I am a writer. My experiences, almost when I’m experiencing them, become narratives. My life is a series of stories.
But I’m realizing that a lot of the stories I tell are needlessly tragic or dramatic, that every lost love either was the purest love or the greatest heartbreak or most damaging betrayal. I’ve been spinning and repeating these narratives about how I’ve never been seen, loved truly, or deeply desired and wanted for who I really am.
Part of healing will involve being more honest and less inclined to cast myself as the tragic heroine in all these stores of love gone wrong.
I don’t have pictures yet, because we drove it off the lot at 9pm, but it looks a lot like this:
It’s a 2002 Honda Civic SI. Decently low miles. Speedy as heck, if you drive it that way. I’m more conservative. Jeremy and I were both driving really shaky old cars– mine can be repaired, his is basically rolling scrap metal– and we’re gonna split this car. I get to commute in it, he can use it to drive Sadie around, and we can take road trips and go out driving without feeling like we’re gambling with our lives every time. Well, no more than anyone else on the road.
It’s such a weird feeling to walk into a dealership and drive away in a shiny, new (to us) car. We’ve talked about who gets it if we break up, how we’re gonna pay for it, and how everything I thought I knew about driving is apparently wrong. He wants to joyride on back roads. I’m thrilled that the brakes work and it has all its windows.
It’s both a good choice and a fun one. It’s a 5-speed, lightweight, easy to handle. It has a surprising amount of power. It all feels so terrifyingly adult.
This past week has, actually, brought that feeling up a lot, like I’m faking being a grownup. I made a real effort to hang out with Sadie this week, and Jeremy was thrilled by how engaged I was. I cooked dinner, I helped her pick out a helmet and learn to ride a bike, and we both played with her on the playground. I was trying to act like a step-parent, to see how it felt. And it felt like I was pretending. Pretending well, apparently, but still… I don’t know how to do this. I’ll learn, maybe, sure, as much as anyone does before the kid changes and you have to adapt to that. After the playground, I carried her home IN MY ARMS because she was tired. And she smiled the whole way. And she wasn’t heavy. We got back inside and I made food and we felt like a family and I felt like at any moment the bubble would burst and someone would tell me that this isn’t my life and I don’t have any right to it.
Same with the car. It’s not just MINE, it’s OURS. And more than that, it’s responsibility. We signed form after form, handed money over, agreed to make payments and get insurance and all that jazz. We turned down the warranty. We had to sign something about that, too.
And then, since we’d arrived in Jeremy’s truck, I drove it home. Cruising along at 62mph in a 55 zone, all my fear melted away for a few minutes, and I took that car around corners and on straightaways, loving the way it just… worked. I like having a manual transmission again, even though Jeremy thinks I have a lot to learn about driving it because he’s a pedantic jerk. I like those moments when the “what the hell did we just do?” feeling fades and I actually feel like an adult who can handle things.
I almost gave myself an asthma attack earlier. Dancing. I had let Sadie borrow my Kindle, and she somehow started the music player– playing a song I hadn’t heard in years, that I didn’t know I still had on any device, that used to be the one song I couldn’t resist dancing to. And so, seeing this as a good opportunity, I got up and brought Sadie and her dad into the living room, and we all danced. Sadie kept at it the longest, because she is three, and Jeremy and I are out of shape.
I have dated men with kids before, but I have never met the kids in question. I have certainly never lived with them. I think the last time I lived with a toddler was when I was an infant. I have fancied myself good with kids, other people’s kids, for up to a few hours at a time, but I’ve never had to deal with the tantrums, the bathroom trips, carseats, the messes, the discipline. It’s always been someone else’s problem, and nothing I had to concern myself with.
But now there’s this living, breathing, peeing three-year-old IN MY HOME. When she cries, my heart breaks. When she laughs, I laugh too. I don’t know how to be friends with a little kid, but I’m learning fast, and she seems to like me just fine. Which, of course, makes me adore her.
I remember some things about being that small. Being around Sadie, I’m remembering a lot more. Her father is more patient than I am. I am not particularly good at calmly telling her not to scream in my car, not to torture the cat, not to fling her food when she’s supposed to be eating it. Jeremy is endlessly patient both with her and with me being completely inexperienced when it comes to how to deal with a child.
I am reassured to know that he has no idea what he’s doing, either. But he does a good job. And for the three days a week that she’s here, I have the opportunity to learn a lot from someone who hasn’t had time to become cynical or jaded, who is herself still learning about the world, who likes to dance and sing and draw and– really, all the things I love to do, things that I should do more. Tonight I played a bunch of Sesame Street videos for her, and while she found them interesting for a few minutes, Jeremy and I were entranced. Having a kid around reminds me of what it was like to feel real and unabashed joy, and makes me want to pursue the things that make me feel that way.
So she has things to teach me. I am also trying to teach her some important lessons– mostly about the inherent meaningless of a human life in a cold and uncaring universe, the concept of entropy, and the word “chillax.” I think I’m probably learning more than she is. But I’ll keep at it.
I am not a great decorator. After Mike The Asshole told me my taste was tacky, I stopped putting things up on my walls for awhile. After we broke up, I of course plastered my walls with weird postcards and the like. But I’ve moved seven times in 3.5 years, and I seldom put anything up because it’s exhausting and I’m just gonna probably move in six months anyway.
So my current bedroom has only one thing on the walls.
It’s a letter my dad sent me years ago, when I was desperately poor and felt, well, lame. Because I needed help again and I felt like a 28-year-old shouldn’t be asking her daddy for money every month. I should have had my life together, and I didn’t. He sent a check, and included this note, and everywhere I’ve lived in the past five years, this has been on my wall.
I am, whatever our problems, and whether I want to be or not, Daddy’s Girl. I have always wanted to impress him. I tell people, “my father is brilliant, I am merely very,very bright.” My father has something like 13 patents. My father had a part on the space shuttle, although I’m not sure what. My daddy does things with lasers and tank armor and makes assloads of money and lives in a house with a glorious view of the Pacific. My father is generous and charitable and at times astonishingly kind.
Which is why this is so hard for me.
He doesn’t goddamned get it, at all.
Martha says it better than I can:
You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up
And you have no idea
No idea how it feels to be on your own
In your own home
with the fucking phone
And the mother of gloom
In your bedroom
Standing over your head
With her hand in your head
With her hand in your head
I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth
I don’t know if that conveys it to you, but it’s playing in my head on a constant loop these days.
I talked to my dad about 10 days ago. It was about an hour after my weekly therapy appointment (and two days before I cracked up and went to the hospital.) And he gave me his usual dad advice that what I probably needed was some stability, that I should get a job, that the happiest and most stable I’ve ever been was when I was working, and that my first priority should be getting back into school.
Let’s address these points, shall we?
I probably need some stability.
Well fucking DUH
I should get a job
I totally agree! That’s why I’m working on becoming a cabbie! Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’m losing my mind like right now this very moment and perhaps a desk job isn’t going to magically fix things.
The happiest and most stable I’ve ever been was when I was working
Y’know, I’d noticed that too! And I looked for work for months, but I’ve been sort of bedridden with this whole “I want to die I want to die I want to die” thing I’ve been indulging in lately, so it’s made it hard to keep keepin’ on. I applied for everything I could until I could no longer work anyway because the depression and anxiety were close to killing me.
You should go back to school (even though I’m unwilling to adequately support you while you do it.)
I dropped out of school when I was 28 because of what I now know was a raging case of bipolar disorder. I could not sit still in a classroom. I spent my days at home hating everything and my nights at bars with pretty boys because they were the only thing that reliably made me even temporarily less horrid. You won’t help me pay for it, and I’m ineligible for more loans.
And I have some points of my own!
If I went back to school now, the same goddamned thing would happen. I would crash and burn. I know it. This is not a guess, this is the truth.
The last job I had, I had to quit after five hours because I got a panic attack so bad that it gave me diarrhea.
My top priority right now is to get healthy.
My top priority right now should be to get healthy.
I cannot do anything useful until I am healthy.
I have lost 15 lbs in the past MONTH. That’s terrifying (although I did have it to spare.) When I try to eat normal food, I shit or vomit. I’m basically on a liquid diet most days, and that’s more expensive than you’d think. I’m going through withdrawal from Effexor, which means that I burst into tears sometimes and my head constantly feels like it’s receiving electric shocks. All I can think about all day is going to bed, but when bedtime rolls around, I’m wired and don’t get to sleep until 2am when I meant to be in bed at 9pm and have to be awake at 8am. I have not once been on time to the hospital where I spent 20-30 hours a week trying to get better. Getting better is exhausting. Lots of anger, lots of crying.
This is hell. This is hell. This is hell.
Honestly, I’m feeling hopeful and better and therapy is working and I think lithium might fix some of this so I go to my stupid groups and I take my stupid pills and I deal with the BZZZZZZZZZZT in my brain and I get by on not-enough sleep and I try my hardest not to buy that cute vintage jacket or fuck that cute boy because I don’t want my mania to rule my life.
And I unreservedly say FUCK YOU to anyone who has never been through this but thinks they know what’s best for me.
This is HELL. And I am fighting, and I am BRAVE, and I am STRONG and I am going to fucking BEAT THIS even if you don’t believe in me. Even if you think I’m not trying hard enough. All I do is try. I fight and fight and fight and this is hell hell hell.
In romantic relationships, I have a hard time holding anything back.
Sure, with age and experience, I’ve learned not to express every emotion immediately as it occurs, but there isn’t a lot about myself that I conceal from people. What you see is what you get, right from the beginning.
So I’m always puzzled when I get to know someone and all of a sudden they let their guard down and… whoa. This isn’t really what I signed on for.
My neediness manifests so differently than the neediness of others. I am quite obviously a sucking chest wound of need. And if I meet someone and I get the sense that they just want someone and I seem to fit well enough, I tend to run away, not always gracefully.
But when I really get to know and like someone who seems, at first, to be fairly self-confident and independent, and then they get super depressed and down on themselves, it baffles me.
Because, like, how can you hate yourself? I love you. You made me love you. And doesn’t the fact that you are loved by me and several other cool people make you believe that you’re lovable? It’s always worked for me. Perhaps it’s because I seek my validation outwardly, but when I’m getting that ego stroke of “someone loooooooves me,” I tend to feel like I’m doing something right.
So when that someone turns into a depressed ball of insecure, I get very frustrated.
And so I watch, helpless, as my lover drowns in a sea of doubt, with life rafts all around, and there’s the shore. Because, while I am a strong and capable swimmer, I can not keep us both at sea and afloat, and you won’t let me carry you to someplace where your feet can touch the bottom.
You say you have no anchor. I say, Who the fuck wants an anchor? Why not sails? Why notwings?
I think a lot of us assume that we’re too smart or clever or self-aware to be abused, so when someone abuses us, we don’t want to see it as abuse. “He can’t be abusing me, I’m not the sort of person who gets abused!” And it can go on for years. “But he’s nice most of the time!” Yeah, and the other 5% of the time he’s out to destroy you. Run. It isn’t your job to fix anyone else. No one gets to treat you like that, even if he’s had a hard life. Even if he doesn’t have anyone else. Even if you provoked him. Even if he promises he’ll change.
Here are some signs of abuse, from my own experience and from people I know:
Isolation. Your partner tries to keep you away from your friends, family, and anyone who might influence you or take your attention away from the abuser. No one has a right to tell you who your friends are.
Bad-talking your friends or family.
Making you choose between them and other people or things you enjoy.
Secrecy. “Don’t go telling other people about our problems.” Punishing you for asking for outside support.
Shame. “If other people knew what you were like, no one would love you.” “Your brought this upon yourself.” “You’re not perfect either.”
Minimizing or lying about their actions. “I’m not yelling!” “I never said that!” “I never did that!”
Minimizing the impact of their actions. “What’s in the past is in the past. Why can’t you let it go?” “Oh, come on, what I did isn’t so bad.” “I can’t ever do anything right by you!”
Trying to make you feel crazy or like you’re overreacting.
Jealousy. “I saw the way you were talking to her.”
Accusations and suspicion, especially when used to justify bad treatment. “I know you’re cheating on me!” “I wouldn’t have cheated on you if you weren’t such a slut.”
Excuses. “I had a really bad day at work and that’s why I’m so angry.”Most people can vent frustration without being abusive.
Making and breaking promises. “I know I said I wouldn’t drink, but it’s a holiday!”
Punishing/controlling you with anger and fear of anger. Everyone feels frustrated and angry sometimes, but it’s not normal or right to take that out on other people.
Silent treatment, ignoring, and withdrawal of affection.
Destroying, damaging, threatening to damage, or other violent action (throwing/punching/knocking over) things, such as furniture, clothing, computer files, or other things that are important to you. Abusers often escalate from taking their aggression out on objects to physically abusing their partners. And abusers don’t tend to de-escalate, ever.
Hitting you, “pretending” to hit you, making fast and violent non-contact (pulling a punch or pretending to slap), threatening to hit you– even “minor” things like pinching, back-handing, grabbing, pushing. It doesn’t have to leave a mark to be abusive.
“Jokes” that are cruel, play upon your insecurities, or are repeated when you’ve asked your partner to stop.
Drug and alcohol abuse, especially when it impacts your financial situation, personal safety, or ability to do normal activities.
Pretend helplessness, playing the victim, sympathy-grabbing. “I’m so lost and alone, I wouldn’t have anyone if I didn’t have you.”It isn’t your job to save anyone.
Threats of violence to the abuser’s self or others. “I’d kill myself without you.” “I’d kill you if you ever cheated on me.”
Refusal to allow you to cool down, continuing to act abusive even after you’re too upset to react, or after you’ve asked them to stop. Won’t disengage or allow you to disengage from the fight. Won’t let you close a door, leave the house, or take time to think.
Mocking. “Poor baby!” Repeating back things you say in a sarcastic tone.
Controlling your access to money, transportation or resources that would allow you to get away.
That’s just off the top of my head. It’s not a comprehensive list.
I know a lot of very smart, really cool people who accept terrible treatment from their partners and can’t or won’t acknowledge that they’re being abused. I hope that someone out there will see yourself, your partner, or a friend in this list and get some help.
L’esprit d’escalier (literally, staircase wit) is a French term used in English that describes the predicament of thinking of the right comeback too late.
So about four months ago, I wrote an email to a guy I used to be quite fond of, and he wrote back. At the time, it seemed we’d said what needed to be said, and I was comfortable trying to move on from the whole thing.
But, if you’ve been reading this here blahhhhg, you’ll know that I’ve been doing some work on self-blame lately, and damned if what he wrote to me doesn’t stick in my craw something fierce.
Because: We dated for a year. A year of hanging out and drinking in bars and spending time together in our respective houses and going out and doing things and having lots and lots of what was, quite frankly, amazing and unprecedented sex. For a goddamned year.
And that whole time, he was embarrassed by me? Afraid to let me around the other people in his life that he cared about? I was good enough to fuck but not good enough to bring around his friends? For a year?
Let me tell you, the audience, and you, the guy who isn’t reading this (but whose network of little gnomes probably are) what my life was like during that year. I was losing my shit. Pretty much the whole time. My life was made up of three things: The Boy, numbness, and panic. I was not well. The drugs I was on to help my depression had turned me into a numb, panicky zombie who couldn’t function or even manage to leave the house very often, at least not when it was light out. I’d dropped out of school because I couldn’t sit still. I’d alienated a lot of my friends. I slept all day and stayed up all night and was making art with my own blood and was completely, balls-out obsessed with The Boy. Yes indeed.
He would have been entirely correct to have run the other way. He would have been more than justified in never seeing me again. But he didn’t stay away. He kept on having (crazy, wonderful) sex with me. He kept seeing me. For a year, until I deliberately sabotaged things so he’d stop coming around for free sex and emotional torture.
What the fuck does that say about him?
I might be crazy, dear readers, but I am not and have never been that much of an asshole.
I’m finally confronting this long-held belief that none of these great romantic tragedies would have befallen me if I had paid strict enough attention, if I had listened to my intuition, if I had been smarter or wiser or braver or whatever, if I hadn’t been so frightened or headstrong or young or jaded– that it’s my fault my heart got broken. It’s my fault I’ve been hurt. I was stupid and I was weak and that’s why things fall apart.
That’s why I picked the wrong people to love.
That’s why they stopped loving me.
That’s why I was left.
That’s why I was raped.
Sometimes bad things happen to smart, brave, wonderful people who have good intentions and good hearts. It doesn’t have to make sense. It isn’t karmic. I didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t my fault.
For those of you new to my self-indulgent ramblings, here’s a summary:
Four and a half years ago, I met a guy and fell head-over-heels in love with the unfeeling bastard, and we dated for a year before I sabotaged the relationship on purpose because loving him and not being loved back was killing me.
Well, for starters, I’m back in Portland. SURPRISE. I’ve been back for about a month. I love being here, and I plan to stay. I have a job, I’m staying with friends, life is good.
And I, uh, met someone, and he’s really neato, and I like him. It hasn’t been going on long enough for me to have any idea if it’s going anywhere, but caring about someone is dredging up a whole bunch of old shit that I apparently haven’t finished dealing with yet. Hooray.
So I’ve been watching Justified because it’s awesome, and Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins make it so I don’t have to think about how broken my heart still is, how sad I still am, how hard it is to trust, how much giving a shit about someone terrifies me.
But I realize that this isn’t about the guy I’m seeing. It’s about me. And I need to deal with my massive trust issues before I give myself an aneurysm or scare off this very nice person who seems rather fond of me.
But I’m back in Portland. I’ve gone swimming in rivers. I have a tan, or what passes for one. Life is good. I’m happy. And I believe that my life is going to go well, whether or not I have a boy to fawn over. Or even if I’m haunted by ghosts of lovers past.
So K is getting married. I know this because I am an idiot and I checked his Google+ page the other night. And he’s getting married. Whoop-dee-fucking-doo. I’m happy for him. But I don’t know whom to be more jealous of– her, because she has HIM, the love of my life, my cute geeky boy, blah blah blah– or HIM because he found someone he wants to spend the rest of his fucking life with and I’m alone, all alone, forever alone.
He was like my poly role model, people. And then pretty much as soon as we broke it off, he hooked up with this [redacted], and now they’re getting MARRIED.
Yeah, yeah, move on. I know. I have.
But he’s seared into my soul. Never loved anyone like that, not before, not since. Blah blah blah.
I met someone. He’s older than me. He’s kind. I don’t want to jinx it. It’s new. It’s open.
My poly role model is getting married, and here I am four years later, still doin’ the free-love thing. Odd how things work out.
And it’s odd how meeting someone new can throw all these things from my past into such sharp relief. I forgot what it feels like to let my guard down. I forgot what it feels like to be adored back. But now I remember.
One night with K, after some private adult aerobics, he rested his head on my chest for a few moments. That may have been the closest he ever came to tenderness. I can’t believe I was so in love with someone who wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t even hold me. Or that I spent 15 months of the last two years with a guy– well, I’m done saying mean shit about Emery for now. BUT I AM THINKING IT.