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Something New: A Beautifully Savage Omen

On a cold winter morning in January 2023 while visiting my family on the Upper East in New York City, I was the first to wake up, crept quietly into the guest room bathroom and locked eyes with a tiny owl perched outside the window on the old fashioned air conditioner. We startled each other and we both froze. An owl in New York City. Just the two of us. Then suddenly the owl flew away carrying a very small dead bird and leaving behind a bloody beak and claw, body parts that would stay there for days until finally washed away by rain, a reminder of the beautifully savage omen. I stopped dead in my tracks that morning. How could I not take pause of this tiny owl with huge yellow eyes, so pretty yet so deadly. And I wondered who would believe that this had actually happened. I sat with this discomfort, the shock, a little fear and self-doubt and let it inform me and guide me and perhaps shed light on those things right there before me, things visible but not consciously seen.

The juxtaposition haunted me. It was jarring; beauty and a broken lifeless body, speed and stillness, vital life and death, a being so tiny and fragile, yet so powerful and dangerous. Those yellow eyes, startled and startling, hungry and starved, scared and tenacious. It haunted me. Our brief secret moment of connection, the owl and I.

If I thought about this encounter as symbolic, as a sign, urging me to look inward, to let my own wisdom and intuition guide me, then what? Towards what? It took me a year to figure it out.

When you have a chronic illness like MS in which your body fails you time and time again, the assumption is always that the problem is you, something wrong or broken within. I remember this Friday afternoon many years ago, driving my children after elementary school pick up, stopping at a traffic light behind an SUV. The SUV suddenly was way too close to me and I reversed, assuming it was my fault, that my weak right foot had loosened on the brake causing us to drift dangerously close. In reversing, I scratched the SUV. We both got out, she, a mom like me, profusely apologized for reversing too close to me, explaining that she was tired and distracted and didn’t see me. So sure I was of my own capacity for failure that I mistakenly took responsibility for something not my own. I took responsibility without hesitating for something not my own because I was accustomed to failing, to doing something unintentionally wrong, so distrusting of myself, so comfortable in that distrust.

So immediately after seeing the owl, I thought about it as a sign of change, like maybe my health would deteriorate or that something bad would happen to me. I didn’t dive into the subtext much more than that. Living in self-doubt and health anxiety, I missed the nuances of the owls’ message for a very long time.

But I see it now, one year later. Very clearly. I see that the savage omen was about my marriage. Beautifully savage. 

My husband, a beautiful savage. It was all right there in front of me, yet unseen, not consciously seen and to this day, like with the owl, I worry if anyone will believe me. 

The juxtaposition was the message, the what looks beautiful from the outside but is so dark from within, the man who can seem to sweet and caring to the world but is so cruel and hurtful behind close doors. It was all right there before me, on the edge of consciousness, noted and long experienced but not articulated until the tiny owl with the big yellows eyes woke me. 

Chances are that a reluctant hand grows more weary. His did. Gradually and then suddenly gone. Although we are technically still married, I lost his hand in March. Despite OCD like rumination, introspection and inspection, detective work, I’m not sure why March, but that is when I last figuratively reached for his hand and felt nothing, like a void, just cold, cold silent air. In May, he travelled and, despite my weakened immune system, refused to protect me by wearing a mask upon return. Both my daughter and I got COVID for the first time. I was sick for 6 weeks and not being someone prone to small outbursts of anger, I had a very big one, all of my years of rage for being alone with this illness, finally surfacing. My anger allowed him to reverse our roles and become victim. I saw that moment happen, as we sat across from each other at breakfast, me now wearing a mask to protect everyone, so only my sad angry eyes staring, tears, staring at him and he went blank. It was like he was possessed or unpossessed but something tangibly shifted, maybe I reminded him of something past, someone past but from that moment on he became the victimizing victim.

In June, he decided not to come with me and the kids to New York, our annual tradition since moving to LA 15 years earlier. My son left on a trip and my daughter and I flew solo, he literally throwing a party in our yard as we were in the air, his last agitated words to me was annoyance that I worried he would lose my handicap placard if left in the car. We barely spoke all summer. He stayed in LA, spending our money to renovate our home so that he could rent it for income, storing for a future without me. In August, he met us in NYC for one tempestuous week, filled with discomfort, awkward silences and threats of separation and a long final hug goodbye with my observant father who whispered, “be discreet.” 

As soon as we got home in late August, like literally hours later, as I sat playing with my daughter, I got a panicked call from my father about an email he received from him, triangulating him in our marriage, and suggesting I was unstable. Having just spent 5 weeks with me, my father knew this to be a lie, why, to cause pain, isolate me, wreak havoc, take my children, I don’t know but those eyes, those yellow eyes, trust myself, look inwards, wake up. It is incredibly hard to understand that someone you trusted can turn on you. 

In September, he did not celebrate my milestone birthday. There are so many moments like this one, big or small, so many over the years when I think it’s me, it’s all me, this isn’t normal, but it’s me. As I write this, I feel like I’m looking down on a stranger, so disconcerting, yet I promise it’s true. Just like the owl. It’s true. It’s real. It happened. It’s happening right now.

In October, as I was painfully aware that he was blocking my access to our shared finances, I was advised by my family, all lawyers, to try to get access to any files that I could  while he was away on a trip. What I found was far worse than I could ever have imagined. I found pages of notes, thoughts, questions, all detailing an elaborate calculated plan to leave me, taking as much as possible while giving me as little as possible. He had hired and was secretly working with a conscious uncoupling mediator to help bring this plan to life. I photocopied all of these notes and I re-read them quite often as a reminder that this is all real, not imagined and this is who he is. The shock continues to reverberate, the shattered trust, the disbelief, I am frozen in place time and time again with only his words echoing and lingering, like the bloodied beak, as if I am that broken-bloodied bird.

“She keeps asking me for all account login information. I do not want to give that to her. Can she claim financial abuse and if so what does that mean? I have accounts she doesn’t have access to- a bank account, a crypto investment account and a credit card. We have a HELOC with money in it. She has a car which she doesn’t drive, and I want to trade it in and get an EV, the more money I put down, the lower my monthly payments. Should I do that and draw from our HELOC so I have low monthly payments when the car is in my name? Call three mediators Wednesday.Order shoe rack-can it be black? Eliminate Cara's cards as and draw down the debit card. Separation, not D, how can I draw that out? Move money and store! Spousal support-how long do I need to pay it? How can I minimize the duration of it? My wife will inherit money real estate, likely in the next 5–10 years when her parents pass away. Is there a strategy re legal separation in the meantime to justify minimal spousal support after she gets her inheritance? She is disabled and her ability to card for the kids competently is compromised, for example, driving is an issue for her. She is practically disabled.”

Eyes. Wide. Open.

November, December, January all a cold, wintry, stormy blur. More threats to lose custody because of my disability, this time in front of our children, belittling, disparaging, controlling, and finding myself in conversations with my children that I hoped never to have, “yes, I’m a useful member of this family,” “no, I can’t lose you because of my disability,” and “can you tell me why you would call me a loser?” As I sit outside and write this, waiting for my children to come home from school, as I do every day, my only contact with the outside world as a non-driver in LA, he threatens to “remove me from my house” because I dared make plans for my daughter without telling him and complained that living so far from her friends is hard. I live with someone who hates me, to whom I am just a disability. I am never emotionally safe, anything I say to be used against me, just be quiet, stay still, stop dead in my tracks with yellow eyes glaring lest  I am devoured and broken and unrecognizable. 

The tiny owl has stayed with me. It was a beautifully savage omen, a warning of pain to come, so much pain, an urging to open my eyes to all the unseen clues and to my self, to trust my solid inner self, and to not turn savage myself. It took me one year to articulate this, to break the secret between the beautifully savage omen and I.



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