Several weeks ago, Mickey pointed out to me that in cutting off contact with my boyfriend and lover when he decided he wanted to date other people but keep me as a friend-with-benefits, I’d finally played my best card. Me.
After a year of toiling, after a year of either unwittingly pushing him and any chance at enduring connection away with a pitchfork, or conversely, chasing after it with the thirst of a dying woman in the desert, after a year of traveling so far away from who I really am and what I’m really all about that I was practically unrecognizable to myself, I’d finally given in to some wise old voice inside of myself. It sounded something like this.
“Greg, have you ever met me? How in the world do you imagine that’s going to go? What exactly do you think is going to happen? On what planet do you think that’s going to be okay with me?”
But what came out of me was gentler and healthier, more direct. It sounded something like this.
“That won’t work for me. Would you like to propose a solution that will work for me? If that’s your only solution, I can’t have contact with you while you’re doing it.”
And that was it. Those were the last words I communicated to him. It was his only solution.
When Mickey pointed out to me that I’d finally played my best card, I understood his words. And some part of me even believed them.
And in the weeks that followed, it was those rare glimpses of the truth in what he was saying that kept me together. Unfortunately, they really were rare glimpses. And I wasn’t really together. I fell apart completely.
Fear and worry engulfed me; they ate me up and swallowed me whole. The intensity of the terror that came to stay for many weeks was something I can’t quite explain. It wasn’t that my heart was broken. It was my soul. My soul felt broken. I felt like the earth might open up at any moment, and I’d fall in. I wasn’t good enough. He’d moved on and found love with someone else. He’d told his friends a long string of half-truths intentionally aimed at making me look wrong and broken and preventing them from seeing who I really was and what he’d actually done. He’d completely betrayed me, and not once stopped to imagine the impact his actions were having. Or so I thought.
My compass had shattered.
The parts of myself I’d relied on my entire life, in far worse situations, were gone. I was reduced to the rawest form of myself, and I was wasting away. My intuition, my gut, anything I had resembling wisdom broke in half. The only wisdom I could muster was something resembling the very practical. And even that had to be helped along by a few friends giving periodic instruction or gentle reminders. I knew I had to eat, and while I did very little of it, I did enough. I knew I had to sleep, and while I also did very little of that, and Greg invaded my dreams in the form of nightmares that woke me night after night, I finally resorted to a handy bottle of Z-Quil for a few weeks (let me recommend it for all of your over-the-counter nighttime sleep-aid needs). And I knew I needed to take care of my daughter, and both she herself, and her dad, helped me out with that a little.
In the meantime summer was passing. The heat and humidity and rain were overbearing, it felt like they would overtake me. I called it the Godforsaken summer and I wished and prayed and wished some more for it to just end.
I made countless calls when the terror set in. It didn’t make sense. None of it made sense and so confusion wrapped up around the terror. I found gentle friends on the receiving end who’d listen and sometimes ask the right questions or go for walks with me or check in on me. Tears were a rare treat. The few times I cried, I felt some strange sense of relief because it was a change of pace from the ache and the panic.
I imagined during those days and nights that it might not ever pass. I imagined, I actually believed, that well into autumn, or even in a year, I’d still be raw and broken, unable to venture too far outside my own home because the smallest thing would remind me of him and what he’d done.
Then one day, when I was leaving for work, and I was doing what I’d come to do so often which was to review my own life and wonder about it, what the hell it was all about, I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be an orphan anymore.”
That was the moment when the permanence of that state of affairs hit me.
I remembered when they told us our mother died. It was the moment I found out I was an orphan. I remembered how I had missed my old life, crummy as it was, with every ounce of my being. I wanted my own bed, in my own home at 412 8th Street. I wanted Hellman’s mayonnaise like my mom used to buy, I wanted Christmas like my mom used to do it, I wanted to sit on her lap and let her rock me. I wanted to go home. I wanted my mom to come back. But when I was 12 I was told I’d never go home again. No one came to get us. No one helped us or talked to us. It was a permanent state of affairs. I was an orphan. I was alone.
In my regular life, I sometimes remember these things and that feeling of never being able to go home to 412 8th Street. It’s a strange thing to remember, almost like remembering a smell.
But that morning this summer, as I was leaving my home and I knew I didn’t want to be an orphan anymore, that I wanted to go home to 412 8th Street, I really remembered. It was permanent. I would always have to live with this feeling.
So there it was. This was the thing I was terrified of. I can’t tell you why Greg, of all people, was the one to remind me, but he did. And nor do I have any idea why remembering in the deepest possible way that I don’t want to be an orphan anymore but that it’s a permanent state of affairs helped me that day. But it did.
And I feel better now. I ate chocolate yesterday, and I have a date on Saturday with a nice man who is kind to me. And I can venture out of my home without being afraid that I’ll be reminded of Greg and what he did, and I can sleep without taking Z-Quil, and I can take care of my daughter, although it’s good for her to chip in there a little these days anyway.
And maybe — after I remembered about being an orphan and that it’s a permanent state of affairs even though I really don’t like it — I also remembered a few other things about myself. My compass is still broken, but it won’t be forever. When it comes back and it’s mended, it may be ready to do business in a different way. I also remembered how special I am. Greg had helped me to forget that. I can’t tell you why, but he did. I remembered that there’s no one else in the world quite like me. I remembered how hard I try. I remembered that I’m a really good woman. I remembered that I’m rare and my love is true and special. I remembered that it’s time to start paying attention again to the people around me. I remembered that I’m grown up now and that I’m working on making that okay.
When I turned down Greg’s bizarre invitation, I had, in fact played my best card. Me. And after weeks and a trip to hell and back, I would finally return to myself as a result of playing that one card. I’d forgotten what a great card it was, and I kind of wished I’d played it sooner.
And for some reason, I finally stopped worrying that the Godforsaken summer would go on forever.
Because it’s already a little cooler outside.