It’s spring break, and because I have a day job that only pays when I work, and because Ben’s dad had his spring break two weeks ago, Ben is splitting his time between my two days off, and his dad’s three days off-campus classes.
Tonight Ben had rugby practice and would go to his dad’s in the morning so his dad suggested he spend the night an extra time. Sweet Ben, always trying to keep everything even and everyone happy, wanted to spend the night so he didn’t have to get up and ride in to town with me in the morning, but didn’t want to hurt my feelings by taking away from our night together.
“This is a time when you get to be entirely selfish.” I told him. “It’s spring break and we were together all day, so if you want to spend the night with your dad so you can sleep late in the morning, you won’t hurt my feelings.” He weighed all the pros and cons.
“I wouldn’t have to get up, but it’s my night with you, and I don’t want to miss our night together because we always hang out,” he said. But I hate getting up early and being late like I was this morning.”
He went back and forth like this for several minutes while I drove past the rugby fields, (deciding we had enough time to run to the hardware store before practice), while I picked out my new mower blades and paid for them, and while we drove the quarter-mile back to the rugby fields.
Finally, it was decided he would spend the night with his dad. “Does that feel like the right decision?” I asked. “Yes, Ben said with a smile.”
To me it felt awful. We said goodbye three times at the rugby field when I dropped him off. Driving away, I had that empty feeling I always had on Thursday night, his regular night with his dad, and I wanted it to go away. So I went home and did what I always do. I took it out on some lawn equipment and various items for the trash collectors.
Why do these things have headlights if your’re not supposed to mow in the dark?
Last night, I was mowing the yard way past time when critically thinking home owners would be mowing. It was getting dark and cold, but I knew my time was limited getting the early spring patchy weeds and clumps of grass cut. The unusually warm March weather had everything growing profusely. No one knew this year whether to use pre-emergent or step two—weed and feed. Everyone seemed confused about what to do. So, one by one, we just started up the sleepy mowers and cut down the tall grass and thick patches of weeds left by last summer’s late drought. I think we stopped mowing about mid July and just went out once or twice in September some time to cut off the tops of the occasional weed that sprung up. I remember because my riding mower was really running poorly and I was thankful I didn’t have to fix it before I put it away for the season.
But guess what. Spring was early this year and that mower was still running poorly. At least I thought it probably was, but at first it didn’t start at all, so I couldn’t really be sure. So last night, I jumped the battery with my 2009 Honda Civic, which was a bit of a challenge because this mower shuts off automatically if you get up off the seat—a safety feature—but the problem with that is, the battery is under the seat, which has to be flipped up if you want to jump it. So how are you supposed to sit on the seat and start the engine when you have battery cables attached underneath?
I’m sure there is a real way, but this is how I did it. I stood in the driveway next to the mower with my Honda running and attached the cables to both the car and the mower. Me, with one foot on the break that has to be depressed for it to start—another safety feature. So I had to stand there with both running because there was no way to shut my car off and let the mower run long enough to charge the battery. Twice, I shut off the mower, ran to shut off the car and disconnect the battery cables, only to get back to start the mower and find the battery just as dead as the day before.
It went like this: Hook up the cables to the car. Hook up the cables to the mower. Start the car. Jump out. Stand next to the mower. Put foot on break. Turn the ignition key. Stand there for a very long time with everything running. Then, lift foot off break to kill the mower. Disconnect the cables from the car. Turn off the car. Disconnect the cables from the mower. Jump on the mower—still dead.
I did this more than once in slightly different ways, including once where I nearly electrocuted myself with the battery cables, which apparently are not supposed to touch while one end is still attached to a live battery. The outcome was repeatedly the same.
I don’t know how it happened but eventually I managed to get enough of a spark from my car to the mower to finally start it. So I mowed away until dark. Discontent with getting only the front yard cut in the dark, I moved to the side yard around garden. The grass was very long and, well I guess I forgot about the tree stump left from when I cut down the little spruce that died last summer, because I was mowing a particularly tricky area where you have to watch out for the guide wire for the power line pole and squeeze between the garden border and the old wellhead sticking up–and apparently that tree stump–and well, something terrible happened.
I chopped right into that tree stump with the mower. A horrible sound came from under the mowing deck and sparks flew about , which has happened before when I chopped the sewer cap in the front yard, but I just pretended that everything was fine and it was. This time, though, the mower did not recover. It made a jingling sound and began to throw dirt around and I think it might have been smoking and saying curse words. But anyway, there was no pretending it was okay this time. I know because tried. I lifted the blades and drove over to another part of the yard with fewer hazards, and tried again. When I lowered the blades this time, another worse sound came from under the mowing deck. It sounded like OWWWWW. Then scrape, scrape. Then cha chung. Then that jingling sound again. So I put her to bed and pretended it would be okay if I just gave ‘er some rest.
Today I got it back out and tried to see if my idea about a little rest was a good one. It started fine. I backed out of the garage and moved into the front yard, so far so good, then moved forward and lowered blades. But that OWWWW followed by the scrape, scrape happened again. So I lifted the blades and looked back. Behind me was about a 3 foot long deep gash of where grass and weeds once grew. ‘Hmmmm. That looks funny,’ I thought.
So I jumped off and got on my knees saying a silent prayer while I was down there peering under the mowing deck. And you know how sometimes God gives you the answer you want? Well, like a beam of light from heaven I saw the answer I didn’t want. One blade of that mower was bent so badly that it was sideways and covered with mud. So I rolled her back into the garage and slammed the door down. That’s what led to my trip to the hardware store tonight.
Never too late to break something on purpose
By the time I got home, it was too late to replace the blades. I’ve learned a lot about what not to do after dark. Determined not to let the evening go to complete waste, and still feeling that hole in my chest from having left my heart at the rugby field, I decided to lay my hands on the last couple of crappy old pieces of office furniture in the garage that needed to be either broken up with a hammer (an option I had chosen many times over the last few years) or be dragged out to the street for my awesome trash guys.
Hammering those last pieces of crappy old office furniture apart didn’t work out so good. I pounded and pounded on them but they would not come apart. They were some well made pieces of crappy office furniture. So dragging them out for my awesome trash guys was all I could do. I’m learning so much lately. One thing learned tonight is that well-made crappy office furniture is heavy.
It took me a long time to push them end over end out to the street. Walking back toward the garage I glanced up at the sky. The stars were amazingly bright, and there was Jupiter and Venus and Mars and Orion just as they were last week when Mr S let us look through his telescope with him. Since that night, Ben has set up star-gazing blankets on the deck for us a couple of times so we could lie back and look up while we listened to the frogs behind the house. He retold the constellations that Mr S has taught him, scolding me for not knowing the difference between the Taurus and the Seven Sisters.
I grabbed my binoculars from the glove box of my car and gazed up. Hello seven sisters and that yellow star that I always forget the name of. I wished Ben were with me, but being with his dad tonight, he is probably learning things I cannot teach him, things about history, or the NCAA tournament, or how to get the ball out of a scrum. And it occurred to me for the first time that ending our marriage may have been exactly the best of both worlds for Ben. No more name calling and ugly fights. No more family vacations, to be sure, but no more competition about what Ben should learn from whom either. Just two people who love him more than anything calling a truce and offering him the best they each have to offer, even if it’s only every other night on Spring break.
I’ve heard it said that in more advanced stages of psychological development, we come to accept and embrace our masculine self (for women) or our feminine self (for men); what Jung called the Anima and Animus. Lots has been written about it, including this guy’s blog post that I happen to really enjoy. But for me, I’m thinking that understanding what is typically a masculine trait–beer courage–could be part of this advanced stage of development.
Prying up old tile in my upstairs bath did not prove as satisfying as ripping out my old bathroom cabinet. What I thought was about a three hour job turned in to a painfully slow process, with me trying (once again) to save something that didn’t want or need to be saved–the poured mud floor underneath–and yellow floor tile mocking me, asking who exactly I thought I was trying to renovate my own house, all the while the voice of my mother asking why I didn’t have a new man to do that for me, reverberating in my ears.
I rarely buy beer, but something about doing home repairs makes it seem right. At one point I thought it would be a good idea for hardware stores to sell it. While I doubt that anyone thinks using power tools and alcohol together is a good idea, I do think the idea of having a beer while tearing out a bathroom is a good one.
So I opened a beer and started chipping tile from the bathroom floor. An hour later, I’m feeling buzzed and only about four pieces of tile are up. The hammer keeps slipping and I’ve hit my thumb about 45 times. Beer courage fades quickly when you’re met with a smack down. Guys in bars, I get it now.
On my mind part of the time was a guy-friend whom I’d had a teeny-weeny disagreement with and who had run for the hills when my voice got all high and whiny like it tends to do when I’m upset. I think if men fully embraced their feminine sides, our getting upset might not scare them so much. But like my therapist used to say, “When a man hears that, all they see in their minds is a giant flashing red light that says ‘MOM . . . .MOM . . . MOM. . .’ and they run away in fear. I wanted him to forgive me long enough to tell him that I’m not his mom, but I hadn’t heard even the slightest hint that would be possible.
In yoga class, we are taught to lie with our butts against the wall and our feet up in the air and lay like a giant L to clear our minds. So I did this for a few minutes and waited for the sound of forgiveness, but it never came. I was also hoping if I lay there long enough when I opened my eyes all the tile would be gone and a new floor would be there in its place, but that didn’t happen either. It was pretty awful.
I almost gave up, but rather, I went to the fridge for more courage. I hammered away—mostly at my left thumb—until a good bit more tile was wedged from position. Not sure if it was the beer or the hammering, but I gained some more insight into the male psyche, ‘After hours of this,’ I thought, ‘I wouldn’t want to talk about my feelings either. I don’t even have any feelings—especially in my left thumb–so what is there to talk about? I just want to get to a stopping point, finish my beer and go to bed—maybe shag the wife if she’s still up and doesn’t make me take a shower first.’
I don’t know if men who write novels or are CPAs feel this way, but I think they must. Because they all say this stuff, right? I think I learned something else about men, too. A lot of them are more sensitive than we give them credit for, like my friend who won’t forgive me. They are just as wounded and imperfect as women are. I considered emailing him until he finally gave up and wrote back, but I won’t because I probably did sound like his mom that day, and I know what my brothers think about that.
Well, technically, I’m not allowed to do a spinning back kick yet. Geeze. This week was bad. I can’t believe someone hasn’t found me laying on a sidewalk hyperventilating. Thursday things already suck, because I drop Ben off at school Thursday mornings and don’t see him until the next night after work when I pick him up from his dad’s. But this was a Thursday that should have sucked even more.
I get a call at work. (In my cube right? So I can’t really talk, which people on the other end of the line don’t know, so I always sound more like an idiot than usual.) It was my therapist (who honestly I haven’t seen in months). She just called nonchalantly to tell me she was retiring.
“Sooner than I expected,” she said. “I’m having some surgery so hopefully I will feel better, but I decided to go ahead and retire.” She’s only in her mid-sixties, I’d say. I thought therapists work until they are in their eighties. How can she be retiring?
All I could think of to say in cube-world was “Oh.” And then I mumbled something inaudible about how I hoped it wasn’t serious. Lame, right? But she’s the therapist here, how the hell am I supposed to know what to say?
She said she would still be seeing clients through the next month but that would be it (. . . so that if I wanted to get in . . . .hint, hint. . . ). Obviously she thought I might need to, based on my utter lack of verbal response. I didn’t feel compelled to make an immediate appointment or anything even at her prodding, so I guess that’s a good thing, right?
But still, whose therapist retires? And who would I pay to listen to my whining now? She recommended another woman in her practice she thought would be a good fit for me. Which I took to mean is desperately looking for new clients because her husband just left her and the four kids for a Scarlette Johannson look-alike. Then we said our awkward goodbyes, and that was it. God, I wish people would stop breaking up with me, I thought. I know my whiny little problems don’t amount to much, but I already suffer from abandonment issues. How is one expected to take this sort of thing?
Then after work I went to the yoga class I’d been attending every Monday or Thursday night for about five years, and my yogi tells me she’s leaving after her Thursday class next week. Their house sold 4 hours after they put it on the market (just to see what would happen) and they were leaving immediately for North Carolina to live on the beach for a while until she and her husband found where they wanted to land for good. Who has karma like that except a yoga instructor? I’m just a somewhat normal person, how do I compete with that in this crazy universe?
So you see why normally I would be breathing into a paper bag at this point? Wouldn’t most people? But for some reason I wasn’t. I didn’t know what to say to her. So I didn’t say anything. I just did my down dogs extra good her honor, and walked out like I was gonna see her next week, as usual. How could I just do that? Every class something amazing happened. I saw purple when we practiced yoga nidra. I nearly levitated following her Savasana, and best of all, nearly every time l left that class, I floated home feeling as if I had just gotten laid. And let me tell you, for a single woman, that is no small deal.
Her class got me through quitting my job to take back some power in my life, then two years later losing my highest paying client when they decided to do all their writing in-house, then a period of employment in crappy part-time jobs, then reemployment, my mom’s illness, my divorce (when she told me not to get that tattoo until I was a full year out from it), neck pain, a family wedding, some more neck pain caused by the family wedding, my dad’s illness. You get the idea.
Whatever I thought I would say, I thought I would just wait and say it next week. Then on the way home I remembered Ben had a program the next Thursday and I’d never see her again. But still, I feel okay with that. I know they say when the student is ready the master appears, but I think it might be true for me at this time. I think I am ready to let both my therapist and my yogi go.
Maybe part of that reason for that might be because I started taking Tae Kwon Do classes recently. Not for any spiritual, martial artsy, find myself reasons, but more for shallow, flat ab, find my ass again reasons. Because honestly the ass I saw in the mirror the other day was not mine. It belonged to some lady who hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in years. Holy crap. That would be me. And all the Mary Kay targeted-action firming lotion in the world wasn’t going to bring my old ass back. So, I called Ben’s Tae Kwon Do Master and explained to him that I wanted to join the class, and not for any other reason than to get into better shape, and he was cool with that.
Hell, I thought, it all pays the same no matter why we join the class right? So why would he care? Besides, I had some awesome self-defense training growing up with three big brothers, so I might not be too horrible at it, anyway.
You know what happens, right? I’ve been walking around the house kicking the crap out of everything and crying a lot. Sometimes because I hurt my foot, and sometimes because like I’ve heard him say a million times in the two years I’ve been sitting on someone else’s ass watching Ben take his class, “Taking a punch is a very emotional thing.” Don’t I know it, Master Song. Don’t I know it.
In the middle of tiling the basement, the cold water shut-off valve in the main bathroom upstairs decided to start leaking. So I decided just to shut it off (like it says). That goes over for a while, but Ben absolutely didn’t like brushing his teeth in hot water. I mean, at first it works if you let the water run very slowly and use only the cold, lead-leached water left in the pipes all night before the hot water reaches the faucet. But like most kids, he turned on the faucet full-force and used it all up pretty fast.
So the next thing that happens is he’s screaming about the burns on his little fingers and I run up there and, choking on the steam filling the room, shut it off as quickly as possible promising him I will “fix it tonight.” Well that was bullshit. For weeks after that we were forced to use the same sink every morning until one Saturday I had an extra 15 minutes to kill and decided fix it–for real this time.
That was semi-successful, but then something else went wrong. Basically, my sink sprung a huge leak that I couldn’t fix. You see, when you own an older home, for some reason even the simplest plumbing repair can turn into a six-month long project (or in my case a year-and-a-half) because something old is always attached the new thing you wanna put in, and those old things break off in your hand like a Melba cracker. And that’s basically what happened with my sink. The actual sink had a hole in it that had been patched by the previous homeowners and the patch came off in my hand.
So the whole sink was useless. Then I decided the whole bathroom was useless–at least that’s what it became because I started ripping out the cabinet with the sink, the tile on the walls, the wall paper, and anything else I could wrap my 14 1/2 inch pry bar around. Was I feeling some anger at the time? Yeah, yeah I was, but you know what? Ripping that bathroom apart felt so good after all I had been through, especially when a particularly stubborn place, like the old counter top in the photo here, wouldn’t budge and I pushed and pried and used all my strength against it.
And finally, when it gave way after all that force and struggle, it was very gratifying. Would I say it was like an orgasm? Well, for a single mom with no boyfriend, I would say yes, yes it was. It was the best orgasm I’d had in a while. So much so that I poured a glass of wine, sat back looking affectionately at my work, and determined that the next day, I would haul the junk outside and start ripping out the floor tile.
It’s important when you are recovering from someone or something, or a lifetime of a lot of things to accept when people extend a gift, an invitation, some help, or simply friendship. Today, I read in a book by Anne Lamott this: “I automatically think that closing down is safe, but really, staying open and loving is safer because then we are connected to all that life and love.” I’ve been messing up on that a lot lately.
But opening your heart can be treacherous and can send you into hiding when the outcome you hoped for doesn’t manifest. So after another several days my ego and my heart battling one another for top position in my psyche, closing down did feel safe, but normal. I could barely accept an invitation to plod through the woods with my bruised heart and a couple of friends, yet it seemed like a silent, closed down, lonely old friend had returned.
I mostly didn’t talk and walked off to myself a bit listening to the sounds of our feet stomping the leaves beneath and the two of them (brother and sister) bonding over something going on in the family. This time, though, their mother is dying. Nana.
Today they talked about how Nana had been recently calling for her own mother. Sometimes when she did it, she was unawares. Other times, she would realize she was calling her daughter by the wrong name and smile, awkwardly embarrassed. When Vicky asked her about it, she said it was just easier to say mother, so that’s why she said it. Vicky told me also about her aunt who died last year. When she was dying, she kept saying she missed her mother. She missed her mother, and she just wanted to go see her.
It made me think about how much I will miss my own mother someday and how my daughter will miss me. I thought about the prayer log I keep for all the orphans I know and how long it’s been since I paid them the attention they deserve: Michael, Melanie, Sharon, Angela, Jim’s kids, Debbie, Beverly, most of my cousins, dear Patrick. My bruised heart didn’t seem so battered suddenly.
The melancholy stayed with me the rest of the day though. Ben was in bed before nine and we opened the windows and listened quietly for few minutes to the tree frogs and toads in the creek and farm field behind our house. Peaceful now, not like mid-summer when they are so loud he begs me to close the windows. He said he felt sorry for other kids who lived in big houses in neighborhoods where they never heard the lullaby of nature like that. He said that: “the lullaby of nature.”
A few minutes later I sat down to work when Mrs. S, the neighbor across the street, called to say that her husband had the telescope out if Ben wasn’t in bed yet and wanted to come and look. So we slipped on our shoes; his hair still damp from his shower, and ran across the street to see what was in the sky. We saw Jupiter and its four stars, with Venus sitting right next to it up in the western sky, and across from it to the east was Mars; all on the same plane early this March of 2012. But the marvel in the sky was the Hind’s Crimson Star. The jewel of Lipus, bright red and beating like a heart in the sky.
Mr S said several times. “I’m seventy-two years old, and that’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever seen it that bright and clear.” I felt lucky to see it with him. I think it made him happy to share it with such an enthusiastic student as Ben. He quizzed Ben on Orion, the seven sisters, the dippers, Taurus, and all the other things he’d taught him the last time we watched the night sky with him. Ben remembered everything he had said.
We said our good-nights and Mr S said if Ben was interested in Astronomy, it would really please him. He misses his own two boys, and their 5 small kids who all live so far away. The sacrifices those two made for their boys: she quit teaching to stay home when they were little. The boys never finished high school because they both went to college right after junior high, but you’d never hear Mr or Mrs S brag about it. Now the boys invent things for tech companies and invest our money and have beautiful wives and children, and their parents are still here in the old neighborhood, adopting my boy, who is smart and interested in everything like their boys were, buying his scout popcorn, asking after his school work, smiling at his precociousness that gets on my nerves some days.
So Ben and I ended the day with the melancholy lifted, feeling safe and happy again, with life flowing in through our open windows, thanks in large part because it was offered to us. And so staying open is actually safer because staying inside with the windows closed would have just caused us to feel lonely. But running across the street when Mr and Mrs S invited us led to a new feeling; a better feeling of being safe and loved.
I’ve lost a couple of friends and more than one or two opportunities because I was afraid to accept something that was offered out of genuine kindness or just for fun. I really wish I could get a second chance at those sometimes. But most of the time, the best I can do is promise myself that the next time someone offers, I will just say okay.
I heard this poem one morning while listening to On Being on public radio. It’s my Sunday morning ritual, to drink coffee in bed and listen to enlightened conversation about beliefs and science, and whatever does or does not make up life. It’s my Church. The poem, Go to the limits of your longing, translated by philosopher and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy is a work by Rainer Maria Rilke. I love it because is speaks so clearly to recovery. It seems the closer we get to it (being recovered, if there is such a thing), the harder it is to go back out into the world because of things that happened “before.”
It’s easy in the beginning to hide inside and lick your wounds while everyone understands. When you turn down invitations your friends smile and say they will ask again next time. And they do, but their lives go on while you keep to yourself and heal so that sooner or later, if you don’t accept an invitation once-in-a-while, they will stop offering. Who wants to have every act of kindness shoved back at them with a ‘No thank you.’
It’s a scary prospect to “let everything happen to you.” But as Rilke says, no feeling is final, even though it does feel that way sometimes and I am always ready to accept that final feeling as the way it will be for me from now on—for forever. If I feel old, it begins to be how I am. If I feel rejected, my posture becomes more guarded. If I feel powerful, then that is what I am now, until every little set-back becomes catastrophic, and again, final.
The truth is I am all of these things, each at different times or sometimes all at once. .
And sometimes I am back to baby steps; so small that no one on the outside could see them. Going to work, showing kindness to someone else rather than thinking of myself, literally putting one foot in front of the other by going for a walk when I would rather stay inside the house and “think about” everything I need to do. Then of course, not do it.
Such small steps can lead to something, though, and today, they led me to the hardware store to buy new hinges for my backyard gate. This gate has been sagging and scraping the stone path beneath it for several years, and finally, a few months ago, the hinges gave up and snapped under the weight of neglect. So, I was left with literally picking up and moving he gate every time I wanted to put the trash cans away or let the dog out.
Of course you know what that led to. The trash cans always sat outside the gate, and I let the dog in and out through the house. Then today, I finally let my baby steps take me somewhere. I texted a couple of friends about going to the Menard’s super store (where, by the way, they sell groceries, baby powder, toothpaste, and tampons), and had the time of my life wandering through the aisles to see what they had for sale next (new release videos, country music CDs, dog and cat toys, frozen delivery-brand pizzas).
Then I came home and fixed my gate and swept the garage and still had time for a Starbucks and grocery
shopping before I picked up Ben from his dad’s. And in between, I had a very long texting conversation with a friend who I never thought would forgive me for being such a bratt when all he did was tell me the truth
So I am going to let everything happen to me because I do believe that nearby is the country called life. And not too far in the distance is everything else.
Here’s the whole poem:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Recovery is a precarious place. Just when you think you are all better, something causes you to slide backwards again. It’s always something smallish; a child getting in trouble at school, a disappointment, or your heart being broken just a little bit again. When you are trying to recover from something already, these smallish things loom large in your head. They make you sadder. They cause you to sigh quite a lot more . . . or you might even overreact just a teensy bit and yell at your son all the way home from Cub Scouts. Really? Cub Scouts? What a delinquent. What could a 9-year-old really do that merits getting yelled at all the way home?
Well, he could be ruining his 4th grade social life by misbehaving at the boring scout meeting and risking his entire future, that’s what! So that’s what happened after a day where small disappointments screamed at me that I am a worthless piece of crap, and things didn’t go just right at the post office, and his 9-year-old transgression means that his friends will never invite him over and he will end up a social outcast alone in his dorm room in college.
This is the kid who two years ago when I was really trying to find a job instead of working for myself because the economy was bad and I was afraid, heard me telling a friend over the phone that the more I prayed for a job, the more I ended up taking steps toward making my own business grow. First I formed a real company, then I printed new business cards, then I invested in some marketing research. Ben butted in saying, “That’s because I keep praying that you won’t get a job.”
Why do they only listen when they are not the intended recipient of the words?
You might say that a child’s prayers can’t possibly cancel out my prayers because they are naïve and don’t know how important jobs can be when bread costs $4.00 a loaf, but you’d be wrong. This is the kid who gave up watching TV for lent in second grade because, “I can’t give up my life like Jesus did.”
To which I reply, “Geeze.”
I am still more wounded then I knew. I stopped working on my house when I got the basement to the point that I could throw down a few rugs and invite people over once-in-a-while. I was tired and didn’t think I really needed to repair anymore. But now I see the deep gash in the wall where the boys moved the couch downstairs, and I feel the need to start lining up tiles again; maybe to bring back a sense of order, or maybe to hide out for a while and patch up some of the wounds that are still gaping open just a bit. So tomorrow I spackle . . . but tonight I apologize.
When you are recovering from something, or a lot of things. You might think you are ready for love way before you really are. I know this because of all the false starts I have made at it, and all the subsequent retreats. Take, for example, my lame attempt with Matt.
Matt showed up when things in my life were coming apart. Even before he knew anything about what was going on with me, we were becoming friends. Sometimes I think he liked me becuase I was so vulnerable. I never talked about it, but I was sad a lot of times. So I think my brooding is what attracted him to me. I think it’s what made me attracted to him, too. Being vulnerable will do that to a girl.
He listened to everything I said, remembered to email me links for things I was interested in, like places to hike and articles to read. I liked the attention. I thought he was cute, athletic, fun to hang out with, and his sister is one of my best friends. Also, he lived in another city, but close enough that we could maintain a friendship and see each other occasionally. Perfect, right? But as soon as I wiggled free from my disaster of a life, he started wiggling the other way.
At first he would come to town and be all about me. He brought me wine. He sat close and talked in a protective way about how I should do this or that, touched my leg for emphasis, and I liked it–a lot. Then he’d come to town the next time and stay a safe distance away when our group went out for beers or walked through the park. I’d leave a party and he’d barely say goodbye. Then as soon as he got home he was facebooking and emailing me. It was safer from that distance, I suppose, but that was okay with me because I was still very much recovering from the whole mess my life had been and we were just getting to know each other.
But it went on like this for months until I finally decided it was time: We were hiking with a group and Matt and I managed to get some time alone on the trail. We shared camera shots of the herons, made lots of eye contact, and stood very close with our hands touching looking into eachother’s digital camera screens. When he wasn’t looking I bit my lips to make them look pinkish and swell up all pouty-like and irresistible (because it was sorta cold out there and they mostly looked purple and corpse-like). Basically, I gave him every chance in the world to make a move, but no moves were made.
That’s when I started wondering if I had bad breath or something. I reviewed what I had eaten; nothing but a Luna bar and some water. Still, I breathed through my nose, just to be safe, and kept up the irresistible act. Finally, after several minutes of nothing, I gave up and walked away. He followed, but at a safe distance. We drove back home in separate cars and when I saw him later that night at a party he mostly stayed in a separate room and then waved goodbye from the window when I left.
Rejection is confusing, I know, but the whole thing never made any sense until a week or so later when I found out he had a new girlfriend. “He has a girlfriend?”
I’ve been on the other side of this one. The other girl (me this time) can’t understand the guy’s strange behavior; making dates, then canceling, saying he’ll call, then doesn’t; pretty much only available in his car or via email. Yeah, I was the girlfriend last time this happened so I didn’t catch on at first, but then it hit me, “That’s what she said.”
Really, that’s almost exactly what she said. I was standing in my boyfriend’s apartment by the front door, she on the outside of the door, him standing in between us with his head tilted to the side and just his lips sticking through the door crack making excuses about who I was and why he didn’t show up for the movie, as if the two women couldn’t see or hear each other. She looked bewildered at first, but then said,”You have a girlfriend?” I was just F’ing pissed. That night did not end well.
So it looks like that’s what kinda happened this time to me. I guess it turned out okay, though, because Matt and I are still friends enough that I can hug him in front of his girlfriend now and nobody cares. I was still a mess back then and not much of sure thing anyway and it’s hard to compete with getting laid regularly, so I can’t blame him for wiggling away. As a matter-of-fact, the whole experience helped me establish a ‘no dating anyone’s brother’ rule for myself. Brothers are sacred. Getting involved with Matt probably would have messed up my friendship with his sister and hers is a long friendship that I cherish above many things—maybe even getting laid regularly.
When you don’t know where else to start, go to a neglected place and bring with you a large trash bag. This applies to me more than ever tonight as I try my hardest to let go of self-destructive behaviors and trash from the past.
When you find that neglected place treat it tenderly but treat the trash like it’s burning a hole in your soul. Get rid of it. Don’t hold on to anything you think you might need, because you won’t. Don’t save something because it had meaning 20 years ago. Don’t keep it because it’s comfortable—whatever it is. Whether it’s an old habit that causes you familiar (and weirdly comfortable) pain or an old shirt that smells like a memory, dump it in the bag and don’t look back.
I did this a lot in the beginning, starting in the spare room and moving through the house. The closets with their broken doors, the dust-filled corners of the rooms, the garage full of junk and mouse droppings. I have before pictures of these neglected places. I get them out and look at them from time to time when I think I haven’t made any progress. They look a lot like I did back then, uncared for and treated with indifference. Not at all what we look like now.
It’s an easy place to start–or start over–so I go back there often when I need to take baby steps again. But it means something and the results are instant. All you have to do is bend over from time to time, grasp something with your gloved, dominant hand, and then just let . . . it . . . go. . . into the trash bag.
As you feel stronger, if you have a rubber mallet or a hammer in your house, you can start breaking apart things you always hated, like that old table, the crappy fake-wood office desk your sister gave you, or the faces you have been wearing for others; faces that keep others’ secrets, that tell their lies, wear their feelings instead of your own.
Then hoist it all over your head and haul it all out to the street. Even if the trash doesn’t come for several days and you are worried about what the neighbors will think, take it out there now. Next week no one will remember how long it sat there. If you do all of this, I promise, your biceps will be in the best shape of their lives, your core will strengthen, and you will begin to notice yourself again. Then before you know it you will be ready for the next big task.
That’s what I do anyway.