Living Happily Ever After


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New Friends…Prison-Style

“I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.” (Thomas A. Edison)

The incarceration experience for my ex-husband included meeting new people and making new friends. Yes, they were dressed in the only fashion acceptable for inmates–aka. orange jumpsuits–but learning about some of them completely changed my perspective of prison and many of those who reside there. They don’t fit Hollywood stereotypes; they shattered my expectations. (Prepare yourself. I’m about to expose my ignorance.)

When he first was taken into custody, one of the deputies talked to him about the “average” inmate. He said the jail had all types of men, who had committed all types of crimes, but that “most are just average ‘Joes’ that messed up.” I confess I’d never thought of criminals in that way before–as average people who had made mistakes.

He met an inmate with three college degrees. I had probably assumed, too often, that people commit crimes because they lack education and training for legal employment–that crime is all they’ve witnessed and known so that is what they do. Not true in all cases.

Sometimes I could even relate to their bad luck. Several of the stories I heard took my thoughts back to my teens and the dumb things teenagers sometimes do without thinking beyond the moment. I pictured kids I knew as a teenager, maybe even my brothers, doing similar things–only to a lesser degree. Here’s one friend’s story: He stole an unmarked police vehicle by mistake. In the process of messing with the wires he turned on the flashing lights, unbeknownst to the driver. The man’s friend, driving the other car, tried to catch up to the stolen car and let him know what had happened but the man thought his friend wanted to race–so he sped up. A state patrolman coming the other direction flashed his lights at him, thinking it was a cop who just forgot to turn his flashers off! The man got caught and went to jail.

The most eye opening thing I learned about his new friends, however, wasn’t really anything new it was simply something I’d forgotten as I lived a law abiding life on “the outside.” That is, even gangsters have hearts.

Despite the white collar nature of my ex-husband’s crimes, he was incarcerated with infamous criminals, well-known in all circles, including the media. For that reason, he never shared their names with us. But what stunned me, was how these notorious gangsters were so kind to an older man. After all, he was the age of their fathers. They introduced themselves to him, shook his hand, introduced him to others and told him, “If anyone gives you trouble, just let us know and we’ll take care of it.” (But no one ever bothered him.) They invited him to exercise with them. They showed him the ropes of life on “the inside.” They talked, played games and got to know one another. Yet despite their kindness, they were tough men. He never saw anyone cry or show emotion.

And then one day, my ex-husband lost it. The consequences of his choices hit him and said he felt them deeper than they ever had before. He cried. He had never seen any show of emotion in the jail and was mortified that he couldn’t help himself or stop himself from the flood of tears. In such confined space, there is nowhere to go and nowhere to hide, so everyone witnessed his grief. As he shared the experience, I don’t know what I expected the reaction might have been; my imagination conjured up many different scenarios, none of them sympathetic, all of them included my ex-husband getting beat up for being a sissy. But here is what really happened.

Everyone left him alone. They didn’t hassle him. They gave him his space. And not one inmate made fun of him, shunned him or beat him up for his weakness. In fact, during the most express moment of anguish and grief, the “biggest, baddest gangster of them all” came quietly to my ex-husband’s bunk, put a hand on his shoulder, told him everything would be o.k., and that he had a friend and was there for him if he ever wanted to talk about it.

That touched me.

I don’t know who the man really was, but I named him Mr. C. (“C” for compassion. I envision him looking like the infamous Mr. T of the old “A-Team” show, so basically I just changed the consonant in his name!) We need more Mr. Cs in the world, don’t we? More friends, more people with compassion and more people who choose to be there for for each of us, “outside” or in the slammer, when our unexpected life or its ramifications overwhelms us.

I know I’ve needed that and have been blessed by those who have shown compassion toward me and my children.

I don’t think I’ll ever look at criminals in the same way again. And it’s my unexpected life that gave me a different view.

“Deep down even the most hardened criminal is starving for the same thing that motivates the innocent baby: Love and acceptance.”(Lily Fairchilde)

Edward Eyes

“I have looked into your eyes with my eyes. I have put my heart near your heart.” (Pope John XXIII)

I don’t know how it is for all divorced, single women, but I can tell you how I felt and what I thought.

I couldn’t believe it had happened to me. I was a in a bit of shock at the events that led to my divorce and the fact that I was divorced. My divorce hadn’t happened in what I imagined were the typical ways–we had never fallen out of love, become indifferent to one another, fought with each other or hated each other. It wasn’t a downward spiral leading to a break-up. The necessity for a divorce came in one day, out of the blue.

My feelings of self worth suffered. I walked around, sure that all eyes were on me, that everyone knew I was single, that everyone probably thought I’d done something wrong to end up that way and that people either pitied me or thought I was a loser.

I was filled with grief that a marriage had ended and an intact family unit had been destroyed.

I felt the marriage that ended had been my one marriage, my one chance at having a husband or being married, and that I was destined to be alone the rest of my life.

But at the same time, my divorce didn’t destroy my belief in the institution of marriage or in the purpose of families; I remained a fan of both. I remember sitting in church one day a month or two after my divorce became final and the Sunday School lesson was on marriage. I sat there, listening, as I always had when a woman sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, “I’m sorry. Is this hard for you?” No, I answered, and I meant it. It hadn’t dawned on me to sit there and feel bad for myself or mope about what I didn’t have.

However, as a single woman, there were certain things I noticed.

I noticed every wedding ring on every man’s finger. My husband had never worn a wedding ring, and although it had never bothered me or been an issue for us (due to my dad’s profession, he hadn’t worn one either, so I didn’t grow up with the expectation that married men should wear wedding rings) I began to appreciate them–after I was single.

I noticed young couples in love, particularly the way they looked at each other, specifically the way the young men looked at the young ladies. I couldn’t help but see it, probably because I’d been told my spouse hadn’t looked at me in years prior to our divorce. Somehow along the way, I decided I wanted that for myself someday.

Some people look for money. Some people choose a mate based solely on chemistry, intellect, physical appearance or personality. I decided, among other things, I was going to hold out for a man who looked at me with “the look.” I didn’t want a relationship where my husband spent year looking at the tip of my nose again.

Enter Bachelor #5.

He told me he’d marry me tomorrow if I were willing; I was slower than he was to come to that decision. I had a lot of observing and investigating to do before I committed myself. And one of the things I was checking out was “the look.” Did he look at me that way?

I wasn’t sure.

It was time to find out.

One night I sat nose to nose with Bachelor #5. I directed him to look at me. He laughed and told me he couldn’t, things were too blurry to see that close up! I explained he didn’t need to see me, I just needed to see the way he looked at me. He shook his head, teased me about trying to live a teenage fantasy in my 40s and holding out for something that doesn’t exist in real life, but he had the good grace to look me in the eyes anyway.

For a second or two, as I looked into his warm, brown eyes, I wasn’t sure what I saw. Then before I could decide, he opened his eyes as wide as he could, gazed intently into mine, raised his eyebrows (to the point he was looking a little like a zombie) and asked, “Can you see it? I’m looking at you with my best Edward eyes. Do you see my Edward eyes?”

I told you he gets me.

He’s not even a Twilight fan, but he somehow knew what I was thinking, what I was looking for, and at least jokingly, tried to be that for me.

Just one more reason I finally decided it was time. Why I said, “Yes.” And why we’re still…engaged.

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” (Author Unknown)

It’s all part of the unexpected life.


“Fortune knocks at every man’s door once in a life, but in a good many cases the man is in a neighboring saloon and does not hear her.” (Mark Twain)

Living an unexpected life, I can’t help but sometimes compare the “then” to the now.

Here’s one: fortune cookies.

When I was married, my former spouse had a hostility toward certain things. (And of course, criminal tendencies that have now been revealed or not, as with all people, it’s never what you expect.) Shawn Merriman felt anger toward fortune cookies. The sight of them on the tray at the end of an Asian meal upset him. To have someone read their fortune out loud from the scrap of paper they removed from the crisp cookie shell made him mad. I believe his venom toward the end-of-meal treat stemmed from his mother’s propensity to consult real fortune tellers for prophecies about her life, and that she made plans and lived according to the information they divined–something he completely disagreed with.

Whatever the reason for his hostility, and for the sake of peace and harmony in our relationship, home and family, I gave them up. I didn’t look at or read a fortune from a fortune cookie, for most of the 20 years I was married. Then I got divorced.

A year ago my sister came to town and took my daughter and me to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. When the meal was over, the fortune cookies came. My sister grabbed one, opened hers and read it. My daughter and I did the same. That small event was so huge to me, I recorded it in my journal–not as a defiance of my former spouse and the old life I had lived, as evidence of things from the life of Andrea Christensen I was embracing again–and the crazy single woman I had become. I hadn’t read a fortune cookie in decades.

My fortune cookie revealed, “Someone from your past will happily enter your life.”

So I saved it.

I even put it in my wallet!

I knew I was crazy, and my behavior toward the fortune cookie’s prediction proved it.

Things changed, again, with Bachelor #5. He gave me an entirely new perspective, even with fortune cookies. He not only reads cookie fortunes, he adds certain phrases to the end of them as he reads them out loud, and laughs! His fortunes have opened up whole new realms of possibilities for me. Lol.

Speaking of fortunes, here are some helpful ones for the unexpected, single life. Wisdom I offer to all from a knowledgeable and trusted source: the fortune cookie.

“Every man is a volume if you know how to read him.” (The problem is knowing the language they speak, as evidenced by the international set of bachelors AND by the love language every bachelor speaks–but that is another blog post in itself!)

“Your secret admirer will soon appear.” (Just watch out for stalkers!)

“You are surrounded by fortune hunters.” (That is true for women AND men. I’ll never forget the man who told me he didn’t mind that I had four kids, “As long as they’re provided for by someone else.”)

“Behind an able man, there are always other able men.” (Helpful to remember as you’re looking for your Mr. Awesome and haven’t found him yet. Don’t give up. If he was out there for me, he is out there for you!)

And last but not least: “Answer just what your heart prompts you.” (Useful for you-know-when; THE moment; THE PROPOSAL.)

In fairy tales and real life.

“Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale of all.” (Hans Christian Andersen)

As Simple As That

“My mother says I didn’t open my eyes for eight days after I was born, but when I did, the first thing I saw was an engagement ring. I was hooked.” (Elizabeth Taylor)

He’d been telling me for quite awhile he’d marry me tomorrow if I were willing. I had eventually responded by saying, “It’s time.”

I was happy, calm and content–absolutely willing to enjoy that state of being for awhile. When I’d uttered those two words, I hadn’t envisioned moving forward with anything beyond that in the near future. Life had been moving pretty fast for me; I was ready for a “breather!”

However, a few days later while driving down the road, Bachelor #5 threw in the phrase, “And then we’ll go ring shopping if we have time.” If I had been the one driving the car, it would have come to a screeching halt right at that moment. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The thought of setting foot in a jewelry store and shopping for an engagement ring, at my age, was something I’d never thought of or planned on!

I’m not sure why. I wish I could say I handled it well, but that would be less than truthful. Thankfully, we didn’t get around to it for a few more days. But that didn’t make it any easier for me. I was slightly slower to convert to the idea than, say, Elizabeth Taylor.

But Bachelor #5 didn’t give up. He remained patient and calm through the whole process. (And it WAS a process.)

We entered the first jewelry store together. An innocent young salesman approached. I don’t think he had any idea what he was in for. But neither did I.

I don’t know the typical female response to ring shopping, but I wasn’t sitting down and anxious to look at any rings or try any on, and I certainly wasn’t gushing over anything that sparkled. I’d never gone ring shopping, or looked at diamonds, in my entire life. I didn’t know much.

I was finally persuaded to try on a setting that I didn’t love, but I had to start somewhere to appease Bachelor #5 and the clerk. With the setting on my finger, the clerk dropped an assortment of loose diamonds into the center of it for me to look at. I didn’t know if it was the size of the diamonds or my age (aka. poor eyesight) but I had a hard time seeing the diamonds very well. Everything seemed so small. I said to the clerk, “I’m sorry. But these diamonds all seem so small. I think you’re going to have to show me some diamonds that are at least a karat. Yes, at my age, I think I need at least a karat.”

The salesman replied, “Ma’am, all of the stones I’m showing you are LARGER than a karat; in fact, most of them are close to two karats!” (See? I told you I didn’t know anything.)

I knew then and there I was fighting a battle I couldn’t win because I didn’t even have a clue what the rules were! We left without buying anything. And the only decision I’d arrived at after that ring shopping experience, was that I didn’t want a diamond ring.

I hated ring shopping. The things men “make” women do. Lol.

“Men are like a deck of cards, you need a heart to love ‘em, a diamond to marry ‘em, a club to beat ‘em and a spade to bury ‘em.”

If only it were as simple as that.

Before I Committed Myself

“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.” (Jane Austen)

I made my decision, I needed to tell him, but I couldn’t. There was something else I had to know before I fully committed myself with, “It’s time.”

My problem was this: how can you think you’re in love with a man, how can you marry him, if you don’t know what it’s like to slow dance with him? One more experiment was needed. But I had to be discreet.

It didn’t even dawn on me to test his slow dancing mojo in my home or his, our own music playing. With 8 children between us, I didn’t even consider that a possibility. Instead, you’ll NEVER guess where I tested my hypothesis! A singles dance. (I know! After all I have written about them, I actually ended up going back to one, voluntarily, with Bachelor #5, just to see how I felt about slow dancing with him!)

It was going to require serious maneuvering though. Bachelor #5 was not a fan of singles dances. His ONE singles dance experience had not been pleasant. Thankfully, it occurred long before I went to one because he was not happy to be there, he sat on a chair against the wall with his arms folded across his chest and he didn’t dance once all night! (In his defense, that is SO not like him, I had to laugh at his hostility toward singles dances!)

So I didn’t tell him my plan. I didn’t tell him where we were going or why. I just buttered him up before the experiment by taking him to my favorite Provo restaurant. He was curious all through dinner about what was coming afterward, yet I never revealed a thing. I simply warned, “I’m sorry, you’re not going to like it, but it is simply something that must be done.”

That piqued his curiousity. As we walked to the car, he got a flash of inspiration and said, “I KNOW where we’re going! I know what we’re doing!”

I insisted he didn’t know anything. He insisted he did. He put me in the car, got in, turned the car on, looked over at me and asked, “Which building?”

Such is the price you pay when you have so much in common with someone else, when you’re so alike. He really did know where I was taking him. A singles dance. You can’t put much over on a soul mate.

But I didn’t back down. I gave him directions and we were off for the final experiment. We pulled into the parking lot and talked for a few minutes before going in. He had some concerns, but I assured him we simply had to dance a slow song or two and then we could leave.

Then he worried what he was supposed to do when women asked him to dance! I told him that wouldn’t happen; people would see we were together, and women would leave him alone. However, I guess he had enough experience with single women to worry about that anyway. We went inside.

It’s always that same, strange, weird feeling when you enter a singles dance, and that night was no different. Thoughts of, “What am I doing here? I don’t belong here!” flooded my mind as my senses were overwhelmed by the pulsing beat of old songs and current ones, and the sight of old people dancing like teenagers–or trying to, anyway. But Bachelor #5 and I pressed on.

After a minute or two, a slow song came on, he grabbed my hand and pulled me to the dance floor. A song neither of us knew was playing, but it was a very good, very appropriate song that led to a MOMENT on the dance floor. You know what I’m talking about; those MOMENTS in life that are amazing while they last, when time seems to almost stand still, and their memory lingers for years to come.

“There are moments in life, when the heart is so full of emotion That if by chance it be shaken, or into its depths like a pebble Drops some careless word, it overflows, and its secret, Spilt on the ground like water, can never be gathered together.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Bachelor #5 passed the test.

And guess what? We had so much fun, we stayed most of the night–dancing every slow song and even some fun fast songs that he or I liked or that brought back memories of good times from previous decades. Unexpectedly, Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” song came on, and although I was a pretty young teen when it was popular, it was totally Bachelor #5′s genre; we both love it and we danced to it. Looking back, and given his September deadline, that probably would have been a good MOMENT to say, “It’s time,” but I didn’t even think to. I just had the thought, “Dude, if you only knew what ‘September’ is going to have in store for you. There you are, innocently dancing and having a great time, until you get the shock of your life–’It’s Time’!”

After the dance, as I walked to the car, I had a moment of nostalgia. I thought, “This is not my life anymore. These singles dances are not for me anymore. This just may be the last singles dance of my life that I attend.” And despite my previous experiences there, despite the cast of interesting characters I’ve profiled, I had a sentimental moment as I realized how much I had grown and changed, even as a single woman, since my arrival on the singles scene July 13, 2009.

My singles experience was winding down.

And I felt a profound sense of wonder that it was, coupled with a feeling of gratitude for all that I had endured, tried to rise above, and eventually learned, as a result of being unexpectedly single in my unexpected life.

“Play with life, laugh with life, dance lightly with life, and smile at the riddles of life, knowing that life’s only true lessons are writ small in the margin.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie)

Want It More Than You Fear It

“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.” (Bill Cosby)

I had a hard time concentrating on reaching a decision. I had some concerns, and until I resolved my concerns, I didn’t feel I could make a decision or trust the decision I made.

I couldn’t believe my concerns.

One of the biggest devastations of my divorce was my belief that I’d had my chance at love, marriage and a whole and complete family, that no one would ever want me again, and that I was destined to remain alone the rest of my life. Yet less than a year after the tragic demise of my marriage and family, I had the opportunity to remarry a very good man who loved me and my children and was willing to take all of us on AND my children loved him. Sounds pretty ideal, especially for a second marriage, doesn’t it?

Yet all of THAT was the problem…for me!

I kept thinking there had to be something false, or flawed, in the opportunity or the man; there had to be something I wasn’t seeing.

I had an issue with the timing. It had happened so “fast.” Less than a year after everything fell apart, it had all come together again. Who has that happen to them? How could I go from such horror and devastation to such a dream, and so quickly?

I expressed this concern to a friend who said, “Andrea, someone like YOU has that happen to them. You lost everything unexpectedly in one day, yet you have risen above hatred, speculation and gossip and have carried on, you’ve sought to remain faithful, you’re doing your best for your children, and you can expect to be blessed for all of that.” She added, “Besides, if you consider how long you’ve actually waited to have a real marriage to the type of man you always thought you were married to…I wouldn’t say it’s fast at all. How long have you been waiting for that?”

Since 1989. Over 20 years.

And suddenly I realized that despite what others might think (those who don’t really know me, those who might judge my opportunity as “too fast” or “too soon”) I knew how long I’d been waiting. My entire adult life. Issue resolved.

I also had a problem with the fact that after all I’d been through, I just “happened to land” in a great situation. My sister handled that one for me. She said, “I have a problem with the fact you think you just ‘landed’ in this great situation. Do you have any idea how many people have worried about you and prayed for you, day in and day out, for the past YEAR? Do you have ANY idea? I have a problem with the fact you seem to think it was your good fortune, chance, or ‘luck’ that brought this to you.”

I instantly humbled myself regarding that one. She was right. I may have had my detractors, but I had also been very blessed with more than my fair share of friends who loved me, cared about me, and did everything they could to help me–including praying for me. That issue was resolved then and there, too.

My final issue concerned the availability of Bachelor #5. If he was so wonderful, WHY was he still around and still single? My sister said, “Maybe he’s still single because he was prepared, and saved, for you. With your past and all you and your children have been through, you couldn’t end up with just anyone, you know.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

So in the end, I quit making excuses. I quit trying to find everything WRONG with Bachelor #5 and the situation. I quit looking for every possible reason not to remarry. I quit hiding behind my indecision.

I decided that I wanted it more than I was afraid of it.

I chose to turn the page of my life’s story and continue on into the new chapter of the fairy tale of my life that I hoped would lead to the happily ever after ending I’d never given up on, that I’d believed in and had sought since I was a little girl. After all of that analyzing, thinking, pondering, worrying and indecision I threw it all out the window and instead, made a choice with my heart.

In the end, it came down to the simplest of concepts and principles that I already knew and had always tried to live by: Faith; Hope; Love; Trust; Commitment.

It came down to this: “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.” (Bill Cosby)

I made my decision. Although it had taken me awhile to get there, I loved Bachelor #5 like I didn’t remember ever loving anyone before. So…

Hey-hey-hey, Bachelor #5! It’s time.

I just needed to tell him that.

Bachelors #22-26: The International Set

My dad loved Hawaii.

And he did his best to instill the same passion for Polynesia in me. I absolutely loved the time I spent in the South Pacific growing up. I loved it so much, my heart literally hurt every time we had to leave and return to our home in Colorado.

Eventually, I was offered a piano scholarship to BYU-Hawaii and my dad’s only hesitation about letting me accept it was his fear that I would fall in love with an islander and my family would never see or hear from me again! He knew me well. I may well have done that, given the chance.

So it was kind of ironic that I married a man who hated the sun, Hawaii, the beach, the feeling of sand between his toes, and every other “island” thing that I loved. After I divorced it hit me. Although I would never have chosen divorce and never thought it would happen to me, what if I actually found a Polynesian man to love the second time around? (And then I realized the following, too: it may take someone from that far away to have not heard about me or the drama-filled ending of my marriage and previous life thanks to the criminal actions of my former spouse!)

Hmm. It was something to consider. So I had to laugh when I actually got asked out by what I’ll call “The International Set” of bachelors. Bachelors #22-26. Each hailed from some place far removed from Colorado and the fall out of the Ponzi scheme my former spouse perpetrated. I had a chance at the anonymity I had hoped for!

Unfortunately, Bachelor #22 was very nice, but not my type at all. Nothing serious ever developed. He was just a fun friend, from a foreign country, kind, who enjoyed hearing about my kids and dancing. I’ll remember him most for his constant smile. Adios, Bachelor #22!

Bachelor #23 was nice, but too short for me. (And I’m not talking he was less than my dream height of 6’2″. He was literally quite a bit shorter than me!) He was a widower with one arm and several children. He spoke Samoan fluently, but English…not so much! That was NEVER going anywhere. Tofa, Bachelor #23!

Bachelor #24 was a nice, older Samoan gentleman who loved young people and helping them achieve their dreams. He ran a foundation for troubled youth, and had a heart that was big enough to love the entire world, it seemed. (A very good quality.) Every time he asked me out on a date, he invited me to bring my children, too, even though he had never met them. (I didn’t bring my children, though. I wasn’t comfortable letting my children meet many of the men I dated.) A very nice man. However, in my eyes he was more like a father or a grandfather, not a man I had romantic interest in. That frustrated him and he quit asking me out as soon as he realized that. Tofa, Bachelor #24!

Bachlor #25 was another “senior” citizen…from Greece. He was nice, but it was clear to me from the moment I met him that there was never going to be a Big Fat Greek Wedding in my future. Ta leme, Bachelor #25!

Bachelor #26 was a genuine Kiwi–VERY handsome, tan, VERY cool, laid back, outdoorsy, loved to hike and walk (the muddier the better!) and had an accent to die for! Too bad we had very different goals and values. He was a fun and nice man but it finally came down to hei kona ra, Bachelor #26!

So the international set didn’t work out for me. But I haven’t given up.

“I’m a hopeless romantic. It’s disgusting. It really is. I’ve seen ‘While You Were Sleeping’, like, twenty times, and I still believe in the whole Prince Charming thing.” (Jennifer Love Hewitt)

I’m with her.

Of Corpses, Fish and Flowers

“That corpse you planted last year in your garden, Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?” (T.S. Eliot)

I love “old-fashioned” flowers, like hollyhocks and peonies, but peonies are my favorite. Someone once told me peonies can live to be up to 90 years old. I don’t know if that is true, but it has made me love them even more.
I can’t imagine what they’ve seen and what they’ve survived to live that long.

Kind of like each of us as we live our unexpected lives.

My Colorado yard had LOTS of hollyhocks and peonies.

When I moved to Utah to begin a new chapter in my unexpected life, I left before my belongings. My former spouse, unemployed and waiting to be formally charged for the Ponzi scheme he perpetrated and the crimes he committed, moved my things to Utah for me after I was already working. Knowing how much I loved my peonies and that I had no money with which to buy new plants in Utah, the man I had divorced uprooted 2-3 peony plants from my Colorado yard and hauled them to Utah in buckets, hoping they could be transplanted in my new yard upon their arrival.

In the midst of working full time, tending my children in the evening, and trying to unpack and move in to our Utah home, one of the peony plants from Colorado died before I could plant them. I looked at it, dead, withered and lifeless in an orange Home Depot bucket, and realized I had a lot more in common with peonies than I’d thought. I felt like that plant looked and wondered if I was headed for the same fate. It felt like pieces of my heart were already there. But seeing the dead plant motivated me to plant the two remaining peony plants.

They looked dead, but I figured if that were the case, I couldn’t damage them further. I planted them in the middle of the July 2009 heat and went on living my life, not sure if they were alive enough to take root or if they’d survive the winter snow. I should have known better, though. I probably should have been more worried about whether or not they could survive my children!

Sometime during the winter, my four year old came to me one day, proudly holding an entire peony plant that he had uprooted. “Look Mom! Look what I found trying to grow in our yard! Look how strong I am! I ripped this whole bush out of the ground all by myself!”

My eyes were huge as I looked at the accomplishment dangling from his little hands–my peony plant, roots and all.

The loss of a plant, considering all I had lost, seemed like such a little thing. And it sounds petty, but in a year of disappointments I couldn’t help but add the peony plant to the list. But at the same time I acknowledged there were a lot bigger losses and issues in life, and in my world, than the loss of one pink peony plant. I had experienced too many to count in 2009 and as usual, knew I could choose to laugh or cry about things, so I shook my head at the absurdity of uprooting a plant from its home, hauling it several hundred miles in a bucket in the summer heat, transplanting it when it was mostly dead and with winter coming…and a small child finally doing it in.

I laughed.

It wasn’t THAT big a loss, but it’s still true: “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” (Bill Cosby)

It reminded me of our attempt at having a fish for a pet several years earlier. The fish was new to our family when we left on a vacation to Africa for one month. And wouldn’t you know it, I forgot to arrange for anyone to feed it while we were gone! I realized my mistake partway through the trip and prepared myself for a dead fish when we returned home. To my shock, the fish was alive and swimming in its bowl when we returned to Colorado! I fed it, changed its water, and secretly admired the little fish’s survival instinct. The next evening however, as I did the dinner dishes, I realized the fish was missing. Apparently, our cleaning lady had come, hadn’t realized anything was swimming in the fish bowl, dumped the contents down the drain and washed the bowl!

In the case of the peony plant, all I could do was compliment my son on his brute strength, give his “huge” arm muscles a squeeze of admiration, and help him heft the remnants of my peony plant into the big garbage can outside. Another peony dead. Sometimes the best laid plans die or don’t work out due to circumstances beyond our control.

One peony plant was left, but who knew if it was even alive, or if it could survive the rest of the winter?

I was walking in my yard recently and saw it. The peony plant was still in the ground, thankfully. It was finally green. And to my surprise, there were blossoms getting ready to bloom! Who ever would have thought? And after all of this time, one year since it was first uprooted, has passed?

“Where flowers bloom so does hope.” (Lady Bird Johnson)

It looks like I’m going to have peonies after all. With my hope. In my unexpected life.

He’s Not My Boyfriend!

We all learned a lot from Bachelor #1. Including what to call the men I dated.

I don’t know why I have such an aversion to the word “boyfriend” but I do, and always have. It must be the way I was raised. My parents drilled this into my head: Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. Don’t tie yourself down. Don’t have a boyfriend. NEVER tie yourself to just one guy–until you are engaged!

So, I never did. I never had what I called a boyfriend. In fact, when I got engaged to my former spouse and went to tell my roommates I was getting married, they looked at me in shock and asked, “WHO are you engaged to?” I was surprised they didn’t know, so I asked them to guess. I was even more surprised when “Shawn Merriman” was the 5th name they guessed! I guess I got the “no boyfriend” thing my parents taught me down really, really well (in the 80s.)

I went from not having a boyfriend, not having a fiance (couldn’t say that word, either, for some reason!) to having a husband. Fortunately, I was able to say that word. For 20 years!

And then I became single again, unexpectedly, in 2009. I re-entered the dating scene. And my kids started saying things like, “So, when are you going to see your BOYFRIEND again?”

It struck a nerve. I just couldn’t call Bachelor #1 my boyfriend. That title made me cringe! He wasn’t my boyfriend.

I told my son, “Don’t call him that. I don’t have a boyfriend. He’s not my boyfriend.”

And before I could explain why I was so weird about that, my son said, “Oh, yah, that’s right. He’s not a boy. He’s a man. Got it, Mom, so when are you going to see your MANFRIEND again?”

I don’t know if that’s what everyone else’s teenagers call the men they date, but it was so unexpected, we all laughed. Hard. And you know what? The title stuck.

Every single man I’ve gone out with has been referenced, by my children, as my “manfriend.” Wouldn’t my parents be proud to know that although they’re gone, I’m still following their advice? No boyfriends for this single mother. Still.

Boyfriends. Who needs them? “I know what you want. And I know what you need. But I’m gonna [mess] it up, yeah, cause I’m an idiot. And I’m your boyfriend.” (Jimmy Fallon)

My advice to all the single ladies out there? Follow the counsel my parents gave me. Don’t complicate your life with boyfriends. Instead, try MANFRIENDS!

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I Never Knew

“I never knew until that moment how bad it could hurt to lose something you never really had.” (From the television show, The Wonder Years)

In 2009, I lived that line for real.  I felt like the life I thought I had, the life I had lived, had never really been real. I didn’t even trust my memories of my “former life” for a long time; everything seemed so tainted by the crime, the lies, and the betrayal. The pain of losing something I’d never really had hurt more than I imagined.

The spring of 2009 can best be described as the season my heart hurt.  It literally hurt ALL of the time.  It ached all day, every day, every moment, and I didn’t know if it hurt because it was broken or if I was actually physically in trouble due to the stress I lived under! Can healthy women have heart attacks at 41?  I wondered…

Here’s how “optimistic” and hopeful I felt sometimes.  Last April, one year ago, I wrote, “I’m looking at an eternity alone, people hating me the rest of my life, latch-key kids, if you name it and it’s miserable it’s my lot in life! I wonder how will I make it three months, much less the rest of my life? How can one man destroy so much? I deserved better. I deserved more, and so did my children.  His lies stole my life from age 26-41.  The consequences of his lies will steal the rest of my life. Everything looks so black. I never imagined pain like this existed, especially for someone so innocent.”

I spent depressing days packing stuff to move, preparing to leave the home I had brought each of my babies home to, had lived in for 16 years and had always thought it would be the home I’d live in when I was 80 years old.  I cried a lot. I reminisced. I mourned. I felt as if my heart had broken and would never heal.  And when I thought about my kids…I felt grief like I’d never felt before.

But I always pulled it together by the time my kids got home from school.

I had to carry on and keep it together (or at least look like I was keeping it together!) for my kids.  I had to show them what we do when our world falls apart:  we keep living.

My mom taught me that.

When I was 19 and my dad died unexpectedly in an airplane crash, I came home from college for the funeral to a house full of well-meaning neighbors and friends who told me I would not be returning to school because I was needed at home to help my mom and family.  So many told me that I thought my mom had decided that in my absence.  When I asked her if it was true that I wouldn’t be returning to college because my dad died, she was stunned.  And she corrected that mistaken assumption.  ”Absolutely you will be returning to school!  Andrea, you don’t stop living just because something terrible has happened to you!  You keep doing what you need to do, you keep living, you keep smiling even though you don’t feel like it, and some day your smiles will feel real again.”

So I smiled in 1986-1987 when I didn’t feel like it.  And I smiled in 2009 when I REALLY didn’t feel like it too.  They were forced.  They were ‘fake’ in that I didn’t feel them on the inside but I showed them on the outside anyway.  I smiled for the sake of my children.

I remember I was still forcing myself to smile in August 2009.  By then, it killed me that I didn’t mean them. I’d always been a pretty cheerful and positive person and it was hard for me to not feel like myself any more.  I had moments that I wondered if, in addition to losing everything I had known as my life, I had lost myself too.  I remember wondering if I’d ever smile, for real, again.

However, my mom turned out to be right.  As usual.

By October 2009, the smiles were real and the tears were less and less.  Sometime that month I realized I had gone an entire week without crying!  Baby steps forward, but steps forward all the same.  I think that’s one thing 2009 reinforced to me:  it doesn’t matter how fast you move along the path of your unexpected life.  Just as long as you keep moving.  Forward. Pressing on.

Oh, and smiling!