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Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
That's What She Said
You can also find Monica's writing here:
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Monday
Sep192005

Food Stamp Flashback

When I was young, my mom used to send me to the grocery store. After a full day of work, a full night of nursing school, she'd often forget to pick up that breakfast staple; milk. Off I'd go, clutching that humiliating food stamp book. I was 16 at the time, navigating awkwardly through the mine field that is high school. All giggles, eye rolls and tosses of hair. "Omigod, that is, like, so embarrassing!" Trying to fit in, desperately seeking approval but pretending not to care. I detested using those food stamps. I was old enough to know the story they told strangers about my family. I can still feel the hot pin pricks of embarrassment blossoming on my face.. And it happened again today.

I worked until midnight last night, plodded home, spent the obligatory half hour sweating on the platform of the L train, waiting waiting waiting for the subway. Finally home, I barely had the wherewithall to give Max a nuzzle before collapsing into sheets that are so dirty they can almost walk themselves to the laundromat. The Surge was at some concert or other, I didn't have the time to pay attention. A benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims or some such event. Didn't sleep well. Bits and pieces of awake mixed with the sleeping. The Surge, me and Max, a tangle of limbs. Fan purring in the corner. What seemed like five minutes later the alarm is shrieking at me and I'm trudging once again to the dreaded L train. Forever staring into the black cave, toes tapping, trying to wish subway headlights into existence.

Hurtling uptown through the yawning black tunnel, I almost become one of those subway sleepers. I always wonder who could be so tired as to fall asleep on a stranger, head lolling, jolting awake as the train stops and starts. I make it to my stop by promising myself an iced coffee at the Starbucks across from the news station where I work. Long line, savvy young New Yorkers clad in the latest fashions, accessorizing with ipods, cell phones, palm pilots. I inch closer to the front of the line, can practically taste the icy treat, feel the caffeine jolt, and then I'm ordering. Complicated, the ordering. Jumbles of italian, confusing coffee lingo. Tall means medium, a large is called Venti. I place my order: "Venti Iced coffee with room for milk please." I smile at myself for ordering properly and dig inside my bag for my wallet. No cash. I cast a hopeful glance around, searching for those three letters recognizable worldwide. A-T-M. Out of luck, I slide my credit card out of my wallet and place it on the counter. I cringe, hating to use it for a measly two dollar purchase, but it's all I've got. The cashier runs the card, and we wait for the beeps that signal I'm a productive citizen. They don't come. She doesn't have to look at me, I see it in the embarassed clench of her jaw, her reaction to the one word on the machine. Declined.
"I'm sorry, it declined."
"Shouldn't have gone on that last shopping spree", I laugh, trying to make light of it, but that familiar tingle is creeping into my cheeks. Bright blooms of embarrassment. Suddenly I'm sixteen, clutching a wad of rainbow colored food stamps. Pretend money for poor people. The scarlet letter, branding me inferior. I know it's not true, but that feeling will be there forever, lodged deep inside, a dark place.
"Do you take checks?" a glance behind me confirms a long line of impatient Manhattanites anxious to get get get and go go go.
"Sure", the cashier brightens, hoping to avoid baring witness to the potentially embarrassing situation. My coffee is already on the counter, awaiting my splenda and cream treatment. I scribble onto the check, and shove it at her.
"I'll need to see some ID."
"No problem." I'm relieved. I'm following the rules, providing the information. I'm legitimate. I'm not that girl, the one with food stamps, that's been taught to take what she can get whenever she can get it. I'm a hard working woman dammit! She looks at my ID, then summons the manager. The woman behind me sighs loudly. Obviously. She wants me to know she's annoyed. As if that will make the wait easier, faster. The manager and the cashier are conferencing in the corner. I stand, ashamed, criminilized, adjusting articles of clothing, fidgeting with my bag.
"Your ID has an out of state address. It's not the same as the address on your checks. We can't accept it." The manager says flatly. No expression. He slides the check back across the counter, and actually pulls the coffee away from me. As if I were planning to grab it and run. Stunned, feeling like a shoplifter I stumble back from the counter and quickly push open the glass door, escaping to the safety of crowded sidewalks and anonymity. As I'm rushing out of the building, Tony Danza strolls by me on the street, whistling a tune to himself. "Who's The Boss?" I think to myself.
Sunday
Sep182005

Play That Funky Music White Girl

Conversation dances around me, I selectively listen. So drunk I'm not even feigning interest. Snatches of sentences wing toward me, three seperate conversations underway. Words mingling, pieces of sentences marrying, giving birth to nonsensical sentences. Peanut shells are scattered across thick wooden table tops. All squares and solid chunks, the kind of table where you can make out the tree it once was, leafy ghost hulking. Dave sips his beer, dark like cider, licks white foam from his lip, He says something. Always pensive. Yet always denying deep thoughts.

Through the haze of cigarette smoke hanging in the air, lazily spiraling upward, I see The Surge respond, his pink rosebud lippy lips closing and opening.. His words jig over and grab Adam's words for a dance. Whirling and twirling, words spin all over the place, pelt me like raindrops.

Dave murders another peanut, pops innards into his mouth. The Surge's big phantom eyes are trained on me, mouth curves upward, smiling sweetly at my drunk daze. My husband. I'm married. Nearly a year later it still suprises me. Sneaks up and taps me on the shoulder at the oddest of moments. The music stops, I strain toward hidden speakers in eager anticipation of my next pick on the jukebox. DJ Monica. I've already forgotten which songs I selected, feeding crisp dollar bills into the hungry machine, plunking the buttons..

We are at the bar.. Our gang. The Brooklyn Buddies.. Down the street, we kinda meet by bodega flowers, dirt poor we don't want no more.. Half the time we will have a time. Came with the best of intentions. Be social. Stayed with the worst intentions. Get drunk. Mashed thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder into the circular bar booth with the gang, yet I'm attending a party for one. I'm the DJ, the hostess, partygoer extraordinaire at my private party.

My jukebox selections were made in the afterglow of my third shot of Yagermeister. A potpourri of musical mayhem. Johnny Cash, The Clash, a sprinkling of Sinatra, more Cash please, a dash of The Rolling Stones, here comes The Beta Band, introducing Modest Mouse. Songs dedicated to me. Legends sing the story of my past, bringing back moments so tangibly..better than a photograph. I can taste the dust on my tongue from that weekend of camping with Johnny Cash as the soundtrack. Can feel the wild winter wind molest me as Max and I drive through Utah's purple mountain majesties, radio all the way up, windows all the way down..

I snap to the present, insert myself into conversation, not really sure what I'm saying. Must have been funny, The Surge is laughing. I hug myself, basking in the warm glow of making him smile. Open up and say ahhh.. More Yagermeister. Dave, the liquor bully is having his way. Candlelight flickers, illuminating bits of the various faces gathered around, casting other bits in violet shadow. I finger my water glass, dab at the dark circle it sweats onto the table. The busy room swirls around me. Streaks of color, peels of laughter, the beery odor of yeast wafts toward me as Paul downs the last of his golden hued selection and exhales contentedly. At this moment, life is good.
Saturday
Sep172005

Baby Got Back


It's hard to tell if you've gained weight. You're always with yourself, so you can never be sure. You feel the same.. you look the same, don't you? So you put on your favorite jeans. The ones that don't make you feel like your ass is following you down the street.

Take a deep breath, suck the gut in, squinch the bum cheeks together so's you can shimmy 'em up and over your curves. Mirror positioning is key. You've gotta get in between two mirrors, tweak them this way and that.. You know what I'm talkin' about. The mirror shot that will give you the full on back view of your backside You twist a little, turn a lot, wondering if the jeans don't seem a bit tighter than the last time you wore them, hoping to god it's only because you just washed and dried them.. and you know how that damn dryer is.. always with the shrinking! That's gotta be why they feel so tight today.

It can't be the mounds of take-out from Thai Tai that you and The Surge order nearly every day of the week. It's certainly not that entire bag of Doritos you snarfed down (then disgustingly licked the Dorito dust from your fingers that you let collect there just for that reason) in record time during MTV's eight hundredth broadcast of the Video Music Awards..And there is absolutely no way it's related to the raw cookie dough you spooned straight from the tube three days ago when your premenstrual cravings were on the lam, fleeing from the Midol you were mainlining into your cramp infested body.

Walking to the bank, my ass feels wedged into my usually trusty jeans, like sausage squished into it's casing, they feel so tight my bum isn't even jiggling.. there is simply not enough room! I wonder if I've gained weight.. It's certainly possible I may have packed on the pounds in this city of thousands of restaurants, with no girlfriends to be crushingly honest.. or my mom who - god bless her - just comes out with it..
"You're ass is a little big."
"Really?"
"Yeah.. just a bit, still looks great, just thought you'd wanna know."
"Shit. Thanks mom."
We have a deal my mom and I. I certainly don't hesitate when it's my turn to tell her she's indulged in one too many cookies. But without my A team.. I've been left to my own ass guaging devices here in New Yawk. The Surge isn't much help. If he gets to touch my big ol' bum, he's a happy man. And he's no dummy.
"Does my butt look big in these?"
"Hell no! Nice butt, love the butt, bring the butt to me." No hesitation. He may be up in the night when it comes to many matters of a woman's heart, but he knows a small hesitation when his wife proffers The Butt Question could be fatal. And so it's up to me.

I found myself looking at more women's butts today than The Surge let loose at the Playboy mansion. I try to find a butt that I think is my size, and then see if I think said butt is big. It's tricky work, trying to find your butt on another woman. You've gotta be honest with yourself.. A few times I've tried to trick The Surge into pointing out a butt that's similar to mine, in hopes he'd be more honest about somebody elses' butt... and in that clever way, I can find out what he REALLY thinks about my developing derriere. But he's smart, that one. He's onto me.
"There.. That girl in the white tank top! She's about my size, right?"
"You're waaaay smaller than she is." See! He didn't even look. Sharp as a tack, he is. So here I sit, on the very butt in question, wondering...
Friday
Sep162005

Why I Blog

My mind is a dryer full of various articles of clothing. Socks missing mates, old granny panties, bras with the underwiring poking through nearly dissolved material, all tumbling together in the hot air. By that I mean to say, my brain is a hodge podge of halfway thought thoughts, old thoughts that are nearly all thunk out, thoughts I need to toss in the trash but keep jumbling around because I can't help but pick at them like old scabs that just won't heal. They're all tumbling round and round, sometimes dancing a mini polka with each other before spiraling into aloneness once again.

I blog because I write. I write because I think too much and it overflows onto paper. Writing is my cheap therapy. I must write. And when I write something good I get shivers of pleasure. Will go back and reread a beautifully crafted sentence dozens of times. My friend Natalie scrapbooks. My friend Tabatha knits. I write.

This is a place to organize my thoughts, file my experiences into neat little journal entries and photo sections. I miss good girlfriends, the ones who say "stop thinking that, you're just being silly" or "that's okay, I went through the very same thing". I can keep in touch with the most amazing women through this blog. I am honest through the written word in a way I can never be in person. I am not good with women. In my life I've always been more comfortable with men. I don't have sisters, was not close with my mom while growing up. So I related better to men.

Looking back, it was a bit of a cop out. Women just scared me. I found it easier to flirt my way into the good graces of men. And that's just sad. Women require finesse, women require intelligence. You can't fall back on good looks or the old flirtations that have always worked. The older I get, the more I realize this and seek out women who interest me.

When you write, you want to get published. You go to Barnes & Noble and buy the How To Get Published Book. You submit SASE's (self addressed stamped envelopes) with articles and when nothing happens, you sink a little lower. So now there is this blog. And it's filling a hole in me. Cementing some of the cracks that widened when I moved to New York and realized I'm pushing 30 and am in a career that pays well but just doesn't interest me the way it used to.

This blog is helping me critically think about myself and who I want to be. I want to live authentically. What does that mean? It means I want to be real. Every time I log in here I have a choice. I can choose to portray myself in whatever light I want. I can opt for candlelight, the most flattering, and paint myself in warm tones or I can flip on the fluorescents, the harsh early morning sunlight and reveal the little wrinkles forming in the corners of my eyes, the spots and black hairs that are growing on my chin at an increasingly alarming rate. I am insecure. I fight with my husband. I obsess over stupid things. I am very self critical. I have social anxiety. I can't express emotions to the people I love. I pretend like I don't care yet I observe what's in fashion and follow the leader and then sometimes even pretend like I am the leader! "I heard this band first", "I've always liked this..." I don't want to submit to the flavor of the week. I don't want to care what's in fashion, what everyone else is listening to.. Yet I do. I just bought cowboy boots. In a small way that bothers me. Because I've never really liked cowboy boots. Yet because they're making appearances on the legs of more and more women, suddenly, I had to have them. And I love them! Really, they're comfortable and look good with everything. But it bothers me that I care. It bothers me that there is a cool and a not cool and I am judged by these random unrelated things that surround my persona. This may sound trivial to many of you, but it weighs on my mind.
Thursday
Sep152005

What Now?

It's a hot today. And sticky wet. There's so much moisture in the air I'm certain Mom Nature will be forced to relieve her bladder on us all later today. At least the weather's interesting. I like clouds, rain, wind.. I don't tend to hang around much outside when it's all sun, all the time. I stay in, lay low, close to the floor where pockets of cool air caress my damp skin.

Feelin' a little down today. Got off work last night, after being trapped on the fucking L train forever.. The Surge was at the bar with some friends and told me to come over. I went home instead. From what I gather, there was a discussion about this blog, and some folks aren't all that into it. Oh well. Don't log on if you don't want to. If you don't like somethin' I or anyone else have to say, don't log on.. or log on and tell us why. I'm not trying to raise hackles. Mostly I started this as a way to vent, and keep in touch with folks back home. As the folks back home don't really seem to be into it.. I guess it'll just be me venting.

Blogs are strange creatures. I've logged on to other blogs, and most times I come away thinking the folks behind them are self obsessed, writing for a pat on the back, compliments etc.. Or I wonder "why are they telling me this? Is it for shock value or do they legitimately feel this way?" That ain't what this is about. It's for me.. and anyone else who has something they wanna get off their chest. And please, what's the big deal? So that's that.

Had a bit of a late night/early morning blubber when The Surge got home from the bar. There he is, half drunk, jamming bananas straight into the jar of peanut butter, and I'm sprawled across the couch havin' a good bawl. Probably related to the particular time of the month.. I'm all weepy. I saw a picture in the newspaper of a Palistinian in Gaza.. on land taken back for the Palistinians. He was standing atop a hill, arms raised to the blue sky in victory, head thrown back, eyes closed. My throat tickled, nose tingled, and there I am blubbering. And it's not like I've been following the events in Israel closely, only periferally and still, there I am leaking over a photo of something a world away. Maybe I just want something so nice to happen to me that I exalt god in such a way. It's gotta be hormonal. I am lonely, I am exhausted, I want to be stimulated, I want to be excited over something. I get excited over my writing, then I read things others write, and I don't feel original. I feel like one of those girls who auditions for American Idol. She can't carry a tune, but for some strange reason, (probably because her mother told her she was a good singer when she was ten and can't bare to hurt her feelings with the truth now) she thinks she's phenomenal. So we sit at home, safe on the couch, watching the slow motion train wreck thinking to ourselves "she can't really think she's that good". Yet there she is, belting out her ditty, struttin' round like a peacock, while Simon mugs for the camera and Paula tries not to laugh. That's how I feel sometimes about my writing. Some teacher told me I had a way with words in third grade and here I am twenty years later, pretending to write. Ah well. I should go wax my arm pits before The Surge divorces me for a sexy Marah fan (Barb!)