Posted by: shelliejelly | June 21, 2010


His e-mail messages usually carry the same subject line—question—and start with the same tired word—hi. The solitary nature of the word always makes me imagine that his voice would be low, barely audible, if he spoke the greeting, and he would be peering at me over his glasses while nervously glancing around. Why this image pops up I have no idea; he was never shy when we were together.

This e-mail came to my in-box exactly as countless others:

Hi. I wanted to talk to you about something. Sara’s asked me to
accompany her to Las Vegas and I was considering going. I was thinking
about going for two weeks, if you wouldn’t mind keeping Sabine. I
could take her for a couple of extra weeks to give you some personal
time when I get back. I know her school year is drawing to a close and
will probably need to be watched so I wanted to check with you about

I can easily admit, on most days, that my patience with O. has long ago grown thin, transparent. My blood simmers at the mention of his name and I know just the slightest move on his part is all that’s needed to ignite my anger. He doesn’t stand a chance. Memories flood back like water rushing banks that were never meant to hold such force, and my mind is awash in every gruesome detail, every hateful word that stumbled from his mouth when he was drinking, every time he promised something and came up short.

I don’t care abut you, slurs into my ear smelling of stale beer. Fuck you, follows, smoking a cigarette.

Reading his plans to go to Vegas with his 22-year-old (or is she 23 now?) girlfriend, though, unleashed something in me I hadn’t known. Rage. Hatred. Disgust. Ugly, ugly feelings that led to even uglier thoughts:

But you haven’t paid a penny of child support in close to a year, I hissed to myself. Where are you getting the money to spend two weeks in Vegas? And I answered as I knew he would, She’s paying for it.

Why for fuck’s sake don’t you just don’t you just kill yourself?


I felt the higher ground slip beneath my feet as I slid, inch by inch, to the depths I promised I’d never reach—where nothing good could happen under the shadow of pent-up anger, where rage and hate strangled the naive and unassuming good intentions.

My saving grace, the only thing I didn’t lose sight of, didn’t mow down with exacting anger, was Sabine’s need to love her father.

Leave her vision of her daddy untouched. Let her love him without thinking of what he has and hasn’t done.

I walk a thin line, much thinner than I ever thought possible, between trying to understand O. and his illness and simply giving in to the overwhelming frustration, turned anger, turned hatred. I wobble between genuine concern and the space where doing so leaves me looking like a fool.

You don’t understand, he is so fond of telling me, his bipolar diagnosis neatly tucked into the accusation. And neither do you, I whisper, more to myself than to him, my patience and good will pooled at my feet, evaporating, disappearing, rising up under the heat of giving too much for too long.

Posted by: shelliejelly | April 26, 2010

My number

My phone rang at work, his father’s number sliding across the screen. I picked up, not letting on that I knew it was him. “This is Michelle,” I spoke into the phone, my voice even, casual. He answered with his usual “Hey,” followed by nothing so I sometimes can’t tell if he has anything more to say or if that’s it.

I wait; we haven’t spoken beyond the everyday greetings we exchange when he picks up and drops off our daughter for quite a while. I’m suspicious.

“What’s going on,” I ask and, typically, he almost whispers, “Nothing.” I sometimes don’t think he even knows why he calls me. There’s an underlying regret that almost always runs through his speaking to me, but as with most things with O., it’s not constant. This time, he’d been off his medication, or hadn’t been taking a full dosage, because his mom was away and so he didn’t have anyone to pay for them. “What about Sara,” I ask. “It’s not like that,” he tells me, “I wouldn’t ask her for money.”


No, but you’d throw away your marriage, your family, your life for a girl just like her.

His regret is my own strange sorrow whitewashed with bitterness. Always in the background humming with a life of its own is this idea that I lost everything to a woman nearly half my age. And why I feel like this story line is somehow all my own I cannot fathom. Perhaps because I honestly believed I was giving O. a life he couldn’t possibly not love. But doesn’t most every woman, or man for that matter, feel that way about the life they build with their spouse?

She was a symptom of a deeper problem, Michelle. The marriage didn’t end because of her; if it wasn’t her it would have been something or someone else.

True, but again, dancing in the back of my mind, waving its arms back and forth, is this thought: It’s me who should have left you. But I didn’t have the courage; for the longest time, even thinking about ending my marriage and before marriage, my relationship, struck me deep with fear, like a surge of sheer panic injected straight in my heart.  I couldn’t—I just couldn’t walk away.


I start pouring out all the feelings that I can’t put into words until I’m really angry, have already turned over all of his failures in my head and pinned him into a corner of laziness with a side of selfish. “I can’t help but hate right now,” I blurt, “and this hate is tinged with a love and respect that might not ever go away. But you need to get your shit together. It’s not fair to me; I shouldn’t have to bear all the responsibility while you talk about your sickness year after year without doing anything about it. You should want people to feel something other than pity for you; you don’t have to be sick for people to like you.”

I’ve said these things before; he’s heard them, or not. “Did you call for something,” I ask. “No,” he cries, “I just wanted to talk to you.” And I believe him, and I can sometimes give him that, give him my ear, because it’s no longer attached to obligation outside of  wanting my daughter to have a healthy father.

Posted by: shelliejelly | April 24, 2010

Out of the fog

It’s been too long, and I don’t know why I haven’t been writing regularly, but I’ll be back. Meet you back here, say, Monday?

Posted by: shelliejelly | March 24, 2010

Grace in Small Things, #89

1. The feel of wind on my face

2. Sabine picking Transformer gym shoes and me letting it slip that they are for boys. Her quizzical look telling me she doesn’t wholly understand this subtle distinction I’m drawing. My heart catching in my throat, tears edging my eyes when she asks, “These are boys shoes?” I’ve never wanted words back so badly, and then I look her in the eye and say, “No, honey, these are Sabine shoes.” Find your own way, little girl, and please let me find the strength and fortitude to not get in your way.

3. Kids playing in a sandbox at school, one looking up at her parents with a big smile, telling them “It smells like the beach!”

4. Hugs that I can fall into

5. Words that act like balm, soothing

Go, be grateful!

Posted by: shelliejelly | February 18, 2010

Grace in Small Things, #84

1. Crystal Light—I like plain water, but man it’s nice to have a big glass of lemonade some evenings

2. Internal alarm clocks, especially when I’ve forgotten to turn on my external alarm

3. Thinking of a project I’d set aside, once more getting excited about its potential

4. A new playlist for my iPod (I love new music, so if any of you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!)

5. Community

You’re grateful; I’m sure of it!

Posted by: shelliejelly | February 12, 2010

Grace in Small Things, #79

1. A morning routine that comes off without a hitch

2. Feelings that soften over time

3. That first blast of cold air that hits me when I walk out the door in the morning—makes me feel, what? Alive, refreshed?

4. Sabine signing her own valentine’s cards for her class, almost all of them readable and recognizable

5. A long weekend … Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln

You can do it!

Posted by: shelliejelly | February 10, 2010

Grace in Small Things, #77

1. Staying calm

2. A message that makes me smile

3. Sabine whispering secrets into my ear as I tuck her in: “I love you; you are my heart; you are my sunshine.” Repeating back secrets I tell her every night.

4. Silver linings, even if I have to sew them in myself

5. Being strong enough to shoulder the burden so my daughter doesn’t have to

Go, go, go and be grateful

Posted by: shelliejelly | January 29, 2010

Dear K.

When my marriage was falling apart; when I was painted into a corner of grief—“There’s always been three people in this marriage,” he had the nerve to say to me—I called the counselor who randomly, though heavenly, saw me through your death. She told me to let you go, to readjust my grip. And though doing so didn’t save my marriage, it might have saved me:

Dear Kurt,

This letter has been a long time coming. You’ve been dead for 10 years, and I still haven’t quite figured out how it is that I am supposed to live here on Earth while you are gone. When you first died, I was committed to keeping our relationship exactly as it had been while you were living. I constantly wondered what you were doing and if you were seeing other people and falling in love—even though there was a part of me that knew these things, these earthly mortal trappings, didn’t concern you anymore. You were somewhere beyond these needs.

That didn’t stop me, however, from continuing to nurture a relationship with you that had ties to the physical realm. That sounds crazy, I know, but that is what it’s been like these 10 years. I have, in part, continued to live like you hadn’t ever died. My loyalty and devotion to you remained in tact in a way that has only served to diminish my ability to fully open myself to love another man completely. I spent five years after you left by myself, in sort of a strange place where I wanted you to direct my life, show me where I needed to be. And I guess I can understand that desire in myself, the desire to want to make you happy, to listen for whatever signs you might be giving me.

More than that, though, I partitioned off a little bit of my heart and promised it to you. I kept a part of me permanently in mourning because I thought that doing so would serve as a good memorial for you. I believed that by devoting at least a portion of my heart and thoughts to only you, I was honoring not only you but also the relationship that we had and the love that we shared. I lived as though keeping a part of myself sad and lonely demonstrated to you how much I loved you while you were here, and I believed that to really give myself over to happiness would be disrespecting you and the wonderful relationship we had. It was like I dressed part of my heart all in black and blocked out everything that was good and happy and light in my life, fearing that if those things touched my entire heart my memory of you would be tarnished. Worst of all, perhaps, I thought you’d love me less if I didn’t keep you alive inside of myself somehow; I feared that you would think the love I showed you while you were here was false or insincere. I felt like I had a duty to remember you, to live for you, and for all of these years I haven’t been smart enough to figure out that our relationship has necessarily changed, that I can’t continue to live as though you didn’t die.

Doing so has cost me quite a lot in my life. I am sure I’ve lost friends and turned people whom I genuinely liked and who genuinely like me away. I am sure I’ve missed opportunities and squandered positive experiences because I’ve tethered myself to you and what was us when you were alive. Continuing to live like this has meant living in fear to a certain extent—fear of never finding love again and finding love again, if that makes any sense. Living like this has also meant keeping people at least a little bit away from me, holding them, not at arms length, but a breath away so as not to disrupt the devotion and love I felt for you. I always thought that having another man in my life would require that they accept this relationship I have with you, but now I understand that the relationship I continue to have with you should never have been fostered in the first place. I should have, long ago, made the effort to adjust my relationship with you to a more fitting and accurate reflection of how it must be. You aren’t here, and I can’t continue to devote a portion of my life to believing that things haven’t changed. That you and I haven’t changed.

Because we have, and I have. Since you died I feel like I have been caught in this in-between place, one foot clearly, concretely planted in your soil, one wandering around trying to piece together where to go from here. Though I felt like I had done all the work I needed to do, though I told myself that I had gotten counseling, had done the right thing, I didn’t ever take the time to get to know who I was after your death. Partly, I imagine, because I continued to live a weird reflection of our earthly time together, as though the only difference was you weren’t actually here anymore. That sounds strange, even as I type it, because I wasn’t crazy; I know you are dead. But again, I felt obligated to give you part of my life instead of creating an entire new life with the understanding that though you can’t be with me we can still have a relationship that is profound.

I need to let go of the relationship we had while you were alive. I need to alter my perspective of the way in which we are connected to this day. I need to honor the spiritual relationship I have with you, the relationship wherein I can count on you and seek your assistance when I need it, but not dwell on the man you physically were before you died. I need to give myself permission to let you go, and, perhaps even more to the point, to let me go. To stop feeling like I owe you a part of my life until I die; to stop feeling like to truly honor you I have to remember you as you were instead of building a new relationship with you as you are now, as I am now.

I want to be able to talk to you. I want to be able to ask you for help when I feel like I am overwhelmed and need a boost from the Universe. I want to be able to think of you as a spiritual advisor, as a good friend, as a positive force in my life. Up until now, I think I’ve thought how I was living was positive, but now know the severity of its negativity. I’ve imprisoned myself in the past, getting glimpses of a rich, full, loving life I have available to me only to avert my gaze and silently shame myself for being too greedy, too ungrateful, too forgetful. I don’t want to live like this anymore, and I don’t want to hold you to a life you can’t participate in. What looked and felt like honoring you all these many years has now taken on the shades of weakness, self-deception and selfishness. I am sorry for being a slow learner, so seemingly impossibly thick.

I know you know better than myself all the work I need to do. I know you know I am committed to doing the work, to setting both you and myself free. I am scared, so very scared. I am sad. And then, too, and perhaps most of all, I am excited. I am excited to get to know myself, to discover and rebuild and recreate. To find and live the life I am meant to have. To know you—and me—in a way I think will be tremendous.

Posted by: shelliejelly | January 12, 2010

Grace in Small Things, #76

1. Sabine singing songs that I’ve made up for her by herself in her room, her little voice crooning, “Sabine, Sabine, I love you ….”

2. A conversation that takes on a life of its own

3. Oatmeal in the morning

4. The way the morning light creeps into my room, almost like it’s tapping me on the shoulder or whispering in my ear, “Michelle, you have to get up pretty soon…”

5. Friends who put a smile on my face when I just think of them

Looking on the bright side isn’t so hard.

Posted by: shelliejelly | December 30, 2009

Grace in Small Things, #71

1. Pandora radio—brilliant idea

2. Looking at the moon in the cold, dark night sky; a beacon for us all, everywhere

3. Bright lipstick

4. Longing, for something, I don’t know just what, but the longing provides motivation

5. Humidifiers

It’s been too long, be grateful.

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