Tangled knots

“Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.” But ain’t that the truth? A friend told me this tonight. Lyrics from one of their favorite singer songwriters, Josh Ritter.

In the Uber home, it made me think about mix tapes and mix cd’s and my favorite movie, “High Fidelity.”

In the opening credits, John Cusack says:

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

I spent most of my early adult life reveling in sad songs; songs about heartbreak and loneliness and longing. There’s obviously a pathological and deeply intrinsic reason why John Prine, Ani DiFranco, Chamberlain, Chris Stapleton, David Gray, Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, Bon Iver, Band of Horses, The Shins and the like are my go-to, play on repeat, “top five” kind of must haves on a mix tape. Sure there are one hit wonders like Flick’s “Maybe, Someday” and Drive By Truckers’ “God Damned Lonely Love” and Damien Rice’s “Cannonball” too but, mostly, I go to all those artists and songs when I need to feel. When I need to bleed emotion. And when I don’t, I avoid them like the fucking plague. Like tapping into them, even for a moment, will invoke the spirits of melancholia. All of those songs and bands were discovered through mix cds that someone made for me, by the way. Very High Fidelity. And, yes, I could definitely arrange all of my albums autobiographically and blow Dick’s mind too.

So I listen to podcasts now most of the time instead … to occupy my brain and allow it to gnaw on something else, anything else.

For most of college and beyond, my best friends were this group of four guys, all of them in bands. I loved who I was in that circle. We became friends because one of them was borderline obsessed with me sophomore year, and I was too inexperienced to feel anything but creeped out. But we all just magnetized each other after the initial weirdness and that was that. I didn’t really fit, they were way too cool and too popular. The vicarious popularity fit me like an oversized wool sweater — scratchy but I could hide inside it. It felt like I was living someone else’s life and it was way too big for me. I never really “fit” anywhere but, for whatever reason or circumstance, we were an inseparable package deal.

We all had other friends, some tangential, some mutual, some exclusive. But at the core, it was just us. We left college together. Moved to Pittsburgh just blocks from each other; the four of them all together in one house, me in my own space but at their house more often than my own. It was the BEST of times. Later, I lived with two of them, one and then the other after the first got engaged, and our houses were always the spot for the whole crew. I reluctantly fell in love with another one of those boys of mine, the one who started it all with his bizarre interest in me seven years earlier; he broke me. The rest didn’t pick a side, even when he got engaged to her five months later. Eventually, they all paired off and got married and life just … changed.

I moved to DC in 2006 for a job after grad school and things have just never been the same. I went to all of their weddings. Several baby showers. Increasingly infrequent catch ups when I was back in town, though I always had to go to them; they never came to me. I still love them, deeply. But I only know them now through pictures of their kids that their wives post on Instagram and their annual holiday photo cards. It is weird to watch my boys age, one year at a time. And the rest of them still have him, and her, and their two kids. It’s as if I never existed in their circle now or, more accurately, as if it’s a relief for everyone that I exist four hours away. And I have for the past 16 years.

The five of us used to mean everything to each other. Now, if I reach out for a happy birthday message or some other random text, they respond as if it is genuinely so good to hear from me. And it nearly breaks my heart, it feels so good. But neither of us keeps it going and not one of them ever initiates. They never did. Still, if you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have never ever dreamed that we’d grow apart. Never.

I feel as though my life has gone through three phases of my friend circle pairing off, getting married, starting families. With very few exceptions, I am the only single one left, and have been in each group. The boys. The SoMD friends. The DC friends. Three phases across twenty years. Every time, although I am in the same places and spaces, meeting the same pool of potential matches, they pair up. They move on. I remain. I don’t have a circle in this phase. Now it’s a mosaic with bits and pieces that remain from the old circles and new, none of which really fit together and I don’t have the desire or the natural ability to be the glue for everyone anymore. I think that time in my life has passed.

Every person I have ever dated, with exactly two exceptions, got married right after me. Most have children. That was always the holy grail for me; being a mom. At 42, it feels like John stole the last embers of that dream from me. The last three years? Gone. I just can’t help feeling like I got left behind in every phase of my life. And now, unlike all the other times, the thing I wanted most in life has just … evaporated. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still ache for it and, foolishly or not, still hold out hope for it. It feels too heavy and final to let go completely.

I strongly doubt any of my friends, in any circle or phase, would see it that way. They’d say I didn’t settle. Or that they admire my independence. Or that I’ve always been so comfortable on my own. But none of these things are actually true – I haven’t had the opportunity to settle, I’m independent only by default, and I have grown accustomed being alone but I would give my soul to have a companion in this life. I feel like I’ve done all the right things, put myself out there, pushed myself even when it wasn’t comfortable, intentionally sought out places to belong … for what?

I’ve been on the online dating sites for two decades, off and on. Many of the same guys from more than three years ago, before John, are still there — with the same pictures. And it’s still the same story now at 42 as it has been all along, even back when I was younger and objectively more attractive … the guys I’m interested in do not respond or aren’t even active, but the guys I would not talk to in a thousand years in real life will message me. It is demoralizing! I don’t want to make anyone else feel bad — they’re expressing interest in me the same way I’m expressing interest in men who apparently think they deserve better. What a crapshoot.

I’ve been paying $100 an hour to talk to a therapist so I can move past John and “betrayal PTSD” as quickly as possible. It’s going great, as you can tell. I admitted to her that if had I seen John on a dating app three years ago, I’d have swiped left. He wasn’t my type. He’s grown even less so over the past few weeks, for obvious reasons. I grew to love all the things about him that apparently were never real. Except DP and one other, I’ve never been initially attracted to anyone I’ve ever dated. But I also can’t make myself swipe right on someone whose picture does nothing for me.

So what’s the bloody answer? Even when I go on a date with one of these guys I deigned to give a chance, like I did this week, I’m still tangled up in the knots that he tied. That they all tied.

Mood music: Maybe Someday – Flick

Seconds turn into weeks

The longer the separation, the harder it is to heal the hurt. Time passes while you’re thinking and all that time is really just wasted, isn’t it?

While my thoughts turn into doubling down on insecurity and doubt, what are you thinking about?

Do you realize that while you’re thinking about yourself, and presumably about her, that you’re responsible for what I cannot avoid thinking about?

Why did you have to do it to me? Couldn’t you have chosen anyone else? What about me is such an easy target for narcissists masquerading as nice guys?

Are you wishing you’d met me first?

Are you thinking about me at all?


It’s been two weeks since I discovered that I was the other woman. And two weeks from today you’ll be married to her, probably? I couldn’t if I were her. She must be frantically trying to process that you’ve been sleeping with someone else for more than three years while also deluding herself into believing she’ll have time to process it and work on trusting you after you vow to be faithful to only her … during a wedding she’s been planning for years, and probably dreaming about her entire life. You’ve taken away all the possibility that her wedding day will be magical; it will forever have an undertone of ugly – whether it happens with you in two weeks, someone else after she moves on from your trifling ass, or never because you’ve robbed her of feeling secure and however many years of her life … it’s possible she’ll never be able to move on.

I keep thinking about your ceremony, what it will be like when you look at each other. What you’ll both actually be thinking when you’re performing for your guests. I wonder what song your first dance will be to — and whether there will be smiles passed between you that hide the doubt. Or if one or both of you will have tears in your eyes — for reasons only the two of you and I will know.

I could be there to witness it. After all, you left all the vital details for me. But I don’t know if I could stomach watching those pregnant seconds tick by. I would probably laugh; contemptuously and incredulously of course.

Those seconds will turn into years. That will become your marriage. Always wondering if trust exists. If belief in you exists. And no matter how fading a memory you may come to have of me, of us, all of those seconds that pass will have just a touch of ugly that you can never undo.

You have only yourself to blame. And yet both she and I also have to deal with the insidious ugliness you created. For better or worse, she has you and you have her. I have my thoughts.

Mood music: Restlessness – Bastien Laval

The good prevails

It’s during times like these that I wonder what my life is about. I work. I come home. I walk, I watch tv, I listen to music, I cook (sometimes), I play mindless games on my phone, or I read. Occasionally I go out with friends. But mostly, I feel like I just exist.

Tonight I got a text from a former student. One of my favorites. I have so many, really. But this one … he has continued to make me proud from nearly the day I met him. He makes me feel grateful.

Grateful to have an impact on the lives of young people. Their success is my success. I receive so much joy from watching them grow and stretch and become who they want to be. If I can play any infinitesimally small part in that growth, I am immeasurably happy. These are the moments I need to hold on to.

Throughout my career in education, people have told me time and again that it is a thankless job. That you rarely, if ever, get to see the seeds you plant grow & thrive. I have never felt that way. I have always felt loved, appreciated, and valued by my kids. I have so many “smile file” memories and moments. At least monthly, even though I haven’t been working in a school in four years.

There have been tragedies and unspeakable things, and always the routine frustrations and bureaucracy of a school and the American education system. But even in the trenches, you have a family. A cadre of educators who are all fighting together for the collective good. Some better than others. But for me? I always felt like I mattered.

Outside of my work, I can scarcely remember a time, maybe with the exception of my parents, when I have felt that same level of value, of importance, of significance. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that for each other, in all contexts?

That’s a world I want to live and love in. Where good always prevails.

Mood music: Times Like These – Foo Fighters (acoustic)

The quiet is too loud.

It is seeping in everywhere and I hate the noise, the chaos, the lack of control. Too much time to think. Too many thoughts invading all the spaces where I want to be present.

I can’t do anything but feel. And write about it. There’s no one to talk to. No one who really understands. Sure, my village checks in and asks how I am, and what do I say to that? What else are they supposed to say? “Sorry you got fucked, in more ways than one?” I appreciate it; I just don’t have the capacity to manage their feelings too. I’m having enough of a time deciphering mine, let alone managing them.

I am sad. I miss my friend. I miss the hope and the possibility and the contentment. And the fucking bliss of ignorance. The comfort of trust. The illusion I didn’t know I was living in.

I am angry. I am angry that I fought my baggage to believe in you. And you weren’t ever worthy of believing in. I’m angry that you did this, you consciously did this, from the jump. You talked to me in that bar. You kept it going the morning after. And the weeks after. And then the years after. You forced my hand. I never had a choice. I didn’t have all of the information and I didn’t get to decide if I could handle the fallout. You knew it would come; you created it. You have to own it.

You haven’t and you won’t. I’m left to pick up the pieces. Alone. Again.

One week. Haven’t even attempted to make sure I am okay. That is the hardest pill to swallow; proof that I never mattered.

Not one answer to a single question. Not one attempt to communicate, to help me understand. I’m just going to keep screaming into the void. What else can I do? It’s my fucking prerogative.

You are the offender. It is your responsibility to course correct.

Your premise is false. A one night stand cannot last three plus years. But let’s accept your bullshit premise … it still doesn’t track. You’re delusional. If you really felt it was just a hookup that lasted too long, how do you justify alllllll of the things we talked about, all of the time we spent not fucking, the things we did for and with each other that had nothing at all to do with sex?

Maybe you liked who you were with me. Maybe you liked how you felt about yourself when you were with me. Obviously you liked how you felt inside me, but maybe even more so how we thought about the world, or the things we talked about in those lazy hours after the sex, or what I brought to your world view. It doesn’t really matter which of those is true or if it’s all of them or something else … the point is that it was more than sex.

No matter what you delude yourself into thinking I was to you, there remains one immutable fact. I was not your fiancé. You had someone else that you were BETRAYING from the moment you talked to me in that bar. Yes, you willfully betrayed my trust and I will go to my grave knowing that you knew exactly how I felt and it wasn’t just “a one night stand that lasted years.” But regardless of the semantics of what you did to me, what did you do to her? What the fuck did you do to her and why the fuck did you do it?

I am sad for me. I am enraged for her. You don’t deserve either of us. You never did.

“Too bad you had to have a better half
She’s not really my type
But I think you two are forever
And I hate to say it, but you’re perfect together

So fuck you
And your untouchable face
Fuck you
For existing in the first place”

Mood music: Untouchable Face – Ani DiFranco

Coronatine & anxiety

This is week eight of social distancing and working remotely full-time. I keep hearing people say some version this phrase “I have always had low-grade anxiety…” and I’m not sure why exactly it stays stuck under my skin. I fully understand the affliction, however, I think I bristle at the notion that this phrase to describe it has somehow become the conversational version of a hashtag. Is it now cool to have had an underlying condition of anxiety? Cool maybe isn’t the right word and, again, I cannot pinpoint why it bothers me. The faces of the people who have said it to me, how it was delivered, the tone and the context, as well as what I know of them as individuals — there aren’t a lot of commonalities. But it has bothered me every time and I’ve ruminated on it relentlessly, among a multitude of other things during the days and nights of this pandemic situation.

The truth is, I got myself off on a tangent already because that’s how I was going to start this post myself today. I have been feeling (off and on, waxing and waning, without a trigger or pattern) anxious since this whole thing began. What I was going to preface this post with though is that, despite my reluctance to embrace it as truth, I was kind of an anxious person in the “Before.” It’s not clear if I have always been this way but I think it’s most likely that I have.

On days like today, gloomy, melancholic and too quiet, it’s hard for me to remember feelings, moments or experiences in my life where I wasn’t overthinking. In my last role as a counselor in a high school, I had a colleague on my small, four-person team who was unequivocally and pathologically anxious. To the point where it rubbed off on and affected everyone around her to some degree, to the point of frustration or annoyance of those who frequently experienced her perpetual buzzing. Listen. I loved that girl but it was profoundly irritating at times. I keep thinking “I’m not that bad,” but I think I may have become that person on my current work team even though I don’t worry to that extreme. It’s all relative though and I can admit that I am anxious more than any of my current colleagues, at least verbally expressed. I do overthink. And on my “new” work team of one, in my living room while using the tv stand as a makeshift desk, I am definitely that person. That said, I’m also the strongest, smartest, cleverest, funniest, most likeable … and prettiest too! This new one-woman team isn’t all bad.

Joking aside though, I do feel anxious. At the beginning of these eight weeks, there was a lot of time spent relishing the freedom, the ability to “sleep in,” freedom from distractions during the work day, not having to wear noise-cancelling headphones all the time to block out cubby chatter, having time to cook multiple, healthy meals a day, freedom to be a hermit and not have to continually think of the excuses you want to give for not wanting to hang out or make plans with people (although you didn’t dare use them because you simultaneously hate excuses and flakes), and just generally relax. I still relish every single one of those positive things. I also love the concerted effort by many to share the positive each day, live for the greater good, and the incredibly unique and powerful feeling of literally everyone experiencing this crisis together, albeit differently. In the early days, I wanted to consume as much information as I could but I was also pretty disappointed in and terrified by the spectacle of our national leadership and his daily press conferences. I would frequently call my parents so we could watch together, not even commenting, just being together in some way while taking it in. While I was laughing and raging about the incredible nonsense spread over this very real and overwhelming global crisis, I was also growing increasingly more anxious.

From the very beginning, I have worried about the people in this world that are most susceptible to this virus, for all of the published scientific and socio-economic factors. I’ve also been worried about my family because, without question, that’s the thing I care about the most at my core. Initially, I discounted my parents’ suggestion for me to come home as just that, a suggestion that was mostly an expression of love and compassion. It is still that but at some point, I remember talking to my brother about how it was starting to feel like a guilt trip. I guess this was about the time that the DC mayor extended our stay at home guidelines through May 15 near the end of April. From that point on, it’s become kind of an ever-present internal battle in my head and my heart. I hate it.

I want to be with my parents. And my brother. I think about every other time since leaving home for college where I have cried at having to leave them to go back to wherever I was … college, MD, DC. Partially, it is going back to being alone, an environment that I enjoy and cherish on many levels but mostly, it is about change. Specifically, it is about never knowing what will happen before the next time you see them or if you will get that chance. Lord knows, I have experienced enough loss in my life to recognize where that fear and dread and terrible sadness and longing comes from. It seems I would be embracing the opportunity to go to their home, when it is not only sanctioned but required that I work remotely, at least through the end of next week.

But as this time has gone on, that battle inside has only raged harder. One) even though the chance of infecting them, them showing signs of sickness or, I can barely even think it but, succumbing to the virus, is infinitesimally small, I cannot help but think about it. I would never, ever be able to forgive myself for not just staying put. And two) yes, if I am being truthful, I know that I am also giving up on a rare and unprecedented opportunity to spend this time alone as I have done for the past seven weeks. But three) I don’t want to listen to my mother read to me from Facebook, I don’t want to perpetually watch the local news (at deafening levels), I don’t want to feel guilty when I have to do work or, conversely, when I need to pretend to do work as I have done intermittently for the past couple of weeks since my budget was cut. And four) I have a man here that I care a lot about and like spending time with. We are both careful enough that we feel comfortable seeing each other during this interminable lockdown and I am deeply thankful for it. He says his roommates are hyper-vigilent to the extent that it’s annoying. One of them Chloroxes the dishes! I don’t have to deal with that but it’s kind of comforting to know he’s safe because they are so anal. The human contact is unexpectedly necessary for my mental health. His hugs feel like home. I had also selfishly hoped that I would actually see him more often than the average once a week since our schedules are finally both pretty open. That hasn’t happened as often As I would like though and, as I’ve lamented ad nauseum here, I’m not stupid enough to push with this guy. That hasn’t gone well in the past and he isn’t them.

Anyway, I know that the pros of going home to spend this time with my folks outweigh the cons and, if the stay at home orders are extended again, I will go. I know that I will. I won’t regret it and, once I get there and surely when I am leaving to come back here again, I will certainly regret not having gone sooner.

I just wish I could stop feeling so anxious about it. Unease and uncertainty has become my fairly constant state of being during this weird time. I do believe, like many other opinions expressed in various spaces of the interwebs, that the “new normal” is already here and that social distancing will continue for much longer. I hope my body and mind and heart learn to adjust to it better over time. I hope we all do.

Music for the Mood: Anxiety – Jason Isbell