the path of an oncoming semi. This is how my mind works. I’m the one on the overbooked flight wondering if there is a reason they are offering a free round trip ticket to anyone willing to give up their seat. This must mean the plane is going down. I should take the ticket. I will be interviewed on the news as the woman who survived because of a twist of fate. But I don’t take the ticket. I stay in my seat and the plane doesn’t crash. And my tire didn’t have a blowout either.

It was great seeing all of my cousins yesterday.


This is a rough draft excerpt from that book I’m attempting to write:

I sat across a table from a young police officer in uniform. He had a yellow legal pad in front of him and he was taking notes. We were in windowless room devoid of any color at the city of Monterey’s police department. A friend suggested that I inform the police of the exact day and time that I was planning to leave my husband. When I called to do that, it was suggested that I meet with an officer first. D-Day was still a week or so away. My husband was not someone that I could sit down with and say, “I want out.” He was someone I had to leave like a thief in the night.

I was on autopilot. My decision had been made. I had awoken to a thought the week prior that had solidified my escape and there would be no wavering. Part of me was completely numb and the other part of me sat shivering under florescent lights. The officer asked if I was cold. It wouldn’t have mattered how warm the room was. He left for a moment and then returned with a blanket; gray, the kind found in all the trunks of cop cars. He picked up his pen. He wanted to know my history with the man I was married to. He told me the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence was when she tries to leave. I said, “I know. That’s why I’m here.”

He had questions. “Where will you go?” he asked.
“To a friend’s house,” I said.
“Will he look for you there?”
“He doesn’t knows where she lives.
“Does he know her?”
“Yes, we work together.”
“Then you can’t go there. What about family?”
“They live too far away and I have to work.”

I had questions. “What about my son? I can’t keep him from his father, can I?” I asked.
“Is your son in danger?” he asked.
“No. Absolutely not.”

“Here is my best advice,” he said. “You need to take at least one week off of work and you need to go to a women’s shelter. You can stay there longer than a week, but you shouldn’t go anywhere for at least a week. You and your son need to be someplace where he can’t find you for awhile and a week will hopefully allow him to cool off. You need to leave him a note telling him that you are not taking his son away from him, but that you need a week to breath and then you will make arrangements for him to see your son. Make a copy of the note.”

“Okay,” I said. He took out his card, wrote a number on the back and handed it me.

“If you can’t safely leave on your own, call me. Call me anyway on that day. The number on the back is to the shelter. You can’t call them until you are on your way. Then they will give you the address.”

How sad that he has that number memorized, I thought.

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