My intuition has always been good. I feel things before they happen … usually things I’d rather not know. A sense of dread deep in my core, based on what seem like barely perceptible shifts.
The text that comes an hour later than usual. My every-Monday-at-the-same-time phone call dropping straight into voicemail. The date that doesn’t end with, “When can I see you again?”
People will tell me I’m crazy, that I am overreacting or taking things personally … but I am rarely wrong. These feelings have served me, serving as an alert of what more was to come.
However, sometimes the sensation is more subtle – less dread, more “knowing,” a body memory – like today, skimming Facebook while waiting for an early morning train to Evanston.
On This Day …
“My husband and I met in the Marina District of San Francisco nearly 15 years ago. Ten days ago, in that same place, he asked that we end our marriage. I don’t believe in mistakes. I believe in a grand design of a master quilter. I believe in love. And I believe in friendship. Please hold us both in your hearts.”
That was six years ago. My brain knew the post would reveal itself sometime soon, but my body knew the exact day.
It still hurts … the reminder of the disappointment of a failed marriage, the ending of a partnership that was better than many but not good enough for either us, the sense of rejection. The pain has changed over the years – from chronic and dull to acute and fleeting – these days it feels more like a bee sting than a broken bone.
I know I can change the settings on Facebook so I won’t see it … but the truth is, I don’t want to forget it. I’m not interested in only remembering “the good stuff.”
So I find myself on the platform scrolling through the 81 comments with tears rolling down my cheeks … and in this pain I find that there is “good stuff” right there. Prayers, hugs, love and light. The reminder that I am strong,
A poem from Rabbi Rami Shapiro – “An Unending Love” — sent from my friend, a rabbi in Cleveland. Rainer Maria Rilke’s words, “Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always” – sent from an old boss now living in Sydney, Australia.
April 9 marks the end of what I have come to call my spring season of grieving; it begins in mid-March and ends On This Day. It includes my husband asking for a divorce, plus two crushing romantic endings and a rejection letter from Yale University’s School of Divinity in the years that followed.
But what I didn’t realize until this morning is that my “spring season of grieving” also included the purchase of a one-way ticket to Madrid, signaling the beginning of my year of living and working abroad, the fulfillment of a childhood dream.
On This Day (2015).
“Holy Crap! I leave in 109 days. Thank the Goddess for Award Travel – one way cost me $145. (And I feel like I might throw up.)”
And the next, April 10, 2015? On That Day my first, real post-divorce relationship began. I don’t even need Facebook to remind me. It ended a long time ago, but I still remember it … both in my brain and in my body.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
It is one of the many reasons I prefer bookstores to the ease of Amazon. That and the sense of possibility. Of community. Staff picks. Book Club reads. All laid out on tables, ripe for reading. A smorgasbord of words.
Land of Enchantment by Leigh Stein. Grunt by Mary Roach. M Train by Patti Smith.
I pick up each one and tuck it under my arm, carrying a small stack with me through Women and Children First Bookstore. Artist Date 6.2 (122).
Because I know of Leigh but I do not know her. Because we belong to the same women’s writing collective, but we have never met.
Because I heard Terri Gross’ interview with Roach on Fresh Air while I was living in Madrid. Their English sounded so good to my American ear and home didn’t seem so far away.
Because just this afternoon, my friend Spencer suggested Smith’s book to me.
I feel connected to these stories. Like I want to hold on to them.
Others I don’t.
Spinster: Making A Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Lang.
Because I fear there is no room in this conversation for my voice — my manuscript, They Don’t Eat Alone in Spain: How 52 Artist Dates Healed My Heart and Landed Me in the Center of My Own Life. Traveling alone. Living abroad. Writing a book. Because I fear I have nothing new to add. Because I believe publication might finally allow me to be “done” with my divorce.
Crazy Time by Abigail Trafford.
Because it takes me back to a time before Artist Dates. Before traveling alone and living overseas and writing a book. When I was just embarking upon my divorce.
I am still living in Seattle, still sharing a home with my soon-to-be ex-husband – but sleeping in separate bedrooms.
I am head-over-heels-over-head for my friend M in Chicago. He is also going through a divorce and we prop one another up through our disbelief and fear, talking on the phone each night into the wee hours of the morning.
I am also a wee bit obsessed with my friend (another) M in Seattle. He is the first man to see me naked – other than my husband or my doctor – in 15 years. We kiss endlessly, stopping only to share our stories — whispering under a blanket that smells faintly of dog.
But only once.
Since then we seem to be dancing a familiar “come-here-go-away” cha-cha. I know the tune, but still haven’t mastered the steps.
My therapist Saundra tells me about Crazy Time.
“Because it is a crazy time,” she says, speaking from both personal and professional experience. She says to tell Chicago M I have to go to sleep. She rolls her eyes at the mention of Seattle M.
“You told me I get to make mistakes.”
“You made yours,” she says.
We look at one another, a little bit shocked by her frankness and laugh.
“You don’t get to say that.”
“I know,” she says. “But it’s true.” And it is.
Saundra believes it is preferable I grieve the end of my marriage before jumping into another relationship. She says if I don’t, I’ll only run from the pain of it – from bed to bed, relationship to relationship – rather than addressing the source and healing.
It doesn’t sound so bad, really.
And yet, it is not my path.
I pull Crazy Time from the shelf and begin thumbing through it – only half reading.
“It starts when you separate and usually lasts about two years. It’s a time when your emotions take on a life of their own and you swing back and forth between wild euphoria and violent anger, ambivalence and deep depression, extreme timidity and rash actions. You are not yourself. Who are you?
“Then at the height of Crazy Time, you may get a reprieve. You fall in love – a coup de foudre – and the block of lead in your chest miraculously melts; you can’t believe it, you laugh, you dance. You know it’s too soon, too much like jumping into a lifeboat that you know leaks and has no oars. But you smile, feeling so good after feeling so bad for so long. Therapists call this the search for the romantic solution. But it’s usually not a solution.
“You crash… Now you’re really scared. You can’t believe how frightened you are; about money, your health, your sanity. In all the feel-good rhetoric about divorce being a growth opportunity for the new super you, nobody tells you about Crazy Time.”
Four years have passed since my divorce was made final by the courts.
Since then, my ex-husband has bought a home that he shares with the woman he’s been seeing for a couple of years. Chicago M is about to become a daddy. And according to Facebook, Seattle M — the one with the dog blanket — is “In a Relationship.”
I pick up Smith’s M Train and take it to the register, first slipping the other books back into their proper places on the shelves.
Still traveling alone. Still writing. Sometimes still in Crazy Time.
There are four cars in the synagogue parking lot in Evanston – mine being one of them.
I do not want to be here. And I especially do not want to be here alone.
I asked Pam to join me. Clover. Michael. Matt. All were unavailable. And then I stopped calling. I didn’t want just anyone to join me. So I am here, alone, on the one-year anniversary (according to the Hebrew calendar) of my birth mother’s death.
The synagogue sent a letter reminding me of the date, 28 Iyyar, along with the words – in both English and Hebrew – to Kaddish, the prayer that accompanies the lighting of a yahrzeit candle, honoring the deceased.
Her name will be read in synagogue, and I feel l should be here to hear it. I think she would like that – even though she wasn’t Jewish.
I sit in the car a few minutes longer, re-reading flirtatious text messages my friend, Mr. Fashion, sent just before I left the house – trying to distract myself from my uncomfortable feelings about being here. It only half works.
Eventually, I walk in and am greeted by both the rabbi and the cantor. Each is a touchstone in my life. And yet seeing them today does not shift my feelings.
Twenty or so congregants are here for the Friday night service, but I sit alone. It is my choice. I feel awkward and angst-y. I keep my eyes cast down. I barely sing. I wonder how it is that I once thought I might be a rabbi. It seems unfathomable to me now, as it is all that I can do just to be here. And I again wonder why it is that I am here.
Until the last moments of the service, when I am reminded.
I am standing with my congregation saying Kaddish, the memorial prayer for the dead. The prayer praising God. The same prayer I read at home a few days ago when I lit a yahrzeit candle.
The rabbi reads the names of those in the congregation who have passed in the past week, and of those who passed this week in years past.
“Pharen Johnson, mother of Lesley Pearl.” My rabbi’s voice catches a little – I think.
And without warning, my eyes are heavy and wet. My nose flares – hot. I feel a thud in my core, and then its energy rolling out in waves to my hands and feet. I am riding the currents. My heart is a surfboard. My belly flip-flops and then, more heat.
The feeling is not unfamiliar. I occasionally experience it when I meditate. But I do not expect it here, now.
And suddenly I know why I am here.
I understand why we are called to go to synagogue in the days after death, and on the anniversary of it. Why it is not enough to light a candle and say a few words in my kitchen – alone.
The synagogue gives me the space to grieve. The service, to consider it — which I have not done.
I mentioned this to Pam the other day, on the actual anniversary of Pharen’s death.
I tell her that after I lit the yahrzeit candle and said Kaddish – alone – I noticed my desire to call Mr. 700 Miles, the “man” who slipped out of my life without a word a little over two months ago.
I remember him telling me he moved home to be with his mother when she was dying – 18 or so years ago. That he thought about her every day. That he wasn’t done learning the lessons she had to teach him. That she and I were kindred spirits.
I think I should call him, because he knows what this is like. Even more so. But so do many of my other friends.
I do not call him. Or them, either.
Pam responds with a gentle, loving “duh,” and suggests that perhaps I nudged out my grief with incongruent affections for the Southern Svengali – another man who swept me off my feet. This time in Charleston, where my birth mother lived. While she was dying.
I consider this. That it might be true.
I couldn’t grieve. I didn’t have the space, the energy or the capacity for it.
I hadn’t even grieved the end of my marriage. Or the life I knew for 15 years that I had driven away from in a 14-year-old Honda Civic just a few months prior. And I continued not to grieve it until only recently – slotting in affections with woefully unavailable men instead.
I consider that I didn’t believe I was allowed to grieve.
Finding my biological mother and father, and having relationships with them, was at times painful and disruptive to my family. Over the years I have tried to minimize that pain by minimizing how much I talk about them. About those relationships.
And so, I did not much talk about my feelings with my family — or with anyone else — when my birth mom died. I talked about the Southern Svengali, and later Mr. 700 Miles, instead.
A year later, these distractions have long since lost their efficacy.
I cannot thread my sadness through another man. I need to be with it. And perhaps, for the first time ever, I do not want to run from it.
Tonight I have a space and a ritual to honor this loss. By myself, and in community, all at once.
And I understand why I am here.
I text Mr. Fashion when I get home, like I promised I would. He asks if I would like to get together. I decline. I have no desire to distract myself from these feelings.
I ask him for a rain check, which he graciously offers – along with the promise that he will hold me to it, and some other things that I will keep just for myself.
My friend Rachel met Philip Roth when she was a university student.
I was wildly envious. He was my literary idol, inspiring a poem I titled, “Philip Roth Will Save My Life.”
She told me I shouldn’t be.
She said he was coarse, almost mean. Not at all who she imagined him to be. She had been seduced by his words.
Me too. As well as Erica Jong’s, Charles Bukowski’s Anais Nin’s and a long list of other’s.
Most recently, I’ve been seduced by the words of strangers – men looking for love, or something like it, on OKCupid.
Clever words couched in a seemingly shared commonality, ending abruptly when moved from screen to voice.
I should not be entirely surprised.
I’d learned about the chasm between the written word and reality, online and real-time, this past fall when a friend, a man 12 years my junior, told me in no uncertain terms exactly what he would like to do to me. Exactly. And while he made good on his promises a few days later, the flirty simpatico we shared on screen was lost in real life. All hands. No heart.
I was reminded of this truth once again on Friday – my first, OKCupid coffee date.
We made plans a few weeks out due to Passover and my schedule. During that time we exchanged several messages, but we never spoke on the phone.
I told him how to make fried matzoh, and made him promise to cover it with real maple syrup. He told me about a cartoon character his kids like who carries a flask of the stuff.
While I wasn’t convinced this was a romantic connection, he seemed like someone I would want to know.
In person our conversation was clunky, awkward – made worse by bad acoustics and me having to lean in and ask “what?” constantly.
We didn’t talk about his children’s adoption. Or mine. Or even about maple syrup, cartoons or writing – which we both do. We talked about our divorces (Hmm…) and our experiences on OKCupid. (Mine being rather limited.)
I didn’t go into the date with expectations greater than a cup of Intelligentsia, decaf –as it was after 3. And yet, I felt sad.
I suppose there is always some level of hope – What if? Perhaps? Otherwise we would never meet strangers over coffee in the first place.
I miss my ex-husband.
He was solid. I could trust him. He showed up. Period. Even if it wasn’t always in the way I might hope.
I am also clear about what didn’t work. Why we divorced.
Two years after separating, I feel like I am finally grieving.
I miss Mr. 700 Miles — my most recent romance — too. Even though, I couldn’t trust him. He wasn’t solid. He couldn’t show up. I miss the connection that cut straight through the internet, through phone calls, texts and video chats. The feeling that I could talk to him all night and into tomorrow and we’d never run out of things to say, or ways to delight one another.
I am grieving him too. Or perhaps the idea of him. The idea of us.
I get into my car and head north toward Wicker Park, where I will meet my friends in a church basement. Later we will have dinner at the Birchwood, where I will eat a green salad with warm lentils, squash and bacon and drink hot water with lemon. I couldn’t be happier.
My mind wanders, thinking about the rest of the weekend.
Dinner with my girlfriends on Saturday night.
A Sunday morning dance class and performance. And later in the afternoon a salon hosted by my friend Megan – my Artist Date of the week –where her friend Peggy will read from her just-published collection of essays. In between, I will work on editing my friend Martha’s new novel.
I feel excited about my days. About my life. And grateful for it. Grateful for its juicy-ness, with or without a partner.
I am not certain this is true for all people – looking for love or otherwise. I feel lucky.
And a little wiser now too.
I know what I read, on the page or on the screen is only part of the story. I need to listen, to hear it too.
What is being said. And not said.
The sound of gentleness. Laughter. Banter. Ease.
And my heart – beating just a little more quickly.
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.
What do you call an anniversary that is no longer?
Was-a-versary? Once-upon-a-time-a-versary? Just plain shitty?
Are there traditional gifts for it like for a wedding anniversary? Paper for the first year?
Yes, of course. Divorce papers.
And cotton for the second? According to the wedding website, The Nest, cotton represents durability and the ability to adapt.
Yes. This is so. Even on days when I feel really fragile.
I don’t remember this day last year. The first. Perhaps it was just too painful and my brain protected me, blocking it out. Like it does, I am told, with the pain of childbirth – this “amnesia” being necessary for the perpetuation of the species.
The amnesia has cleared. And this year I am more than present for the pain.
It hit me out of nowhere, or so it seemed – arriving Wednesday and continuing to linger like a low-grade cold that lasts all winter long.
I arrived home from my cousin’s wedding, the second in less than 30 days, and was riding my bike when I felt a rush of energy shoot through my body. It centered in my heart and moved out to my extremities. Coursing, over and again. Sharp heat.
I pedaled as hard as I could – trying to force flush this poison from my system. It didn’t budge.
My eyes welled up behind my oversized Old Navy sunglasses. My nose flared and felt hot. But I couldn’t quite squeak out a cry.
I needed more than a cry. I needed a wail.
This is the feeling I used to drink over.
I should have seen it coming. The weddings. The short-lived sex with a boy 12 years my junior. It was great fun, but as so often has been the case in my history, over practically before it began. Over before I was done.
He told me up front he was in no place for a relationship. But “a little sex won’t kill me,” he said. Funny, I told him it might kill me. I knew that somehow my heart would hurt, but I couldn’t help myself.
And then I cut a cord that tethered my ex and I together. I told him I could not be his best friend.
Our divorce was about as amicable as they get. We lived together through it all. Used a mediator. Never went to court. The whole thing was done in less than six months.
The night before I left Seattle we sat on his bed waxing nostalgic – remembering him calling me and asking me out for the first time, and me asking “Why?”
He said I was pretty and I had cool shoes. And then he looked in my eyes and told me I was still pretty. That I still had cool shoes. The next morning, I was gone before he woke.
We were close for a while. And then we weren’t. I began to heal. I leaned into the people about me. Into my art, my writing, my dance. He noticed the change in me. In the dwindling frequency of our conversations and commented on it.
“I guess you need space,” he remarked. I did. But I was so afraid of losing him in my life that I asked for it in a wishy-washy sort of way. Backpedaling often.
When he said it again, a week or so ago, I replied in the affirmative. This time with a little more backbone, adding, “I cannot be your best friend.” He immediately, expectedly, retreated.
On Wednesday, home from my travels, and the whirlwind that has been my life for the past few weeks, I felt the culmination of the days and of my experiences. Grief. Sadness. It crashed over me like a wave, and all I could do was feel the incredible force of it.
It reminded me of body surfing in Punta Mita with my ex – the Pacific Ocean as warm as bath water. I got caught by a rip tide and was thrust down into the sand beneath me, head first. Terrifying. I began to flail, unsure which way was up. Until I remembered what I had been taught.
Don’t fight. Stay still. That my body would naturally float to the surface. And it did.
I never told my ex, or anyone else, about the experience. Until now.
I’ve been back in the ocean many times since then. The experience remains with me. A shadow. A teaching. A reminder, like all of my experiences – especially the most recent ones –I am durable. Adaptable. Like cotton.
Have you ever held onto a crush because it made you feel like you had something going on? Even though you had nothing going on? With him or her or anyone else?
Even though you haven’t spoken a word or had contact in quite some time? Even though he knows he could have you if he just said the word…but doesn’t?
Have you ever latched on to a few kind words from an ex? Allowed a simple sentence to set your mind reeling with possibilities? Wondering what he is up to now? Even though you haven’t seen one another in more than a decade. And you aren’t even sure if he’s married or not? Have you ever wanted to inquire with a mutual friend of his relationship status but decided against it only because you didn’t want to appear tacky?
Have you ever rifled through old journals looking for entries about your time with the above-mentioned ex because you are certain you wrote about it? And when you found those few pages read them over and over again until the images were seared onto your retinas?
Have you ever lingered over every detail about a romance that happened nearly 20 years ago? The one where you were 25 and he was 40 and you asked him, “What is 40 like?” Where he made sure you didn’t die or kill yourself in a drunken frenzy – your first time overseas? And then sang to you in the airport when you said goodbye, lamented over the things he didn’t do with you, knowing you would never see one another again.
Do you tell it with such vivid color all these years later that your girlfriend insists you to write about it? But you don’t.
Have you ever felt closer to your crush after spending time with his friend? And felt guilty about it even though you didn’t do anything wrong?
Have you ever slipped his name into conversation just to keep it alive? To keep him alive?
Do you ever wonder about the ones you call unfinished business?
Your first real love. The first one you got naked with?
The one with good boundaries, who kept you at arm’s length because he was your professor and you were his student. But sometimes you wonder if maybe…just maybe, it could have been different.
The one who slipped his hand down the back of your pants and guided you down the street by your crotch. Made you praise God for dirty minds and dirty hands.
The one who wanted a partner when you wanted a parent. You couldn’t see it then but you can now. And sometimes you wonder what it would have been like if you met later?
Have you ever looked up your ex’s current on Facebook and wondered if you were thinner? Prettier? Better in bed?
Have you ever waxed nostalgic over others and wondered what the hell you were thinking?
Do you sometimes forget that you are making a choice every day? Not to settle. Not to post a dating profile online. But to grieve. To get your own house in order. To trust in magic and serendipity and the divine rhythms of the universe.
Do you sometimes forget that you actually have said, “no”? Not because the suitor wasn’t perfectly lovely, but because you didn’t have romantic feelings. Because you wanted to honor the feelings you did have, wanted to honor yourself and honor him. Because you remember what it is like to say “yes” when you really mean “no.”
Do you congratulate yourself when you remember?
And yet, choice or no choice, do you sometimes feel that strange sense of empty space – like a wall waiting for art? You know nature abhors a vacuum because your friend Teresa told you so and she’s rarely wrong. So you wonder when nature will come charging in.
Do you sometimes wonder if the universe remembers exactly how long it has been since you have had sex? Does it sometimes make you cringe? And other times fill you with a sense of esteem for discernment you had never previously known?
Do you sometimes know that God has done you favor because you otherwise might have stayed somewhere you shouldn’t have. Or gone somewhere you didn’t need to be?
Do you sometimes still have a little bit of crazy that tells you that you are better, worthier, more interesting and more attractive if you have a partner?
Do you sometimes look at someone new and think “maybe,” and know in the past you would have forced that “maybe” into a “yes?” Made it fit, damn it. Made him fit. Like Cinderella’s shoe on a stepsister’s foot? But for now you just say “maybe.”