We sit in his car and I wipe tears away with my coat sleeve. I’m reminded of how my Portland therapist taught me the difference between being tough and being strong. The difference between acting like nothing hurts and knowing things will hurt, but doing them anyway.
My best friend tells me my heart is always going in fifty directions. That is must be hard if not impossible to follow something like that.
On the wall in the restaurant two signs hang next to each other. One reads “be strong” while the other “be gentle”. Finally I’m at the place in my life where those two demands do not seem at odds with each other.
In his apartment I wrap my arms around his waist and hold him as close to me as I can. One part pride, one part relief, two parts heartbreak. I cling tightly to the idea that wanting different things does not make either of us undeserving people, just not right for this partnership. And I can’t help but feel a little swell in my chest when I think about finally standing up for what I want in life. But no, that doesn’t make it easier when we kiss at the door, say “I love you”, and I walk out for the last time.
It’s a new kind of ache. One where I stand with my feet firmly planted. It does not question or try to pull in any particular direction. I know what I want and I know if that’s the way I’m heading. Know when it’s time to change course. Narrow my vision. Finally honest.
I think about having children in the next couple years and begin to look at all my options. Think about the things I want to do that don’t involve a partner. Think about my past relationships and what works and what doesn’t. What builds me up and what immobilizes me. Think about how to do this all differently. It’s my dreams. It’s my job. It’s my sobriety. All of this. This belongs to me. And if I don’t want to, I don’t have to share it with anybody.
An interesting feeling. Walking on the ground with my own two feet. Not tip-toeing around anybody. Not sieving everything through someone else’s list of wants and needs. And for the first time it does not feel selfish or pointless. It feels like taking care of me. And that feels… Worthwhile. Finally.
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.
I tell Andrew hearts always break in the same places. The weak points are sought out and shattered over and over again. We do not grow back stronger. It is the same hurt every time.
We know these feelings. We recognize them. We remember just how to scream into pillows and sob on staircases. We’ve been here often. We’ll return before we’re ready.
At dinner Mark stops me when I say, “I think I’ll be fine.” He holds steady until I meet his eyes.
“No. There is no ‘think’,” he says gruffly, “I know you’ll be fine. Better than fine. I know it.”
I feel almost guilty for believing him. For acknowledging the fact this is just another one of those moments we go through, that go through us. That we always walk away from. Every time.
Over and over I repeat the story. Each time becoming further removed from it. Until it’s nothing but a monologue I recite when prompted. Something I can put down and walk away from. Like the dress I threw in the trash because I was wearing it when Mason told me he wanted a divorce. Pretending I could separate myself from the statement by separating myself from the clothing.
No, it may not be that easy, but it is similar, isn’t it? We hand the words off to anyone who will listen, keeping only a tiny piece of them in a coat pocket to be discovered next season. And bit by bit time softens the edges of everything. Staircases worn down after thousands of years of footsteps. We do not remember what they looked like when they were new. That is not what makes them precious.