Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
You can also find Monica's writing here:

Check Engine Lights Are Bullshit and Other Stories

I got a flat tire on the way to work today. It was the universe's way of letting me know who's boss in the immediate wake of finally managing to clean my car yesterday. I munched on weeks-old McDonalds fries from car seats and melty Easter candy I found in Violet's cupholder as I Armor-Alled vinyl that looked the exact same when I was finished.

Clean car, huh? Flat tire, bitch! Do not get cocky, I will destroy you.

I kept on driving in the face of the telltale whappity-whap-whap which delivered the bad news to my ears. Just pretended I didn't hear my tire angrily slapping roadway. That right there says all you need to know about my boredom with car drama as well as my tremendous capacity for denial and improper automotive care. Flat tire? I don't think so. Imma just keep on keeping on. What flat tire? Rush hour do-gooders were pulling up next to me mouthing and miming F L A T T I R E in all kinds of entertaining ways and I just thumbs-upped the good samaritans and turned up Prince. Dig if you will the picture...

I just didn't feel like pulling over. Fuck you, flat tire. I will drive until fiery sparks explode from my blackened rim before I let you win.

I eventually eased my rig off the road because, you know. Flat tire. It's getting fixed now.

"As long as I've gotta be here take a look-see at that check engine light that's been harassing me for months now," I told the guy.

Check engine lights are bullshit. I told the guy that too. I've never had one come through for me. They get all up in your face all the damn time just to mess with your slippery grip on peace in this world, force you to drive all uneasy-like, hands at ten and two, butthole clenched tighter than an inmate's while showering for the first time. And just when you're like, "OK! Fine! You win, I'm calling the mechanic," they go off for a spell. Then POW. Guess who's back, asshole? But they never indicate checking anything.

I used to take my car in whenever the Eye of Sauron glowed fiery from my dash and they'd look at it and say "Welp. Can't rightly see what the trouble is. Could be your gas cap wasn't screwed on right? I'll just go ahead and reset the light for you."

Gas cap? Go fuck yourself, check engine light. How about a light that says "Hey, your gas cap is loose, dumbass."

*I wrote this while waiting at the hospital for a transvaginal ultrasound with forty ounces of water sloshing around my body. Peeing is verboden. Quite a Monday I'm carving out for myself, people.

Shit: It Never Gets Together

I glimpse a black coat lying on the floor next to my bed as I walk from my bedroom to the kitchen and my heart stutters. For just a second I think it is Milo. But Milo is fucking dead. I'm mad about that. He was young, it wasn't his time. But that's the way life goes, I'm learning.

For the longest time I believed in God and then karma or some kind of universe shit that organized good and bad happenings and a mystical system which dealt them out accordingly. You've heard religious folk say some bullshit along the lines of God not giving us more than we can handle, yes? Your Aunt Cheryl probably has it toll-painted onto a piece of wood hanging next to her Live, Laugh, Love wall decal.

But I don't believe in that for two seconds. Sometimes people get dealt shit hands, it's just how it goes. There is no guy in the sky monitoring who's dealing with what and muttering to himself about how "Monica has had enough so I'm gonna move on to testing Johnny down in Alabama" or whatever. It's all some fantasy shit we tell ourselves so we don't freak the fuck out when horrible things happen to good people, forcing us to contemplate death and ceasing to exist and whatever it is that keeps you from sleep at two o'clock in the morning. Everything happens for a reason, we assure each other. It's all part of God's plan, we say. But we don't really know. Nobody knows. I sure as hell don't know. And the only people I jive with are the ones willing to admit they don't know either.

All this to say that life has been kicking my ass lately. But it feels like life is always kicking my ass. If it's not one thing, it's another. I've got my eyes peeled for some blue sky but it's been stormy for a while now. Is this perceived ass-kicking all up in my head because I have the wrong mentality? Or maybe the guy in the sky really is messing with me so's he can finally determine how much it is that one Monica Danielle Butler Bielanko can handle before turning his spectral gaze to Johnny in the Deep South? Regardless, I'm struggling to get my shit together. But therein lies the rub. I am realizing that, contrary to what I assumed when I was 19 and trying to get my shit together, there is no specific life benchmark at which point my shit will magically coalesce. Not adulthood, motherhood, not marriage, no job, no relationship will mean my shit is officially united... I've attained all those things and I'm still stumbling around like a toddler learning to walk.

Thing is, there will always be something. Life is a continual struggle to get our shit together and then we die - shit decidedly not together. That is to say that shit: it never really gets together so chill out and enjoy the goddamn journey already because in a blink we'll all be dead. Put that in a meme and Facebook it.


Milo was born excited.

I spent a lot of his life reprimanding him for what basically amounts to being delighted by living. I feel like shit about that now. Crucial life lesson: Don’t try to change personalities. Of dogs OR people. They are who they are and all your efforts to shape them into what you want them to be are wasted. Now that he’s gone I wish I’d spent more time appreciating his wild soul instead of trying to tame it.

He was all heart and love. A fucking fireball of hair and slobber and tongue and tail.

I used him as a barometer with which to measure people who came to the house. Milo was into everybody, considered everyone a potential best friend, Frisbee thrower or belly scratcher. He didn’t discriminate. You could be robbing the house but if you offered to throw the Frisbee for a few, you were Milo’s greatest pal. So if you came to my house and didn’t at least bend down and acknowledge the tornado with a tail glued to your legs, chocolate eyes challenging yours, (Frisbee. Frisbee? FRISBEE?) then you are not my people. If you grimaced when he walloped your hands and face with that bubble gum-colored tongue then you are not my people. If you flinched when he tried to force all 90-plus pounds of his body into your lap then you are not my people.

I once dated a guy who visibly cringed the first time Milo moved in for action. Suffice it to say, that guy didn’t get any action from me either. 86’ed him in my head on the spot. Love me, love my dog. Because my dog is love.


How do you spend those last horrific hours before an appointment with death? I didn’t know what to do with myself, but Milo did. After a week spent curled in sickness on my bed or next to it, he wanted one last tour of his neighborhood.


You should know that Milo was an expert escape artist. He could escape the yard even as you stood there looking right at him, waiting for him to pee. There he is looking at you with innocent eyes, you check your phone for email messages – look up quick because you know how he is and there he is all innocent-like – check one more message, look up and he’s gone. A real sidler, that one. Eased his way out of the backyard and then black lightning down the road. Boom. Nowhere. Everywhere.

I’ve logged many hours driving around my ‘hood, looking for him. But if he didn’t want to be found, you were shit out of luck. He came home when he was goddamn good and ready or when some neighbor turned up with him; damn near grinning, tail a-waggin,’ thirsty as hell and exhausted.

What a pain-in-the-ass he was. But how glad I am that he escaped all those times and had himself an adventure.


Yesterday he gave me a look. Like he knew his time was limited. We either sit around the house moping or we get our asses out there and enjoy one last adventure.

It was freezing and he was weak. But he kept at it. I let him lead the way. Just kept pace with him and talked to him. I laughed, I cried, I raged at the fucking Lyme disease that was ravaging his once vibrant body.

On and on he walked. One hour ticked into two. The snow swirled gently and I remarked aloud - as I always do with Milo - that it was like we were in a snow globe. I’d clock a single flake; watch it float down from a cinder block-colored sky then blow back up several feet before meandering back down again. Milo would linger at favorite haunts, turn his nose skyward and sniff deeply for several minutes, savoring each location one last time. If I tried to walk before he was ready, he wouldn’t budge. He stayed until he was ready to move on.

Several times I’d attempt to gently steer him homeward, worried that it was all too much for his exhausted body. But he planted his paws on the road and straight up refused, so I let him take over. We’d come to intersections and I’d let him turn whichever way he wanted.

Do your thing my sweet boy. Go where you need to go.

We zigzagged around the neighborhood until Serge joined our slow parade and we ended up at a nearby park where Milo eased his tired body into the icy river one last time. He waded slowly, pausing often, pushing his sweet nose high into the air to sniff. He lapped at the water with relish even though it’d been days since he had drank anything at home.

I watched my best friend quietly, murmuring words of encouragement every now and again, marveling at what a gift it was that he had kept me walking around the neighborhood, allowing me time to rage and cry and laugh and remember and thank him and apologize and cry some more… right up until the end.

And then we walked home.

Boom. Nowhere. Everywhere.


Looking Around In Wonder

I spend a lot of time writing bullshit. Not bullshit in that the stuff I write is lies, bullshit because it's not what I want to be writing. It's a watered down version of what's really happening in my post-divorce life; diluted so that it fits the brand of whatever website the piece is for and doesn't hurt someone's feelings or embarrass certain family members.

I think it's time to edge closer to the truth.

I am often really fucking sad and scared. (Who isn't?!) At the same time I feel an excitement and freedom I haven't experienced for twenty years; a magnified insight into who I am and how I work. An understanding of the real me, maybe for the first time in life. It's stuff it takes being single to figure out, I think. In your twenties you're rarely capable of the kind of brutally honest self-introspection required to realize certain things. Your mind is full of ambition and hope and excitement and love and alcohol. You haven't experienced enough life yet. Then you get married and the constant give and take required to maintain a relationship overtakes the solo thought processes needed for self-actualization. Being married requires overlooking so much, to the point that we don't allow ourselves certain thoughts because realizing those truths could potentially destroy the marriage. So it isn't until you're on your own again - usually in the wake of divorce - that you can actually start thinking clearly about just who the fuck you've become and who you want to be.

I am a survivor. A badass. I hold shit together and shine when life gets difficult. This isn't necessarily a good trait because it also causes constant anxiety and I withdraw from people emotionally so that I can keep it all together... But whatever. At least I'm aware. I'll take being a survivor who excels when confronted with obstacles and work on the being vulnerable part.

I was talking to a fellow survivor badass outside of a birthday party both our children attended the other day. Discussing marriage, motherhood and finances and chuckling over what we do to make shit happen in our families and it really is some lengendary war story stuff. Women are often the psychological cores of households. We understand how and why our husbands do the things they do and learn to negotiate around certain of their behaviors, we know which kids are struggling and why and how to respond or not to respond (not responding is a response) in all the best ways. And that's just psychological stuff that doesn't include the physical work flow of maintaining a household or the financial strategy of keeping a house in business. For example;

Send the rent/mortgage check on Monday even though the money won't be in the account until Friday so make sure the check goes into the mail Monday after last mail pick-up so it technically won't be sent until Tuesday and won't arrive and be deposited in their bank until Thursday afternoon at the earliest and hopefully Friday morning and then use the money that is in the bank right now for groceries to last until Friday and just late amount due on the electricity bill but not the full amount due, we'll pay that after Friday and if there's enough left over we need to register the car because tags are expired but electricity takes priority over a legal car. Collect $50 from each sibling for Mom's Christmas present that you're going to use your Best Buy credit card to purchase and then keep their cash and use that $150 to get a Christmas tree and pay the cable bill so it doesn't get shut off. I'd use the $700 emergency fund we had built up in savings but that's being used to repair the brakes and get at least two new tires even though we need four. We'll have to wait until next month to replace the back two tires...

That was my life for ten years. Made all the lonelier because I was with someone who was blissfully ignorant of the above process and the hoops I jumped through each month. I don't say this to slight Serge. He contributed to our marriage in other meaningful ways and I fell short of his expectations in various areas as well. That's how every marriage works. People naturally assume certain roles as their personalities negotiate with each other and sometimes it works out beautifully and sometimes it's a constant battle.

He's a charming extrovert and you hate parties = relief that he takes over at mandatory events. Except, maybe, eventually he just annoys the fuck out of you with all his blathering at parties. Or maybe you never get tired of being entertained by him. Who's to say? People are constantly changing within marriage and sometimes it makes for a better fit and sometimes it causes a rift. Maybe you can suck up a certain behavior for 6 or 7 years but eventually you can't take one more goddamn second. Maybe you tell yourself your superpower is letting things roll off your back but maybe in year fifteen of marriage you realize you haven't been doing that at all, that you've spent years seething with resentment. You hate cooking, he loves it = win. Nobody likes cleaning the bathroom = constant battle. This shit is magnified when a task is considered decidedly masculine or feminine or one partner experienced a childhood wherein a specific parent always did a certain task and now subconsciously expects their own marriage to run in the same manner. Yard work is men's work! Laundry is a woman's job. My mom always did the grocery shopping and you never do so I quietly resent you for not living up to this marital expectation I have maintained from childhood.

This constant negotiation no longer exists in my life. I am free to explore who I am and what I want now. My personality is no longer defaulting to fit the patterns of someone else's personality. Sharing a life with someone can be a beautiful thing. It can also be incredibly stifling. It's so easy to forget who you are and what you really want from life. You have kids and it's so motherfucking intense you default to autopilot to survive. You both fall into the roles described above and you forget to look around in wonder. You forget to look inside yourself in wonder.

I'm spending a lot of time looking around and inside myself in wonder and what I'm learning is incredible.

She's Coming On Like Smoke

I went home for lunch today. Too tired to make anything that required more than two steps, I ate one of the Cup O' Soups I keep on hand because the kids like them just as I did at that age. I read another strange chapter in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, took an unapologetic swig of icy lemonade straight from the container in the fridge then turned up the heat a smidge in anticipation of my kids' afternoon arrival. Two hard-earned rights of The Divorced, I acknowledged with a small smile; drinking straight from the container and turning the thermostat up to seventy-goddamn-five if I feel like it.

Drove slowly back to work in the rain experiencing an unexpected and inexplicable jolt of pleasure at the swooshing noise my tires made as they splashed through deep puddles. Then I sat in my car in the parking lot, rain trickling down my windshield like tear streaks, listening to this song, thinking about this girl I kissed once who introduced me to it. A girl I will probably always be in love with. She's a Lifer, a term I use to describe people in my life I will always be connected with in some way. The people you can not communicate with for six months, a year, and pick right back up where you left off.

As if sensing my mood the rain increased, transforming the windshield and the bleary objects beyond into a Monet painting. But still I sat. The same parking lot in which I had the worst panic attack of my life almost a year ago. An attack so bad my muscles cramped up and I couldn't breathe. Divorce, and the shit you have to slog through to get to the other side, will do that to you.

I willed myself to return to my desk inside the building. Not that I dread work, it is often a respite from the chaos of regular life, but recently I feel like molasses. I find myself staring at nothing while thinking everything.

Over the past year I crammed a lot of stuff in my head, I guess to avoid thinking about reality. I binge-watched a bunch of Netflix series, read book after book and took countless road tips alone while listening to music as loud as the volume would allow to drown out my thoughts. But lately I've been unable to follow a series, realizing I've zoned out and can't remember the past five minutes of whatever show I'm attempting to watch. I think a thought and follow that down to the next thought and before I know it I've lost time. Instead of avoiding thoughts, I'm losing myself in them. It's interesting and mostly good yet I feel a pervasive sadness creeping into my bones.

Maybe it's just that time of year. Daylight Saving Time change is always a bitch. But maybe it's just where I am right now. I feel restless; a longing for something I can't define. The trick is to not look for someone to fill the void or numb the pain no matter how tempting it is to spend time in the company of someone who is clever or funny or cute or whatever else it is that initially draws us to people. Diving into the aloneness is key to figuring shit out. It just is.

Ain't no shame in hanging out with someone who gives me butterflies or makes me smile - because, GOD, that is some of the best stuff in life - but it has taken many years to realize I have a pattern of unconsciously transforming people into what I need them to be at that particular moment in my life, even if it's not who they are at all. Mentally creating or exaggerating certain characteristics - or focusing only on the good things and disregarding red flags - until the person fits who I want and need them to be. Then I have the gall to act surprised, disappointed and even accusatory when I eventually realize they aren't who I turned them into at the outset. Unfair all around.

At this point, when I'm working and succeeding at being comfortable alone, I want to make legitimate connections based on who I really am and who somebody else is, not who I'm attempting to be because it's what I think someone will like or who I need them to be based on what's going on in my life. Truthful connections. No pretense or bullshit.

Anyway, regarding the restlessness or longing: whatever I need is here within me already, it just requires the right thoughts and shifts in perspective. Everything is perspective. Your entire life is perspective. Reality is an illusion. All we have are our individual perspectives. I feel whatever it is I need to learn or figure out right now hovering at the corners of my awareness, I'm just not there yet, I guess.

In a week it will have been a year since I said a final goodbye to Max. I think about him constantly then wonder if it's weird that I do. His absence in my life has fucked me up immensely but I feel silly acknowledging that particular pain. As if a dog, a pet, shouldn't warrant this kind of intense grief a full year later. People are grieving spouses and children and here I am, still sobbing regularly about my Max. But there it is. I miss my dog.

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