Jack’s toothbrush is too soft.
I learned this while using it to scrub the grout in my shower.
For the last two weeks, I’ve spent most of my emotional energy alternately wanting to stab people and crying. Turns out, there are more people in need of a good gashing than I previously understood. Sure, my emotional state may have had something to do with my urge to cut them, but really, I think under normal circumstances a lot of these people could benefit from a bit of a knifing, and upon hearing all the evidence, not a jury in the world would convict me.
Jack and I have always had what you’d call an unconventional relationship. We’ve known each other for ten years, and for most of that time we’ve been especially close. I value that. The power and depth of our connection has brought blessings and joys to my life that I have not experienced from any other relationship. I knew early in our acquaintance that he was an extraordinary person, and I felt strongly that it would be wrong not to know him as well as I could. I believe he is a gift to my life, and he has made me a better person.
But we’ve always been more than just friends, and less than romantically linked. For ten years, we have been an almost daily part of each other’s lives, sharing fears and hopes and worries and joys, sharing petty annoyances, jokes, late-night television and schtick, sharing the thoughts that keep us up at night, the things we never tell anyone else, sharing flirtation and emotion that, in any other human connection, would lead to something more.
Others have noted our seemingly natural fit. In light of its depth, some of us wanted it to veer more in the romantically linked direction, while others of us apparently preferred to run marathons and be evasive. The toothbrush was in my house because there have been times when Jack has spent the night, and there have been, oh, less abstruse connections… but I have some pretty solid rules about what I do and don’t do with men who run marathons while being evasive, so don’t let your imaginations run wild about my morals. (Which is not to say I haven’t let my own imagination run wild a time or 7,000.)
But don’t get me wrong, either: it’s not like we’ve been waiting around. We’ve both had dates, relationships with significant others, etc. in those years. And I’ve known for a long time that it was probably not going to veer in the established-couple direction and dealt with that as well as I could. But for me, it’s always come back to him. And for him, it seemed to always come back to me.
Well, that’s what I told myself, anyway.
Recent events tipped the scales of what I have always tried to keep in balance in our relationship. For the first time in ten years, I finally got mad. Jack has always tended to isolate himself for certain periods of time, from everyone. But more from others than from me. This time I got mad because Jack had distanced himself so much for so long that it was really changing our relationship, and he had not given me the courtesy of acknowledging it despite a few truly gentle expressions of my concern. There were several things he had done or said that made me feel minimized and marginalized, and he knew it. It all came to a head, and I had finally had enough.
The two-hour Come To Jesus conversation that followed was at once frustrating and revealing. We both know we have our own issues, of course, and he offered that his is the worst kind of emotional unavailability. He told me I would be his perfect mate, if only he could let himself even consider loving me. And I knew that I had held on to hoping for an us that was more conventional because I had never had anything like us, and feared I never would. And then Jack needed a week and a half to answer two very easy questions: Given your self-imposed isolation, do you want me to leave you alone? and Do you feel that I am a significant part of your life?
Ten days to answer those two questions.
This would be the part where the stabbiness really kicked in. This would be the part where I became an emo barfburger with extra wretch-up.
And of course, I knew that the fact that it took him so long to answer those questions is, in itself, the answer to those questions.
At some point, I started to believe I could make do with the mixed pleasure and pain of what we had because it was better than not having it at all. During the ten days of silence that followed our long conversation, I was gut-punched with the knowledge that I might have to give it all up. I was devastated. But I knew that we were at a crossroads that could no longer be circled. I knew that I did not mean as much to him as I had thought. I knew that, no matter what came of our conversation, whether he returned with answers or not, I had to find a way to stop loving him.
He did return with answers (in email form, which pissed me off and I told him so – where did I leave that knife?!): that he wanted my close friendship but not more; that he knew it would require him to be more available and less isolated. This was not news. Rather, it was the boiled-down remains of what had simmered in him for that time, and, really, for years before, and it was all that he was willing to offer. We have had conversations like these in the past, but we have always danced around the real point for fear of losing ourselves and each other. But now there was nothing left to garnish the reduction. It was time for me to stop trying. It was time for me to redraw the lines that distinguish our friendship from the deeper love I have, until our friendship is all that I employ. Because I do not want to give up the blessing, the friendship that had made me better. But I could not keep believing it was more.
In my shower, I scrubbed at the grout of the tile for the first time with more than the rub of a finger. I used his toothbrush, possibly out of spite, but the only cleanser was the caustic acidity of my heartbreak, which was literally and metaphorically both profound and really eye-rollingly annoying. I was finally doing something more than looking at the collecting grime of what seemed harmless but wasn’t, and pondering the best solutions without acting on the answers. Minus a true cleaning agent, I might have more work to do in the end. But this was a start.