Image by bloody marty mix
Sunday, 21 September 2008.
40 Years in 40 Days [ view the entire set ]
An examination and remembrance of a life at 40.
For the 40 days leading up to my 40th birthday, I intend to use my 365 Days project to document and remember my life and lay bare what defines me. 40 years, 40 qualities, 40 days.
Year 32: 1999-2000
In the fall of 1999, as I began my graduate school program, my relationship with Dave was deteriorating rapidly. There was no anger between us, and in fact, there was a great deal of tenderness, but there was no denying anymore that we were not working out. We had to face the fact that sometimes love alone isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. I suggested that maybe he would benefit from finding a short-term 3-month lease on an apartment, allowing him some temporary space to sort out his feelings. Even as I said the words, I wanted to grab them up and pull them back in. I didn’t want him to go at all, but I knew that what I wanted and what was right were not the same thing. He said he would think about it.
By late October, there was nothing more to say. In our weekly counseling session, the therapist asked him if he believed there was anything left of the relationship to save, and when I heard his barely audible no, my heart felt like lead in my chest. "So, it sounds like it’s time for you to say this is it, then," she told him. The tears came rolling down my face, and I pounded the pillow I was holding with my fist. My relationship had just ended with no preamble, and I hadn’t even been a part of the conversation. "What just happened?" I growled quietly. "What just happened?" It was all I could say. I just kept repeating it, as the tears came gushing forth. What just happened?
The therapist asked Dave if he would go wait in the waiting room for a few minutes, and as he left, I saw that his eyes were red and swollen with suppressed tears. After he left, I lost all semblance of control. I screamed, "No! This isn’t happening!" I pleaded, "Please tell me this isn’t happening." The room felt hot and small suddenly. I threw open the door and charged into the hallway, shouting and sobbing. The therapist came after me and put her arms around me, and I cried into her shoulder. "Why?" I asked. "I love him. I just love him. Why isn’t that enough?" "I don’t know," she said softly, stroking my hair. "Sometimes it just isn’t."
When I had regained some of my composure, she led me back into the room and asked Dave to come back in. It was obvious he had been crying and was in a great deal of distress. She asked him about it, and he said it was very hard for him to see me in so much pain. Desperate to cling to any life raft, I took some small comfort from that. He had not become numb to me, at least.
The therapist left the room to give us a few minutes to talk alone. I did not have the strength to look at him, so I sat on the couch next to him, staring at my hands lying limp in my lap. Quietly, I asked him if he would please stay through the holidays. I didn’t think I could make it through them if he left right before. He said he wasn’t sure he could, either, and so we agreed to spend our last holiday season together, alone and away from family. It would be our way of honoring each other and the time we had spent in each other’s lives.
Later, as we drove home in silence, I said, "Let’s go out for New Year’s Eve." I lifted my head from where it had been resting against the passenger window. "Let’s not stay in. I don’t want to be morose that night. I want to celebrate the time we’ve had together. It’s been amazing and beautiful, and I am so grateful for every moment you’ve been in my life, and I want to celebrate that." He said, "OK," and then paused for a moment. "You’re going to make me cry again," he whispered, voice cracking.
The next couple of months were both beautiful and wrenching. We were so tender with each other that you would have thought us newlyweds. Evenings that were once spent separately, he with his coworkers, and me with my books, were now spent together. We spent our nights curled around each other, and our mornings lingering in bed. It was as if we needed to absorb every second and imprint it in our memories.
On Thanksgiving, we cooked a small meal for two, and watched TV together. His father called to say hello, and then asked to talk to me. He told me that the family missed me and loved me, and I said I loved and missed them too, and that it meant a great deal to me that he wanted to tell me that, knowing as he did that my relationship with his son was dissolving. On Christmas Eve, we slept on the futon sofa next to the Christmas tree, because I wanted to be near the lights, and on Christmas morning, we exchanged small gifts.
When it came time to make New Year’s Eve plans, we changed our minds about going out. The lease on his new apartment (three months, as we’d talked about, but we both knew it would be extended) was set to begin on January 1, so it would be our last night together, and neither of us wanted to share it with anyone or anything else. We had a small dinner, and watched a movie. When it was close to midnight, we opened a bottle of champagne, and fumbled awkwardly for a suitable toast. I suggested we drink to 5-1/2 wonderful years, and with a tiny clink of glass, 1999 came to a close. I walked to the other end of our apartment and stood looking out the window at the snow-covered street below. When he came up to stand behind me, I kept my body still, as if not to break the gentle spell of the moment. "I don’t want you to go," I whispered. He rested his hands on my shoulders and sighed, "I have to."
The next morning, he gathered some of his belongings and loaded them in his truck (he would return for the rest of his things the following week, while I was at work). I sat on the couch and watched him as he carried things out. When he had loaded the truck with as much as he could carry in one trip, he came back inside to say goodbye. I tried, with only moderate success, to put on a brave and supportive face. I didn’t want my red, splotchy cry-face to be the last he ever saw of me. He put his arms around me and held me. He told me that he was very proud of me for all the work I’d done on healing past wounds. I begged for reassurance that he really had loved me, and he squeezed me tighter and whispered softly in my ear. Of course he loved me.
When he left, I stood back away from the door, holding one of the cats, partially to keep it from running out after him, and partially because I needed to hold onto something. After he’d closed the door behind him, I went to the window and watched his truck pull away, listening to the sound of the engine as it disappeared down the alley. It was a sound I knew by heart, and I closed my eyes to focus on it, trying to catch every last splutter and hum as it wove itself into the sound of the city around me.
When I could no longer hear his engine, I put the cat down, returned to the bed that still smelled of him, and felt the blackness begin to form in the pit of my stomach. Inside me was something cold and dead, a coal that had given up its ember. I buried my face in his pillow and cried great anguished sobs.
In the weeks that followed Dave’s departure, I traveled in a fog. I could not hear when people were speaking to me, and I could not distinguish faces. It was as if I had pillows on my ears and had lost my ability to focus my eyes. I walked to and from the train by rote physical memory. I could not work effectively at all, and I was very fortunate in that my boss allowed me a very generous amount of recovery time.
As the months wore on, I found that the pain could be compartmentalized. It did not seem to have lessened any, but I was able to put it away in its own little box, in order to rebuild my life and my newly single identity. As much as I wanted the breakup with Dave not to have happened, I also recognized it as an opportunity to remake myself into whomever I wanted to be. I’d spent many years telling myself that I couldn’t do certain things or wear certain things until I lost weight and got skinny again, and more recently, I’d spent the last couple of years sulking and avoiding people. I felt I’d let myself be trapped in that mindset, and I now had an urgent need to break out. I was in my 30’s, and it was finally time to let myself be young and uninhibited. I began to let my inner punk (whom I had always known was there, but never fully acknowledged) out to play. I wore crazy clothes, and crazier shoes. I wore things that sparkled, and things that hugged my curves. I was part rockabilly and part Foxy Brown, and for the first time in my life, all me.
Who am I?
I am a little piece of everyone I’ve ever loved.
We are all altered by those who touch our lives. When Dave left, he took part of me with him, as he left a part of himself with me. In that way, we continue to travel together, all of us, bound by the silver thread of love and memory.