Thank You For Your Bad Behavior

Last Saturday I ran into R. at a party. We hadn’t seen one another in a while. And while she looked stunning at first glance, I intuitively knew something was wrong.

Her vibration was low. And she seemed less sparkly than usual.

She confessed she was in what I like to call a “come-here-go-away” relationship. She had become involved with someone who was not emotionally available.

I could only smile. Not for her pain. But because I know it so well.

For the past two months Mr. 700 Miles (Away from Chicago) and I had been doing the same thing. Until two weeks ago, when – without a word – he went away. No text. No phone call. No Facebook message. Nothing.

A part of me felt sideswiped.

We had just Skyped the night before, before bed, as had become our ritual – enjoying all that technology allowed us to enjoy about one another. We blew a kiss goodnight. He said he would call me the next day.

Intellectually, I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t.

With Jo, the night he walked away.  I told her he wouldn't call.  She told me to let it unfold.
With Jo, the night he walked away. I told her he wouldn’t call. She told me to just let it unfold.

And yet all that day and the next I felt twisty and anxious. Something inside of me knew otherwise.

I was right.

What I didn’t realize was we wouldn’t speak again.

I don’t exactly understand what happened. And yet, I do. Clearly, he couldn’t do it. And for whatever reason, he couldn’t tell me he couldn’t do it.

At first I felt sad. Confused. Then I got angry — chucking magazines across the apartment, their glossy pages smacking and fanning out on the hardwood floors, and shouting into the universe, “You F**king Pussy,” choking on my sobs.

I beat the bed with a red spatula – the one my friend Kristen brought me the day I moved into my apartment – whacking it until I was exhausted.

I wrote a letter in red marker – one I will never send. It wasn’t kind or generous or understanding. It didn’t speak of my gratitude for him in my life, or that my heart would always be open to his friendship – even though this too was true.

I didn’t write it to garner a response, or to guarantee he would remember me a certain way.   I wrote it so I didn’t have to hold the pain myself. So I didn’t have to pretend it didn’t hurt when it did.

It felt good. And hard. And when I was done, I wiped the Alice Cooper mascara rings from under my eyes and went to sit in a church basement with the people who taught me I didn’t ever have to drink again – not even during times like this.

I miss him. Our friendship. Our deep connection – emotional, spiritual, creative, sexual.

But I do not miss what I saw in my friend Saturday night. The twisting. The anxious. The uncertainty.

The holding on to what was, what could be, rather than what is. The hearing only what I want to hear – what fits my story.

The trying to wedge myself into a sexy stiletto of a relationship – the one that gives me blisters.

Dressed up for the party...no date necessary.
Dressed up for the party…no date necessary.

And as R. told her story, I felt gratitude. Gratitude for his “bad behavior.” In walking away without a word, he made the choice for me. A choice I had made a month prior, in a moment of strength and clarity, when I told him I couldn’t do this. That I needed more. A choice I ultimately could not stick to it.

It all reminds me of when my girlfriend A. divorced me a couple of years back. When she told me I was “too much.”

“I am sorry you feel that way,” I said, rather than, “You are right. Please show me how to be strong like you” – which was, at the time, more my style.

At that moment our karmic contract was broken. We were done.

It has been more than four years since we had that conversation at her home in Long Beach. Over the years I have reached out just a handful of times. She never responded. And then I stopped trying.

I thought being told I was “too much,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And in the process, I learned that I wasn’t either.

I thought “being left without a word – abandoned,” was the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t. And I learned that I wasn’t either. That that is an old adoptee fear. Old language. He simply chose a different path. And he chose not to tell me about it. It was never about me.

Perhaps that was our karmic contract. Or at least part of it.

R. left the party early. Perhaps to see her Mr. Come-Here-Go-Away. Perhaps to twist and perseverate.  I’m not certain.

But I stayed. I ate cake and talked with friends about the book proposal I am working on, the contract work I recently secured, and about dancing a master class with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.   Anything but him. But us.

And on the way home, I thanked Mr. 700 Miles – for many, many things – among them, his “bad behavior.”

Artist Date 38: Creating Community…It’s Not About the Shoes

I don’t know if I filled my creative coffers this week.  By my spiritual and social ones are brimming over.  And that will have to do this week for Artist Date 38.

Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.
Overlooking Lake Michigan, at Dawes Park.

Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. 5774.  I’m at Dawes Park in Evanston for the ritual of tashlich – where we empty bread from our pockets into a body of moving water.  Some think of it as casting away one’s sins.  I prefer a gentler interpretation.  That I am simply cleaning out the residue of the last year.  Whatever is stale.  Has been sitting around in the corners of my consciousness slowly growing a somewhat furry mold.

I’ve stuffed a package of naan bread in my bag.  It’s been in my freezer since November.  A friend brought it to a party I had, to go with the curried lentil soup I was making.  I’m not much of a bread eater, so I tucked it away for just such an occasion.

Another woman has matzo.  I could have brought that two.  I buy too much every year.

It is my third High Holiday season with the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, so I know where we meet.  But this year is different.  I not only know the place, but I know many of the people here too.

My friend Phil is here with his family.  He introduced me to this congregation – specifically the Rabbi — a number of years ago, when I was feeling particularly wayward and spiritually lost.

Since that time I have developed a close relationship with Rabbi Brant and Cantor Howard.   They are tuning up for this short, mostly musical, service that precedes the tossing of the bread.  Jeff is tuning up as well.  We met a couple of years ago at a Shabbat morning service I attended just once.

He seemed to sense I was new and somewhat hesitant, and warmly welcomed me in.  I have had several encounters with him since them.  Perhaps my favorite being when he sidled up to me during last year’s High Holiday services.

He said he read my blog postings from Rwanda and that he liked my writing.  I thanked him and told him I used to write professionally.  “It shows,” he said.  And was gone.

Moments before I had silently cried out to G-d, asking what the plan is, what it is I was meant to do.  I recall looking up toward the heavens, smiling and saying, “got it.”

Mary Jo is here.  Brant introduced us several years ago when I completed my conversion to Judaism.  She joined him and Howard as my witnesses, and was there in that same role when I received my get, my Jewish divorce.

I am now on her permanent invite list for Passover, and the breaking of the fast on Yom Kippur.

I feel a tap on my shoulder.  It is Rachel.  She is a Weight Watchers member I know.

Monica is here with her family.  We met at Shabbat services at the lakefront a couple of years ago.  Michael is here too.  He blows the shofar every year at High Holiday services.  He introduces me to his daughters who are following in the family tradition.

I see Hannah.  She used to wear her head shaved like mine but now she has a mass of ringlets.  She tells me that she’s bought a condo and that she broke up with her boyfriend.  She introduces me to her friend Kelly and we agree we must get together.

A woman I have never met before approaches me.  Her name is Sheila.  She likes my shoes and takes a photograph of them.

Yes, they are “the shoes.”  The shoes that have seemingly come to identify me.  My orange Fly London peep-toe wedges.

The shoes...
The shoes…

The first summer I owned them, people literally chased me down Michigan Avenue to find out what they were and where I got them.  It was fun, talking with all sorts of people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.  And today is no exception.

Walking to the water, a tall woman with a mess of dark curls puts her foot next to mine.  “Nice shoes,” she says.  She is wearing the same ones in pewter.

She tells me she is tossing out the year of rehabbing her broken wrist.  It is healed.  I do not tell her what I am tossing.  Instead, I tell her I like our shoes so much that I have two pairs.  That the second I bought before my divorce was final, when my then-husband kindly said, “Do what you need to before we separate our monies.”

I bought a new lightweight massage table, a Torah commentary, and the peep-toe wedges in mustard.  We laugh at my choices.

I wish her a sweet New Year and peel off to throw my bread, my karmic residue.  There are so many things I could get rid of.  The litany that I repeat every year – self-doubt, unkindness, judgment of myself and others.  I recall that last year I tossed away my identity as a wife.

It was a Monday.  I knew divorce papers were signed on Mondays in the county where we filed.  I had a sinking feeling at that moment that I was officially divorced.  A call to my mediator later in the day confirmed it.

Today I am casting away what my friend Lisa likes to call “an old idea.”  I am embarrassed to admit that I have continued to hold on to it.  Actually, I’m not sure I was consciously aware that I had it, but a series of recent events has cast a glaring light upon it and I can no longer turn away.

I point myself east, tear off a piece of naan and whisper to myself, “I let go of the idea that I am only desirable for sex.”

It is windy and the naan flies back at me.  I turn west off of the dock where the waters are still.  I repeat the words.

I’ve got a lot of naan so I say it a couple of more times, ripping and tossing.  Ripping and tossing.

When I am done, I am approached by a woman.  She asks me about the shoes.  She is radiant and I tell her so.  She tells me about her job search.  Her cancer.

I suddenly remember that people used to tell me things about themselves all of the time.  Friends and family, and random, almost strangers too.  Cab drivers especially.  I realize people are talking to me in this way again.

It’s not the shoes.  Because I wore the same ones last year…I am different.  My heart has healed just enough to let some of my light shine out.  I am open and there is room for others.  They sense it and come in.

Pulling Myself Out Of The Pity Pot, “Just Like Starting Over”

double fantasyI’ve been sitting in the pity pot for a couple of days now.  Actually, I‘ve been stewing in it – my attention laser focused on what I don’t have, what isn’t working, and most of all, the ways in which I have not changed or grown.

It’s terrifying.  Mostly because I lived my life this way all the time, once upon a time.  It was only in “so-sad-rescue-me-from-myself-because-I-don’t-know-how-to” mode that I dared to believe I might get what I thought I needed.

Things changed.  I changed.  I’m not sure how – if it was learning to meditate, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a spiritual-business class.  Making gratitude lists, losing weight, or getting sober.  Just getting older.  Or perhaps a little bit of all of it – but I did.  And today, as a rule, people tend to see me (and I see myself) as pretty sunny, light.  A light – full of gratitude, a big believer in G-d, the universe, and possibilities.

So it’s scary returning to that once familiar place of darkness, hopelessness, and self-pity.  A not-so-fun house of circular thinking.  Even if it’s brief.  I know it’s not reasonable to think I will never take a sojourn here.  And yet, it surprises me every time.

I forget that the way out is gratitude.  Not just once, but continuous and sustained.  Ever growing.

My nightly gratitude list, the one I exchange with a friend, the one I’ve been writing for double-digit years, isn’t enough right now.  I had to pull out the big guns.

Last night I wrote on Facebook, “The universe is conspiring with me.  At least in work.  I need to say this out loud because it is true, as opposed to the lies my brain likes to tell me.”

I immediately felt better.  Very quickly, I heard the Pavlovian “ping” of my cell phone, alerting me of Facebook activity.  Thumbs up, sunny responses, connection – like attracting like.

This morning I woke to a message from a friend that didn’t sit right with me.  Intellectually, I knew what he was asking of me was perfectly reasonable.  That it had nothing to do with me.  Nonetheless, I found myself wondering if I had done something wrong, along with the dreaded thought  – “Are we ok?”

It was quickly displaced with, “Think about all of the love in your life.”

It was reflexive.

I thought about my friend Jonathan calling me “brilliant,” reposting my Facebook status, because “it is so appropriate.”  About Amanda doing the same, writing, “(it is) My new mantra.”

I thought about the 30 people at the table jumping up and down to be with me, instead of the one who didn’t show – a lesson my friend Lisa tried to drill into my head for years.

It appeared I was no longer in the pity pot, ladling my fears over me – the old “I’m-not-loveable-I’m-doing-it-wrong-I’m-broken-God-is-fucking-with-me” refrain.  I am certain this is a direct result of my speaking my gratitude – again, again and again.  In larger and larger circles.  How else could I have broken the cycle?  I certainly wasn’t going to think my way out of it.

I thought about my drive home to Chicago, from Detroit, a few summers ago – right after my best girlfriend’s father died.  On the way in, I noticed my car sounded really loud.  Her husband took it to the shop for me.  The muffler had a hole in it, but his mechanic couldn’t fix it right then.  So I drove home “as is.”

Julie and I in happier times.
Julie and I in happier times.

My 4-cylinder Honda Civic is great on gas.  Great for parking.  But a powerhouse on the road, it is not.  And with the muffler shot, I had less power than usual.

Around Kalamazoo I found myself wedged into a single-lane gauntlet, construction barriers on either side.  As a rule, I do not like narrow spaces, but here I was – with an aggressive Michigan driver on my ass, with nowhere to go but forward.

I was terrified.  And then I wasn’t.  Something kicked in.  I began reciting a gratitude list out loud.  Quickly.  Without breath or punctuation.  Everything and anything that came to mind.

“I am grateful for this car.  For Julie.  For my flexible schedule that allows me to take trips like this.  I am grateful for the sun.  That I live close enough to drive to Detroit there easily.  For the CD in the car.  For John Lennon.  I am grateful for John Lennon singing to me, “It’s been too long since we took the time, no-one’s to blame, I know time flies so quickly.”  That shaky, kind of rockabilly quality to his voice.

And then the lanes opened up.  I glided over to the right and watched the aggressor behind me whisk by.  I was safe.  It was over.

It was been said that fear and faith cannot exist at the same time.  I don’t know.  I don’t know if I had faith in that moment that I was ok.  But I could name what was ok.  Just like I did last night.  And again this morning.  I stepped out of the pity pot and wrapped a plush, oversized Ralph Lauren towel of gratitude – of ok-ness, of ok-enough-ness – around me.  And I was ok.  Perhaps, even more than. It was “Just Like Starting Over.”