breakups · growth · relationships

Grief isn’t Linear.


Such is what a mentor relayed to me many years ago.

As I begin to envision what life “post-J” will look like, the crying bouts are frequent—short but frequent.  A sudden welling up, perhaps a few shoulder-rattling sobs, and then a deep breath and a moving on into the next moment.

It’s Spring Break from school right now, and J is on his annual ski-backpacking trip with some friends.  He’ll be back Wednesday night, so I’ve been experiencing a few days of “what it’ll be like when he’s not here.”  He’s signed a lease and will begin moving his stuff out when he returns.

He’d taken the end of the week off in anticipation of our mini-vacation to Los Angeles, as we’d planned to take when we were still… making plans.

It’s hard, this breaking up thing.  It’s hard as the breaker, because it feels like I have the power to take it back, to make it go away, to “make it right”… but there is no making it right here.  And I have to continuously, repeatedly, and painfully remind myself of all the reasons “why not.”

We got into it on Saturday before he left for his trip.  He was facing the possibility of having to cancel his trip because of drama at work.  A trip that he plans his whole year around, that he cherishes and anticipates, with people he laughs with only this once a year.  And they were going to take it from him (or so he lamented).

And I got so mad.  I got so angry that he wasn’t more angry.  That he wasn’t as fed up and over it as I was — or at least not so much that he’s willing to make a change around his work situation.  He is trying, but he’s …

It’s not my business.  That’s what I had to keep coming to on Saturday.  I have TRIED this.  I have tried the convincing, the cheerleading, the obviously-not-so-helpful helping.  And it has always led me to leave.  To despair, to hurt, to hopelessness, and to leave.

Breaking up has so much balancing and weighing, so many reminiscences of the good, like the pencil from the hotel where we stayed in New York that I fished out of a bag this morning.  There is so much good, and there is so much not.

Remembering either is excruciating.

But of anything that I “know for sure” (to quote Oprah), I know this pain is temporary.  And I know the woman I must become—to be ready for who I will be, and who I will attract, next.



healing · relationships · self-support

Stacking the Bench


Yesterday, I asked my 6th graders to complete this journal prompt:  Write a list of members of Team ____ (your name).

“Team Molly” is a concept I’ve held for a few years, as people rotate in and out of my life and, as I told my students, it’s particularly helpful to write (or think) this list during times of hardship or stress, change or loneliness.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of transition happening for me with the dissolution of my long-term relationship as I look toward what’s next, but also take stock of what came before.

To crib a Passover question: How is this relationship different from all other relationships?  And perhaps more importantly, how is it the same?

In a time like this, I need Team Molly.  I need to remember it, call upon it, and utilize its members.  Or, you know, I could just bump around the world doing the same things I’ve always done and getting the same results.  That’s an option, too.

Who’s on your bench?


indecision · letting go · relationships

Silly Putty.


At the beginning of this month, I let my therapist know that I would be canceling for March while J and I attended couples’ therapy, since I couldn’t afford both.  When, after the 1st session with our couples’ lady, I told J as much, he looked agog — horrified, morelike.  Uh, so maybe it would be good for me to see her while we go through this?  Perhaps he was right, so I scheduled back on with my own lady.

Then, after our 2nd session with the couples’ person, we broke up and I had a little more funds to throw at my own personal therapy… but really, I didn’t want to.  I was sick with the flu last week, so we had a phone session instead, yet as we hung up, it was me who asked, “Same time next week?”

But the truth is I’d meant to use that session to end things with her!  I didn’t want to continue going.  Part of the reason we began together was so that I could parse out what was going on with me and J.  Now that that’s (relatively) settled, I truly don’t feel the need to keep going.

After that call, I wrote in my journal, “So, let’s get this straight: You’re continuing to see a therapist because you think that’s what she needs?”  And so it came that I emailed her yesterday to officially and for all (foreseeable) time cancel our upcoming appointments.

She wrote back to say okay, but also that this on-again-off-again with her was redolent of how it’s been with J, and that if I wanted to schedule a last session to process this idea, and how our therapy has gone, she’s open to it.

NO!  I don’t.  And YES, she’s right about the parallels.

When I was in the final phases of processing and deciding whether to leave this relationship, a friend said that we’re having a silly-putty breakup.  Huh?  You know when you break apart silly putty in a slow way, she said, it dangles on, a thin strand getting weaker forever?  Well, when you break it apart quickly, the whole thing breaks off in two pieces at once, with a clean edge to both sides.


My breakups over the last dozen years have allll been the llllong silly-putty break-ups.  Months of questioning.  Months of negotiating out of it, into it, back out of it.  Months of tearful phone calls to friends about “what to do.”  And months of continuing to sleep with the person I’ve told I don’t want to be in a relationship with anymore.

Silly putty.

And painful.  So, when my therapist lady asks if I want to process any more?  For the love — No!!  I am so done with processing.  Can I change this habit of stretching my decisions on into infinity?  Yes, I believe I can.  Do I have to give this relationship any more than I already have?  No.

So, I believe I’ll just email her a simple thank you, put my two halves of putty away, and go for a goddamn walk.


breakups · dreams · relationships

Broken Promises.


Many moons ago, J and I broke up (for the first time).  It was Spring, and he’d purchased us each unrestricted season passes to a ski mountain up in Tahoe.  These are pricey commodities bought because of his love of skiing each Winter and the anticipated notion that the following Winter, we’d both ski the mountain together.

And then, we broke up.

So, what does a person do, I later asked a girlfriend, with the promises you made while you were together?

What do you do with the ski passes, the travel plans, the house you envisioned,… and the children you named?

This question has been resurrected this last week since J and I decided to break up again—though I am more the firm one on it, and our living together rubs daily salt in the wounds.

What do you do with the promises you made when you were together?

I ask this aloud as J and I sit opposite one another over the breakfast table last weekend, both a little soggy in our tears, warm mugs and handkerchiefs in hand.

I answer that maybe I consider each of the plans like small, child travelers — now, I wrap them back up in warm clothing, zip their puffy coats, straighten their mittens, and send them back out into the world.  Your place is not here, I’m afraid.  And walk them to the door, and watch each promise waddle back out into the snowy village to look for someone else to take them in.

Or, I suggest, perhaps each promise is simply like a thought gift I get to hug close and thank for visiting me—for offering me its joy or serenity or delight or warmth—and then I get to release it, like a caged bird into the sun.  Thank you for visiting me, for showing me more of the world.

J replies dryly, “That does not help.”

And that’s okay, I suppose.  It doesn’t have to help him, but it may help me.  It may help me to treat all of the plans and promises we made with love and gratitude, rather than with mourning and bereftness.

None of us know which bundled traveler will stay—and none of us know which traveler is cresting the ridge of our yard, just now waiting for us to open the door.


love · relationships · uncertainty

Yea, though I walk…


My fingertips are raw and red, nails jagged and bleeding, shorn off by my rabid scrabbling.  Come, sit with me here, he gestured, the vista of the savannah behind him.

There are two chairs in the center of this vast landscape, this depression in the wide, long plain above.  I walked here earlier with my guide and overlooked the gulf.

This is all yours, my guide had told me months ago.  It felt to me as if it were Love; there was no sign or true indication, but the sense that this whole of land below us was mine, was love.

And it was an elephant graveyard.

As she and I stood above, her a sentry, me wary, the sun came out and did something miraculous: it vacuumed all the bones into its depths.  The litter on the floor of the canyon rumbled and shook as each piece of deadness was lifted off into the air, into absolution, into white heat.  Gone.

When I look again at the earthen floor, it is clean of its detritus, the hulking masses of death and memory and intractable sorrow/horror.

We walk down in, my sentry and I.

And here, this morning, sits my beloved, my boyfriend, the one who just right now sleeps a bit restively in our bed in the other room.  In the savannah, he rests on a chair, wooden, light-colored, tall backed, and now, he gestures for me to sit in the next.

I recoil.  I panic.  I have a hardness in my heart that is now a cage of ravens flinging themselves at the bars.  I follow their panic and begin to scrape at the sides of the cliff to get up and out of the ravine.  Come, sit with me here, and my skin trembles with fear and my mind is a primal sphere of neural terror.

My boyfriend and I are looking at moving to a bigger (and more expensive) place closer to my work and housing a garage for his motorcycle.  It’s perfect in all the ways we need it to be, and I refuse to commit to it, to him, with this panic still a chaos in my heart.

He is generous and sensitive and more understanding than any of us have a right to be about my process toward commitment.

Because here is the rub:

In my meditation this morning, with the scrabbling, squalling lady that is me, I invite some other imagined man into that savannah, seat another man — an idealized, “fuck yeah,” perfect but imperfect man — into that other chair.

And I react the same.

J. has been incredibly patient with me as I attempt to parse out what of my fear and doubt and terror is about our relationship in particular and what would be, for me, the same fear and doubt and terror in any relationship.

But, patience runs thin for us both.  My “process” is no quicker because of the impatience, but the demand for an answer is ripe on my mind nearly all the time.

If a “Fuck Yeah” imagined person, a man who has some kind of qualities that I feel are absent in my current love, will arouse in me the same panic as the man who now sits in front of me, then it’s not the man that needs to change.  Clearly, it’s me.

And though both J and I have known this, and both realize that my work is to parse out the wheat from the chaff, the hurt from the truth, the terror from the path forward, this work is wearing us both a great deal thin.



god · Jewish · relationships


2 16 Camp Harlam.jpg
Camp Harlam’s Chapel on the Hill. Kutztown, PA.

The following is a list of the organizations at which I’ve worked during the past 10 years:

The Bureau of Jewish Education.  Congregation Beth El.  Oakland Hebrew Day School.  Brandeis Marin.

Perhaps you notice the clear and obvious trend: Jew.  Jewish.  Hebrew.  Jewey jewness.

I grew up Reform in northern New Jersey, and attended Sunday and Hebrew school, high holiday services, and occasional family services.  For a while (apparently at my and my brother’s behest), my family sat down for Shabbat dinner with a challah and chicken dish every Friday night.  One year, to our father’s ire, my brother and I chose to honor Rosh Hashanah by walking around the duck pond across from the synagogue while our parents went to services.

Ben and I went to Jewish sleep away camp, and learned the songs and more melodic prayers.  I became active in my synagogue youth group which participated in wider NJ-NY events, connecting with high school students across the region, singing those camp songs and new songs, and crafting inside jokes and photo albums.

When I lived in South Korea teaching English after college, I attended a Passover seder on the American Army base in Seoul (where the hagaddah [prayer book] was written in English, Hebrew, and Korean!).  After being abroad, I moved to San Francisco, got a job at a property management company, and fell in with the Chabadnik family (one of our tenants), who were generous and inviting and funny.

Then, I quit that job, became awfully ill with a 104-degree fever, and pondered what in the hell was I going to do for work.  As I lay bedridden that week, I asked myself, “Besides ‘creativity,’ what do I love?”  I answered myself, Well, I like being Jewish. !

I then went on the internet and Googled “Jewish San Francisco.”  The rest, as they say, is history (aside from the 103-degree fever with which I attended my interview with the BJE!).

Yesterday, I got to sit in the synagogue that is attached to the school where I work.  Every Thursday, the school gathers together to sing and pray and learn.  And I love it.

The songs are generally similar to those I learned in Jew camp and youth group, and I like to notice what’s different from East to West coast melodies.  The order of the service is the same; the wave of choral voices and clapping is the same; the eternal flame over the Torah is the same.

I’m not religious.  I love Jews and Jewishness and songs and clapping and “L’chayim-ing,” but I do not love the dogma or doctrine — the very little I admit that I know of it.  I do love the wide-openness I find in Reform Jewry, and how whatever my conception of G-d or Jewishness can fit generously inside the fleshy parameters of the religion.

Yet, what feels the most significant, most comforting, most embracing is that I can sit inside that synagogue yesterday, hear the voices of children and guitar crash over me, and mourn the present (folding and unfolding) dissolution of my relationship, and be witnessed and honored and held by the hand of whatever G-d there resides.

cats · commitment · relationships


cat 1.jpg

The first true commitment I made as a grown-up was to adopt my cat.

I know, I know.  But for many years, I’d considered “commitment” close to a prison sentence.  I watched how my mother went to the same therapist for over 30 years (and didn’t appear to get any better), and I figured therapy was a life-time commitment.  I watched how she and my father remained in a marriage that had eroded from the inside (if there was ever much to hold it besides momentum), and I considered marriage a commitment to lethargy and despair.

My own youthful relationships had been bright fire-work explosions, replete with the optical afterimage of what was when that was not true any longer.  They were short-lived, intense, and unstable.

And so, when it came time to move across the cavernous, yawning bay from SF to Oakland for graduate school, my amour of the time suggested I, like he, adopt a cat.  I’d considered owning a cat for a long time, but my considerations had always been followed by this disturbing thought: But then I’m going to have to watch it die.

I’m going to get attached, then I’m going to have to part.  This is life, this is death, this is inevitable.  Why would I ever intentionally knock over a domino that would lead me toward suffering?

Why would I make a commitment, a 15- or 20-year commitment, to love and care for and cherish and laugh with and snuggle with and bat away from my water glass, if I’m only going to have to bring a now-underweight being to the vet and tell them, “Take her”?

So, yes, it was phenomenal, miraculous growth for me when I adopted my cat (Stella Meowenstein — “So she knows she’s Jewish,” my then-bf would laughingly suggest.  Though, I think she looks like a shiksa).  Stella was here in my studio apartment with me as I began grad school and slowed the number of times I could reasonably cross the bridge back into SF (where my real friends were).  She was here when my car got stolen and it was even less reasonable to cross back in.  Stella was here as I healed from my break-up from that boyfriend and tearfully read, It’s Called a Break-up Cuz it’s Broken on the Kindle he’d given me for Chanukah.

My cat has been with me for 8 years, and I will have to say goodbye to her.  I will one day have to help her to exit the world, and I will weep precipitously.

But my commitment to her has also meant oodles of love that I have received and given.  My commitment to her has meant that I have consistency, permanence (for its time), and companionship.  In short, my commitment to her has been a highlight of my life (and I hope of hers).

Clearly, my relationship with a domestic short-hair has altered my ideas of commitment as a prison sentence.  And yet, on occasion, the lines still feel blurred.