If you haven’t watched “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, stop everything and go watch it right now. It’s so wonderful, I must channel Leslie Knope to describe it. It’s a glamorous, spectacular cloud of inspired brilliance, and it has done more to raise me into a strong, independent woman than all four of my parents. (No offense to my parents, it’s just that fucking good.)
The theme song feels like it was written for my life. Not many people know this, but I was sexually and physically abused as a kid. Like, a lot. And when I heard the intro for that show, I felt like standing up and fist-pumping, because HOLY FUCK! I should be dead! I should be a heroin addict or in jail or even worse, I could have continued the cycle of abuse with my own kids. But I didn’t. I broke the cycle, and I survived. Not just survived. I thrived. I am unbreakable. Through terrible things most people can’t even imagine, I kept a tiny, glowing sliver of myself tucked away, hidden until it was safe to bring it out and let it shine. And when I hear that song, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with pride and joy.
I’m alive, dammit!
It’s a miracle.
But females are strong as hell.
When I was in New York City last year--my first time anywhere, really, since I spent most of my twenties barefoot and pregnant--a friend commented that I didn’t seem to be afraid of anything. That I wasn’t intimidated by the subway, or by the more experienced comedians, or of doing the Moth Story Slam on a whim. I wasn't even a little worried when we couldn’t get a taxi at 3am in a bad part of Queens and had to walk home. In the show, when Titus tells Kimmy she can’t handle New York, she responds, “The worst thing that ever happened to me happened in my own front yard.” The same goes for me. Whatever life throws me, I KNOW it can’t be worse than the things I’ve already endured. I'm not afraid of the world because there's something comforting about knowing and acknowledging how bad it can be that makes the whole damn place seem a lots less scary.
I love that the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” doesn’t do the usual pendulum swing between maudlin and squeamish that most shows go through when addressing a woman’s experience with sexual assault. The show doesn’t over-indulge our desire for morbid details (“Yes! There was weird sex stuff in the bunker” is the most we get), but it also doesn’t shy away from the traumatic effect the abuse has had on Kimmy (she has nightmares and occasionally calls herself “garbage” in a deep, manly voice, you know, like you do). And it lets the subject be openly discussed, and even more importantly, funny, which is one of the most maddening things about being a survivor, that people are often more uncomfortable with your assault than you are. That nobody wants to hear your truth because it’s too goddamn squicky.
Thank you, Tina Fey, for this perfect vehicle of female empowerment and girlish toughness. For showing that strength can sometimes be just surviving ten seconds at a time. That survivors don't have to be ashamed of their past or take any ownership for what their abusers did to them. Thank you for showing that even charming, handsome Jon Hamm types can be monsters. Thank you for not shying away from the realities of what it means to be a woman while still laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. And above all, thank you for reminding me that I am unbreakable. Hashbrown, no filter. I love you.
I was two weeks away from my tenth anniversary when I took off my wedding ring and never put it back on. This had more than a little to do with the fact that, instead of a gift, my now-ex-spouse gave me trichomoniasis. (LIFE HACK: never accept a Pendleton blanket as an apology gift, because as it turns out, wool blankets and STDs? Both super itchy.) I gave him a juicer, which, I have since been informed, is also kind of a crappy present. I'm a practical person, often to a fault, so the best I can say about my attempts at romance is that gifts from me FOR SURE won't require a round of antibiotics.
The ring is white gold, with a green tourmaline stone. Tourmaline is a semi-precious stone mostly used in hair dryers. Mine was princess cut, which is just about as tacky and white trash as the 8 million seashells I glued onto all of our wedding decorations. The ring cost $300 in 2001, which seemed wildly extravagant to me, partly because I got married at the perfectly Idaho-reasonable age of twenty one, and partly because I am still the kind of cheap that has a hard time dropping $14 on a new shower curtain. (So expensive!)
My ex proposed to me while we were watching the X-Files by saying, “I don’t want illegitimate children, so we should get married”. Properly wooed, I got my wedding dress at a thrift store and had seamstress sew red and gold ribbons onto it. At the reception, his mother began her speech by saying, “Your first wedding is always the most special...” All of this happened on a boat named the “Tiger’s Folly” which, appropriately, a few months later, caught fire and sank into the Morro Bay.
Yesterday, I was hiding my son’s tooth in my sock drawer, and I found the tiny, green velvet box that holds my ring. I have all my childrens’ baby teeth. I can’t bring myself to throw them away. They sit in bags in various drawers just waiting to out the Tooth Fairy as a fraud. I recently found a molar in my purse when I was looking for chapstick. That’s probably a thing that only happens to parents and/or serial killers, and isn’t really socially acceptable either way.
It’s been three years, almost to the day, since I took off my ring. I took it out and held it in my hand, feeling its weight, and considered putting it on, just to see how it felt. A decade before, full of naivete and hope, my ex wrote "even after the kids are grown!!!" on the box’s lid. Luckily, he didn't specify what, exactly, was to be maintained between us even after the kids were grown. Incompatibility? Apathy? A complete and infuriating lack of mutual understanding? So, at least, no promises were broken.
I’m okay now. I really am. I spent that first year huddled in a sobbing ball, mourning the death of my marriage. And that’s what divorce feels like: a death. It’s the murder of everything the two of you were together, the brutal obliteration of a decade of entwined self. I don’t know this for sure, but I think maybe having children makes it worse, because you really, literally did commingle your personhood, and you have little reminders, every day, of the things you loved about that person. How much easier it must be to just walk away, to say, “I never really liked you much at all” and burn it down behind you. But to have three tall, broad-shouldered sons with familiar blue eyes and playful spirits is a daily gut-punch, a bittersweet ache that never quite goes away.
When we were young and happy, my ex and I used to listen to a lot of Paul Simon. To the young, still in that lovely, indestructible place where you wonder why people need health insurance because what could possibly go wrong, all Paul Simon's songs sound like cheerful, indecipherable Madlibs. You can call me Al? What does that mean? Diamonds on the soles of her shoes? How impractical. Oh well, at least there are congas. Whoop whoop whoop.
You need to be salt and peppered with regret and exhaustion to fully appreciate Paul Simon. A divorce helps, so does the life-altering choice of having children. I remember washing dishes one day, my third kid hanging heavy against my chest, asleep in his carrier, feeling jaded and lonely and dissatisfied with my life, when I suddenly realized that there was a comma in “Why deny the obvious, child?” That it was song about the passage of time, about getting older, about the futility of trying to explain how fast life goes to a eye-rolling twenty-something who believes they’ll never age.
I always loved the song “Hearts and Bones”, but it was only after I forever took off my wedding ring, that I finally understood the lamentation behind lyrics:
You take two bodies and you twirl them into one
Their hearts and their bones
Yeah, they won't come undone
But they have come undone, finally, except for this tiny, goddamn box that sits in my sock drawer like a finger bone, a macabre souvenir of something that should have been buried three years ago when it died. I know I should throw away it away, maybe pawn it, take myself to, well, nowhere fancy because it’s a cheap, shitty ring. Red Lobster? Maybe eat a bunch of crab legs while staying true to my trailer park roots?
Instead, I put back, hiding it beneath a pair of striped pink, over-the-knee stockings I no longer have occasion to wear. I suppose, as Simon says, “Only time will determine if these consolations will be their reward”. If a drawer full of baby teeth will make up for wasting a decade on a man who couldn't love me for who I was, where I was. The arc of a love affair. One day, you’re twenty one with gold ribbons in your hair, marrying a man you barely know on the beach, the next, you're in your mid-thirties, hoping no one reads your blog and calls the show "Hoarders" about your creepy dentine collection. Hearts and bones, baby. Hearts and bones.