Late for the Sky

A friend from high school once told me that she wouldn’t listen to music after a break-up. She refused to wallow, even for a moment. She believed a break-up had to be handled as you would a cancer – measured doses of the attention of another man immediately following a surgical excision of the unwanted relationship. This is a method of dealing with a painful situation that I can respect, but I do things a bit differently.

This is not to say that I’m a big wallower. I can, of course, wallow with the best of them right up until the moment I pick myself up, brush myself off, and get on with it already. There’s nothing wrong with a good wallow, though. We all get heart hurt from time-to-time, and I’d go so far as to postulate that it’s necessary to allow yourself the time to hurt and to heal. I think the only way to get to the other side of a painful situation is to go through it, otherwise it sits there like a big boulder in the middle of your life’s path.

When we first broke up, “Space Cowboy” by Kacey Musgraves, “Better Man” by Little Big Town and “Send my Love (To Your New Lover)” by Adele were on a loop on my iPhone for a solid week. I usually lean to music with male leads, but these were the voices singing my truth in the weeks that followed the end of what was one of the most significant relationships I’ve had.

I listened to these and other songs and I walked. I walked the neighborhood. I walked in parks. I walked a dog down tree-lined paths and through wooden gates grown over with pale pink roses the size of my fist. I walked through a graveyard every day for a week just to visit Antone Pedranti, an immigrant from Switzerland who died at age 28 in 1889 and who is buried all alone, as though they’d left room for the family he never had. I walked on the treadmill at the community center with the (not-that-far) under-80 group that arrives seemingly all at once at its opening every weekday morning like clockwork. I walked the streets of different cities and in hotel gyms when I traveled for work. I walked on the beach on Sunday mornings with my iPhone poking out of the back pocket of shorts and a grande half-caf almond milk latte with no foam grasped loosely in my hand.

I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t think about it. I just walked, and I walked for a very long time.

 

In the summer of my life, the singer I’ve continually turned to in times of sorrow and self-reflection, the man who truly does sing my truth, is Jackson Browne. Whenever I felt lonely in our relationship – mine with The Man not mine with Jackson Browne, who technically I don’t know though I spent “A Night with Jackson Browne” in the early aughts while I was living in the Midwest – I’d listen to songs like “These Days” and “The Pretender.” I always, always listened to “Late for the Sky” partly because The Man is in aviation and traveled often, and partly because,.. well, isn’t it just the loneliest relationship song ever?

I was on the treadmill yesterday, walking next to a woman I think of as Betty, though I’ve no idea of her real name, when his song “I’m Alive” worked its way into my playlist, and oh my goodness, my heart just broke with that song. It’s actually one of his more upbeat tunes, but the lyrics are so on point right now for me. (How does he do it? How does he see straight into my soul??) The problem is, though, I don’t want to hear music that makes my heart break right now, and Mr. Clyde Jackson Browne, though I loved him long before I ever loved The Man, will now forever be associated with this relationship, the loneliness I’d felt at times during it, and this pain of loss that I feel right now. I want to be happy, though. I choose to be happy, so for the foreseeable future Mr. Browne and I need to break-up.

I’ve seen this coming. I even let myself start listening to other music a couple of months ago, venturing out in an attempt to get used to the idea of just, you know, moving on. Jose Gonzalez is a contender and I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Jack Johnson – he had me at “Flake.” On a trip to California to visit family, I explored the newer Mumford and Sons, Hozier, the Lumineers, and Imagine Dragons, and after a chat with a couple at the Oakland airport that had just seen him in concert and had just nothing but good things to say about him, I reintroduced Michael Franti to my playlist. I’m trying to get a bit less melancholy in my choices, because, truly there’s no need to be so sad over the loss of a relationship, right? One should be glad, instead, that it happened. I do believe that.

I know that someday JB and I will work it out, and I’ll be able to listen to his music again. This is not forever and this too shall pass. Right now, it’s too soon, too fresh, and yes, too hard to get past just yet. I’ll get there, though, to that ‘glad it happened’ part. I am hopeful, which is good,..  and I believe that, too.

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Etch-A-Sketch

The movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is on Netflix right now. Who of us with a broken heart has not wished for the ability to erase all memory of everything to do with the person who is no longer part of our lives? Wouldn’t that be just the best thing ever? To simply not be broken. Not a bad goal, I think.

All day today, reminders of his birthday tomorrow kept popping up on my phone. I thought I’d deleted them all from calendars and contacts, but somehow I missed one that through the magic of Apple managed to send reminders not less than six times on three different devices. So, yeah, that sucked.

I gave him his present when he was here last week. It was a framed picture of Dog as a puppy. A highly appropriate gift, I thought, and it felt right to acknowledge his special day. I put a picture of the two of us behind the puppy picture.  His daughter had taken the picture of us. It was a sunny day and we looked so happy together. I’m not sure why I did that, hid the picture there, but it also felt right. He may never, ever come across the picture of us. He may even discard the framed photo of our sweet boy at some point, after some more time passes and he no longer feels the sentiment that I know we both still feel. Time has a way of taking care of these things… He told me that.

 

We broke up right before my birthday, which falls on Valentine’s Day. He’d always done a great job with my birthday. The first one we spent together, he wrapped my gift half in Happy Birthday gift paper and half in Happy Valentine’s Day paper. He got me two cards – one birthday, one Valentine’s Day – both purple, both the same size, and glued them together so they were one. I still have them. Every birthday after, I got two-dozen roses and showered with attention. He always made it a big deal.

This first birthday and Valentine’s Day that we spent apart after our break up, he called me in the morning to wish me happy birthday, and he sent me a card – just a birthday card this time – that I received later that day. I cried over both the call and the card.

I put the ‘just’ birthday card and all the other birthday and Valentine’s Day cards and all the holiday cards from our time together in a giant Ziploc bag and packed them away at the bottom of a box. I didn’t feel like I could throw them away but I didn’t want to continue to stumble across them. Every time I did was a set back. I’d catch my breath and then give my head a little shake, as though, like an Etch-A-Sketch, I could erase the memory and the pain.

 

You know, in that movie the two characters end up finding each other again on a cold day in February in Montauk – on Valentine’s Day as a matter of fact. They find each other even after they’ve erased all memory of each other, of their time together. I think it’s beautiful that even after all the pain, these flawed human beings still recognize their heart’s mirror in one another. I suppose you need to get past that awfulness and the resentment and anger before you can see each other clearly again.

As for me, and my flawed heart, sometimes I catch myself thinking that he and I are still not really done, you know? That it’s not done; it’s just not now. But then I talk myself out of that because it’s not healthy to think that way. It’s important to move on, I think, to let go, to allow each other the opportunity love again, to take the lesson and be better.

Then almost imperceptibly, even to me, I give my head a little shake.

Singles

The light this morning was really beautiful. It was almost a rose gold, and as I watched the backyard wake up and the pool brighten from dark to pale turquoise, I thought to myself, not for the first time, that this house has truly been a refuge for me.

It’s a small, single-family house. Unremarkable from the front, it needs love in some areas, but when I look at it I see all the love we’ve put into it. The hot day in June we’d painted the white, white walls of the facade, finally covering up the hated cornflower blue trim left by previous owners. The walls of every one of the rooms that I’d painted with a palette of colors I chose. The bathroom vanity I picked out. The upgraded closet doors I’d had to pick a fight to get. The throw pillows, the comforters, the hardware on the doors and the towel racks, the sponge holder, the kitchen towels.

I did everything I could to make it a home for us.

When I wander around the house now, I can’t imagine leaving it even though the biggest part of it for me, what made it come alive and really made me want to make it our home,.. he doesn’t live here anymore. Not really. In the end, it’s not the stuff of a house that makes a home. It’s the love between the people who live there.

There was a movie in the 90’s about a group of twenty-somethings in Seattle. The character played by Bridget Fonda is in a relationship in which she’s not appreciated, so she simply ends it – something about finding dignity in being single. Even though that’s not the situation here at all – I was appreciated and I was loved – I get that, you know. Now more than ever I see that there’s something beautiful in just letting go.

 

I met a girlfriend for drinks at a local beach bar. We sat at the bar, had a glass or two of wine and split some appetizers. After a while I noticed a man standing with his friends not too far away who kept looking over at us. When I mentioned this to my friend, she looked over at him, giving him the go ahead to come on over.

“So are you ladies single?” Seriously what he led with.

My friend, “I’m married but she’s single.”

And I threw up a little in my mouth. Could’ve been the calamari.

 

I never really thought it was all that important to have a formal commitment between us. We were committed without the paper. He was home every night, he protected me, he supported me, and he was my best friend. We were together. Now that it’s over, though, all that security is gone. I have to leave the home that has been a refuge to me. I have to find a place to live – with no recent rental history. Get utilities turned on – with no payment history for the past several years. We have to unlink our bank accounts, cancel credit cards, and all without a piece of paper showing that the relationship is legally severed or that it ever really existed.

Like our time together, all the time after comes without fanfare or recognition. It simply is, and there’s just something decidedly undignified about that.

Next One’s Free

“Would you like to become a member of our rewards club?”

I cock my head to the side, holding my response for a beat while pondering the wisdom of joining a liquor store rewards club as I stand at the counter looking down at the two bottles of wine I’m trying to purchase so I can slink back to my house and, um, drink them over the course of the next few days. Would getting that punch card filled while in my current state of turmoil be a practical thing or just a very sad thing?

I take a breath and smile at the man, “No, I’m good. Thanks.”

I’m trying very hard to make semi-good choices these days and count this as a success. It’s only wine, and except for that year I worked as a sixth grade teacher, I’ve never really been a drinker. I don’t think there’s any real danger, but they didn’t call them winos for nothing. Just saying.

I pay cash and select ‘no receipt’ when the keypad prompts me for a response.

Evidence? I think not.

 

So why I still have a room down the hall. I’m sure that must seem bizarre to be living with someone you broke up with six months ago. The thing is, though, that he doesn’t live at his house full time. He works about four hours away, and I live in his house while he’s finishing up his contract there. He comes home every three weeks or so to mow the lawn, clean the pool filter,.. you know, maintenance.

The crazy thing is that we get along a lot better now that we’ve broken up, which is how we ended up in the same bed the other night. Confusing much?

I don’t think it’ll happen again, and I think we’re both clear on the moving forward front. This current state of semi-cohabitation is not without its challenges, but it is temporary. I’ve been half-heartedly searching for a place, but it makes sense financially for both of us that I stay put for the next couple of months.

It took a while for us to get here.

We’d been living apart for about a year before we actually broke up. I’d moved back so that I could accept a too good to pass up job last December. We’d rented out his house here two years before when we’d moved four hours north for his job. We both preferred this area, which is closer to the beach, so the choice to return hadn’t been a hard one.

He’d been driving back and forth on the weekends for an entire year while I tried to become accustomed to the job that had separated us and nursed our dog, a diabetic and geriatric Labrador Retriever through his last few months. Our fur baby passed in May, five months into this new phase, and I’d been so depressed after his death, I just threw myself into work. Emotionally, I was no good to anyone for a longer time than I would like to admit. I seriously don’t remember entire months of the period following his death. It wrecked me.

Instead of crumbling at this next setback, I took the break up was a wake-up call. I threw myself into self-care with a cleanse and a recommitment to yoga. The first time he came home after the break up, I really felt like I had my act together. I’d said to him, “Look, I’m fine with it. I’m good. I hope we can be friends.” I think he was mildly surprised and super impressed at what a fantastic breaker upper I am. The truth is I was seriously pissed and not about to show it. If he didn’t want to talk about it, there was nothing to talk about. Still, there’s a part of me that thought we were just on a break. The stress of everything – living apart, the loss of our dog, the new job – was too much and we’d spend some time apart and find our way back to each other.

 

We had a garage sale about a month after we broke up. It had been planned and was one of the commitments I’d requested he keep. It was not an ideal situation and I ended up crying through much of it while he moved the heavy stuff around and, to me, seemed as though he could not get out of there fast enough. By the end, he’d sold some expensive items of his own and told me that we were splitting all the proceeds down the middle. I told him that he should keep his money and jokingly said, “You know, you can’t make me take your money. You’re not the boss of me anymore.” Which caused him to get pissy and that made me cry – again.

Break ups really are the worst. Between losing our dog and losing him, all within less than 12 months, I think my punch card’s already been filled. And, yeah, it’s definitely sad.

Ditmas

5:24 am according to the Fitbit he bought me.

We never did get around to getting rid of the popcorn ceiling, I think, while staring up at the same view I’ve had most mornings for the last seven years.

He’s lying next to me and I need to go to the gym, need to get ready for work, for next steps, but first I need to move. Though we broke up six months ago, it’s right now, right here, that I feel a sense of finality. I sense that once I get out of this bed, it will not be the same. It feels as though we’ve crossed a line.

“I’m going to get to the gym,” I say.

“Early,” says he.

“Opens at six, and I need to be back to start work at seven.”

“Mmm hmmm.”

He’s been awake but dozing for hours, and knowing him as I do, thinking for hours, too. He’s always been a restless sleeper. He’d gotten up around two and when I’d asked, brought me Advil.

My head still hurts and my heart feels heavy. I have to move and I know it.

“Kiss me,” I say, and turn my head toward him.

He moves his head, licks his lips and then gives me a peck on the lips. I make him do it again, to give me two kisses. I want a third. I want them all and always. I want no other man to kiss me ever, but I have to settle for the two and hold on to them, hold on to the memory of the others that came before.

As I walk past him, I lean over and brush my lips across his hip. Another good-bye. As we’d fallen asleep the night before, I’d rested my hand here, trying to hold on to the closeness as long a possible.

I didn’t look back at him as I left the room to head down the hall to the bedroom that had been mine since even before we’d called it quits in January.

I don’t think I knew how much he loved me until we broke up. I realize that begs the question of why I would spend ten years loving and seven years living with someone I didn’t believe fully loved me. I guess a therapist would suggest that perhaps I don’t fully love myself but I’m not really into therapy. At least, not that kind.

I doubted his love because he was so critical all the time, not just of me but of everything. The way he expressed himself at home was in a way that indicated to me that he was very unhappy. I was not always happy with him or the things he did either. I guess we just didn’t always work at being the best version of ourselves with each other, but I know how much he loved me because of how he left. It was quiet, thoughtful and slow. He tells me that it was the most grown up thing he has ever done.

There was a fight. It was a big fight. We fought in December and we both said terrible things to each other. We yelled at each other the things that had hurt us for too long and had never been said. Then we pulled it together for the holidays and family. We smiled for pictures and played together and opened presents and cooked meals. Then when the holidays ended and the decorations were put away, we retreated inside ourselves and gave each other a wide berth. I made a resolution that New Year’s to be kinder to him in thought and actions. I’d thought it, like spats we’d had before, would just blow over.

When I have to tell someone that we broke up, I say it was mutual, that we’d both been unhappy for a long time. That is true except that I would never have left him. Love is a choice. Being with someone is choice. I chose to make a life with him. I chose to love him, and I would have dealt with whatever happened. I loved him when I didn’t like him all that much. I loved him even though I was also indifferent and hated him sometimes, too. I love him still.

If there hadn’t been love, it would have been different. I can’t seem to articulate it right now, but what I can tell you unequivocally is that nothing has defined our relationship so well as the leaving it.