He sleeps in bed as I stay up writing. I can feel my stomach churning over the familiarity of it. Wondering if curling up on the floor and sobbing is what’s next. This is too much like it used to be. But I can catch myself on the edge of it now. Talk myself back down gently. Coax back in the breathing. Anxiety that is bubbling purely out of habit. A reminder that I’ve been scared of showing myself for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like to be seen. Held. And he rubs my head and tells me he doesn’t want my feelings to be ignored for his comfort. He wants me to speak honestly. Radically. Tells me my hurt is never an inconvenience. He asks if I need him and I finally have the nerve to say, “Yes. Please.”
Nadine tells me it’s okay to not know how to be okay. That this, as with everything, takes practice. I learned how to be broken. Became exceptionally good at thinking I needed fixing. That I was secretly unlovable and it was only a matter of time before everyone figured that out. Before those I cared about truly saw me and exited my life accordingly. A lifetime devoted to perpetuating the idea that other people somehow know what they’re doing and that I am doing this all wrong.
Close to midnight a stranger from the Internet parks in front of my duplex. I usher her inside and give her the tour of my new apartment. Pour a glass of water for each of us and go sit on the patio. The warm night air clinging to our shoulders and shrinking the space between us. We live in different worlds. Separated by years and lives of doing it all different. But in this city, on this day we both just needed someone to sit and talk with. Human interaction. A hug. Someone to laugh with about how ridiculous it is that life is so hard to live. A reminder that none of us do this uniquely. That none of us do this alone.
At lunch days later a friend I managed to keep after the divorce asks me if he can tell me a secret. “None of us know what we’re doing. There is no right way to live.” And we talk about how we fumble along and find good people to share it with.
That night I whisper into Andrew’s chest that I’m afraid I’m going to make the same mistakes I made before. That I will get wrapped up in feeling like I’m not enough and eventually exhaust him. Tell him I’m afraid I’ll need more than he can give and he’ll start to feel helpless. I replay every relationship I’ve ever been in. I relive my entire marriage in an instant. But he does not flinch. Just pulls me close and says, “I’m not going to let that happen.” And bit by bit I start to believe him. And bit by bit I start to see myself as the people around me see me. And bit by bit life turns back into an adventure rather than only misery.
Photo courtesy of Samuel Zeller.
“Is he taking good care of my Ruby?” she asks over lunch. I smile big, blush. Tell her about my support network. How I’ve started to reach out. How people have been asking me how I’m doing lately and I’ve been telling them.
Spent the week selling myself at job interviews and to potential roommates. Threw my hands in the air when I landed the apartment in Green Lake. Sent a text to notify my partner and best friends when my first job offer came in.
My feet finally under me. I’m coming home again.
We decide what we want to sculpt. Take a step back and examine it all. What is it that we want from each other? From ourselves. Start building a life with all the pieces we selected carefully. Leave nothing to just fall into place. This is all intentional.
While we walk down the street he reaches over and grabs my hand. Laces fingers. Pulls me closer to him and kisses my cheek. Partners. Support. We stare off in the same direction. We lean hard on each other and we take turns being the weaker one. Know when it’s our time to be strong. Give and take. We’re a team.
Mark tells me I don’t need to come to therapy anymore. That we don’t have much to talk about. We’re just hanging out. And I start to sink into the idea that this isn’t just an upswing. This is sustainable. I’ve learned how to be okay.
Back at lunch we reminisce about last year. When I had to leave my job. The city. When everything started to crumble, fall down. And we smile big and shake our heads. It feels so long ago now. So far away. It’s the quiet shadow of a memory. Alive only because we talk about it every now and then. And I’m never going back there. Wouldn’t even remember my way. This is normal. This is me. I am safe.
Photo courtesy of Joel Herzog.
One pressed against the wall. One hanging off the edge. We curl up together in a twin-size bed. His arm falls asleep lying under me and I lose my pillow to the floor. In the morning I tell him we’ll call this time “the beginning years”. When I lived in a warehouse apartment with no kitchen and he lived out of a suitcase. The days before we went shopping for sheets together. Before we stayed up late sitting on the floor in our kitchen.
On the couch he rests his head on my chest. Listens intently to my heartbeat and taps his fingers in rhythm. I ask him what we’re going to do. What’s next? And he explains to me he’ll do the two-hour drive for however long he needs to. That the discomfort of distance is worth the joy of being in relationship.
In the afternoon we go for coffee, so when night comes again I find myself awake and writing. The low glow of my screen illuminating my finger tips as he sleeps gently next to me. And there is safety in his breathing. In the way his chest lifts and lowers the blanket on top of me. And I find myself not wanting anything else from existence. Just let me be.
Photo courtesy of Josh Felise.