State of the Heart Address 2012

Every year at this time, I sit down and take stock of the last year and the current state of my heart. Last year, I wrote to you of having finally met a man worth writing about. I sit now, still close enough to see that man in the rear view mirror, and the state of the heart depends on the day.

One day, it is content. It is among friends, the best job it’s ever had, leisure time, and the peace that comes from having no one to answer to. A single person is afforded a certain amount of selfishness. I get to wake up and be loud since no one has slept over. I don’t have to keep a stash of emergency frozen food that is actual food. (I can exist on yogurt, carrots and crab sticks, but one does not feed that to guests.) I don’t have to hang out with someone else’s group of friends. I don’t have to watch tv shows I didn’t choose. I can put my phone on vibrate, since it’s not my job to be a first line of defense on needed rides, bad days, forgotten items and the like. I get to do my own hobbies and spend time on my own things. I never have to take one for the team, because my team is just me. My team consists of one, and that is a much simpler operation. I get to go about my schedule only having to worry about being a good enough employee, friend, student and cat mother.

Other days, I just miss things. I miss how it was a year ago, when I wrote last year’s post. That post seems as though it was written about some other guy, some person I knew once who no longer exists. I miss every good time the two of us had. I miss the future I thought I was going to get. I was happy for a while. So happy. And then so very sad. I know I did the right thing in walking away, but it still hurts. You want to believe that if you just want it enough or stick it out a little longer, you can save everything. That everything will be fine and you will feel warm and safe again. Then you accept that you can’t save it, the baggage has piled too high and you only want to run. You leave, but something in you still just pulls and wishes for a time machine.

I tried some dating and decided that dating strangers is kind of silly. Instead, guys and I have been just hanging out. Slowly, one of them stopped being just my friend. But I’m scared as hell because I’m still The Walking Wounded and I don’t want to accidentally hurt anybody. I don’t want to get into anything I’m not ready to get into, and I don’t really want a boyfriend right now. I just DID the whole boyfriend thing, so I just want some time to be a selfish single person for a little bit. Besides, the last time I did this, it ended in all that crying. Someone touches me, and half of me says, “oh, this is nice,” and the other half pulls out lights and sirens and yells “oh my God, it’s happening again! Run! Run!” I don’t really know what to do and no one has any answers or a crystal ball. I have resolved to move slowly because I need time to wrap my head around this whole thing, and moving slowly never hurt anybody. I don’t have a thesis statement, but I enjoy hanging out with this person, and that’s reason enough to see where it goes.

Then there’s other part of me that says, “you know, maybe we’re just not cut out for all this.” Maybe it’s not that I haven’t met the right guy; maybe it’s that I’m not built for this. Relationships just wither me up, turning me into a big ball of tongue-biting and half-fulfillment, shouldering yet another yoke of responsibility and feeling like I can never live up to my own expectations of myself. It’s exhausting. After a while, I think back on my life as a single person and the question that had been getting answered with “no,” gets answered with “yes.” That question: “do you want your single life back?” Except in the last case. I never wanted my single life back. I just wanted to stop crying all the time, and I just wanted to get some decent sleep.

I have failed at being a friend to the man in the rear view mirror. I feel guilty about this failure, feeling like a horrible, fickle person for saying that I love someone and then walking away. Love is supposed to mean that you have that person’s back forever. Desertion is not how I like to roll, and it makes me feel like a hypocrite.

But it is hard to be a friend to an ex. It is even harder when strangers at the gym provide you with information that you didn’t want. Information that makes you feel nauseous and stupid. Information that makes it mandatory to walk away and not look back. While there are parts of me that will always love and never forget him, I have to walk away. Otherwise, I just end up staying sad and angry forever, and that will not do.

There are still so many questions that will never get answers. So much disrespect and insult I can’t overlook and hurt I can’t completely convey. I and am tempted to sift through all of that in some vain attempt to make it all make sense. Why this, why that, how can I avoid having it happen again? What did I do to make it happen at all? But you never get answers to everything. You will never make everything make sense. Maybe one day, years from now, I’ll run into him and my husband and I will have lunch with him and his wife. But now is the time for walking away.

When I told the ex that I loved him, I had planned to make an art piece in a shadow box to give to him. It would have been a Victorian lithograph of an anatomical heart, layered among foil, bits of CDs, sheet music, lace, a couple of satin ruffles and a tiny bit of cat hair. I would tell him it was my heart, and I would give it to him. I had fantasized that he would also make one, made of tubes and gears and possibly a small, working carburetor. Each of us would hang the other’s heart on the wall. One day the two hearts would hang side by side on the same wall in the same house.

The I Love Yous burned me from the inside and I had to get them out before I had time to make the art piece, so I wrote down the words but skipped the crafts. He had told me at the time that he had words for me too, but he never bothered to finish them. There were so many other ways for him to spend his time, and finishing words of love for me just didn’t rank highly enough.

Things went to hell. The heart piece never got made.

After the breakup, I found the forgotten, empty shadow box while looking for tape to wrap Christmas presents. When I remembered the box’s intended use, it seemed a hundred years removed, like something that happened to someone else a long time ago. The nebulous idea of being in love enough to make an art piece to celebrate it was like something I thought had happened to me, but was really in a movie that was on while I was falling asleep.

And so the state of the heart, as it pertains to romantic things, is as that box is. It is made of tough metal and delicate glass. It is half-forgotten and stored away. It is piled among a thousand special, beloved things, but it is not filled. It is waiting to be filled by the right things, very special things, when they come along.

It will keep.

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The Cynic

In these post-breakup days, I have had a lot of time to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been working, going to school, seeing friends, working out, Christmas shopping, playing the piano, and…well, good lord. You get the picture. But one of the strange things about these days is the amount of time that I’ve had to just THINK. For whatever reason, I just hadn’t had much time to do it. Or I’d been spending all of my thinking time thinking about the wrong things. I’d been wondering where I was going to work when my contract ran out. Wondering if a certain horrible group project would turn out OK. Wondering what the flying hell happened to my relationship. All of those things can tend to take up a lot of time, and most of them don’t end up with answers. Now that my brain is no longer in survival mode, it can get back to “leisure thinking.” Things like “what if, like energy, there’s a certain amount of fat in the world? A morbidly obese person dies, and 60 girls gain ten pounds? They blame their birth control, but really it’s because the weight needed to be redistributed as the fat person rotted. Fat IS stored energy, right?”

Seriously. I pondered that through an entire grocery trip.

In survival mode, everything just stops while your brain just tries to get through the day. I had nothing to say and nothing to write because there simply hadn’t been a thought in my head that wasn’t about what I did that day. Even my internal dialog had become plot summary. As a side note, I hate plot summary. Conversation should not be like a third grader’s book report. I only want to know what you did so that we can then move on to how you felt about it, how you hope it turns out, or how it fits into your master plan. The big picture.

Anyway, with all this quiet around me during holiday drives, commutes, workouts, etc., I felt my brain open up. It had time to think. To wonder about things. To think of things it wanted to do. To slow down and try to figure things out. I started to give some thought to the nature of love. Like, maybe my relationship fell apart because I just wouldn’t know a man that loved me if he walked up and shook my hand. Maybe I was just THAT cynical.

But no.

I knew that one friend loved me because he listened to me bitch about my job ALL the damn time. There were long stories detailing such riveting topics as paper jams and mail merges, and he listened to every single word of every single one, without interrupting me, acting bored or changing the topic. If memory serves, he would even reach over and mute the tv or pause the DVR so we could talk. That man loved me.

What happened to him? If I wanted to blame him, I’d say that he found a girlfriend and forgot about me. If I told the truth, I’d say I wasn’t that great a friend to him (he supported me, and I’d be like “thanks” and then miss important things like his college graduation) and he finally found a girl who would accept his love properly. I still owe him an apology, and he’s going to get it if I ever manage to track him down.

I knew that another friend loved me because he talked me down from 100 different ledges after a particularly gross breakup. I’d get going on some rant, and he would just stop me with “Amy, this person threw you away. Like trash. Via TEXT. Why are you spending all this time even thinking about him? He should be wiped from the Earth, along with your memory of him.”

He helped me through that breakup and when his breakup came, I legitimately tried. I listened to his understated story of being tossed aside by a girl he thought he would marry. I thought he was fine, because he seemed so calm. I knew that he loved me because I got a chance to beg. To say goodbye. To tell him I loved him. When he killed himself anyway, it changed me forever and I forgot how to be terrified of everything. That man loved me.

I know dad was kind of contractually obligated, but still. There must have been countless times that he gave something up for mom, sis and me. Countless times that he didn’t get to do what he wanted to do because we were the bigger picture. Countless things he couldn’t have because he was squirreling money away. Money that became part of the down payment on my house. My car. My eyes. This is the man that made a goth girl do a mock interview because “I think you’re cheating yourself out of 20 grand a year with that nose ring.” The man who looked at a disheveled 10 year old and made her “have some self respect and iron that shirt.” The man who kept asking “no, really, what ARE your goals?” until I figured out an answer. He loved me enough to not let me get away with anything. He loved me enough to tell me that I could do better until I did better.

I’m still a terribly cynical person. I will check your actions eight ways to Sunday to make sure they’re true. I do this to protect myself.

But, by God, I know when I am loved.
And I never, ever forget it.

Tomorrow The Green Grass

“I’m thinking grilled shrimp. But wait! There are deep fried gator sliders! God, ever since I went back to eating meat, it takes me 15 minutes just to order in a restaurant.”

I am sitting across from an old friend, trying to do what you’d think would be easy: I’m trying to sit down and figure out what I want. It’s easier said than done. I look at this menu, look at her and realize that few things are really that simple.

All you have to do is sit down, decide what you want and then go after it. Life isn’t like being a vegetarian in a restaurant, where all you have to choose from is salad or french fries. Life is like being Anthony Bourdain: you could have the steak, the fish or you could just have the chef cook up whatever’s living under the fridge. The menu doesn’t have pictures, and you don’t know what the portions are like. How are you supposed to just sit down, figure out what you want and order it? What if it comes and it’s nothing like you thought it would be? Buyer’s remorse on a plate of gator sliders is a lot different from buyer’s remorse on a career. A spouse. A family.

She chose differently than I did. Though we are the same age, my friend has chosen a husband, kids and a very different career than mine. I chose a career, a cat and a life where I come home to a house of near silence. Though neither of us wishes to swap lives, there are certainly days when we would both like to swap for a couple of hours. After those two hours, I would say “I just need some quiet,” and she would say “I’m bored and miss my family,” but the impulse is still there.

I look at her life and think “look at these people on her team, look at the life they can make together. She does not have to go on awkward first dates and her house is not like a library. She and her husband can lean on each other, and her kids need her.” I’m sure there’s some little part of her that looks at my life and thinks “she can talk on the phone without anyone yelling ‘mommy!’ She can go out dancing, nobody asks her what’s for dinner after she’s worked a long day, and nobody ever pukes on her.”

Universal truth: it is nice to not be puked on.

The thing about choosing a life is that it really is possible to change your mind. You can choose the career for a while, and then choose the family. You don’t always have to choose correctly the first time (though I don’t recommend un-choosing your children), but everything you do is a kind of choice.

Indecision is still a decision, it’s just really lazy. It is you saying, “I choose to not eat.” I would rather make a decision and then change my mind than just not care, and lord knows I’ve changed my mind a few times. Go on, ask me about my college credits.

I have friends who are thinking of changing their direction. I have friends who love their direction. I have friends who forgot to choose. Though my friend and I may think for a minute or two that the grass is greener on the other side, we are both ultimately content with what we’ve chosen. One day I may choose something else, but that doesn’t mean that what I have is somehow unacceptable. It’s like choosing between shrimp and gator: there’s no wrong choice, but there might be a better one.

In the great restaurant of life, you may regret having ordered gator sliders. You may sit and wonder if the shrimp might have been better. But if you don’t choose something, you definitely lose. You sit there and starve.

I ended up picking the grilled shrimp. They were delicious. But I’m getting the gator sliders next time.

Things Never Had, Part One (Dessert)

(And so, the conclusion of part one.)

I sat myself down one day. I stopped mindlessly dating. I started dating with a mission.

What ensued was a string of guys I really should have run from. Not abusive, horrible guys; just guys whose heads weren’t in the game. Guys who didn’t like me much. Guys with better things to do. Guys focused on work, or booze, or bands or any number of things that guys can be focused on. I understand that; I was those guys for years. In their defense, I really am “a lot of look,” as Tim Gunn would say. It takes a special person to tolerate my special brand of crazy, my over-analysis of everything, my neurotic fear of things that are decades from happening, and my habit of endlessly bitching about my hair/foot size/skin/whatever. Couple that with the fact that the Neurotic Crazy Town Amy doll comes packaged with a Siamese cat, a posse of protective, scary friends and a mom who doesn’t mess around, and that’s a lot for any guy to handle.

Then, the universe (and one friend who will never let me forget it) delivered to me someone who is my type physically, mentally and sexually. Someone who has a bizarre habit of staying stuff I was just about to say. Someone who practically volunteered to meet Scary Mother. Someone who was willing to go see Jane Eyre. Someone who has voluntarily talked about his feelings on more than one occasion. Someone who isn’t afraid to take the piss out of me. People kept telling me that I seemed happy and glowy. I was in denial for a long time. Then, more realizations:

1. In his arms, I have felt perfectly safe, comfortable and understood.
2. I have looked at him and seen a long-term future that doesn’t freak me out.
3. He knows how to handle and wrangle my brand of crazy.
4. He is not one to give up easily.

I wasn’t using the L word because I feared that it wouldn’t be returned.
I wasn’t using the L word because I wanted to make sure I meant it.
I wasn’t using the L word because of one other thing we’ll discuss later.

I almost used it once before, with someone else, then felt like it would have been a misuse. Wild horses, rhinos and guns couldn’t make me have anything to do with him now, but I still hope for his eventual happiness. I just also hope that I have nothing whatsoever to do with it, as he could never have made me happy. Sometimes we love people who don’t love us back. It happens. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust ourselves or our definitions of love; it just means we should find someone else and love them longer and better.

With that said, I’m afraid my current mister is doomed.
He did this to himself, after all.

So there it is.
I have fallen in love.

Hell has frozen.

Things Never Had, Part One (Entree)

(And so, having discussed the shortcomings of devoting one’s life to one’s career and the scary nature of love, we return to discuss fear and adjustment.)

One day, you realize that you let someone into your life. Someone has made it past the guard dogs, barbed wire fence and security cameras. Someone has charmed the guard dogs, cut the barbed wire fence with an angle grinder and shot out the camera lenses. Someone has coerced you out of your fortress. Someone has talked you down from your tower. You want to run screaming, but there’s this voice in your head saying, “No. This is The Guy. Do not run this time. Do not run.”

I have let someone into my rib cage.
He has taken my heart somewhere.
I can only hope it is in a climate-controlled safety deposit box of some sort.

I have spent 33 years learning what I was supposed to learn in order to get here. It took a long time because I was busy learning a bunch of other stuff. Love was the hardest because there were no books. No college major. No papers written and returned with red ink. I had to be self-taught and I kept slacking because I didn’t know what to do. I can code you some nice HTML, but I don’t know any rules on PDA or what to say to let someone know you really like them without freaking them out. I don’t know how to say things that are unpleasant when I fear hurting someone else’s feelings. I don’t know how to meet his parents or friends or siblings or any of that. I don’t know how to have a decent day when that person says I hurt his feelings, however accidentally. It’s like there’s an entire volume in the Encyclopedia Britannica of life that nobody bothered to mail to me. It’s the “M” volume: men, mathematics and Megadeth. I don’t understand any of those.

Also, I was scared.

I was scared that, if I told him I loved him, his conquest would be over. The mission would be complete and there would be nothing left for him to do but become completely bored with me and treat me more and more like some old piece of furniture. I was scared that he would change my life so completely that I wouldn’t recognize it anymore. I was scared that he would change his mind. He would find some little stupid thing about me that he didn’t like and then not be able to tune it out. It would grow bigger and bigger until he couldn’t stand to be around me. I was scared of a future that wasn’t completely up to me. Best case scenario, I was scared that I wouldn’t die first and I would lose my mind. My friends would find me sitting on the floor of my closet clutching a whore sandal and drooling on myself. Then, I realized some things.

1. When my dad went first, my mom didn’t lose her mind.

She’s probably in Kentucky somewhere thinking that her job as my mom is done. That there’s nothing else she can possibly teach me. This is incorrect; one of the most important things she ever did as my role model was keep going. She spent years watching him wither away slowly. She was there when they pronounced him. She kept going. She went to Zumba and walked her little dog.

2. Living your life behind a thick wall of concrete nouns is no way to live.

At some point, everybody has to focus on their career. Everybody has to get the plane off the ground. Then, one day, you look at your life and wonder if that’s all there is, just a life of answering emails and hoping to make more money. Forty more years of being on an unstoppable treadmill, working and working just to get one more outfit or a slightly nicer car. Shortly thereafter, you realize that there is either something more to life or you should go shoot yourself. The only thing scarier than the possibility of having your heart broken is the possibility that you are so safely walled up that no one can find your heart to break it.

3. I am harder to kill than previously thought.

I was scared that someone would break my heart and I would lose my mind. I would end up catatonic, unable to do anything but sit perfectly still and try to figure out what the hell had happened. I would find some horrible way to blame and punish myself. Then I realized that my own brain had been trying unsuccessfully to kill me for a little over 20 years. The only person’s brain that I trusted, the brain who knew me better than anybody, the brain inside my own head, had been manipulating and fucking with me for more than 20 years and hadn’t won. I had told it to sit down and shut up. I was ten feet tall and bulletproof and didn’t even know.

(Come back tomorrow for dessert.)

Things Never Had, Part One (Salad Course)

Things Never Had is going to be a 2-part series, but this (the first part) is going to be broken up over 3 days so as not to make your brains bleed. Thus, I give you the salad course of the first meal.

Life is comprised of a lot of nouns. Many of those nouns are the things we have around us. Family, friends, pets, pillows, walls, shoes, food, car, shampoo: all nouns. All things that most of us have. They’re all concrete nouns, things we can see and touch. We can look at a person and say “she has these things. See? Because there they are.” She must have everything she needs. She is not starving or homeless or alone. When she needs to be hugged, there are plenty of people she can call. Everything seems cool on the surface because we surround ourselves with these very nice-looking concrete nouns. Concrete nouns to build walls around us. My life must be complete because I have a smart phone.

There were some things missing. Secret voids that no one could see because the missing nouns were abstract. No one can tell when you don’t have security around you. Safety around you. Love around you.

It sounds terribly disrespectful to say that I’ve never been in love. It makes it sound like I don’t love my parents, family, friends or pet. I do. But those kinds of love, while still love, are different. You don’t choose your family. You don’t have sex with your friends. Your pets are not your equals. You learn something about love from all of those groups. What you learn, when you learn it, is applied to being, as they say, in love.

“In love” is tricky. It’s two people attempting to function as equals, navigating the difficult waters of life mergers, starting with “I hope my friends like you” and “what do you want to watch?” and ending with “I will move across the country because you got a promotion” and “we will have to agree on how to raise these kids.” Love, I’m told, is terribly rewarding. It is also terribly scary. It is scary because someone has the power to hurt you. It is scarier because you have the power to hurt someone else. It is much less scary to focus on your career and say that you’re cool just hanging out with your friends. Not that I’d know anything about any of that.

(Come back tomorrow for the entree course, when we shall dine on meaty things and starches.)

Slice Open a Vein or Shut the Fuck Up

“Going pretty slow in there, huh?”
“Well, yes and no.”

Readers, I am well aware of the fact that I haven’t said boo to you since May 4th. Matter of fact, I didn’t say much before then and, if memory serves, that last post was about my cat. People hate when you write about your cat. Slice open a vein or shut the fuck up.

I’d love to slice a vein open for you, but I’m not sure I could find one right now. Life at present isn’t without its fair share of little stupid torments. I still wish I were capable of having a real conversation with my mother. I’m still not sure that some choices I’ve made were the right ones. I still wonder where I’m going to find money to buy myself a new roof.

Hell, there were bigger, scarier torments. I can’t tell you about those because they happened at work and the walls have ears. Or they happened in my social life, in which case that’s none of your business until I decide it’s your business.

Actually, let’s discuss that.

I do have some policies left. One of those policies is that, while it’s perfectly fine for me to tell you all of my secrets, other people’s secrets (even those of which other people just have joint custody) are off limits. Thing is, my life has become so intertwined with someone else’s that I’m never quite sure what to tell you anymore. Also, I’m frequently so busy that I don’t have time to stop and think about what I would tell you. I have no idea what could possibly interest you at this point. (Frankly, I need to stop worrying about that. No offense, but I’ve never been here for you. I’ve been here for me, and some of you just drop in sometimes.)

I am currently busily trying to familiarize myself with 100 alien territories all at once. I’m groping around in relationship land, having no idea what the hell I’m doing, being a little weirded out by it, and deciding to continue on anyway. With each little baby step, I look at my feet and realize how much it would hurt to end up back at the foot of the stairs. To fall back to the foot of the stairs. My God, the bones you can break that way.

“This life. I don’t recognize this life. I don’t know what to do with it.”

“Do you want your old life back?”

“Well, no.”

The whole thing makes me feel like every character ever played by Matthew McConaughey. Every movie where he plays some confirmed bachelor who meets The Girl (usually played by someone who’s pretty but still accessible, like Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Aniston) and doesn’t know what to do with himself. She puts an air freshener in his Single Man Porsche. She keeps spare pajamas at his house. She knows her way around his kitchen, meets his friends and knows where his dog likes to be scratched. He gets all weirded out and does something stupid 40 minutes before the end of the movie, just so the two of them can make up 10 minutes before the end of the movie. Only I’d like to avoid that whole “do something stupid” part.

I don’t have any answers.
I’m just running around trying not to hurt anybody.

All I’ve learned thus far is that the most important thing you can do is trust yourself and the person next to you. I’m not very good at trusting myself, but I’m willing to give it a shot. Rest assured, I’ve been working on some words that I’ve been leading up to for 33 years. They’re taking their pretty time getting written because I’m being terribly careful with them.

When it’s time, you’ll see them.
Til then, bear with me.
There could be more blogs about my cat.