On the Bridge

bridge3

I have traveled the paths of desire
Gathering flowers and carrying fire

I am crossing the bridges of
sorrow
Empty with yearning and full of tomorrow

  – October Project

I was struck dumb when he actually mailed me back my panties. I think my exact thought at that moment was, “Are you f —ing kidding me?”

In the envelope were his keys to my house, a short handwritten letter, a check for $100 paying back money I had loaned him, and a pair of my red and black panties. Not particularly sexy panties, not even close to being my favorite ones.

What the hell? Was he that clueless or just heartless? Why on earth would he return them? Maybe he doesn’t want the next girl to find them.

When I returned his things, there was a whole box of items – greeting cards I had sent him, a lint roller, church clothes, an extra comb, robe, slippers, sunglasses, etc. And yet that is all I had at his place – one pair of panties? Did he really think I was missing them, that I wanted them back? In fact, I couldn’t look at them a second longer, so I threw them in the garbage with the coffee grounds.

It is still like physical pain not to talk to him. Lately, I have been in the bargaining stage – why can’t we just be friends? Sadly, pathetically, I thought maybe even a booty call now and then because God, I miss him touching me. But I know even if he wanted that, why would I? In what universe would that not 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 would treat me that way. Ever again.

So much that I miss. I miss his sexy voice saying, “Hey babe,” like he always did when he answered the phone. It never failed to thrill me a little because the way he said it I felt like I belonged to him; and that felt great. And I miss my friend, the one who watched Jeopardy with me, and praised my intelligence, when every now and then, I would get a lot of questions right. The friend who single-handedly laid the tile for my kitchen floor. I can still see him now, bent low, his carpenter jeans paint-stained, and his muscular forearms glistening with sweat. He glances up gives me a grin. The friend, 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 – the essence of us – 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. 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.

With this man, I despaired of the leaving but it had gotten so dark I felt my chances of finding my way home rapidly slipping away.

At first, he stayed at my place a lot, especially on weekends, and I loved having him there. He had a drawer for his clothes, a robe on the hook and slippers under the bed.  When I asked once about a drawer for me to keep a few things at his place, he said he didn’t even have enough room for all his own clothes. Wow, red flag. It is easy to see that now. He could never make room for me, not in his room, or his life, or his heart.

One weekend, we were at his trailer at the lake. I was washing the dishes after he made us some food on the grill. The sink was tiny, and as hard as I tried not to, I was continually slopping water up onto the wood walls. He was very exacting about the cleaning at his lake place. He was always coming up behind me, and sighing and trying to sop it up. “So I guess I’m going to have to do this, too, now since you just can’t get the hang of it,” he told me in a mean tone. He knew exactly what to say to hurt me where I felt most vulnerable, so then he said, referring to my ex-husband and his wife: “I keep thinking if it was Cindy, she would have made the dinner herself, and already had everything cleaned up, too. I guess Kent really traded up, huh?”

I felt trashed by his comment. He was sitting in his chair, smoking a cigar. We had already been fighting and my nerves were raw and I turned back to the sink away from him as the tears rolled down. When he noticed I was crying, he yelled at me, “Oh, so now here are the waterworks. Just suck it up, Holly, I don’t believe your tears for a minute, and I’m certainly not going to help you be helpless.” When I think about it now, it sounds very callous and demanding. Then, I just believed him. He’s right, I am too sensitive.

Yet, I still saw glimpses of potential in our relationship. We went to Dale Hollow for my birthday, a lake where he had spent his childhood summers. “You know, I have never brought another girl here – ever,” he told me. I beamed. We talked and walked all the way around the lake, picking up fossils. 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 take initiative to jump in and help when we were doing something together. I would always ask him, “Honey just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it,” but he would respond that I should know what needs to be done and why should he have to tell me? 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.

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.

When my niece died suddenly, I assumed he would go to the funeral but he refused. “What? You’re not going to my niece’s funeral?” I said disbelieving, “Why not?”

“I just really don’t feel like going,” he said. “Well, sorry but you don’t have a choice,” I said. He bristled. “I always have a choice.”

“But honey, it’s just what you do for people you love; you just suck it up. I need you to be there, baby.” But my words fell on deaf ears as I stood at her visitation and funeral without him by my side, feeling like someone had hollowed out my insides.

The incident was close to being a deal-breaker, but at the end of the day, I loved him and wanted to get past it. He had apologized to my sister for not coming, so I tried to move on and not hold it over his head. I let it go. But he couldn’t let it go.

One night, after work I met him at a local bar and at first, he was very solicitous, buying me drinks. But then he was drunk and he became abusive, throwing every below-the belt comment he could think of at me. He mocked me because my ex-husband’s wife had kindly mowed my lawn for me the week my niece died. I had been staying with my sister to support her in her terrible grief. “Damn, you can’t even mow your own lawn; you had to get your ex’s wife to do it, that is just embarrassing,” he taunted.

But then the lowest blow: “You just walked around playing the martyr at the funeral, didn’t you? You cared more about me not being there than you did about grieving your own niece. I heard you weren’t even that upset.” I blinked, not sure I heard him right. But then I knew I had. How dare he even say that when he wasn’t even there to know what I thought or felt? I was indignant, but I couldn’t even get a word in to refute his comments. He continued on his rampage. Finally, he bolted and I just sat there, stunned and humiliated 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 a women’s domestic violence shelter. I could hear the 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. It’s the ones on the inside that don’t go away,” said one woman with a haunted look in her eyes.

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

In fact, it was someone I never even met who put the nail in the coffin for me. The last time I saw him; he picked a loud fight at the restaurant and then walked out. I sat there, humiliated; crying and paying the bill. The sweet server just looked at me sadly and said, “Honey, no one deserves to be talked to like that.” And suddenly it was just all too much, yet also not enough.

The next day, I was at my job working on a video about a cancer patient in her 30s who had passed away in February. The nurses on the unit found out that Valentine’s Day was her anniversary. They brought in a special dinner for the patient and her husband, bringing out a white tablecloth, china, candles and wine to mark the occasion.

The nurses told me about the special night the couple shared – one of the last ever for the patient. Her husband sang the John Legend song All of Me to her as they held hands on the hospital chairs. At this point, she was bald, weighed about 80 pounds and was on oxygen. Her husband thanked the nurses for everything they had done for his beloved wife.

“I wanted her to have just one more good day,” he said.

Just one more good day.

I don’t know how or when I forgot to know this, but I, too deserve to be loved like that. For crying out loud, we don’t know how long we have to love each other. I have already cried too many nights over this man, who no longer deserves my big, beautiful love.

I am not out of the woods yet. I am still crossing the bridge. And I’m not even sure I know who this person is anymore making the journey. But there is a widening circle of light so I can at least see the path, and I am ever so slowly winding my way home.

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After the Storm

After storm2And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears
And love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

Mumford & Sons, After the Storm

I guess I’m just not ready for prime time. It was just a quick stop at the local neighborhood bar on the way home from work to unwind a bit.

This almost-dive bar is well known for its crusty, eccentric patrons (most of them old-timers who know the bartenders by name), cheap but stiff drinks, and pretty decent pub grub. I used to go in there fairly regularly myself, at least once every couple weeks, usually on a Thursday. I know there is almost always someone to chat up in there with no pressure. It’s a relaxed and easy environment.

On this occasion, rum and mixer was the $3 drink special so I pulled up one of their unbelievably uncomfortable bar stools next to “George,” a friend I have talked to on a number of occasions, and ordered a rum and ginger. We chatted amiably and later “Mike” sat down on my other side and we talked a little. He is someone I haven’t met before, but he says he comes pretty regularly, too.

When I had a second drink, George figured out that a) he wasn’t going to get my full attention b) I was not going to change my mind and come to the bar on Sunday to watch football with him so he could explain the game to me even if he did buy my second drink and c) he works the early shift, so he went home.

Mike and I continued to banter about a little bit of nothing, our conversation covering a number of topics including the best dessert places in Louisville. Our conclusions: Pie Kitchen and Sweet Surrender are both great, but too expensive. Blizzards are much cheaper, always awesome and there is even a DQ close to the bar. But we didn’t go next door and get a Blizzard.

So then of course, the conversation turned to relationship status and I told him I had broken up with my ex in September. I was taken a little off guard when Mike Immediately asked me if I missed my ex. At first I wasn’t sure how honestly to respond. But as usual, I was open and frank and said, yes I do miss him. He asked, why didn’t I just talk to him, then? I told him that just missing someone, just loving them was not enough; that the relationship had been toxic.

When Mike opened that conversational door, though, my intention certainly was not to come barging through it like a bull in a china shop. I could hear my brain screaming, “Shut up, shut up, just change the subject, for God’s sake,” but Mike was interested, or at least pretended to be. So I found myself recounting the good, the bad and the ugly in detail. Suddenly, I was mortified to realize I was crying as I recalled the relationship’s beauty and promise in the beginning, and the indifference and loneliness in the end.

When I finally did shut up, I am sure Mike was now thinking, ‘Wow, I really didn’t want to know all that.’ I quickly let him off the hook by making my excuses and getting my tab. I smiled, and said take care. He wanted to give me a hug and that was nice, just to feel the childlike comfort of being folded in someone’s arms for a moment. At least I wasn’t still crying as I left the bar. He said he would see me again sometime.

As I was leaving, I felt like an imbecile for what had just unfolded. I had allowed my emotions to take control and conduct the train, and I felt like all I could do was watch helplessly and ride it out. I truly thought I was past that, pouring all my feelings in the lap of an unsuspecting stranger.

Driving home, I tried to just put the embarrassing incident out of my mind. After all, Mike was flirty and kind, and at the bar he had told me someone would come along to make me forget all about my ex. When he said that, something in me wanted to rush to defend my feelings. I wanted to say that the man I had loved was special and would not be so easily erased from my heart; that it hadn’t been just a fling. Oh, whoops, I’m supposed to be getting past this, not setting up a shrine to him inside my heart.

I still do want to call him every day, but the fierceness of that desire is waning a little, bit by bit.  Whenever I do consider texting or calling, I feel like the devil is on my one shoulder, aka My Broken Heart. On the other shoulder is my angel, aka Self Respect. Every day they duke it out, but so far the angel is winning through sheer stamina. I hope it lasts.

I am not going to beat myself up about what happened. I am just not ready for prime time. Yet.

I do know that tiny step by tiny step, I am evolving. I am learning who I am and how not to sell myself short or settle for anything less than I deserve.

I am emerging from the shelter post-storm. As the sun breaks through a massive bank of clouds, I shield my eyes as I walk up the hill. I am smelling that just-washed musky freshness that permeates the earth and sky after the storm has passed. How welcome is that feeling of renewal, that clean heart, that umpteenth chance. After the storm.