All due respect

sleeping

The weight of his hand disturbs her sleep. She rolls over, out of his reach, and his hand slips off. She is in her subconscious mind now, floating up from a deeper place. Not entirely comfortable on her side, she is near the edge of the bed, but she lays still and maintains an even breathing pattern, hoping he won’t reach again, hoping she’ll slip back into a forgiving slumber. It’s better if they don’t talk about it. She has nothing new to say.

You never let me touch you anymore, Jake will say a few days later. It’s true. And she knows it goes against the Gottman-esque science about marriage stability and the Huffington Post-promoted philosophies about maintaining intimacy, currently in vogue. She just doesn’t want to pretend. The more space she creates, the more distance she gets, the stronger she feels. All due respect to science.

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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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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

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?

 

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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.

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Distortion

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Define insecurity. Is it the art of pushing someone away before they can hurt you, only to realize they never would have? Is it the distorted mirror that reflects an image only you would believe is really you? Better, maybe its the state of un-grace, the place where you succumb to your scars and weaknesses, believing every negative thought you’ve ever had, the place where dreams morph into something unsettling and vaguely scary.

Insecurity will be my undoing, because the line between what I believe I’m worthy of and what I fear I’m capable of is very thin. And I have a hard time keeping it taut.

No one know this better than Drew, the spectator to my outbursts, the one constantly bewildered by my advances followed by hasty retreats. Two steps forward, three steps back. Who better than he knows the power disbelief holds over me, how it messes with my vision and paints an alternate reality? No one.

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