Power Couples, and the Strangeness of Place

In 2007, two loves came into my life.

The year before, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife, the one I called my One Great Love. She lived in a town that, as the song lyrics go, is a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” Our very first date was there, and throughout the first year of our relationship, she spent time showing me around this glorious Apple, New York City.

My lady lived in West Harlem, right between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. One of the most beautiful spots in Manhattan, I would pilot my 2004 Mazda6 Sport wagon up the Henry Hudson Parkway, the best views of the mighty Hudson River rolling past me. Then, on reaching my destination, there was of course the obligatory twenty-to-thirty minute hunt for a parking spot.

As things began to change yet again in my life–homelessness; a growing rift in my family over the very woman I’d left pretty much everything to be with, job instability–New York began to mean something I never thought it would. Sure, I spent hundreds of dollars in tolls driving back and forth to be with the woman I loved, but more than that, I had begun to see New York City as a place of healing; a cathartic haven where the pain of past mistakes could be left behind in the dust, never to be picked up again. In April of 2008, I would move to this town, and called 508 West 142 Street my first home.

This past Presidents’ Day, I once again found myself in West Harlem for work. A construction project on the 1 line stopped service between 137 Street-City College and 242 Street-Van Cortlandt Park, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. On a long break, I walked through the neighborhood, taking in the sights and experiences along Broadway. I walked up Broadway to West 142 Street, and made a right. The nostalgia only got stronger as I walked up the hill towards my very first home in New York City. And as has been my lot nearly three years now, a heavy sadness came over me.

I remembered the first night my lady and I went out and experienced NYC’s night life together, hanging out at the 40/40 Club in Chelsea. I thought of the day she took me to Katz’s Deli, exposing me to the best pastrami on the planet. I remembered the day she took me down to get my first taste of Vietnamese food, to this day my favorite Asian cuisine.

My sadness became almost unbearable that night, because none of those things mattered anymore. On November 17, 2014, exactly four months after losing my lady’s trust over a financial matter, the story of our love ended. My lady became the direct target of my first emotional breakdown.

To this day, it is the greatest mistake I have ever made in my life.

*

What, exactly, is a “power couple?”

If you ask people, they might mention the all-time, go-to power couple of Jay-Z and Beyonce. Those people will talk about what makes those two such a “power couple”: their great wealth, their artistic compatibility; or godhood (just ask any member of the Bey-hive).

As I see it, a “power couple” is defined by the fires walked through together; how many valleys are traversed without losing sight of the things which brought them together. Our broken marriage is proof that a “power couple” isn’t defined by other people’s predictions, desires or hopes; only through the strength, faith and love each person has for one another, especially when money runs out. Or when living situations change.

Power couples don’t fold up and quit when trust is on the verge of being lost, or when things go south in a particular situation. Power couples fight for the right to be together, even when the battle happens to comes from within; when there are no external forces to fight. Power couples build each other up when one falters; will know when the other is hurting, or going through something within. Power couples who stand the test of time are examples of what other couples can be, and should strive towards.

I wonder all the time if my lady and I were ever destined to be a power couple. Obviously with an impending finalization of a divorce, that question has been answered with a resounding no. With so many thoughts and emotions racing through my head these last two and a half years, I’ve struggled with how to view our time together; were they eight years of lessons learned, or a complete waste of the best time of our lives? Did I bring our marriage to an end by my own hand that night, or was it just a perfect storm of unfortunate events over many years? Was it the diagnosis of my mental disorder? Was it interference by her parents?

I’ll probably never know.

*

Living here in New York City, all on my own, feels weird.

I’ve been up here in New York nearly two years now. Despite the incredible gains I’ve made within my own self, I wrestle with the pain of having lost someone so dear to me; even more than my own life. I hurt from the pain I caused her, as my emotional breakdown fell directly on her four months after I lost her trust over a financial matter. At the risk of sounding myopic, her love and words meant everything to me, and I haven’t been able to fully heal emotionally and mentally from such a loss. I have neither spoken to or seen her in over a year.

But even more than that, I have never been able to fully enjoy New York the way I’ve wanted to. When I lived up here with my lady, this city became my “spiritual mother”, healing my wounds and changing my scenery. Despite some struggles, this city healed me, and made my problems seem miles away. My lady and I built a real home up here. We were truly happy up here together.

I’ve returned to my spiritual home, but this time, it’s completely on my own. New York is still very much a place that wants to be that place of healing once again, but I just have not been able to fully let her in this time. It’s funny; how could a city, bursting with life, activities and energy, not be a place where I can heal again?

Or is it because I can’t seem to get past what was “supposed” to happen?

I waited seven years for Transit to call me after I took the test to become a conductor. I had told my lady for years that once the call came, that was our cue to return to New York City. When we left NYC in 2010, I saw nothing but disappointment, heartbreak and pain in her eyes as we drove over the George Washington Bridge. Having lived up there before I did, she never really wanted to leave NYC. She had dreams of becoming a fashion designer, and wanted to stay in the city for life.

By the time Transit called, we were already separated. The trust she had in me, especially after the night we split, was long gone. Her roots had grown far too deep to just simply pick up and leave Baltimore. Besides, her running “career”–something that had become a bone of contention between us, as she used running to build her emotional wall between us after the financial matter happened–was now in high gear. She wanted to “run till her legs fell off”, as she told me one day.

I tried to explain to her that the opportunity with Transit was my way of paying her back for all the years she worked her butt off to keep us afloat throughout all the years I was in and out of work. I finally had something more solid than any other career I’d tried my hand in, and I wanted her to be a part of it.

But alas, it didn’t happen.

And the rest is, well, history.

*

Throughout these years, my writing has suffered greatly. Under must circumstances, I could easily pen something about politics, a movie I’d seen, or just my feelings on any given topic.

But ever since this second separation and impending divorce, I have found myself incapable of writing anything of consequence. My pain has been nothing less than excruciating, as I’ve never felt so ripped apart in my life. My first divorce had its own pain, but what made it much easier to get through was that my lady was there to relieve me of the pain of my loss.

This second time–two divorces before the age of thirty-five–hurts in a way few can comprehend; I don’t even fully understand it myself. I lost a woman I fell deeply and completely in love with, but a mirror was placed in front of me, forcing a serious confrontation with myself. The first marriage could easily be written off as a matter of immaturity, but this time, there weren’t really any excuses. I’d gotten married at age thirty, and we were together five years prior to us getting hitched.

Something wasn’t right, and seeing as I had no one to keep me from actually taking the time to truly examine myself this time, I had to be the change I wanted to see, to borrow from Gandhi. I hadn’t taken the time to sort myself out between the two marriages, and now, I was given that opportunity to do so.

Which is what I’ve done. After a rocky start–including a stint of living in my car– I’ve managed to finally get things to some sort of equilibrium. I’m managing the disorder I have, and am on a real road to recovery. Things are well on the job and, while not fully satisfied with where I am in my life, I am working hard to live my best life.

I certainly wish my lady well, as she is no doubt on her own road to recovery. I won’t lie; I miss her so much. I wish things were different between us, and that we were up here together, in the place where we were truly happy. But instead of any ill feelings and bitterness, I will simply wish her well in everything she does, and be there for her in any way I can, should she ever want to be my friend. I doubt that will ever be the case, though.

For my part, I can only hope that I’m able to fully recover from the pain of the past, and fully embrace my spiritual mother as my own once again. Springtime is coming soon, and as we all know, there is nothing better than New York City when the weather is warm.

Here’s to a new season of healing.

DWB: Dating While Bipolar

BROOKLYN– My parents are one of the quintessential examples of what a marriage should be. At the age of fifty-eight, Kevin and Robin Carter have been together for 36 years. This has rubbed off on three out of the four men I am thankful to call my little brothers. Just recently, one of my brothers and his wife celebrated ten years of marriage. My best friend and his wife have been together nearly fifteen years.

So with all these shining examples of marriage working, where did I go wrong?

As the sun sets here at the coffee shop where I’m writing this, I’ve had a lot of things on my mind. I guess that’s to be considered normal, seeing as I have bipolar disorder. I perceive things a lot differently, which adds a third dimension to the way I normally think and react to things. Maybe that’s one of the great things about finally getting this disorder under some type of control; I have found myself thinking very carefully before reacting to things. I’ve become calmer, very rarely raising my voice about anything anymore, a direct opposite to the way I used to be. My former behavior was both very erratic and had a high amount of volatility. Perhaps this explains a lot of things that used to go wrong in my life. Especially the jobs I used to go through. Three months here, three weeks there; you get the idea.

But as unstable as my work life was, my love life has been just as erratic. I have been through two marriages, all before the age of thirty-five. Both unions were marked by volatile moods, the aforementioned instability in the workplace, reacting very poorly to stress, and being over quick, fast, and in a regrettable hurry; my first marriage lasted all of three years. The second one? Not even two years passed before that one ended. Those who know me well who will read this know very well that the second marriage was the one I just knew would stand the test of time.

Oh, and did I mention these two relationships had a slight touch of overlap?

Now that I am currently single, living in a brand new city and fending for myself in ways I never thought I’d have to, I’m finding that being single is a very isolating, emotionally exhaustive thing. I’ve always craved real, romantic love with a woman who does so unconditionally. Who remains loyal to me through my disorder, and wants to build something that will last.

There’s just one problem, and it’s not just the two marriages. Maybe it’s a mix of the bipolar disorder and the ache of the unhealed scars of the previous marriage, but I have found my desire for these things have become elevated, and every woman I’ve dated up here has seen it–and run. While it has been easy to spot disinterest in me (which is bad enough), moving at a healthy pace has been an insurmountable task. Recently, a woman I showed genuine interest in asked me to take a step back because my rapid, almost myopic pace to find that special someone had begun to make her uncomfortable around me.

The other problem has been trying to figure out when to tell a woman in which I have some interest about my baggage. Three dates? A month? Three months? Never telling them about my disorder can’t be an option, for if things become serious, eventually my new girlfriend is going to have to know why I pop four pills every morning. Or why I appear to be extra needy on a given day. Or why I’m not in a particularly good mood. So far, my timing has had me batting 0-for up here.

Lost in both the inexperience in dating, and the raging urge to find love on the express track, has been this: I have forgotten that love requires a friendship to begin first. The idea of “love at first sight” is largely bullshit, as I’ve come to find; it’s even more that way with bipolar disorder. A deep friendship is all I’ve really ever wanted, and finding that through my disorder and baggage has been tough to do.

I’m a good man. I’ve been through a lot of storms, and all I really want is someone to weather those storms with me without seeing me as some sort of headcase to be avoided. For my part, I need to learn how to slow down a bit, and remember the joys of getting to know someone. This is, of course, the tao of a healthy, loving, long-term relationship: always learning about the one you love until the day you leave this plane of existence.

May that someday be my portion.

 

 

Getting Delores Back

On Wednesday morning, approximately around 3:30 a.m., I was awakened by my mother-in-law, who had heard the sound of a diesel truck pull up directly in front of the house. She screamed for me to go out front, as the diesel engine belonged to a tow truck, which had arrived to carry out the most unwelcome task for the fiscally irresponsible. After ninety-one days past due, the bank I had financed Delores through finally came to take her back.

I threw on clothes faster than I ever have, being the size and weight I am. I ran outside to see Delores already hitched, propped by her front wheels. I begged the truck driver, himself a family man, to leave Delores where she was so I could get together what little money I could to send in a payment. But the driver refused, saying that if he left her there, he would lose his own job.

After getting together a few of my personal items, including my first pair of running shoes, my baseball glove, and a bat gifted to me by teammates of a community college baseball team I played with nearly two decades ago, the tow driver rumbled away, Delores silently at its back. I shed no tear that would belie my grief, but deep inside, despair, anguish, embarrassment and shame tore my soul to shreds.

Delores was gone, and I had failed.

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In October 2011, we bought a 2008 Volkswagen Passat, Cobalt Blue in color. It was perhaps the nicest vehicle I’d ever owned. It was my very first time owning a German marque; in many respects, vehicles that come from Deutschland are believed to be the platinum standard of automaking. Practically speaking, it was a big addition to our pile of stuff; after nearly nine months of being unemployed, I had taken an offer to work for a bank branch in Bowie, Maryland. My wife’s car at the time, a 1999 Nissan Altima SE with a library’s worth of stories in its own mileage, would not be sound for an everyday commute of nearly forty miles each way.

2011 was a shit year for Jessica and I. We had just gotten engaged in April of 2010, and had begun to slowly make plans to build a permanent life around each other. The woman I know as the great love of my life had become more dear to me than life itself, having been the only thing keeping me somewhat sane after going through an ugly separation, and catching heat from my family over my impending divorce three years earlier. I proposed to Jessica at Union Square, and after driving throughout Manhattan, she finally said yes, in front of all places, Yankee Stadium.

Trouble was brewing. The job market cratered in New York City that year. Jessica had spent six years getting her undergraduate in the hills of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and an associate’s in Fashion Design in Tribeca after that, and was a casualty of the fashion industry’s restructuring. I was selling cars at a luxury dealership on the West Side of Manhattan, and lost that job in May. My grandmother’s health had begun to rapidly deteriorate, and my extended family was on edge as the inevitable drew closer. Our Bronx apartment that had given us issue after issue developed leaks in the ceiling over the kitchen. The question we had started to ask ourselves in the midst of all this, one that we seriously did not want to answer on our own, began to answer itself:

Is it time to move back to Baltimore?

The answer became yes. In July of 2010, we left New York, emotional baggage and all. Neither of us wanted to leave, especially Jessica. She had spent her entire life trying to get to the Big Apple, and here we were, four years after her initial arrival, crossing the George Washington Bridge with our belongings for the last time as New York residents. I had gotten a job with an Audi dealership in Baltimore County, and was prepared to start fresh. Jessica and I would live separately the rest of that year, she with her mother, and I at my grandmother’s house. Thus would begin our rebuilding stage, in the city we were both from, yet neither of us truly wanted to be here. It would be here in Baltimore that I would watch my grandmother decline, inexorably to the end.

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Alice Delores Marie Shired was born October 21, 1933. The day she was born is one of note in our family; it is a date shared by her daughter (my mother), and my father’s mother, who was born the same day in 1926. Growing up, October 21st was known as ” All Mother’s Day”, and was a pretty big event for our family.

My grandmother and I, circa 2008.

My grandmother and I, circa 2008.

I am my grandmother’s first grandson, and our connection was made almost immediately upon my arrival on this earth. There is a story my mother tells of my grandmother being on the phone at the hospital, and my father holding me in his arms and putting the phone up to my mouth to talk to her, not even a couple hours old. My grandmother cried tears of joy when she heard me speak. I’m fairly certain that this was my first encouragement to pursue a career in speaking, or a guarantee that I’d never shut up. You’d have to ask my wife about that.

My grandmother and I were always very close, and there wasn’t much we didn’t do. As a little boy, sometimes I would watch The Price Is Right while on the phone with her. When I got older, I would watch the show with my grandmother in her room before she got her day started. Throughout that time, my grandfather, Robert L. Brown was there, sipping his Milwaukee’s Best at the bar in his basement. By way of his service to this nation during the Korean War, and decades put in at Bethlehem Steel, they moved from the ‘hood of West Lombard Street by Baltimore’s Westside Shopping Center, and settled in the heart of Glen, part of the city’s largest community of orthodox Jews.

Grand-Dad died of cancer in January of 1998, and not too long after, my grandmother’s health began to fail. Perhaps the death of her Beloved proved too much for her to handle; not too long afterwards, my Grandma had her first stroke.

Then there were the heart attacks. Then the dementia.

And then the organs shutting down.

Eventually, my grandmother would end up going to dialysis three days a week. The one good kidney she had left failed long ago, but her condition had not stopped her from opening her home to me when I became homeless in 2008, right before I left for New York. Thankfully, it did not stop her from welcoming me back when I returned in 2010.

I helped out in any way I could. In the morning, I would help her get down the stairs for my aunts to take her to dialysis. I sometimes would get meals for her, picking up things to eat on my way home from work. If there were messes made, I cleaned them up for her.

And when there were times she needed to be carried up the stairs, I did that too, most notably in October of that year, when I would carry her up those stairs one last time.

Jessica had picked me up from work, and we were discussing something. Maybe we were arguing or something as we traveled down I-83, but something told me to veer off onto Northern Parkway, to check on my grandmother. We arrived to find her in the living room, cold and shaking. She had been on the couch for several hours, and was confused, and hungry. She couldn’t walk, so Jessica and I carried her up the stairs ourselves. Once there, Jessica put Grandma in her pajamas while I made something hot for her to eat.

Three days later, my grandmother would leave her home, never to return.

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My grandmother would shuttle constantly between Union Memorial Hospital and the rehab clinic south of it, especially after her finger went black. The middle finger of her left hand that was the first piece of her body to wither and die. Some in our family thought it was from the port in her arm used to flush her system during dialysis. However it started, it put her in a lot of pain.

I was doing well at the Audi dealership, despite the circumstances there. It wasn’t easy to sell cars there when the sales manager handed over every internet lead to the salesperson that had followed him up from Annapolis. But I was making it work, and was heading over to see my grandmother every Tuesday, no matter where she was. It was right around this time I started putting away money for a really nice apartment in Station North, just above Baltimore’s Penn Station.

I saw an ad for the place on Craigslist: a three-bedroom, two-bath spot on East Lafayette Avenue. The stated rent seemed like a pretty good deal, especially for an apartment north of Penn Station that was over 1300 square feet in space. The close proximity to the Amtrak station–which meant direct access to both Washington, DC and New York City–was a major selling point. A former Facebook friend went so far as to call the neighborhood an unofficial “suburb” of the city that meant so much to us.

I went to see the place, which was absolutely beautiful. I had never seen such an immaculate apartment, with such incredible expanse. It seemed like the perfect place to start our new life in Baltimore, Jessica and I. We would be able to have everything we wanted, and be happy for once in our living situation. The experience in the Bronx had left us with a bad taste in our mouths about renting.

I decided to surprise my wife-to-be with this new apartment. For all my horrendous habits with money, I managed to save up enough to put a deposit down on the apartment of my dreams. And this time, I wanted to make it all a surprise. After all, I thought, isn’t that what a man’s supposed to do, welcome his lady into the home he built?

There were hiccups along the way, and the management company wasn’t able to hold the apartment for us. However, they informed us of another property they had acquired on Barclay Street that was about to be built–still in close proximity to the train station, but in a far rougher block in the neighborhood. Ultimately, this would be the place we would make our new home. This whole time, however, my grandmother had deteriorated badly. My aunts, enduring much consternation over the decision, finally agreed to let doctors amputate her finger. No more blood flowed to that extremity at all. The nail on that finger had fallen off, and unbeknownst to us, gangrene had already begun to take my grandmother’s body, and had started to pop up in other places. In fact, one of the last things my grandmother said to me about her condition was, “I feel like my legs are dying.”

Two of the fingers on her hand were taken, but despite the therapy sessions and hospital visits, my grandmother was almost gone, and there was nothing that could be done.

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In March 2011, I received a text message while at an event in Mount Vernon, south of Station North. My cousin sent me the news I knew was coming: My grandmother was in hospice, dying rapidly of sepsis. The gangrene from her withered body had finally dealt her the blow she would not recover from. Sepsis, as defined by the National Institutes of Health, is a severe reaction to bacteria or other pathogens that afflict the body. It is an excruciating disease, one that inflicts severe pain, delirium, chills, and shaking. Very few people that go through sepsis survive.

Though I was expecting the news to come down, I was not mentally prepared for it. That previous month, I had been fired from the Audi dealership I was working, two days after I delivered two cars in the same evening. Having lost such a job was devastating, especially since I had become so fond of Audi during my years in New York.

That next morning, I went to see my grandmother one last time, along with one of my brothers.  When we entered the room, I saw Alice Delores Marie Shired Brown–a woman who had given so much of her own life to others, much less my own–curled into a ball, ravaged in her septic state. My brother lifted the cover over her legs, revealing one them had been amputated. The nurses had kept her morphine levels up to keep her comfortable, and after a nurse had come to check in on her, I spoke to her directly in her ear.

I thanked her for everything she had done for me; for the lessons in life, the times we watched The Price Is Right, and for her example of strength and resiliency in the face of her death. I thanked her for rebuking my tendency to worry about her so much, and for telling me that above all else, to be a strong man and leader.

I took my grandmother’s hand, kissed it, then after I told her I loved her, I said, “Go home.”

I have no memory of what I did the rest of that day. Seeing my grandmother in such a state left my mind in a numbed fog. Perhaps I ate something. Took a shower. Not really sure–

I awoke with a start around 12:30 in the morning, in a cold sweat and shaking. My bedroom had become frigid, despite the heat being on. I looked around briefly, then went back to sleep. Later that morning, I got a phone call from my mother, who broke the news.

On March 4th, 2011, Alice Delores Marie Shired Brown had returned to the Ancestors, and to the husband who went before her thirteen years before. She was the last of my grandparents to die. Strangely, in the week leading up to the funeral, I never cried once; I tried to be strong for my grandmother as I thought she would want, spending my time instead being thankful that her suffering had ended. The day of the funeral was no different. I truly believed I had it all together, until we made our way to her final resting place, and watched as her remains were returned to the earth. Jessica–who had developed a deep love for my grandmother after losing her own in childhood–and I finally let go of every single tear we had been holding in.

As I mentioned before, 2011 was a shit year.

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When we bought the Passat that October, this car represented a new, grand chapter in our lives. 2011 had started terribly, but only got worse as spring and summer came along.

The air conditioning unit went up in our apartment, and the woman who lived below us lost a massive amount of property due to the water damage. Mold quickly sickened my wife and our neighbor, who at one time I personally rushed both to the hospital at once. The property management company had been exposed as a thief, stealing water from the city by not having a meter from the alley.

And on top of all that, I couldn’t find full-time work. Resumes were sent out, and networking was done, but I got nowhere until I got the aforementioned job at the bank, which paid a great salary, health benefits, and even a savings plan.

Jessica named her Altima “Clara”, after her grandmother Clara Wade, her beloved “Nano.” This gave me the inspiration to name the new car after my own. That 2008 Volkswagen Passat would heretofore be known as “Delores.”

This vehicle honors not just the memory of the woman who helped shape my life, but also my father’s mother Rowena Wingfield, who was brutally murdered in her own home in 2005. The color blue was her favorite, and is a testament to her wisdom and her own regal character. Delores carried me down to Busboys and Poets the night I met the man who would become my father in journalism, Jonathan Capehart. Delores bears the logos of my school, the University of Baltimore, and carried in its trunk multiple copies of The UB Post during my time as a Staff Writer and Editor-in-Chief. Aside from the trips up and down I-95 to New York, Delores brought my wife and I safely to Virginia Beach and back, with two bad spark plugs.

This car–yes, a car–became not just a way to get around, but was a mark of my identity, and a reminder of the road I’ve traveled to get to get this far.

Which is why I feel so much shame in screwing this all up.

I humbly admit to my readers, my family, my mentors, and most of all, my wife: I should have been much more careful with this car. Hindsight has rendered me a regretful, stuttering mess in the wake of my own folly. I made too many mistakes. Instead of treasuring that which I had, I let this slip away. Getting laid off from a position that sought to bring focus and gravity to the subject of voting, especially in a year filled with so many reasons to exercise this precious franchise, did not help either.

This is the first time I have ever done something like this, to publicly ask for help. Perhaps I have taken too long to “get to the point”, so to speak, as putting the legacy of my grandmother in even this way was a very personal endeavor. My grandmother meant so much to me, and was one of a powerful cadre of people that directed me to go to school, and unlock my potential. I’m still not there yet.

I am asking for this assistance so that I can make things better for my family, and for my future. I did not want you, my readers, to have any doubts as to where your money will go, or what my motivations were.

Any and all help is appreciated by clicking on this link. Also, should you hear of any open fellowship programs or writing jobs, please let me know. Thank you, thank you; a thousand times, I thank you.