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Saturday, July 8, 2023

"How we Met" by Mikela Bjork - 2021 Brookyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist


"How we Met"



By: Mikela Bjork



How We Met



My ex-wife and I were friends long before we were lovers. We met in Park Slope Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 2006. At the time, I was living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but I didn’t want to go to meetings in my neighborhood because I feared I would see people on my coffee/ grocery/ vintage dress shopping route who would recognize me from those meetings and to be recognized was the last thing I wanted. 

The Park Slope AA meetings had a familiar warmth about them, reminiscent of the meetings I attended as a child, in my hometown with my mother. I quickly found a group of about 6 women with whom I felt comfortable, most of whom happened to identify as queer. These queer, sober, fabulous women would become my “litter buddies,” an AA term that means we were like a group of newborn pups, learning to navigate our lives, our bodies, our needs, and the world around us in a new,sober way. We called each other sobbing at any given moment about any given catastrophe that newly sober life threw at us. Relationships on the rocks? Death in the family? Can’t get out of bed to go to work? Call a litter buddy. F train is running on the G line again? Saw your ex happily holding hands with their new love at the Fort Greene Farmer’s Market and now you want to rip a rail of cocaine the length of the IKEA parking lot? Can’t figure out what to wear to your first sober holiday potluck dinner, so you’re considering buying a bag of dope instead of finishing the final garnishes on the two dozen deviled eggs you prepared for the event? Call a litter buddy.  

Although my future-ex-wife was a part of this queer, sober enclave, she was on the outskirts, mysteriously yet confidently floating in and out of weekly fellowship dinners at the Japanese restaurant on the corner of 8th and Garfield every Wednesday night after 

the women’s meeting (that meeting would become our homegroup for the next 13 years). I was more likely to catch a glimpse of her smoking outside with another litter mate while I tiptoed to the bathroom mid-meeting. She was shy, but self-poised. An introvert, but a boss. When she spoke, people listened. Her dry wit was incomparable and her swagger, her “I could give two fucks what you think of me” vibe undeniably attractive. She carried herself with a self-assurance that made a pair of Gstar jeans and a holey t-shirt look like a negligee. When she walked into the musty Brooklyn church basement, I found myself squirming in my seat--giddy to be in the same room with her and unsure of what that meant.  

As friends, we talked about The Ethical Slut--the book and relationship philosophy for which she so passionately advocated. She was anti monogamy. She didn’t believe in marriage. She didn’t believe in following any rules, especially if they were tied to patriarchal standards. At the time, I thought that was hot. I saw her as this strong, self-assured, brilliant young woman, who was probably incredible in bed and equally as fun to date because she was so...non-commital.  

Those qualities also scared me. I came from a very white, Southern family that supported marriage (and multiple divorces). The women starved themselves and catered to the men in their lives until those men died or left. Then they would find a new man to dote upon, all while hating themselves in the form of over drinking, over -spending, over-obsessing and under eating. No woman in my immediate family modeled to me what confidence looked, sounded or felt like. Thus, I was committed to being different, to doing things differently than the women who raised me. That included leaving my hometown, exploring my sexuality in a less heteronormative way, and hopefully falling in love with myself as I navigated this path of “not them.”  

The winter of 2013 was a turning point. My ex and I had started spending more time together with a mutual friend, but when we hung out, whether it was at First Fridays at the Brooklyn Art Museum or hip-hop night at South Paw (RIP) it felt like we were the only two people in the room. On New Year’s Day, she called me to tell me about the spontaneous orgy she had hosted the night before. I could hear her smiling through multiple drags of Parliament Lights, giving me the play-by-play of how it all went down, while she exhaled streamlined puffs of smoke out of her living room window, one block away from Prospect Park. As she narrated with excitement, I felt my heart sink.  

“What is this feeling?” I thought, as I internally negotiated my--disappointment? Jealousy?--While attempting to pay attention to the juicy details of her sexcapades the night before. When she finished the update, I found myself faking my excitement for her.  I didn’t want her to know that I was on the verge of tears, for what, I didn’t yet know. I quickly got off the phone and ate my feelings by way of a tub of Sahadi’s hummus and pita chips. (Welcome to the sober world of dealing with discomfort!) 

I didn’t necessarily want to be a part of the orgy, but imagining her having this spontaneous, memorable moment without me was a source of great discomfort. Somewhere deep inside of me I felt torn between jealousy and perhaps betrayal, even though she and I had yet to hook up. That New Year’s Eve orgy would haunt our relationship for years. In hindsight I think that’s because, despite her eventual commitment to monogamy, I knew in the back of my mind that she had the capacity to spontaneously have sex with multiple people at the spur of the moment, if the time was right. And let’s be honest: The queer sober scene in Brooklyn is not lacking in those “right” moments to have sex. If you know, you know. And if you don’t know, now you know. 

Shortly after her orgy and my overdose on hummus, we began spending more time together. She took me to The Smoke Joint for dry rubbed beef ribs and macaroni and cheese that oozed off the edges of the flimsy Styrofoam cup in which it was served.  Meals of meat and cheese were her love language, and reminiscent of her hometown in East Texas. She kept corn dogs and tater tots in her freezer (a red flag or naively endearing to my usually-vegan self—it remains up for debate). We spent chilly winter nights sipping hot chocolate dolloped with giant, square marshmallows at Cocoa Bar, making out in between chocolatey sips and hushed giggles. The cold winter weeks melted into more than bearable winter months as we fell in love, keeping each other warm, nuzzling our pink noses into each other’s freckled faces, while we waited for the Q train to take us into the city and to our respective jobs. 

Once spring arrived, we were happily committed and in a monogamous relationship. As the city and its people began to thaw and socialize, we remained in our newfound-love-bubble, watching Battlestar Gallactica while our litter mates danced the night away at The Bellhouse. We intended to meet them there, but the coziness of her 400 square foot studio apartment on Carroll St. and the familiarity of one another was all that we needed. That and her two cats, who sidled up to us as soon as we sauntered over to the ugly loveseat covered in soft-but-highly-flammable-blankets—gifts from her Texan family over the years. 

When her favorite uncle drove down from Woodstock to meet me, I knew things were getting serious. He met us in Prospect Park, mid-flag football game, toting his famous banana pudding in an “I heart Texas” reusable bag. We hit it off and for the next 6 years, she and I would drive up to visit him and attend his liberal, gay-friendly church and AA homegroup, just around the corner from his tiny one-bedroom apartment.  

I proposed to her on a hot Friday in July on the Coney Island Wonder Wheel.  Fridays at Coney Island in the summer meant fireworks. Fireworks and funnel cakes and Nate’s hotdogs and French fries to celebrate this next step in our commitment to each other. Our friends sat in the ferris wheel’s unsteady seats in the cubicle in front of us so that they could take pictures as I pulled out the $3,500 solitaire, white gold ring I bought in installments from The Clay Pot, just a few blocks away from our home. She said yes, as her nose slightly pinked from the combination of emotion, elevation and ocean air that gusted through the holes of the rickety, enclosed ferris wheel car. We were engaged after 3 glorious years of being together.  

6 months later we were married on a frigid December morning. I was so consumed with work the month leading up to the wedding that I didn’t prioritize writing my vows and had to wing them on the stoop of our Brooklyn Brownstone.We were surrounded by our witness(her best friend who, true to lesbian culture, happened to be an ex-girlfriend), and her beloved uncle. We proudly got married without spending our parents’ money, which my father would later thank me for when he helped me pay for our divorce. Brunch with half a dozen friends followed at AOC, where we drank strong coffee, ate over-priced, delicious food, and basked in the love that we shared for each other and our community. 

The 4 years that followed were full of joy and strife. I experienced a miscarriage and, despite getting pregnant immediately after said miscarriage, I had to terminate the next pregnancy at 20 weeks due to a genetic anomaly that couldn’t be detected until much later than we wished. The loss of both pregnancies was insurmountable for me, for us, for our relationship. I don’t think either of us recovered from the trauma that we both respectively experienced that year. There wasn’t enough space in our big, up graded Chocolate Factory apartment for both of us to truly feel our feelings. I pulled away from her, and from our sober queer community, because it felt like everyone was getting pregnant with healthy babies—everyone except for us.  

In 2016, I took a much-needed year away from baby planning. I focused on writing my dissertation. I dove into somatic and EMDR therapy to heal the physical, emotional, physiological wounds that the losses left imprinted in my womb, my heart and my psyche. She and I fought more in that year than we did in the year leading up to our divorce. The truth is, by then I had no desire to fight anymore.  

By 2019—having given birth to a healthy baby boy, gotten a tenure-track position across the country, established a new sober, queer community in Southern California, having left the security of the cocoon we co-created in Brooklyn—my desire to be seen and understood by my partner was palpable and it’s lack was undeniable. In our last therapy session together, she admitted to not understanding most of what I said to her, which was a relief because it meant that I wasn’t crazy in thinking that she just didn’t get me anymore (did she ever?) It was also relieving because it meant that we could both be free; I was free to eventually find the person who could understand me; She was free to eventually find the person that she could understand. 

Her work requires her to revisit New York fairly often. She has traveled back to our old haunts multiple times since we moved away and parted. In the early months of our divorce, she would send me pictures of the stoop where we got married, or the tree on the Northeast side of Prospect Park, under which we made out whenever we were making up from a fight. Seeing even just a glimpse of those images made my stomach tighten and my throat clench. I deleted them just as fast as she sent them. I didn’t want to be reminded of the past. It was—and remains—too painful.  

I spent 11 long, enriching, lonesome, exciting, inspiring, wholesome years in Brooklyn. I moved to Williamsburg at 25 years young with 5 days of sobriety under mynascent belt. From Williamsburg I moved to Prospect Heights, then Park Slope, Boerum Hill, and then Fort Greene, until at 36 years old, I moved my family (wife,3-month-old, 2 rescue dogs, 2 rescue cats) to Southern California. There are moments where I wonder if we had remained in The Chocolate Factory, in our privileged life as a queer Brooklyn family, would we have stayed together? Could we have gotten through the hard timestogether, without changing the dynamic of our family and learning how to co-parent our precious son? And then I remember what I know to be true—our time together, while it lasted, was robust and glorious and, much like the city in which we fell in love, perfectly imperfect.



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