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.
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.
We imagine the worst to protect ourselves. Because it helps if pain comes from us rather than someone else. Because it hurts less if we acknowledge it personally, bowing our heads slightly as it comes closer, holding still until it passes. We hurt ourselves first because there is satisfaction in jerking the opportunity away from others.
Sometimes this feels smart. By anticipating the worst, we can lessen disappointment, neutralize surprise, and reduce the impact of a sting or a direct punch. We are wise in our understanding that life has its ups, but it has more downs. Recognizing the potential for failure keeps us from feeling the full impact of slamming into the wall.
We are good at this, expecting people to reject us. We excel at anticipating their disappointment, and at predicting the point at which someone will give up and simply walk away. We call this intuition. We call it foresight. What we often overlook is a self fulfilling prophecy.
What if all the energy we spend imagining the worst outcomes were spent instead on imagining the best? What is the point of imagination if we aren’t using it to our advantage? Is it a naive view, too vulnerable a position, a fool’s folly to bet on success instead of failure, to conjure opportunity instead of a dead end, to envision someone accepting versus rejecting us?
The last text she received from Drew featured his silhouette. He was driving somewhere, north she thought, though it wasn’t possible to know. It was light outside his window, with a blur of green grass and some kind of white building in the distance. She kept pulling it up on her phone, looking at his serious face, wanting him to turn to the camera and smile, guessing at what he’d been thinking when he sent it.
She’d sent him a picture first. He’d asked several times, for the kind of photo always getting politicians in trouble in the news, the kind that suggests a weakness, a shortcoming. She had always refused, although she knew what she would send. Something sensual in simplicity and defensible as art, representative of a desire he might recognize as his own. A suggestion of where he might place his hand. This was something she understood well, foreplay from a distance, the art of tension, the crafting of a good story.
The picture had been snapped inadvertently. She’d taken her phone out to capture the morning skyline from the bridge. Traffic was barely moving, the cars in front of her crawling toward a merge at the highway onramp. The day was grey, the soft grey that comes from a lifting fog and the promise of a clear sky above. The water was smooth and reflective, and the port was quiet. With one hand on the steering wheel, she was attempting to center the phone when she’d fumbled and nearly dropped it, an audible click responding to a finger closing around the case. When she turned it over, there it was, a thumbnail in the corner of the camera, soft and utterly compelling.
Something about the image dissolved her resistance. It captivated her, the evidence, so obvious and real she could almost feel him in the car beside her, reaching over, insistent and possessive. It felt so very, very easy. So honest and legitimate to send it, so unreasonable to keep it from him. If it didn’t generate an equal and proportional response, if she didn’t feel a vibration in the air between them, she deserved every pound of backlash she’d risk to reach him.
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.