Letters to Colin

Have I ever really told you my story? Grab a coffee; it’s a long one.

My very oldest memory is from when I was two years old. I’ve since figured out that it was probably in December of 1991. My parents were getting divorced. We lived in a condo in Turners Falls and I still remember where we had the kitchen table, the bookshelf, the couch. The kitchen, the second bathroom. This night I was playing next to the bookshelf that stood against the wall between the dining room and the living room. My parents were at the kitchen table across from each other and the light was dim. My mother stood up, I think she was crying. My father stayed seated. She walked towards me and I remember that I must have been very small, because as she came to me I remember only seeing to her thigh. In my memories she was wearing shorts, which doesn’t make sense if this was happening in December. Maybe it was just an earlier fight. They are dysfunctional people. Likely, they were fighting all the time.

I don’t have really any memories of my dad after that. I’ve tried and tried for years to come up with something. Sometimes I think I remember playing with him in the big raked-up pile of leaves in the fall, but as I’ve grown older I’ve become more aware that that memory is fabricated from a certain set of photographs I’ve gotten my hands on. The pictures didn’t wake anything up; they just put an idea in my head. I can remember one other time I saw him as a small child and it was after he moved out. He came by to visit me and read me a bedtime story. I was being difficult, as kids always are at bedtime, and I remember him scolding me with my full name: “June Marie Billiel!” This has stuck with me all my life and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s the first time I understood that that was my full name, which is sort of strangely profound in itself, or if it is the first time the tone in which my name was being said was harsh enough to stick with me. Maybe both.

I’m pretty sure that my mom used to tell me that my dad never ever came to visit me after he moved out. She’s close to right, if my memory is to be trusted. But I remember this one time pretty clearly. But who knows, maybe he was just there to pick something up or to fight with my mom or to sign a divorce paper. I guess I always just assumed he was there to visit me, even though I don’t have any real reason for thinking that.

Next I remember going to the courthouse in Greenfield. I think that was the official end to the marriage.

Somewhere along the line my mom met this guy named Eric. My grandmother told me that I used to call him Dad. We drove down to Florida with him and a cooler full of sandwiches and lived there for almost a year, I think. I have no idea what he did for work or how my mother met him or anything like that. I remember very little about him, really. I vaguely remember his face and I remember that he used to take me fishing out in back of the condo we lived in. Sometimes we had to run back inside the house because there was an alligator that would come by and hang out on the beach from time to time. I’m pretty sure we never caught anything. One time I was holding a cracker in my hand and a duck came over and bit my finger. Another time we walked along the beach and I found a coconut and took it home and painted it. I kept that damn thing for years, even after we had moved back to Mass and even after I moved to my grandparent’s house. Now that I have to be careful about acquiring too many things it seems insane to me that my family let me keep packing it and bringing it everywhere.

We were in Florida for hurricane season too. Eric and my mom duct taped up the windows and the sliding glass door but somehow my mom still thought that she should bring me to preschool the next day. Of course my school was closed, and I still have the image of her running up to the building while I sat in the car so that she could read the sign on the door. Seems stupid to me now, and dangerous too. Who knows what she was thinking.

Anyway, things were fine with Eric as far as I knew as a four year old, which is admittedly not very far. One day he and my mom got in a fight. He threw her through the screen door and I was standing right in the room. She got back up and came inside and told me to call the police. As she got back up Eric shoved her into this little desk my grandfather had built for me. I asked my mom what the number to the police was because I didn’t know about 911 yet and Eric came over and ripped the phone straight out of the wall. Next I remember my mom checking out the huge gash she had up her legs from being thrown into my desk, but it was days later. Did the neighbors call the cops? Was Eric arrested? Why else would we have still been in that house? I don’t know. I don’t even remember sound from that time. I remember only that I was supposed to call the police and I imagine that my mom yelled it at me. But I’m sure there should have been screams and that Eric would have been shouting too but I can’t recall a damn thing. Was I afraid? I don’t even know what I felt, although I’m sure it’s in my head somewhere.

We left after that, although I don’t know how quickly it happened. When we got back it was winter. My grandparents owned the place we had lived in Turners and apparently it was just the same as we had left it. I don’t remember having to move any furniture back, although that could just be a flaw in my memory. I do remember that as soon as we got back we had to shovel all the snow off of the deck and I had this little red shovel that in retrospect was probably useless, but I helped my mom all the same.

Eric showed up again around my 4th birthday. I was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner or cake or something and my mom had gone upstairs when he peered through the window and waved at me. I ran over to let him in and then I have no idea what happened. I never saw him again though, as far as I can remember.

Next my mom became a junkie.

There was this guy named Russ. I don’t know where he came from, but my mom always pegged him as the one who introduced her to heroin. I’m not sure when or where or how it started, but I learned later that my mom has always had a thing for painkillers, although I don’t actually think she’s entirely aware that she abuses them. Anyway, she used to tell me that even the first time she shot up she had a high tolerance, and I suspect her previous opiate misuse was to blame.

Our lives quickly descended into madness. I can’t even really piece together everything that happened in a real timeline, but I know that for a couple of years our lives consisted of driving to Holyoke late at night and sometimes crashing on random people’s floors. We bought groceries with bad checks I wasn’t allowed to answer the phone anymore because there were always bill collectors and maybe even cops calling. I don’t know if the police part is true, but as a little girl that’s what I thought was happening.

There were always people in our house and sometimes I’d come downstairs in the morning and my mom and a bunch of people would just be passed out on the living room floor. One morning I came down and the news was playing while Russ and my mother dozed in front of the tv. I woke my mother up and asked her if I could change the channel. After she said yes I changed the channel to cartoons and Russ abruptly woke up. He snapped that he had been watching the tv and smacked me across the face. Hard. Truthfully, I don’t remember his hand connecting to my cheek, but I can say with complete certainty that that’s what happened. I have a memory that immediately proceeded this: my mother running with me up the stairs trying to get away from him. There was yelling and when we got to the top of the stairs and Russ was still behind us so my mom turned around and pushed him down the stairs. My mother is a small woman, especially on an opiate binge, and Russ was not a small guy. I think this was the kind of adrenaline-fueled Mama strength you hear about. Mom locked us in the bathroom and although I don’t know how we got out or we got Russ away, I can remember her sitting on the toilet, just peeing and crying.

The next time I saw Russ his arm was in a sling and he told me he was sorry for what happened. But just because Russ was gone doesn’t mean the smack was.

Everything else is a bit foggy. I have mostly glimpses: my mom shutting her bedroom door in my face with a syringe in her hand; driving hours and hours back and forth from New Hampshire to buy cartons of cigarettes and back down to Holyoke to sell them for enough profit to get a fix. We had something like 100 tag sales to help with this new found expense too. A few lovely pieces handmade by my grandfather were lost this way.

I had some shitty kids to play with nearby. There were two kids whose dad sometimes went to jail who lived next door to me. The girl was a little too old to really care about me, but the son, Matt would often play power rangers with me in the woods behind our houses. There was a little frog pond across the street too. There was this super old tiny graveyard and then down behind it was the pond. Sometimes I would catch frogs and then bring them home and put them in my kiddie pool. One time I came home and couldn’t find the frog that had been happily swimming around when I left. I asked Matt if he had seen my frog and he led me to two cinder blocks. He lifted the top one up and showed me the remains of my frog that he had crushed. To this day, this makes me feel sick to talk about. I’m still not sure if this was just classic destructive boy behavior or if this kid was a little sick, but if I listen to my gut I have to say it’s the latter. Maybe it’s that I’m older and jaded now, but when I look back i just think the whole cul de sac was poisoned.

I also made friends with an elderly lady at the end of the row named Margarite. After I lived with my grandparents sometimes we would go to the condo and do work on the house. I went to visit her each time and then one day someone told me she didn’t live there anymore. I don’t think anybody explained to me that she, or really that anyone, died. But somehow I am sure I knew. Maybe I could smell it. Maybe it was just the air. Too still.

There was also a lady right next door who I befriended. Her name was Gina and my mother hated her. I learned later that she was a social worker. Go figure. She was a good one though.

One weekend I went to my grandparents’ house while my mom went off to party. I’m told that she asked when she should come pick me up and they told her that I was going to be living with them from then on. I don’t know how I felt about this. I have a vague idea that I asked my grandmother a few times when mom was coming back and she kept telling me I would be with them, “a few more days.” Then I was meeting the principal at BSE and he gave me a stuffed panda bear to hold overnight before my first day in kindergarten at my new school.

I don’t believe the whole transition could have been as painless as I remember it, but who knows. During dinner one of the first nights there I confessed to my grandparents about some of the goings-on with my mother in the previous week. I guess they must have been quizzing me, but I only really remember talking to my mom on the corded kitchen phone after dinner and telling her, “I told Gram and Gramp about Wednesday,” and apologizing. She told me it was okay. I guess she must have known it was a lost cause at that point.

That’s enough for tonight.

Melancholy

Depression is a lonely thing.

Even now, in a generation that is becoming more and more vocal about the issue, I find that I– and presumably others like me– still safeguard our ailment and rarely allude to the severity of our experiences. My best guess as to the reason for this, is that despite the barrage of awareness campaigns that have begun to sweep the internet, there is still an underlying attitude of discomfort– a recoiling– towards any type of mental illness. If someone is not suffering from some sort of trendy or movie-style horrifying and intrusive disorder like DID their ailment tends to be overlooked.  For most, depression and anxiety disorders are seen as noninvasive maladies. Maybe this is one of the biggest disconnects. Let me say this: depression can be downright crippling, whether or not it is visible.

The other day I mentioned my depression in passing and my boyfriend shocked me: “You never talk about your depression.” He’s spot on. I was stopped in my tracks, bewildered by the truth in his words. I have been aware of my own difficulties for years, and suspicious of them years before that. I have always pretty readily and casually alluded to my depressive spells in the company of both acquaintances and friends. But the truth is that I rarely delve deeply in my explanations. I think I have always assumed that those who are close to me will witness the alteration in my behavior and moods and thereby understand my varying states. I’m learning now that this is of course unreasonable and like everybody, I need to start speaking more frankly about this.

Today I woke up at eleven. I could have gotten up much sooner. I should have, too. But some mornings greet me with a certain heaviness that I still can’t properly describe. I can’t say for sure if it was triggered by the intense talk I had with Miguel a few days ago, or if it is simply something that lurks and lingers within me. Maybe neither; probably both.

I have what feels like mountains of work to do: emails to write, phone calls to make, laundry, cooking, cleaning. When I write this down I am aware that these tasks are standard. I understand that they are basic and universal. But somehow I find myself completely incapacitated and the weight of these simple chores sentences to me my dark basement bedroom where I sleep fitfully and accomplish nothing. Miguel noted the other day that I am good about giving myself days off when I feel like I need them. I agreed with him, deciding that I was too unequipped to be able to explain that in truth I never give days off. The days that I spend in bed watching tv shows on Hulu are not days that I have designated as easy going vacation days. They are days for which I had many plans. Whether or not I do anything is irrelevant to the amount I feel I need to do. There is always something for me to do. There is always something I am not doing. I am almost always shame spiraling.

I suspect that my shame spirals are at least half of the reason I stay down once I begin to feel heavy. I haven’t yet been able to forgive myself for the way that I am and it makes it difficult to recover from those trying days. Sometimes I don’t pay a bill on time and my only instinct is to hide from that bill. Other times I get an email or a phone call and I don’t return it as quickly as I should. Sometimes I don’t do the laundry. Sometimes I forget to make an appointment. Or get gas. Or make lunch. Or write a blog post. Or anything. Any one of these can send me into a whirlwind of guilt and a suffocating sense of uselessness. I’ve tried to explain this to friend in the past and so few people truly understand it. I am not reluctant or resistant or even lazy. In my mind I am constantly failing, and whether or not that is accurate in real-life standards is completely off the table. In every ounce of my body I know that I am a failure and I know that I should be better: I should be more responsible and organized and stable. The truth though, is that I am not. I am overwhelmed by this realization and the guilt and shame of it leaves me despondent.

In my years of dealing with this I have gotten better at coping with it. Sometimes dragging myself into the blinding brightness of the sun is all I need. I feed myself better when I can muster it and sometimes I honestly just need a nap. I try to laugh. I try to go out for lunch with a friend. I call someone I miss. My ups and downs have been recurring for over half my life at this point and I am finally starting to feel like I have begun to hone my skills in combating what can quickly turn into self-destructive behaviors.  But depression isn’t always that predictable, and it’s certainly not always so yielding. Even now, familiar as I am with the symptoms and cycles, I find that it slinks along behind me and I become aware of it only when I become the victim of its brutal hold on my throat. I choke and retreat to my bed, forgetting to eat, crying myself to sleep, and utterly unable to express myself.

Sometimes I get mean. I become hateful and resentful and lash out at my boyfriend, in spite of his unwavering support.  I can see the mess that I become and I am ashamed by how morbid and pathetic it is.  No matter who I have to support me during these experiences, I always feel like I have no one. I grow bitter when I am told that I am loved because the words drip of sarcasm and mockery. My experiences prove to me again and again that those I rely on will ultimately disappoint and abandon me. I spend the last of the energy I can summon on attempting to will away those around me so that I will not have to endure the fallout of being left once more. My emotional pain becomes so severe that I can’t move and I feel like every bit of me is also physically injured. I feel it straight down into my fingertips and although I lay silently, somewhere in my head I howl like a wounded animal.

I’ve recently decided that the very worst part of falling this hard is that I lose all my outlets. I get so tangled inside my head that become unable to articulate through speech or through writing. This doesn’t happen to me every single time, but when it does it is horrifying. Long gone are the days when I wrote angst-filled poetry and drew pictures of razor blades and angels with bloodied tattered wings. Gone too, are the days when I could hide in my room and drag a blade along the supple skin of my leg when things got too bad. I have outgrown this. The fact that I still have days so bad that I feel desperate enough to consider it is almost too disgustingly shameful an admission. I’m not 14 anymore. I haven’t cut myself in 8 years. Besides, how could I ever hide such a thing from someone who sees my bare skin on a daily basis? If nothing else, this is truthfully what most likely keeps me from regressing in that way. I am always toeing the slope to that shame spiral.

I look for other outlets too. It’s no real surprise that when I can’t pick myself up my relationship suffers. Specifically, my sex life. Nearly every day for the past week I have come home from work, masturbated, and gone to bed. Yesterday, as I was about to engage in this new routine, it occurred to me that I wasn’t even sexually frustrated. I wasn’t satisfied, to be clear, but I was also not seeking an orgasm as an end to any type of arousal. Jesus Christ, I thought, is this really the only way I can experience any sort of pleasure right now? After that I masturbated and went to sleep.

I get suicidal too. This has been a very, very well-kept secret for years. When I was in an abusive household as a teenager, still cutting up my legs and writing in a journal I freely admitted when I wanted to die. After I moved out my life improved to the degree that I didn’t experience lows that bad until years later. Feeling that I wasn’t supposed to struggle with that in my adult life, I tucked it away and never told anybody until I realized how important it was that I said it out loud. The truth is that suicidal isn’t exactly the right word. I don’t plan to kill myself. I don’t write suicide notes. I don’t fantasize about how life would go on without me. Sometimes I wish I would die, but even those impulses are fleeting. I drive to work and wish I would get in an accident. Some days I hope I don’t wake up. I can say with certainty that I will never act on these thoughts because they are nothing more than flashes in my mind. The business of dying right now is too inconvenient, really. Too messy. I don’t even want to die, exactly. It’s just that I wish everything would just stop.

note: it has taken me two months to write this. today was the first day i felt like i could write in the last 6 months. i am not proofreading this and i will not edit it because writing it at all in the state im in is nothing short of a personal triumph.

Forgiveness (1)

I’ve said it before: my life has often felt like nothing but a series of people leaving me. I’ve sought counsel in a number of places, all with limited success. Somehow I always find that my connections with these people are temporary and I am often left sitting with a good deal of disappointment. In my adult life I have learned to be self-reliant and to lean on these relationships less than I felt I needed to in my adolescence. I am aware, however, that this is not entirely a result of my own growth, so much as it is the result of many difficult lessons that have trained me well. I have become very accustomed to the people I relied on slipping away and leaving me to fend for myself. To be clear, this has never been a demonstration of tough love. Over and over I was left simply because it was easier for these people to do so. One of the most devastating losses I experienced was that of my uncle.

Although he had been a somewhat regular part of my life as a child, he did not become so critically important to me until the few months following my fourteenth birthday. I truly don’t think there was any specific reason for my sudden connection to him. I imagine he enjoyed–or was at least amused by–my love of combat boots and band t-shirts, and for some reason that struck a chord that resonated deeply: Uncle Adam gets me. Uncle Adam is not my mother. Uncle Adam will save me.

For a while this was true. I tried hard to use him as my friend and mentor. I called him when my mother was pushing my limits–which was often. From time to time he would even drive to our house and take me to his for the weekend where I would relax with him and his girlfriend, Emily. These escapes were monumental to me. I found that we liked similar music. He let me have a beer. He showed me the marijuana plant in his closet. One night he cooked the most amazing steak I had ever tasted–still rare and bloody–and he and his girlfriend shared it with me while we stayed up late and laughed. I sipped his scotch and was blissfully certain that they understood me. We retired to the deck to smoke a joint. I was in heaven. I was sure Uncle Adam would save me.

Months passed and his girlfriend introduced me to her close friend Alena. I began regularly babysitting her children and we quickly bonded. She thought I was bright and I felt that I had made a new connection, guiding me safely through the instability that was living with my mother. I had no idea how correct I would be.

Away from the knowledge of my family and even of me, Alena and Emily discussed my living situation at length. They lamented my having to endure my borderline, unfit mother, calling my life a “Cinderella story.” Quietly, they planned to take me under their wing and fix what seemed to be an inevitably disastrous adolescence. Both were aware that I desperately needed a way out of my mother’s unfathomably unhealthy home, and they were also wise to the intense rift this would cause in my close-knit, skeleton-hoarding family. Alena, recently divorced and with new-found space in her house, offered to temporarily take in the girl of whom she had become so fond, and thereby absorb the blows of a family who detested anyone who rocked the boat. Ultimately, I was to live with my uncle, his girlfriend, and their respective children. This, of course, never came to be.

The July of my fifteenth birthday, I could no longer bear living with and being subjected to the volatile and mentally unstable whims of my mother. After having considered her offer for a solid eight months, I asked Alena if it was still on the table. After getting her confirmation, I wrote my mother a letter and found myself in my new home a mere ten days later.

As it happened, the day I moved was my beloved Uncle Adam’s birthday. After an extensive process involving my mother and our therapists, Alena and I made a late-afternoon trip up to his house to update Emily on our circumstances. My uncle was at work, but I made sure to leave him the gift I had bought with the money I had managed to save from babysitting. He had once told me of a certain CD he had always loved but was disappointed to have lost years before. I had been ecstatic when I found it at our local record shop, and I waited anxiously for the enthusiastic thank you that never came.

Nothing came, actually. I had no idea at the time, but my move had begun to pull apart the threads of my family’s years-long tradition to endure and suffer its discordance silently, always letting the blind eye rule. In doing so, I had set myself on a fast-paced course to what became my own shunning. In hindsight, the immediate distance my uncle took from me should have been a clear sign. But I was a child, and witlessly I continued to call, despite my messages never being returned. Soon after, Emily withdrew from Alena, citing a sudden previously-nonexistent empathy for my mother.

This is not to say that I never saw them again. For the first year after my move there were still a number of family dinners to attend, each more uncomfortable than the last. In my hurt, I tried hard to ignore my uncle’s presence. Truthfully, I have never been one who is able to maintain a steely gaze and pursed lips in an awkward situation, and this was no different. As my uncle knelt by my grandfather’s blue recliner, where I had attempted to take refuge, I was horrified to find myself smirk. His words, feigning victimization, were biting. The jeer in his tone was not lost on me. I shrank into the chair as he needled me, wishing he would leave.

Over dinner, I made sure to find seats away from my mother and uncle. Emily’s voice, high-pitched in its phoniness, dominated the conversation. Her eyebrows arched high above her wide eyes as she announced, “Adam likes a lot of things!” My family murmured in superficial interest. I stayed silent.

It was only a few months after this dinner that my family stopped speaking to me altogether. I was heartbroken to lose contact with my grandparents, but the worth of my relationship with Adam and Emily had withered months before. The loss still pained me, but I had long grown accustomed to their absence.

One bright summer day I found myself walking a few blocks from my home when I heard a familiar voice calling my name. The voice was singsong; mocking. I looked up to see my uncle and his girlfriend sitting on a nearby roof. He had recently begun a slate roofing company and it shouldn’t have caught me by surprise that he was in my neighborhood.

“Marieeeeee!” he sang again, waiting for my response.

I felt goosebumps cover my limbs, and without considering the possibility of passerby I inhaled sharply and shouted: “Fuck off!” I waited for no reaction and continued home, where I collapsed on the couch and sobbed, devastated.

Years went by and our relationship was never repaired. I tolerated him and Emily, but even after things began to heal with my mother, my warmth for my uncle remained missing. We did not reach out to each other and they refused to let me partake in any of the preparation for holiday meals, despite my enthusiasm to do so. Whether or not they were oblivious, the strain between us never lifted.

Three years ago my grandmother died, and with her so did the reign of her generation in my family. My mother, now bereft of both her parents, quickly began to spiral downward, her grief flecked with symptoms of her mental illness. My great uncle died soon after, and in an unfortunate course of events, his funeral was held on what would have been my grandmother’s 76th birthday.

My mother stood in the basement of the church weeping silently. She moved slowly, as though her body was that of an elderly woman: twisted and painful. Her eyes glazed over as she whimpered and stared unseeingly at everyone in the room. Furious, I watched as my aunt, now grieving the deaths of both her husband and sister, went to my mother’s side, comforting with her strong arms and voice.

My uncle caught my eye and looked at me knowingly, Emily smiled gently and suggested that the three of us have a movie night sometime. I smiled as minimally as was acceptable and gave a noncommittal, “sure.” I scowled as I walked away, angry at their sudden interest in helping to buffer the difficulties that my mother’s illness presented. There had been a time that I, as a child, had desperately needed them to fill this role. As a young adult, I felt that what they were offering me was both too little and too late. This deflection of their negligible efforts was the first step in severing contact with them altogether.

Miguel

Tel Aviv; November.

 

For months I had anxiously counted the days until my return across the ocean and into the embrace of a boy a had grown to adore. There was never a moment that passed that I did not think of Miguel’s striking green eyes and that I did not long for his presence. Even as I stepped off the plane and down the halls of the airport with which I had become so familiar, I felt I could not make my shaking legs go quickly enough to match the urgency I felt.

It took only a week for us to develop our own routine. This night was no different; it was well past midnight and we had been lying in bed for hours listening to the winter’s rain hammering relentlessly against the building. We were intoxicated by each other’s presence.  Our limbs were tangled and my face had found a home nestled against his neck, his beard rough against my cheek.

The air weighed heavily in our silence. I squeezed his hand, trying to convey an intensity that I refused to voice. At length, I released myself and rolled over, breathless.

“Fuck, Miguel. I am so fucking crazy about you.”

He responded immediately. And he, though always so careful in his words, fumbled: “I love you too.”

My heart stopped, and I am certain that for a moment I could not breathe. I turned to him, desperate to see his face through the darkness.

“You love me?” I winced; I waited. I felt the span of a week pass as I lay there, blind to his expression, waiting for his response.

“I think so.”

I exhaled, barely noticing that my breath had been stuck in my throat. “Thank god,” my arms found his his body once more. “Thank god. I think I love you too.”

We lay in silence. I could feel the tension in my body ease. The tumult that had existed within me, fighting against my tightened lips, finally rested with my confession. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the comfort that this release had bought me.

But the air turned cold and our hearts beat wildly. Miguel’s words had come unexpectedly and we were unprepared for the stark bareness that they caused. My calm had been fleeting. I bolted upright; clutching the sheets around me as though they could provide my heart some sanctuary.  Miguel’s warm hand rested on my back, but I hardly felt it.  I could say nothing.

Panic.

 

 

 

 

So, your ex boyfriend’s a stripper.

“You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?”

The question was strange to me. Was I going to tell anyone? Of course I was. This was rich. Juicy. How could I commit to keeping information this amazing to myself? I couldn’t. And I don’t believe I should have to do so.

My relationship with this boy was rocky at best. I spent five years chasing after him, despite his boredom after two. The second half of our relationship was violent: dotted with hateful messages, disgusted words of rage shouted in tearful faces, negligence, suspicion, and bruised egos. We slammed doors and always went for the jugular. I feel as though I spent months crumpled on the floor, nursing a broken heart. I was no saint. But I was naive and hopeful; I made myself solely available to him and I was unrelentingly patient. He did not hesitate to exploit that. Again and again I forgave and attempted to fix our damaged dynamic. Again and again my efforts were punished.

And now I have learned that he’s a stripper at a nearby gay club that encourages full-frontal nudity. I still can’t fully wrap my head around it. My ex boyfriend, the one with the permanent scowl is a stripper? He refused to so much as say hello to my friends, but he gives men he just met private attention in a back room? For years he criticized people who made money off of their bodies: strippers, prostitutes, those in the pornography industry, and even models, all received the same response.  This is some kind of spectacular about face. I am bewildered. I am delighted. I have not laughed so hard in weeks.

Naturally, I did what any better-off ex-girlfriend would do: I took a few of my friends to his club for drinks. Contrary to the list of performers for the night, he was not there. In hindsight, I am glad. Not only am I entirely disinterested in seeing my ex nude, which is something I had previously neglected to consider, but my streak of vindictiveness was fleeting.  At the time, I was intoxicated by the idea of handing him a dollar bill, my smirk saying everything my words could not. The next morning, however, I was embarrassed by my attempt to make him uncomfortable. I have made it abundantly clear that I do not want him to come to my job, whether or not I am working. I have apologized for my hypocrisy. But to keep his secret? That’s another beast altogether.

“Marie, don’t go spreading this around.”

Our mutual friend has been pleading with me. But the facts are these: I have already told a good many people within my circle, and what they do with the information is beyond me.  Additionally, I simply don’t feel as though I owe my ex anything at all. He was tirelessly awful to me for years, and it would be shockingly presumptuous for him to expect me to hold my tongue solely to benefit him. I cannot tolerate someone demanding my respect after deliberately showing me none. Having to lie in the bed you made is never an easy lesson, but in this case I have no sympathy. If I refrain from telling more people about my ex’s secret identity, it will not be out of respect for him. I recognize that I hold a lot of power in this situation, and I hope my ex is nothing short of grateful that I am not abusing it. Truly, though, I am disinterested in the power I have.  My choices in this matter are only a reflection of who I am as a person, and nothing else. I have no desire to spitefully tell his father or anyone else that he is keeping this from. But it is not related to him; it’s because I have never been intent on making things more difficult for people.  I can think of thousands of things I would rather be doing than trying to ruin someone’s life. Especially someone of whom I am so happy to be rid.

On another note, I don’t actually think there’s anything wrong with being a stripper. I know that my ex isn’t doing it for any financial reasons; he is well-educated and well-paid. I am uncertain why it is then, that he is ashamed of this weekend job. I tend to be pretty sex-positive and more than anything, I’m confused by his out-of-character, seemingly-shameful double life.

The lesson here, I think, is that you shouldn’t do things that you feel worried about and ashamed of doing. If this weren’t the case, then my actions would weigh absolutely nothing.  The other lesson, of course, is that you should maybe not be horrible to your girlfriend. Luckily for this one, I’m pretty put-together and I don’t act maliciously. But really, don’t ever try to demand my respect.

Panic Button

(11/14)

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.

11/9

I’m in the airport.

I have 45 minutes until I board the plane that will take me again to the place I tried to put to rest in my heart: my beloved Tel Aviv. I am writing as I sit in my terminal and sip red wine. I am happy. This feels right.

A few hours ago I was in a different frame of mind. I was frantically sending text messages to my friends as I wiped tears from my eyes. This trip seemed absurd to me. I was supposed to have come to terms with being home. I was supposed to have let Israel go for a while. But I’ve learned again and again that I will never be able to anticipate my feelings. As much as I tried to convince myself that I would be okay staying in Massachusetts, the more my heart rebelled. So it goes.

So, I’ve been home for two and a half months and I have not yet forgotten that sweet Israeli city and the boy I’ve come to adore. I don’t know how these things are supposed to work. But I can truthfully say that there hasn’t yet been a day that’s passed that I have not found myself longing to go back. I have felt for months that I should be in Tel Aviv. Even still, earlier today I became caught in the idea that going back was crazy and inevitably destructive. As it turns out, all hearts are fickle.

It was never truly an option in my mind not to go, if course. Everything was in order: I had worked relentlessly for two months and covered three weeks’ worth of shifts; I had a ride to the airport in just a few hours; I spent the previous night out with my closest friends. Once my plane landed some 6000 miles from home, a boy planned to pick me up at the airport and bring me back to his house. I had felt secure in all this and jittery with anticipation. I woke up this morning and sent a text to the boy I’m so fond of, expressing my excitement. Even so, an hour later fear had overtaken me and I was crying to my best friend.

This trip, I think, requires me to make some choices. Frankly, I’m feeling utterly unequipped. My life is fuller than it used to be. I find myself deeply attached to people and places on opposite sides of the world, and the realisation hurts in a strange way. I am preemptively miserable at the thought of leaving Israel while I simultaneously anticipate discovering homesickness. What did I get myself into?

Six years later

“The ongoing life of exes is an odd landscape.”

People change. Pretty constantly. We are always evolving in our values and our truths, beliefs, and receptions. The feelings that are caught in our throat and heavy in our chest are never as everlasting as we think them to be; within a month or a week or a year they have dissipated. Given a year, we will never be the same people we once were. Even so, in the present, we are unwavering in the knowledge of what it means to be ourselves. We are essentially blind to our own evolution.

Today I found out that my ex-boyfriend got married.

Six years ago he had sworn that he would never do such a thing. I’m a bit hazy on the details of his reasoning now, but I remember clearly his resentment.  Then again, he also condemned anyone who partook in any variety of drugs or alcohol, and I understand that he’s reversed both his opinions and his participation there as well.  Six years later you may as well not know somebody.

But that’s just it: all we ever have of any relationship is a snapshot. What we knew about someone six years ago is almost entirely irrelevant. One day there will be a chance encounter in a grocery store and in that you’ll realize that you’re strangers who happen to have a past.  It goes the other way too, of course: sometimes people could evolve into someone astoundingly attractive or interesting to you. The point is that what we know about people expires. Always.