Access

They key to one's heart - it's granted by access. Erika Napoletano is Redhead Writing.

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.

Not 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):

Access.

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.

That’s access.

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.

75 comments
Amanda
Amanda

Thank you for sharing. 

The Redhead
The Redhead

There's nothing creepy about feeling - and glad you stumbled by today as well :)

N.P. Brandt
N.P. Brandt

Good thing my buddy posted a link to this website. I stumbled over here from Facebook. I once wrote about my feelings (guys do that, right?), but I had to delete my post. They told me it was creepy and that the words did not belong on a personal blog. They know absolutely nothing. I'm twenty-two years strong and have never been part of a relationship. Is that a bad thing? Anyway, I digress and you have better things to do. Thank you very much for writing and publishing this post.

The Redhead
The Redhead

I'm glad it made you feel, Kimberly. The greatest compliment I could ever receive as a writer...

Kimberly Kinrade
Kimberly Kinrade

I'm shivering and have tears in my eyes. Beautiful. Thank you for allowing us access to that. To your heart on this.

Carl Thress
Carl Thress

Thank you, Erica, for granting us access to very personal chapter in your life and for reminding us that what really matters are the people we love and the ones who love us back. We are all incredibly lucky to have people who love and care about us in our lives and should never take that for granted, even for one moment of any given day. I'm a frequent reader (and recipient) of your weekly bitch slaps. While not intended as such, this piece delivered just as deserving a wakeup call, in a very heartfelt, personal, and well-intentioned way. Thanks.

Corey Nelson
Corey Nelson

While I admit I didn't read everything, the first few paragraphs reminded me in spirit if not in exact execution of some of Ayn Rand's thoughts on love, particularly this: "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" Anyway, I'd say you're on to something! :-). I think you should just google "Ayn rand love quotes" to get a taste of what I mean - regardless of how you feel about her they may speak to you.

The Redhead
The Redhead

While a transplant TO Colorado, thank you. I appreciate the compliment. Simple is best, no?

Michael G
Michael G

Erika, you touch my heart in many ways; your metaphors are wonderful, accurate and oh so memorable. I'm a first time reader of your site today - your content and contexts are compelling. AND, I won't ever read the word access without attaching your definition. You are a true Coloradoan; I grew up in Littleton, Colorado and miss the clarity Westerners exhibit in their communications...said another way... it's simple if you just let it be simple. Thanks!

Sandi
Sandi

Wow. You described my life (minus the kids). That was incredible. I'm so sorry Vibrant passed. I hope his wife is doing okay. If you have a book coming out, I can't wait to read it.

Chris, LEED AP
Chris, LEED AP

This one was a surprise and I'm glad to read it. Having lost friends in the Marines, I can honestly say only heartless people won't hurt with you.

Jim Raffel
Jim Raffel

Erika, I'm one who doesn't believe in coincidences and just like that, in a moment, I know why I found my way to you blog recently. Pretty sure I could write the longest comment ever but I'm also pretty sure you already get it. We've mostly joked and laughed in our comment exchanges but once you said something like "Jim, you know family is everything to me." It sort of hit me then. Now, I get it. Your, "partnership, family and home" - priceless. Sorry to throw a comment on a post perhaps you'd rather forget but I've also glimpsed your strength and wanted to thank you so much for the life compass adjustment telling your story has meant to me :) I'll be thinking about access a lot for the next few days, while I process and digest all you've shared. Thanks, Jim

The Redhead
The Redhead

I took it in a good way - thank you, Teresa :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Thank you, Allan. And the answer to that manuscript question: sooner than you might think. The penguins are typing day and night :) Appreciate the kind words.

The Redhead
The Redhead

I have come to one additional realization in my 37 years: whiskey and I do not get along. It's *worse* than the fire-breathing penguins ;-)

Teresa Basich
Teresa Basich

Ah, crap. I mean that in a good way. In a really, really good way.

Dustin
Dustin

I'm a couple days late in reading this but the timing couldn't be more perfect. As someone who's giving access (and having those bridges blasted to pieces over and over again) and being given glimpses (and throwing those ladders down the chasm at the fire-breathing penguins), the past few months of my life have been both blissfully happy and wrenchingly painful. Sometimes both in a day. Sharing this bit of your heart reminds me that all of the hard work we put into life isn't something we do alone. We've all got these stories, and we end up using the experiences to grow in our own way, on our own time. Thank you for reminding me of the growing I need to do; the effort I need to give in order to become a better person, and showing me that I'm not the only one.Related: Lets go get coffee. Or better yet, whiskey. Either way, I'm going to hug the ever-loving shit out of you.

Allan
Allan

Erika, Your ability to pull us - pull me into your writing is just amazing. Not much I can add to what others have said below. My only question is when will the manuscript be ready? :) Letting it all hang out there like you do is compelling and summons wistful feelings from even the most hardened of hearts. Keep writing.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Nope - thank YOU. Glad you stopped by and found something that resonated. Words a writer longs to hear.

The Redhead
The Redhead

I'm glad you found me THROUGH someone...that's how I like to be found :) It was wonderful, yet sad, to be in a room today with hundreds of people who knew VIbrant longer than I had though who saw him the same way I did.And you're welcome and, regarding that return visit, I'll be lookin' fer yas ;-)

meganmatthieson
meganmatthieson

This is so beautifully written. That's it! It's access. Thank you so much for this.

pchute
pchute

My first visit to your site, and holy smokes, I wasn't expecting to be brought to tears. I've been unhappy for a long time, and now I have more clarity as to why. In fairness I believe I've been a "glimpse" person many times in my life, however I know I started my current relationship ready and willing to offer (and accept) full access. Now at least I know what to ask for, and am clear on who I need to be in order to reasonably expect to get what I say I want. I do think there's a "careful what you ask for" side to access - it's not for the faint of heart, but it's the doorway to a life of brilliance and connectivity and possibilities that I can't imagine living any longer without. And as for Vibrant - sounds like his every moment was fuller than most peoples whole lives, and anyone who knew him was richer for it - and that's a legacy worth aspiring to. Thank you for sharing and provoking and sitting under that ceiling fan for as long as you did - I'll be back.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Michelle - you'll find your rhythm and grant access when you're ready, I have no doubt. Sometimes the casual lets us know when we're ready for the actual, y'know? Thanks for stopping by today.

Michelle
Michelle

Erika--thank you for keeping it real! I so love your handle on access. I'm currently in a boy crazy want to date and flirt and keep it surface period right now--but ultimately I want access when I get my shit together. Stay true to you!!

The Redhead
The Redhead

Amy, it's always a delight to have you stop by. Thank you.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Well, holy fuck back atcha. I'm glad I turned the light on :) (thanks for reading)

Jodi Henderson
Jodi Henderson

After shedding a few tears and feeling a total light bulb moment when you described the ladders, glimpses and fire-breathing penguins, the only words I've got are Holy Fuck. This is a fantastic post that I will keep close by so I can refer to it in the future. Thank you!!!

Amy Oscar
Amy Oscar

Stunning. Raw. As always, beautiful. Erika, your work just gets more.... accessible. I am just about speechless after reading this - an unusual state for me. You're doing something with this post that goes beyond 'sharing', beyond 'blogging'. Groping for words, I'd call it: teaching. healing. demonstrating love in action - the way love looks when we access the deep, true heart.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Sylvia - thanks for stopping by. A friend of mine just labeled where I'm at "Suck Canyon." At least now I know where those fire-brething penguins live :) I'm glad you found something of YOU in here. That's the only reason I write.

Sylvia
Sylvia

This was painful to read as I am currently having to face very similar feelings regarding a relationship. You have my most heartfelt sympathy, and that goes for the loss of your cycling friend as well.Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your outstanding writing talent.

The Redhead
The Redhead

What an amazing journey, Elias - I have no doubt, however, that your daughter is full of and appreciates life in a way most people can't, simply because they don't have the perspective.On another note, it's nice to see my followers come our of the woodwork and share THEIR stories on occasion. In my eyes, they're always more powerful than mine :)

Elias
Elias

Your piece resonated with me on a couple different levels - relationship level, and your friend. My daughter has cystic fibrosis, so these types of stories both encourage me and hit me hard, too. Gut punch in the obvious way, and encouraging in that someone could have such an impact on others in 37 short years. Thanks for sharing; I've been entertained by following you on Twitter for quite some time now! Take care!Elias

The Redhead
The Redhead

Camilo - Welcome and thanks for coming out of the woodwork today. I'm glad you found something here for *you.* Can't help who I've become or how close to the edge I'm willing to walk. I've climbed Kilimajaro & Rainier, but you can kiss my grits if you think I'm gonna cross those icefalls on a ladder en route to Everest ;-)

The Redhead
The Redhead

I like that word: cherish. Thanks for bringing that word into my day :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Brittany - I don't think you ever know unless you trust and try. At the risk of sounding cliche, you'll never really fall if you're not willing to climb up :) Then again - you'll never feel what the wind feels like on your face from that height, either.Maybe we'll both learn to love heights again. Thanks for stopping by and sharing YOUR story. If I can't write, hell - what *can* I do?PS: the penguins aren't as bad as they sound. :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Elias - It's a compliment you chose to stop by here and share your words. And thank you - I feel lucky to have had a few laughs with Vibrant. He reminded me, and still does, that there are no excuses. It was a running joke at the track - excuses. He never let anyone get away with having any. Funny how someone I knew so briefly left such an impression and I'm thinking he lived more in his 37 years than I have. Guess I have some work to do :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Ah, Leon - thanks for stopping by from halfway across the world today. And looking after myself is, in a "Ford" sense, Job #1. :)

Leon Noone
Leon Noone

G'Day Erika,I wish I had some 'good advice'. But I don't. I wish I had some words that would "help" you through all this. But I'm old enough to know that navigating through life's whirlpools is a lonely business. So I just wanted to let you know, that along with lots of others, I'm listening.Look after yourselfRegardsLeon

The Redhead
The Redhead

No, thank YOU, Mariano. I have nothing negative to say about the past 11 months of my life. I'm grateful for the times of Access. Over the weekend, I watched "500 Days of Summer" and an exchange resonated with me:Summer: "I just woke up one day and I was sure."Tom: "What? What were you *sure* of?"Summer: "Everything I wasn't sure of with you."Kick in the ass, yessir. I have nothing negative to say about him. He's a special man and a great father with children who make the sun burn brighter whenever they're in the room. If I tried to hold on, I'd be keeping him from what *he* needs to do. And he has to do that without me. It doesn't mean I don't miss him - but I understand what I miss. And I hope he'll give himself the chance to be who he dreams of being - for himself, for his children and well, as much as I hate to say it, another partner. There's a part of me that dreams it'll be me one day, but I don't even know what tomorrow's got in store for me. It might be Clive Owen. :)

Mariano Franco
Mariano Franco

I've heard it said that we don't grow in relationships, but in between them. This explanation you've given to BG58 and your post says to me that your next man, your friends and your faithful followers here who read your thoughts, are lucky to have you in their life. It reveals that you're someone who's growing and moving forward.Sometimes you hear people bad mouth their ex's and you can straight up tell that person's not growing but instead, they're moving backwards. First of all it just flat out lets her know what you'll do to them if you don't get your way in this relationship. People who don't move forward are blind to this fact. And if you beat someone else down verbally, you're more than likely, privately, dogging yourself waaaay worse than you are them.This means you aren't spreading a loving vibe. If you can't love yourself and have that radiate off of you, there's no love in the tank to give to anyone else. You end up having to "act" loving instead of "Being" loving and sooner than later, any act breaks down and becomes transparent. Someone once told me that, "Love is you being you without the negativity." Thank you Red for being a prime example of how to handle yourself gracefully in the face of an extremely emotional situation.

Elias
Elias

Really, really good article. I rarely feel the need to comment on blogs, but this is a good one.And to echo other sentiments, sorry for your loss. Way too young to pass on.Elias

The Redhead
The Redhead

Indeed. I think my friend Cali said it best: "I want to be with someone who thinks I'm IMPOSSIBLE. That the mere thought of ME is so exquisite that they can't help it but to want me and be with me."Impossible. Not *so* impossible, I don't think. :) It's something to aspire to.

tyadams27
tyadams27

But that's the irony though, isn't it? For you, being willing to give keys isn't the issue; for the person who you've given your key to, it might be. The truth, I think, is that it has to work both ways. Essentially, relationships only work (or work best) when two people are penetrating equally or giving the same amount of access to each other. For me, vulnerability is the issue. For others, it might be something else. The best we can do is recognize this in ourselves and our partners. Then, move forward in our search if it's not enough. Find someone who is willing, and can't help, but to cherish the access you are offering and grant you the same in return.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Letting go - Teh Suck. Holding on? Teh Suck as well. Thanks for stopping by today, Suzanne :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Timing is a whore. A cheap, cheap whore. Funny - you can't even buy it. You just have to hope it lands in your cart when you're shopping for what you want ;)

The Redhead
The Redhead

Being wiling to give keys isn't the issue, I feel. It's about recognizing when someone's taken the key you've offered and not willing to offer theirs in return. And you're right - it's those keys we get back. Precious. Thanks for stopping by today.

Brittany Carter
Brittany Carter

This post sounds all too familiar to me, even up to the heartbreaking text message. In January I received a text notifying me that the one person who had finally made me believe that love and life could be a mystically beautiful thing, had taken his life at the age of 24. I have been struggling to get back on my feet ever since and remember that the man I am with deserves to have my love. Even if I don't think he is entirely ready for it. I've never taken a risk in love, and so far it's gotten me nowhere. Might as well try crossing that chasm, even if all I have is a broken ladder. "Do you miss him?""Every day""Well then you did it right"Ain't that the damn near beautiful truth that we all tend to ignore? Thank you so much for your eloquence and honesty. Your bravery and quick wit are insanely inspiring. Thank you a million times over for what you do. All the best to you throughout the struggles.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Bitch Slap: Act Like You Need to Earn It filed under Bitch Slap At 10:30am MST today, Redhead Writing will close for the remainder of the day. I’m headed downtown to pick up my friend, Vera, and then driving to Colorado Springs to attend a memorial service for a man I referred to in Monday’s post as ‘Vibrant.’ […]

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