Category Archives: Love story

Cliché in the city

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She is in the big city, alone. She finds a popular bar on 7th Ave, one with a crush of young people just off work and ordering Bud Light in bottles. She lays claim to one bar stool, because there is always one solitary bar stool available in a crowd, even in the busiest of bars. This is a universal truth. Some folks think the world shuts out single people, but she actually believes it reserves spaces for them, single spaces that groups are reluctant to fill. 

She orders a Stella and a burger. The Australian tourists next to her are watching the Billy Joel concert on the TV above them. John Mayer is playing guitar, his eyes closed. The bartender takes care of her, with a charming Irish accent and one eye constantly scanning the crowd, anticipating the next order, collecting payment, trying not to drip beer on her sleeve. Thanks, he says with a practiced grin, over and over again, money exchanging hands over her shoulder. Excuse me, his customers apologize to her, as if they are interrupting.

She’s here because she can’t be alone in her hotel room. It’s the silence and the spaces that unnerve her. It’s knowing that Drew is out there somewhere, between the posts, behind the friends they have in common, beyond her barricade, but not unreachable.

Maybe it’s knowing she’s getting too old to be this cliché. Maybe it’s that she’s reached the age at which she feels invisible to anyone who doesn’t know her, who didn’t once truly know her.

This must get easier at some point. 

She gets up quietly, smiles at the bartender, and heads back to the hotel.

photo credit: ek2014

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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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Settling

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I cut my hair yesterday. I knew I would feel like Samson losing his locks, the length having represented confidence and a freedom from conformity. But I was weary of caring for that long-haired person’s ego. I felt like she was higher maintenance than she needed to be. 

I thought I would be brave and go short, sassy and stylish, dialing up yet another side of the new, fearless me. But I let my hairdresser talk me into a mid-length cut, a safe cut (her words), one that wouldn’t freak me out (still her words.) I realize now that she was talking to the other me, the one she’s known for almost 20 years. And that me responded in meek agreement.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain momentum. It requires more calories than I can take in, and more space than I can consistently fill. As the barometer drops, dialing back the winds of change, I find that my bravery is dissipating. Never mind being more authentic, or feeling more alive. Complacency is settling back in.

Is my midlife crisis done with me? This settling feels like wind dying down, after a tornado has swept through and lifted the house from its foundation. Everything is dropping back into place, leaving little evidence of the seriousness of the storm.

After all this, will I be unchanged?

 

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Strong enough

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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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To free the coyote

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Another flight home in tears. Another resolution to stop throwing herself at him, only to see him sidestep her, like the road runner taking one purposeful step to the side to let Wile E Coyote race past and hit the wall. Another resolution to pack up her malfunctioning Acme Inc parachute and back away quietly before she hits anything else.

She wants so much to jump. To feel him there beside her, jumping too. The struggle is to reconcile the part of her that believes they are meant to be together with the part that recognizes she’s being rejected. Any other self-respecting woman of her age and opportunity would have moved on by now. God knows, she’s felt it. She’s even said it. But she can’t seem to believe it.

Which must be why the coyote never gives up, even though we all want him to, because we know he’s never going to catch the road runner. If only we could tell him what to do next, we could free him.

Photo credit: http://www.herbalistmanifesto.com

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The reality of silence

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Silence is heavy, and not quiet at all. At rare moments, when she is home on her own, almost afraid to breathe for fear of breaking the spell, there is a welcome stillness. But it is not silent. There is a tinny buzz in her ears, and the ticking of the clock is the heartbeat of a house that creaks and groans, as if stretching cramped limbs. The sound of a descending airplane is overhead, the crunch of tires on loose gravel is in the alley, a child is calling from a backyard somewhere down the street. The rain taps the window and dances on the roof, rivulets finding their way into the bathroom upstairs, steadily dripping onto the marmoleum floor. When it stops, the birds are so cheerful, she wishes she could join them, landing lightly on the branch outside her window, simultaneously eyeing the earth and the sky.

There is a steady stream of chatter in her head, a radio channel she wishes she could turn off. She tries not to think of Drew, she tries not to think of Jake. Nothing seems right, everything is off balance, the road ahead looks empty and grey, like the sky. How not to curl up into a ball and close her eyes, tuning the world out, keeping everyone at bay? How not to give in to the uncertainty and lose her drive, her determination to live fully, to live better? This is the anti-depressant zone, where she can choose to numb herself and force her body and mind to level out, the way her friends do with their knock-off, covered-by-insurance-if-you’re-willing-to-accept-the-diagnosis drugs. Or its the place where she gives up, where she gives in to the pain and despair that make her feel alive and alone, alert and yet emotionally unavailable, where she makes herself small on the couch and watches the rain fall, tucking the stillness in around her like a quilt.

The silence is welcome. But she doesn’t know what to do with it.

Photo credit: redbubble.com

 

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