To the man in front of me driving the dingy black Toyota Camry with the sticker on the rear windshield that looks like a fairy shat a hairball and your left hand dangling a cigarette out the driver’s window, funneling its pungent stank into my car window rolled down…
I. Can’t. Breathe.
I’m reminded that I can, indeed, breathe as I’m sucking in the trailing remnant of the cancer you’re causing yourself and I wish you’d just fucking die and get the hell out of my way. Then again, that would be inconvenient as I’d be stuck in some horrific traffic jam, a witness to some sort of spontaneous combustion and stuck on the evening news with my face looking like a sixteen-year-old who just came off nine back-to-back shifts at Burger King’s deep fryer.
About four miles back, I’d just told the man I love that I needed to not see him for awhile. That he needed to stop texting me cute pictures of his young sons as each tore me apart a little bit more, as all I ever wanted was to spend more time with them. With him. That I couldn’t be his friend right now.
As each time I saw him, I wanted to walk over and touch him. Kiss him. Scratch his head, tickle him and rub his shoulders. No particular order. I just wanted to do as I had for the past eleven months and as of last Monday said I couldn’t anymore.
As I sit here in my emotional motorized box of wreckage behind the Fairyshat Mobile wishing I believed that sometimes the best decisions are the ones that hurt the most, I begin to think of the one word that’s frequently come to mind following the end of my first real relationship since December of 2005 (aka The Month Erika Prevented Marriage #3):
When we leave the house each day in search of our fairy tale, I don’t believe that we go looking for love. I believe we go in search of access. There’s plenty on life’s road designed to keep us out: traffic lights, barricades, child-proof tops on bottles of sleeping pills (whistles), locked doors, dipshit speed walkers who spread out three-wide in the bike lane…
We’re in search of those things – and people – that will let us in. Give us access. And in return, we’re looking for people and situations worthy of access to us. That’s not love. That’s risk.
Access is never safe and we can never be sure. It’s never wrapped in a ribbon and comes with no guarantees. It’s a gaping chasm filled with fire-breathing penguins, admitting you don’t know and letting someone see you at your worst so that some day you might learn how to become your best – and as risk would have it, the person you want is standing on the other side of that penguin-filled chasm, holding out their hand and saying, “I’ve got ya – come on over.”
Risk is putting yourself a situation and acknowledging that when you indulge, you may find yourself sitting on your sofa under a freshly installed ceiling fan on a late Friday night in June pounding out marathon-length sentences enumerating the nuances of access and risk since typing is free and therapists run $150 per hour.
On a semi-related note, I recently picked up a copy of Dave Egger’s “Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius.” When reading the back cover, I was disheartened to find that it had nothing to do with ceiling fan installation.
Whether we’re the ones in search of access or deciding to grant it to someone else, it’s as if we’re standing naked on our front porch in a snowstorm asking the one we’ve chosen to run their naked ass through the blizzard, grab our hand and run with us down the street (yes, we’re both still naked) in search of a Starbucks with hot coffee that doesn’t mind naked patrons. Not so easy to find and there aren’t too many people we’re willing to run naked though a snowstorm with – so when you find it, well…it’s special.
And sometimes, people give you glimpses.
Glimpses aren’t bridges over the chasm of fire-breathing penguins. They’re more like ladders over the Khumbu Ice Falls on the way to the summit of Mt. Everest. They look like a great idea. Functional. We cross them because we want what’s on the other side. But what’s been offered to us isn’t a hand saying “Take me – I’ve got ya.”
It’s more like, “Hey – if you wanna come over here, ya gotta cross THIS.”
With each step, you look down and see those shitty little penguins beckoning you into a heart-wrecking fall to your (or your heart’s) death – yet on the other side, you see what looks like access. And since you want it, you keep walking over some fucked-up ladder wearing alpine climbing gear, wondering who the hell ever decided this was “safe” and exactly how much had you paid to get here?
And sometimes, we’re the ones extending the ladder over the ice chasm instead of the hand.
And it sucks. Sometimes people do just enough to get us to keep crossing the ladder in hopes that they’ll soon build us a bridge, ask us to take their hand. Sometimes it’s not their fault. Sometimes they’re hurt and doing their best to grant access, yet their best is the ladder while they think they’re giving a bridge. And we love them for who they are in the meantime.
Yet in the meantime, we’re not getting what we want. Yeah, we’re good at burying what we want for awhile because each time we cross the chasm via ladder, we think we’re getting access. After awhile, however, it starts to feel like one of those “seriously?” obstacle courses from American Gladiator and we begin to wonder when we signed up to be on a cancelled reality show with hyper-buffed dudes in stars and stripes Speedos and chicks with cast iron tits.
And then, maybe you do what I did: ask the blunt question.
At thirty-seven years ripe, I know the essence of what I want – and it all requires access. A partner, a family, a home (in every sense). And notice I didn’t say a husband, children and a house. The two lists are very different – to me, at least.
A partner, a family and a home – they’re blessings for an already full life I’ve created with friends who love me (and remind me, especially when my heart breaks), a career that makes me smile each day and long list of things that fill my hours with laughter and smiles. Sure, I have shitty days now and again – in fact, I recently described my feelings about a shit day as if I were a snow bank surrounded by well-hydrated dogs – but it’s all recoverable. Not that my current heartbreak isn’t, but I’m looking for the beauty in a partnership.
Where we each won’t always be happy, but we’ll be happy with our decision to have committed to one another. Family won’t always bring laughter, but we’ll always (no matter how many lamps broken, walls written on, parents who pass or taxes we pay) have one another and be better for it when we pull our heads out of our asses to realize it. Where the walls might need new paint and the hardwood floors are gouged from countless dropped toys and “experiments” but each ding and dent builds a collection of memories that, when we take the time to remember them, make us want to find ways to make more. Together.
Yes, I’m a hopeless romantic. Nearly thirty-eight years hasn’t killed that in me. I don’t regret loving or knowing that there was no place I’d rather fall asleep or wake up than next to him. If I could name what it is I’ll miss most, it’ll be the moments where the glimpses turned into access. They came in the form of two young boys who shouted “Miss Erika!” and playfully argued who I’d flip upside down first and swing around by their legs until they were too dizzy to walk. When I heard him tell me that he loved me…and I knew it. Those times where he didn’t try to “fix” things when I was having a bad day and just listened. When I heard him tell me what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go, what being a father meant to him and knowing that sharing those things with me wasn’t easy. The rare times he let me help him and the more frequent times I heard him laugh and got to see him smile.
So that’s why I believe that we don’t leave the house each day in search of love and if all we want is a husband (or wife), kids and a house, we’re missing the boat. The best moments in my life have been borne from risk and looking down into the penguin-filled chasm and knowing there was a reason to cross the bridge and take that hand. While I’m still mistaking ladders for bridges, it doesn’t mean the love wasn’t real.
It just means that I took a risk. I slipped and fell in love and granted someone access. I’m looking forward to the day where my heart’s ready to do it again. And if it hadn’t been for the last eleven months, I’d never have used the phrase “fire-breathing penguins.” I have Him to thank for that. And that alone makes this discovery on access, my own little Heartbreaking Work, a literary win.
***10:05pm on Friday, June 25, 2010 – As I entered the final period above, my phone chimed with a text message. From Him. Telling me that earlier today, a mutual acquaintance (all of thirty-seven years-old) from track racing suffered an aneurysm and is in the hospital on life support. The past fifteen minutes meant two calls with one girlfriend who also knows this incredibly vibrant man. The second call informing me that she was just told that he is brain dead.
This is a man (and if you’d met him, you’d probably call him a “dude”) I only met two months ago on my first trip down to the velodrome in Colorado Springs. Not once did he ever look at me or talk to me like I was crazy for wanting to do this “track cycling” thing or treat me like His girlfriend and that was the only reason I was there. Covered with tattoos from head to toe, he radiated life and was funny as hell – and not too shabby on the bike with one gear and no brakes. The last conversation I had with him was him asking me how “my man” was and my meek response that he was no longer “my man.” He then asked me if I missed him, to which I responded, “Every day.” And then he said, “Well, then you did it right.”
I don’t even remember if I said bye when he left the track that day.
But having known him barely two months, that’s a guy who understood access. And I think it really sucks that someone like that can disappear in a moment. I feel terrible for his wife, whom I met a few weeks ago, who never in a million years woke up this morning and thought she’d end the day wondering if she would be a widow.
I almost wish I’d never written the post above now. It feels mildly trite and a bit whiny. And the person I want to call and say “I love you” to…well, I doubt he wants to hear it. So I’ll skip it and just wish I had the balls to do it, regardless of the consequences.
***I learned mid-day on Saturday that Vibrant passed away Friday night.