phoenix

April 24 was the day I left my marriage. April 22 was the day I told my husband I would leave him, but I stayed to pack a bag and attend one final counseling session to hash out the nuts and bolts of a separation. That’s what I called it a separation. Not because I thought I might ever come back, but to soften the blow a little, to ease him into it. As an intended kindness, I suppose, though maybe it would have been better to let the wave hit all at once.

April 24 was the last day of the most painful period of my life thus far, and the first day of my scrabble back to myself. It’s the day I remembered what it felt like to be my own person, and nearly the day I started to forget again. Within a few months of leaving, I tried to tangle myself up inside another person, began changing my plans to give them what they need, making the same concessions that had caused me so much grief in my marriage. I decided to give myself a year to be single before I entered into another relationship; a year on my own. And so I marked a year in my calendar. On April 24, 2013, I’d be ready to be with someone again: Game on.

It was arbitrary, sure, and it didn’t exactly work out that way. To be honest, the anniversary might have passed me by as nothing more than a bad patch, if not for the note in my calendar. I might have thought that the bouts of anxiety, mysterious tears, and sadness had to do with the changing seasons, or the travel I’d been doing, or were just a part of me. I might have forgotten about this final milestone, forgotten that I was — am — marking the anniversary of my “before” life going up in flames.

But I’d left myself a reminder, and it’s clear that the symptoms will linger beyond a day. Because it wasn’t just the walking out on April 24; I’d been on fire for a solid month before I admitted that I couldn’t stand any longer and pretend everything was fine. I watched everything turn to ash around me, watched the person I thought I was go white hot around the edges and lose her features.

My body stores memories just as much as my psyche; I feel the tension I carried in my shoulders and across my back. I feel the pressing on my chest, recognize the shallow breathing. I need more sleep, I crave more food, my hands and feet refuse to stay warm. I brace myself to fight at the slightest whisper of confrontation. My muscles remember the motions required to keep my spirit alive.

My body remembers the fire.

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the new guy

My best friend gave me a new mantra this weekend. “Trust,” she said. Mostly I do. Mostly.

Not very long ago, I stumbled into a new relationship. I was still figuring out the dating thing, finally having fun with it instead of constant stress and anxiety. I was learning how to show up without any expectations and how not to be devastated by someone I’d known only a few weeks. Honestly, I was kind of looking forward to figuring out the process, to the excitement and butterflies and romance of being pursued. F-i-n-a-l-l-y.

woo meSo at ten on a full-moon Sunday night, I decided to have a beer with some boy who’d recommended an album of pretty songs and made me laugh over a text message. I thought I was in for a fun and interesting evening, but not much more. I arrived first. While I waited for the bartender to finish up his break the boy walked up behind me, and that was that. My switch flipped, and I knew. This is it for me, for a while.

And it’s been lovely, more than I could have guessed. More on that as I go, but I’ve never felt this quality and strength of connection paired with thoughtfulness and caring. The other time(s — it’s happened once for sure, and maybe twice, but the end of the second one scoured out my memories of the beginning so I can’t say for sure) this feeling has come tied up with ups and downs and drama. This is calm and comfortable and I feel so, so happy. And grateful. And lucky. And very, very infrequently, scared to tears because I’m so very open and exposed, and my poor heart has been through so much in the recent past.

But those moments are short and infrequent for now, and I’m trying. Trust.

As always, writing has gone to the wayside during the honeymoon period. I’ve often wondered why I don’t write when I’m happy, why I don’t record those moments in words. Images, yes, but not words; I think I’m afraid that putting those sensations into words will take away the magic. Make the living version less real, less valid. It’s not true, I’m probably  just too wrapped up in the experience of it to sit and write, but still. I’d like the words to come easier.

Because it would be nice, when I feel those flashes of anxiety over opening my heart again, when I realize just how much I have on the line, during those moments where I don’t trust, but need to: it would be nice to have a record of happiness to backs up that faith.

The only boy who could ever reach me (and all the rest of them)

He always was the kind of boy that Dusty Springfield ought to sing about; the son of a preacher man, gentle and sweet with a hint of wicked. I loved him in that aching, desperate way teenage girls do. I wrote poems, lived to hear him play guitar, clung to his image with wanton abandon. I kissed him in the backseat as our friends drove, held his hand as we ran through dirty festival grounds and tangled up together in stacks of straw. I fawned, and pined, and waited for him to fall in love with me.

He didn’t.

Somehow he never knew. Maybe that’s why we remained friends. Tangentially: the love that filled the room when we got together could suffocate you, but we didn’t get together that often, keeping up with each other through word of mouth, pictures on the internet, that special metaphysical gravity that you develop with the people you love when you’re young. Miles, states, coasts apart, we continued to orbit each other and the sun of a shared history. Then, something shifted. We aligned again.

Summertime, he came through my town for seven hours: ready, set, go. Lord, I’d missed him. Stealing kisses from me on the slide.

Winter found me on a bus headed toward Baltimore and familiar arms. Taking time to make time. Twirl me, I said before I came. Show me your city.

Teach me again is what I meant.

Teach me again how to dive into love like I did back then. Teach me how to offer the back of my hand for a kiss, how to rest my hand on your chest before we kiss. Take my face into your hands and send lessons firing like sparks up and down my spine. Climb up on the roof and give me the sunset, flirt with the people selling food on the street. Dance with me while we wait for dessert, because they played your song and because we can. Decide this will be our anniversary, and remind me every year. Be wild and tender and romantic, then hold on to me tight, I’m leaving in the morning. Remind me how it can be. I’m leaving in the morning.

He did.

He plays bass now, mostly; upright, an instrument you embrace and coax notes from. His hands are still graceful and wise. He writes in verse, even if we don’t call it poetry anymore. And he will forever, ever, ever reach me.

*****

When I was younger I fell in love hard, and frequently. I suppose I still do, to a certain extent. I love making eyes, flirting, first kisses and the moment right before when the world swims through closing eyes.

Now that those pleasures are available to me again, I’ve been taking advantage where I can. I wouldn’t have guessed, but the best new connections I’ve made have been old ones. I’m being taken apart and put back together by a small army of familiar small-town boys.

Most of them are new to me in one way or another, but the difference between old-new boys and the new-new ones is that I don’t have to be anything for the old ones. There are no expectations; they already know me as someone, so I don’t feel like I have to change to please them (which is something I do with new people). And surprise surprise, they want to be with me anyway.

And each one of them who remembers me who I was before I knew to hide her, and loves me anyway? Each one of them chips off a little bit of the plaster I used to cover over myself. Each one peels another onion layer, leaves me a little more vulnerable and a little more safe in that vulnerability. Each one heals me a little more.

He’d kiss & tell me everything is all right…

Back to the beginning

no risk no rewardPaul Madonna has got my number.

My divorce is final; I’m officially alone. (The statement is a touch more dramatic than the feeling.) Just before it went through, I opened myself  again, and in doing so discovered I wasn’t the right person for someone I really liked. Which is fair, but hurt, and does not inspire me to risk losing again. Risk fucking up. But you have to, if you want to live the way I want to live.

For a few days I steeped in sadness and self-pity. Then guilt, for feeling so sorry for myself about trivial things while there are children being slaughtered at their schools. Then I  started to come back around.

Tomorrow morning I get on a train. New Mexico will treat my wounds with her snow, hot springs, stars, and quiet. New York will stoke the fire in my belly, help me crave life again, and a quick trip to Baltimore to see a dear old friend will twirl me around. (One of my life’s great treasures is the collection of sweet reunions I’ve gathered over the years.) I am taking a notebook, and a Polaroid camera, and a heart to fill with hope. And also some wool longjohns to guard my weak California sensibilities.

(I disabled comments for now; it’s not that I don’t like the interaction – I do – but when I know who is reading and how they’re reading, I begin to write for my audience, and that’s was not my intention for this space.)

and that’s a year

One year ago today I logged in to Facebook and found a message from S, the first contact we’d had in ten years.

One year later, today, I haven’t talked with him in nearly a month, and it had been a month before that, and we are well on our way back out of each others’ lives. Like we always are. In and out, brief flashes of frenzy followed by years of nothing.

Honestly, I thought this time would be different. I think he did, too. But then I admitted that if I wanted to live I had to leave my marriage, and I became available, and that ruined the fantasy for him. Or something. In any case, that was the beginning of the end.

So today is the anniversary of one of two major heartbreaks I’ve undergone over the past year.  And I’m doing my best not to confuse those heartbreaks with the feelings I’ve been developing over the new guy who has come into my life, though after five fantastic, comfortable, familiar, and building dates, it seems like maybe that’s drawing to a close as well. Of course, I could be getting ahead of myself or conflating everything, but the memory of the two previous abandonments, S and my ex, have my reflexes primed for rejection and pain. Any and everything that I let myself feel is another step toward an inevitable ending, or so it seems.

Anyway, I hope I’m getting ahead of myself.

Thumper

So, that line in the sand. I came home from vacation to be effectively dumped by the friend I was steadfastly “not dating.” I was spending a whole lot of time with him, doing those things you do with people you date, but we. Were. Not. Dating.

It’s true, we were friends. Are friends. But any way you slice it, rejection sucks, and there I was fresh off a lovely vacation, kind of gnawing my arm off in anticipation of a reunion, ahem, and bam. He’d met a girl who he liked and who wanted what he wanted. (And which I, emphatically, did not want. Do not want.)

We’d been hanging out for about three months, which is the same amount of time I’d been with my ex when he tried to break up with me at the beginning of our relationship. To keep the story manageable, we’ll just say I didn’t let him leave me. I couldn’t handle the thought of being alone with the bitter taste of rejection in my mouth, so when none of my friends were around to help me pick up my pieces, I called him back and told him I was coming over.

In hindsight, well. Maybe not the best idea. But it’s done.

This time, when I was rejected after three months, I sucked it up and handled my shit. And by “handled my shit” I mean “went home alone and cried myself to sleep,” but hey. I’d been up for nearly twenty-two hours at that point most of them in a car or on an airplane, and I was feeling a little fragile. I woke up early the next morning and dragged myself out for a run before rounding up a friend to go to the farmer’s market.

I handled my shit. All by myself. I made peace with being alone for the foreseeable future.; I made lists, set plans, started making stuff and exercising again. I realized that I had no idea when or even if I’d fall in love again, and that was okay. It was no longer something I wanted, or needed.

The next week, which was last week, I met a boy.

I think maybe it might happen sooner than I thought, possibly.

the beginning

Let’s call him S, mostly because his name doesn’t start with S.

I was sixteen when we met. During the summer. We must have crossed paths two years prior, during the year we attended the same high school, but it would have been just that – walking past each other in a hallway. Certainly we didn’t know each other until he’d graduated, and I’d come into my own a little more.

Still, it was just after I started school that year that something stirred and I began announcing to my girlfriends that I thought my soul mate this time around was male (announcing this even as I was deeply in love with one of those friends, and trying to get into the pants of several, and oh oh do I feel silly typing all this out), and that we’d already come across one another. I didn’t think back on that much, until recently.

Anyway, summer. I’m sure we met through mutual friends. I don’t specifically remember our first contact, nor do I remember our first kiss (though I wrote a journal entry describing it with more than a little heat). My first major memory isn’t really of him at all, it’s of letters I wrote to him. Four days after that first kiss (again, I know this thanks to my journals), my aunt took me to Europe, and rather than documenting my travels in a journal, I wrote daily letters on ruled yellow paper and sent them off to him in thick packets. I bought all my envelopes in Italy; they were orange and if I folded my letters in half twice — lengthwise, then crosswise — they fit perfectly. I’d always intended to copy those letters down into a proper journal, and I tried several times, but I only finished last year, after I moved into the house I bought with (for) my ex. Just a few months before S showed up again.

(Lord, this is going to be a really long story if I keep up with these tangents.)

So, after knowing S for a very short time, I trusted him with all my memories of the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I trusted him blindly, and though it’s not the point, he lived up to it (except for one letter that succumbed to water damage when he slept outside with it and it rained). I spent three weeks in Europe with him tucked in my pocket, on the tip of my mind.

When I got home I found letters he had written to me on his own summer travels, letters with paragraphs I remembered exactly all this time. Sometime that summer I made copies of my letters to him; fifteen years later I finished copying them into my journal. And in between, life trucked along.

halfway there, we break for lunch

Or a snack. And maybe it’s not quite halfway. Whatever. Metaphorically we are dangling from the wall, and it’s time to introduce a new element.

Months ago, before the waves of sad came washing back up, before it was clear to me how much more pain I had to attend to, an old friend came back into my life. That’s such an easy way to put it, so simple and innocuous: an old friend. An old friend who happened to pop up after ten years of silence, just as my world was falling down. Just an old friend. Just like that. And oh, how that complicated things, but not in the way I expected. It never happens the way I expect.

I’m not quite sure where to start. This seems to be my second wave; mourning the loss of something I never actually had. It’s tricky. But the story? It’s romantic, and lovely, and heartbreaking, and still developing in its own strange little way. And if I want to move forward it’s something I have to get out.

climbing the wall (part 3)

It’s so easy to blame our parents. Yet, here I am…

Not really.

I have a hard time starting this discussion, every time, because I feel like I’m throwing someone under the bus. So let’s have someone else start. Take that quote from the last post, the final line: “You are a delight to be with, having taken in the first love of your parents and now being able to live it yourself.”

My parents have always loved me deep and fierce. This is absolutely true, and I have never doubted it. But there was a third party that complicated things: Mom’s Mental Illness (I’ll call her MMI). She’d appear suddenly, often when I was confiding in Mom. I would open myself up, and when I was most vulnerable she was suddenly there, blazingly disappointed at something I said. I never knew when she’d show up (and I didn’t know for a long time that she was different from Mom – none of us did). I only knew that many of the things I said made me bad,   unworthy of love.

For protection, I closed off, and I began trying to earn the love I wanted. If I did better, if I were the best, maybe I wouldn’t upset her anymore. I could make her love me. All I had to do was to find out exactly what she wanted me to be, and be that. Simple, right?

Perhaps, but certainly a losing battle. One I kept up for a damn long time: with my family, with my teachers, with my lovers. Changing yourself to suit your audience is a great way to get people to like you, for a while, but it’s not a great way to cultivate joy.

Going back to the article: “This child, then, had not learnt to know himself as he was, and know that he was loved as he was. He had not developed the kind of narcissism that allowed him to feel comfortable in his own skin, at ease with himself.”

If you haven’t been conditioned to trust, haven’t had that initial unconditional love,  you can’t rely on anyone for anything. And while my parents both loved me, and still do (and again, I love them with my whole heart), MMI threw a big fucking wrench in those works. I couldn’t count on her the way a child needs to count on her caretakers. She was unpredictable, and I learned to mold myself to her whims so I could avoid her rages and judgment. I learned that I wasn’t worthy of her affection or care.

I was such a serious child that we always joked that I was born twenty-six. It pleased me at the time. Older meant wiser and better; it meant I was improving and she’d love me soon. Now it makes me sad, to know I rushed through years trying to become worthy, and to know how I kept my guard up for so long that I don’t really know how to lower it.

Now? I will drop everything for the people I care about (and the occasional stranger), but it takes huge stakes for me to ask for help of any kind. Kindness from my friends embarrasses me, because I don’t feel like I have earned it. Love means having to become someone other than myself.

I’d like to be able to trust people, and trust myself to be with people. I’d like to let myself be vulnerable without feeling weak. I’d like to just be me, and know that somebody loves me for that and nothing more. But I gravitate toward people who make me prove it, who want something more than I am. It’s a sick little comfort zone, really; I know it’s unhealthy, but that pattern feels like home. I know it. People who just like me, who are sweet and kind and tender, they scare me. The second I let my guard down, the rage will come, I just know it.

Much better to change yourself up front than let your open heart get whalloped.

I want to write love letters to my girls right now, and a few of my boys, too. All the people who have come out of the woodwork and made me believe that I am so much more than I knew. All the people who have held out a hand to me, and helped me piece myself together.

J who is magic, who opened her arms, heart, and home to me without question or hesitation. Who opened a bottle of red as I arrived with my suitcase, and another when that ran out, and wished me goodnight as we drifted off to sleep on that first night on my own, making sure I knew I would never truly be on my own.

M who has known me longer than anyone and loved the best and worst of me. Who dropped everything to take my calls and gently but firmly assessed the unhappiness refused to admit. Who made me believe I was strong enough to do right by myself, who trusted me and helped me trust myself. Who pulled me deep into her fray and taught me how to have fun again.

C, who sees me inside and out.

A, whose independence and strength are more of an inspiration than she will likely ever know.

J (two) who breezed through town for seven short hours and took me straight back to neverland.

S, who was simply glad to have me back.

J (three) who makes me want to give back some of the tenderness I’ve been shown, and who kissed me with an open innocence that made me blush like when we were kids. Who is beautiful in the moonlight; who remembers.

M who is sweet and forward and doesn’t need to be anything more.

R who is brazen and forward and would love to be something more.

S and M and B and J (four) and J (five) and M (two) and R (two) and so many others. All this time I’ve loved them, but I never thought to notice that they loved me right back.