A custom portrait for a cowboy

Some of you may have seen this photo that I posted on Instagram a few weeks ago. Oh, wait. That was a few weeks ago. A few weeks? HELLO. HI. BONJOUR. The last six weeks of my life have consisted of nothing more than making sure that my children are okay. 2019: The year the customer service agent at my insurance company got to know me by name. And not because I pulled my pants down, mooned Orrin Hatch on his front lawn, and got frost bite.

So, here’s the thing. I know I am supposed to put on my own breathing mask before attempting to attach that other one dangling over my kid’s head around her face. I get it. I totally understand. No need to lecture me, MOM. Except, there really hasn’t been a single moment in the last six weeks to grab my own oxygen mask. I needed to make some decisions so quickly that these decisions required me to hold my breath and figure out how to save my kids as if I were troubleshooting a computer underwater, a computer that was going to destroy the core of the earth if I did not program it to deter its purpose. And now my body is not so discreetly yelling at me, “I will ruin you.”

Again, I’m sorry if I haven’t returned your email or phone call or text message in the last month. I have been living a breathing, pulsing, vicious crisis since my kids got home from the holiday. And I will just say this: what you see online? That lives online. THAT LIVES AND CREATES ITS OWN REALITY ONLINE. What happens in real life? Holy god, what you do not even know. What you don’t know. You have no idea.

And so. That photo. I had decided that I wasn’t going to write about my relationships going forward after a horrific divorce and a subsequent relationship that tripped my head like I was inhaling balls. But here I am living with someone—we, the girls and I—have been living with my partner since August. And before anyone suggests that this move is the reason my girls are in crisis, I will text you the phone number of their therapist and he will gladly send you several of the most amazing GIFs of someone casually rolling their eyes and making the jerk off motion. I’m pretty sure he’s had Marlo paint an abstract of one of these GIFs while getting her to talk about her feelings.

Oh, shut up. You know whose website you’re reading. Go be aghast with your bishop.

I haven’t talked much about this living situation, not because I’m trying to be coy or play games. I’ve enjoyed keeping this part of my life out of these words and pages for the sake of enjoying it without any unwelcome and uninformed commentary. I’ve talked a little about it elsewhere, and some of you may know we now live close enough to Marlo’s school that I get to walk her there every morning. Both kids have their own rooms, and I recently helped Leta do a room makeover that I will share here in the coming weeks. We have dinner around the table almost every night—not at the countertop, although I will count those 18 months alone at the countertop with my two girls as transformative to our dynamic as a family—and my partner is by far the greatest gift I have ever given to my girls outside of being the daughter of my mother.

MY MOTHER, DEAR GOD. Small tangent: everyone in my personal life who has read an advanced copy of my book has said, “So, you do know that if this is ever adapted for the screen that your mother will be the lead, right?” WHATEVER. BLUH.

I commissioned a painting for him last fall from Kristina Havens. You may recognize her work from other paintings in my home (you can read about some of it here and here):

She also did a series of portraits from images I took during a trip to Bangladesh in 2011 with Every Mother Counts, all proceeds from the sale of those paintings going straight to the organization. You can find her on etsy here.

Also, one more thing… I say “partner” because whenever I say “boyfriend” people wince and look at me like UGH IT IS 2019 AND THE MEMO CAME OUT TEN YEARS AGO WOMAN. So then I confidently say “partner” and suddenly people are like WAIT DID YOU GET DIVORCED BECAUSE YOU’RE GAY? Don’t look at my porn collection or you will be terribly confused about all of this.

I sent her several images of him, most of them taken at in San Francisco last October. In this particular photo he’s wearing a tie that is incredibly important to the heritage of his family. In fact, the significance of this tie cannot be overstated, and when I shared that with her she very carefully chose this specific image. For the landscape and color behind him, for his smile, how it shows up in his eyes, and for that token of significance. And I wanted it to be specifically a portrait of him and him alone.

I gifted this to him on his birthday in early January. I had to do something to make him understand that I know that his birthday is important outside of Christmas, what with it being so close to that holiday. I thought Leta’s birthday on the 3rd of February was taxing. Try dating a Capricorn. Born two weeks after Christmas. The pressure is real and palpable, and he asked me afterward for the pitch, outline, blueprints, spreadsheets, and cost-benefit analysis of this gift. I’m joking.

Not really.

Totally serious.

He’s incredible when it comes to giving gifts, and in case you don’t remember… I scored a zero for gift giving on the quiz that determines how I like to show and receive love. I’m the worst. Best Worst Gift Giver Ever. And so when Kristina and I started exchanging emails and messages about this, I could feel her enthusiasm. I could feel her connection to the story of it all. And I had to keep my mouth shut for a few months when all I wanted to blurt was I GOT YOU A PRESENT over and over and over again. And not because I wanted to brag about it, but because I had overcome a glaring character flaw in such a spectacular way. I mean, the spectacular part was all HER. I mean, all of it. Look at this painting. The resemblance is unreal. She captures her subject’s eyes in ways I didn’t think was possible. But I’m the one who thought of it and thought of her and BEHOLD. I PURCHASED A GIFT, CAPRICORN. I am, as it turns out and should come as a surprise to everyone, worth the investment!

He liked it. A bit. Just a little bit.

It’s something he can gift to his own children at some point, which is another factor I was considering when thinking of what to get him for his birthday. That’s sort of where we are in life and something we have in common. We look at the idea of possessions and want the significance of what we hold in our hands to have equal significance in our hearts. And if that possession doesn’t meet that standard, we’d instead rather spend that money creating memories together.

Kristina understood this. She was an absolute delight to work with, and I could not be more thrilled with how she captured the generosity in his eyes, a generosity that knows no bounds. I am honored that she agreed to take this on, and equally honored to share this home with the man I love.