You genuflected outside the gothic cathedral
the day after I got officially old.
My nose was running and cold and
I turned from the great grey edifice
to see the only familiar face
for miles. On that face,
the expression I tried to capture:
irreverent yet strangely penitent,
maybe just tired from walking
or overwhelmed by unfamiliar vowels
or musing how new it feels to feel this old.
At dinner tonight, we got to talking. We talked about so many things, but one I wanted to write about before it slipped through the old brain-sieve. I am listening right now to a song that makes me think of someone I have not seen in years, someone I loved desperately with my then-heart. If I saw him again, I likely would have a flash of feeling, that electric eel around the collar one, remembering what it was like. Then I would have that certain relief of not having to love him anymore, of not having to succumb to muscle memory. The love is under glass in a museum I no longer visit. Sometimes I walk past the museum, and I can hear this song playing inside.
She told me it took a long time. She told me it took a long time before she stopped seeing him everywhere he wasn’t. She told me it took a long time to unlearn the cringing, to unfurl during the phone ringing. She told me it took almost as long as they were together to be comfortably apart, not to expect the other shoe to drop, his other shoe, when his feet weren’t even near.
She told me it took a long time, not that she expected it to be short. Once you are terrorized in a certain way, she said, your body exists only within boundaries of panic. For long, hollow years later, she would be flooded with adrenaline from a glimpse of the color of his hair. Fight or flight, but of course she did neither.
She told me it took a long time to allow herself a leisurely shower, an indecision over clothing, a detour on the way to the market, a reshuffling of plans. Sometimes, after years of only being grabbed and pulled by the wrist, she would just sit, sit somewhere quiet, and hold her own hand.
He puts his head on his hand, elbow beside the yellow pages. He scans the names and numbers, pausing to smirk at a funny bunch of letters. Today the book is of Reno, Nevada. He has never been to Reno, but he pictures it like Orinda in July, only flatter. Once he went to Orinda for a family picnic. It wasn’t his family; it was the family of a woman he tried to love. She tried to love him back. After a few years, the attempts weighed more than the result, and they parted over a steak dinner. After that, steak always reminded him of not knowing what to say.
Something I am learning from this exercise: the prompts often launch me in a completely different direction. I wonder what that’s about.
I am reading a book called “How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving” by David Richo, and this passage struck me today:
Childhood forces influence present choices, for the past is on a continuum with the present. Early business that is still unfinished does not have to be a sign of immaturity; rather, it can signal continuity. Recurrence of childhood themes in adult relationships gives our life depth in that we are not superficially passing over life events but inhabiting them fully as they evolve. Our past becomes a problem only when it leads to a compulsion to repeat our losses or smuggles unconscious determinants into our decisions. Our work, then, is not to abolish our connection to the past but to take it into account without being at its mercy. The question is how much the past interferes with our chances at healthy relating and living in accord with our deepest needs, values, and wishes.
Where to begin … yeesh. First of all, I can’t write entries like this with Jonathan Coulton playing, no matter how much I like his music. Now that it’s off: in past relationships, I was often told that my past was a problem, something to “get over” — or, rather, something I couldn’t get over, and thus was a deal-breaker — so much so that I attempted to disconnect myself from it, to forget it in order to overcome it. As a result, my memory of my childhood is spotty at best. When I discover an artifact from it, I am often moved to tears not because I reminisce but because I cannot reminisce. Whole years of my younger life are gone now; in an effort to be “normal” I have created twice as much work for myself.
While cleaning my desk today, I found this photograph of my family. I think I am three years old in this photo, but I truly have no recollection of it or of being three, of having two parents in the same place. We all have separate homes now. And today I realized that I am still trying to make sense of that.
[Want to help me bust through my writer's block this month? Read about this exercise!]
When your relationship is getting ruined we know how to help you.
We will come into your house while you are at the grocery store,
buying whatever the hell cereal you want to buy,
now that there are no other arbitrary preferences in the house,
and we will rearrange everything. We will confuse your weakened heart,
so there is no longer a focus on the ever-present crumbling,
the noise of a tow-truck always idling around the corner.
We know that it is not about words of wisdom. Curse words are more apt
but still not good enough. The words you want to collect and trash
are the words you think you will never say again:
“honey” or “baby” or “sorry”
“I missed you” or “I know I was wrong” or “what do you want me to say”
We know how to help you. We have machines that will help.
If you press your forehead against the cool metal
and look right into
we can see into your brain and therefore your heart.
We can see which baggage to zap, which intriguing trait to enhance.
We know things you do not know, can never know, without us.
All it takes is
three easy payments
of your distrust
— Halsted Mencotti Bernard
(Thanks to my junk email folder for the first line.)