Separation Anxiety

Wherein we read about the fate of the best laid plans of a man

Alright, let’s get back to it, shall we? I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block. When I last left you, it was September 2009. I had moved out of my house, separating from my wife of fourteen years. It was done without any planning at all and yet it was the right thing. Sometimes it takes the passage of time to see things this clearly, however. I slept on the floor of my photo lab in Forest Park for a few nights and began searching for an apartment. This was a trick because my cash flow was abysmal by this point. I had lost most interest in working, the lab was barely bumping along and I was getting hammered by the weight of the accumulated refinancing of my mortgage and a business credit line that was extended to at least $100k. Might have been $200k. Doesn’t really matter, as I couldn’t have paid it back if it was $2,000.

Chez Baldy in all it’s autumn splendor | Oak Park, Illinois | November 2011

A day or so after I moved out, we sat down and told the girls what was up. This was not at all a fun conversation. Nobody wants to hurt their children, and the loss of a nuclear family is a big blow. Our oldest, who was in fourth grade, understood immediately, while it took the youngest a minute. I’m not sure she fully got what was happening, but when everybody around you whom you love is crying, you generally cry too.

Despite the pain and chaos, I knew that separating was the right thing to do. I did not want my daughters growing up thinking what we had was a “proper” loving relationship. Because it wasn’t. And you can slice and dice that six ways from Sunday, looking for cause or a way to heal it, and the fact remains, we threw everything we had at trying to make it work. We did the best we could with what we had. It is even more clear, 11 years later, that it was the right decision. Sometimes two people come together for reasons other than to spend the rest of their life on this plane together. I will always be grateful that was the case with Amy & I. We created two amazing humans who were meant to come through us.

I managed to find a “charming” two bedroom over in Oak Park for $900 a month. It was on a very beautiful street. In fact, last fall they shot scenes for the series Fargo on the street. I’m pretty sure they did some serious CGI if they included “Chez Baldy”, as it was dubbed, in the final edit. It was a very tired Italianate two flat owned by a woman who was also feeling the pinch of the 2008 crash and was embroiled in foreclosure proceedings. It was pretty disgustingly dirty when I moved in. I’m very grateful to our longtime cleaning lady, Viola, for spending several to help me make it habitable. 

I won’t lie. Things were pretty uncomfortable at first with the kids. We encouraged them to feel whatever feelings were coming up and I did my best to talk to them about what was happening. Truth is, I wasn’t even sure. There’s no manual for this stuff. Amy read a bunch of books about babies during her pregnancy. Whenever something was wrong with our oldest, I ask her, “What does the book say?” She’d reply, “We don’t have a BOOK BABY.” I should have seen the foreshadowing here.

Art therapy I | Oak Park, Illinois | January 2009

Now that I was separated, I was free to go and visit my internet flame. A trip was planned. She was going to be at a conference in a city a few hours from her home. I flew down to accompany her at the conference. I was over the moon. This was going to be IT. Finally, I was going to be with the woman of my dreams and all was going to be right with the world! Soulmates, reunited. When I landed and she met me at the airport, I embraced her and kissed her and she sort of recoiled at the PDA. Hmmmmm. Strange, I thought. As we drove through her town (a small-ish one) she seemed unusually nervous and maybe even made me duck down at one point. Weird.

I was staying at a cottage owned by a friend of hers. We had a passionate romp and she left to go home as she still had two or three teenagers living there. The next morning, she called and said sternly, “We need to talk. I can’t do this. It’s not working for me.” I didn’t really understand yet I understood there was no sense in arguing with her. So, less than 24 hours later, it was back to the airport I went and flew home to wallow in the feeling of being very, very alone. Perhaps this was my rock bottom? My family was blown apart and even though I was as clear with myself (and her) as I could have been that I wasn’t leaving my wife for this woman, the fact that I had actually left my wife and now this woman had kicked me to the curb, was almost more than I could bear. In spite of the transformational work I had done at the Meadows, I was really, really depressed. I considered taking my own life.

Perhaps I can woo her back with my prolific prose, I thought. And thus began a cycle of desperate emails and texts. Pages and pages about how she was the one for me, it was meant to be, we were SOULMATES for God’s sake! I shudder to think of the time, energy and emotion that went into this. I was pretty pathetic, bordering on stalker-ish, in retrospect.

Around Thanksgiving, I stopped by the house of my friend Lisa’s mom’s, Anne. Anne is a great listener and very wise. I was lamenting the poor state of my life and said something about being so lonely. “Oh, woe is me!” I cried. And Anne said something which planted the seed that over time was fundamental to getting me where I am today. She said, “You aren’t lonely for that woman. You are lonely for yourself.” After what was a lot of initial resistance, I eventually came around to realize — at some level — she was absolutely right. I had no idea how to go about remedying this situation, but I determined I needed to do so. She recommended I see a woman named Maxine. 

Art therapy II | Oak Park, Illinois | January 2009

I like to describe Maxine as a combination therapist, coach and psychic who channels the spiritual entity St. Germain. She came into town from Georgia to visit her elderly mother every month or two and held private coaching sessions at a hotel in the western suburbs. It was refreshing to work with somebody outside the typical therapist model, which had been my only experience for the past 10+. Having somebody council me and suggest things to do instead of just reflecting my words back at me for 50 minutes was a whole new ball game. She said my adrenals were burned out and recommended acupuncture. I did several sessions and it was quite relaxing and gave me a little bit of energy.

The biggest problem was I had absolutely, positively no idea of what I wanted to do with my life and I was 100% tired of working, period. I had spent 25+ years trying to make ALL the money. I made a lot. I lost even more. I wasn’t particularly happy when I was making it and was less happy without it. At some point, a switch had flipped. Finally, I knew that just making money wasn’t the answer. Just having all the nice things wasn’t bringing me any closer to enlightenment. Don’t get me wrong — I am very grateful for having the opportunities I had and for earning a bunch of money. If I hadn’t I would always wonder if life would be better if only I had a lot of money.

Without the guidepost of money, I was not only rudderless, I was motor-less. It had been my “raison d’être” for more than half my life. It was what I watched my father strive for every waking day. It’s what fueled my mother’s life. It’s what I talked about with friends in college and later – how much we were going to make and how we were going to make it. If I wasn’t doing something that was going to earn me a lot of money, just what the fuck was I going to do? What was going to fill that hole? 

4 Replies to “Separation Anxiety”

  1. Writing from a truly vulnerable place with such raw honesty is a warm invitation to others who may be struggling. Writing in this manner makes you human, accessible.

    Love what you are doing, Matt. Love your prose. Keep showing a pathway through this conundrum called life.

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