I will survive

Nine months ago tonight, I was lying wide awake with disbelief and pain so visceral that I couldn’t breathe.

It’s been hell.

I have fought tooth and nail to get here. I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy, plus medication, and innumerable hours in the upside down trying to figure out how I could have loved and trusted someone so cruel, vapid, and deceitful.

And I’m here. I am surviving yet again.

I understand now that he was a pathetic excuse for a human, let alone a man, and I very, very narrowly dodged a bullet.

There are scars though. I am now a woman with trust issues and baggage that I have to wrestle to fit into my overhead bin before, on, and after dates. But I am doing it.

I am trying to give seemingly kind and authentic men the benefit of the doubt … and there is a simultaneous, niggling fear that crawls over my skin. I cannot help but remember that same grace for another man is what bit me in ass.

I hope I will not always be in protective mode or that I will at least learn where the line is but it’s proving to be a prickly thing to embrace. So far.

And to her, I only have one thought left …

Good luck, hun.

Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive

I’ve got all my life to live

And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive

I will survive

I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
An aspirational prick.

Keep Your Head Up

“We ain’t meant to survive, ’cause it’s a setup

And even though you’re fed up

Huh, ya gotta keep your head up”

Keep Ya Head Up – Tupac

I had a profoundly affecting experience yesterday that I cannot shake. There’s nothing to be done but feel it and wait for the intensity to subside. It feels so heavy and disappointing and sad, but there’s also some deep love and light woven in.

I spent most of yesterday at the DC jail. I was invited by a good friend to attend an event where the residents were presenting the group project pitches they had been working on for the past eight weeks. The topic? Curbing gun violence in this city. There were 14 groups and all of us guests, about 60 or 70 of us, were randomly assigned a group number and we traveled around to each of the 14 tables. We listened to their pitches, reviewed their presentation materials, and asked questions. Think science fair in a gym only, instead of scrawny and adorable middle schoolers, these students are all ages, shapes, and sizes in bright orange jumpsuits.

The experience itself was awesome. Truly. My cheeks hurt so much from smiling hours after I had passed back out through security and found my way to my car, where all of my electronics and everything except my photo ID were waiting for me. I have never gone through so much security and it was kind of intense for a first-timer. Listening to the residents though was thought-provoking, inspiring, enlightening, and humbling. From teenagers to old men, I was able to look into the eyes of each man as he shared his piece of the presentation and I was struck by how little we, as humans, ever bother to look beyond a label. Whether it is liberal or republican, disabled or athlete, CEO or felon, we rarely put the time, effort, or grace into having a simple conversation with those whose labels flash “other” in our minds like an alarm. I was interested to observe that while not everyone was nervous, most were visibly anxious and there were a lot of shaky voices and hands from men that are probably used to being quite intimidating. It was so humanizing to listen to these phenomenal, practical, uniquely informed ideas on how to effect change in violent crime and youth involvement in this city. When would you ever get to have conversations like that?! I could have done it all day. I wanted to just keep learning and soaking in all the ideas and wondering how, who, and where these ideas might get funding or get off the ground in a tangible way. There were folks from all over the city in attendance, including the White House, and I saw a lot of people taking notes and swapping business cards. I genuinely hope that something, anything, comes of the rich and innovative ideas we heard yesterday.

Despite how moving all of that was, it was not even close to the most impactful part of the day. Before things got started, guests were just milling about, reading the one-pagers we had been given for each of the project groups. There was a brief overview, a picture of the residents who worked on each project, and a list of their names. A few pages in, one name jumped out at me. Let’s call him Bryant Morris — common enough name but one man in the picture on that page looked too much like a Bryant Morris from my past. A student that I knew at the first high school where I was a counselor. For a moment, I thought, “that cannot be my Bryant Morris.” I looked around the gymnasium where probably 50 men in electric orange jumpsuits were scattered. It took less than a second for me to see him. I swear to you, I nearly hit my knees. Disbelief and sadness took my breath away and I almost believed he locked eyes with me from all the way across that gym — even though we were wearing masks and probably haven’t seen each other in 10 years. I had to keep looking away because I didn’t want to believe it. He was SO much bigger than I remember. Full sleeves of tattoos covering arms that looked more like tree trunks. But those eyes? Those eyes were the same as the ones on the baby face of a boy who is inextricably and heartbreakingly linked to one of the worst days of my life.

In 2008, two of my former students were in a car accident one night. They had just graduated the year before and one was my counseling aide and sat in my office every single day with her insanely infectious smile. The accident was bad enough that they needed to fly them to Maryland Shock Trauma. Except the helicopter crashed and killed everyone on board, except one. My aide was killed as were the two flight crew and the local EMT who had boarded to assist during transport. After so, so many surgeries, the surviving student lost her leg and had a lot of scars, both physical and emotional, but she survived.

The crash upended our community. The morning after, when the news broke, we knew two of our students were involved but we didn’t know who. I had seniors that year and my entire caseload of 262 faces went through my mind. I created my first ever Facebook account just to monitor how my kids were doing. It was an unfathomable tragedy and no one was okay. I wasn’t okay. I didn’t know who that first morning but I didn’t want it to be any of the faces I kept seeing in my mind.

I never dreamed they were alumni. I certainly never dreamed it was those two girls, my girls. In another giant fuck you, the EMT who perished was the mother of Bryant Morris, one of our football stars and a universally popular young man with students and staff.

He was out of school for nearly two weeks and when he returned he wasn’t the smiling, fun-loving, always joking kid that he was. Sure, he was still a standout athlete and I was there in the stands when he won the state titles that year in football, indoor, and outdoor track. He just lost his sparkle for a long time. He was (is) the sweetest boy. It makes my chest ache so deeply to remember those days right after the crash — the sickening sadness and profound sense of shock and loss — but also the weeks after when one student was still in the hospital facing a steep uphill battle, everyone else was dead, and Bryant was the one we all watched. It wasn’t really fair. It just seemed like, if we could get him to be okay, we would all be okay too.

There have been so many tragedies since then. So many students lost. So much trauma. So many things I wish I didn’t have to live through, that they didn’t have to live through. At some point, I feel like I became numb to anything new. A few years ago, one of my students, an Honors and AP student, shot another of my boys in the head. Two lives were lost forever that afternoon. I suppose I peripherally felt shock and sadness but, honestly? I felt nothing. It was just one more awful thing in a never-ending string of awful things in the lives of the students I serve.

I learned through all of those awful things the myriad ways that different people experience them, process them, and move forward at whatever pace they can. By graduation Bryant seemed to be doing fine. He got his full scholarship for football and, as the NCAA Coordinator for the entire district, I was there on signing day with tears of joy in my eyes. It felt like a win for all of us.

The last time I saw him, I’m not sure how many years ago exactly but at least 7 or 8, it was on my street. I was driving toward Howard University and Bryant was on a bicycle. The last I knew, he was out west at college where he got his scholarship so it was wild seeing him here, but he told me that he had just transferred to Howard and was the starting corner. He seemed really proud and happy and settled. We talked for a while in the street and then he put his hand on my driver’s side door with the window open and I pulled him up the big hill toward Howard on his bike, smiling as big as ever. The next time I saw him was yesterday, in an orange jumpsuit, in prison.

My group yesterday, of course, was assigned to start at his group’s table and I was not ready. I wasn’t processing fast enough. I wanted to find a quiet corner and have a good, selfish cry before I found some freaking strength. I wasn’t even sure if he would remember me, let alone recognize me with my mask on. It seemed like he was intentionally avoiding eye contact with me when he did his part of the presentation though and, when I heard his voice, there was no way I could deny that the man in front of me was that same sweet boy. It broke my fucking heart into a thousand pieces. After the presentation, he picked up a stack of their flyers to pass out to my group and he started with me. He looked me straight in the eye and I said, “Thank you, Bryant. Do you remember me?” He called me by name and said, “Of course I remember you. I don’t know why or how you are here today, but thank you for coming. Can I talk to you later?”

And so I went around to all the other tables to listen and found him after. I asked if I could give him a hug … and then I gave him about six. We could only chat for a few minutes before we were shuffled to the next building but it was enough to know he’s still that boy, with the same heart, the same bouyancy, the same drive. He told me he’s been in for 24 months now and thinks he’ll be out in eight more. He’s gotten his LLC while inside and is pursuing entrepreneurship so he can “do things the right way” when he gets out. We talked about his offense(s), why the money on the street was too good, and how he just got caught up. He asked what I do now and, when I told him, he said, “Do you all hire felons?” It sobered me up real quick and all the joy I was feeling from reconnecting with an old student in those brief moments evaporated with a big smack of reality. I gave him my email and my same old Pittsburgh number, to which he said with a classic Bryant smile, “Of course. Same as always.”

Then I came home last night and had myself a little breakdown. First I’ve cried in what feels like months but, oof, the floodgates broke wide open. There are kids that you know are never going to fully escape their circumstances. And it is not just the ones that you know are in gangs, or come to school with a gunshot wound, or already wear an ankle bracelet. There are also kids who are barely getting through or that could be doing more than passing but they hate school and, whatever the case, they aren’t going to continue school after high school, if they even graduate. You know those kids aren’t going to make it, despite everyone’s best efforts to help them onto a viable pathway. But then there are other kids that you know, with every fiber of your being, are going to be something. Bryant Morris was one of the latter. Ten years ago, I would have bet you 1000:1 that he would be well on his way to CEO of something by now.

I don’t understand why life is this way. The injustice of the cards you are dealt and all that. I just do not and cannot understand it. There are so many days and circumstances that make it feel like a fucking setup.

Like Pac says, you’ve got to keep your head up. And I would say to that, maybe tomorrow. Today, I’m deep in my feelings and thinking about a boy who already lost everything when he was 15. I have known him for literally half of his life and I cannot help but feel like maybe we didn’t try hard enough to make sure that sweet, funny, beautiful boy was really and truly okay.

I need to do some research over the next eight months to figure out how to actually help now.

High school lockers

I have approximately zero interest in writing these days but folks keep visiting so I suppose I should force myself, just to keep the proverbial juices flowing. That’s what we do, right? Us creative types? We force ourselves to do and move and experience and express in the ever-waning hope that, when we push beyond the present block, everything will eventually feel like it fits again and in a way that makes sense. My mind is still overflowing with rivers and streams of thoughts that cascade over the cliffs, plummeting to depths of which I can never see the bottom. It’s just that the babbling has all become a bit like white noise, sometimes too close and too loud but mostly relegated to the background of my somewhat less sleepless nights as of late.

The novelty of medication has worn off. It is still working, in a sense, of course. Last week, I experienced my first twinge of regret that I could not feel as much. After initiating a second follow-up request over three weeks, I learned that I did not even move beyond an initial phone interview for a job a really wanted; a dream job, honestly. I’ve learned not to let myself dream too much or get very invested or have any expectations when it comes to jobs. After more than 100 (200?) applications, barely more than a handful of interviews, and only two second interviews in more than two years of applying, the job search has become as futile and damaging to my self worth as dating. The chances of landing one where you aren’t settling or sacrificing part of your soul are about the same, in my experience.

Anyway, in all those many, many applications and thoughtful cover letters, there have been less than ten that I have been truly excited about. This was not only one of those elusive few but very easily the top one. There could not be more than a dozen people in the entire country who are more uniquely qualified for the role and probably none in my city, and yet, I did not even get to the second round. I have a hunch that sits like a rock in my stomach that it’s because I felt a bit too comfortable during the phone screening with a woman who knows and admires all of the same phenoms in DC education that I do and shares my often firy inability to accept inequity or injustice in any form, especially when it comes to students and representation (or former lovers masquerading as good guys). When she asked a direct question about my current manager though, I almost certainly did not respond in the most artful or calculated way I could have. I should have. I am just not built that way. Even when I try, there is no way that whomever I am speaking to doesn’t know what I think — I am too expressive, too honest, too radically candid, too comfortable being exactly who I am. I’ve worked so hard to find my voice; I cannot bear to whisper now. If that wasn’t it, then it has to be some nepotistic, DC-billionaires’-club kind of thing because I should have been a lock. For as much as my self confidence and self worth have taken a walloping over the past year or so, I have zero hestation in saying or believing that last bold statement.

It could also be because I made too much of an issue about how their organization is mostly white (men) and it isn’t representative of the population they purport to serve so, as a white woman, I may have effectively torpedoed my own candidacy. I am trying to convince myself that was the reason because I am okay with that one. I suppose we shall see when the person they do hire is finally named.

That said, I found out and I just did not feel a damned thing. I was theoretically disappointed, obviously. I still am. But I did not feel it. I haven’t even told but one other person and that’s only because this person was actually thoughtful enough to send a message to check in on me this weekend. That night though, I was thinking about how that was my last iron in the proverbial fire and, with my ridiculously horrible manager coming back from maternity leave next week, I should have felt pretty fucking hopeless. I cognitively knew this but I couldn’t feel one way or the other about it.

And that felt really … weird.

I shit you not, I looked up the movie “Beaches” on YouTube, just to find the part where Bette Midler’s character learns about her best friend dying, scenes from their childhood flash, all while Bette is belting “Wind Beneath My Wings,” in the background. I just wanted to cry. I wanted to feel. More than that, I wanted to wallow and sulk. So I summoned Bette and I did! It was weirdly comforting to know that I haven’t become a complete automaton.

This morning, in our last team meeting before my inept and insecure wench of a boss returns, the icebreaker opener was, “What was in your high school locker?” My teammates all shared about the decorations they had in theirs: a shrine to Tupac with fake flower garlands, a daily journal pad that one of them wrote in throughout every day with the two friends who shared hers, the dance outfits and ballet slippers stuffed into the bottom of another instead of books, pictures of 80s and 90s hip-hop and pop stars, make-up and perfume and all kinds of girly shit.

I wanted to go first because I knew mine was going to fall flat but they were all too excited to share and their energy was contagious so I just sat back and smiled and laughed with them until my cheeks hurt, until they forced me to go at the end. I said that I honestly didn’t think I ever had anything in my locker, if I even used it. I remember sharing one in the intermediate high (9th & 10th grade) with another girl but I can’t remember a single thing about it except that it was kind of near my cousin, Amy’s, and she was kind of popular and not very nice to me.

I didn’t share that last part because, honestly, no one wants or needs to know that I was a shadow in school, from elementary through half of college. I had some friends but my cousin, Shawn, was my best friend and he drove me to and from school every day. We were farm kids and we didn’t really give a shit about the groups that weren’t ours or people that we weren’t friends with. We didn’t have the same friends and that was okay with both of us. We had each other, mostly. I was not social and I got picked on in pretty much every grade I can remember. On the bus in elementary school, in class in junior high, the boy behind me used to spit on my back and in my hair in homeroom in high school, prank calls at my house that seemed to never stop, etc. I was really shy and quiet and smart. I was objectively cute but I think people thought I was stuck up … or an easy target … both?

I just don’t have many fond memories of school at all, and trying to think about my locker this morning was almost comical. Like, of all the many, many insignficant things that take up room in my cavernous memory, my locker is not one of them.

The funny thing is though, I have a recurring dream about high school that revolves around my locker. I have no idea why but on a fairly regular basis, I dream that I am in my high school, which was a huge campus (1200 kids for just the 11th & 12th grades), and I am at my locker and no one is around because I am late for class. My locker was in one of the buildings farthest from the main entrance and I can picture the hallway, the smell, the light through the walls of windows on either side, and I can almost remember the exact locker in a certain row. But I can never remember the combination in the dream or, if it’s already open when I’m there, I can never find the notebook I need. I am panicking because I can’t find my class schedule and cell phones/smart phones didn’t exist then to look it up. I always take the same set of stairs, there are always people going down while I’m going up, and I am always trying to get to one of three classes, Biology, Calc, and something else. But I can never remember which one I have at that time because I don’t know what day it is and, in the dream, I haven’t gone to class in so long that if I do make it to the right one, I am definitely late, my desk is the only empty one, and the teacher and the entire class stop talking and watch me walk to my desk. Sometimes it’s because I’m in the wrong class for that day and sometimes the teacher makes some snide comment about how it’s nice of me to show up. The irony is, I never missed a g/God damned day of high school, not even for senior skip day. I don’t even know if there was one — I was that cool.

Ah, high school.

Music for the Mood:

Baba O’Riley – The Who

Teenage Dirtbag – Wheatus

“It’s only teenage wasteland.”
Farm kids. What can I say? I’ve always had mad style.

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

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