I got home late tonight. It was dark and the stars were out and as I shut the door to my truck, I heard a voice call out to me. The stranger wished me a good night. Standing across the street on the corner, wearing all black and looking intently into his phone, I wondered if I had near-missed him, and when I asked, he chuckled and said, "no, but I did find a _______." I had no idea what he said. The word did not sound at all familiar to my ear, one which has heard all manner of speech and phrasing.
"Huh?" I asked, wondering at the sound of it, a little afraid, a little cautious at his strangeness, and he replied, "Poke Man-Go!" I realized he was looking at the world through an app, so I instantly stopped worrying for my safety, and shouted over my shoulder, "beautiful stars tonight!"
As I walked off I heard him abruptly reply, "huh......oh yeah!"
He had not seen the stars. He had not even looked up yet this evening, this lovely night, the air crisp and the wind a light dance across the street, and the stars...the stars clear and bright and as true as anything I had ever felt. As true as love. As true as peace. As true as desire.
So I walk on and gaze up and remember how different we always end up being, and what I thought it meant and what he thought it meant and how those two meanings would always be separate. Equal. But separate. I would not know his truth and he would not know mine, but I finally understood it, and so I was able to release him for being responsible for what I believed. I didn't need him to understand anymore.
Under the bridge, alone, warming myself by the fire built with my own two hands and happy for the cover and happy for the heat. This fire, my truth, has kept me in comfort, and though the storm rages just beyond the edges of the bridge I am under, I can't feel the rain fall. This understanding comes to me only because I am content to not be threatened by the storm. I am sound where I am. I whistle and hum and hop up and down to stay electric and alive. Happy to make the effort to feel the blood rushing through my body and the hair on the surface of my skin dance in the lovely winds that blow the flames higher.
I dwell in the myth of Prometheus, his gift to us and the torture he suffered. All the meanings and all the ways I could feel that flame. What is fire after all but love? What is fire, if it is not desire? What is fire, if it is not wisdom?
So many things fire can be, even when it is keeping you warm under a bridge at 2 am. Even when it is the fire in the driveway that almost blows up into disaster. even when it is the flame that never quite caught in the wood stove, even as the last bit of it burns out of the relationship.
Fire lives in all things, and while I cannot always start it, I have always known when it is smoldering on the edge of cinder. I see it coming and I do what I can to tamp it down. I do what I can to mitigate the damage. I do what I can, before the fire has burnt out to nothing, to salvage.....something.
Because even the memory of the fire is more than the cinder it leaves behind. The warmth of love, of desire, of wisdom do not come as easily as fire, and I think that was his secret, Prometheus.
He gave us the foreshadowing event of what we might be. What we might know. What we might feel.
And for that, he suffered a lifetime of torture.
And I in return put myself through it, but for who? For what? It is just beyond the surface of my skin. It is just out of reach of my shadow, stretching long in the early morning hours as I emerge from under the bridge and greet the eastern horizon. The storm has passed and I am out of it all. I grip my coat tight around me and head into town.
I hope to meet a stranger's eye, but will not.
I hope to meet the heart of another, but cannot.
It is all me and only me in the dance of another brilliant close, and I am lucky enough to be alone enough to know it.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, or that at least, you understand enough to connect with it a bit. It came through me, so I am not quite sure what it all means. I have literally never been under a bridge warming myself by a fire, but I had the impulse to write it, so I did. Don't worry, and don't give up. Everything that burns down will live again.
I dig all the dirt and grime out from under my nails with the end of a needle. I notice it at the end of every day, the evidence of the work I have done.
I have energy for all that is work: building the house, making the art, digging the garden writing the journal. I tried fixing the car, and though I was successful, I was not satisfied.
These are my days of recognition, my days of dedication, where I do exactly as I want to do and I change my mind whenever it moves me in that direction. The direction of change, that is.
I enjoy this new freedom slowly, methodically. Without a proper job, I can apply my focus to what is in front of me, and I can choose whatever that is in any moment. This is the only healing I need. I haven't known this softness for quite some time. For most of my life, my days were "should" and "have to." It is not so much the ending of the relationship, but the lack of gainful employment that has freed me up as well. I have had a job of some sort since I was twelve. For the last few years, I have not.
I work, I just work much like Bert from Mary Poppins, I apply myself to whatever the weather and my attitude allows. Last week I painted houses for a few days. This week I'm house sitting. I am also working on some social media projects for an artist I know and helping a lawyer get all of her paperwork organized within processes of efficiency. In between my paid work, I build my tiny home, I paint, I make pottery, and I write.
I recognize this woman, who can do so many things well enough that she can help others as well as herself for as long as it is useful and profitable. This is the woman who wears what she must for the task at hand and is comforted by the feel of her useful clothing. I love this woman. She is a worker. Her boots give her calm as she walks through the world with a tromp and a little smile on her face. She won't bend to the will of anyone for a while, or maybe, ever.
I don't partake in tasks and events I do not have energy for. I tried. Once or twice. It hasn't ended well. I become annoyed too easily when I think someone is trying too hard or if I feel like I have to try at all. Dating just isn't something I have a desire for, and while part of me wonders why, there is this other part of me that knows, the taskmaster, who tells me to keep to myself. She will not have me paying any of my energy to outside sources. She doesn't care if I ever have sex again. She has kept me from shaving any part of my body. She has kept me hydrated, fed and rested. She is focusing me inward to jog my memory.
As I have moved through middle age, I have held the belief that I had to keep my body in a certain sort of shape so that I could have sex as often as possible, always worried that the sex might evaporate. I am amused now at the thought of this. I will never again race to have sex for its own sake. For within the race, I have missed the little things that make it a joy. Now I keep my body in shape to feel strong, because I know myself in that frame. I recognize the able-bodied woman, the one who feels no pain in her physicality and wants to focus on the pain within.
I have been working towards this recognition. I moved so that I might recognize myself again, before all the men, before all the heartbreak, before even the death of my parents. I want to remember all the joy I could carry in my little body as a child. I see her now, that girl, I feel her, and allowing her out has been a revelation. I know that my tears have been due to the loss of a great love, but some of them as of late have been tears of recovery. Recovering what I have been protecting for these many years. Recovering the heart of the woman I love.
I am recognizing the original me as I dig her up from beneath the ashes and rubble of my life. I am rebuilding her into who I always knew I could be, who I had the desire to embody. It is not that I have been lying, or being false, it is that I have been living under the burden of my own expectations and the expectations of those around me. I am letting those go. I am just going to wait and see what happens. These are the moments before the sunrise, before the child jumps out of bed and into the day. These are the moments of surrender, where I wait to see what I might do next.
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Every morning I wake up to pecking at my roof, which is just, as it happens, on the other side of my bedroom wall. Some days I am glad for it. Other days, I wake up, hear it, and I begin to cry. Just like I cry when I hear the Scrub Jay that sometimes calls in my neighborhood.
It's off and on, grief. It pops up sometimes for no reason and stays for as long as it wants, and all I can do is observe and serve it as best I can, which usually involves laying in bed, crying, sleeping, and eating small bits of food here and there so I don't also suffer from extreme hunger. Crying takes a lot of energy.
After it's done, I feel so much better; empty in a clean way. But it seems to come from an endless spring of sorrow that resides deep within me, always ready to burst at the slightest provocation, or, more mysteriously, at no provocation at all.
That's why I elected to stop eating sugar and drinking alcohol in March, because I know that I am fully capable, and have a long history, of using these things as substitutes for what I'm really wanting. If I get to the cake or the alcohol fast enough, I might not even feel the depth and the breadth of my emptiness. That is why I am crying, because I am not distracting myself from the pain of absence.
I haven't missed the alcohol, but every day, at some point, I am really aching for a nice piece of cake, a slice of pie, (damn you, Pi Day!) or some ice cream. My whole body screams for it. But I know if I give in I will put off the inevitable, and I know, deep down, it's a bit of an insult to whatever I might be eating. If I am to eat cake, pie, or ice cream, I want to eat it for it's own sake, not because I would rather be hanging out with my ex-boyfriend.
The truth is I want something deeper, something that came from my past that I hadn't remembered, until my brother reminded me how food was handled in my house growing up. At a certain point in my teens, my mom shacked up with a woman who had a lot of weird things about food. I refer to them in this insulting way because I had to suffer for them. The fridge and cabinets were stuffed with food I couldn't eat because it was my mom's and her partner's. We were forbidden from eating most of the food in the house. The food that I could eat was often sparse and between my brother and I, it was a race to see who would get to it first, each of us worried we wouldn't get our fair share. Sometimes my mom would eat our food and not tell us so that we were fighting with each other over who took all the pizza bread, apples, tortillas, cheese, whatever.
There was so much tension around food in my house it's a wonder I am not more screwed up about it. But the reality is that it was just an echo of the actual issue, which was love. My mom really didn't have that energy for us at that age, and for the most part, we were treated a bit like a nuisance during our high school years. The food thing exacerbated it, but what I wanted was my mom's undivided attention. I never really got that.
I see that in my last relationship as well. I wanted more of his attention, and whether he was giving it to me or not, that is the feeling I learned to feel in my relationships. I found ways to set him up to fail, or ask him for things I knew he would not give, just so I could validate my own feelings of being unworthy. Instead of asking for more, I would allow him to ignore me, secretly making him the villain and myself the victim in a relationship pattern that had been set decades ago.
This loss has awakened all of my feelings of lack, so going back to food and alcohol is my primary urge. It is my goal, in this month, to focus on that feeling of lack, come to terms with it, and grow comfortable with it so that I am not driven to eat something lovely without proper appreciation. It is my goal to understand that I am actually lacking nothing.
I was able to fix my relationship with food when I made it my own. When I started thinking about what I really wanted about food, what I wanted it to do for me, when I started to listen to my body and recognize the signals it was sending when I ate certain things, I claimed ownership of my relationship with my body and with food I would put into it. All the issues I had as a teen melted away as I saw food, more and more, as a way to care for myself, and used it to do just that.
It is the same with the birds. I am birding now, and it is painful because my world expanded exponentially as my former partner taught me about them over the five years we were together. I saw parts of the world I would never have seen otherwise, and I came to see life in a whole new way. Over the years, every time I saw or heard a bird, I would associate it with him, with us. It was a sweet thing that no matter where he was, or what he was doing, he was not far as long as I could hear a bird's song.
This pecking that happens in the morning, the Chickadees that call to me outside my window, and the Scrub Jay I occasionally hear on the wind are a challenge. I don't want to give up the birds, though it is painful sometimes, I want to in some way, make them mine. My work now is to move to a place where I can hear their songs and pecks as a reminder of all that I have, not all that I am missing. When I see a Bewick's Wren or a Flicker, I want to remember all that I was given, not all that I never got.
I will make the birds my own and over time, I will remember the goodness of our trips to visit the birds. I will remember looking out at the sky with him, feeling how wonderful it was to watch the world grow as he stood beside me.
It is a strange and wonderful thing to be able to sit within years of experience and extract lessons and wisdom. The challenge is releasing the pain associated with a particular kind of experience so that I am not blocked from gaining the lesson.
It is a peculiar kind of accumulation, these lessons, all layered on top of another to create a single image of wise counsel. The achievement is both satisfying and exhilarating, as the work leads to something that very often is hiding in plain sight right in front of me.
The lesson I am just now learning began teaching me in my youth, as most things do, with my parents. After they split, they both fell in love with new people. Their two children, each eight years old, became less important to them as their relationships went on, and by the time they were teenagers, the kids had the freedoms only the neglected enjoy. This had its benefits. I was able to do things most kids would have to wait years to experience. I also had the added benefit of practicing subversive behavior on a regular basis, which would also come in handy later.
Over the course of my life, I noticed that this very early experience attracted and exposed me to a particular type of pain; that of neglect and abandonment. No matter who I chose to partner with, there was always some element of our relationship which involved me putting in my all as the other person slowly withdrew. My marriage was exactly this way. By the time I left the relationship, my wasband was barely doing anything to keep the household going, save the animals and his pot growing operation. When I told him I was leaving, he tried to argue by telling me he would stay up all night cleaning the house, as if that would make up for years of neglecting the relationship.
I also noticed that some of my friendships would labor under the strain of romantic entanglement. That I suffered as I watched friends flirting with my boyfriends or the other way around. As my partner would foster emotionally intimate relationships with other women, even as he sat in bars with me and watched football. This same lesson kept popping up at me, over and over, trying to tell me something that I wasn't getting.
At the end of romantic relationships, and certain friendships, I would find myself digging out the rubble that surrounded me, the rubble that was very much my own accomplishment, in order to find myself again. In order to put myself first.
Then, in honor of my dissatisfaction with Women's History Month, I decided to go out dressed as a suffragette and hand out resistance cards to women on the street and ask them, "don't you want more? More than just a month a year? More than the lip service we are paid, in lieu of actual money?"
For the most part it went well, mostly I was preaching to the choir, but for two women who snapped at me that they were treated well. that they were already treated equally.
That evening I ruminated on the subject and realized that I, just like almost every other woman I had come to know, had been socialized into this. Into settling for what they could get, into sacrificing all for romantic love. It is not that I didn't know this on an intellectual level for some time, but this hit me in the heart, and as I looked back on my life with this in my body, I saw how predictable it all was. That just as women are trained to sacrifice for romantic love, men are trained to foster that.
And this is why we don't show up for each other. This is why there are some women out there who do not see that the struggle that certain women face is also their struggle. This is why the women at work would not back me up when I would talk to them about a particular man who was terrorizing the staff. It is why when I exposed a male colleague for theft, the result was that I was accused of being a slut, and interrogated for it. This is why some women will not support the struggle of others. Because they are too deep in their own self-sacrifice to even keep their head above water. They have lost too much in their life-long search and sacrifice for love and belonging that when others do not choose that path, they are scorned.
So I sit with this truth today, in March, in 2019, and I wonder, how do I break myself out of this, how do we, as society, break ourselves out of a pattern that is destructive for women and men alike? How do we start to recognize that we should not have to give up the responsibility the bond of humanity demands in order to feel loved?
I guess the first thing we need to do is wake up to it.
Next, we have to start showing up for each other.
The mountains have always been there to calm me. Today, as I walked out of the community cafe, shortly after my old friend had told me about my bitterness, my edge, and my meanness, they were there, standing up to calm me. In that moment, I knew that my intolerance to his analysis was not, as I had thought, a symptom of my deep sadness or my emotional weakness, but rather, one of developing emotional health.
Something like this had happened last month, where a trusted friend began to unearth my emotional struggle and shame, and I thought then that my impulse to shut down and leave was because I didn't have my usual emotional strength about me.
But it was not, and it is not.
The mountains reminded me. I am not up for debate, or analysis, or any type of uninvited behavior that turns me inside out and leaves my guts spewing on the table top.
I grew up in analysis. Both my parents were social workers, and as luck would have it, after they split, they each married social workers, so I was regularly on the table for dissection, often without being aware, and I became accustomed to it. This was not without its rewards, but generally speaking, it created a lot of anxiety in me and prompted me to question almost everything I did on a regular basis. Then at the age of 13, I discovered pot and alcohol. Glorious intoxicants of numbness and silence to get me through my teenage years and beyond, where no one and nothing could touch me, or at least, numb me enough so if they did, I would not be too keenly aware of it.
When I turned 21, I emerged from this semi-paralysis and moved far away, to be near the mountains and the ocean, and a good distance away from my dissectors.
Living near the mountains, natural geographic boundaries effortlessly dividing space whether visible or not, has subtly influenced me over the years I think. It might be the reason I am always happy to see them. But more to the point, and finally, after a good bit of soul searching and inner work, I see how I have put myself on hold to serve the needs of others. I see how I have sat silently as others dissected my behavior in order to explain away their own. Or simply sat silent so I wouldn't make anyone else uncomfortable.
But the mountains are always there to remind me. I don't need to explain my actions, nor do I need to put up with the bad behavior of others in favor of a relationship. Leaving a painful situation is okay. Not putting up with people who don't respect my boundaries is healthy. It is not that I have not known these things, it is that I have not behaved in a way that reflected this knowledge.
It is a happy day when the mountains are in view, happier still when they reflect back to you how beautiful it is to stand up.
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