At the end of the day, I just want to be proud of the person I have become. I want to be proud of the love I gave — of the way in which I risked my heart despite the things it had been through. I want to be proud of the effort I showed those I cared about, I want to know with a ruthless certainty that I showed up as much as I could, that I made people feel seen, that I made those around me feel less alone in this chaotic world.
I want to be proud of my life — of the way I healed, of the way I made mistakes and learned from them, of the way I felt everything when it wasn’t convenient or comfortable. I want to be proud of the way I grew, of the way I let go, of the way I pushed myself to be a better person.
At the end of the day, I just want to say without hesitation that I lived my life, that I did not just take a back seat to my fear, or to my flaws, or to whatever hardships came my way. I want to be able to say that I am proud of the way I survived. I want to be able to say that I did not take one day for granted, that I truly gave it my all.
- Bianca Sparacino
Strawberries are garbage fruit. At least that’s what I thought for 20 or so years after my first invasive ear surgery. In elementary school, it was determined that I needed to have ear tubes to improve my hearing since my speech development was delayed. When it came time for my eardrums to get tiny incisions and the tiny plastic donut-like cylinders inserted, my five years of human experience chose strawberry-scented sleeping gas for the surgery. That sounded fun, and my classmates loved strawberries, too! Well, I chose wrong. And I chose wrong again the second time when I needed them replaced three years later. The artificially perfumed gas was sickening. Chemically tinted with not even a note of what strawberries really represented, yet that was how I convinced myself all fresh, preserved, dried strawberries to be. My mind constructed a very tall, indestructible flavor wall around the concept of strawberries, and I could not eat anything that resembled that red fruit.
Eventually strawberries re-entered my life with more positive memories, and now I can’t get enough of them. But every single time I go to a doctor for any kind of appointment, she places the cold otoscope in my ear canals and always inevitably comments on the scar tissue, “It looks like they have been through a battle!” Then I explain what happened and remember how I avoided strawberries for decades… and it makes me wish these battle wounds were visible to the non-professional eye. The story gets tiring to tell.
I’ve never had another surgery, never broken a bone, never had a tattoo, never had a critical injury to leave my body with a visual reminder of the painful event. I sometimes wish I did though. If I were to turn myself inside out, my internal scars are crude and severe. At least if I could see them on a daily basis, I could be reminded how I healed, moved forward, and could give an illustration to life’s progress. They could be seen as a work of art. Instead, on the quick outside, my story looks like a happy-go-lucky charmed kind of life, not the one that has consisted of a never-ending series of exhausting inner jungle reruns.
What if we were better at speaking of our internal scars, our mental well-being? Would it evoke a more compassionate world or would it scare away others? We are a visual society that is getting better at celebrating diversity that we can readily see, but what about the diversity we may or may not choose beneath the fated skin we have? The beauty of small moments, the vision defined by repeated failure, the strength built from affliction, the candid ugliness of the past, the perseverance of psychological obstacles, and the emotions that drive our every day.
We don’t see those scars. Time still goes on, the scar tissue builds. We create ill associations with harmless seeded berries and just find ways to make things work until we are reminded of them again.
It’s hard to share those scars. I don’t think they ever fully heal like external wounds do because we’re afraid to be rejected because of them, so they don’t get fresh air and the care they need to close. We worry our baggage is too heavy for others to experience. Am I worthy to be loved? Will my blemishes be embraced? Am I worth others’ time? Then more life happens that either irritates those scars red or gently caresses the marks left.
I don’t know what the future holds, but knowing that everyone also bears their own inner scars gives me hope that, yes, we are deserving to be cherished — scars, baggage, and all — and we do need to keep reminding ourselves of that or we lose out on enjoying those delicious strawberries we are given.
Water is a common dream theme for me. Its form can be a calm, flowing river, a clear lagoon perfect for swimming, a series of savage colossal waves that pummel ships, jagged solid icebergs, or just your average lake as a necessary backdrop to fill the dream space.
But last night, I battled a sea serpent. It had long tentacles for arms and paddles for hands. Each was tattooed with ancient glyphs reminiscent of Polynesian designs. Two necks stretched skyward that rivaled Loch Nessie’s. Its skin was a two-dimensional void of black, and the monster was violently attacking the vessel I was on.
Dreams are always in vivid color for me. They range from a mottled mix of silly images to complex storylines worthy of an Oscar. Dreams are my subconscious way of categorizing my psyche and trying to make sense of how I relate to the world, a world in which I sometimes don’t feel like I belong. I eventually learned that the theme of water was a reflection of my emotional state. Every drop of tranquil and turbulent water. I dread these dreams.
So as I find myself watching this faceless monster loom closer with monochromatic ghost schooners sailing by the ship’s porthole, I knew I had to fight this serpent and save my shipmates. Instead of feeling fierce determination, I just felt tired and dejected. Why do I have to be the one to combat this beast? I mean, I’ll do it because it’s the right and noble thing to do, but why does it have to be me?
As the sea serpent’s tentacles seized the metal girth and crumpled the sides, my sleeping brain deemed that I would hold a puny spear in my hand as if that was going to lead to everyone’s collective survival. Angry whirlpools and swinging paddles sliced the ocean, and my legs frantically kicked to keep from being anchored down while I severed one of the serpent’s limbs. And then that was it. With an anticlimactic finale that faded into my walking through a dull gray hallway, all the skirmish gave me were saturated clothes and sore arms. Sure, the monster was gone and lives were saved, but why did I feel so debilitated? I never wanted this story.
I rode my first train in England when I was 21. Led by our British native professor, a group of us English majors ventured across the pond to experience the ultimate literary tour around London. I held one of Charles Dickens’ actual quill pens. I gaped at the Globe Theatre that was rebuilt near where Shakespeare’s plays entertained in the original. And I swooned in Keats’ Regency home filled with his story. It was my first real adventure. My first adventure away from North America.
We had a free day where everyone pursued their own Anglophile interests, and when a classmate said he organized a trip to Thomas Hardy Country (also known as Dorchester), I asked to tag along — a completely irregular question for my shy introverted college self. I’m not necessarily a Hardy fan like I am of Austen, but I wanted the England away from the city crowds, and I knew I would not have gone on my own at that point in my life.
It was that same train ride where every sheep-dappled field and every moody cloud snatched my soul and refused to release. I was enchanted. It’s a difficult gut level feeling to explain when you feel at home. I had never really felt it before, especially in a place I had never been before. I moved often, involuntarily and some voluntarily, since I was a baby. There were different coastlines, cities, and towns, and home is, of course, where you make it. But this reached beyond present moment. I hadn’t believed in past lives until that train ride. I still don’t know if I do. That homesick nostalgia I felt preoccupied everything that day.
It was that same nostalgia that fueled my search for a post-divorce interim home. After searching for “best UK coastal towns,” my top choice became Brighton for its diversity and its location (which is only 30 minutes by train from Gatwick Airport). From there, a good friend recommended its neighboring town of Hove. Great proximity to Brighton, more affordable, and more residential. It was like Chesapeake is to Virginia Beach.
Finding an AirBnb that accepts 5 months’ rentals and cats is not easy I discovered. There’s no filter for length of stay so the search began starting with budget, kitchen, pets allowed, washer, WiFi. There were a lot of private messages to homeowners about their long term availability and pet policy. One said that they didn’t know what December looked like for them. Another wanted to go through a UK rental agency that would require all five months’ rent upfront. And a few just simply did not even respond back.
In business, I’m not afraid to ask. In anything emotion-related, that’s a different story, but professionally, I take an assertive approach because nothing ever was accomplished sitting there passively in hopes something would magically grace your inbox. Bold requests have led to successful contracts, lucrative partnerships, and wonderful friendships. I don’t take “no” personally; it’s just business.
While my topsy turvy world is currently emotionally charged, I adopted the same executive mindset for my UK home search. I channeled that homesick nostalgia, determination that the right place is out there, and the knowledge that this was the next step in what would be my new normal.
When I wrote to the next AirBnb on my wishlist, I reminded myself that fortune will always favor the bold no matter what happened. So the moment I received:
I'm an advocate for going off on a new adventure after a divorce, currently doing just that myself! And I would allow cats.
That gut feeling of “I found my new home” fell into a knot in my throat. This place has floor-to-ceiling windows with tons of natural light, a modern galley kitchen, stylishly eclectic decor, and enough indoor space for Pickles and Anchovy to explore. It is a 3 minutes’ walk to the sea, a 15 minutes’ walk to the train station, and a 5 minutes’ walk to Tesco Supermarket. It is perfection.
So what culminated from a bold question to tag along on a train ride almost 20 years ago created this. I have a new home this December, and it will be the start to finding hope again.
“I want a different life” is never something someone wants to hear from their partner of 12 years just months before their decade-long marriage celebration. When the words are dropped, everything around you shatters into tiny fragments, and it leaves you wondering how you will ever collect those pieces again.
Divorce was never in my vocabulary. It was never an option. It was never even a thought during dark times. Yet here we are, trying to pick up a shattered life without getting cut on the broken edges.
My pending ex-husband has Aspergers. It was not an effortless relationship, but I was committed and I loved all the good qualities: intelligent, hard working, honest, kind. I tried to balance the impulsivity, random outbursts, social awkwardness, constant miscommunication, and emotional distance the best I could with my own mental health challenges, but you can’t conquer cognitive disorders no matter what you do. You adapt, and you work together to find multiple middlegrounds. None of this makes sense because there is no sense to be made. One day we’re preparing for an international adoption home study, and the next we’re navigating splitting up assets.
I’ve gone through the stages of grief and continue to cycle through them. The rawness has faded though I’m still not sleeping well. I cry when my sweet Marmalade wraps her tail around my legs. And I’m forcing myself to eat despite the lack of appetite.
I have been so overwhelmed by the love, generosity, and support of my closest loved ones (or what I have deemed as my Sunshine Squad) this month. They are my light bringers right now as I now prepare for an extended holiday in England starting in December. When rent is the same cost on both sides of the pond, why not max out one’s tourist visa?
I can’t emotionally be here for Christmas or what would have been our 10th wedding anniversary. Since the UK has been the only place in the world where my soul felt at home, I thought ‘home’ would be the place for healing and figuring out what happens next. So for the next six months, it’s non-stop research on selling furniture and miscellany, preparing the cats to become British travelers (heartbreakingly, it’ll only be Annie and Pickles), and seeking advice in every corner of what will become my new normal.
While I’m mourning the loss of a marriage, I’m struggling most with accepting blessings from others right now. From kind messages, impromptu lunches, self-care surprises, to kitty travel essentials, my heart curls up and weeps because I’m scared to allow myself to be taken care of by anyone else again. I trusted someone doing just that for so long that it’s like swallowing those shattered pieces and trying to convince myself it tastes good. Rationally, I know I need it. Irrationally, I want to get through this silently.
So I come back to a journaling platform in hopes I can overcome my insecurities, reclaim my assertive and confident spirit, balance transparency with my default internal privacy setting, and help someone else along this journey. Maybe a pretty mosaic will come out of this.