The Oregon Coast, Traveling Alone, and Unexpected Life Lessons

I had the opportunity to take a trip to the Southern Oregon coast, an area of the state to which I had never been.  I was excited to get out of the office and travel alone, as I so rarely have time to myself these days.  It’s hard to find privacy in a small two-bedroom abode with three adults and three cats.

So off to Bandon I went.  The weather was perfect: nothing but blue sky and warm sun.   My first stop was Drain for a survey, then Elkton for lunch.  As I traveled towards the coast, I stopped at the Elk Reserve.  Sadly, only a small group was visible from the viewpoint.  At this time last year, the fields were teeming with elk, who must have been hiding in the safety of the trees that lie past the fields, adjacent to the highway.   I hopped back in my state vehicle and continued driving, taking the 101 south to pass through Reedsport.  It felt weird traveling through the towns in which I served my last AmeriCorps term of service.  These were places I swore to never return.  The familiar sights and sounds reminded me of the difficulty of that year, and how I managed to get through it in once piece.

As I drove down the highway, I took the opportunity to stop at the scenic overlooks and lighthouses, taking in the gorgeous views of Oregon’s tall lush trees and the glittering blue of the Pacific Ocean.  Each time I stopped, there was some old man hanging out in his car, which I found unnerving.  How can there be this many dudes just chillin’ at overlooks?  At one viewpoint, two men were trying to coax a squirrel to come near them.  Being in Douglas County, I didn’t know if they wanted to feed it, or have it for supper.

I continued south, passing through Coos Bay and a myriad of other small towns.  Eventually I made my way into Bandon and found my motel, which was right next to the beach.  The second I stepped out of my car I took in the intoxicating aroma of the ocean.  My room was perfect.  Clean and quaint, with a balcony that faced the sunset.  Excited, I changed into a pair of jeans and sneakers and headed across the grass to the cliff, where an adorable wooden staircase spiraled to the sand.  Halfway down was a gazebo with a bench, where a couple sat gazing on the horizon.

I continued to stay perched on the bluff, watching the sun disappear behind the roaring waves, feeling the bittersweet rush of having the privilege to witness something so beautiful, yet having no one with which to share the moment.  I looked around to see a handful of couples, some on the cliff’s benches, others down in the sand.  Since there was no point in feeling sorry for myself, I perked up and headed down the stairs.  The tide was high and the waves were fierce as they crashed and pounded against the mountainous rocks that blocked their path to the shore.  As dusk fell, I stood and watched the water creep near my shoes.   The moon was bright behind me, while the sky was fiery with oranges and yellows in front of me.  I walked around until it became too chilly and dark to remain by the ocean’s edge, and headed back up to my room.

Sleep was slightly allusive, no thanks to the cold I had been battling all week.  I opened my eyes at 7:00, decided that was too early, and gave myself a little more time.  Just before 8:00, I pulled my tired body out of bed and threw on jeans and a hoodie for a morning walk on the beach.  The last time I was in a coastal town and taking a morning walk alone, my life was in a tailspin.  This time, things were much different.  I noted how I am no longer on an emotional nosedive.  Instead, things have evened out.  I mostly just feel an overarching sadness and regret that gets a little easier as each day passes.

I explored the rocky coastline, taking in the clean air and sound of the waves and wildlife.  When I went to Lincoln City in February, I noticed how the sand was speckled with shiny black stones.  I gathered as many as I could in the small bag I had on hand as a memento of my first solo trip.  In Bandon, there were just as many rocks, but of all different colors and sizes.  Again, I collected as many as I could to signify another adventure.  Finally I had to get back up to my room to prepare for the day.

After checking out, I had breakfast at a little café and then hit the road, bound for Port Orford.  The thirty-minute span between Bandon and my newest destination was insignificant, save for one small town (at least I think it was a town) that was a ‘don’t blink or you’ll miss it’ style.   I finally reached Port Orford, which was also fairly small.  The person I had planned on interviewing was gone on an emergency, so I loitered around the little town for a while.

I made my way to a beautiful overlook.  The ocean seemed to span for miles, reminding me how small and inconsequential my life is when compared to the vastness of the sea.   The sun was hot on my face and the water sparkled as if it was filled with millions of tiny diamonds.  Even the faint clouds looked gorgeous, covering parts of the sky in unique patterns.  There were a few surfers in the water, taking advantage of the waves and weather.

I tried capturing the moment with my iPhone camera, but of course could not do it justice.  I also attempted a few selfies, but could not get it right.  I noticed an older woman sitting on a bench. She had long, nearly waist length white hair that was flowing in the wind, and bangs she kept brushing out of her eyes.  She wore a simple oversized brown button down shirt and jeans with tennis shoes, and was busy writing in a notebook that sat on her lap.

I hesitated in bothering her, but figured the worst that could happen was she would say no.

I walked towards her.  “Excuse me, will you take my picture?” I asked.

She smiled and said, “of course!”  Afterwards, she handed me my camera back and made sure I liked the shot.

“Thank you so much.  Traveling alone can be fun, but there is no one to take pictures of you. I just end up with a bunch of selfies.”

She laughed a warm, hearty laugh that warmed my soul.  “I totally understand that!  I’m traveling alone as well.  I’m up from Southern California looking for a house to buy.”

Before I knew it, our conversation began rolling and she told me how she couldn’t handle the SoCal pollution anymore.   The endless smog hurt her lungs on a daily basis, causing her to feel older beyond her years.   “People in my family live to be ninety to a hundred years old.  I’ve got a lotta years left on me, and I want to spend them feeling good,” she told me with a laugh.

I told her she picked the right place, and she agreed.  Then she told me the story of how she has lived in many different places, including Arkansas.  At the time she was married to a long haul trucker who was gone for weeks at a time.  Their house was a shack, with no electricity or plumbing, and tarps covering holes in the windows and ceiling.  I was dumbfounded.  “How did you handle living like that?”

“Oh, I have an easy temperament,” she said.  She explained that the worst was the weather, including a tornado that came within five miles of her home.  She spoke of the horrific wreckage she witnessed, and knew that she didn’t want to stay there much longer.   She moved back to California, where she has been living the past fifteen years.   Now, she is ready to move on again.  “Luckily, traveling is in my bones,” she told me.  “I just listen to my gut instinct, do what it tells me to, and that’s how I get along in life.  It never steers me wrong.”

“I’m envious of you,” I replied.  “I feel like I can’t trust my gut anymore, because things keep going awry in my life.”

“Oh, well that’s because you are being distracted by the tiny voices in your head.  That is where you go wrong,” she said, brushing the hair out of her eyes.  “What you’ve got to do is tell that little voice to shut up.”

I laughed, and she said with a smile, “Oh, I’m completely serious.  One day I realized that those little voices were just screwing me up, and I literally screamed out loud to them ‘hey, SHUT UP!’  And that allowed me to focus on what my instincts were telling me.  So that is what you need to do.  Scream it out loud if you have to.  ‘Just shut up!’  It will work, I promise.”

I smiled back at her and nodded my head.  “I will definitely try that.  I have been at such a crossroads lately.  I’m having trouble figuring things out.”

“Oh, but look where you’ve come from! And look at you right now.  You are a brave woman.  You are in a job where you are traveling alone.  Not everyone can do that.  And now that you are at a crossroads, that just means that something isn’t working, so you need to pick a different direction.  You’ll figure it out.”

This may sound weird, but I felt honored to have been called brave by this stranger I just met no more than sixty minutes prior.  She had such a comforting smile and deep kind eyes that I wanted to sit and talk to her for hours.

“I hate to leave, but I have to head to Medford for a conference,” I said.  I knew I had to get her name, so I introduced myself.  “By the way, my name is B.”

She smiled.  “I’m Gwen.”

“Gwen, it was so lovely speaking with you.  Best of luck with your house search.”

“Oh, it won’t take luck,” she winked.  “Just a determination to find something that will work for me.  And I’ll find it.”

“I have no doubt you will, Gwen.  Thanks again.  Take care.”

As I walked away, I couldn’t help but think about what a strange wonderful incident this had been.  I was here to interview someone for work, and instead had an amazing conversation with someone else entirely.  Life is funny that way.

I drove out of Port Orford, back through Bandon, to make one last stop before leaving the coast: the Coquille River Lighthouse.  I almost passed my opportunity, not seeing the turnoff I needed to take to reach my destination.  I doubled back, headed down the windy road, and finally the lighthouse came into view.  It’s a historic place, and as much as I hate to admit it, very underwhelming.  I thought I had wasted my time going there, until I walked further toward the ocean to another magnificent view.

To my left was the Coquille River, to my vast right was the Pacific Ocean.  The air smelled rich and clean, and there was little sound except the ocean waves.  A long jetty separated the river from the sea, and I saw a man and his dog down the very far end of it. I didn’t realize you could walk on it, and debated on getting up there as well.  It seemed a little unsafe, but I thought about being brave and challenging myself to do new things, so I clamored over the rocks and hoisted myself up onto the jetty.  There was a pile of driftwood preventing me from going too far, and I was going to call it quits, until I remembered that I was likely never to have this opportunity again.  I managed to make my way past the driftwood and walked toward the ocean.

It was a surreal feeling being up there with water on three sides of me.  The waves were coming in fast and crashing violently against the far end of the jetty.  I made my way about half-way down and took in the moment.  The cold wind whipped around me and stung my skin.  The ocean air smelled clean and crisp.  I took a deep breath, and gave myself gratitude for coming this far, and for the progress I’ve made since the miscarriage and breakup.  I thought about the positives in my life, and reminded myself that I’ve been through hell and back before, and I can do it again.  I stood there for some time, when finally I saw that it was nearing 4:00.  I still had a three hour drive to Medford, so I headed back toward the shore to make the long trek east.

It was a wonderful two days, and ever since my Bandon adventure, my conversation with Gwen keeps popping into my head.  I always thought that my gut instinct was the little voice, but I’m realizing that your body can be sending you conflicting signals at the same time.  For example, there can be a difference between what you think you should do for whatever reason, be it obligations or fears or desires, and what you know, deep down, that you really need to do.  Or, it could be that your gut is telling you what your brain needs to accept.

I’ve been trying to apply this theory to my life lately.   I’m up for a job that I’m not sure I want, so I’ve been focusing on what my instincts are telling me to guide me to a decision.  I don’t have an offer yet, so it may not even come down to that.  However, I feel like I have enough information and instinct to steer me in the right direction.

Like with everything, only time will tell which direction I go or what happens to me.  If the past six months have taught me anything, its that the only thing you can expect in life is the unexpected.    Everything else is a crapshoot.

Until next time ~ B

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I Can’t Make You Unpack Your Suitcase

This was so incredibly well-said, and has come at a perfect moment in my life. Thank you, Hannah Brencher, for this beautiful post.

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When I unzipped the belly of the little red suitcase the book was sitting there.

It was sitting right on top. It was waiting for me. Two years ago, I used to think that if ever I sat down and finally read that book, it would probably be my favorite book. Maybe one day. Instead, I grabbed a sweater and I closed the suitcase shut. I checked the bag. I would see it in New Orleans. There’s never enough room for your second carry-on bag when they lump you into Zone 3.

Half of my life plays out in airports. The people who spend too much time in airports know I’m not saying that to sound romantic. It can be a tad whimsical. On quiet mornings. And when you aren’t getting a connecting flight in Atlanta. And when you get to fly into cute, little airports with baggage claim…

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At The Intersection of Real Life and Dreams

“Dreams are lies.  A waste of precious thoughts.”

I read that recently.  I wish I could remember the source.   All I know is that I did not come up with it myself, so I give credit to the person who did.

That line has been on my mind quite often these days.  As I find myself at 31 years of age, single and childless, I am beginning to realize that I must come to terms with the reality that life has no guarantees.  This means that I need to start imagining a different kind of future.  One that does not involve a family.

Lest you think I have given up, dear reader, I will assure you that is not the case.  I have not given up on what I want.   Rather, I feel that it is disingenuous to go forth with the mindset that I will have the family I so dearly want someday.  The sad, unfortunate truth about the universe is that it owes us nothing.  The world does not stop turning when a heart breaks, or a child dies, or any other devastating event occurs.   Life swiftly marches forward, and if we don’t keep up, it will leave us in the dust.  It will do this no matter how desperately we want to grasp the clock and turn back the hands of time in an attempt to change the outcomes of our present.

I have been trying to imagine what my life could look like without a husband and children, and in doing so, I have had to ask myself the question of: “What makes me happy now, and what would make me happy in the future?”  I brought this up in counseling today, and my therapist agreed that I am doing the right thing by imaging different possibilities for my future.  She even straight up said: “Life has no guarantees.”

This brings me back to the opening line.   “Dreams are lies.  A waste of precious thoughts.”  The heartbroken cynic in me agrees with this 100%.  Why waste your brain space on dreams when the randomness of life will hit you with unpredictable events at a moment’s notice?  Why bother to plan for a future that may never come to pass?  It’s easy to dive into a sea of negativity and float out in its water like a sad, pale bitter melon.   Are dreams just lies we tell ourselves about the future to make the present seem more bearable?   When we think about future possibilities, are we just deluding ourselves into imaging a life that may never come to pass?  The only thing certain about life is its unpredictability, so perhaps dreams really are just a waste of precious thoughts.

Ugh.

The truth is, that is even too dark and depressing for me.  I may be a sad, pale bitter melon, but I want to hold on to whatever shred of hope remains in my psyche.  I want to hold on to the dream that someday, tacked onto my refrigerator, will be the picture of me, hubby, and  baby.

But in order for me to set a foundation for a healthy future, I cannot bank my entire life on that image.  I have to make room for other ideas of happiness.  Maybe I will never be a mom, but I could volunteer with kids.  I may never have a honeymoon, but I can travel to amazing places anyway.  I can try new things and surround myself with wonderful people and work towards making peace with that version of life.

Because when you are 31, single, childless, and female, you must make room for the possibility of a different kind of happiness.  Especially when you self-sabotage relationships.  I had to admit out loud today that I may end up alone, because if I don’t come to terms with that now, it will be all the more devastating to try and come to terms with that at 41, single, childless, and female.

Despite all of that, the deeper truth is that I am a fool for love, and will never stop looking or trying.  I may end up doing this my entire life, being a sort of Johnny Castaway of love, hanging out on my island alone, just waiting for that opportunity to come along.  I’ll dodge falling coconuts and hum loudly, and fall asleep just as the cruise ship sails by.

However, as I sit on my lonely island of one, I can’t help but wonder if maybe the question shouldn’t be “what else would make me happy” but rather “what is worth fighting for?”  At this point, I’m not sure what to fight for anymore.  I was recently in a relationship with a man who made me laugh every day, until things went to hell after I got pregnant.  At this point, I just wish he were around to make me laugh again.  Is that worth fighting for?

I have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that despite planning on being a family, we didn’t know each other very well.  I heard that from him and from others.  “How could it have been love?  You didn’t know each other,” one person told me.

So, how do I reconcile the concept of us not knowing each other with the connection that I can’t seem to shake?  Is that just the silly, rom-com loving, hopeless romantic dreamer inside of me, lying to myself?  Do I just need to resign myself to the reality that I made that connection up in my mind, and let it go?  Is this the desperate, lonely, 31 single childless female inside of me that doesn’t want to end up alone?

Or, is it something worth fighting for?  Because the truth is, he is a good man.  If he reads this, I’m sure he is shaking his head back and forth in disagreement.  He stood by me during pregnancy, and only left when it all became too much- the grief, me pushing him away, his old demons… I know how overwhelming it was for me, so I can only imagine how overwhelming it was for him.  And so I stand by my assertion.  Nothing will ever convince me otherwise.   He is a good man, and he is someone worth fighting for.  It may not be me who does the fighting, but that won’t be because I didn’t want to, or because he doesn’t deserve it.  The reasons will be entirely different, and much like my behavior during pregnancy, will be all about me, and nothing to do with him.

Only time will tell what I end up fighting for, and what my happy ending will look like.  I do know this: I will continue to dream, and allow myself to utilize my precious thoughts on the idea of a happy future, no matter what comes to pass.  Life may have no guarantees, and the universe may be moving forward without care or compassion, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up hope.  It doesn’t mean I have to stop fighting, because I may not be fighting for love, but I will at least be fighting for myself.

Until next time ~ B

Miscarriage Milestones and Bodily Betrayals (The M Word part V)

Tomorrow I would have been five months pregnant.  Big enough to find out the sex of the baby with an ultrasound.

Would it have been a boy or a girl?  Would she have had my eyes?  Or maybe he would have had his daddy’s smile.  Would we have been collecting things in blue or pink?  Would his middle name have been Michael?  Or maybe her name would have been Sophia.

This milestone, or lack thereof, really sucks.

My coworker is pregnant.  She was only a couple of weeks behind me in pregnancy, and she has a nice round baby bump.  Today at work she was showing it off with a fitted t-shirt.  It took all I could do to not just sit and stare at it.  I tried desperately to avert my eyes.  Is that how my belly would like right now?  I felt transfixed, and when she finally walked away, a relief flooded over me.   Every day I see her at work is like a slap to the face.  A reminder of what I will never have.

My baby died.  Hers survived.  Would you like to know why?  Because the universe does not play favorites.  Mother nature is not a warm cuddly maternal figure, but rather a cold, biological, unemotional entity that doesn’t care.  There is no god or higher power.  The world owes you nothing.

Sometimes when I see a woman holding a baby, my arms physically ache knowing I will never hold mine.  When I see a father holding his child, I see T holding ours and feel the acute pain knowing that will never come to pass.  When I think of pregnancy milestones, by body hurts.

Our child would have been beautiful.

I have never, in 31 years on this earth, known how much I want to be a mother until I miscarried my baby.  It was easy to get pregnant, but I have always known there was a chance I would have reproductive troubles.  I worry that my miscarriage was not a chromosomal abnormality, but rather my body being fucked up inside and unable to carry a baby to term.  I wonder if I will end up like those women who have miscarriage after miscarriage, only to have it all end in a divorce, because the relationship couldn’t survive all those years of broken dreams and failed pregnancies.  My relationship certainly didn’t survive an experience that, in such a heartbreaking way, brought out the worst in both of us.  We couldn’t survive the grief.

Miscarriage feels like a failure.  It feels like your body has betrayed you.  As a woman, this is the one thing that I am biologically programmed to do, and instead of successfully carrying out that task, my body malfunctioned.  On Christmas Eve, one of my favorite days of the year, the cramping and bleeding began that tore away the lining of my uterus, taking my baby with it.  The ultrasound scan displayed a now empty uterus.  Where I once saw a heartbeat, I now saw a blank screen.  This was visual proof that my body’s pre-programming system had failed.

Seeing my pregnant coworker makes me ask What is her body doing right that my body did wrong?

Miscarriage makes you feel like damaged goods.  Defective.  Insecure and self-consious. I can’t imagine telling this story to someone new without them running off into the hills.  What man is going to sign on for all of this?  Who is going to want me now?  Because it’s not just the issue of my defective body, but also because of my lingering abandonment/commitment issues.  I’m like a giant walking red flag.  I actually hid on the Max the other day because an attractive man kept looking at me and I was afraid he would walk over and start talking to me.  I hid behind a group of obnoxious teenagers.  Talk about a low point.

But that is the majority of my days now- a smattering of low points amidst moments of joy.

I am on the road to healing, but I will never forget this loss, and I will never forget these emotions.  This was my baby.  My little nugget.  A treasure that I shared with another human being, who would have been an amazing father.  An amazing father to our baby.

No, this will be with me always.

Until next time ~ B

 

 

 

 

 

Field Report: February 27, 2014

Pretty excited to have a new field report.  I feel that it has been far too long since I have had public transportation material.  Dear readers, I hope you enjoy today’s offering.

Max Green Line, AM Commute

The train was fairly empty, as it was past the morning rush.  I was traveling to work late, per usual.  Everyone was quite, reading or listening to music, when the train rolled to a stop at the Main Street station.  The doors opened, a few riders boarded, and the doors shut.  Instead of moving forward, the operator came on and said that we had to wait there a few minutes because there were two trains ahead of her at Gateway.  Not caring about the time, I kept my attention on my Twitter feed, also per usual.

Suddenly I heard, “Man, don’t you touch my bike!”

I looked over in the direction of the voice to see a tall, commanding man in a lime green reflective jacket.  “Are you drunk?!” he asked a smaller man whose attire indicated that he was not as well off as the larger man.  The smaller man said something that I couldn’t make out, and the larger man said, “I’m getting you off this train.”

I was tingly with anticipation, thinking this was going to be a great morning show.  He walked over to the door and pressed the emergency call button.  The operator came on and asked what was needed.  The man said, “Yeah, there’s a drunk and disorderly jackass on this train and he’s touching my bike.”  The operator said something about contacting security and the man replied, “Oh, he is going to get off this train.”

The smaller man looked at him defiantly and sat down.  “I’m not getting off this train!” he said.

The large man told the operator that he won’t leave, and she said it would be handled at the next stop.  The train began to move forward and I watched the small man sit in his seat, reading a small book out loud to himself.  He started praying and talking to himself about god.  The larger man stood staring at him, as if he was on guard.  Finally the small man looked up and started talking to the larger man.  It was hard to understand him, but I think he said something about being sorry.  The larger man replied something about his bike, to which the smaller man said, “Man, I have my own bike!”

We rolled to a stop at Gateway and a transit officer boarded.  “What seems to be the trouble?” he asked. The larger man had no qualms about making the smaller man out to be some kind of out of control rider.  The officer asked the smaller man for his ticket and photo ID.  The smaller man pulled his wallet out, and it was stuffed with cards, George Costanza style.  He pulled out an ID, and the officer said, “This is expired.  Please come with me, sir.”

The smaller man protested and said, “No, no I have another one,” and began rifling through his wallet for a piece of identification.  This is when I went from being amused to feeling sorry for him.  This wasn’t a drunk and disorderly jackass.  This was a drunk man who likely had mental health issues, and the larger man was the jackass who was blowing the event out of proportion.  The officer again asked him to get off the train.

“Come with me, man,” transit fuzz said.  The smaller man asked in a small voice, “Where we goin’?”  He stood up and slowly put his jacket on, then his backpack (attached to the bag was a small purple teddy bear) and he unhooked his bike from the rack and got off the train.

This time I took a closer look at what he was wearing.  His clothes were old and ill-fitting.  His bike was dirty.  The larger man stood there with a smug expression, and when the doors shut he took a seat.  As we pulled away, I watched the transit fuzz pull out his pad of tickets while the man continued to search through his wallet.

I wanted to walk over to the larger man and ask, “Are you proud of yourself?  Was all of this really necessary?”  But instead I just sat there, silently.  I hope the smaller man got to wherever he needed to go today, and I hope the larger man gets a big dose of karma.

Max Green Line, PM Commute

I missed my usual 4:35 train, and had to take the 4:53, which was absolutely packed.  I squeezed on board, and found a spot standing near the door.  I was tired.  It wasn’t that today was a long day, but rather, I just felt gross.  Have you ever had that kind of day?  Where you just feel so… blech?  My hair wasn’t doing anything, I was wearing a big oversized sweater, and I had dark circles under my eyes.  Despite getting what feels like enough solid sleep, I’ve been exhausted this week, and my eyes are showing the wear.

So I stood there, minding my own business, avoiding eye contact with anyone.  When the train arrived at Lloyd, three young men boarded and we all shuffled to make room.  I had about a foot of breathing space, with one of the young men right in front of me.  I was paying attention to my phone, but could hear snippets of his conversation.

“Yeah man,” the kid, likely between 18 and 21 years of age, said.  “So she came over and I totally fucked her.  And then she gave me an ounce of [something I couldn’t make out] and left.”  They all laughed, and one of the other boys said something I couldn’t hear, to which the kid in front of me said, “Haha, yeah.  You know I ruined all other men for her.”

I vomited a little in my mouth, and wanted to say, “Son, the only thing you probably ruined was her was the chance for a good time that night.”  But I kept my mouth shut.  As we hit each stop, we had to keep shuffling around just a bit, and he finally turned around and saw me behind him.  He must have not realized I was there because he looked a little surprised.  After that, he was much less boisterous to his buddies.

The train began to thin out after a few more stops, and finally at Flavel, the boys had reached their destination.  The train began to slow, and the kid in front of me turned around and looked at me.  Suddenly his body language and demeanor had changed.  “Please excuse me,” he said politely, as the doors opened.

Great.  He probably sees me as old enough to be his mother, and therefore feels the need to show respect.

I smiled politely and scooched over so he could walk off the train.  He was the last to leave, and just before he stepped onto the platform, he stopped and looked at me again.  “I just want to say that you are absolutely gorgeous,” he said, and stepped off.  My jaw dropped and I barely got a thank you out before the doors closed.

I stood there, stunned.  There I was, feeling so tired and gross, and this little punk who was just talking trash about some poor girl, just spoke to me like I was a lady.  I have no idea what he saw in me today, but it definitely put a smile on my face.

Today’s lessons:

Twice today I judged a book by it’s cover.  The small “drunk and disorderly jackass” on the train this morning turned out to be a man likely in need of mental health intervention.  The punk kid on the evening train who boasted to his buddies about his conquest is likely a polite young man when his friends aren’t around.  Today I was guilty of making snap judgements, which has been a bad habit of mine for some time.  I react before I think.  I need to start thinking more and reacting less.  We all have a story to tell.  We all have a chain of events in our past that have led us to where we are today: successes, failures, illness, divorce, abuse, poor decisions, good decisions, accidents, baggage, life, and death.

If we start looking past the exterior, we might be surprised with what we find underneath.  A life full of hopes and dreams.  A life that has weathered storms.  A life that is important and deserves respect.  A unique life with a story to tell that will be unlike anyone else’s.  And when you think about it, that’s really something, isn’t it?

Until next time ~ B

The Chains I Have Forged

Friend: “So, what happened?”

Me: “Normally, for the sake of brevity, I tell the truncated version of this story, which inadvertently leaves him looking like an asshole.  But the truth is, a lot of what went wrong is my fault, and it’s hard to explain that to people.  Even when I say, ‘Really, he’s not an asshole,” they don’t believe me.  So it’s just easier to keep it short and simple.”

Friend: “Well, you know that I’m going to be biased for you no matter what you tell me.”

Me: “That’s fine, you can be on Team B.  The real story is that I spent my entire pregnancy looking for reasons, any possible reason, to push him away.  And I did push him away, over and over again.”

Friend: “Okay, well now it’s really hard to be on Team B.”

Me: “Right?  I told you so.”

Last Thursday I reconnected with someone I met over the summer, via OkCupid.  Back then we had gone on a few dates, but realized we were looking for different things and ended our brief, uneventful affair amicably.  I reconnected with him over the phone a couple of weeks ago about a job I was looking into that is connected to his department, and as we were catching up, I was being very vague about my life.  He must have heard the strain in my voice, because he kept pressing for the truth and asking, “Are you really okay?”  Finally, I told him the brief version of events, and he expressed his sincerest apologies.  We made plans to catch up in person and be real friends this time, not the fake kind of friends you say you will be after a failed courtship.

The following week, over Old Fashioneds in a dark little bar in North Portland, we had the above conversation.  I explained to him the entire saga, as it is so much easier to talk to someone about life troubles when they are not a part of your close inner-circle.  It’s easy to be strong and impassioned and tell a story in a sterile manner to an acquaintance or stranger, rather than letting your emotion loose by breaking down in front of your bestie or your mother.

But I digress.

A few days before I had this conversation is when I realized the extent to which I played a part in driving away my Ex.  I have spent a lot of time focusing on his actions and short-changing mine.  It wasn’t intentional, as I had recognized some of what I did and apologized for it.  But what I really should have been apologizing for is something that I had not yet understood, and that is the following:

I pushed him away.  Every single day, I was subconsciously looking for reasons to break up with him.  Whether it was his drinking that I once shared in, his jokes that I once found funny, the extensive cell phone use that I had once tolerated, or the night my cat was sick, I picked at him like a scavenger dissecting a newly discovered carcass.

And despite this treatment, he kept trying to stay with me and make it work.  But he was right- nothing he did made me happy.  When he tried to keep me positive, I increased my negativity.  When he agreed with that negativity, I used that against him.  It was a vicious cycle that I perpetuated until the miscarriage.

Why did I do this?   Think about it- why does someone push their partner away if he or she loves them?  It is the fear of intimacy and commitment.  I am afraid of intimacy and commitment. 

There is the harsh truth in black and white that I have buried underneath a façade of smug relationship arrogance.  I have pushed away every man that was trying to legitimately give me what I claim to want.  Six years ago, there was the boyfriend who tried to atone for two years of emotional distance by asking me to marry him.  Four years ago, there was the man who was so emotionally available that it scared me into breaking up with him after less than a year.  A few months ago there was the man with whom I conceived a baby, and was prepared to do right by me and start a family.  How did I react?  By doing what I do best: panicking and finding reasons why he wasn’t right for me and we shouldn’t be doing this.

And between those men, I dated men who were either geographically or emotionally unavailable.  There was the California-based former classmate from college, the older married man with three kids, and the politician who lived three hours away.  In some way, either my partner or myself was inaccessible.

I am not sure it’s possible to put into words how I felt when this epiphany struck.  I was in the kitchen getting my things together for work and literally stopped moving, yogurt and water bottle in hand, and stood there for who knows how long, letting it sink in.  My throat closed up and my stomach burned, and the headache began to creep in.  When I was pregnant, I was scared, but I don’t think I realize how much of that fear was gaining energy and fire from events of my past.  I had already been to counseling twice about my father, and thought I had quelled those demons and put it behind me.

When I entered grief counseling in early January, I thought it would be focused on getting through the miscarriage and the breakup.  However, it became clear very early on that there was much more going on; emotions I had buried so deep that I was thoroughly in denial of their existence.  Yet again, in counseling I am working through a lot of my unresolved issues with my dad.  I told my therapist that I choose emotionally unavailable men in order to perpetuate my self-fulfilling prophecy: That all men will eventually leave, just like he did.  That I was not enough for my dad to stick around, so why would I be enough for any other man to stick around?

Having had one impasse with my ex earlier in the relationship, it was easy to peg him into the “Emotionally Unavailable” category of boyfriends.  I was originally going to write a column about how I choose the same types of men over and over again, and that I need to end this awful cycle.  However, it never occurred to me that I am also emotionally unavailable until now.

So after pushing him away for nearly two months, I miscarried the baby, yet remained in “family mode”, plowing full-steam ahead into the future.  I even had decided when I wanted to try for kids again, and I was planning all of this with him in mind, not understanding that he was free to do the opposite.  I just expected that we would stay together and be a family.

When he said he wanted to separate, I focused on his issues, his problems, his insecurities, all the while not taking note of my own.  I was so hurt that he was rejecting me.  I look back on that and cringe, because all I did during my pregnancy was reject him.  Of course he wanted to escape the woman who made him feel like he couldn’t do anything right.  With what I know now, I don’t blame him for leaving.

I want to pause and say that I am not attempting to martyr myself.  We both did things that we shouldn’t have, but this blog is not about his actions.  I’m done writing about that.  This blog is about recognizing my actions, and how I played a part in this breakup.   I am a deeply flawed human being who behaved in a manner that hurt another person without understanding what my hidden motivations were.  I accomplished what subconsciously I set out to do during my pregnancy: I pushed him away, and he took his freedom.

I thought about reaching out to him and saying, “I understand what I did, and I’m so deeply sorry.  I wish I could go back and change how things played out between us.   I have so many regrets.   That is not who I am.  That is not the partner that I want to be.   I want you to know what I am working really hard to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.  I want to be the girl you gave the resume to again.”

I could do that, but what would it accomplish?  He has chosen his path, and I promised him that I would not contact him again.   Nothing I say will change the past or fix the present or bring him back.  We will still be broken up.  I will still be that deeply flawed person who is not ready for a relationship.  And seeing him or hearing his voice will likely just make me hurt more and set me back on my own moving on process.  I did the bad thing and checked his Twitter feed.  He is doing well.  He is happy. I saw a recent picture of him, and he looked quite handsome.  His smile was genuine.  I’m not going to barge in on that with my special version of crazy and disrupt his life.  Instead, I’m just going to keep working on letting it go.

(I mean, Saturday night he went dancing for fuck’s sake.  D a n c i n g.  I saw that and my jaw dropped.  Now, I’ve seen his moves.  I’m not sure how that translated to a Portland dance club.  I imagine there was whisky involved, him dropping a line like, “I just got my new Benz,” and some skanky twenty-something bleach blonde bitches who just got their nails did for the weekend.  ‘Cause y’all know any broad that comes after me is a downgrade.  Amiright?)

*Ahem*  I digress.

One more ugly truth for the evening: I am still just as terrified as I was during my pregnancy.  This is my third time in counseling to work through my unresolved emotions regarding my father.  His abandonment has scarred me so deeply that I expect everyone to leave me, and thus I act accordingly.  I feel like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.  When Marley visits Scrooge, he warns him of his impending fate.  He shakes his chains at Scrooge, the chains he forged in life, chains that entwine his body and drag behind him on the floor.  For twelve years I have carried similar chains forged from unresolved pain, and I swing those chains at anyone who dares get too close.  I push people away in an act of self-preservation, and when they leave, the abandonment has come full circle once again.

How many times will it take to truly move past his abandonment and betrayal?   What will it take to dump these chains, to lift the emotional burden I have carried with me for so long?

What if this is it for me?  What if I will never really move on, and this is my life?  I want to be a wife and a mom so much, but what if that is not in the cards for me, because I will be ruled by the past, continuing to forge new chains for the rest of my life?  I am terrified that this is my future, and that I will either continue to cycle through self-fulfilling prophecies with men, or I will just abandon the idea of a family and live my life alone, living in an old house with cobwebs on the ceiling.  I’ll go to Bingo on Wednesday nights, play Bridge on the weekends, and the rest of the time hang out at home with the pitbull I will have saved from death at the local pound.  I’ll give him some kind of hyper-masculine name like Zeus or Black Dynamite, and we’ll watch TV on the couch together while I drink cheap wine in my purple sweatsuit and feed him Milk Bones.

I know that it doesn’t have to be like this, that I can work through this and make a future for myself in which I am happy and emotionally settled.  I have to keep telling myself that I am doing the right thing by examining all of this, by moving forward alone and letting go of the past.  I have to keep telling myself that I am capable of a healthy mind, body and soul.  I have to keep telling myself I can do this.

I fucking hope I can do this.

Until next time ~ B

I Danced, Because I had Nothing Left To Lose

I left the house ready for a wedding.  Dress was on, hair was curled, and makeup was dark.  I felt as confident as I was going to get for that evening, threw a smile on my face, and headed to a downtown Portland ballroom that overlooked the city.

I returned from the wedding exhausted.  My hair lost most of its curl, my eye makeup had begun to creep downward, and my feet ached from a night of dancing.  I hopped in the shower and let the hot water wash over me as I scrubbed the eyeliner and mascara off my eyes and wiped the sweat off my body.  I took a little longer than needed, absorbing the hot steam into my pores, relaxing my already sore muscles, and thinking about the events of the evening.

It was a beautiful wedding.  Not just the venue, which was gorgeous, but the entire event was amazing.  It was one of those weddings in which you could really feel the love and energy into the room.  The bride was beyond stunning, and the groom, quite handsome in his suit, looked as if he would float away from happiness.  She walked down the aisle to Coldplay’s “Til Kingdom Come,” more radiant that I have ever seen her.  The look on his face as he saw his future wife walk towards him and their new life together was priceless.  I feel so lucky to have shared in their day.

I did my best to focus on the event unfolding in front of me, an event I have been looking forward to since their engagement.  It was hard to focus, though.  I wish my former love didn’t creep into my thoughts so often.  In my defense, it is incredibly difficult to focus on someone else’s nuptials without thinking about your own trials and tribulations in love.  I was one of the very few single guests, surrounded by sea of couples, young and old.  Much to my chagrin, the DJ peppered a few slow songs throughout the evening, one of which was Adele’s cover of “Make You Feel My Love.”   I watched as the aforementioned couples made their way to the dance floor, hand in hand, and celebrated their own love.   To say it was bittersweet would be an understatement.

I hate to admit how sad I felt at moments, my chest heavy with longing and regret, wishing he was there with me.  I also had to put on my game face around all of the babies.  It’s a special kind of difficult to see couples with babies at a wedding after the events of the past few months.  Naturally it made me think of all the things I was looking forward to, until that last week of December when I first lost the baby and then lost the fella.  I tried to brush those thoughts away immediately and just enjoy the evening and the new friends I was making.   All things considered, I think I did a pretty good job.

And then I danced.  I danced my heart out, as if the world was my stage and this was my grand debut.  I danced till my heart pounded, my breath was short, and sweat had to be wiped from my brow.  I danced and I laughed and I let myself feel truly happy for the first time in months.  As we said goodbye, the bride told me I was one of the photographer’s favorite guests to shoot because I had a huge smile on my face at all times.  The bride’s smother came up to me and told me how great I looked on the dance floor.

I went all out up on that stage, because I had nothing to lose.

As I sit here typing this, the energy is leaving my body and the wind is howling outside my bedroom window.   I must close my eyes soon, but first I need to put pen to paper and purge these ruminations from my mind. I thought about happiness as I drove home.   As much as I felt envy for the bride and groom on this day, I realized it wasn’t just their wedding, but their happiness that I long for, and I won’t reach that kind of happiness with a partner until I find it on my own. I am a prideful person.  It is one of my greatest faults.  It is time to put pride aside and become the best version of myself that I can be.  I have work to do.  I have things to fix.  I have demons to slay.   I have actions for which I need to atone.

Just as important, I need to dance more.  I need to laugh daily.  I need to find my own joy, because no one will bring it to me.  I need to discover new things and meet new people.  I need to stop allowing the past to interfere with the present.

My first order of business I have already accomplished, which was a solo trip out of town.  It was something I have always wanted to do, and finally just went for it.  I will definitely be planning another trip soon.  The second order of business was not bringing a date to this wedding.  Although I had options, I did not want to bring someone just for the sake of having a date.  More importantly, I wanted to prove that I could enjoy myself at a wedding as a single guest.  I could find happiness alone.  And I succeeded.

Tonight was a small step in the right direction, but it still a step forward.  I can do this.  I have to do this.  I don’t want life to pass me by.  I don’t want the chance for love to pass me by, either.   I am truly doing the best I can, and while there are still many struggles ahead of me, I saw a ray of hope in myself tonight.  A small glimmer that said, “you’re going to be okay.”  And that is something that I will try to hold on to.

Until next time ~B