Unexpected

January 22, 2018

Without any warning, Brad shoved his camera under my nose, displaying a photo of two of my friends and an older man I didn’t know. “Who’s this old guy?” I asked. “That’s Barry,” he answered. Barry, the man I was going to marry. Barry, the man I hadn’t seen since he walked out my door nearly 21 years ago. Now a total stranger.

I searched his face but saw no clues. He has a goatee but it’s sheer white now. His hair looked short. “He doesn’t have any hair,” Brad and Kate said. My heart sank. That incredibly gorgeous mane of thick, glinting, copper hair — all gone.

I didn’t know what to feel. I felt detached. I suppose I was stunned. The image keeps popping up in my head at weird times, as if to say, “And what do you feel now? And now?”

Part of me is glad I saw it in such a shocking way (another part wants to kill Brad for taking the choice away from me) so I can make it clear to my PTSD-ravaged self that “my” Barry is in the past. Way in the past. So long ago I don’t know that self of mine anymore. This Barry is a stranger, with his own ways. He stopped being mine a long time ago.

Next to my bed and on my fridge is an affirmation I wrote to help with my PTSD, declaring that I live NOW. “NOW is free of the agony of the past.” And many times that’s true. But in therapy we decided to start my grief work over not having children and Barry came up first. Oh, how I wept. An agony of the past. And a still-held grief for what might have been. The family I never had. The life I never had.

I don’t cry anymore for longer than 5 minutes unless I’m watching a movie or in ritual. I’ve been that way since the Terrible Thing happened almost exactly 18 years ago. But on Tuesday, I cried. I really cried.

Barry was 85% of what I wanted. But he also brought so much to the table that I didn’t know I needed. We kept ourselves to ourselves for the most part. None of our friends understood our devotion to each other. I still remember when Chris wailed, “But Cairril, he owns GUNS!” He was so much more than that.

Some nights as we lay cuddled in bed I’d ask him for a story. After bitching for a while he’d settle into a serial about a soldier and an enchantress on a deserted island. That was we. But we were so much more.

There came a time when I realized that my everyday love for him was flutes and piccolos but the TRUE love, the love underpinning it all, was deep, deep, bass, like the Scottish mountains looming up from immeasurable depths. And I realized that there was no part of me that did not love him.

He had a dream a few nights before he left me where he was floating outside his grade school and looking in the windows. In one room was his party friends. I waited in the other. And in the dream, he chose me. His true self chose me. But in the waking world he was very frightened of change, and living with me would bring change on a tectonic scale. And his fear was greater than his love.

I have had three soulmates in my life. He was number two. And he was perhaps the most consequential on the positive side of the scale. He asked me to stretch and I stretched, not because he wanted me to but because he was articulating a person I wanted to be. I became amazing with him. My life grew rich and textured like I’d so long imagined. And the night came, after the wretched James Bond movie, where we wrapped our arms around each other’s waists and I yelled, “Goddammit, marry me!” which is about what you’d expect from me. We laughed and laughed, exquisitely aware that if he said yes in that moment it meant yes for good. But we just laughed and postponed the final commitment.

Barry was incredibly passionate and romantic. Also extremely patient, beyond anything I’d experienced before. What a fabulous combination for me. He was loyal to the nth degree. He is the only intimate I’ve had who truly believed that we were a team. When there was a problem, it was OUR problem. That meant we put the problem on the table before us and the two of us set side-by-side working through it — teammates. Everyone else I’ve known has approached it like a worker/manager negotiation, where each party picks the opposite side of the table to be on and negotiates for the best possible deal for them.

Only a handful of you have ever known me in a romantic relationship. Almost all my Facebook friends have only known me since I’ve been single. And sometimes I want to grab you all by the shoulders and shake you and cry, “I was loved once!” Someone wanted to MARRY ME once!” There’s more to me than what you see. He saw it in me and encouraged it to come out. I grew wings. But that was long ago and far away. Since 2000 my wings have crumpled and rotted away. I search my self for that long-ago me but she’s hidden.

On my altar I have a card that says, “I am trying to find the way back to myself. I am listening.”

Barry-of-my-youth, bless you for giving me the stage and the encouragement to become whole. Barry-of-today, I don’t know you. All I can do is wish you well. I will tend to the old you in my heart but not beg you to return to that incarnation. It was all so long ago.

Once I was loved. Once I wept. Once I flew. I am listening.

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Constant craving

June 29, 2014

I want to get married so badly it hurts. No, more than that, I want to be married. I had my chance, long ago, but I lost it when he changed his mind. I’ve written before about how I wish I’d had my chance, even if it had ended badly.

Of course I fantasize about my wedding day. I know how I want my bachelorette party to go, exactly what my wedding dress will look and feel like, the jewelry I’ll wear, my entrance music, what key songs need to be played at the reception, and on and on. I suspect I won’t feel much on my wedding day because my anxiety level will be so high, so it wouldn’t surprise me if my spouse and I handfasted sometime before the wedding and held the Great Rite on our own in the sight of the Gods so we can do some real energy work.

But what I crave is far more than the hyper quality of young love. I want the seasoned quality of a long-standing love—the kind of love you feel when you’re angry or even bored. The kind of love that offers renewal.

In Irish tradition, there is a well surrounded by nine hazel trees. The hazels, signifying wisdom, fall into the water where they are eaten by salmon (also a symbol of wisdom). Visitors to the Well of Segais eat the salmon, which gives wisdom and inspiration. “I am the hare which leaps for thee beneath the Moon.”

One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was standing behind the altar in Beck Chapel, watching a bride come down the aisle. I was there to priestess a wedding between two people who were Pagan but who didn’t feel safe coming out to their families. They’d written the whole coded ritual themselves. I stood in that place behind the altar, a place I’d been denied growing up as a Catholic, and thought about my spiritual ancestors who would have been burned at the stake for such blasphemy. I felt a great healing in my soul and in theirs that we had finally come full circle.

The ceremony was memorable for other reasons as well. In the beautiful vows they’d written, the couple defined marriage as representing “the endless promise of renewal.” I’ve never forgotten that. When the anger comes, when the tedium sets in, when the irritation is just humming there beneath the surface, marriage gives us a reason to stop, breathe into the emotion, feel it fully, and then reach beneath it. Find the Well beneath and dive deep.

One December 9th my love and I had a terrible disagreement. I won’t say “fight” because I was the only one who raised my voice. We were at an impasse in our relationship and he said the only option he saw was to “break apart.” Break apart, not break up. So apt. But he agreed to sleep on it.

I did not sleep. I stared at the ceiling for the next seven hours, turning over what he’d told me. He wanted me to change. He needed different things from me. I was too demanding, too high-maintenance. And as I considered the picture of my self which he had sketched, I realized I wanted it, too. And I didn’t just want it because he asked it of me. I wanted it for me. I wanted to be that woman with many interests and many relationships who could meet him as an equal instead of as a drain. My biggest question mark was whether or not I could do it. Could I change that much?

As I pondered intensely, I calmed down enough to examine my feelings. And I found that the surface love I felt for him was like the clarion call of trumpets—loud and sure but somewhat shrill. But for the first time, I became aware of a deeper love, one I’d never suspected. It was low and filled with bass, all cello and bowed bass and Scottish worn-down mountains instead of the jarring peaks of Colorado. As I sank into the sensation, I became aware that love for him permeated every atom of my being. There was no part of me that did not love him. And, terrifyingly, I was only experiencing the tip of the iceberg. This love was an entire symphony and I was only just now hearing the beginnings of the bass line.

When he woke up I told him I was sorry for raising my voice (he never raised his voiced at me; he considered us a team and any disagreement should be faced as a couple, not as adversaries). I told him I was ready. I would change. Not because he wanted it, but because I did. I would do the work. And I did.

Over the next several months I became more of the person I wanted to be. It changed my relationship with him. While he never said he loved me again, I could tell him I loved him and not be attached to the outcome. I became a more well-rounded person and got more of my needs met outside of the relationship instead of demanding that he fill them all. I found the Well of Segais. I drank from it regularly. And everything I did was informed by this bass line of love for him, and the more encompassing love I had for my self.

I knew I didn’t want the uneven nature of the relationship to go on indefinitely but I was fine with it for the time being. And eventually he decided that he didn’t want to change the way that I had. But for those months I had a glimpse of marriage, the endless promise of renewal.

I want to say “I’m sorry” and have it mean something. If I say it now, it’s because I’ve almost run into someone with my grocery cart at Marsh. I want to say it because I’ve inadvertently hurt the person I love the most and I want to make things right again. I want to doubt. I want to say “I trust you” and mean it with every cell. I want to feel my body relax into my spouse’s as we spoon. With my love, even that dreadful night of December 9th, we always kept contact while we slept, even if it was just our feet wrapped together. I want that animal comfort. I want to hog the sheets. I want to make love with every iota of soul I can dredge up. I want to fear losing my teammate. I want to be pissy. I want to argue over whether Scarlett O’Hara is a ninny or a chthonic force of nature. I want to be frustrated that we can never agree on what to eat besides pizza. I want to cry that we will never have children. I want to be a shield for his or her back, a pillow for his or her tears. I want to dig deeper, try harder, and have it mean something. I want to start again. And then again. And again.

Over the years I’ve heard many people speak enviously of the life I’ve built for myself, with its unbelievable freedom. What they don’t see is the loneliness. I’m so lonely I don’t even feel it most of the time. I’ve moved on to a place where loneliness is so ingrained that I just find ways to fill the time. Tap dancing towards the grave. These people with their spouses and their children and their friends and their colleagues and their maxxed-out lives and their built-in intimacy—I feel so alienated from them. They have no clue what it’s like to be me. They can’t conceive of it. I think of my sister and how she watches Netflix on her laptop while her 17-year-old daughter sets next to her and watches Netflix on her Kindle. That’s the kind of intimacy coupled people take for granted. And I am so jealous I want to screech down the phone at her and demand that I get this life, that I get this meaning, that I get this shot at creating something of value that will last.

It is so hard to be a better person when you don’t have a mirror. When you’re coupled, there’s always some edge you’re bumping up against. You’re insensitive, you’re rude, you’re unthinking—and The Other says, “Ow.” That gives you the opportunity to say you’re sorry and make amends and, most importantly, change yourself for the better. When you’re alone as I am alone, you don’t have anyone asking you for anything, so you just get stuck. You don’t even realize how your life is shrinking until it’s too late. In ritual I dig deep and find my truest self, but it’s very difficult to manifest that in an environment where the most taxing situation is presenting a new website design. I live with integrity but am I improving as a person? Am I growing? Or am I ossifying?

Love makes you supple. It intensifies everything and later mellows everything. It makes the stakes that much higher. And I love a challenge. I want the opportunity to be more than who I am. I want to be pushed to the limits of my self and then go beyond, like The Fool who walks off the cliff only to find that he can fly. I want to taste that symphony again, and even if I can’t maintain my connection to it every moment in my heart, I want my intellectual understanding of it to inform my everyday choices. I want to be married. I want more.