Not Out of the Woods Yet

It has been 30 days now since I have heard his voice, saw his face. For those of you following my saga of heartbreak, you know I recently broke up with the man I thought was going to be the love of my life, the ONE.

Even though I was the one who cut the cord, and I still believe with all my heart I made the right choice, it is still a daily fight not to call him, try to see him.

I miss his casual, “Hey babe, “when he answered the phone that never failed to thrill me a little because I felt like I belonged to him. I miss my friend, who was interested in whatever I was doing, was encouraging of my career, my writing group, genuinely cared for my happiness. I miss the man who thought I was adorable and sexy and fun. I miss his sweet face, his laugh, his hands, our love.

But I know what I truly miss – that essence – has been gone for a while now. I miss that beginning relationship, the one that had what I felt was unlimited potential to lift up the two people in it in extraordinary ways. When it was good and rich and wonderful, I was the happiest I had ever felt in my life. The sunny positivity I already possess in my personality seemed exponentially expanded and it was deep and euphoric on a level I have never known. Now I am utterly terrified I will never know that feeling again in my lifetime. That is what I mourn – that is what I miss the most right now.

What I don’t miss, on the other hand, wow, just about everything else.

Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, I just couldn’t see what has happening right in front of me.

The phrase “not out of the woods yet” seems appropriate in so many ways right now because it literally means being lost and on a metaphorical level it is about not being sure if you are going to survive or thrive again. It means not quite being OK yet.

It also makes me think about being in the woods and in nature and hiking – something I enjoy so much that when I am there I never want to leave until I am forced to go home by darkness or duty. I despaired of the leaving but it got so dark I felt my chances of finding my way home rapidly slipping away.

I hope you will humor me and hang with me while I process this a little. Maybe I can help someone recognize themselves in this story.

I know my track record is suspect, but I don’t believe I was trying to set myself up or lie about what I wanted out of this relationship. After three divorces, I truly believed I had grown out of my desire to co-habitate or get married ever again. Good Lord, why would I want that?

I am proud of my hard-won independence. This is the first house I have ever owned completely on my own – for goodness sakes my son had to show me how to start a lawnmower. I am an empty-nester at last, and keep busy as an active volunteer with my church, my women’s writing group, ushering at Actors’ Theatre, spending time with my grandson. Why would I want to put up with someone else’s needs or habits or closets or ideas of décor or taste in TV shows? That constant negotiation and compromise of time and dinner and yard work and chores?

But guess what – as crazy as that all sounds – it turns out when I truly love someone – I can’t help but want to nest and nurture a little. I want to make sure they eat right, and I want to have our families come over for summer cookouts or Easter dinner. I want to share the snoring and the farting and the vacations and the cleaning and the yard work and maybe even learn how to plant flowers for once in my life. He play-acted for a while that he wanted this – I think deep down he wants to be that person – family time and sleeping in on Saturdays and talking and watching stupid movies and sharing our hearts with one another, but he never really committed. When it came down to it, he wanted me to be his on-call girlfriend and he fought hard to keep me in that box.

I always encouraged him to stay overnight at my place as much as he wanted – he had a drawer at my house for his clothes, he had a robe hanging on the door, slippers under his side of the bed, extra change of clothes, lint roller, etc.   My house had much more amenities – cable TV, food, computer, etc.

Conversely, at this house the refrigerator was always empty; he had office chairs at his kitchen table. The nice TV in the living room was only set up to watch movies, and when we watched TV in his bedroom the signal was intermittent and we sat in office chairs because most of the time his bed was full of clothes. His home had so many dream-catchers you thought you were in a trading post, and on his walls were so many Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison posters you thought you were in a college dorm room. I never felt comfortable or welcome, and looking back it was clear that was his intent. When I asked once about a drawer for me to keep a few things in, he said he didn’t even have enough room for all his own clothes. It is easy to see now. He could never make room for me, not in his room, or his life, or his heart.

I wanted to build something together – yes, enjoy the days together one at a time and as they come, but also sharing a dream of the future, sharing our lives in all their mundane glory. I am that person and I cannot deny it. I tried so hard to hold back the 110% passion I bring to the table and I was ready to accept the terms because I was trying to appreciate what I had and not ruin it by trying to make it something it was not. Maybe I did do exactly that after all.

But I also think what started out as a man I believed, no, I know, at one point cared for my happiness and tried to build me up, ultimately couldn’t accept me for who I really was. He knew what it would cost him to be a part of my life so he proceeded – (to be fair maybe not completely consciously) to tear me down piece by piece and dismantle me.

At first, they were isolated incidents, and in between them, there was happiness and laughter and weekends at the lake, so the doubts just started creeping in almost imperceptibly. This was a man who held my hand in church, carried in my groceries in the pouring rain, a man who wrote me short romantic poems by text and then later copied them in a little black book and gave it to me for the first anniversary of our first date. He listened to me sing and we went dancing – sometimes we had dance parties – just the two of us – in his kitchen in our stocking feet. He gave me a promise ring for our second anniversary. He was a masterful lover – sexy, passionate, tender and attentive.

All the while the fights remained in the background mostly, and I made excuses – well, he was a little drunk – or we were a little drunk – I know he’s worried about his job – that mortgage adjustment loan was turned down, etc. etc. But no matter what the fight ostensibly was about, it was always sharp words, patronizing, criticisms and hurt feelings and crying.

He spent a lot of time working out of town or on different shifts but still would not commit to spend time with me on the weekends – the only time I was free. We often did end up spending time together but I felt like I was the default plan, not the priority. He refused to plan ahead and many times, I was disappointed to find on Friday afternoon he was at the lake for the weekend fishing with his buddy. I never wanted to monopolize his time, but I was also never consulted like someone in the “girlfriend” category should have been. He often went to family functions with me but then would surprise me and run away to the lake, often by himself. These were all normal relationship things, I thought, and we could work them out, but then the fights started to become more frequent than the pleasant times.

He criticized my taste in music, my religion, my argument on gay rights, (I believe it is not a choice, but he said I was just not making my case, in his opinion); he was arrogant and full of attitude suddenly to my son.

When we fought, most often he would yell and storm out and run away from our fights – the next day brushing it off like nothing happened. Every now and then he would goad me so long I would lose my temper and meet him head on but then I hated myself for who I became when I did that. So I began to pretend, too, and pacified him. He told me I was too sensitive, I shouldn’t feel things so much, wear my heart on my sleeve. I needed to develop a thicker skin; he mocked my crying as manipulative and acted like I had ulterior motives. I began to wonder why he was even with me; if there was anything he liked about me anymore.

But I ignored the put-downs, the bitter sarcastic remarks. His bullying manner just unraveled me and I began to be cowed by his verbal attacks and stopped standing up for myself. Ultimately, I was thinking I didn’t want to lose him, but what happened was I lost me – my integrity, my dignity, my self- respect.

I still saw glimpses of potential in our relationship. We went to Dale Hollow Lake on my birthday and had a wonderful time talking and walking all the way around the lake, picking up fossils. This was the place he had gone summers as a child and he opened up about what the place meant to him. I felt happy he wanted to share this special place with me – I must still be important to him – even if he doesn’t always show it …

Bu the recriminations continued – I laughed too loud – I talked too much – I didn’t jump in to clean the lake camper the way he wanted me to. I was not willing to face him head on and debate issues endlessly until he felt he had won – yet when I capitulated, it seemed to make him madder and he kept challenging me to “keep up,” insinuating I wasn’t intellectually on his level, which infuriated me.

Then, it escalated into a more public realm and when I look back, I do truly believe he wanted out but he wanted me to be the one to end it so he upped the ante.

When my niece died suddenly, he refused to go to the funeral because he “really just didn’t want to go” and resented it when I said he had no choice; that this was just what you do for your family, for the people you love, you suck it up and go. But my words fell on deaf ears as I stood at her visitation and funeral without him by my side, feeling like I had been sucker-punched.

It was close to being a deal-breaker, but at the end of day I loved him and wanted to get past that incident. He apologized to my sister for not coming, and I tried to move on and not hold it over his head, so I let it go. But he wouldn’t let it go, and we had a huge fight on the back porch of a bar. He dressed me down because he heard I had taken my ring off during the funeral, despite the fact that it was back on my finger at that moment, and from there he threw every below the belt comment he could think of at me, ridiculing me because my ex-husband’s wife very kindly mowed my lawn for me when I was exhausted from those early days of grief supporting my sister after my niece died. The lowest blow was when he accused me of caring more about the fact that he wasn’t at the funeral than I did about grieving my niece. He was on a rampage. Finally, he stormed off and I just sat there, stunned at this public display.

How did I let this happen? … It crept up so slowly – just like kudzu. At first it’s lovely – then it snowballs and then it controls and chokes out all the other plants and flowers in its path.

Years ago, I volunteered at the Center for Women and Families with women who experienced domestic violence. I could hear their same words ringing in my head:

“But you just don’t know him; he’s not always like this, he’s a good man, he can be so loving and wonderful. He has been great to me.”

“It used to be different. It wasn’t always like this.”

I remember the women telling me how the physical wounds they suffered were not as bad as the verbal abuse, the emotional abuse. “The bruises heal and go away. The ones on the inside stick around and continue to hurt,” said one woman.

Even after everything that happened, it took seeing it through other people’s eyes before it dawned on me.

My sister and I were walking on the pedestrian bridge and he and his friend came up and met us on their bicycles. We argued about our plans for the evening – I had asked earlier with a wink if we could have a “Sade and lingerie” night and he had agreed to a quiet night at home but now wanted to change plans. She heard his derogatory tone as he mocked my facial expressions and said he just wanted to give me the opportunity to hang with him. I saw her jaw clench as she turned away. Later, she asked me about how he talked to me and I told her it was the tip of the iceberg.

But it was a server at Outback who put the nail in the coffin. The last time I saw him, he picked a fight at the restaurant and then walked out and I sat there, humiliated, crying and paying the bill. The server asked if I was Ok and I said I would be fine. She waited until I looked up from the table and she said to me, honey no one deserves to be talked to like that. And suddenly it was just all too much. It was a revelation.

The next day, I was working on a video about a cancer patient in her 30s who had passed away in February. The nurses on the unit were telling me the story about in her last days on this earth, they did something very special. They found out how Valentine’s Day was her anniversary. They made a special effort and brought in a dinner for the patient and her husband, bringing out a white tablecloth, china and candles and wine to mark the occasion. They told me how her husband sang the John Legend song All of Me to her as she sat there with him, bald and down to about 80 pounds and on oxygen. Her husband told them thank you for everything they did. “I wanted her to have just one more good day,” he said.

When I thought about that, two things occurred to me. One was that I wanted someone to love me like that, someone who knew how to give their whole heart and I know I do deserve that. And secondly, life is short and I have cried too many nights over this man who doesn’t deserve me. The courage of that woman and the love her husband had for her inspired me and continues to guide me as I try to make sense of what happened and move on.

It is still like physical pain not to talk to him and last week I was in the bargaining stage – why can’t we just be friends –maybe a booty call now and then – but I know even if he would be willing it is ridiculous to even think I could do that – it would be emotionally devastating for me. And the more I reflect on this the more I know I can never go back. To him or to anyone who treats me this way. Ever again.

No, I am not out of the woods yet – but the autumn sun is lighting the path – and I am slowly finding my way home.

Brokenwinged bird

chimney rockEpilogue:

Hello, everyone! I started a blog almost two years ago now but never even made one post and I confess I am still a newbie. But I was inspired to post my first real blog after I very reluctantly and sadly broke up with my boyfriend recently. The relationship was not serving me; I was being disrespectfully treated and I know it was the right thing to do.

But oh, how I loved this man and I am good and truly broken-hearted but in true Holly-go-lightly fashion I will let my pain spill onto the page (and all my friends’ ears – God bless ’em!). Hopefully, continuing to perform this catharsis by writing out the incredibly chaotic swimming inside my head will get me back to the title of my blog – to who I truly am – Holly Ascending.

This is a poem I wrote shortly after the last day that we were an “us” and I wanted to share it just in case anyone can relate. Thanks for listening!

Epitaph

I want to go back – back to the days when you were my strength, my joy
when I was your lady, your beloved
When we had a love we could be proud of

Just like that – I am left to put away the pictures, the notes, the silly mementos, to turn off “our songs” by Sade
to avoid our special places for a beat, until enough time can pass that the pain doesn’t steal my breath when I am there
and my heart starts to heal

But how do you turn away from the sunset my love?
From a sky full of stars that calls your name in its mystery, in its dark beauty
From the swaying shine of the lake with its ripples spilling onto the shore, bursting over the rocks and in that moment
my heart is so full of us, so full of laughter, joy, the utter euphoria we shared
From our eyes smiling at each other at the glorious sight of that shoreline with the trees bending as if it was just for us alone in the universe

How do you keep from remembering your carpenter’s hands stroking my hair, your sweet mouth on my breast, your hands owning my hips
Your eyes, kind and full of promise, searching my face, finding all you needed there

How do I crawl through the muck and fucked-up regrets

How can I imagine the emptiness of a life never again being held in your arms – but I must

Because there is no choice but to endure it