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Monday, October 31, 2016

But You Look Fine

I think one of the best things I’ve found out about life is that as writer, sometimes you write less about your life, when you are so busy just living and enjoying it, that you have less time to reflect on it all.  Reflection is for the fall, when things slow down, when the leaves tumble and get crunchy and all the green goes into a faded gold.

With that fading comes the thoughtful musing in the chilly air.  I do this over hot chocolate or a shot of whiskey.  Now is the time of reckoning, part of me examining my own reflection created by the last six months, all while staring at the blank digital paper on my computer screen.  It waits for what I will put there, what I will share with you.

This is harder than I expected.  I’ve mulled over sharing this for six months, thinking over the pros, the cons and the whys.  In the end, there is no real reason to talk about what happened to me this summer, except that I have always been honest about my trials and tribulations, and now I find myself in the quagmire of something new.

What I finally came to is this:  I tend to write things that I feel others can relate to, with the end goal being that no one ever feel alone in their struggles.  The problem was that what I am dealing with is rare and not many people can relate to it, so why even bring it up? 

Yet, here I am, six months into it and as the months have passed and I’ve done more research into this crap, I have found that I was wrong.  What I’m dealing with is something rare but super universal and it is something that many people deal with, every single day, and the battle is vicious and allies are a must.

The battle is this:  the invisible illness.

It’s where you look perfectly fine on the outside, but on the inside, you’re breaking into little pieces and people look at you like you’re crazy if you say that you can’t do something because for fuck’s sake—you look fine.

Suddenly, they look at you like you’re a faker or a hypochondriac.  Because you look fine.

I think this is maybe what has pushed me to finally lay it all out on the table, because the ridiculous amount of reactions that I’ve had to deal with have run from okay to completely absurd.  And that’s just from telling a mere handful of people.  There have been days where I’ve had to just shake my head and go back to bed and to sleep, because I get so frustrated that being awake makes me want to set shit on fire.

At first, I thought I was just getting old.  Yes, you can laugh.  I find it kind of funny that I was more convinced that I was just aging quickly, as opposed to paying attention to the fact that I should not be walking around like I was ninety, while still in my forties.

Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can look back and see that the earliest symptoms started showing up about ten years ago.  I was still waiting tables but after a day of work, I would come home unable to walk.  My feet felt like someone had smashed all the bones in them with a sledgehammer and so I’d go right to the couch, understanding that once I sat down, I would not be able to get up again for hours.

But you know, that happens in your forties, right?  Getting old.  I told myself that I was just getting old and weak.  It seems kinda gross to me, now, that I was so quick to just put all the blame on myself for being “weaker” than the average person, than understanding that something else might be up.  I guess I’ve always been my own harshest critic.

What confused me was that most of the time, I felt fine.  Once I recuperated, I felt normal and went about my life.  The crushed feet thing happened only if I had to be on my feet for hours, running around.  This aching, broken-bone feeling would sometimes spread to my hands and wrists and sometimes my legs.  I took Advil and ignored it.

As the years passed, many things occurred to obscure these moments—new jobs, a job sitting down for four years, moving houses and states.  Other problems—kidney issues, gal bladder removal, and a couple more surgeries showed up in those years to just make me feel miserable all the time--so things like tired feet seemed like just complaining, instead of an actual something I should pay attention to.

Then I was out of work for an entire year so I was not running around doing anything.  All these big life events happened that sort of pushed all health stuff aside—a divorce, pressure to find a new job and on and on.  It was easy to not pay attention to how many times I had to go to bed, exhausted and in pain.

When I started to notice the symptoms, again, was when I found a great job and got much, much healthier.  I was working out every week and my job was a physically active one that was not over the top hard and just enough running up and down staircases to keep me from being sedentary.

Yet instead of feeling better, I started feeling worse.  This was where I began to connect the dots a bit, started to suspect that getting healthier and more fit should not make me feel worse.  I’d work a shift and go home feeling like I’d been run over by a garbage truck.  The only thing that made me feel a little better and not so stiff in my joints was swimming or something mild like a yoga class.

In fact, the moment I would get home from an eight-hour shift at work, I would fall asleep and sleep for two to three hours, unable to keep my eyes open, even though I had slept about seven or eight hours the night before.  I just blamed it on being a night owl and staying up late.

At work, I had to sit down for five or ten minute breaks about once an hour or I’d start that old-lady crippled walk where I was chugging Advil and hanging onto the stairway railing to get up or down the stairs.

The bone pain got worse.  Now, when I slept, I’d wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning feeling like a steam roller had rolled over me in the night, breaking all my bones or I’d feel like I’d been sleeping on a cement slab and feel bruised and achy.  Sometimes it felt like my thigh bones were on fire, deep inside the bones and the pain would wake me up in the middle of the night.  No position I could get in would make the pain go away.  Then my chest started hurting, all the time, in waves, sometimes achy, sometimes sharp—for three years.

I’m not stupid.  Yes.  The chest pain concerned me.  My nurse-sister was also freaked out by it.  She made me start taking baby aspirin all the time.  I had EKG’s done, and a heart stress test and watched for all the signs of a female heart attack—but every single time, the heart tests said my heart was strong and doing great.

The final sign was that people would sometimes tell me how red my face was.  That was the most baffling symptom of all.  I thought…maybe I am just getting overheated because my blood pressure has been high?  Maybe drinking a shot of whiskey makes my face more red than most people, just because I’m…you know…GETTING OLD.

When I moved to Taos for the summer, when all the demands on my time shrank down to nothing, I decided it was time to put a name to whatever it was that was dragging me down, to find a way to maybe treat it, because it was pissing me off.  I had started to understand that nobody, no matter how old they are, wakes up with their hip and thigh bones on fire unless there is something fucking wrong.  Nobody has chest pain every single day unless something is fucking wrong.  It was like slapping my own face.  I had to yell at myself to stop being in denial and just figure it the fuck out and deal with it.  Putting my head in the sand was stupid.

Because at that point, like most people with weird symptoms, I had been googling the crap out of my symptoms and of course, like most people, the results of my symptoms were always either just nothing--or I was dying of something gruesome.  It’s so pointless to look that crap up.

Well except for one thing.  The red face thing.  One night, while stumbling through the online list of possible horrors I could be dealing with, I found a picture.  It was a drawing of a symptom of people who have a disease called Lupus.  The woman in the drawing had a red rash going across the bridge of her nose, over to both cheeks, like butterfly wings.  It could almost pass for just rosy cheeks.

I ran to the bathroom and turned on the bright lights and looked at my face, free of makeup and suddenly I saw it, like a red ghost.  It was more subtle than the picture on the website, but sure as hell, I had a red butterfly glow on my cheeks, one that crossed over the bridge of my nose—something not easily seen with make up on.  Something easily lost in sunshine as just a rosy glow or something not easy to see in low light.

Stunned, I went back to re-look at all the Lupus symptoms.  Unexplained chest pain.  Check.  Pain and swelling in joints and bones.  Check.  Butterfly rash.  Check.  Fatigue.  Can we say three hour naps, anyone?  Check.  I went to the doctor but I guess I already knew.  I could check off at least three or four more symptoms on that Lupus list, in addition to the ones I just mentioned, that had been bugging me over the last three years.  Check and mother-fucking check.

Most of the tests, when testing for Lupus, are tests to prove what it’s not—not arthritis, not ten other kinds of syndromes, not issues related to thyroid or cancer, etc.  It took an entire month to get through it all.  There were blood tests and urine tests and xrays.  Then more blood tests.  Eye tests for medicine related issues.  Sleep tests for the high blood pressure.  I got really sick of seeing my doctor, even though he’s wonderful and the best doctor in the world.

And once it was all said and done, back in June, my very smart, very nice doctor looked sad and he said that he was sorry to have to give me bad news, but that yes, I had tested in the medium-high positive range for Lupus.

Well, fuck.  Sometimes it’s good to have a name for random symptoms you’ve been dealing with for three or more years, you know?  On the other hand, there’s this whole new level of grappling with what can be done, what needs to be done and what kind of self-care I need to start paying attention to.

I won’t even go into how I’m supposed to see a specialist called a Rheumatologist and all the ones in New Mexico are booked up for a solid year and won’t even put me on a cancellation list.  Or how the medicine they want to treat my Lupus with can cause people to go blind if you’re on it for too long.

It’s some fucked-up shit.  I tend not to rant about these things, but I do allow my language to get a bit more colorful because fucking-fuck.

The reactions of a few friends and family to the news about me having Lupus have been hilarious--things like, a couple of people telling me to just pray it away.  I get where they are coming from, them and faith and the crossover of visualization and all, but I sometimes wonder if Christians don’t wonder why the omniscient God they pray to may have given them the disease in the first place?

Wouldn’t it be a sort of spiritual treason to just wish away what God throws at them?  I refer them to the old bible story of Job, when I get that line of thought.  I tell them what if God and Satan took out a bet on my life?  Who am I to tap out and spoil their game?

Anyway.  I don’t have that sort of relationship with any God or Devil, Christian or otherwise.  I think my job in this life is to take what I’m given and turn it into lemonade.  Or feel sorry for myself and do nothing.  In the end, I don’t think it matters what I do with it.  It’s my life.  I just tend to be one of those people that doesn’t get dramatic about very many things.  “Oh look, now it’s time to deal with Lupus.  How interesting.”

Then, of course, there’s the ever popular, but you look fine!  Those are the people I’d like to slug repeatedly in the chest with cement-filled gloves, and then make them work an eight-hour shift in that state, just to see how they handle it.  But that’s just me being bitchy.  I’ve been a bitch for a long time, now.

Suggestions to cure Lupus have been everything from acupuncture to just eat a different diet and you’ll fix yourself.  I’m not ashamed to say that mostly, I just smile sweetly and say nothing to these sorts of suggestions.  In fact, I’ve discovered that has an entire Lupus link devoted to things they want to sell me to show how much they support Lupus people.  I could buy trendy bracelets and necklaces that announce how sick, but still strong, I am.  I can buy dozens of books on the subject that range from Lupus encyclopedias to some woman telling me how she dieted her Lupus away.  Seems I have to give her thirty bucks to find out what she ate.

That’s all great, except everything I’ve read says Lupus is mercurial and that sometimes, this shit actually does just go away on its own.  And sometimes it lasts forever, no matter what you do. Sometimes it even kills people.  There are three different kinds, one being a variation that shows up due to certain high blood pressure medications.  I found it hilarious that they said if you go off the meds, you can maybe cure yourself IF it’s that type.  On the other hand, if you go off your blood pressure meds, you’re probably going to stroke-out and die.  Oops.

One of the funniest reactions I get, that a lot of people jumped immediately onto, was the whole idea that --“Omg, dude, you qualify for a medical marijuana card, now!  Doooo eeeeeet!”

And it’s true.  Lupus is sometimes treated with pot, due to the joint inflammation and pain.  I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed the occasional bowl in my time, but while my doctor and I were busy treating the symptoms I’m dealing with, my blood pressure medicine level had to go way up to bring my blood pressure back to acceptable levels, which means that now if I have one hit off a pipe, or more than two alcoholic drinks, my head hits the floor and I can’t get back up.

That’s not to say I’m not exploring all my non-big-pharma options, but being unconscious doesn’t really help me have a life.  I have to sleep enough, now, as it is.

A lot of people say they once heard of someone or knew someone, a long time ago, who had Lupus but they don’t know anything about it.  Which is fair.  I had no idea what it was, either.

Reading up on it helped a lot.  It sounds scary, at first, but it’s not that scary.  It’s sort of a magical disease, like something you only get in a dark fairy tale.  For instance, I can’t go out in the sun without million-level sunscreen on because evidently, it’s a lot like being under a curse where I am now a creature of the night.

Oh wait.  I always have been.  Maybe that’s lucky for me because according to most sites, the sun can now destroy my skin, the largest organ I have, so it’s good to become Snow White if I don’t want to risk looking like a leprosy victim.  I read that the singer Seal has Lupus and the scars on his face were caused by his disease.

And do yourself a favor, never google-image Lupus.  You won’t sleep with the gross and terrifying things you’ll see that sun can do to skin.  The first time I saw that stuff, I never wanted to leave my house again.  I don’t want to have to walk around with a black veil over my face, someday, just so I don’t scare little children because I thought getting a tan would be a good idea.

People used to die of Lupus, and I guess they sometimes still do, but generally only from complications due to Lupus.  It’s like a lot of diseases these days—you can live a long and happy life with Lupus.  Right now, there’s no known cure but the medicine to treat symptoms and prevent organ failure has gotten a lot better.  It’s classified as an autoimmune disease, but where HIV is an underactive immune system, Lupus is an overactive immune system, attacking itself.

There’s a lot more I could tell you about Lupus but I’ll just include some links here if you want to know more about it.

My sister and I have renamed my Lupus to—fruit loops—as in, I tell her my fruit loops are acting up this week and we both laugh.  Laughing feels good.  It’s healing.  And I’m grateful that I now have a chance to learn about the world of the magical, invisible illnesses, a chance to become a defender of those who share my ensorcelled condition, who fight the brave fight every single day, while being told that they look just fine.

Well we do look fine, thank you--we even look damn good a lot of the time…even if we need more naps than most people and have an intimate relationship with our television for those days when we need to go back to bed.

In fact, I think I’m going to stop calling the glow on my face a butterfly rash and change it to the mark of a dragon.  Now it’s a dragon spreading its wings across my face, marking me as one of their own, in a beautiful, red glow--to warn those around me that my roar is fierce, and I will not hesitate to use my claws and my teeth to defend my invisibly-challenged friends.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Wild and The Lucky

I’ve come home for the summer and by home, I mean back to the city I grew up in, literally back into my father’s house that I grew up in, back into the old apartment I lived in for 20 years before I moved away.  I think I imagined that since I had grown up here, had loved living here for so long, that being back here once more would be as easy as breathing—might feel like I’d never left.

And now I’ve found that I’ve never felt so not at home in my life.  It’s sort of shocking.

I could say, in all honesty, that the issue is not my home, but me.  I’m the one that has changed.  It feels a lot like old lovers meeting for the first time in a decade: the outside might seem familiar but what is inside of me has shifted.  My perspective has changed.  I am not who I used to be.

I still love my home, but now I see it like an old woman might, with patience and love and a huge heap of humor and absolutely no patience to take any of it seriously, anymore.

This city that I grew up in is still a wild place.  Nothing is tame.  The blood of the old West has seeped into the ground, here, and nothing runs as it does in the rest of the world.  This can be exciting and also a little terrifying.

Being here feels like standing on the edge of a hurricane, right before it hits, with the winds tearing at your face and the dark clouds rolling above your head and the sting of the first few icy drops tickling your skin.

It feels like that moment right after you trip over the edge of a cliff, that still moment just before gravity yanks you down, when for two seconds you can hover in open air and see the vast view and understand how beautiful it all is--all in the same heartbeat that you grasp that you are about to fall to your death.

It’s like that still moment, just before a first kiss, where you suck in your breath in both hope and caution, moving towards the warm lips of someone you don’t know that well, but hope to know much better, even knowing that it’s all probably going to end up one big messy disaster, anyway. 

This is my home town, to me.  All bets are off, but who cares?  It’s fun.  It’s exhausting.  It is what it is.

Of course, the best part about being home is sharing a house with my dad.

A couple of days ago, he asked if I wanted to go to the dump with him.  I’m chuckling because I’m sure this wouldn’t sound like much of a fun date to most people.  It sounds more like father-daughter bonding time, from hell.

The truth is, this offer to go to the dump with him brought back sudden memories, long forgotten.  I remembered days of hot summer where as a kid, my dad and my little brother and I would take truck-loads of trash out to the giant mountains of garbage on the edge of town.  There was no such thing as curbside garbage pickup back in those days so when our trash got full, it was our job to drive it out to where it belonged.

Back then, going to the dump was like a trip to Disney Land.  On one of our last trips, my younger brother, who was about nine or ten, at the time, dug around till he found a bunch of old bicycle parts.  Then he took them home and built himself a bike, I’m not even joking, a real, working bike.

Sure, it was like a Frankenstein monster kind of bike, with odd parts from wrong bikes, put together by sheer creativity and will. We couldn’t afford to buy a bike, but now my brother had an amazing bike.  And because he had so many different bike parts, he could just change it up every month or so—put a giant wheel on the back and then later move it to the front, or change the handle bars.  He was the envy of all the other poor kids on our street.

Going to the dump, for us, was like going shopping--only all the stuff you could pick out was totally free.  They all seemed like perfectly good items that someone else had thrown away.  They just needed a little fixing.  At the time, it all seemed really awesome.

Now, as a grown up, I grimace thinking about that.  You know your family is poor when a fun shopping trip is going to the local dump and picking out diseased, filthy, broken-crap out of a fly infested pit the size of a football field, so you can rebuild it into something else.  As a grown up, that’s an A plus for creativity lessons for your child and about an F minus on sanitary practices and a great way to give your children incurable plagues.

I told dad I’d love to go to the dump with him, even knowing it’s not something I would normally jump at the chance of doing.  So dad loaded up his truck with trash.

My dad’s truck is affectionately called ‘the wheel barrel” because that’s sort of what it looks like.  It’s an old Toyota left over from maybe 1950 or something and its color used to be blue, maybe, but now it just looks like it’s made out of rust with faded blue patches on it, and it’s about as big as something you’d push around your yard.

At some point, Dad welded his own bars on the back bed of the truck to make a sort of wall to hold stuff in.  The tires on this truck look like old balloons in the shape of tires.  When dad starts it up, it sounds like something choking and sputtering to death…but it still starts up, every time. 

The more I ride in it, the more convinced I am that the truck runs on the power of my dad’s genuine soul, more than gasoline or oil.  His years of adopting the unlovable of the world, feeding the hungry and sheltering the sick, have formed a sort of impenetrable golden shield of light around him.

Over and over, things that shouldn’t run, run for my dad.  Things that break down on him, magically fix themselves.  If he runs out of money, which happens often as he is a pastor of a church and a handyman on the side, someone or something always shows up to deliver him grocery money or gas money or the new appliance that he needs.

These kind of miracles happen to my dad every day and so often that he doesn’t even see how impossible it is.  He just takes it in like it’s perfectly normal that when he needs something, the universe just gives it to him, and I’m not talking about the occasional twenty bucks in the offering plate.  I mean that when he needs a new truck, someone just shows up and gives him a truck.  Or a camper.  Or a computer and a big screen TV.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if my dad has ever officially paid for any given thing in his life?  His money is usually spent, literally, on feeding other people or trips to the different churches around the state that he likes to visit, as he is inspired by that sort of thing, much like professional sports players are happiest going to a game or down on the field.

So the windows of his wheel barrel truck were rolled down and the hot June winds were blowing in over the broken dashboard.  Dad and I were on our way to the dump and we had to shout over the rumble and roar of his little truck, burdened down with trash from a construction site he had been working on.  Gravel and dust blew over us.

I reminded dad about our magical shopping trips to the dump when we were kids and Dad smiled and told me that they don’t let people pick things out of the dump trash anymore to take home.  It’s illegal, now.

And I laughed because I thought that’s probably a good thing.

Dad and I had no idea where we were going, driving around in the wheel barrel surrounded by steep mountains of dirt that rose high above the sagebrush plains in all directions around us.  Eventually we came to a spot where other large, fancy trucks were backed up to a mound of garbage.  I could smell it the moment we came up the hill, like hot corpses baking in the sun and the sickly-sweet gas of rotting food mixed in.

I threw on my gloves and rolled up the truck windows.  Dad and I got busy yanking and pulling the broken pieces of walls and cement and wire out of his truck, tugging and pushing and tossing it onto the ground.  The sun beat down and winds blew dirt across my skin and I winced and spit it out and kept working to clear the truck that had stuff stacked high above the cab.

Dad might be 73 but he kicked my ass, making hauling flat slabs of cement out of the bed of his truck, look easy, and I felt like a useless butterfly fluttering around him, pulling out a few tiny pieces here and there, while he hauled big pieces of a broken wall out and shoved them away.

I turned around, surveying the mounds of trash, and looked at the huge tractor with metal wheels that had blocky metal spikes sticking out as it roared and rolled over the top of the garbage pile.  It tilted at scary angles as it crushed couches and tables and bags of garbage exploded into the dirt under it.

I thought about how a human skull would crush like graham cracker crumbs under that thing, because that’s how I am, always thinking of the most morbid possible thing.  Then I marveled at the rumble of the city dump trucks arriving and tilting their beds high into the air to tumble trash onto the pile, before they rolled away.

For a moment I felt sort of lucky.  I thought, you know, so many people who live in bigger cities—me being one of them—hear these monster trucks rolling through our neighborhoods early in the morning to pick up our trash at the curb.  But most never really see where it goes, where it ends up, how it stacks up hourly into mountains.  We forget about it the moment it disappears and yet here I was, watching where trash goes to die, marveling at how much came in, just in the short time that dad and I were there.

When we were done, dad and I got back into the wheel barrel truck and we were happy to drive away from the stench--but I looked back at the fading dirt mountain with a sort of melancholy.

The sheer beauty of my surroundings gave me a chill.  The magic of getting to spend time with my dad, that I still affectionately call daddy, just driving along in a dirty little truck, was something that filled my chest with pride, with love and pure contentment.

I may live here again, just for the summer, just hovering on the hurricane’s edge, but the truth is, these moments are where my real life happens, where I feel the incredible pressure of beauty and wonder mingled together and the feeling it leaves behind in me, brings happy tears to my eyes.

And I know, like all of us know, who live with older parents—that our days with them are numbered and dwindling and counting down to the inevitable zero, something too painful and too horrible to even dare to imagine.

And I ask myself, with tears heating tracks down my checks, and wiping at my blurry eyes--how the fuck did I get so lucky?

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Things Underneath

An old friend of mine recently exploded on social media.  It was just a paragraph long.  The words were a lot like a crime scene, full of rage and frustration and the gory remnants of her heart.  She basically said that all men suck, that even if you’re in a happy relationship now, JUST WAIT because it’s going to end, you’re going to end up betrayed and hurt and it’s inevitable.


I read it with a strange mixture of feelings.  Part of me understood where she was coming from in the sense that I would be the first to admit that romantic-love has been my greatest and most eternal disappointment in this life.  I have had my days where I put up my white flags, too.  I said Uncle.  I said fuck this shit and hugged my whiskey bottle, instead.

Another part of me flinched.  I think when a woman (or man) has been disappointed so many times in their quest for love, it can be super easy to just throw all the blame on the other people, to send out a blanket indictment of all penises and vaginas in the universe.

I think the truth is both more beautiful and more frustrating than that.  Of course it is.  If you still live in a world that you think is all black and white, you might still be in your twenties.

However, there is a difference that I’ve noticed, me--now long past my twenties--that I think not a lot of people have realized in this great search for fixing the puzzle of loves lived and lost.

There are these lonely moments in the night, nights when you stare at your ceiling and the silence is a roar.  It is easy to think that the silent void left by the object of your affection conveys a sort of indifference to your existence.  It is easy to think that not hearing the words you want to hear is a confirmation of a lack of feelings in the person that you desire.

To be honest, I kind of blame the movies.  About ten years ago, my sister and I were watching yet another romantic comedy when we connected the dots and realized that we were watching the same movie over and over and over, just with different titles and different characters but the plot was always the same.  The plot has become this romantic archetype for women, one that feeds into very real confusion and real life disappointment.

It goes like this:  the man everyone wants is “uncatchable”.  He’s attractive, mysterious and aloof.  Well, except when it comes to the heroine of the story.  The uncatchable-man sees how amazing she is.  He understands that no one else compares to her.  He recognizes that she alone is his equal.  In this archetype story, they fall in love without speaking it, then they have a falling out and yet in spite of this, in every single story, the hero realizes his error and he comes running back to declare his love to the woman, forever and ever.

Isn’t it so romantic?  So brave?  So swept-up?  So miraculous?

Go ahead and think about it.  From Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, to modern rom-coms where someone is going to go get on a plane—they break up and then the man realizes his mistake and he comes running after her.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Sometimes, it's the woman who comes running back, but she's usually the aloof, business woman who never had love till she met him.  Same story.  Again.  I'm looking at you, Sandra Bullock.

The problem with this story, in my experience, is that once a person has been wounded deeply, he or she never comes running back.  Running back to pain is actually pretty illogical.  Seriously.

In real life, when wounded, most of us will be smart enough to run away and slap first aid on it all and decide that we’ve learned our lesson and now we know better than to try THAT again!

But we always try it, again.  Why?  Because we want to believe.

Women, who were girls, who nursed on the tit of this idea that he can be wounded by her and somehow still realize his failure and come running back to beg for her to wound him some more—well.  You see where I’m going with this.

When the uncatchable man doesn’t come running back to apologize and declare his love, for the woman, the anger comes in, the rage and the feeling of betrayal.  This isn’t how it’s supposed to end.  The only logical conclusion that she can come to, then, is that he never really loved her.  The space he occupied is now empty.  He was not a true love.  He was an asshole and a coward.

Because if he REALLY loved you, then he would have come running back through your door, making grand gestures and desperate declarations of his love, layered with groveling apologies and tearing at his hair and his clothing, begging to be forgiven because the only thing he can’t live without is YOU.  You fall into each other’s arms and passionately kiss.

*roll credits while sappy love song plays*

I’ve loved men for a very long time.  I’ve felt those same frustrations with the maze they have around their hearts.  I think I’ve made the mistake of thinking that if I can just find my way through the maze, they will let me in and I will win their forever.

In reality, men are not a puzzle to be solved.  I think a better comparison would be to compare them to a mountain lake.

There are things underneath that sparkling, wide body of water that most people sail across the surface of.  There is an entire, forgotten city drowned in its depths.  There are rooms grown over with moss, the water cold and quiet and fish nibbling on those old, drowned-houses full of lost furniture and watery windows and doors and a thousand secrets that they’ll never tell.

The underneath-city looks abandoned and unlivable but the nibbling of those fish feels like little bites under their skin and in their dreams and at the back of their throats where the words don’t come out.

Except when they talk in their sleep, maybe.  Except when they stay up too late, listening to their saddest collection of songs and thinking about a pretty face from their past, while another pretty face sleeps in the next room.

Men love as deep and as true as that lake and there are layers that go far down deep, where they hide things in the houses they once tried to build with other women in other lives.  And sometimes, the love they still feel for you is the oldest house, the deepest house, the house they could never stand to tear down.

Men are not confused about who they love and who they don’t.  They know and they know for how long they’ve loved them.  And part of that love is hiding it so that they don’t hurt other people the same way that they once hurt you.  It doesn’t mean that the love went away or that it was never there.

The real maze in this situation lies between a man’s heart and his mouth.  He is the one who has to walk it, to sort it out and through.  And risking that walk of words means a potential for pain as wide and deep as that lake in his heart.  And who wants to risk that?

I think the saddest thing I know is that men really do love so deep and so true that it haunts them forever.  It gets stuck inside that lake where the fishies in their minds nibble on the drowned things.  Where the words they want to speak get eaten.

Women are so quick to use words to solve our problems.  We are actually the ones who would run to an airport, hearts pounding, to tell the man that we changed our minds, that we love them and that we want forever with them.  That’s why we love those stories.  That’s why we believe them.  It’s because that’s what we would do.

We are the ones who scream our hate and our love out loud and rant about it to our friends.  And our friends rant back.  And the words mingle together and give us comfort.

Words don’t seem to comfort men.  It’s the words from their past that have brought them this pain, to begin with.  Lots and lots of pain.

Words drowned their cities and made everything quiet.

Maybe it’s enough that I know their love is still there and still just as real for them as the first time they found that they loved me.  I know that they miss me.  I know that they want me, even when they only contact me once every six months or so to just talk about the weather.  Even when I never hear from them at all.

Now I hear what you are saying--"Yeah, orrrrr, you could just be insane."

I won't argue with that, at all.  My point is that believing this story, instead of the other story, makes it easy, makes it possible, to let go of the anger and to stay their friend, to be compassionate and to understand them.  It makes the past the past.  It keeps the future unknown and curious.  It brings peace to my present hour.  This is how I sleep content and safe on those darkest nights.

Sure, they may not say it and they may never say it--but I don't have to hear it, anymore.  I just feel it.  The rest is up to them.  I have a beautiful life with or without them and I'm comforted by their presence in my life.  Not haunted.

I’ve stopped waiting for their words.  I dive down under the water and close my eyes and drift in their depths.  I find comfort in the truth that will probably never be spoken.

It’s okay, I whisper to them.  I can still feel your heart, down here in the quiet, down where there are no words—deep in the underneath.

I listen to the songs they tell me to listen to, the shows they tell me to watch and the books they tell me to read.  But I don’t read the words, I read between the lines.

And I smile because there is always the hope that someday, some words will find their way through the maze in his throat and he will finally find the courage to speak.

What will he say, I wonder?  And will I be dead from holding my breath?


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The One Who Burns

This blog has been a way for me to process the complex paths that led away from my ten year marriage.  I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how hard it has been to accept and move past the heartbreak and the loss of certain dreams, to be strong in the face of the whirling vortex that sweeps in and upends a person’s idea of what their future would hold for them.

I’ve talked a lot about the pitfalls of depression and finding ways to move beyond the pain.

One thing that I have not discussed is the other side of that story.  What does it mean to be the one who walks away, the one who leaves someone broken-hearted in your wake?

There’s a different sort of pain, a ghost of depression that haunts and follows.  The end of a relationship is hard for both parties involved but there seems to be less talk about being the one who ends it--as generally, most sympathy is given to the person who was blindsided by that mac-truck called “breaking up” and left bleeding in the road.

That’s how it should be, I guess.  The one with the more life-threatening injuries should be given the most attention, first.

Last night, as I pondered these things while I was at work and left alone with my thoughts, an image came to mind.  There’s this movie I really like.  It’s called “Waiting to Exhale” and in it, there’s a scene that has become iconic in the realms of the broken-hearted.

Angela Bassett’s character finds out her husband of many years is leaving her for another woman, a woman he’s been having an affair with.  Her outrage is glorious.  In this scene of cathartic beauty, she tears through his closet, taking all of his expensive suits and ties and shoes, his jewelry, his golf clubs, every single thing he has left in their big, empty house that used to be their home—and she puts it all in his very nice sports car, just dumping it all in through the sun roof.

Then she puts the car in their driveway and she lights the entire thing on fire.  Poof!

The look on her face when she does it is a thing of sheer wonder.  She walks away from the fire in her driveway with this sort of ice queen, narrowing of the eyes, flattened lips and just a hint of crazy.  She is wild.  She’s a tigress.  She is literally burning her bridges and gives no fucks, whatsoever, because that is what he deserves for betraying her.

And you want to cheer for her.  You want to cheer because she is the victim and she is broken and wounded and this is her first moment of going from victim to survivor.  This is where she stands up for herself and finds her spine.  This is where she takes all the pain he gave her, by his actions, and decides to figuratively burn everything that he was to her, to the ground, to ashes and into goodbye and good riddance.

But last night I thought, what does it mean to be the one who is set on fire?  What does it feel like to be the thing that the other person has to leave behind, to completely destroy all traces of, in order to move on with their lives?

It haunts.  It feels exactly like a burning.  You blow away to ashes on the winds of something volatile, torn apart by their love that has now become a hate so fierce that the mere sight of you will send them into a screaming fury.

So you stand there, tied to the stake and burning for your crimes.  The death is slow.  It is painful.  You are publicly executed for your crimes, tied to the stake and judged.

When my co-worker asked me, last night, why I had just walked away from my boyfriend, after three months together, when everything had looked so perfect from the outside—I wasn’t sure how to explain these winds full of sparks, flying around my head.

What I said was that I was old enough, and secure enough, and wise enough to understand what I wanted and needed from a relationship.  I said that the truth was that no matter how much I cared for him, no matter how wonderful he was on so many levels—no matter that he had done nothing wrong at all—the simple truth was that my needs, on a romantic level, were not being met.

When I tried to talk to him about it, when I explained these issues that I was having, he reacted with fury.  My boyfriend lit the match and poured gasoline all over the situation and he burned it all down.  He summoned the witch trial in his head and he set me on fire.  He took everything I had been to him and destroyed it and just like that, it was all gone, no matter how many times he had said that he loved me.

He said.  She said.  Wrong or right.  It all comes down to this:  This is the end.  I am the one who burns.

This experience has had me looking backwards, a lot--looking at how when my own heart was broken by my ex-husband, I did the same thing to him.  I shut him out, I burned him down and I got rid of everything that might remind me of him.

Granted, there is a huge difference between a relationship of three months versus a relationship of ten years—in magnitude and depth and experiences.  Yet the underlying feeling is sort of the same.
When my ex-husband broke my heart, I did the same thing to him.  I stopped speaking to him, cut him out, and I stopped being his friend.

I had to purge him from my life to force my heart to understand that he was actually gone and gone forever, that we would never be the same and that all those dreams I had built for us were just that, fantasies and illusions and no amount of wishing or hoping would bring them into my reality.

While I was still married to him, I could still pretend that those things were all possible.  Once we were apart, the lies to myself no longer made any sense and I had to end them.  I had to be ruthless.  I had to go ice-queen in order to freeze his ghost out and move on.

Now, from the other side of things, I look back with a sad sort of sympathy for what happened to us. 

When I was a romantic-addled teen, I used to idealize the old story of Wuthering Heights.  I swooned over the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy.  I wanted my soulmate to be someone like Heathcliff and I’ll tell you why.

When I was younger, I only saw how Heathcliff loved Cathy without doubt and with no remorse. She was his entire world.  No one compared to her.  She drove him crazy and he would have done anything for her.  One of my favorite scenes was when after Cathy died, Heathcliff dug her corpse back up just to be with her and even dead, he told everyone that she was still as beautiful to him as ever.

Ummm, crazy much?

As a grown up, looking back at the relationship between those two fictional lovers, the reality of that relationship is much scarier.

Looking back, I see that what I had with my ex-husband was exactly what I had always dreamed of.  In him, I found my Heathcliff.  I found my equal, a man full of fierce passions and fury.  He loved me so much that I really do think he would have dug my corpse back up if I had died.  He would have called me beautiful.  He had a temper like a hurricane with a thousand tornadoes thrown in, he was beautiful to look at, and he never let anyone hurt me.

But like Heathcliff, his storms had drawbacks, had a darkness underneath, one that was jealous and cruel and unkind.  His love also liked to punish me, much like Heathcliff punished Cathy by marrying her sister in law when she married another man and didn’t wait for him.  He did things to deliberately hurt her, because he hurt so much, himself.

The irony is that in the end, Heathcliff’s cruel love killed Cathy, it made her want to die and they ended up destroying each other.  They ended up ghosts of themselves, lost forever in the darkness beyond the windows of a normal life.  They loved each other but never quite figured out how to be together and not only did they take each other down, they destroyed everyone around them, too.

My ex-husband and I loved each other like this but because of this, we were headed for mutual destruction.  We were making ghosts of each other.  And when he walked away, I hated him so much that I burned everything down and turned him into a pile of ashes in my memories.

But now, looking back, I see that it is because we let go, broke up and moved on, that we survived and we lived.  Without each other, we picked the lives that we wanted, lives that didn’t fit while we were together, new lives that made us feel much more fulfilled—even if the loss of that love haunted us, underneath, where we didn’t speak about it to other people.

Are we happier, now, now that we’re apart and not actively tearing each other to shreds by trying to stay together?

I can’t speak for him.  I hope that he is happier.  He seems to be and that soothes me.  Because the only part of me that I couldn’t burn to ashes was the part of me that really loved him.  Real love never dies, it never goes away, though it does change with time.  Part of my soul will always love that my Heathcliff is still out there, somewhere, and doing well, living like a shadow-echo of myself, moving through the world like I am and that even if we can’t be together, we can still cheer for each other.

For myself, I would say that I am at peace.  I am no longer lost.  I have a life that I love and a strong sense of who I am and what I need and what I will never put up with, again.

Knowing that means that sometimes, I will be the inevitable bad guy.  I will be the heart-breaker, instead of the broken-hearted.  So for now, it is my turn to burn.  I will hold my tongue.  I will honor my ex-boyfriend’s wish that we never speak to each other, again.

Believe me.  I get it.  I get it better than probably even he understands.  What he wants is not unreasonable or unfair.  It is what he needs to make it through this.  And because I care for him, I want him to make it through this any way that he can.

My last thought is this:  If you see anyone on fire, please, buy them a drink and give them a hug and put the fire out.  Tell the heart-breaker that everything will be okay, that not everybody hates them and that they did the best that they could.

Because in most cases, it will be true.