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

Friday Night Lights

I’m not sure how many texts like this I will send into the echoless abyss. I do not like it and I am not proud of it.

It’s how I feel.

Some days, I’m happy. So focused on the work I do and the people in my life that I love. Other days, like today, I feel inexplicably sad. So I seek out the places and the spaces that still feel like home.

West Wing. Friday Night Lights. Those are my make-believe homes. I’d live and love there forever if I could.

Granted, Eric Taylor is an unrealistic standard. I’m painfully aware. Texts that you draft in the wee hours of the night and don’t actually intend to send to the person who hurt you are allowed to be ragey and apoplectic and also completely whimsical and nonsensical. And does it really matter if it sent? I’m quite sure that number no longer receives them. Whatever. This has been a weirdly contemplative night. As so many now are.

I had a meeting tonight with the finalists for my scholarship program. I feel energized and encouraged and inspired by them. And all I want to do is gush about them to you. For all four of the previous cohorts, you were there. You were the person I talked to about them. All the funny and happy and inspiring but also the sad and the not always so great things about working with teenagers too.

Then I remember that last year, you were here, literally in my bed, while I virtually interviewed students for the program. When I finished with a standout one afternoon, you laughed at me as I came into my bedroom. You said “You’re so happy. I could tell you loved that kid. Do all interviews last that long??” They don’t. And I did/do love that kid. He was and is incredible and I’m angry only that I met him while you were in my physical presence. I can’t ever not see those two things together. And I hate it. He’s going to Japan this summer, with Stanford, on a scholarship that I helped him get. I think you’d like to know that. Then again, I’m not sure now what you ever really liked. My heart seemed like something you were genuinely attracted to though. There is no end to my love for these kids.

Or you. At least, there wasn’t. I might have loved you forever.

But you fucked everything up. You made everything feel ugly. I don’t even know who you are! How can you be both of those men? I still don’t understand, John. Almost two months into this nightmare.

Mostly, I just want the man I knew to be here – so I have someone to talk to about all these incredible kids this year. I am already in love with them and I’d fight for them, so hard.

You? I would have fought for you too. The you I knew.

Music for the Mood: Friday Night Lights theme song – W.G. Snuffy Walden

Friday, never hesitate

But I did hesitate. I heard this cover last night and I’ve listened to it a bunch of times since. Most people associate The Cure with feeling happiness, lightness, get out and want to dance in the sunshine giddiness. Especially this song, right? But I find Phoebe Bridgers version better matches the feelings The Cure songs evoke in me. Have you ever listened to “Cut Here” — no? Look it up.

Music for the Mood: Friday I’m in Love (cover) – Phoebe Bridgers

The Cure always reminds me of this guy I dated in college. My first boyfriend, I guess. My first kiss (at 21!). He was the captain of the guys’ water polo team, I was captain of the womens’. He was into the Misfits, Ramones, Dead Kennedys, and all the punk bands. And The Cure. He wore black jeans and threadbare band tshirts and a studded belt. And those fat, cushy, skater boy shoes. We went to a formal once and he showed up with his hair dyed jet black and spiked all over his head. I loved it. My own hair was just growing back from having shaved it all off so mine was short and spiky too. We looked like Sid & Nancy dressed up as a polished, normal, country club couple. The picture from that night is still a favorite. I couldn’t find that one but I found this one — walking around in the rain, on a trip to Boston a few months later, when he showed up with bleached hair. I hated that look.

His name was also John. His friends called him “Johnny Utah” because he was actually from SLC and dripped all the adventure and confidence of his namesake from Point Break. My friends called him “the damned mess.” I don’t even remember why — but it became a term of endearment. He was delightful. Funny, handsome, athletic, deliciously tall, and wickedly smart. He’s a doctor now. Married, with three boys, to a girl we went to college with. I know it wouldn’t have really worked with us, at least not the me I grew into. I eventually went the opposite way in religion as an adult while he embraced our tiny, uber conservative, Christian bubble of a college and went on to marry a woman who became a pastor. No shit.

But I do wonder. I’m me, after all. Maybe I’d have become a different girl, a different woman, one that fit me and this world better? To this day, he’s still the only guy I’ve ever pursued, but also the only one I’ve ever broken up with. And that kind of haunts me. The what if and sliding doors of it all. Every other one of the handful I’ve dated has always left me, if not immediately because they were cheating (twice now) then soon after, for other women that they marry. I always said I broke up with him (the night before I flew to Cali for nationals in 2001) because he was too good to me, too nice, too into me, and it just freaked me out. Flying away for a week the next morning was a convenient ejection plan. I remember getting back and his friends were all so angry at me; I’d lost my mind doing that to such a nice guy. Frankly, so were my friends. There was just too much pressure to find your soul mate and be engaged by graduation at that place.

But, if I’m being honest, I think I actually thought that my friend was my “soul mate” and was holding on to a weird little nugget of hope but didn’t want to admit it. I think Johnny Utah knew that too. He’d spent enough time with me and my friends. He always knew there was a connection to one guy that he couldn’t replace. That friend ended up breaking my heart after college though. Something from which I’ve never quite fully healed.

I don’t like admitting that but it’s the truth. I’ve written about that relationship here before. The point is that I hesitated with that John. And here I am 20 years later. Still single. Still wondering about what ifs. And a lot about karma as it relates to another John.

On Friday, I wasn’t in love. I hesitated. Again. I told the dude from last week that I wasn’t feeling it and didn’t want to lead him on. Via text. Like an asshole. And then I blocked him so I didn’t have to know what that (probably) nice guy had to say in response. So I wouldn’t have to over-process another thing in my relentless mind. Like a technological ejection handle, minus the California sun.

I want to move on. I’m tired of reminding myself that what happened is real. That the past three years were not real. I want to meet someone that makes me not just forget but understand why it never worked with anyone else. Why “the damned mess” is not destined to be my best, forever. Someone for whom I won’t hesitate.