A New Beginning

So much has happened.

It was a year that both raced and plodded, with highs I hadn’t felt in ages and lows I hope to never feel again. I don’t suppose the generalities defy custom; I made new friends, lost track of old ones, and watched a dear one leave the world too soon. My heart expanded to welcome a new niece and tightened to finally evict an old love. In some ways, ghosts were finally released. Realizations dawned. Struggles tested. Worries became realities. Romances bloomed and withered. Academia endured. Challenges forced refinement of character, and frustrations—sometimes unrelenting—revealed new understandings. Things I thought I knew either shifted or turned out to have been different all along. Tears came more easily. Life’s mess and complication insisted on winning the day.

For a woman so keen on protection, it was a year of exposure and rawness, of ache at the slightest touch and ecstasy at unexpected provocation. It was a coming out, a time of permissions, of letting feelings surface and learning lessons that I hope will lead to greater grace.

I missed writing. I missed connecting at the soul with people whose faces I had never seen but whose hearts I felt I knew well. But occupation and obligation rarely relented, and when they did, I found my musings so muddled, so tangled, so exhausted or so banal that words were either insufficient or grandiloquent, that to reach for them would have seemed an injustice to their spirit. I wanted to write, but I wanted to rest my mind more.

This post is not a new year’s resolution; I don’t believe in those for their own sake. It is not a clarion herald. It is not a promise to anyone—not even myself. It is simply an acknowledgment of sorts, head bowed, thoughts clouded, that I have been away for a long time, and that I have ached to connect again. The shape things take from here is uncertain. There are ideas, but there is no plan. There are only my fingers on the keyboard and my thoughts on the screen, taking shape in letters after a year full of blurry lines.

Hello again.

Advertisements

Shaken, Not Stirred

I have just finished cleaning up… I don’t know… how many ounces are in a magnum bottle of vodka?… off my kitchen floor. Along with the glass in which it used to be held.

This is how that looked.

I haz a sad.

                                I haz a sad.

It’s basically how the week went, embodied in the cruel denial of all those drinks that now occupy space in my dish towels, grout, and the area under the refrigerator I can’t reach.Twenty dollars’ worth of probably-not-high-quality-but-eminently-drinkable freezer-stored distilled fermented wheat (not potato) byproduct is now seeping into every crevice it can find and getting the housebugs drunk instead of getting in mah belleh whenever required. It was the only alcohol I had in the house, since I broke up with the wine club over its refusal to come to my house because some law meant it couldn’t cross state lines, so I always had to go pick it up somewhere else. Made me feel dirty.

This week, you guys.

I feel sure that you will all understand that at least half the reason we blog is because it gives us the freedom to write what we choose in the manner and time we choose. Though writing is a significant portion of my professional life, I am nonetheless constrained to write the way my professional superiors feel is best. And I understand that, even though a web feature piece I felt strongly about and constructed with a real-life character and real-life conflict set up by said character got dismantled when the web content manager (who is great at copy editing and proofreading, but not so good at recognizing how to tell a story) banished the character to the sixth paragraph in favor of literality and deleted entirely the quote that set up the conflict which would be resolved throughout the rest of the piece. A piece, now, that resolves a conflict to which readers have not been introduced.

My VP approved the edit because my version “was more New Yorker, and the edited version is more USA Today.” I get that. I get that the audience for which I have to write is not necessarily the audience for which I want to write, and her observation was valid and one that I will keep in mind going forward. But it was nonetheless disappointing in light of all the time and energy I had spent developing, crafting and writing the piece, and in the way I had interviewed the subjects in pursuit of that concept—a concept, I should add, that the web content editor had known from the beginning.

Add to that a major publication blunder, a bunch of misplaced frustration heaped onto my shoulders by others, a raft of relatively unimportant but highly time-consuming tedium and some internal personal oodginess, and you have a week of Suck that leaves yours truly feeling torn between fair questions about ego vs. effort and unfair assessments about worth.

There was some good news. Some Best Possible News that redeemed the week at least in part.

Amanda’s first restaging scans since her Stage IV metastatic triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis came back showing significant reduction in cancer activity.

It is the best possible thing she could have heard. It means, for the first time in four and a half months, she can breathe. She can, for about two more months, stop worrying that the chemo wasn’t working.

It makes me feel a little silly about being mad that my vodka bottle shattered and ruined about 20 future cocktails.

Still… if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here…sucking on a dish towel with my hand in a jar of olives.

Local Support

There are moments in life—oh, life, you are so hilarious—when everything turns on its head. And then there are moments, say, five years later, when everything turns again. And yet nothing is the same as it was the before it changed the first time, and you wind up cross-eyed and kinda nauseous.

One of my dear friends, Amanda, has just been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It’s bad, and it sucks, and there are basically no other words. I mean there are—some of them are Latiny medical words and some of them are very bad words and almost all of them are adjectives, but none of them mean anything except cancer. Cancer that has made itself quite at home in Amanda’s body, in a bunch of places, without so much as telling her it was squatting until she bought a house, moved in, thought she’d tweaked her knee, and the MRI showed a tumor. It wasn’t until two weeks and five appointments later that the focus shifted from suspected lymphoma to, “Wait, no… not lymphoma. Breast.”

Everything changed when that word entered the conversation. Suddenly the PET scan that looked “unsurprising” when they thought it was lymphoma was a whole different ball game, and the bases were loaded.

It’s funny, in that not-at-all-humorous way… every time I would hear about someone diagnosed with stage IV cancer, I would think, “How did they not feel something was different?” Now I know the answer. Amanda was diligent about her health; her father died at age 34 from cancer, and she is obsessive about annual physicals, blood work, colonoscopies, and, yes, a mammogram every year since she turned 40. She had one less than a year ago. Clear. But mammograms in women under 50 are much less effective because the tissues are still dense, and Amanda is 43. And though she did notice a change that may indicate inflammatory breast cancer about a year ago, and did go to two or three doctors to check it out, all the tests came back clean. Amanda is also cursed with a useless metabolism, and her weight hid the “very enlarged” lymph nodes under her arm that only showed up in scans. There was just no way to know.

She is feeling every emotion you can imagine. She’s cried so much that she doesn’t think she can cry anymore, and then she does.

Her family is very small and not local, so there are five of us who live within an hour who will be her “on the ground” care team. I asked her, sitting in the car after the watershed appointment where the breast surgeon told her what we were dealing with, who she felt comfortable with knowing all her intimate details and being there even on her worst days. She gave me the names. We’ve already launched a small operation to keep things organized and keep each other informed as we take turns accompanying Amanda to appointments and, going forward, treatments and post-treatment days. We are functioning exactly as we did in our jobs when we worked together: project managing and troubleshooting, thinking of everything we can in the early going so that things might be a tiny bit easier later. There’s a Google Drive and a calendar and a binder and a lot of coordinating amongst ourselves so that everything goes seamlessly to anyone who might observe from outside.

Now there’s a new name on the list, one Amanda didn’t mention at first, but said she was okay with when Liz asked, and while she’s not a full-on member of Local Support (bra logo pending), she’s already the exposed underwire that’s going to poke the shit out of me.

She’s my old boss.

Terri has Hodgkins Disease, and she’s currently in relapse number four. She also has a manipulative personality and a tendency to want to be in charge of, and wield power over, everyone. She’s not Amanda’s friend, but when Amanda thought she had lymphoma, she reached out to Terri for guidance. It made total sense, and Terri still has valuable insight that will help Amanda, and that is all that matters.

But Terri treated me horribly pretty much every day for four and a half years, threatened on paper and in person to fire me, humiliated me, ignored me, called me names, and made me miserable, and I’ve only been away from her for 13 gloriously liberating, rebuilding months. And now she’s part of this.

The whole care team used to work for Terri; Liz still does. She doesn’t have a problem with Terri, but knows my history and was sensitive enough to ask me if it was okay to give her my email address and if it was okay to invite her to a team meeting we’re having Tuesday night at Liz and her wife Molly’s house. I told her Amanda needs Terri’s insight, and that’s all that matters.

And then the chest pains started and I realized I’m going to need to get a new anti-anxiety med prescription, because apparently I can handle my sweet friend having stage IV breast cancer, but I can’t handle having to deal with Terri again. Terri, who emailed me seconds after I gave Liz permission to share my email address, seemingly to say not much of anything, and then, after a few really courteous exchanges, said, “I know it’s a shitty way to reconnect, but I’m glad we are. Still miss you here…”

And then I yelled at the screen and threw up.

(I only actually did one of those things.)

I met Amanda, as well as Alicia and Miriam and Liz, when I started my old job, not quite six years ago. The four of us were like an internal support group in a rough industry, constantly keeping each other laughing, helping each other with the work, or listening to each other’s gripes. I met Molly when Liz, during a snowstorm, offered to have me stay at their place, two miles from work instead of my 50,  because we had to work the next day. Together, we have all been through a raft of ridiculousness.  Of all of us, Amanda left first. I left a few months later; Alicia and Miriam left on the same day, seven months after that.

Miriam (who also hates Terri) reminded me that sometimes the Devil has an answer, so you talk to the Devil about that one thing and you ignore the rest. I’m going to try to keep that in mind. It occurred to me that this is what some families must endure… that sense of being thrown into something awful with someone who has caused a great deal of pain, because someone else needs them both at the same time.

I just got home from spending much of the day at Amanda’s house with her, her friend Noel from college, and another of our former coworkers. There’s a weird sense of conflict within me about giving non-team members any information on Amanda’s illness. I’m fiercely protective and I don’t want others to know more than she’s comfortable with sharing, but when they ask you point-blank and Amanda’s not yet home from Target, it’s an awkward situation.

I’ve known about Amanda’s cancer, in whatever form it was going to take, for two weeks, and I’ve already learned so much. Some of it is about myself. And it may be uglier and more insidious than triple-negative stage IV possibly inflammatory breast cancer. Tomorrow morning, Alicia takes Amanda to her first radiation appointment to try to get a handle on her somewhat debilitating pain, and in the afternoon, I take her to her first meeting with her medical oncologist, who will determine and order all her chemo treatments and coordinate with the breast surgeon and the radiation oncologist about others. And Tuesday, Terri and I sit down with the rest of Local Support, bra logo pending, and figure out how to hold Amanda up without fraying at the edges.

 

 

 

Rendezvous, Then I’m Through With You

One of my friends wants to set me up with her friend’s neighbor.

Liz doesn’t know about what’s happened with Jack. In one of those classic crazy life twists, she actually knows Jack from about 15 years ago when they worked together, but she doesn’t know much about him. She knows we were good friends, but that’s all, and she used to tell me all the time that she thought he was a great catch.

Sigh.

Liz had emailed me the other day, telling me that she thought either our friend Alicia or I should go out with this guy, Ben. She particularly thought I might be interested because he’s a classical pianist and violinist, and an economist, to boot. Given my love of classical music as a singer and my pseudo-wonkiness, she figures this is right up my alley. He’s also a runner. Because apparently everybody is a runner these days. The only problem, as she sees it, is that he’s short. She doesn’t know how short, because she doesn’t actually know him.

“I’m told he’s taller than Peter Dinklage, but shorter than me,” she told me.

So that means he’s between 4’6″ and 5’10”. I’m 5’7″ barefoot.

Well, that’s not the only problem. The other problem is that my heart is currently sitting on my counter in a blender.

Also, he lives an hour away from me, and I just can’t stand the thought of going back to driving back and forth after finally ridding myself of my 100-mile-per-day commute. But that’s really neither here nor there. Although it does add to the list of reasons I slump over when I think about this idea.

So why even consider it, right? Well, that’s the thing. It’s not that I have any interest in running the risk of attaching myself once again to someone who, in a month or a year or a decade, will walk away. I know I don’t have the stomach for dating at the moment, starting over with getting to know someone from zero, investing time and energy into something that ends with a whimper or a thud or an explosion, but ends nonetheless.

But I know that I am dangerously close to never trying again.  I feel like there might be a delicate balance, and that if I listen to the voice that tells me not to bother, I’ll shut it all down for good.

I ran into Rick the other day at work and he was telling me something that doesn’t matter because all I could think was that I have to keep it professional or I’ll get stuck again, falling for someone I can’t have. Every time I have to ask him for information on a project we’re both involved in, he responds to my cold email with a phone call. Someone says something nice about me in his presence? He leaves me a handwritten note at my desk. I send out an email to the people involved in the project? He replies just to me. We went on a site visit for the project the other day and while everyone else was talking amongst themselves about planning an event (which we don’t have a role in), we wound up standing off to the side together. I looked up and he was looking at me from behind his RayBans.

It helps that it’s difficult to have a meaningful wordless exchange when you’ve both got sunglasses on, but I suddenly remembered what he once said about me wearing his, and I had to walk away.

I can’t get stuck again.

So, what do you think? Should I tell Liz I’ll go out with the economist musician runner (damned runners)? Swallow the trepidation, dose up on anti-anxiety meds, drink a couple glasses of wine and pretend I have the emotional energy required? Is that fair to him? Or should I spare us all the struggle?

*In case you’re wondering, the title of this post is a reference to the ’90s Eve 6 song, Inside Out. “Wanna put my tender heart in a blender, watch it spin around into a beautiful oblivion/Rendezvous, then I’m through with you.”

The Crazy

So now I’m pissed at my best guy friend for up and Facebook-friending Jack after YEARS of not giving half a shit about him and frankly disliking him for the way he treats women.

Brad friended Jack. What the fuck. We all worked together once upon a time.. Brad left back in 2007 and literally has not talked to Jack since. And NOW, now that Jack is getting married, now that Jack has done so much to hurt me, now that Jack is somewhere between the love of my life who I lost and the object of my most penetrating hatred… Brad has friended him.

I’m so pissed I’ve tried four ways to contact Brad and tell him he needs to tell me why I shouldn’t be pissed.

Meanwhile, what did I do? Well, I went to Jack’s Facebook page, of course. We’re not friends, but some of what he posts is public. Including the new pictures of him and Gwyneth and the story of how he proposed during a marathon training run and “she gets her wish that I stop calling her my training partner.”

Memo to Gwyneth: he called you that all this time because he was HIDING YOU.

“We couldn’t be happier!” Jack says.

Good for you. Who are you, by the way?

Another memo to Gwyneth: the trail you were running on when he proposed was the one where I took the picture that’s framed in his condo. I gave it to him for Christmas in 2011. That’s my handwriting on the matte. He loved it. Loved it. I’ve never seen him react to anything with as much gratitude and emotion. I bet he never hung it because you would see it and ask about it. But it’s there somewhere. Hang it, please. So you have a reminder of where you fell in love. And where you got engaged. So he has a daily reminder of how he treated the woman who gave it to him.

I have called Joey and messaged Angie telling them I need them to talk me down given Brad’s move. And to once again stop me from sending Jack a really hateful message. Oh, it would feel so good. Here are some drafts:

You are going to ruin her.

OR

I heard you were marrying Gwyneth, eight months after throwing away ten years like it was nothing and telling me you were not capable of sustaining a substantive relationship. Good luck. You’ll both need it.
OR
How long were you sleeping with her and spending nights with me? When you cancelled on me Christmas night, telling me it was something that made you sick from dinner, was that because you were spending the night with her instead? Does she know you spent the next night with me? The night I gave you the framed photo of your running trail?
I kind of wish I could post a comment on his “could not be happier!” FB page that simply says, “Whatever.”
But I know that all makes me the smaller person. I know I’ve actually crossed into the Crazy that I always envied other women for being able to pull off. Brad says Jack contacted him via Facebook last week about tickets to an event and that’s why they became friends. I call bullshit. Defriend him now, then. You don’t even talk. I need to know that my best guy friend, who has been supportive and thoughtful and derisive of Jack, isn’t dividing his loyalties. Like Jack did.
Facebook is so unnecessarily… whatever.
I’m so upset I can’t even find words anymore.

I Feel Like Sally Field.

I suck at dating. Several months ago, Rick mentioned that he hates dating. Now Rick and I are dating.

But it’s very, very early in this whole process, and since he just got out of a relationship about six weeks ago, and most of his stuff is actually still in that apartment while he crashes at his parents’ house and sleeps in his nephew’s pirate bed (sometimes with his nephew)…  we’re certainly in no hurry.

But in case any of you were worried that I would stop being endearingly neurotic… fear not.

Friday, we had plans to get together after I finished with work. His job is super-busy right now, and he’s new at it; my job requires me to work nights until 10 or 11, and then I have an hour drive home. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of options for us to see each other, and he was heading to New Orleans the next morning to scream his head off at the Super Bowl and get his ass grabbed on Bourbon Street. Because he’s a huge Ravens fan, and when your team goes to the Super Bowl and you can get there… you do. It’s a b’road trip. Or a bro’ad trip. It’s a road trip with a B in front of it to indicate that you’re with your brother.

But I was convinced he was going to cancel Friday’s date. He had spent his whole weekend before this working from home, and he had a lot of work to do all week long after he left the office. I was so convinced he’d cancel, my friend Sam and I had the following text conversation:

Me: We have reached the part of the evening in which you talk me out of being neurotic. Go.

Sam: If he cancels, you’re ok with it and find another activity to do.

Me: Yeah, that’s incorrect.

Sam: Which part?

Me: All of your words just then.

Sam: You’re not okay with it and you don’t have another activity.

Me: There you go.

Sam: Right, but he doesn’t need to know that.

Me: Right, no. But still with the neurosis.

Sam: Goooo sllloooooooowwwww.

Me: This from the guy who wanted us naked by now.

Sam: Well, that’s what I want for you. Mainly becasuse I’m convinced the global economy is dependent on it. Relax. What has he done to cause this freakout?

Me: Nothing, really. He’s going to NOLA Saturday, his job has him swamped, he cancelled Sunday as a result and I just have this feeling he’s going to cancel.

Sam: And if he does, you say ‘hey, I totally understand, been a crazy week all around and you’re skipping town. Snag something fun for me while you’re down there and we’ll catch up when you’re back.’

Me: Right. I’m not asking what I should say. I’m asking you to make me stop thinking it’s going to happen.

Sam: There’s always porn. 🙂

Me: Yeah, okay, clearly you’re having trouble focusing.

Sam: You’re in a good place here. You’re still in the ‘less is more’ phase.

Me: You know why I do this? To prepare for the rejection.

Sam: Yeah, stop doing that.

At 8:45pm on Friday, 15 minutes before I was to leave work, Rick texted that he was still working. With a frowny face. Well, now he’ll definitely cancel, I thought. Still, I left at 9 and headed up to where we were set to meet up, my head half-full of fears that I would be standing there at the doorway of the restaurant/bar he’d suggested, stood up, trying to look casually involved with something on my smartphone while I eyed every moving figure in the parking lot, and in would walk my ex-boyfriend Mitch, who loves that place and with whom I was already dreading the possibility of a run-in.

At 9:50, I texted Rick to let him know it was taking me longer to get there than I thought, and I might be a few minutes late.

Him: No problem. I’m just wrapping up here myself.

Oh. Oh! Oh… he’s actually getting ready to leave! To come out! To meet me! He’s not cancelling!

I had been so prepared for the stand-up, so sure he would cancel, that I had worked my way around to being okay with it, and now he’s not cancelling. Well, what a pleasant surprise that shouldn’t be a surprise at all since he had given no indication that he would cancel and I was just going by the voices in my head!

Gah, I hate those guys.

Granted, he was later than me. I was there about 15 minutes before he arrived, but that was okay, and he apologized. And then we split a bottle of wine and had, really, another great time together, and did not run into Mitch. We stayed out much later than he had previously said he’d be willing, continuing our coversation in my car after we were politely asked to absent ourselves from the establishment on account of they were closing. (Yes, a conversation. That’s not a euphamism.. although it was a very flirty conversation that involved hands on knees. Do you remember that feeling? The first time someone you like puts a hand on your knee? I’m a girl, so there’s a strange tickling feeling in my skin and then my stomach does a little flutter. Do guys’ stomachs flutter?)

Naturally, I expected radio silence pursuant to debauchery while he was in New Orleans for the Super Bowl. But no! I heard from him during his layover Saturday, and while he was out partying on Bourbon Street with his brother Saturday night (this was when I learned of the ass-grabbing), and on Super Bowl Morning before he headed out, and again at 3:30am after the game when he was back on Bourbon Street with his brother. And then while he was at the airport waiting for his flight, and then when he landed back home.

You guys. I think this guy likes me.

Merry Lead-Up

I am sitting at my kitchen table, looking out at my festive and merry living room with its golden light cast about by the white ones on the tree and the standing one in the corner and the frosted ones in the Dickens Village houses and their reflection off the yellow painted wall. I am under a kind of spotlight from above the counter-bar behind me. The kitchen window is open a couple of inches to cool the house down from its stuffy 72 degree temperature after having the oven on for the last four hours. It reminds me of winter holidays at my grandparents’ house, when they did the same thing.

I am so damned tired. I yawned tremendously, four times in three minutes while folding laundry a little while ago.

There. I did it again.

But a it’s good tired. (Except for writing. I had “it’s” and “a” transposed in that sentence just then. And then I tried to spell “except” with a pound sign.) I’ve been on vacation this week, which is glorious. I mean that fact itself is enough to make angels burst into song. Fine, the angels don’t give a crap. I’m the one bursting into song. The angels are working overtime right now and kind of resent my absence with pay.

So first one of my besties from college, Joey, came to visit. We dined late on Friday after his arrival, at a cute little French bistro where the onion soup named for its nation was over-salted (and that’s saying something), but the ambiance was lovely and the boeuf bourguignon was divine. The next morning we sipped coffee as he flung open my front door and sang a song to the neighborhood.

I’m not kidding.  He’s like that. Gay playwrights are like that. Not to generalize.

We baked his grandmother’s thought-to-be-complex-but-actually-only-four-ingredients cookies and strolled through the park to the kicky little hipster coffee shop on the other side for a cuppa joe and a grand conversation with the baristo.  We traipsed through a couple of sections of my fun city, popping into shops along the way, trying on fetching and/or ridiculous hats, for example. We perused an appropriately grungy and hip record shop. And then we ducked into a restaurant for dinner, which was fanfreakingtastic as I expected.

I love love love finding new places to eat in tucked-away locales with friends. They are so impressed with me when I do this, because I’ve planned to go here, I’ve mentioned the name. But really I’m totally just using them as guinea pigs for my gastric galavanting. Win-win.

When Joey left on Sunday, I had a day with relatively little to do.

Just that one.

I watched football and read. A book. Lots of pages of it. It’s really good.

Monday and Tuesday I baked and waited for the various repair-type people to come repair things. On Monday night I watched “The Polar Express.” Twice. Because I needed some transportive magic, and that one does it for me every time. Tuesday I had friends over for dinner – my fettuccine Alfredo from scratch, which I make once a year and only once a year because if I make it more than that my arteries will slam shut and I’ll die. After my friends left, I put on “Elf,” saw the first ten minutes and fell asleep through the rest of it. How is it that you always wake up right when it’s over and the DVD is playing the menu screen on a loop?

Wednesday, Sister 2 came with Youngest Neph (BIL 2 was working), and we hung out and went to see crazy Christmas light displays that I’d tried to take Joey to but he’d pitched a nutty about sitting in traffic and we turned around and went home. Sis and I ate up the wonder on my nephew’s sweet toddler face while he “whoaed” and “wowed” and “dis is amazinged” down the street. Then we had dinner and watched “While You Were Sleeping” because we love that movie and we always laugh out loud at the very best part, which is like five seconds of a newspaper delivery kid riding his bike, flinging a paper and falling over. She drank ah glass of pinot noir, her 32-week-pregnant self very happy to sip it slowly with the doctor’s permission.

When they left this afternoon, I resumed baking and doing laundry (washer’s working! Huzzah!) All baking comes with Christmas music from either Pandora or the cable TV channel or CDs. And that comes with me snap-scatting around the kitchen with Frank and Johnny and Michael Buble’ (they play way too much of him on Pandora). I was just pulling a dozen oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies out of the oven when there was a knock on the door and the declaration of a UPS man’s presence. Holy Fast Delivery, Batman: it was the two replacement wine glasses I’d ordered from Crate & Barrel Tuesday night after I’d shattered a second one of the four I had. They arrived in less than 48 hours.

Clearly, the folks at Crate & Barrel are aware that the world is ending tomorrow and some of us need our wine glasses pronto.

The UPS guy commented on how great the cookies smelled, so I offered him one. He totally wanted it, but he checked his watch and said he didn’t have time.

I don’t know what that meant. When I say, “Do you want one?” do you take that to mean “Please come in, sit down and have a leisurely chew?”

So instead, I ran back to the kitchen, grabbed two from the cooling rack and handed them to him through the door, with a “Merry Christmas” and a smile. He took a bite and groaned with pleasure as he walked away.

UPS guy was kinda hot, by the way. And so I fleetingly wondered what Brown can do for me as I walked back to tend my oven.

And now I’m sitting. Sitting and enjoying. And thinking. I have one more day off before it’s back to the usual grindstone, working through Christmas and all. I still have some Christmas gifts to buy, and I have cookie trays to assemble and deliver. And I have a few more movies to watch in order to complete my holiday traditions.

But that to-do list makes me smile. I’m glad I find so much pleasure in the things that lead up to Christmas, since I so often have to work on the holiday and miss that one day’s shining moments. More and more, it’s about the lead-up, for me.

Merry Lead-Up, all.

Heartbeaten

There is a danger in having nearly unfiltered internet service at work. Namely, it allows me to creep on Jack and then have a torrent of self-aware recognitions that lead to a steady stream of tears down my face on my hour-long drive home, culminating in pouring myself a martini even though I’d put the wine in the fridge to chill down a bit.

As all of us who are on Facebook know, Facebook is going to destroy everything. Like, for example, relationships. Because it lets one person look up another person’s goings-on without them necessarily knowing, to the extent that their settings allow. And when that throws up a roadblock, it allows us to see their friends, and then work backward.

It’s basically sanctioned psychosis.

And so I found myself on Facebook, looking at Jack’s page even though I have hidden him from my news feed so I’m not tortured by the rare but consistent posts referencing runs and marathons and Gwyneth. And he hadn’t had anything interesting to say since Thanksgiving when he posted a generic good wish. That was hours after he had texted me one on Wednesday (the day before the holiday, of course – because he does that – he acknowledges significant dates the day before, so as  not to give one the impression that he’s thinking of one on the actual significant date). I had ignored it – the first time he had communicated in two and a half months, and I was not in the least bit interested in engaging, because if there is to be communication between us, it had better be in an actual voice-to-voice or face-to-face manner. None of this cowardly electronic shit. Sack up, asshole.

So anyway.

He hadn’t had anything interesting to say, but apparently he’d attended a party last Saturday.

I clicked.

Gwyneth’s party.

There’s her address.

Holy f&*k. It’s not even a block away from a house I looked at.

That. Would. Have.

SUUUUUUCKED.

Aside from wondering whether she rents or owns, and, if she owns, whether that makes her better than me since she’s also eight years younger and I just bought my house…. aside from that, you know what this means.  It means I googled the public property records looking for evidence of whether she owns the house. (I told you. Internet = sanctioned psychosis.) It means that I (not really) narrowly averted living less than a block from the woman who had essentially stolen my man. (No. To whom my man, who was not really my man, had gone, of his own inexplicable volition.) It also means I know her address. It’s like two miles from me. Which means I could, theoretically, cruise by some late night/early morning and see if his car is there, thereby confirming the nature of their “undefined” relationship.

Or not. If his car wasn’t there.  Thereby perpetuating my hell.

Ugh… I am entirely too old for this shit.

If you haven’t been single since your early twenties, you are probably totally alarmed right now by the thoughts that have already been posted here. Because seemingly, people who marry by their mid-20s never think crazy shit like this. They never had to.

So lucky (provided they’re still happily or at least not adulterously married).

And so it was that I started thinking yet again about why this whole thing with Jack hurts so much. And so it was that I had those recognitions I mentioned earlier. That I still just don’t understand how something that had lasted ten years and been so meaningful could be so easily dismissed in his mind and his heart that he wouldn’t even try to maintain it when push came to shove. That it is not only deeply painful, but very insulting. That, in healthy terms, I should not care to be attached or involved or at all connected to someone who could care so little about something that had meant so much… but that there are reasons I do:

Because, after all, there were real reasons I was so attached, involved and connected for so long.

Because believing he loved me enough, even though he never said it, was better than anything else I’d ever had, because no one has ever said it.

Because I believe that something that was wonderful for a long time, but less than what I wanted, was better than nothing at all.

Because feeling heartbroken for him seems better than feeling nothing for anyone.

Because it feels like giving up on loving him will mean giving up on loving entirely.

At the risk of being dramatic (oh, like it’s not too late for that disclaimer): I’ve had my heart broken kind of a lot. And I’m not, you know, totally crazy and pathetic, all evidence to the contrary. I’m not a hideous hunchback who got hit in the face with a bag of hot nickels, and I don’t get irrationally hung up.  I’d like to believe I’m regular-crazy and pathetic, at worst, because I’ve seen a step above that, and wow. But when you’ve had your heart broken kind of a lot, and you don’t fit the profile of someone other people shake their heads sadly about with any regularity, you come to a place where you’re just not sure you can take it again. There seems to be a limit. And you’re pretty sure that one more time will kill you inside. So you don’t want to let go of this time. Even though it hurts like hell, even though you don’t want to feel like this, you don’t want to let go, because you suspect that it’s your last chance to feel anything at all.

And so it is.

I love Jack, and I still see so much reason to love him, even though he’s a selfish, cowardly, stupid ass. And I don’t know if there’s any way at this point to fix it, to make it better. I know the best of us, the most of us, is probably gone. We don’t even speak. He doesn’t even know I bought a house.

But I love him still, and I miss who we were, and I hate where we are now.

Obviously, I expect to hear from Maury Povich any minute.

******
Now on my bookshelf: Rules of Civility – Amor Towles

Paradox

Danger: torturous honesty ahead. This post will either kill your soul or make you want to smack me. I hereby apologize to the new subscribers I’ve picked up as a product of my last political post being Freshly Pressed. This post might leave you Freshly Depressed. Orientation: I write about all kinds of stuff, depending on where I am in my head on a given day. Normally I’m much funnier. And I will be again, and it won’t be fake or anything. Don’t feel like you can’t believe my irrepressible wit and snark just because this post exposes one of the reasons I’m witty and snarky in my real life.

End disclaimer.

*******

“What remains of your past if you didn’t allow yourself to feel it in the moment?”

David Rakoff wrote that. He just passed away at the age of 47 – the age he had previously thought he had been born to be. It was the sentiment he used to describe his tendency to avoid intimacy – not the sexual kind, no, the emotional kind – by using humor. It’s how he described the irony of wanting to be known without anyone knowing that which he liked least about himself.

Guardedness is, to some degree, natural. But I’ve always been more guarded than most. I’ve mentioned before that my intention in starting this blog was at least partly to be less guarded and more “out there” with how I feel about things. As is inevitable with me, I turned a lot of it into wry comedy. Well, that’s genuine. That is me. It’s more fun, it’s more appealing, and I tend to laugh at a lot of things in life, or at least employ biting sarcasm. But I haven’t generally allowed myself to be less guarded. I’ve done it in a few posts (to some readers’ alarm). But mostly, I had hit on a formula that made people laugh, that made people comment, that made people hit the “like” button so their shining faces and icons would line up neatly in a row (or two, now that I’ve finally been FP’d) at the bottom of my text. It made people like me. I’m Sally Field, over here.

I am, truly, a pretty twisted sister with a sick sense of humor. In my real life, I tend to be awfully intense if I’m not making jokes. I’m not one of those obnoxious people who is always on and never shuts up, like Robin Williams. You don’t listen to me and immediately think, “She’s covering something up with her humor.” I just happen to be pretty quick with a quip. But yeah, I’m intense if I’m not joking. Like, it’s got the potential to freak people out. My friend Joey once said he thinks I feel things more deeply than most people do. Joey, by the way, is a playwright in New York whose two younger brothers died, less than a year apart, in auto accidents, and whose two stepsisters no longer speak to the family because they’re suing his mother over their late half-brother’s trust, which was bequeathed when their father – Joey’s stepfather – shot himself in the head 11 years ago. Joey is also a recovering alcoholic. And gay. So for him to say I feel things more deeply than most people do… Oy. I didn’t know – still don’t – if that’s true, but I worry that it is. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It’s a miracle I still have both my ears. (Somewhere, Vincent Van Gogh just cocked his head and said, “What?”)

How do you balance wanting to be just like everyone else with wanting to be unlike anyone else?

Jack ran his Iceland marathon with Gwyneth today. I woke up for no reason at 7:30am and immediately wondered if I were somehow psychically connected to him. What time is it in Reykjavik? I had no idea. Maybe they just finished…?

Why do I care?

When I read the Facebook post about how the run had gone, I bristled as soon as my eyes lit on the word “we.” “We.” Since when do you use that word, Jack? In ten years I don’t think I’ve ever heard you or seen you use that word. You’ve performed linguistic gymnastics- with stunning ease- to avoid using it. Now you’re playing it fast and loose like it’s nothing, like you’ve used it every day about everybody since time immemorial, and you claim it’s completely meaningless. “We finished in 3:31:53, a personal best for Gwyneth in her seven-marathon career.” 

Okay, first of all, you know what? Fuck her personal best. Fuck her seven marathons. Your Facebook friends don’t even know her, except for seven of us who have worked with her. Why should the other 190 even care about how she ran? “We finished in 3:31:53.” You had to cross the finish line together? Why can’t you run your own damned race? You could have finished faster, I know it. You let her slow you down.

So he could be her hero. So he could be there for her. Step by step. “Just running buddies.” We.

It enraged me.

Which makes, by the way, absolutely no logical sense whatsoever. I mean… they were just… running.

And that’s the kind of stuff I generally suppress. I don’t allow myself to feel that kind of senseless anger, or any sort of knee-jerk emotion, without stopping, figuring out why I feel it, and then massaging the less comfortable parts of it away like so much muscle pain. I think it’s the grown-up way to handle one’s proverbial shit. But thanks to Ali Velshi, my new therapist, I’m assigned to try embracing the knee-jerk a little more. Oh, joy. His point: my tendency to suppress my feelings is usually because I want to be “fair” to the person to whom I’m reacting, even when they’re not around. I’m assuming, he says, about 70% of the responsibility for that which is only 50% mine to bear. What about what’s fair to me?

For the record, I didn’t comment on the Facebook post, for two reasons. One: all I could think to say was something nasty and low, and even though I’m supposed to stop caring so much about what’s fair to someone else, I am an adult in my mid-30s and I was still raised not to be a total immature snot. And also because (okay, mostly because) if I had commented, or even clicked “like,” (which herein would become merely a twitch of support rather than an actual tacit approval of all the words Jack had used), I would have been exposed, over and over, to every comment anyone else would make, thereby forcing me to reread the post any number of times to make the stupid red notices on the screen go away, thereby making me bang my head on the desk exactly that many times.

I didn’t cry. I couldn’t find a word to describe how I felt. I let myself feel whatever it was without knowing what it was. I bent forward in the shower, stretching my back, letting the hot water sluice over me, my mind a dull, nonspecific ache of getting ready for my day while letting go of a never-defined relationship in which I had loved someone more than I ever had before, trusted him more than I’d ever trusted anyone before, while never quite letting him see all my flaws because I knew they would scare him away.

Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia and loneliness – a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest self, which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and glib comic effect, thus rendering you the kind of fellow who is beloved by all yet loved by none, all of it to distract, however fleetingly, from the cold and dead-faced truth that with each passing year you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair – then this confirmation that you have triumphed again and managed to gull yet another mark, except this time it was the one person you’d hoped might be immune to your ever-creakier, puddle-shallow, sideshow-barker variation on adorable, even though you’d been launching this campaign weekly with a single-minded concentration from day one – well, it conjures up feelings that are best described as mixed, to say the least.

~David Rakoff, “Half Empty”

How to Clean Grout Using Nothing But Elbow Grease and Tears

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.