Spring loaded. I push away from anything that might hurt me eventually. Wrap up in myself and say it’s for the best. Try instead to salvage open wounds disguised as relationships. Tell myself I am not deserving of the goodness of being safe and loved.
But sometimes I learn to grow instead.
So I drive back to Andrew’s house and tell him about who I am. How I get scared and run away instead of facing it. How I always pick the biggest shift available instead of working on the small things. How I seem to always choose wrong when it’s flight, fight, or freeze. He follows up with me.
Surprised, I listen to him describe the kind of person I am. He unearths the flaws in my system with delicate precision, but lacking accusation. Does not leave me with instruction on how I can be different. Not even the hint that I should be. Instead, his voice is doused with a tenderness that says he understands it, it’s okay, he loves me.
“Everyone gets scared sometimes,” he says as he curls his fingers up in mine. I plant my trembling feet next to him and together we continue putting down roots. Interwoven.
Photo courtesy of Li Yang.
I tell Andrew it was a lonely day. Not the kind of loneliness that comes with not being around people, with your phone not ringing. The kind that sits down in your bones and reminds you that no one will notice if you don’t come home. The kind I’d managed to avoid for most of my life. Either with partners who had keys to our front door, or a family that shared meals, or glasses of Jim Beam and Newport cigarettes. I filled that empty space. It did not surface, did not hold sway. It did not catch me standing in my kitchen like it did yesterday.
But there is a certain beauty to it. Finally realizing that everything I do is for my own best interest. That I finally get to be honest about who I am, about what I like, about my passions. It is a grand unearthing disguised as simplicity. I ask for help from Nadine to make a shopping list. “What do I like to eat?” I’ve forgotten how to conduct life for just me. Not sure if I ever knew exactly how to begin with. Always hid it from myself under a layer of trips to the bar and wrapping my arms around strangers. Now it’s just me. Alone. I attack the life in front of me, I sink in my teeth.
Start running again. Find a gym I can lift in for the first time in close to ten months. I take my list to the grocery store and buy food that is nourishing and makes me happy. I cook dinner for myself and share it only when I want to. In the morning I sit at the kitchen table and drink a cup of coffee in solitude. I make conscious decisions about everything I do and think hard about whether or not it benefits me. What is the underlying goal here? Are you doing this because you want someone to think or feel something specific about you or do you want to, like to, need to do this? I answer the questions I never even thought to ask before. I answer the questions I once relied on other people to answer for me.
My friends, my family, my partner. They back me. Stand in my corner and make sure I continue to face the right direction. That I don’t quit. That I keep my eyes open for signs of slipping. They keep me honest. Push me when I need pushing and don’t accept answers like, “I’m fine.” But they never do it for me. Never even offer. I hold space for them in my life, but it is not at my own expense anymore. I make room for them, but I do not push out my own loves and needs and wants to do it. I do not compromise myself. I do not buckle when I feel like maybe someone is asking me to.
In the grocery store I stand in the liquor aisle wondering if I’m going to make it to year three of my sobriety. Wondering if the vastness of living my own life will leave me raw and searching for crutches. I clutch tight to my necklace that’s engraved with my date–12.29.13–and shake the feeling off again. I am not the same person who didn’t know how to face this. I am not the woman who was afraid of the pieces that make her.
Photo courtesy of Artem Verbo.
In the envelope went a selection of Christmas cards addressed to the two of us. Several pictures. A couple love notes. The boarding pass from the plane I took from Oakland to Seattle. Random keepsakes collected over the years. My passport. A necklace, my sobriety ring, and my wedding set. And, of course, the certified copies of our marriage and divorce certificates. I closed the clasp and brought it to my parents’ house. Asked my mom to put it in the safe deposit box and that was it. An entire life with someone distilled down to a manila envelope to be tucked into a vault and possibly never brought out again.
I asked Mason if we had any other business after the final check was mailed. After the phone plan was broken up. After the car keys were exchanged. Part of me wanted him to say yes, even though I knew we didn’t have anything left to sort out, nothing to discuss. I just wanted him to tell me he wasn’t ready for me to leave his life yet. But he didn’t. Another time I wanted him to show up, but couldn’t bring myself to ask. A beautifully distilled example of our entire relationship. Neither of us ever being able to ask for what we need. Separated by more than space and time. There was always a wall between us. Something to keep ourselves out and the other person in. Or maybe it was the other way around. It doesn’t matter now, does it?
So this is what it feels like to close off a section of your life. To remember a time with someone, but to know it will never be repeated. There are no second chances here. We do not recycle and come back. It’s over. And that’s just the kind of thing we have to let ourselves believe. We have to hold on to. We have to learn to need. This is moving on.
Andrew pulls his car up next to mine, Astronautalis’ “Guard the Flame” blaring out the windows. I climb inside and we both sing as loud as we can, “Fuck it, if I was that smart, I’d never learned your name…” The music dies and we breathe in deep in unison. Wait, wait, wait. Scream. The sun beats down hard on my face. “One hand strikes the match. One hand guards the flame.” He reaches across the center console of the car and puts his hand in mine. We’re alive.
It’s waking up from something. Breaking out of the sludge I’d been encased in for years. The one that always made me feel broken and afraid. The one that, for whatever reason, my marriage learned to perpetuate. The constant nervous aching of not being enough for someone. Of letting them down. Of losing. Of quitting. Of giving up. I don’t know how we fell into that pattern and I wish we never did. But we did. And that was it.
And here we are. Cut loose. I’m standing in a crowd screaming. My hands are in the air. And for the first time in a long time I am not afraid of being undeserving. I am powerful and lovable and strong. I am unafraid of love because I know how it feels to lose it and how it feels to find it again. How it feels to have it find you. How it feels to be in it with someone who sees you and isn’t afraid of what they’re seeing.