Cut in Two

It is four weeks today since I left Paris. It feels like forever ago.

Not for the reasons most people think. Not because I love Paris, have dreamed of living there for as long as I can remember (even before I had ever visited), and occasionally wake up with French words on my lips – even though I don’t speak the language. Not because a reiki practitioner once told me I have “agreements” with Paris. (I still don’t know exactly what that means.) Although all of that is true.

Quite simply, I left my heart there … and I miss it, and him and what we shared.

What was meant to be 14 days together, zipping up to Normandy on his motorbike (“It will be like our honeymoon,” he said.) was goodbye instead.

I never saw it coming.

We met in October, on my way home from a writer’s retreat in Girona, Spain. It was, as my friend Michelle likes to say, “A romance for the ages.”

We found one another in a church basement – the kind where we both learned how to get and stay sober a number of years earlier – on his birthday, the day before mine. What began as coffee led to a meandering walk through Paris — sharing our stories, and a piece of cake — and ended with three knee-buckling kisses at the Bastille roundabout, my salmon-colored wool and silk scarf blowing in the breeze. One for his birthday, one for mine, and one to “tide me over” until we saw one another again in two days. The stuff of Hollywood movies.

Four days later, my last in Paris, he told me he loved me, and that he was in love with me.

“Is that crazy” he asked over a steaming bucket of mussels and live accordion music that wafted up the stairs.

“Yes,” I replied. “But I get it.”

He also told me he didn’t want to think about me every day, that he didn’t want to know how I took my coffee.

“But you already know how I take my coffee,” I said, smiling.

We agreed that we wanted to continue getting to know one another and that neither of us knew exactly what that meant. The next morning, boarding a plane back to the United States, I received a text, “Still love you, babe.”

locks of love paris
Love Locks in Paris.

Later that week, during the first of many marathon phone calls, he asked if I would come back in the spring. I said yes without hesitation and purchased a non-stop return ticket from Chicago to Paris for $500 the following day. I had never paid so little to fly to to Europe and chose to see it as a sign — a nod from God.

We spent the next six months writing long emails and sexy Facebook messages, talking on the phone for hours and eventually Skyping. What joy it was to finally see one another again.

I felt like I had met my twin. Funny enough, one of the last things he said to me was, “I met myself when I met you.” That was four weeks ago, when we said goodbye.

One month earlier, I had received an email, “I have some difficult news …” he wrote.

His son’s mother had asked once again if they might get back together. This time she said “all the right things.” This time, it was he who didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Brokenhearted would be an understatement.

Ten days later we Skyped and I asked if I might see him in Paris … to say goodbye.

“You’re still coming?” he asked, visibly surprised.

“My ticket is non-refundable. I’m going on to Barcelona, but I’m still flying in and out of Paris.

“Can I see you? To say goodbye?”

He agreed, and so we did. And when we did, he reminded me that his nine-year-old son lives in Paris … so he lives in Paris.

I knew he had certain ideas about the family he wanted – what it looked like – and believed he was healing some childhood wounds by giving his son what he had wanted most, stability and love, and the picture of family that he himself craved.

“I’m portable,” I said, reminding him I had said this all along.

He said I wouldn’t like living in Paris. (I disagreed.) That it is extraordinarily hard to get work there as a non-Parisian, even teaching English. That he never wanted a long-distance relationship.

He also said that we were “magic,” that I was his “vacation” and his “fantasy.”

What he didn’t say was, “Move in, lean in … we’ll figure it out.”

And so, with seemingly no other choice, I dropped the rope.

eating cake in paris
In October, sharing a piece of birthday cake.

The day I had asked if I could see him in Paris, he asked if we might still be friends. “This,” he said, gesturing heart-to-heart, “I’ll miss this.” I said probably one day, but that I would need time — brave words that fell apart once on the other side of the Atlantic, when I hopefully asked, “Will we stay in touch?” even though I had been the one to ask for space after our goodbye.

“I don’t think so … I’d prefer not to,” he said. “I want you to go back to Chicago and write to me and tell me you found a man there who can give you a real relationship.”

I was crushed. Writing these words now, my heart aches.

But a funny thing happened when I returned to the United States, something that had never happened after a breakup before — I respected his wishes.

We agreed I would let him know when I arrived home and that I would send some of my writing to him – musings about our time together. I did both and he responded warmly, but without opening any doors. “I’m not ready to read this just yet, but it’s good to know it’s here” he wrote, and thanked me for sending. Seems this ending is difficult for him too.

Now there’s nothing left to do but grieve.

I’ve never had a clean break before.

In my 20s, breakups included language like, “Of course we’ll be friends,” which seemed to mean something entirely different to my former partners than to me, which looked like me acting as if nothing had changed, except for the addition of some teary, “I miss you’s” and “Are you sure’s?” In the end my ex’s usually had to push me away, it seemed the only way I could give time and space apart.

Since my divorce five years ago, I’ve had only one other relationship, which only sort-of ended when I moved to Madrid in 2015. We spent my year abroad in a liminal space which, while not exactly ideal or exactly what I wanted, seemed to suit me on some level. It was never entirely over until I moved back to the United States last July.

So this is new, this clean-break thing, and here’s the rub – it still hurts like hell. There’s nothing to do, nothing to be done. This clean break means there’s no drama around calling or not calling, writing or not writing, dissecting every bit of conversation. The not-clean-break means I can feel like I’m still in something. There’s some kind of crazy hope, but with this there is none.

Just memories. And sadness.

Yes … I have days where I’m not really sure we’re done. Others say that about us too. But I know, at least for now, we are.

Michelle was right. I did have a romance for the ages … and I haven’t even shared a tenth of it. I haven’t written publicly about it at all, until now. It was tender and private and new. It was ours. It still is. But it is my story too and I am a storyteller.

at shakespeare and company
With heartbreak comes a story. Paying homage.

Last night I listened to a TED Talk by Anne Lamott. In it, she said, “You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your own heart, your stories, memories, visions and songs – your truth, your version of things – in you own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.”

It was those words that inspired me to write. That, a fire in my belly, and the memory of blogging about every other romance gone astray since my divorce. Sharing my story and opening it for conversation had felt both vulnerable and healing. There is something about speaking one’s truth, being witnessed, and hearing, “me too.”

It’s what we do in those church basements where he and I got sober and where we keep going so we can stay sober. As my friend Bob likes to say, “A problem shared is cut in two.” If that is so, then posting this hits it with a sledgehammer – cracks it right open sending sharp little shards in every direction that I will be picking up off the floor for months to come, even when I’m certain I’ve vacuumed them all up. The sun will hit the hardwood in a certain way and I’ll find another little piece.

I guess that’s what great love does – cracks us right open and destroys us. I hate it. And I wouldn’t change a single thing.

 

 

 

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On The Other End With Open Arms

With heavy bags and a heavy heart, saying goodbye at the airport.
With heavy bags and a heavy heart, saying goodbye at the airport.

I’ve begun this blog what feels like a hundred times. But each time, somewhere along the way, I’ve gotten stuck.

Stuck between here and there. Stuck between Chicago and Madrid. Stuck between continuing to tell my story and just living it — holding something and someone so tender, so intimate, so close to myself. Private.

And yet, it is all part of the story of how I arrived here.

January 2015. I make the decision to move to Madrid. To become certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and to stay on for a year with a student visa.

“I will never meet anyone now,” I lament to my therapist, and my friend K, referring to my decision. “It would be nice to spend some time with someone though…but not until I buy my ticket, because I am the kind of girl that will stay for love.”

Turns out, I’m not…because I did meet someone, in March, at a memorial for a friend’s mother. But he didn’t reach out to me until a month later –the day after I bought my plane ticket to Madrid.

The synchronicity isn’t lost on either of us.

And so, while our three months together prove to be a great love affair for both of us, it is never in question that I will get on the plane on July 28. It is already written.

We stand at the airport — kissing, crying, holding on to one another, saying goodbye. Watching and waving until I am barely visible in the TSA line. He gives me a final wave, puts his hands into namaste, blows a kiss and leaves — tears streaming down my face. Tears streaming down my face as I write this now.

I settle into my seat on the plane and receive a series of texts and photos from him, sent from the parking lot. Among them, “That was hard to do.” “So hard.” “You will always have a place in my heart.” And, “I hope your trip is a good one and that Madrid is standing there at the other end with open arms.”

Turns out, it is.

It is R. — a friend of a friend who takes me to the ex-pat bookstore, gives me a tour of his neighborhood and meets me the following day when I have a communication breakdown (and emotional meltdown) with Orange Mobil.

It is M. — another friend of a friend who meets me for a walk and pinchos (snacks) on the plaza in her neighborhood.

In Madrid, where new friends were waiting.
In Madrid, where new friends were waiting.

It is N., M. and E — women from my online writing group who live here, two Americans and a Brit, who offer to meet with me, as well as J. — the best friend of one of my Weight Watchers members who calls me several times and invites me to meet for lunch next Sunday.

It is the countless others who touch my life, if only for a moment, helping me to feel at home. My host, M., and flatmate, S., who builds the fan I purchase at Corte Ingles.

J., another customer at the Correos — Spanish Post Office — who helps translate for me. And the four women workers there who see me three days in a row, and who help me finally secure a box for letters — handwritten notes with lovely stamps as was suggested by the man who said “Hasta luego” at the airport — because, yes, we are just that romantic.

“Hasta luego” — see you later, but not “adios,” — goodbye. Mere nuance, the difference recently explained to me. A subtlety that allowed me to leave in spite of love and to remain available to open arms waiting— in Chicago, in Madrid — everywhere.

Waiting For This Moment, With No Idea What Comes Next

I am on the kitchen floor.  My back slides down the refrigerator and I collapse in a heap, sobbing.  I have been waiting for this moment.

Hiking in the Badlands.
Hiking in the Badlands. The difference of a few days.

A friend of mine often called from the kitchen floor when she was going through her divorce.  I thought somehow I had evaded this.  I was wrong.

I tell my friend Lisa this.  She is in Chicago.  I am in Seattle.  It is a year ago today.

I cannot put together simple thoughts.  I do not know what to put in the car.  I am leaving tomorrow.  My books are boxed and ready to be shipped when I have an address.  I have done nothing else.  Lisa tells me to wake Michael, my friend who has offered to help bring me home.

I lie down next to him in his bed, turning in on myself – into fetal position— and weep.  I want him to comfort me.  To wrap his arms around me.  He does not.  He tells me to put on a pot of coffee.  That we have work to do.

I have given away most of my clothing.  It is too big.  What remains I lie in a large Ziploc bag.  Michael attaches the vacuum hose to it and turns it on.  We are giddy watching my Calvin Klein dresses and still-too-large, but-I-wear-them-anyway,Old Navy jeans get shrink wrapped into clear, plastic pancakes.

He loads my belongings into the 12-year-old Civic, making good use of every available inch of space.  I just watch, as if this is “happening” to me.  I feel disconnected and numb.

Me and my cousin, Lois.
Me and my cousin, Lois.

When he is finished we climb the cement stairs outside of my house to the top of Queen Anne Hill.  My cousin Lois has invited us to come eat apples from her tree.  It is sunny and warm.  We sit in the backyard and talk while her dog, Tsipi chases the tennis ball Michael tosses to her.  He is the dog whisperer, much like my ex-husband, and she knows it.

Later, we meet Ernie and his dog, Cordelia – a tea-cup pinscher – at Molly Moon’s for ice cream.  One last cone – half honey-lavender, half salted caramel.  One last goodbye.

That night, I meet my ex in the bedroom that used to be ours.  That is his now and has been for a few months.  I forgot what a nice view it has.  And that the walls are still painfully bare.  I look at the duvet cover from Ikea.  I don’t remember when we bought it, just that we did – together.  There is cat fur on it.  Like there always is.

I say goodbye.  I don’t remember the words.  Only that I ask for his blessing for a relationship I’m not yet having, but hoping for, with a man we both know.  A man I have grown close to in the months since he asked me for a divorce.  “If that is what you want,” he says, referring to this man.

Michael is watching television on the couch.  I sit next to him and link my arm in his.  I rest my head on his shoulder.  There is a slow-motion battle scene on the screen.  Native Americans in traditional dress and men in cowboy hats.  It is another time.  Music.  An arrow goes through someone’s chest and he falls, slowly, slowly, slowly into the water.  It is dreamy and surreal.  The show.  This moment.  I still feel like I am watching all of it.

Tomorrow we will begin our journey home.

I don’t remember going to sleep.  Just waking up.  Meeting some friends one last time and taking photographs.  My friend J gives me a card, sharing his feelings for me.  I have suspected them.  He has kept me at arm’s length my entire year here.  It was “the right thing to do,” he says.

I stop at Macrina Bakery on the way home to pick up coffee and morning buns.  I mention I am going on the road and the barista gives me the drinks for free.  Michael is pulling together his things when I get home.  My ex is gone.

And in about an hour, I will be too.

I don’t yet know what lies ahead.  Just that I am going.  That I have chosen to go.

Making camp along the Missouri River.
Making camp along the Missouri River.

I don’t know that I will camp under a blue moon along the Missouri River.  Hike in the Badlands.  Or shoot a gun for the first time in my life.

I don’t know that I will bury my birth mom.  Fall head-over-heels in a crush that does just that.  That I will reclaim my rightful name as writer.

I don’t know that I will once again fill my house and my closet with someone else’s treasures.  That I will still be single one year later.  That my dream of becoming a Rabbi will fall away from me like molting feathers.

I’m not sure that I could comprehend any of it if I did know.  But I didn’t have to.

Over the years, my ex frequently said it would be my turn next.  One year later, I know that it surely is.