Category Archives: Friendship

Balance

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The fan revolved slowly in the wrong direction. Others along the veranda turned at a clip, stirring the air, but this one didn’t. She didn’t mind. The breeze off the gulf was warm, and it lifted her hair from her forehead.

The view from their table was of the marina. She watched as a sailboat went out, a skipper at the helm, one passenger sitting quietly at the bow as the boat turned toward the bay, others laughing and sipping drinks in the cockpit. Another boat was motoring back in, the first mate moving carefully along the starboard side, throwing fenders out over the railing. Two pelicans flew in formation overhead, as if mimicking the fighter jets that live at the nearby base.

They ordered the mahi tacos and happy hour beers. Neither said much, content to sit side-by-side, relaxing in their anonymity and the stillness. Sweat from their glasses pooled on the table, soaking their coasters as they ate. She smiled at the child who walked by waving the crayons she’d secured from the waiter. He ordered another beer.

After a while, he leaned back against the bench. She sat back too and leaned into him, feeling the softness of his shirt sleeve and the warmth of his arm under it.  She felt him exhale.

She began to keep count. For every sailboat that went out, another came in.

 

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Sixth sense

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On Monday, I passed a burgundy-colored FJ Cruiser on my way to work. And though I know believing a car can be a sign makes me sound crazy, your doubt won’t sway my belief that seeing it meant something. Maybe the truth is that anything can be associated with anything else. But there’s always a point at which frequency tips coincidence toward meaning and I’d crossed it a while ago.

I hadn’t seen this make, model, and color in over a year, which corresponds exactly to the amount of time I’d spent consciously trying to let Drew go. A year is the amount of time I’d spent practicing the art of living without Drew in my head, of not looking to him as my sounding board and savior. It was the amount of time I’d spent practicing the visual equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and singing la la la, trying not to see this particular sign, like a small child trying to tune out what she can’t control. 

At this point, for all I know on any given day, Drew is doing fine. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. And then I heard. His father had passed away unexpectedly. He’d had a heart attack. 

I don’t know which sensation is stronger—the painful awareness that he’d suffered a real loss for which I could offer no comfort or the ache-filled acknowledgement that my sixth sense connection to him is still alive and well.

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Strong enough

break through

Tucked into the corner of her therapist’s loveseat, watching a float plane take off from the busy lake outside the window, she feels for a moment the vicarious lift and joy of being airborne.  The relief of being above the question before her.

Why aren’t you attracted to Jake?

She turns, and the room comes back into focus.

It’s taken such a long time just to get to this place, to this room, where she can admit the truth, the not-being-attracted-to-her-husband kind of truth. But this question challenges her. Why is harder to put her finger on.

Jake is a good man. Gentle, honest, and giving. Resiliently committed. He snaps back like a rubber band, never stretched to the point of breaking, never pushed past the point of no return. He is a caring and engaged father, a supportive partner, and he wants to take care of her.

Her therapist waits.

But he is vulnerable. And she hates that.

How is he vulnerable?

She thinks back to when their daughters were small. Jake agreed to be the breadwinner so that she could be the stay-at-home parent. This had been a brave decision, cutting their income dramatically at a time when expenses were going up. And for almost two years, they’d played their roles perfectly—Jake, the provider, and she, the caregiver. The girls had thrived, and Jake’s business had been busy and profitable.

Then the economy failed. A two year recession set in, and Jake’s confidence faltered.

She hadn’t known how bad it was at first. Her depression. His despair. The vacillating mood swings that were unsettling and hard to predict, with moments of extreme optimism and pessimism. He wanted her to join him, to be high when he was high, to share in the low, but she resisted. He wanted her to own the weight and responsibility of it with him. She wanted him to fix it.

At some point, she’d grown angry. And then desperate.

This is where it broke down, she says, relishing the clarity. This was the point at which she had no longer felt safe, where she was no longer able to pretend that everything was okay, or that this was the life she wanted. This was where attraction had withered. This is where the “we” had reverted back to “I”.

She pauses. She knows how this sounds. Unsupportive. Ungrateful. But there is a big part of her that finds his desire to lean on her unappealing, unattractive, and downright needy. She wants him to be strong and independent. She wants to know he has things handled, that their family is taken care of. She doesn’t want to be responsible for his self confidence. She wants him to take what he wants from the world, without hesitating.

She’s on to something. It makes her sound selfish. It makes her seem unkind. She feels sad, and embarrassed, and deeply flawed. But in this room, it takes shape. And the contradiction of the guilt and the empathy she feels, the respect she has and the distance she needs, it all suddenly makes sense.

There is a long silence. But her therapist is smiling and nodding her head.

Photo credit: http://www.health00.com

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Have you?

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You haven’t left your husband, he types.

How the hell would you know?

Have you?

Its not that easy. This is not you and Paula. This is me and Jake and two kids and a house we own and private middle school and two car payments and all of my friends who will become half of my friends and all of our family who will become half of our family and custody hearings and this city and your city and my lousy paycheck and his slow, rainy months and his hurt looks and my guilt, and all of it so much bigger than you packing a couple of bags and renting a place across town and getting a dog.

E, you know I can’t.

D, it shouldn’t matter.

How can you be so irrational?

(The cursor hesitates.)

You mean honest?

 

Photo credit: http://www.johnson-family-chiropractic.com

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The holiday touchstone

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Distance makes the water between us look calm and cold, softening the swells and blurring the horizon so that sky and sea are opposite ends of an ombre spectrum of grey. Its soft, ghostly veil lulls my ache into something unrecognizable, something remote.

The website is down. His mother answers the phone and though I expect to hear her voice, for a moment I pause. Will she know me? I give my childhood name in hopes that she will, and I realize too late it won’t match the name she will see on my check. Still, she warms as she fits the puzzle pieces together, and I chat easily with her for a few moments, as if there aren’t years and miles and feelings for her son between us. It is only a few moments, and then she is gone.

One of her wreaths will ship as a gift to my father, the other will come to me. It will hang beside my front door, where the scent of home will linger long after the holiday has passed. Drew’s mother has been making wreaths since I was in middle school, and I have ordered them each year, turning the memory of a small town over and over again in my pocket, like a smooth stone, held with a reverence I can not admit out loud. The fragrance can take me to him in an instant, to his house in the woods, the outbuilding with it’s floor strewn calf high with fir boughs, and long fold out tables where his mother and sisters would stand twisting and bending and turning the wreaths as they laughed with each other. Where Drew faded in and out, shrugging off a jacket, bouncing a ball, trying to catch an eye, alternately helping and hindering the creative process.

I could stop ordering the wreaths, stop pushing aside the curtain at it’s edge to peer into the past, stay numb beside the ocean, never looking back. But the distance is something that needs to be measured from time to time, like the distance between revolving planets, like the frequency of waves lapping at the shore.

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Did we look like we could be saved?

We sat at opposite ends of the couch, the numbness between us thick as pudding. Across from us, the counselor sat in a chair in the small basement room, waiting patiently as we gauged our surroundings. One window in the room provided enough light to warm bamboo in a pot, but it was not generous enough to offer a view. The books on the shelves sat just above a little fan oscillating toward me and then toward him, as if undecided, judiciously allocating portions of cool air in fair and balanced proportions. We were both trying to look normal enough, though Jake already showed signs of cracking, his eyes reddened, his breath held and then released in an unnatural rhythm.

Sayid was soft spoken and gentle, searching our faces to see if we could make and sustain eye contact, waiting to see who might speak and what might be said. I could feel his silent assessment, see him processing us. How bad was it? Did we look like two people about to break apart? Did we look like we could be saved? It was hard to tell. His eyes were open and clear, reflecting my gaze, absorbing my silent questions without judgment.

Jake spoke first, rolling out the thin crust of his anger. He had waited for this turn, the opportunity to say it all out loud. He threw out words like divorce and custody and leaving, and I flinched but didn’t interrupt. I watched Sayid observing, understanding, letting him get it out into something wide and surveyable. When he finished, Sayid nodded.

When it was my turn, I didn’t deny Jake’s accusations. Instead, I reached deep for the words that would explain, and it felt good to give confusion a forum, to lay it out in front of him. It felt right to accept the blame, to give in to the questions. I hoped Sayid would translate my words into something calmer and more rational, something bigger and more important, something reassuring and reasonable. I wanted Jake to see us honestly. I desperately wanted him to accept that we might be holding each other back.

What worried me in that first meeting was that deep down, I sensed a truth, quiet and unwelcome, waiting to be acknowledged, stirring. Something inside me, opening like an album, sticky with childhood fears. I didn’t want to explore it here, in this room, with Jake. In this room, I wanted to be strong, focused. Tears would not fall, and I would not break down.

I watched Sayid watch me until I could no longer meet his gaze.

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Moment of truth

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It wasn’t until she lay crumpled on the floor of the bedroom, tears streaming down her face, looking into an abyss both terrifying and electric, that she felt the enormity of her Drew problem. She had underestimated Jake’s reaction. She’d known he’d be angry. But she had hoped his anger would quickly give way to a reckoning, a shared understanding of what was missing in their marriage. Foolishly, she had been optimistic about what this opening of Pandora’s box might mean.

What she hadn’t bargained for was his inability to process it in private, away from the kids. She didn’t realize the suggestion of separation might provoke an extended fight that would threaten to engulf their daughters. Jake never did have a poker face. He’d always been transparent, a lousy trait for a parent.

To be fair, Jake didn’t know what it was like to be a child of divorce, a kid with parents who hated each other. He didn’t know what it felt like to grow up shuffling between them, hearing their disparaging comments about each other, and wishing at least one of them would recognize how confusing and confidence eroding it all was.

Without that experience to guide him, he couldn’t be expected to know how his pain would affect the girls, how they would absorb his emotions yet not understand them. She realized he would turn to them for comfort, and it wouldn’t be until it was too late that he would see his mistake. She could not let that happen.

No, on the floor that night, as he stood over her, shaking, hands clenched, and speaking loudly enough to wake the kids, she realized her needs were secondary, and that this was going to be a gradual evolution, not an instant transformation. She let his heated words about counseling and a midlife crisis wash over her and sink in. Though the path was visible, she couldn’t get there without his support.

She needed to be the adult. This would have to be mutual, because the girls were her first priority, and this was a role she must accept. All others, real and longed for, must wait.

As she calmed the storm she’d created, forcing some of Pandora’s demons back into the box, she tried not to despair that this change she could see could not be reached.

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