We go back to places we remember. Try to nestle back into the space between tree trunks we grew with, but we no longer fit there. The moss, the roots have overtaken everything. This is not the place we once frequented. That space does not exist.
Visiting with arms I’d forgotten, comfort and safety and memory. A reflection of something I wanted, but never had. A promise unkept. Not made by the person who could keep it, but the one who needed it. People do not become other people by you envisioning a spark and hoping. What you see if what you get, so make sure you’re paying attention.
Nadine reminds me that I almost ended up in a psych ward a year ago. Tells me I am a fire that he extinguished. Tells me how she’s never seen me happier than I am now. Tells me I deserve it. I earned it. Tells me I’m worth it. She tells me, “This is like drinking. You have to just cut him out.”
Inhaling sharp I realize I’ve been one foot in and one foot out. Half-hoping there would be a reconciliation with a man who is only living in my imagination. The one I thought I married, but never actually met. With passion. With emotion. With an unapologetic lust for the relationship. Those attributes did not exist in him and so I thought they didn’t exist at all. Thought I wasn’t the type of person who deserved them. Thought I had to find a way back into a relationship that was not what I wanted, but was as close as I was going to get.
But fuck that.
I broke down the night before and Andrew drove to my house and carried me inside. Put me in bed and wrapped his arms around me even though it was so hot we stuck together like a mother’s skirt and a little kid. He rubbed my shaved head and told me I’m perfect. That he loves every messy inch of me, even as I sobbed and told him I was broken. He told me he trusts me and he knows me and he’s unafraid of what may be coming. And I believed him. And my breath slowed and I relaxed. He’s uncovered the part of me that can be comforted, that can be calmed. That is open to being loved and loving fearlessly.
So when I got back from coffee with my ex-husband I did not sit down and write the email I was thinking about. I did not tell Mason I couldn’t do this, that I need him. Instead of giving up on the idea that I deserve happiness and passion, I drove to Andrew’s work and left a note on his windshield. Too many words to say something as simple as, “I love you. Let’s do this. I’m all in.”
Photo courtesy of Loic Djim.
I’m not sure where it started. A seed planted by someone when I was a kid took root and wrapped itself around everything I learned to believe. This sense of worthlessness. Of being unlovable. Of “if only I were more/less…” thought patterns. If I could just get mentally healthy. If I could just exercise more. If I could just lose weight. If I could just be less jealous, funnier, easier going, better looking, more feminine. The lists went on. Journals full of it, books covering every aspect of how to “improve” myself. My worth tied to a version of myself that never existed. That never would.
This feeling sabotaged relationships from the inside. Sunk its filthy claws into my life and didn’t let go. Colored everything in its image. The impossibility of ever being a capable, lovable, powerful person seemed more fact than opinion. I did not take anything as evidence to the contrary. My entire existence pointed to the truth that I was not worth loving. That I needed to be better before anyone would do that. Before I could do that.
As I packed for my upcoming move I threw away those books. I tossed those journals. I cleared my cabinets of all the little pieces of memorabilia hinting to the fact that I need to be something I am not. All those bullshit motivational magazines. The fabric tape measurers, the food and bathroom scale, the diet plans and lifting regimens. All those letters I wrote to myself about how once I am properly medicated and go through enough therapy someone will want to stay with me. Promises of tomorrows that will find me worthy of existing. Overwhelming and unachievable goals of someday being someone other than who I am. Of someday being the kind of person this or that person would want to love. Would want to keep. I walked them all outside and dropped them in the trash. Take it to the curb on Friday. Never invite them back in.
The shift happened gradually. The acceptance that I am good. Worthy. That I am not broken or in need of fixing. That I don’t need to do anything, change anything in order to be a person other people want. That I want. I am the person I am and I am deserving of every goodness in my life. Nothing and no one can rob me of that.
It does not matter that I’m not a svelte athlete. That I will never grow my hair out. That I wear make up most days because I like the way I look in it. That I’m queer even though I don’t feel like I’m queer “enough”. That I’ve slept with someone who was married when they weren’t married to me. That I used to drink and use drugs and forget about my friends. That I don’t have a petite frame. That I’m the jealous type. That sometimes I like to blow everything off and watch Netflix for hours. That I’ve lied because I thought someone would like me more for it. That I’ve started and stopped running regularly more times in my life than I can recall and will probably do it more. That I used to be able to deadlift 200 pounds, but now haven’t lifted anything in almost a year. That I’m divorced. That I don’t want a “real” job because I love working in customer service. That I dropped out of college. That I talk and laugh way too loud. That I love having my photo taken even though it makes me feel vain. That sometimes I still cry over relationships that didn’t work out. That I said “I love you” obscenely soon to my current partner. That I love to cook, but not for myself. That sometimes I really just want to listen to Top 40 pop songs. That I don’t like to go hiking. That I pour my soul out to strangers on the Internet, but often don’t know how to talk about my feelings to my friends.
All that matters is that I understand that each piece of me is decent and valuable and worthwhile. That I am a good person, an excellent friend, capable and deserving of love regardless of all the reasons I think I am not. And even on the days I have trouble believing it, I have to still know it. To listen only to the part of me that looks at myself like my partner does. Like there is nothing about me that needs changing. That each piece is loved and understood and accepted. A scarred and worn package containing an impenetrable goodness that does not have to be earned or fought for or proven. That exists simply because I do. Because my heart still beats and my breath still pumps in my chest. Just like yours.
Photo courtesy of veeterzy.
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.