Forgiveness

I went on a solo vacation for a few days, the sixth of these trips I’ve taken alone – always at a time of transition or a time when I need to recharge my batteries. I went to Cabo San Lucas because I’ve always wanted to see the humpbacks in winter off the Baja Peninsula.

I did. And it was an incredible and indescribable experience. They are massive, majestic and deceptively elegant, playful and unbothered. It felt freeing to watch them. I was lucky to witness so many of them waving their dorsal fins, splashing their tails, and blowing air in enormous geysers from below the surface where, for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, there is no indication on the surface of the ocean that a behemoth lies beneath. Some are 60′ long – nearly double the length of the sailboat I was on. To watch one of these creatures rise up from the depths and breach up and over onto their backs is something I will never be able to put into words. To see it happen so many times in just a few hours in this lifetime seems like cosmic hyperbole.

Here is one short video but I’m saving the rest for myself because I want you to go and experience it on your own one day. Up close. Where you can feel the spray and hear the sound and revel in the magnificence.

I thought I would come back renewed and refreshed, hopeful and maybe a bit inspired. I am so sad to say that I am not. I have a bit of a tan and a new magnet for my fridge full of travels but, otherwise, if I’m being honest, I’m a bit disappointed. Not that the trip is over – though I do miss having a countdown, something to look forward to. Not that the resort I chose was just okay and pretty boring for a single gal – it was and it was. I am disappointed that I did this big thing for myself, to take care of myself, to pour into myself – and I feel like I was derailed.

Two days before I left, I received a worksheet from my therapist. I’ve met with this person only twice so far but felt really hopeful after those sessions. This assignment that I was to review before our next session is on “Forgiveness” – I reviewed it that day because I hate having unread notifications of any kind. I spent that entire night lying awake, feeling panicked and anxious and angry. Forgiveness? Really? Already? I still don’t even believe that it’s real from one night to the next day — and I still have zero answers. How can I think about forgiveness at this stage? And although I was excited for my trip, that assignment has just stayed niggling at the edge of my periphery.

The tears started the minute I got on the plane in DC. I was looking across the river at Arlington and thinking that maybe the next time I saw it, I wouldn’t care which building was his or if I could see it from the runway. Or maybe the plane would crash and I wouldn’t have to care anymore, period. And the tears weren’t because I was sad about either possibility, but because I was hopeful one or both would be true. More tears came when I closed the door to my gorgeous suite at the resort. It was so lovely and I was just sharing it with myself. It had been a long day of travel, I knew I would miss my connection in Dallas before we even left the ground in DC, and it kind of kept snowballing from there. I was hassled by aggressive time-share-pushing gatekeepers immediately after check-in at the resort. At one point, the woman tried to hock a free couples massage for me and my companion — and she was the first of many (presumably) well meaning people that would be confused about why I was traveling alone over the four days. I arrived too late to get a reservation for dinner that night so I sat out on the beach … where a couple was getting married. I turned my chair so my back was to them, listened to the waves, and watched the sunset until it sizzled behind a mountain to the west. But sitting there, surrounded by unquestionable beauty, I felt defeated. It was like I knew that the desperate and expensive quest for a reprieve that I had booked last minute was a futile endeavor before it really started.

I had peaceful moments. I smiled lots of times. Had delicious food. Made memories with myself walking around the harbor, meeting sea lions and pelicans at every turn. Lots of excellent people watching. Three hours spent sailing around the beautiful Baja Peninsula were three of the best hours I’ve ever spent in my life. I have photos and videos and memories that will keep my wanderlust burning. I also read the most amazing book — Cloud Cuckoo Land — the last 50 pages of which I cannot bring myself to finish yet because I do not want it to end. I loathe endings. I cannot bear the weight of another one right now.

And so this morning, I carved out some time in my busy morning of catching up on work and I tried to complete the forgiveness assignment. It asked me to describe the injustice I endured and why it seemed unfair. This journal already holds all of that in painful detail from October onward. I summarized it in two paragraphs on the assignment. Almost four months later, it really does not hurt any less. My anger is no less intense. My disbelief has only grown. I learned earlier this month that he proposed to her nine months after meeting me, a week before my 40th birthday and two weeks before he met my brother – this revelation set me back in ways I couldn’t have anticipated but should have.

Maybe I feel the waves and cycles less frequently but not by as large a degree I wanted, expected, or hoped by now. The intensity of it makes me feel anxious to the point of nausea, and focusing on the present, honing in on what it feels like physically in an attempt at “mindfulness,” almost always makes me start to cry. It’s just too much to contain. This is really inconvenient, say — when you’re lying in a lounger in paradise or cramped between people in coach, in a tin cylinder flying through the sky.

The assignment asked me to describe the pros and cons of “deciding” to forgive my offender. To describe in detail how things would be different if I made that choice. But I can’t – I cannot describe it because I cannot imagine it. I said that *if* I could, I would go to bed and not think about John next to me, laughing, snuggling, and feeling warm. That I would feel hopeful about the future and be able to block out the fact that I have to start all over, a longing for love and belonging that has eluded me for decades already. That I would forget all the questions I have that plague my sleepless nights.

Forgiveness is supposed to unburden you by choosing to let go of what was done to you. How can I CHOOSE to let go of it though when the blindside and deception still hurts so fucking much? Forgiveness allegedly doesn’t mean that you condone the action or that the person doesn’t deserve consequences —- but that’s what it feels like I am being asked to do. To give him a pass.

It asked me to describe what life was like for my offender during childhood and if that could have impacted their behavior. And what was life like at the time of the offense for the offender? That is a lot to unpack — obviously it’s leading me to empathize with him. But of course I empathize with him — the him I knew. I loved that man for g/God’s sake! And no, neither his past or recent present indicates to me anything that may have impacted his willful, conscious, and continual choices to deceive me for more than three years. And to also do it to another woman he was apparently with, not just living with but engaged to and allegedly loved/s? I can’t see what in his past or present impacted that repeated and daily choice, to deceive us both.

And then it asked what feelings I currently have toward my offender and then what positive feelings I have toward him; again with trying to pull even more empathy out of my too-big and dripping heart. I said:

It is painful to think about positive feelings toward the offender, John. I feel positive feelings toward the memory of the person I thought I knew, the person I loved so freely.

I do not feel any positive feelings toward the person I am trying to reconcile with those memories.

I guess I just don’t know where to go from here. Despite sunshine, books, whales, a couple well-deserved days away from work, another check mark on the bucket list, and a few grand less in my bank account, I still feel simultaneously stuck and untethered. I want to be hopeful. I want to believe that this too shall pass and all that bull shit. But I also want to not look with contempt on a married man or a man with a woman at his side who dares to check me out. It repulses me to think that John was one of those men – to me and likely to others – and probably always will be. I unknowingly fell into his safe and warm little web of deception. Why doesn’t he have to redeem himself or accept responsibility or be held accountable? Why do I have to do all of this hard, heavy, relentless work to get back to a place where I can move forward?

In the words of my therapist: “John has moved on with his life.” That line reverberates through my skull like it’s a pinball in a game with flippers going crazy but without a button on the outside for me to even try to control their movement or their pace.

But, yes, he has moved on. He didn’t have to pause to mull it over because although he was my person, I was just a toy for him to use and discard after a few years of being his favorite one. It seems like forgiveness, for a transgression that has never received an apology, is the only way for me to move on. But how do I get there?

Music for the Mood: A Song For You – Amy Winehouse

What’s the frequency?

No, this actually has nothing to do with Kenneth, or REM, or Dan Rather. I was thinking of the song but only because frequency bias has been on my mind.

Well aware that cheating tropes are present all over film and tv and, while triggering to varying degrees based on my disposition at the time, I recognize that I can’t really avoid them. But the real Baader-Meinhof mindfuck that happened this week has me in a snit, days later.

I was watching a random show the other night, FBI Most Wanted (Season 3 Ep 11, if you want to check my facts) and within the first moments, a man is subdued, taken to the woods, and given mere minutes to free himself and run for his life before he is hunted and shot dead, like an animal. We find out this victim was a pedophile and he deserved what he got — but his name? John Clemons. I shit you not. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

What are the chances? Like, what are the actual chances?? Had I seen this random opening of this one episode of this random show any time in the past three years, I’d have immediately texted John. It would have been crazy and kind of funny in a sick way but we both would’ve gotten a kick out of him sharing his name with a procedural drama perp. And had I seen this random opening of this one episode of this random show more than three and a half years ago, I would’ve just changed the channel because it was a creepy opening and I didn’t know anyone named John Clemons.

So of course I watched the whole twisted episode. An act of masochism, I suppose. For a few moments, I think I just sat in stunned disbelief with my mouth agape but then they kept saying the name, both first and last, over and over again. It made my heart race and my cheeks and neck feel warm – it was kind of like a tiny panic attack. Why that name? Of all the billions of names in this world, why the exact name of the man who blew up my world mere months ago?

What’s even wilder is that the towns where this episode’s plot took place were these quiet, little, podunk, Western Pennsylvania towns that most viewers probably didn’t know were real. But they are very real to me. Brookville, Clarion, etc. these are all places where I have spent a lot of time, since I was a tiny child. This is where my family owns a cabin, where my dad and brother and uncles have hunted actual animals, not human excrement named John Clemons, for decades. What are the chances? In this random episode, at this time in my little life?

It doesn’t mean anything. I know that. In the grandest scheme of it all, I know that. But it makes me think of frequency bias and Baader-Meinhof and just the sheer injustice of cosmic coincidence sometimes.

Why does life get to twist the knife deeper as you’re working so hard to pull it out, all by yourself, while you’re still partially paralyzed?

It makes no sense.

Music for the Mood: What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? – REM

Twitterpation

Remember the way back, in the Disney cartoon version of Bambi, when “twitterpated” was the term the woodland animals used to describe the springtime when everyone was falling in love and procreating adorable little, beloved Disney babies like Bambi, Thumper, and Flower? Way before Twitter came along and forever changed (ruined) our collective lives? Fun fact: I’ve never used it. I miss the meaning of twitter from my childhood. I miss the giggles and the color and the joy it evoked.

I’ve had a pretty solid week – one in which I’ve barely had time to think about what happened in October – with much time spent engaging with and being inspired by my students and other just really enjoyable things. In my management class this afternoon though, all that built up positivity came tumbling right down in an instant. And I’m kinda pissed about it. Pissed at myself, really. But mostly the circumstance.

One of our leaders announced that every annual cohort has had a “cohort baby” tradition and that our group is behind. She was joking, of course, when she said that someone needed to step up and make this happen for us, sooner than later. From looking at all of the other 20+ faces on my Zoom screen, it looked like everyone else was enjoying this bit of fun, at least outwardly. No one knows the invisible backpack anyone else carries, of course. And I do not blame them; I understood the jokes they were all making.

What I wanted to say was, “If someone can find me a good man who is actually single, I gladly volunteer as tribute!”

It’s all I’ve ever wanted in this life.

I didn’t, of course. That would obviously be too much information for a group of people that has begun to feel like family but that are really still strangers. And no one likes a Debbie Downer to make the record scratch.

It is what it is. I know this. I’m working on accepting it. Every bloody day. I just really wanted to be able to welcome the levity and revel in it like everyone else after a long day of class. Instead, I bit the inside of my cheek to keep the tears at bay, dug my fingernails into the palm of my hand, and counted the seconds until the chatter subsided and we were dismissed and could turn off our cameras.

Oh to be young and twitterpated!

Like a cannonball

Still a little bit of you laced with my doubt. Still a little hard to say what’s going on.

During another night of fitful sleep, I was scrolling through pictures, specifically those curated iPhoto “memories” albums and slideshows. Most are of my family or vacations. Good memories. One of them sent me searching for a photo I couldn’t find, which made me wonder if it was my memory or someone else’s. Anyway, it led me to my Instagram, the real one, not the finsta of a woman scorned. I thought I had completely purged John from that social record of my life but when I saw this from May 2020, it stopped my mindless scroll with an ache so deep, I think it was audible.

My birthday is May 12, the same day as his stepdad, Ted. I had finally gone to PA to visit my folks for Mother’s Day when, two months in, there seemed to be no immediate end in sight for the pandemic and we had all been extremely careful. In hindsight, had I known he was swapping bodily fluids with one of his roommates, not just living isolated in his basement bedroom like he said, I wouldn’t have gone home. I wouldn’t have put my parents at risk. But I was blissfully unaware. I stayed for two weeks. John wished me happy birthday while I was there and I remember thinking it was so sweet of him to remember. He was always thoughtful like that. He would always tell me to tell my family hello or ask how they were doing. Just the other day I was thinking about how he did that last Christmas but no thoughtful messages, or messages of any kind, came this year.

Originally, I was to return to physical work on May 25, so I came back to DC that weekend in 2020. John surprised me by showing up at my door that very day with flowers for my birthday and saying he missed me. I’d never received flowers from a man in my life. I was beside myself. I also remember another gift he gave me, suddenly and without warning like the alpha males of my fantasies; he took control, bent me over my kitchen counter, and got down on his knees. It was the hottest fucking afternoon of my life.

But seeing this photo last night just reminded me of that text he sent a few minutes after I told him I had discovered that he had a fiancé in October of this year. He said,

Those words still cut me now as they did then. So cruel. So cold. Abrupt? Inaccurate? There should be a lot more to say.

It makes my mind churn and my heart hurt and my stomach roil. The what-did-he-actually-think-a-one-night-stand-is of it all. Maybe don’t buy flowers for the other woman on her birthday? Maybe don’t be around for three of her birthdays? Just one of many, many decidedly non-casual details and events and time spent together that John seemed to have selectively forgotten in his desperation to tell his then “roommate,” now-wife, that I was just sex. (As if that is any more acceptable to a fiancé?)

Or I assume that’s what he said. I have no idea what he told that woman or anyone else. I know what I would have told her had I known she existed. Then again, had known she existed, all of this would be moot because there never would have been a “John & I” to speak of.

Note that this day was May 2020, an indelible memory for me nearly two years into knowing him, but also just a month after they were apparently supposed to have originally gotten married in Mexico? Remember, he left that contract on my computer too.

Ah. Today is a hard day, y’all. They ebb and flow, wax and wane. I couldn’t get back to sleep last night after that memory. And I’ve been ruminating on it all day. It’s challenging to hide this mood from my family while I’m still here visiting. An extended holiday because returning to my tiny home filled to the brim with John’s ghost is about as appealing as pulling my own fingernails out with pliers. So I’m fortifying myself here with people who have to love me, and I declined to go on a walk with them this afternoon because I was barely keeping it together and was worried I couldn’t fake it much longer. The moment the door closed, I cried. Wailed, really.

I realized that in the now two months since this happened, I haven’t been able to really let it out. I have cried, sure. A whimper here or there. A few tears in the shower or in the privacy of the single-stall restroom at work, or one might slip loose when I have hugged a friend goodbye after a dinner or HH where I haven’t said a word about what I’m holding inside. There’s something about the physical contact with another human and then the absence of it that has become almost too much to withstand these past weeks. So, yes, although my head is now pounding and my eyes are burning, it felt a bit good to cry it out with reckless abandon, without fear of the neighbors hearing through the wall or a coworker or passerby seeing the sadness. Maybe the burning eyes will help me (force me) to sleep tonight?

I hope that one day sooner than later none of this hurts anymore. That the disbelief and anger and resentment will fade. That the desire to know that karma has come for him will cease to fuel me. That the words of Damien Rice won’t echo through my skull on a loop. That courage might teach me to be something more than shy and that love will teach me anything but how to lie. But more than anything, that one day, no bits of John will be laced with my doubt.

“It’s not hard to fall, when you float like a cannonball.”

Music for the Mood: Cannonball – Damien Rice

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love light gleams. I’m home for Christmas, that part is true. But it does feel a bit like a dream. I’m not completely here but I’d really like to be. After all, time is precious. I want to soak up the time I have left with my parents. All of it.

I sat in Christmas Eve church with my parents this evening. I believe in g/God about as much as I believe in elves at this point in my life but I went because it’s tradition and, although technically unspoken, very evident that my mother’s Christmas wish includes going to Christmas Eve church with whichever of her children may be home. All of four people in a congregation of about 150-200 were wearing masks, and two below their noses. This is a redneck (and red), steel mill and farming town. The virus is wholly and completely political here. It’s maddening but it is what it is. I was prepared for this earlier when I pasted on a smile, put down my book, curled my hair, and agreed to get in the car to go along.

My brother is also home this year, which is always welcome, but was doing husband duties with one of the three houses required in his in-law-visits any time they are home. Marrying a gal from our hometown when he lives 10hrs away should/could have been great but, a gal from a split home, with a grown brother who is also a single dad … there’s a lot going on. And those obligations always seem to get priority. We are an accommodating family by nature. So we take my brother when we can get him. It’s been eleven years. We are used to taking the leftovers and being authentically grateful.

Christmas church (like Christmas songs and movies) makes me nostalgic rather than joyful. And I always tear up during the service more than once, regardless of heartache (past or present). The poinsettias on the altar are always “in memory of” my grandparents and my uncle. I have no memories of my grandfather, who died the year I was born, but my grandma and my uncle were a daily part of my life until I left for college. We all lived on the same farm land. I saw them every day. And in 2002/3, I lost both of them, on that farm, within six months of each other. I have no shortage of childhood emotional trauma. But I was in my early 20s then and those losses felt different than the things that had come before. Insurmountable, really. I also lost both of them mere months before my first heartbreak. 2003 was an awful, awful year. And I cannot help but reflect on it every time I’m sitting on the hard, wooden church pew on Christmas Eve, looking at the flowers in honor of my family, staring up at the rafters of a beautiful narthex that served as backdrop for so much of my formative spiritual and social development, and listening to hymns that I can still almost viscerally hear my grandmother singing next to me. Though I haven’t actually heard her voice or felt her arms in nearly 20 years.

I also look around at all the familiar faces, but with more wrinkles and inches and shades of grey. The couples I remember as a child — often now permanently missing one part of what I always assumed would be an eternal pair. And “kids” who were toddlers when I was in youth group, are now balding, with beer bellies, mirror images of their dads & moms, with adolescent and even teenage children of their own. It’s always a little bizarre. As if I’m in some Scrooge-like vision of the future, only, I’m no longer a teenager or even a college kid. And yet, I’ve been experiencing this same future version of actual reality since I was in college. As if I’ve been watching life go by as reflected in everyone but myself, one Christmas Eve service at a time.

Sure, I notice that I am older. Obviously I see that I am 42 when I look in the mirror. And it is never lost on me that I am still “the single kid” tagging along with my parents to Christmas church, to family functions, to everywhere. I hate it. I’ve always hated it. I’ve always felt like an other. The years have passed but that feeling hasn’t.

It was so hard seeing the family of distant cousins in front of us, the parents about 15 years younger than mine, their three children, who farm the hillside across from ours, all married within the past five years, all with small children of their own. And tonight, the two boys, both with new baby boys of their own, only a couple months apart. We watched them coo and gurgle and smile from a few pews away. It makes me feel guilty not to be able to give that to my parents; they would be the world’s greatest grandparents! I think they were born for those roles. And yet, my brother and his wife seem content with just their dog. And me? I’m not content right now but I am trying to be. I try to play up my career and the fulfillment it gives me and downplay the singleness in any given year, but especially this year. This most recent bout of unbelievable betrayal is kind of too hard for me to fake.

I am grateful to be home, surrounded by people I love. But I am struggling a bit. I’m struggling to keep the melancholy at the periphery, to stay present, to stay gracious and patient. At this, the “happiest” time of the year.

Is this what he wanted? Is this the end game he hoped for? To shred the confidence and certainty and trust of someone who selflessly gave to him, and then when the illusion is broken, when his façade has been stripped away, he takes comfort in knowing that somewhere, two months later, that other someone is still sitting around wondering how they could have been so blind? Why they are spending yet another Christmas alone? While he’s spending his first Christmas Eve as a married man, to a woman I never knew existed.

If only in my dreams, right? That’s how the song goes so maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will have all been a dream. Maybe, like Scrooge, I’ll get to wake up tomorrow and it will be twenty years ago and I’ll be able to get it right this time.

Music for the Mood: I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Michael Bublé