Not like a cut. Not any more.

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He didn’t love me. Not enough.

The first time I had the thought, and really acknowledged it, I was laying on the bed in his brother’s guest room.

I’d had that thought before. And, I’d had it many times after. But, that day, I remember, it was raining. I left the living room in tears, though, now, I can’t remember why. And, alone in that quiet room, I lay in our bed and I cried. I knew he wouldn’t come in to comfort me. I knew that for sure.

I have a vague recollection of the blanket being a blue plaid. Though, if I’m honest, I can’t really remember now. It’s funny what we’ll retain and what we’ll let go and what we’ll just overlook. Little details — and big ones. But, it had that smell. The smell that other people’s guest rooms have. Like the sheets have been washed, but, maybe a few weeks ago, an evening or two after the last occupant climbed out of them. It smelled like home, but, someone else’s home.

And that, I think, could sum Adam up. He was home. But, never my home.

On that rainy afternoon we were only two days into our cross-country trip, at our first stop on the way to our new hometown: Portland, Oregon. We’d packed up our Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment furiously the night before and left my mother and father standing at the curb of Nassau Avenue with boxes and bags to save for us and ship to us. We’d stuffed the car so full of our possessions, it literally burst at the seams. Weeks later, in California, we would blow a head gasket due to pulling all that weight, but, we’d driven on anyway, thinking it was a busted radiator cap until we took it in to the Honda dealership in Gresham, Oregon, the day after we checked in to our extended stay hotel.

Just two days into our trip, and only 6 hours from Brooklyn, I felt like we’d driven across the world. And, I knew. — I knew I’d made a mistake. But, there are some mistakes you have to keep a secret. There are some errors where you must hold your tongue. You must let them play out because — Maybe. Maybe it will be different than what you know it to be. Maybe it can all work out. Maybe.

He’d tried to leave me once before, back in New York City. But, I told him he had to stay. We’d figure it out. And he did. He stayed. He let the comfortable love we’d fallen into carry us across the distance that the love we’d lacked for ourselves couldn’t. We allowed something wrong to pose as if it were right, because, maybe we didn’t want to be alone and maybe we didn’t think we’d find anyone better. And still, even after all this time, I haven’t. I haven’t found anyone better.

Different, but, never better.

On his brother’s guest bed, I hugged a pillow to my chest. I could hear laughter in the living room, beer cans cracking open, the clink-clink-clink of the refrigerator door swinging shut. I remember hearing all that and wondering if he’d heard me crying.

He can’t blame me for wanting him to stay. And, I can’t blame him for wanting to leave. Time and space and everything that happened after him made blame useless. Now, it’s just hurt. Not like a cut, not any more. Like a bruise. Old, but tender to the touch. It still stains my arm a dark purple, and, I press it, hard, with the tips of my fingers, more often than I should. I know. — I know.

I think about it now, and, long before I’m sad or angry, I’m sorry. Sorry I didn’t let him go the first time, when we’d stood arguing on 1st Avenue in the East Village. I just couldn’t let him go. And so, we got back on the L train and we made it work. Stupid love. But, the biggest I have ever known. The kind you know so well, you can remember every detail. — Each, like one of his socks strewn across our bedroom floor. After he left me, I found his socks for months. Under the bed, in the closet, beside the couch at the lip of the electric heater, and fallen between the washer and the dryer. I washed them all again and I wore them as if they were my own.

I’m sorry for things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing him into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing him in every one of my blackouts. And I am sorry, most of all, for the things I couldn’t remember. The words I said that he would speak with his eyes the next morning while he sat on the black couch, head in his hands. I knelt on the blue carpet and begged him to stay. And, all I could think while I was on my knees was how my mother once told me: “Never beg a man to do anything.” But, I did. And, I still don’t regret it.

Before he left, I drank to forget. To forget that he didn’t love me. Not enough. I drank to forget the words he never said, but, I wished he had. And, I drank to forget that I’d let it all happen. I drank to forget that rainy afternoon in his brother’s guest room. To forget that moment of knowing it was too late for us, but, knowing it was too late to turn back, too.

After he left, I drank to forget. To forget how much it hurt. To forget how empty everything felt. The living room, the kitchen, the bed, the car. I drank to forget the way I knew every piece of him. The curve of his wrist. The beds of his nails. The blue pools of his eyes. I drank to forget all that, and more still. But, it didn’t work. Even with a different man laying beside me, he always lay there with us. Like a ghost. And, eventually, I stopped wishing he would go. Sometimes I drank hoping that, maybe, he’d stay forever.

4 years sober, and, he still hasn’t left. The last time I saw his face it was February, 2012. But, in a strange way, I still see him everyday. I press the bruise and watch as it whitens at the edges. I still  feel it. So old. But, it still aches.

People tell me that — it’s over. That it isn’t worth the pain or the time or the regret. But, with all my wits about me now, for better or for worse, I’ll decide. I’ll decide what I want to keep and I’ll decide what I want to let go. And I’ll decide if when I told him that he would never find someone that could love him as much I as did, do, did, do, did, that I was right. Because, as cruel as it sounds, even now, it still feels true. It feels as true as the sickness that swells in the pit of my stomach when I wash my hands at my mother’s kitchen sink because the smell of her soap is the same smell that lingered in our kitchen the day he walked out of it.

I am so sorry.

I’m sorry for the things I said and didn’t say. I’m sorry for pushing you into the bathroom wall in anger. I’m sorry for embarrassing you in every one of my blackouts. And, I am sorry, most of all, for the things I can’t remember. The words I said, that you would speak with your eyes the next morning while you sat on the black couch, head in your hands.

But, I will never be sorry for how I knelt on the blue carpet and how I begged you to stay.

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Game Night, For Drunks

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The Blame Game has bullshit rules.

Like a game of Twister, it all starts out simply enough: Spin. — Right hand. — Red.

But, in the end, it’s a mess of arms and legs. Heads shoved into armpits and crotches. A ballet, with its dancers stumbling, grabbing, and stomping — on toes, fingers, and hair in a hopeless, and ultimately futile, effort to stay upright. Exhausted, the company finishes their routine — all sweaty, sore, and likely, with cricks in their necks.

In the Blame Game, the winner is always left standing. But, — no one has really won.

Because, the Blame Game isn’t really a game at all. Blame is just the mud we sling at each other when we don’t have any answers.

Blame is the magic paint we use to gloss over the harsh reality that — some things are simply intolerable, beyond reason or explanation. And, rather than face our honest truth, we prefer to duke it out in the muck, for as long as humanly possible. — Making our last ditch efforts to avoid facing and feeling the pain and discomfort we’ve created for ourselves.

Blame — is easy. It requires nothing more than a pointed finger. That’s why people who avoid the truth love it so. — And, before I got clean and sober, I was one of those people.

When my ex left me, a year before I ditched the drugs and booze, I blamed the ever-loving shit out of that motherfucker. The morning he left, I fell to my knees on the blue carpet in our living room and wailed like a small child, our cat staring at me like some kind of strange extraterrestrial. My ex left me there, without finishing his coffee. And, I remember watching the steam come up off his brown, IKEA coffee mug, evaporating into the air — along with the rest of my life.

Back then, his leaving me was a huge surprise. After six and a half years together, I never fathomed that our small, unattended issues would have exploded in that way, leaving me vaporized on living room floor, like the shadow of the woman on the steps of the Sumitomo Bank in Hiroshima. — What happened here? I remember wondering.

But, in that moment, I didn’t hesitate with my answer. I was quick to blame. Because, I didn’t have to wonder, I knew — IT WAS ALL HIS FAULT.

In the weeks following that harrowing morning, before my ex was totally moved out of our apartment, I had screamed, sobbed, begged, and pleaded with him. I had sent him countless emails, first sentimental, and then, seething with hatred, anger, and hurt. I had performed my role as the crazy ex-girlfriend with expert precision. And, still, I contended — IT WAS HIM. How had this happened to me? Why had he done this to me? What could I possibly have done to deserve this happening, to me?

Well, for starters — I was a mean, black out, drunk.

I rarely remembered what I had done or said on the nights I’d had too much to drink — which was every night. And, over time, that kind of alcoholism can build on itself until you’ve alienated pretty much everyone around you, even the people who love and care for you.

I was too drunk to be honest with anyone, especially myself. — And, I had been so far gone that I hadn’t seen where my drunkenness had ruined me and everything around me. My blame was born of my ignorance and hurt. I was broken, and seemingly, without reason. And, we humans, we need our reasons. — So, where there is none, we create reason.

Later, it would be my sobriety that gave me reason. I discovered the Honesty I had been avoiding with every shot of whiskey I downed, was available to me without any kind of booze at all. — I just had to face it. — It was truly a revelation. And, when you look that kind of truth in the face, the Blame Game evaporates into the air — almost as quickly as I did that September morning, so long ago.

But, Honesty won’t answer every question. And, sometimes, it brings with it new, equally difficult questions. I still ask myself why my ex didn’t help me seek assistance for my drinking problem. Wasn’t I worth more than abandonment? Then, I ask myself, why I drank the way I did back then in the first place?  What was so wrong? What had I said to my ex in those moments I cannot recall? What cruelty had rolled off my tongue that was so horrid, it deserved the punishment I received? — I will never know. — And, even today, the new woman I’ve become, still wonders.

But, part of facing the truth is coming to terms with the fact that some questions are not meant to be answered. Everything is a lesson. And, sometimes, lessons are painful.

Getting honest requires that we forgive. — Ourselves and the people around us. — Even when we don’t have the whole story.

Honesty requires that we let go. And still, I recognize that there are things that I didn’t deserve. There are things that I have a right to be angry about. — We cannot let everyone off the hook because, once upon a time, we were drunks. But, what’s past is past. And, posing unanswerable questions to people who are long gone, is no better than mumbling nonsense to yourself like a mad woman.

Start over. Reset the board. Play the game you’re in today.

Spin. — Right Hand. — Red.

Make your move with all the grace as you can muster. — Dance the dance. — Know, that someone will knock you down. And, when you fall, you should try to land as softly as your body will allow.

And then — get back up — and beat the ever-loving shit out of that motherfucker.

 

 

The Great Squirrel Chase

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This weekend, I evicted a squirrel from my apartment.

I first saw his ratty, grey tail peeking out from under my enormous television set. First, I panicked. Next, I reached for my yoga mat. Which, obviously, I proceeded to wield as an unruly weapon.

Even in my hysteria, it seemed simple enough. — I just had to lock the cat in the back bedroom, open the front door, and then usher my squirrel guest out, with gusto, flopping my yoga mat this way and that.

As it turned out, we were both quite terrified. So, I called my friend Tony who lives across from me in our apartment complex. No answer. Then, I tried my landlord. No answer. Then, I called my father — in New York City. Though separated by five thousand miles, he was the one who did not fail me. And while he did laugh at me like a hyena for five minutes, he also remained on the line for my intense, steady, and, dare-I-say-it — hunter-like — progression of profanity. Which, progressed as follows:

“Holy shit! Oh my God he’s in the closet now! Fuck! He’s making noises! Holy fucking shit, I can’t see him! What if he fucking bites me, Dad? Dad — Stop laughing! That stupid fucker just ran into the kitchen. God, that asshole’s a stupid motherfucker. THE FRONT DOOR IS OPEN YOU ASSHOLE!!! Jesus fucking Christ, he just ran out the front door. He was, like, fuckin’ airborne Dad. He’s out. Holy shit. He’s out! Fuck.”

My heart was beating like rapid fire. — And, there I was, yoga mat in hand. — Alive.

In truth, I’m rarely present. I run over the past in my mind, I plan the future, I design escapes and intrigue. But, I’m not here. It’s tough to get me in the moment.

One evening, my ex, after hearing me spout off about this or that, asked me how it came to be that Ram Dass was my hero — my guru — if I was constantly struggling to “Be Here Now.” — “Why didn’t I try harder to live in the present?” He wondered. I didn’t have an answer. It’s hard to explain to someone else how you can love a person that has the one, intangible thing that you want most, but, can never seem to grasp. It’s not coveting. It’s reverence. And, it’s nearly impossible to describe to someone who cannot comprehend any spirit that’s bigger than their own.

It’s funny, because that very same ex got me a framed “Be Here Now” poster as a gift. — A reminder I guess. It’s purple with a white lotus flower in the center. And, even though my ex is gone, the poster remains, situated happily on my mantle. So, after I had called, texted, emailed, and tweeted to everyone I knew — I plopped down on my couch to draw in my breath and stare at my purple-poster. I smiled with my teeth for the first time in months.

Excitement. Joy. Suspense. Hilarity. A SQUIRREL. Here. Now. IN MY APARTMENT.

That squirrel was my gift. Maybe from Baba himself. The moment where I was reminded: I am a real, breathing creature, wielding a yoga mat and taming wild — albeit tiny — beasts. Even when the moment had passed — the tiny creature bounding out over my two-step stoop, the feeling he awakened in me remained. — A feeling that will not escape me so quickly.

Sometimes, we can only love those that are present — without us. We can bask in their light. Their awareness. Their true presence. We can read the words that they have spilled across thousands of pages in countless books, we can watch their YouTube channels, we can sing chants along with Krishna Das. We seek out the presence.

But, sometimes, it will come to you: A squirrel who shits all over your house —while you chase it wildly with a yoga mat — while your father laughs in your ear — while your heart pumps in your chest. At the end of it all, you watch something leap to freedom. — And, it’s you.

I thank the purple poster and, for old time’s sake, I text my ex.

Because, I need to tell someone — I’m here. Now.

“Now is now. Are you going to be here, or not?” — Baba Ram Das

The Red Room

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I spent my lunch break in the self-help section at Powell’s City of Books.

And, I know. It’s bad. But, it’s how I roll when I’m in a rut.

In sobriety, I’ve learned pain is predictable. I know when it’s coming. And, I know what to expect. There are levels of rut. In 12-Step, when you’re still sweating alcohol and amphetamines, they tell you, “It will always be peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys.” — It’s mostly valleys.

So, back to the self-help section. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up there. I know I started in the Red Room — the travel writing section. I was reading David W. McFadden’s An Innocent In Ireland. It was really good, too. I was totally planning on buying it.

But, I was standing there next to this intellectual-type-guy with horn-rimmed glasses. He was paging through some book on Greece, and I found myself getting pissed off. Like, really pissed off. And, I had no reason to hate this guy. Absolutely. None. But, I absolutely did. He was breathing too loudly and he was turning the pages too recklessly. One moment, I’m in this pub in Ireland, and the next, I’m about to lose my shit — thinking, “Screw this fuckin’ guy, and, screw Mykonos!” At that point, I just couldn’t take it any longer. McFadden went back on the shelf. I’d come back for him later.

Next thing I knew, I was two rooms over — in the thick of it — Self-Help: General. I’m standing there reading Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. And, fuuuuuuuucccckkk. It’s good. It’s Mykonos beaches good.

I’m on page twenty. And, I seriously I have to get back to work. But, with those twenty pages under my belt, I’m walking out of the store, then onto Eleventh Avenue, then up Flanders Street and — I’ve totally bought into it — Goddammit! — I CAN heal my life!

I can see it. This hysteria. It’s just the rut. A big, long valley. It’s the same place where I always get stuck. Post-break-up and pre-break-through. And, when I’m here — I read a self-help book. And, it’s bad. It’s awful. It’s a waste of ink and trees. And, as I’m reading it, I’m thinking, “God, I hate myself.” Because, I kinda do. — That’s how you end up in the self-help section.

But, then, it happens. — I help myself.

The thing is, there comes a point where we completely detach. Someone has to talk us into changing. And yes, sometimes it ends up being a hack who’s spiritual abundance is superseded by monetary gain. But, sometimes, hacks can make good points. I should know.

So, I do the rut-thing. I’m in bed, with the blinds closed, for days. I watch terrible rom-coms until I start to smell and the cat begins to pity me. Eventually, I convince myself to shower and take a walk. And, that’s when it happens.

I get back to dreaming. The sun kisses my vampire skin. I see the hot-pink flowers that don’t exist on the East Coast. There’s a calico cat rolling in a patch of long grass by the hippie-guy’s house. And — I’m here and I’m alive and I can change.

And, that’s how it happens.

Go to the Red Room. Meet McFadden for a pint. Escape the horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing- Grecian-jerk. Lose your place in time and space. And, return to consciousness with Louise Hay.

Twenty pages later. — No, I haven’t healed my life. But, I’ve helped myself.

And, that’s the hardest part. Helping your heart. Convincing yourself that you’re close.

That it’s coming. — A peak. — Change.

 

Bitter(s).

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I sit at a bar shaped like a horseshoe and I order soda with Angostura bitters.

My 12-Step friends will hold the bitters against me — the same way they do when I lick the side of the vanilla extract bottle while I’m baking. I decide I don’t care.

I’ve been waiting for this.

I sit across from a hipster-geek in a wool, skull cap. The weather’s too warm for that, but, in Portland, no one cares. The bartender showcases a tequila bottle I don’t recognize for two drunk women at the end of the bar. They snack on fried food and chew with their mouths open and they don’t realize how old they look, bat-bat-batting their eyelashes and laugh-laugh-laughing at something the bartender says, but, everyone knows without hearing — it isn’t funny. Their husbands are outside smirking and smoking cigarettes. They turn to gawk at a group of three, tall twenty-somethings who walk by in patterned leggings that hug their perky, little asses.

I hammer my straw down into the ice, like I’m breaking something up. I stir — like there’s whiskey at the bottom of my glass. There isn’t. But, I continue eyeballing the good shit on the shelf.

I pass this bar every day. I look in its big, rectangular windows. Behind my own reflection, I see smiling lips that leave blots of red lipstick on the edges of tumblers and the tips of little, black straws. I wanted this — to sit here. To feel it. Soft leather. My purse dangling from a hook at my knees. I wanted to breathe out. — A release. A homecoming. My heels drawn up against the sides of a bar stool. — I’ve waited.

The perfect conditions. The right amount of cloud cover. The slice of evening right before the Saturday crowds filter in through the angled, double doors. A hum, a quiet energy — like something might happen. But it doesn’t.

I can’t explain it. — It’s not what I wanted.

The hipster-geek doesn’t look up from his smart phone, even when his hand searches along the bar for his drink, which, I am certain, is an old fashioned. The older women, who think they’re young, wave their hands back and forth. Pinot gris sloshing at the sides of their glasses, just barely contained. The bartender reaches for his bar rag, but, in the end — doesn’t need it.

I ask for my bill.

“All you had was soda. Right? We don’t charge for soda.” The bartender walks away from me. So, I thank his back. This is what being castrated feels like — I imagine. Suddenly, I’m worth even less than the dollar it cost for me to keep the seat warm.

Whatever it was I was hoping I’d feel — I know now — I can’t anymore.

The chewing, cackling hags. The lechers with cigarettes that dangle from their lips. The bartender’s display of insincerity and faded tattoos. The smell of spilled beer and dirty mop water. It’s hardly a return to the days I used to live for. — His hand grabbing for mine, while we poured over menus, the sun sinking into another river. Here, I’m lonely. And, the wood of this bar is scratched.

At home, I crawl into bed and I lay very still. I bury a feeling I didn’t know I still had.

I just wanted a moment in the bar. But, the moment’s gone.

Rain taps the window and the cat swats the venetian blind and I miss things I haven’t missed in a long time. Adam. And New York. And our railroad apartment. And they way the sun spilled over Nassau Avenue in the summer when I was twenty-five.

My Head Is A Jungle

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I’m still addicted. To my needs, my emotions, my pain.

Sometimes, I forget — it isn’t all about me. I get lost in my own head. I live in my hurt and desire. I start to believe that the world’s being done to me. My head is a jungle. And, I can turn into someone unpredictable.

You have to believe in something bigger than yourself if you’re going to survive. — There has to be something outside of you that can save you from yourself. Because, when you get lost in your own maze, it’s hard to find your way back alone. We are all captives of ourselves.

Last week I sat across from one of my best friends, sipping tea. In sobriety, he’s the one person that can reel me back in. He’s not afraid to tell me I’m an asshole. And, sometimes, I want to knock out his teeth for it, but, mostly, I want thank him for keeping me sane. He’s been down the same road I have — he knows the detours — he helps me navigate through my ever-changing personal hell. And, over chai, he reminded me that, perhaps, it’s time to reacquaint myself with my bigger picture. Because, honestly, I’ve lost a step. I haven’t been the woman I want to be.

I still get lost searching for myself and I miss the point. I find myself down a rabbit hole and it leaves me wanting. I strain, trying  to remember why I’m really here.

When I got sober, it wasn’t for me alone — it was for the people that are a part of my life. I have to remember what it took to be the woman that they deserve. I have to suit up. Smile. Give. Sometimes, I end up having to give more than I think I have, because everyone needs something. And, I want the people I love to have the things they need. I can’t always be about my own pay-off.

Maybe, I have been an asshole. So, I take my buddy’s reminder to heart. And, tonight, I find myself beside someone who needs me. Someone whose love reminds me of what my own love is supposed to be — when I’m not busy making demands.

When I let go of the ego that got me drunk, my sobriety allows me to be available for the people that give my life meaning.

And, when I walk out of my jungle, I see them again — my people — because, really, they’re what it’s all about.

 

 

 

 

Artwork: “My Head is a Jungle” By Soxxii at Deviant Art.