Months ago I planned to write an entry regarding a conversation I had with an old friend over beer. True to form, I never got around to it when the memory was fresh. Soon after, I lost the inspiration to write about it at all and then I forgot the conversation altogether. Eventually I remembered our talk and the significance I felt had gone along with it. Aa happens though, the exact words slipped my mind and it no longer seemed worthwhile or even possible to put it on paper. Today I was surprised to find that the words we exchanged somehow seem relevant once moreand I am compelled to describe what I remember.
I often sought counsel from this particular friend and it was not out of the ordinary to find us seated at the local brewery, as we were on this early summer night. He sipped a lager, faster, as always, than I drank my own rum and coke. He listened intently as I spoke. Today, as with most days, I was lamenting the two broken relationships that consistently absorbed me: that with my mother and that with my ex-boyfriend. Both were toxic in their own right and both consumed me emotionally.
For years I had experienced them this way. My separate relationships with them wore me down until one day I found that I had begun responding differently. At this point I can’t be sure of the exact nature of the change I had noticed and was describing, but I know that I was surprised by the difference in my behavior when dealing with these two. The change was significant and involuntary. I was certain that my new reactions and methods of coping in my problematic relationships were pure adaptation after years of concession. Perhaps they were also due in part to a series of introspective epiphanies I had had in the recent few months, left to settle with my remaining inability to fully let go of the destructivepeople in my life. Instead of severing contact, I found new ways to suffer the relationships. Survival instincts for the weak, maybe.
My friend looked at me through his serious light blue eyes. “This isn’t a reaction,” he said, “this is what you are now.”
I don’t doubt the truth in his statement. It is always said that our experiences shape us. This is elementary. But the ways in which my relationships–my experiences with these people–were molding me? Somehow that had slipped through my grasp. For years I had been evolving in ways that were directly related to my interactions with my mother and my boyfriend. Often, my developments were a reflection of the damage that was being done. How had this fallen out of my sight so completely?
In any case, I have grown through the past few years into who I am now: twisted, knotted, and scarred in places, but functioning and healthy. Sometimes, though, I find evidence of the difficult relationships I weathered when I am faced with certain situations. The ways in which I find myself reacting to things seem to be out if nowhere if I do not examine them.
This came to light recently, as I lazily wandered the streets of Tel Aviv, colder than I remember them, back to the familar embrace of that same old Israeli boy I can’t keep off my mind. Things have progressed.
I can’t remember any recent time in my life that I have smiled so immediately upon waking up. I don’t remember loving a pair of hands as I do his. I cannot remember being able to lose track of time looking in someone’s eyes, wrapped up in each other and our bliss. I find that I’m willing to relax: to breathe more easily.
But I have too many layers. Not far from my serene contentedness is an unsteady dam of fear.I am able to acknowledge its existence, pending certain conditions and company. I do not find that I am capable or even aware of how to resolve this piece of myself, but for the most part I can manage it. I can smother it and chokingly admit to it when I must. Sometimes, though, it seeps out on its own and I am shown that the usually solid footing I have on my desires and feelings is as weak and unsure as it’s ever been. These experiences have been brief but jarring.
So, I am in Israel. It is lovely. Things have progressed. The problem, of course, is that I must leave it again. And before then, this green-eyed boy and I will sit down and have A Talk. My previous relationship has left me accustomed to the rise and fall of hopefulness and the inevitable crushing disappointment that follows. I do not know exactly where our talk will lead, but I am bracing myself for the pain I feel certain it will cause. Preemptively, and maybe unfairly, I am sure this boy will hurt me. This is why, no matter how close I am, I cannot quite allow myself to feel safe in his strong embrace, half asleep and nestled warmly in his bed.
Sometimes I panic. I feel too secure or too blissful or I feel as though I can exhale and be okay. Sometimes we get too close to having that looming talk that I’m sure will cost me the content that my avoidance allows me. Sometimes I feel too deeply and something inside me hits some sort of emergency break; a panic button. My normally strong affections shut off and when I think of him everything inside me feels a bit silent. It is always temporary, of course. Seeing him makes the numbness dissipate like blood rushing back to my fingertips. The experience leaves me feeling off balance and confused. I’ve chalked it up to a defense mechanism: my mind has created a way of avoiding potential pain by convincing me I hold no emotional stock in certain relationships. Clever.
It’s hard not to be somewhat resentful, honestly. I can trace this newfound tool of self-preservation–albeit one that is unwanted–almost directly back to my ex-boyfriend. I can’t help but feel like my current situation would be less stressful if I hadn’t endured these tumultuous relationships for so long. Considering things with this boy presents challenges if its own: an ocean and a half; a financial burden; and an underlying sense of urgency complete with a ticking clock. I could do without the addition of some deeply sown issues of which I now have to constantly be aware. I could do without the now-necessary introspection and calculation. I could do without the moments of happiness and deep affection being followed closely by that frightened sense of foreboding, fast and heavy in its arrival.
For a while I thought things like this were just strange new reactions. But my friend is right: this is who I am now. This is what I’ve become.