Love is pain.
That is what the quilt says. Right in the center on a big red heart. All around it are stages, stops – like on a game board. Candy Land or Risk. Yeah, Risk.
Love. Joy. Desire.
Trust. Faith. Intimacy.
Jealousy. Anger. Betrayal.
Anxiety. Disillusion. Despair.
It is Valentine’s Day. I am at the Greenleaf Art Center for the exhibit – Be Mine. I am meeting my girlfriends here, but they are stuck in traffic. So I am alone. Impromptu Artist Date 62. My second this week.
I step back and look at the quilt that greets me as I walk in the door, wondering where I am on it.
I met a man. Or perhaps I should say, re-met. We knew each other once upon a time. Kind of. We are getting to know one another – not quite again – but now, for the very first time.
He is smart and funny, creative, sensitive and sexy. I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me. We can talk for hours about anything and everything. We laugh a lot. And I find myself smiling a lot. Friends have noticed this.
There are about a thousand reasons why this will likely not work out and I will land on the square marked Heartbreak. I occasionally visit Anxiety already. I hate uncertainty. But I can’t not see this through. I want to find out about us.
Trust. Faith. I am trying to practice both in my life. Not so much with him, but with the universe, my higher power. Intimacy. Yes. We are building that — slowly. He lives several states away, so we are forced to go at this pace. Although the recent addition of Skype dates – we have one tonight – have added a heat to the flame.
I have not told him every single thing about me – emotionally vomiting, as if to say, “So can you handle that?” And, obviously, I have not slept with him. I haven’t led with my sexuality – my one-time calling card – either. Refraining from saying things like, “I think about you bending me over the butcher block and hiking up my dress around my waist.” I think them instead.
Loss. Grief. I still find myself here sometimes too. Not as deeply entrenched as I once was. I am no longer up to my knees in it. I am standing in the sun, my feet wet, in a puddle left from the storm.
Post-divorce, grieving the loss of the fantasy, that that one person will be there no matter what. Always. That this love will quiet that part of me that silently screams “Don’t leave me.” It is a lie.
Day one of my life on the planet. Separated from my mother. I do not recall a second of it. Yet I know a part of my work here is to heal it.
I watch it get kicked up and manifest in unconscious, desperate attempts for control and certainty. As if that will heal me. But it doesn’t. Neither did a husband. Nor meeting my biological parents. The work is mine alone.
I move on to a series of men’s shirt collars embroidered with real messages from the artist’s experiences with online dating. “What kind of underwear girl are u?” “Every young man want to get laid by a gray hair lady.” “You want a naughty pic?” It reminds me I have not finished my Match.com profile. And that I probably won’t.
There are maps covered with pins and handwritten notes. Heart-shaped boxes filled with broken glass and newspaper clippings. A video of a woman covered in striped fabric dancing with a bee.
I return for a third time to a piece titled, “Love Letter.” It is long and tall, like a body. With hair at the top, words winding down the center, like buttons, and rocks circling the bottom. The artist, Sherry Antonini writes, “Love Letter is a meditation on listening inward and noticing outward; on persistence and on beginning again with what is left over.”
I read the poem running down her torso again. It is still too much to take in. So I photograph it – in pieces.
“Keep time. But throw away most other things, including reasons to worry…Watch for signs, however small. Push through with ideas, envisioning them as even bigger than you think they deserve to be. Do this until you can once again see yourself shine…
“Make a list of the things you hold at core. Those essences nearly forgotten, cast aside for too long…Months or years it is that you have been bound tight and stilled, silenced in some darkness. But the beauty of light is insistent…
“First, you fill up a room, then you empty it, one piece at a time and all in its right time. No one can tell you not to. Or that you can’t. That you never will. Or won’t ever again.
“When you rotate the stones point them in line with your heart’s desire, you put your hands once again on your own gleam of power and touch possibility.”
I head toward the front door as my friends are entering. Unplanned. Serendipity. I meet them, filled, spilling over. Love. Joy. And later, this man who makes me smile big, on Skype. He notices my grin and tells me he likes it. I read him the poem, still trying to sort my way through it. Intimacy. Faith. Desire.