This is my warning

I haven’t been updating this often these days. There are many reasons for this, and a large part of it is heart-driven. I want to make sure I’m telling the right part of the story, I want to protect myself, I want to give any energy I might spend into something new, not dredge up something old.

But here I am, at a point of limbo. The new brought to halt, the old rearing its head.  While I’m still not ready to talk about the recent past, let’s take a stumbling trip into the more distant past.  In a classic tarot reading, somewhere between card four and five on the cross.

Let’s call him Eric, because that is not his name exactly. Let’s call him a boyfriend, though he was never that exactly either.  I have a good friend now who also dated Eric, though again, it was not quite dating. We didn’t overlap, but I wasn’t sure until we laid out our timelines. Because that’s the thing about Eric, there were overlaps.  Saying I don’t want to be some woman on the side and hearing you aren’t isn’t the same thing as declaring monogamy. If everyone is on equal footing, no one is on the side, right? No one is lying, exactly. I want to be right here, right now, with you doesn’t negate the next night’s company being a different woman.

Part of me still hesitates to call it cheating, but my friend and I both agreed, if we were to see Eric with a woman, our first instinct would be to warn.

All this time later, it still bothers me.  Had a woman walked up to me and said run now. He is only telling part truths. He is giving you enough to keep you but not enough for joy would I have run?

I look back and see why I made the choices I did. I desperately wanted someone to see me.  And then, there we were. Me, giddy on the balcony, looking over the sparkling city. The view is so beautiful. And he answered, the view is beautiful and was watching me, was looking at me.  Never mind the rest. The two coffee cups on his counter when I came to pick him up in the morning. The constant washing of sheets. The bobby pins I didn’t remember leaving.

I’d like to say I was only a fool once, but that’s a lie. There was the first time, then the break.  A restaurant at happy hour, a hot toddy because, like always, I knew something was coming and my body reacted with sickness, stripping me of my voice. My work bag in a tangle at my feet, a new record leaning against the chair, his late rushing in and the ending of things before drinks even arrived. And we sat and sipped and I took the bus home. And then, there was later. A multi-pitch climb, the leaning in and stealing of kisses. Feet in a river, braless with a dry t shirt after a long day, the carefully grazing hand. And I fell into summer and each week was a long ramp up to an uncertain weekend. Sneakers too large for me under the seat of his truck.  It took earrings beside his bed, but even then. This time, the last time, I was so sick and so worn out that I crawled onto his floor, sleeping half covered in a sleeping bag strewn out to dry from a trip I wasn’t on. My skin freshly tattooed with an emblem meant to be my heart in ink. A tattoo most people I know haven’t seen.  I remember slumping against the white wall in the hallway, too tired to leave, without my car anyway, knowing that I would go to his bed, the earrings now hidden away, and in the morning take the bus to work like I’d done so many mornings. Nothing left at his house, because nothing of mine was ever left behind.

Why keep ourselves in a miserable place? Because we see hope? And I zoom out to the safe second person collective. We do this. To claim it as singularly mine– I have stayed in situations that are unkind, in situations that are hurtful and destructive — is extremely difficult.  This was my decision, and as awful as Eric might have been, I put myself there. This is why I want to warn someone, I want to remind myself– walk away from misery.

And yet, misery and hope are intertwined. I am not a woman who thinks the world is always rosy. There is heartache and sadness and we help each other through this, though not always gracefully and not always selflessly.

I like to think I keep learning, and I like to think that I keep hoping, and that I am learning how much sadness is too much for me to bear without breaking. I think I am. I refuse to credit Eric with this lesson. Instead, I credit my friends, and I credit the men who, even if they also moved on, loved honestly.  Honest love is not flawless. It also can fail, it also can create sadness.  But that’s how you know the good moments, right? The let me kiss you now so I don’t have to worry about it all night moments, the laughter dancing on a sidewalk moments. The hippo jokes and the breakfast sandwiches and coffee made almost too bitter but tempered with just the right amount of cream. The joy.

I ran into Eric a little while ago at a bar. I’m taking a class with the Washington Alpine Club and we went out afterwards for students and instructors to chat over beer. The bar was loud, the newness of each other was awkward, but it was pleasant for the most part. I walked up to the bar to close my tab and caught something out of the corner of my eye. And there he was, with two other friends, leaning to close his tab out. I didn’t look at him, he didn’t look at me. The waitress came, I handed her cash and crazily over tipped to not have to wait for change.  I walked to find my friend in the sea of classmates. By the time we left, Eric was gone.