Me Too

It’s most of us, probably all of us, though I certainly don’t wish to speak for everyone. There is that point for many women, where we realize that the lines we’ve been handed about how anyone can be anything they want to be and have it ALL is complete and utter bullshit. Maybe the fact that we learn this so early and unequivocally is what keeps us from being as surprised and disgruntled as certain men seem to be when they don’t get their way or when something they thought they were entitled to doesn’t belong to them after all.

Women are conditioned to be nice and to give. Our time, our smiles, our attention – we learn that we’re expected to give all of this freely, to be nice, to be good, to put others’ needs and desires before our own. We learn that our bodies aren’t our own, not really. They can be touched and ogled and criticized and critiqued and legislated without our permission or consent. We learn that we need to be on guard, we need to laugh it all off convincingly, we need to deflect and protect feelings so that it doesn’t escalate. Sometimes we do this perfectly and can congratulate ourselves because we didn’t let ourselves “become a victim” and wow, that can feel good. Sometimes we fuck it all up and carry the blame and shame for something terrible we didn’t ask for and try to bury deep down so nobody will know. Or we talk about it with friends and partners and try to explain broken things that seem unexplainable and often it doesn’t seem worth it at all. And we hear in the news about so many instances of terrible things happening to women, but we also hear “what was she wearing?” and “why was she drinking?” and “what did she expect when she was out walking/running/being a person with a vagina all alone?” And we watch as our country elects a man who shows blatant and disgusting disrespect for women, even brags of assaulting them and then dismisses it as “locker room talk” or the things that all guys say, when women are not around – and we wonder if that can be true. And how do we keep moving through the world if it is? If we can’t trust the men in our lives not to laugh behind our backs and high five each other about assaulting us, how are we ever really safe? It’s disheartening, to say the least. We learn about Harvey Weinstein and read the endless awful stories and it seems a good thing that’s it’s all finally coming out, but all of those people who KNEW and did nothing, so that women had to whisper it to each other or find out about it the hard way? Well, that part is very hard to hear.

But maybe one day we decide to join all of the other brave people who are saying “me too” on Facebook and shucking shame that was never theirs to begin with and and opening up the discussion and pushing for the change that needs to happen. It’s just a little thing, but it’s a beginning. We are saying that sexual harassment and assaults happen all of the time to almost every woman you know, and many of the men as well. And it shouldn’t ever happen at all and we won’t be quiet anymore. We are saying that just because we are standing near you, existing alongside you, does not mean we are *for* you. Our bodies, our time, our attention, our smiles, our words?  They are ours and ours alone. We belong to ourselves.

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It’s All Wrong, But It’s Alright

Dolly Parton came up on my playlist the other day, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, as I adore Dolly and many of her songs. But when I heard the sweet sounds of “It’s All Wrong But it’s Alright,” piping through the speakers of my vaguely colored minivan I instantly thought, “Yes, that is exactly where I am!” Unfortunately it was not because it’s one of Dolly’s sexier tunes, which it IS, to be sure. Maybe the sexiest one of the whole Dolly Parton oeuvre. Dolly’s had some hot booty calls y’all! She’s not made of wood. And maybe I’ve had a few fun times with guys I knew were oh-so wrong for me – but the song’s actual meaning is not what struck this particular chord. Those scenarios would probably be way more interesting to read about, but too bad, so sad, people! I’m not about to divulge those sort of scandalous details unless you buy me a few drinks…which is actually mostly how I’ve gotten into those very situations, so it would be totally fitting….but I digress.

“It’s all wrong, but it’s alright” pretty much sums me up at this point. It’s been a year since my divorce and there have been countless ups and downs. I still get the feeling that my life is not quite right. It’s not what I expected or hoped for. Being a twice divorced mother of three boys was not something I would have ever predicted or wanted for myself. When I was younger, I always pictured myself living a quiet and organized life. I thought I might have a couple of pug dogs, but likely no other people in my small apartment in Boston or maybe New York, where I could walk everywhere and go to museums and parks or read a lot in my calm and clean home. I was way off in all respects, except for the reading ’cause #booknerd4life, y’all! And yet, it seems to mostly work. Living in Texas was not something I’d dreamed of, but here I’ve been for over 20 years…longer than anywhere else. And I like it here, except in the dead of summer when I am sweaty and grouchy and must always be clutching a frozen margarita. I love my sweet boys and the craziness and fun that they add to my life. I love my house, even though it is messy and filled with nerf guns and fidget spinners and mismatched socks all over the damn place. But I never dreamed I’d be a divorced parent. It’s not what I wanted at all. It still feels hard to accept that this is how I’ll be raising my sons and not in a “family” as I’d expected. It’s not a totally bad thing, mind you. I was talking to another single mother friend and we agreed that being divorced is infinitely less lonely than living in a bad marriage. And it’s true, the last few years of my marriage were some of the saddest and loneliest ones of my life. But even worse than being lonely, I always felt “wrong.” I found myself trying so hard to be different and better, to not fuck things up all the time and to not be so sad. It only succeeded in making me feel like a shell of myself and more and more wrong. I’ve written about it before, how I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around everyone all the time and constantly edit myself so that I didn’t upset anyone or take up too much space. Nobody explicitly asked me to do this, but I just knew that I was “wrong” and I wanted so much to be better.

I haven’t written about details of the end of my marriage, though it is certainly an interesting story and made for some good gossip among those who enjoy that sort of thing. While small humiliations related to it occasionally arise for me, that’s not really the reason I don’t address it in detail. I don’t want to write about it because most of it is not about me at all. I am an afterthought in that story, collateral damage. For me that was the hardest part with which to come to terms. It still feels dehumanizing and terribly sad to me, that I meant so little in that equation. I had so many times where I didn’t feel truly seen or cared for in my marriage…and horrifyingly enough, I was right! While in the marriage, I assumed that this was my fault. I thought maybe I was too messed up to feel truly loved. I squashed myself down in the hopes that if I could just be a better wife and mother, it would make my family work. Of course none of it is or was that simple. In the end I learned that my marriage had almost nothing to do with me, it was about my husband trying to create the illusion of the life that he thought he had to live. He didn’t think of me as my own person and I validated that for him by slowly, but surely ceasing to be one. He is not a cruel person and I don’t believe he purposely set out to deceive me. He was doing what he thought he should do to make his life “right.” And our ending has meant that both of us have the chance to be our true selves and make our own lives. That has to be a good thing.

So as crazy as it sounds to me, I’m still at a place where I’m working at learning to be myself. It’s all wrong, but it’s alright. I know my life is good and my overwhelming feeling about it is that I’m really lucky. My luck is weird, but it’s strong! The greatest assets I have are the amazing people surrounding me and filling my life with support, joy, laughs and love. They are my foundation. This year I’ve slowly started feeling like me again. But I sometimes don’t recognize this person. I still apologize too much and often feel like I need to edit my thoughts and words. I still usually feel like I should be better in some undefinable way. I don’t feel “right” yet. Does anyone? Is that a feeling that most people carry with them all the time, a sureness? I’d like for it to happen for me. I’m still waiting for it.

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Lemons into Lemonade

Maybe it’s all the sunshine, laughs with friends and frozen boozy beverages that summer 2017 has bestowed upon me, but I’m feeling more optimistic these days. I was in a dark slump that surprised me with its timing and darkness for a few months, earlier this year and I wrote about it, talked to my friends about it, ran lots of miles in the hope I’d outrun it, then huddled up and watched Netflix with it for a while. Something seems to have shifted these days. My life situation hasn’t changed all that much but I’m starting to feel better. This may be delusional. I recently had a few weeks of a dating situation that turned out to be not very fun and kind of bizarre (Lesson: Never date the unGoogleable!!) but strangely, I still feel like I’m on the upswing. So I will just go with it, delusion or not.  When I was younger, I used to pride myself in the fact that I was what I liked to call a “funmaker.” Inspired by my love of mentos, (not the fruity ones, all mint all the time, baby) the freshmaker. I had a genius for squeezing a good time out of very little money and few resources. I knew it was mostly about attitude and willingness to try something different, or to take a new route when things didn’t seem to be working on the path I was taking. Plus, I surrounded myself with other funmakers. It was funmaking at it’s best! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life back then (hadn’t discovered my passion for the library sciences) but I knew for sure that I wanted it to be fun.

This all seemed pretty easy to do when I was young, but man, it’s been harder as time has gone on. Life just bogs you down sometimes and fun gets pushed to the side. Everything else seems so much more important and urgent. It was particularly hard for me when my kids were little and attached to me all the time, like cute little barnacles that I would long to scrape off, but would then miss like crazy when I did. I was always exhausted and feeling like I was failing in some way. And I’d think, “This isn’t fun! I’m a funmaker, dammit. I need to fix it!” But I couldn’t figure out how. One day I was driving with the kids and I heard them yelling out numbers to each other. “Hey guys, what are you doing?” I asked. “Counting all the fun things,” my middle son replied. To my great delight, it turns out that my kids are funmakers! When we got home, we made a list (’cause I am also the listmaker) of people, places, things and special treats that we could do, see and/or have that would add to our fun. We made a bulletin board with our list and would choose things from it every day. Some things were small and easy, like playing a favorite song, eating a favorite food or watching a favorite tv show and some were more involved, like getting together with friends, making fancy cupcakes or going to a place we liked. The list made it easy to do something fun every day. I also started really celebrating every holiday that came up, especially crazy made-up ones. Elvis’ birthday, National Donut Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, etc. I took – and still take – great glee in tricking them on April Fool’s Day every year. And I researched routes on road trips to make stops at any weird, fun and unusual places that would make things exciting. I wanted so much for them to have a fun childhood and it made sense to work at it. I still do. It’s been harder over the past couple of years, but I do my best to remember to make fun a priority with them, especially now that we have less time together. These years have been so hard on them, too, so it seems even more important to choose fun whenever possible. But though I prioritize their fun, I don’t know if I’ve remembered to be a funmaker for myself. Why is that so hard?

A few years ago I was talking with one of my oldest friends and we were both exhausted and grouchy and she said, “Remember when we were young and fun? What happened?!” We both cackled at that, but it stuck with me. I’d think, “I used to be fun! Everything used to seem like a great adventure and now I’m apathetic and weary.” When I was married, for some reason it was rare for me to remember that I could choose fun for myself and not just for the kids or my husband. I forgot that I didn’t always have to do what everyone else wanted, while quietly feeling trapped and sad. Or feeling nothing at all, but tired. That was how I moved through the world for the last years of my marriage. And it wasn’t worth it. It’s not like my not being happy made anybody else happy or saved the marriage. It doesn’t actually work like that. At one point, I had a sitter for Valentine’s Day and my husband suddenly had to go out of town, abruptly canceling our plans (I could write an article called ‘Signs Your Husband Doesn’t Love You’, but I won’t, because UGH. Least fun article ever!). At first I was really disappointed, but then I had a flash of inspiration and decided that I should keep the sitter and get myself out of the house to do something just for me. Unfortunately that’s where my inspiration ended. It had been a really long time since I’d been out at night by myself and I couldn’t think of anywhere to go. I went to the library (another article idea: ‘Signs You Are a Nerd’. Yup, that one’s a winner!) and it was practically empty, as it was 7:30 pm on the biggest date night of the year. I thought “Hey it’s Valentine’s Day! I should definitely get some sort of sexy romance novel!” So I perused the shelves of books with muscley Fabio-types and ladies with heaving bosoms on the covers. I selected a few and went to the guy at the counter and he was all, “Are you having a Happy Valentine’s Day?” and then he realized the awkwardness of his question and blushed while fumbling with my pile of trashy, dirty books. And I said, “Obviously!” and started laughing. And I don’t know if that made it more or less awkward, but we both laughed about it, so it seemed to be a win. Then I took my books to Sonic and got a banana milkshake and sat in my car reading them and enjoying some quiet for a while. This may sound like a very lame night to some, but I loved it. Frankly, it was one of my better Valentine’s Days, which probably tells you a lot about my love life, thus far. But hey, lemonade from life’s lemons, y’all!

And going with that theme, a silver lining in having to end a doomed marriage that you wanted so badly to work, is that you get the space to figure out what makes you, as an individual, happy. That seems a good thing to know. Maybe other people don’t lose that in their marriages and children, but I definitely did. I didn’t mean to leave myself behind, but ten years went by in a blur and I left that marriage feeling like I didn’t know how to be happy anymore. It’s taken me over two years to figure out what I like again. I’m still learning. At first I said yes to a lot of things that I didn’t actually find fun, because they were other people’s ideas of fun and I was used to not really thinking about what I wanted and what I liked. I had trouble figuring out what made me happy. Lately, I’ve been thinking more carefully about those things. And I’m getting better at it. It’s easier for me say no to things that don’t sound appealing, despite other people’s opinions on the matter. And when I’m in the moment I’ll think, “Do I like this? Do I want this? Is this fun for me or do I need to walk away?” Sometimes I walk away. And that is working for me. I made myself a list of places and activities that make me happy and I keep it on my phone. When I’m feeling lost I break it out and make myself do something on that list. Sometimes I try a few things. I’ll admit, some things on that list are pina coladas and wine. But there are many other things as well. It’s helping. Making fun a priority instead of a luxury was a good first step to overcoming my slump. Perhaps I’m on my way to being a funmaker again? We’ll see.

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Learning to Fly

I frequently describe myself as a “nervous traveler” or just “not a great traveler” but I’ve started to rethink those ideas. It’s true that I feel somewhat incompetent when I travel by plane, mainly because for most of my life I would fly once every few years, maybe twice in a really big year. In my younger days, I was always too broke for anything but long car trips or the ‘hound. That’s what the cool broke people call the Greyhound bus, btw. Well that’s what I call it, anyway. And I hope to avoid it for the rest of my life. Speaking of buses, I once went on the Mexican version of the ‘hound and some of my fellow passengers were actual birds. That was an adventure. Would a bad traveler do that? Maybe I’ve had the potential to be a good traveler, but not the resources? Hmmm…

My second marriage was to a great traveler, so I had high hopes that we’d go a lot of places together and I’d become an expert at it. But we had lots of kids (three, but all boys and in less than four years, so it’s really like having fifteen) immediately, so my travel dreams were put on hold while I was tethered to the earth. We did take a LOT of road trips, which is really the way to go when you have young children. At least if your asshole kid is screaming in your personal minivan you don’t have to apologize to anyone when you put in ear plugs and ignore him for 7 hours. And nobody has to know that you are carrying around a large bottle for the children to pee in, that you actually refer to as “the pee bottle” because you’re just handing them any damn juice box they want so their little mouths will be quiet for a while, but you don’t want to have to stop at sketchy gas station bathrooms every 40 miles when you could just pull over for a pit stop and then empty child pee all over these great United States. I bet this ensured that search dogs could have easily located my family on any of our trips, had we needed to be rescued, so really it was a win-win. Plus, I always researched any weird and interesting places that might be along our route, so we’d get to see some crazy shit, like a giant King Kong statue, boat and train-shaped restaurants, the Precious Moments chapel, a big blue whale you could wander inside of, multiple Elvises (Elvi?) and South of the Border, where Pedro sez you need to stop, so you just do. I will always go out of my way to see something unusual. It’s one of my life’s guiding principles.

So maybe I could be a good traveler, but I just haven’t flown often enough to totally get the hang of it. My air travel skills are still like those of a very old, very young, or slightly drunk person. I am unclear about what is happening, but I’m really excited! I can’t figure out how to check in my bag, and I ALWAYS have a bag to check, because I have not mastered the skill of paring things down when I might NEED a variety of shoes and multiple books. There are always new and unpleasant protocols to follow, just to get near the plane, like shoe removal and weird body scans and threats of pat downs and anal probing. It is all really confusing and makes me rumpled and disoriented and protective of my body parts. I’m getting better with it, though. This has been a big travel year for me, possibly the biggest ever. I’ve flown 4 times since July! I know, right? It’s huge! I stayed in hotels by myself twice and it was glorious. I have plans for even more travel in the upcoming months. Soon there may be a time when I can call myself a great traveler. And I will! The main thing I’ve realized is that in order to navigate travel one needs to READ THE SIGNS. There are many of them posted. They are telling you things that you need to know. This is good practice for life in general, not just for traveling. Read the signs!

I love being at the airport so much more than the actual flying part. It’s really fun to watch all of the people. So many interesting outfit choices. People are either super-fancy or they’re like, “Screw it! Why shower or wear anything clean when I’m going on a damn plane? I’ll just wear these pajama pants with the blown-out elastic waist. Yup, that’s my butt crack. No need to hold up the security line when you can see for yourself that I’m not hiding anything in there. You’re welcome everyone.” Hmmm…maybe those people are on to something.

I usually spend money that I would not ordinarily spend in airport stores, and not just at the Starbucks. Magazines are a given, because Us Weekly is never more compelling than when you read it on a plane. But I’ll even be tempted by souvenirs FROM MY OWN CITY. On my most recent trip, I had to convince myself that I didn’t need to bring a packet of “chili-fixin’s” from the Austin airport with me to New York. If I hadn’t been distracted, I would have totally picked up those fixin’s (oh my God, it is killing me to make something plural with an apostrophe, but I think that’s the way you are required to do it with something called “fixin’s”) on the way home. And I’ll just admit here that if I’ve ever given you a gift after I’ve taken a trip where I traveled by plane, there is an 85% chance I got it at the airport.

I am not at all a fan of the actual flying on the plane part. It’s always too cold and claustrophobic for me to really be comfortable. And despite my lack of frequent flying, I’ve had some weird and unfortunate flight experiences. Have you ever been screamed at by a hysterical flight attendant to put on your oxygen mask while you made an emergency landing because of an issue with cabin pressure? I have. The bags do not inflate, but the oxygen still flows, just like they said it would. How about being on a flight that is rerouted to a different place, because after four insanely turbulent attempts at landing in a dust storm in El Paso, the plane is running out of fuel and the pilot is will finally admit defeat, as your fellow passengers get teary, throw up and pray. I had that harrowing experience with Shakira and her husband last summer. Thank God I was with them, because they are never opposed to getting drunk and that was exactly what I needed to do, once we were on firm ground.

Usually if I’m flying alone, I take Dramamine, put on a fuzzy neck pillow and try to fall asleep and miss as much of the flight as possible. Do good travelers do this? Do they bring better distractions? Do have access to better drugs? Are these some of those adult secrets I never seem to know until it’s really late, like that people who have kids, but also have clean houses most likely *pay other people* to clean them. Or that more people than you’d suspect, who don’t have those “eleven” lines between their eyebrows, that you get from thinking “WTF?” too often get a little botox there? I didn’t know these things before and just thought I was failing at things like cleanliness and graceful aging. Perhaps it is the same with travel? Are there just a few more things I should learn and then I will be an amazing traveler? Let me know!

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Don’t Say It!

While watching April the giraffe give birth on Saturday morning, I had the almost irresistible urge to post, “So glad I had c-sections! I feel like I got away with something!” as my Facebook status. I admit, that even six years after my last c-section, I get the urge to say shitty things like this, probably because there were multiple people with internet medical degrees who had unsolicited opinions about me having c-sections due to my not knowing better and not watching Ricki Lake’s documentary carefully enough. Who cared if my uterus was riddled with tumors, possibly from a childhood of drinking tap water in a factory town? Obviously I was just caving in to what my doctor wanted, because I didn’t do enough googling.  Anyway, I didn’t post it, because it was dumb and shitty and it’s been six years and who cares? But still, I am a little proud of my restraint.

Is it just me or does this happen to everyone? Many times a day something that I DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT SAY will pop into my head at the most inopportune times and I have to spend a great amount of energy stifling it until I am in no longer in danger of saying the unwise or offensive or hugely awkward statement. The problem is, when I think about saying the thing I should not say, it makes me laugh. There is a very bad part of me that thinks that saying the inappropriate thing would be totally hilarious. It’s like having a cartoon angel and devil on my shoulder saying “Shhhh…don’t say that!” and “Oh my God, say it right now, I’m dying!” So far I’m not bad at stifling. Unless there’s alcohol involved…

In job interviews when they ask the question about your biggest challenges or weaknesses at work? Every time, I want to say “Hire me and find out!” But I never have. Instead like everyone else, I’m a “perfectionist” who just loves to get everything so perfectly perfect that sometimes it’s hard when things can’t be as perfect as I prefer. I can almost say that without laughing. It’s my favorite interview lie next to “I’m a people person.” If the people are quiet and give me enough space and never bother me when I’m reading, then yes, I’m totally a “people person.”

At funerals, I always want to say that the deceased looks like the “picture of health” because at my dad’s funeral my sister and I overheard a senile great aunt saying it about him and it may have been the most darkly comic moment of my life. And to be fair, my dad would have thought it was really funny. Now my sister and I say “Picture of health!” any time someone dies (but quietly, because we aren’t total assholes). It would be comedy gold if she and I were to meet Steve Bannon, so that one of us could tell him he was looking well and was “the picture of health” and then we could both pee our pants while we tried not to laugh at him openly.

I say some inappropriate things with women, but it is much worse with men, particularly in “getting to know you” situations. My stifling mechanism doesn’t seem to work as well. Maybe because interactions of that kind are inherently awkward and comical and I usually try to smooth the edges with a cocktail or two. But I say some nutty stuff. It’s truly amazing that I tricked two suckers into marrying me. Don’t tell them I said that. I once briefly dated a long haired man who wore his tresses in a ponytail on our first date, but had it all long and loose and kept flicking it around like a sexy Jesus on the second date. It was very distracting, mainly because I was trying not to say the words “sexy Jesus” in his presence. I managed to hold that in, but later he brought up something about his long hair and I said “I usually find long hair on men really feminine…uh…but not yours…though it’s really pretty, er manly? It looks really healthy!” Things pretty much devolved from there and it was not a love connection.

Once a guy told me his son’s name and it sounded like some magical, made up Game of Thrones-style horror (I didn’t say that aloud. Yay, me!) and the thing that popped into my head was, “I could never love you.” Awful. I am an awful person. I stifled it, of course. But I couldn’t ever love him. That is a fact. Besides the GoT-named child, he had smoker’s breath and was a very close talker. Like a sexy Game of Thrones-style dragon? Eh, I just couldn’t make that work for me.

Recently I met a man who was telling me all about how he has his pilot’s license and how he flies so many places and it is all so exciting and fun and I should come with him some time…and all I kept thinking was “I know how you’re gonna die. Fiery crash!” Is that not the most horrible thing, ever? What the fuck is wrong with me? Granted I was not feeling positively toward him, mainly because before he got on the piloting subject he seemed to be hitting on me by mansplaining three subjects I had no interest in, in the fifteen minutes we were talking. That has to be some kind of record. But oh my God, that was a terrible thing that I stifled! It’s not like I even know what I’m talking about. From the way he was going to town on his fried mushrooms and other pub food, he’s probably going to die of a heart attack like most Americans. I didn’t say that either, by the way. I just excused myself and hid in the bathroom.

I feel like as I get older I’m may just stop stifling as much and embrace the devil on my shoulder. I’ll be one of those old bitches who says something awful, then cackles into her whiskey. I’ll find a tribe of other asshole people and say, “If you don’t have something nice to say, sit by me!” and we’ll pass my flask around and say every inappropriate thing that pops into our heads. It will be entertaining, to say the least.

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Cats are Assholes

Look, I’m just going to say it: I think most cats are assholes. I hate to admit that I feel this way, as I tend to be open minded about most things. I’m not into newer country music, most sports, many theme parks, carrot cake or that guy who plays Sherlock, but I can definitely see why people like these things. I recognize that we all find different things appealing and that is good. It’s what makes the world interesting! And I am usually able to get along with just about anybody, even people who seem to have no sense of humor, other than the laughter that comes at other people’s expense. Do you know the type of person I’m talking about? Is it my imagination or are there more of them lately? They are not fun or funny, but they *think * they are. Ugh. I’ve had to deal with more than a few of those folks in my life and they are extremely tiring to endure for long periods and only barely manageable in small doses. I generally just nod and smile and make affirmative sounds near them, until I can get away. Much like I do with cats. Which was the subject I was on, before I digressed. I often digress. I have no illusions about my endurability to others, but thankfully I like my own company. But cats? They suck. There, I just threw that down. Boom!

I know that some people admire the “don’t give a fuck” attitude that cats seem to have, but not me. That attitude doesn’t make me want to win them over, it convinces me even more that they are assholes. It’s not that they aren’t cute assholes. They are adorable! I love pictures of cats, especially in clothing, but even uncostumed, they are pretty damn cute. I don’t love that they will walk on your counters and tables and not even give a shit that you don’t like it and think it’s probably unsanitary. I don’t love that they poop and pee in a box that you have to clean frequently so that your home doesn’t smell like an indoor zoo exhibit. But I could deal with those issues.

Here’s what I can’t deal with: I hate that cats ALWAYS approach me. Always. They meow at me and look irresistably sweet. They rub up against my leg as if to say, “I reeaaally like you. Pay attention to me. Give me pats.” And I always acquiesce even though I know how it’s going to end. I pat them for a while, they purr and seem oh-so happy, they snuggle up to me and relax. And then, out of nowhere, those cute little motherfuckers will bite me. Almost every time! If they don’t bite me at this point, it just means that this is a long con, where they are going to bite me six months or a year from now when I trust them more. Hmm….this is sounding scarily similar to my history with men. Given this, you would think that I’d be all, “Cats just seem right to me for some reason. I don’t know why, but I just love them so much.” But no. My heart belongs to doggies.

Dogs are just as cute as cats, but they are unabashed in their adoration. They will wag and jump and seem absolutely crazed to see you, even if you’ve just re-entered a room you walked out of five minutes ago. Dogs will go on a walk with you and make you slow down (while they sniff and pee on stuff, it’s true) so that you actually see all the pretty trees, flowers, yard art and other people in your neighborhood. But you won’t have to talk to them, because dogs try to protect you. My crazy ten pound Josie will get in front of me and bark and growl ferociously at anyone who dares approach me when we are out walking. While I doubt that she has saved my life in this way, she has almost certainly saved me from countless uninteresting conversations. Dogs will happily play fetch with you or wade in a creek, but they are also happy to sit next to you and watch a Netflix marathon. And dogs look even better than cats in clothes. If they love you, they will totally let you dress them and take photos to send your friends and post on instagram. Dogs are not sneaky at all about wanting your food. They are never subtle. All I’m saying is that dogs are sweeter, snugglier, more helpful, more loyal and just generally better than cats.

I know that people will disagree and may try to change my mind, but ironically, my personality is more like a cat’s than a dog’s and I will not care at all. Maybe this attitude is why so many cats approach me. They know I’m a kindred spirit. An asshole who deserves a good chomp every once in a while. They probably aren’t wrong.

 

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Happiness Dress

I found my Happiness Dress on June 23, 2015 in a New York City thrift store for $10. It isn’t anything special, although the cut is “fit and flare” which is good for someone like me, whose body has been described as “compact, but with booty.” Something that pulls in at the waist and then flares out in a twirly skirt is particularly flattering on me. The print would be called “white leopard.” Is that an actual factual animal? A quick Google search tells me it is! A snow leopard is a wonderfully sleek and powerful looking creature who seems pretty damn fierce. Like a total bad ass. Maybe that’s why the dress stood out to me. I don’t usually go for animal prints, but I needed some fierceness and bad assery when I found it.

It is slightly nubbly with those little pills that form when you throw something in the washing machine when you were probably supposed to dry clean or hand wash it, but who has time for that shit? I have one of those clothing shaver things that takes most of the pilling off, but I don’t do it too carefully because you would only really notice it if you were standing very close and I seldom let anyone get that close.

I found the dress 90 days after I learned that my marriage was over and that it hadn’t ever really been a marriage, but more of a failed experiment. I’d been a blind participant in that experiment for ten years of my life. I never had all of the information I should have had until it was too late for me to do anything but watch it all fall apart around me. And I fell apart, too. I cried every day for 90 days, usually several times a day. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was crying, tears would just leak out and I’d think, “I should probably drink some water, because I’m going to get dehydrated.” I cried alone, I cried with my friends, I tried not to cry in front of my kids, because they deserved so much better than that. I cried while I finished my freelance job, I cried while I packed up the things I wanted to take with me and cast aside many of the relics of a pretend life that I would not have chosen, had I known better. Through it all, I understood that my soon to be ex-husband hadn’t done any of this with malice or specifically to hurt me. It was just that he had never really considered that I was my own person who deserved to have choices too. And the knowledge and choices should have come long before he realized that he could no longer pretend to be someone he wasn’t. Long before I spent years of my life thinking that I was all wrong, feeling like I deserved the blame that he pushed on me and living in a smog of secret resentment that I couldn’t understand. I hadn’t been happy in the marriage for years and now I knew why. But that knowledge didn’t give me much solace. Nobody wants to find that they are the collateral damage of someone else’s triumphant life story, even if you truly hope they will have a fulfilling life and get to become the person they were always meant to be. I doubt anyone actually enjoys being the selfless and endlessly sacrificing wind beneath someone else’s wings, even if Bette Midler will sing your praises. At least I don’t enjoy it. I need to fly on my own.

After three months of this brand of agony, I had to get away for a while. Luckily, I had a week and a half in June where I could. First to Massachusetts, the state of my birth, where I stayed with family and old friends. I still cried every day, but I started having longer moments in between where I didn’t feel like crying anymore. It was beautiful there and being with the people who knew me when I was young, before this marriage and my children, seemed to help. A night in New Hampshire around a fire pit, laughing with old friends did wonders for my spirit, as did a night of karaoke, scorpion bowls and an Elvis impersonator in a Chinese restaurant. I could feel myself coming back. I did cry behind sunglasses at the train station in Fitchburg, where a fellow named Sippy sat next to me after I gave him two bucks. He said, “Are you this sad over a man? No man is worth your tears.” I said I was sad about everything. He told me I was a strong, beautiful woman and that I was going to be ok. “But learn from Sippy and don’t get into any bad shit. That’ll fuck you up forever. You just gotta keep going and keep it together.” Good advice, Sippy. Thanks.

I went to New York to stay with my friend T and we planned a day of fun. We wandered the city, had a delicious lunch with another dear friend, spent hours at the Met and then popped into a random thrift store, where I found the dress on a sale rack. I put it on and looked in the mirror and even though it was a little nubbly, it didn’t look half bad. And I noticed something else. My eyes were less puffy. I realized I had not cried at all that day. It was the first time in 90 days that I hadn’t shed a tear. I might have even been happy. It had been so long, far longer than the 90 days I’d been crying, and I’d forgotten what happiness felt like. I bought the dress. Later T reminded me that my happiness wasn’t new or fleeting. It had always been in me and I was learning to find it again.

I thought about that day a lot when I had other days where I felt like it was entirely possible that nothing could ever be good again. I’d remember June 23rd and I’d know that I had been happy for a whole day. Moments of happiness were really possible and I could have them again. This reminder pulled me through some very dark times. This too shall pass. Everything does.

I’d almost forgotten about my Happiness Dress. The March days have been warm and I was recently looking in my closet for something to wear to work, when I spotted it. I think I need it right now. The latest slump I’ve been in is taking an embarrassingly long time to lift. I keep moving forward a little and stumbling back. I’m still doing the things I know to do when you’re in a slump: I’m running regularly, trying to eat healthily and get good sleep – although I’m writing this late at night/early in the morning in a bout of insomnia. But I’m making my insomnia productive instead of watching The Office on Netflix. I’m hugging my boys, I’m walking my dog, I’m seeing my friends, I’m working. I’m not into any bad shit. I keep on going and I’m keeping it together. But damn, I’m tired and low and there seems like a lot to dig through to get to my happiness. I think it’s still there, though. I think so. I will wear my Happiness Dress to remind me that I have all I need. It may seem silly that a dress can remind you of things you should probably already know, but that’s what I’m working with these days, so I’ll take it. Besides, I will look like a fierce and bad ass snow leopard and that feels pretty good.

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Tell a Smart Girl She’s Pretty; Tell a Pretty Girl She’s Smart (part 4 in a series)

August 2004

Pierce had really ripped my heart to shreds (twice, three times?), but everything else seemed to be working for me. Things were more or less back on track in my life: I moved back to Austin from Lubbock, bought a condo, started working at a new job with some great friends. I went into another one of my dating frenzies.

One August night, my friend Gigi and I were hanging out at a dive bar on South Congress called the G&S. It was a boy haven—cheap beer, liquor, video games, foosball and a deck out back for those who could brave the heat. Obviously, Gigi and I usually went there in search of boys. It never failed to disappoint.

We were sitting a rickety table with a pattern that strangely I remembered from the bathroom counters in my house growing up when Christopher approached us. His brown hair was cut in a floppy skater cut; his blue eyes were intense. I had a datable height scale at the time, written on the white board in my cube: 5’8” and below, not datable. Christopher seemed to be in the good range, just about 6 feet tall.

He had a nice smile.

Christopher sat down with his whiskey on the rocks and chatted with us for a while, lighting up a cigarette and explaining that he’d just gotten off work. Work was in walking distance, in fact, just through the alley.

A raised eyebrow from Gigi. “What do you guys do, sell things that fall off trucks?”

He laughed. He had a row of uneven teeth that were somehow charming. “No, we do campaigns. For the good guys.” He looked meaningfully at me.

Not wanting to come on too strong (I hoped), he finished his cigarette, told us he needed to chat with his work buddies, one of whom was watching from the bar with a grin. Waiting to see if Christopher scored or flopped.

Gigi and I wandered into the back room to talk to some other conquests from earlier in the night. We wound up missing Christopher’s departure. I was disappointed. Something about him had hooked me—that disarming smile? His obvious focus on me? He was definitely the stuff politicians are made of. I marched up to his work buddies, grabbed a white cocktail napkin from the bar and a purple felt tip pen from my purse. I scrawled my name and phone number on the napkin.

“This is for Christopher,” I boldly told his friend, a Latino guy wearing a ball cap and a smile. “I don’t just give this to just anyone, so he better use it.”

Christopher called the next day while I was at work. I squealed over the cube wall to my friend Monica, “I think it’s that cute guy from the bar!” before picking up the phone.

Unbeknownst to me, I had given my phone number on a cocktail napkin to his boss, who promptly called a staff meeting the following morning and presented the napkin to Christopher. Over the phone, Christopher laughed and said, “I know I’m supposed to wait three days, but I think those rules are for people with less confidence than you and I.”

I laughed with him. Confidence? I was broken. But he didn’t need to know that yet.

He came to pick me up that Sunday evening. He struck me as unfailingly polite simply because he opened the car door of his Isuzu Trooper for me. As we drove down the street, he mentioned again how he worked for the good guys.

“And those are…” I prompted, a wary eye on him. He has sideburns, I thought. Cute.

“The Democrats,” he said, giving me the same wary eye as we pulled up at a light. “You dig?”

“I dig,” I laughed.

“Whew,” he said, shifting into first as the light changed, “I’m glad we got that right or I would have had to take you back home before the date even started.”

It broke the ice immediately. We went to South Congress Café for dinner, followed by the Elephant Room. It was strange, returning to the scene of my first date with Pierce. And it was nearly as strange that I could open up immediately to Christopher. I found myself spilling everything to him. It struck me again that he had political aspirations and perhaps that was why. But the conversation flowed; we couldn’t stop talking. Much like my date with Pierce. And I wondered where this was going—already. Up till this point, I hadn’t found anyone who could compare to Pierce or put a salve on my wounded heart.

Christopher brought me home, and at the door, he took my hands in his. He looked at me, right into my eyes. “I definitely want to see you again,” he told me, and then he kissed both hands and smiled. I went inside, closed the door and smiled too.

A couple of days later, after several email exchanges, I got this one: “Hey pretty lady, what are you up to for lunch today?”

When I pulled up outside the sub shop, I saw him reading a paper.

“What’s up?” I asked. It occurred to me that I was nervous.

“Just reading about the bad guys,” he said, looping an arm casually around my shoulders. He was so idealistic and passionate; he wanted to change the world, removing one Republican “evildoer” at a time. I thought he was fascinating. I returned to work and stopped by Monica’s cube.

She turned from her monitor. She evaluated me, and then her eyes widened. “You like him!”

I was grinning ear to ear. “Oh my God, Monica. I think I do.”

That afternoon he wrote me another email, with the subject line: “Dealbreaker.” My heart caught in my throat—what did that mean? I was in a meeting with a director, and the email popped into my inbox as he was speaking into the phone for our conference call. I hurriedly read the email and hoped that there would be no questions for me from the other meeting attendee on the phone, because my focus had definitely shifted from work. “You either need to be less hot or less engaging,” Christopher wrote, “because I forget to eat when I’m with you, and I’m going to waste away to nothing.”

I smiled, and exhaled with relief.

The thing I loved about us in the beginning—the thing I would tell my mom—is that we were tender with each other’s hearts. I relayed my Pierce story, and he listened patiently. I told him I was messed up—“Christopher, I’ve got daddy issues, and my heart has been stomped on, and I’m not quite right—are you sure you want me?” I asked with tears in my eyes. He enveloped me in his arms. “Love love love love love,” he whispered.

He had been hurt too. His prior girlfriend had cheated on him, and he had trouble trusting that I wouldn’t be the one to stomp on his heart. It was such a bizarre reversal for me. He seemed so vulnerable and honest. He would stop me in the middle of a conversation and say, “I love you.” We went to a Longhorn football game together—it was my first date to a Longhorn football game ever—and I thought he was the most perfect man in the world.

He worked. A lot. We fought about that in the beginning, because he just didn’t have the time I wanted. It was hard for us to coordinate our schedules, especially because he wasn’t a planner. And if he wasn’t at work, he was hanging out with his friends. Christopher claimed he needed “alone time,” but he was never actually alone. He definitely needed time away from me, and never backed down on that one. If he was having happy hour with work people or watching football with the guys, that was it. No debate. No girlfriends allowed.

While I was toying with the idea of law school, it had been a certainty for him since high school. It seemed like our hopes and dreams and goals were dovetailing nicely, but law school would require a lot of scheduling and time.

“I believe in us,” I told him solemnly one night over drinks at an Irish pub downtown.

“Every time you say something like that, a little piece of me melts,” he breathed.

We were ridiculously in love.

I had already learned, though, that love doesn’t necessarily conquer all. He was right for me in all the ways that Pierce and Billy hadn’t been, but there were huge fault lines in the relationship. Marriage and kids were the glaring ones: simply put, I wanted to get married someday and he didn’t; he wanted to have kids and I didn’t.

“It always seems like we’re talking about the end, and we just started,” I would lament.

He would pull me close and tell me we’d figure it out.

I hoped he was right, but the other big issue, simply, came down to this: Christopher didn’t like me. I know that sounds bizarre on the heels of describing how much we loved each other, but it’s true. It was the reason we had separate lives: in social situations, he was embarrassed about my behavior. He claimed it was worse when I drank, and we drank plenty.

September 2006

It was a sticky, close ACL Festival night. We were under a canopy pop up tent with a group of his political friends to watch Willie Nelson. Dusk had fallen, and drinks had been consumed, making it hard to see and understand what happened. His friend Carissa was looking for someone’s purse in the pile we had made on the floor of the tent. I wanted to keep mine close because I always carried a wad of hard-earned, hard to come by cash for ACL—food and drink provisions made it necessary to do so—and she grabbed mine, holding it up to one of her friends: “Is this it?”

“Oh, hey, that one’s mine,” I volunteered, taking it from her outstretched hand and slinging it across my body. As I said, I thought it probably wasn’t smart I had let it languish in the pile of assorted belongings—purses, bags, flip flops. “Thanks,” I said, and continued to enjoy the concert, oblivious to Christopher’s rage at my apparently appalling attitude.

A week later, Friday night, I was sipping wine at my condo when Christopher blazed in from work, happy hour with his friends—whatever. He had made it clear that what he did or whom he did it with when we weren’t together wasn’t really my business. I had fallen into the sad and terrible habit of drinking wine and watching TV or writing in my journal on Friday nights, listening to music, really whatever could pass the time until Christopher deemed came over to see me. I just waited for him because he had set the rules on our relationship, and I was all too willing to oblige.

He unceremoniously dumped his junk on my dining room table. Another thing he had adopted was practically living in my house after we’d been dating for two years. This arrangement meant that he had stuff both in his home and mine—clothes, computers, work papers, magazines and books—and I cleaned up after him in my house. I even did his laundry. As a result, he didn’t have to clean up after himself in either place, and he had the added benefit of no commitment to living with me. Christopher needed an escape hatch, and that was his bachelor pad with his roommates. When I became too real, he could always leave. When he came back to my place, he had clean clothes and a girlfriend waiting on the couch.

“We’ve got tickets to the Longhorn game tomorrow,” he said, not looking at me, scrolling through something in his phone.

“Who got them for us?”

“Carissa,” he replied. Distracted, again, as he opened his computer, sat down and started working.

I didn’t recognize the name. “Who?” I asked, taking another sip of wine and also distracted, looked through the list of available shows on my TiVo.

“The girl who you got really mad at for touching your bag at ACL,” Christopher replied. His eyes were on his computer screen.

I set my wine glass down, carefully, because I could already feel my adrenaline pulsing. “Excuse me?” I said, levelly.

Still, not looking at me, working on his computer, he replied, “She grabbed your bag accidentally and you snatched it back and she said she was sorry about six times and you didn’t say anything to her.”

I was floored. His version of events was completely, undeniably, categorically wrong. At this point, we were two years in. Two years of his constant criticism of the way I acted around people in social situations, and especially with that group, as they were his political friends/colleagues. According to him, they were the people who were going to really take him somewhere, and if I didn’t behave, his career was going to be cut short before its prime. The way it always seemed to me was that the girls in the group thought their connection with him was more important than mine. Then instead of coming to my defense, Christopher would tell me I was the one acting out.

I had a couple of glasses of wine in me, though, and instead of saying that, I said, “Fuck off Christopher. That is not what happened.”

“I saw the whole thing, Christianne. I didn’t say anything at the time. I was too embarrassed.”

Embarrassed? I was fuming. I stopped talking and took another huge gulp of wine. I turned up the TV. He kept working at my dining room table, like it was okay to waltz in my house at any time of day, the only interaction with me to say that I had been a mean person, and then start working. Why was he even there?

I poured another glass of wine. We continued to ignore each other.

After a while, he went out on the front porch, presumably to smoke and continue working or surf the Internet on his laptop. A few minutes later, the door opened.

“Want to have your wine on the porch with me?” he asked.

I knew it was a peace offering, but I didn’t want to take it. “Do you really want to hang out with a bitch like me?” I snarled.

Christopher sighed. “I know what I saw. This is an unproductive conversation.”

“Unproductive?”

“I’m mad too, but I don’t show it like you do,” he replied. “You told me to fuck off.”

“You told me I was being a bitch! Seriously, Christopher, look at your version of events. If someone apologized to me six times, would I seriously ignore her? Is that the kind of person you think I am? And if you noticed she was talking to me and I ignored her, or maybe I didn’t hear her—we were at a fucking concert, maybe you could elbow me and let me know?”

We got into a screaming match. This had always been our big deal breaker, and both of us knew it. Supposedly, I was working on my demeanor at social events (the words from my diary are “refine myself and stop acting crazy”) and he was working on being too sensitive around this group.

“You have not gotten any better on this issue!” he yelled at me.

“What about you?!” I flung back.

“I told you this was an unproductive talk. I’m going home.” He started packing up his computer and his cigarettes.

The dad trigger inside of me flipped—I knew I was right and he was being unreasonable, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of fighting with this man, whom I loved despite the way he treated me—and I relented, the anger draining away. “Please don’t go.”

“I don’t want to go,” he whispered, his shoulders slumped.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered through tears.

“I’m sorry too.”

“I didn’t mean to be a bitch.”

“I thought it was out of character for you,” he said, hugging me and then holding me at arm’s length, looking in my eyes. I thought but could not say, Doesn’t that prove it was a misunderstanding?

“This group is just really hard to deal with, Christopher—”Why I was going down this road again is a mystery to me. I wasn’t going to convince him that most of the girls in this group treated me harshly, but apparently I had yet to figure out that appealing to him with logic and facts wasn’t going to work.

“You expect them to be bitchy,” he said, releasing me and going into the kitchen to pour himself a drink. “And then you get all quiet, and that’s weird too.”

“The guys like me,” I said quietly. This was clear to me—in a group dynamic, if the men have no complaints with a girl, but the girls don’t like her?—it’s not necessarily her fault. If the girls have a connection, and the new girl is an outsider, they close ranks.

He shrugged. “Whatever, Christianne. This is still something you have to get right.”

I remember how we went to bed later that night after “resolving” the fight. I couldn’t figure out why I felt uneasy. Now I know why. Christopher just didn’t like me, and our position was untenable.

But we had a long way to go before we could admit defeat.

It was about this time that Christopher changed his mind about kids. I was ecstatic. Because of that, I dropped the marriage thing. He said we’d be together and have a commitment ceremony. I convinced myself this would be just as good as actually getting married. And honestly I was so relieved he had dropped the kid thing I probably would have agreed to anything.

***

I had planned to start law school in the fall of 2006. My LSAT score was lower than I wanted, though, and Christopher hadn’t taken his LSAT yet. The thought of starting school and possible moving away was too much for me, so I decided to wait a year until the fall of 2007. Then maybe we’d go together.

He continued to work a lot and we rarely socialized together. He took his work frustrations out on me too, snapping at me more than once on the phone about how he’d had a hard day and was still “keyed up” so he couldn’t come home yet. (Home of course being my condo, where he still didn’t actually live or pay rent, but spent each night.) He expected me to have a wealth of sympathy for him, but failed to give me the same in return. I explained to him that late August and early September were difficult for me because it was the time of year my dad had died, and he shrugged.

“Seems like you’re not dealing with that too well. Maybe you should stop focusing on the negative part of that.”

Or he would dress me down for not handling my emotions well in public, which only resulted in me crying and embarrassing me further.

We were sitting in his favorite restaurant one afternoon, discussing my impending departure. (If I never eat at Plucker’s again, it will be too soon. What vegetarian should deal with chicken wings on a weekly basis?) I had been accepted to five of the six schools to which I applied—Texas was the only one that rejected me, after giving me a glimmer of wait-listed hope—so I knew I was headed away from Austin again. After looking at schools, I had decided on the University of Houston. It made me nervous and scared for so many reasons: that little girl inside of me was still terrified of taking big leaps. She was still scared of being lonely. She was definitely scared of losing this relationship.

August loomed close. I picked at my salad and felt tears prick my eyelids.

Christopher leaned over the table. “I love you.  You’re set in Houston and everything is cool, and I’m not worried about you.”

I was worried about me, though. I was worried about me and him, and I wanted him to go to school close to me.

“You’re pressuring me,” he sighed. “I need the freedom to get in wherever I’m accepted, and you and I will be fine. You need to visualize that.”

It was so bizarre. His words were the right ones, but I felt like he was yelling at me, telling me my emotions were stupid. I needed him to hold me and tell me he was going to be close to me, and he just couldn’t do that. The tears slipped over my lashes. Display of emotion like this in public enraged Christopher.

“Stop crying,” he muttered, looking decidedly uncomfortable and watching the game on the big screen, but not really seeing it. Or me.

I kept crying and had nothing else to say.

At my condo, he asked if I wanted a glass of wine.

“No,” I said in a small voice. “I’ll just cry some more.”

He looked at me. “I’m sorry about getting upset just now but when you cry, it freaks me out. I want to fix it, and I feel like the asshole that caused it.” What he meant was that he didn’t like for other people to see me crying and think it was his fault. His words were usually right, but they masked the real issue of his concern over public perception.

“I’m not mad at you,” I whispered. “I’m mad at the situation. I love you. I don’t want anything to screw us up because I waited a long time to find you.” Tears again.

“I love you. I’m with you. You’re stuck with me for better or worse.” He put his arms around me and I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to picture us sticking together. I just couldn’t cope with any other thought.

Summer 2007

That summer Christopher started studying for the LSAT. As usual, he refused my help or advice about my experience. It was as if my experience cheapened his in some way. That if he acknowledged that I had already been through the process of studying, taking the test and applying to schools, that his journey was unimpressive. I see so clearly now how he was in a constant war with himself, and in the process, had to diminish me.

One afternoon, I walked in with groceries—to my own home—and got snapped at because he was taking a practice test and this interrupted him. I didn’t ask for him to help with the groceries. I didn’t ask for him to study at my condo.

Another afternoon, we were getting out of his Isuzu after lunch, when he looked down at his phone and said, “Oh shit.”

I asked what was wrong.

“Nothing,” he muttered.

We walked up the stairs to my place and I unlocked the door. Unaware I was skating on thin ice, I asked again. “You can’t say ‘oh shit!’ and then say it’s nothing.”

“I missed a call, okay?” We walked into the condo and he grabbed his computer. “You’ve been asking pokingly dumb questions all damn day.”

I stared at him, dumbfounded. Where was all this anger coming from? He went back outside, carrying his computer, presumably to surf the Internet, smoke cigarettes and ignore me for the rest of the afternoon.

I watched some TV, feeling restless and angry. Then I decided to go to the gym to work out some of my aggression. It was Father’s Day, and I was headed up north to see my parents—without Christopher, of course. We spent a lot of time with his family, but never mine.

On the porch, Christopher seemed surprised. “You’re going to the gym?”

“Yep.” I felt cold toward him, and I could see that he already felt bad about his outburst. He kept touching me, trying to make it up to me. His eyes looked puppy dog sad. What he had said hung there in the silence between us.

“I thought I had a point earlier,” he began. A typical Christopher apology—“I’m sorry that happened, but I was right.” He continued, “It seemed like you were trying to catch me doing something wrong.”

“You seem awfully defensive,” I said, “I wasn’t trying to catch you doing anything.”

I wonder now if there was a reason he was so defensive.

***

Christopher decided that I needed a conceal and carry handgun permit because I was moving to Houston. I thought this was a bit ridiculous. In his estimation, Houston was a big city, UH was in a bad part of said city, and he wouldn’t be there to protect me, so I needed to protect myself.

We were planning to go to the gun range and stopped at a pizza place for lunch. “Delilah” by the Plain White Tees played in the background.

“This song makes me think of us,” I told Christopher. “It’s about this guy and girl having a long distance relationship.” I explained the lyrics and smiled, “It’s so romantic and sweet.”

Christopher took a bite of pizza. He was unimpressed. “You’re really emotional about this.”

I felt my eyes fill with tears. “Sorry,” I muttered sarcastically and busied myself cutting a piece of crust with a knife, sawing at it savagely.

He sighed. “I just don’t want you to cry again in a restaurant.” His eyes darted around, taking inventory—who was looking at us? How many people were there? Did he know them?

“I’m not crying,” I said softly, still concentrating on the uneaten pizza on my plate. “This is really hard for me and I think I’m handling it pretty well. Apparently you don’t.”

“That’s not what I said. Just don’t cry.”

I guess he couldn’t see how scared I was, and that each time I needed reassurance, he just made me feel like I was an embarrassment.

The gun range Christopher had chosen was indoors. Inside, I trotted behind him dutifully as he went through the motions. I had never so much as held a gun before I met Christopher, and I was scared of them. It didn’t occur to me that an indoor range probably wasn’t the best place for me to begin my experience. I think it should have occurred to him.

He paid the fees and signed us up. He had brought one of his own handguns, and purchased some ammunition for it. From there, we put on earmuffs and went through the door from the front room to the range.

I was immediately terrified. This may sound ridiculous, but I had no idea guns were so loud. There were about 20 lanes, and five or six of them were full. Guns roared, shells clattered to the floor. I could hardly breathe. Christopher didn’t seem to notice. He yelled instructions, explaining what he was doing as he released the safety and started pouring bullets into a paper target. I watched with wide eyes as the gun kicked in his hands. If it kicked when he shot it, how would I be able to handle it?

Christopher calmly turned to me, handing over the gun. “Your turn!” he yelled over the deafening gunfire.

I refused to touch it. I shook my head, eyes filling with tears again. “I can’t do it!” I screamed.

He rolled his eyes. “Come on, you have to shoot!”

I backed up. I was on the verge of a panic attack. I couldn’t wait to get out of that room. “I can’t, Christopher! Please don’t make me!”

His eyes flinty with anger, he reengaged the safety and turned on his heel. I followed, grateful that we were leaving.

The ride home was silent; it would have been eerie enough but the contrast with the gun range was uncanny. I stared out the window of the car, angry that he was quite obviously angry with me. Why was I always in trouble?

The silence continued at home. After a few hours, he called a truce by folding me into his arms for a hug. Despite myself, I was relieved. “Are you mad at me?” I whispered into his shoulder.

“No,” he said. “It’s partially my fault for trying to push something on you that you weren’t comfortable with.”

Partially? I was thinking. But I nodded against his shoulder and squeezed tight.

Fall 2007

I flew out to meet Christopher and his family in Phoenix on a sunny weekend that fall. His uncle was going to be a judge in Maricopa County, and we gathered for the induction ceremony and then a reception at his aunt and uncle’s house. I remember putting on a green A-line dress with a belt at the waist, loving the way it swirled around my legs, beaming with pride when his aunt introduced me to a colleague as her niece.

I drank wine and socialized, excited and interested that I was at an event with so many lawyers when I was just a first semester law student. I talked about briefing cases with one of them, explaining my highlighting system. He had had a similar one in law school. In the kitchen, I caught up with a woman I had been chatting with outside—“If you were on my blog,” I told her, “I think your nickname would be Sweetness!” Christopher found us and I relayed my story, cheeks flushed with wine. I felt like I was in my element. Later that night, after most everyone had left or gone to bed, Christopher and I stayed up with his aunt and a couple of close friends, talking.

In the morning, as we lay in bed in the neighbor’s guest room, Christopher said that he was thinking he would move to Houston in December. He had been accepted at South Texas College of Law, and would start the next fall.

“Really?” I breathed.

“Yes, would it be okay if I moved in with you in December?”

“Of course!” I laughed.

Back in Houston that Sunday night, I drove home from the airport and turned up Blue October “Calling You” high—singing along at the top of my lungs.

“I will keep calling you to see

If you’re sleeping, are you dreaming

If you’re dreaming, are you dreaming of me

I can’t believe you actually picked me”

He was coming to be with me. We were going to be okay.

At the time, I had no idea what had really happened that weekend. Two years later, he confessed that he was so embarrassed by my behavior he decided he would never take me somewhere in public again.

January 2008

Christopher was slumped on the couch when I walked in. “Hey,” I said, “What’s up? You look…upset.”

“We need to talk,” he said. His eyes were downcast.

I dropped my backpack and my gym bag to the floor, sank uncertainly to perch on the coffee table. “Are you okay? Are you dying or something?”

He smiled slightly. “No.”

“Do…” I could hardly get the words out. “Do you want to break up with me?”

He smiled wider, laughed a bit. “No, it’s pretty much the opposite.”

The words didn’t make sense to me. If he didn’t want to break up, and it was the opposite, did that mean marriage? Christopher, who had railed against it and all it stood for? Positive that his buddies’ lives were over afterward?

“Do you want to get married?” I whispered. Strangely, my whispered words seemed very loud in the living room.

“I think so,” he responded. He reached out for my hands and I stood, moving from my perch to sit next to him on the couch. “I was having lunch with Grant and I told him about your ring and how it was on the way. He was like, ‘What are you doing, man? Are you in high school? Marry her!’ and I just realized, you know, he’s right.”

“My ring” was some silly idea we had hatched, that he would give me a ring but we wouldn’t be engaged or married. I would just wear it to symbolize our partnership. Even though I wanted to get engaged, I accepted this lesser deal. I suppose I was still happy about the kid part—both of us would sacrifice a little bit. We went to Kruger’s jewelers in Austin, and I designed what I thought was perfect: a white gold ring, delicate and thin, with three princess cut stones: an iolite in the middle, flanked by two white sapphires. It was gorgeous and unique.

My eyes filled with tears. “Really? You really want to do this?”

He nodded.

“But I don’t think I want to change my name!” I blurted.

He laughed and hugged me. “You don’t have to.”

“Oh my God, we’re getting married,” I said, the tears spilling over my lashes and down my cheeks.

Christopher didn’t want me to tell anyone what we had decided. He wanted to wait until the ring arrived, and then we would have a special dinner and he would actually propose to me. Not being able to say anything was absolutely killing me, but I went along with it because it was what he wanted. And the “proposal” on the couch was truly a bit lackluster.

Days later, he made a reservation at the Spindletop downtown. It makes me laugh now when I see it listed as a top romantic restaurant in Houston. I put on my favorite little black dress, curled my hair. We limped through our entrees. We ordered dessert and picked through some molten chocolate thing while the room spun lazily and we looked at the twinkling lights of the city. Truthfully, it was a little nauseating. I wished he had chosen something different.

Then Christopher stood up and came over to my side of the table. He actually got down on one knee and proposed. It was not a surprise, and I had designed the ring. He even had the right words. I suppose that meant the proposal was romantic. I accepted and posed for the photos. What everyone mistook for a thrilled grin was a slightly panicked look. In reality, I was engaged to a man who didn’t like me very much.

We both had to finish school. In fact, Christopher wanted to wait until he had finished school and the bar exam. Which meant we were shooting for sometime in late 2011, more likely 2012. In our case this four-year engagement seemed ludicrous, suspect, like we were playing our parts. I don’t think either of us really wanted to get married, but we also didn’t want to think too hard about it. What would we do without each other? We had already been dating for nearly five years.

Fall 2008

The fall semester of 2008 was full of challenges. It was Christopher’s first year in law school, and like other things, he didn’t want any of my advice or help. It was almost as if he didn’t want anything to do with me at all. He was busy joining every single club his campus offered, including groups like the Hispanic Law Students. When I asked why, he retorted that it was best to be involved with everything. He made friends quickly, amassing a group in record time, while I still only had a few good friends among my class. As usual, it seemed to be quality for me over quantity, while he regarded me with disdain for the way I conducted my social life.

In fact, he regarded most of my decisions with disdain. One Saturday in September I ventured to a new hairdresser because I was having a hard time finding one in Houston whom I liked as well as the one in Austin. Bored with my hair, I asked for some bangs. She obliged, and I left the salon with a new look. I came home excitedly, sweeping in wearing my Longhorn orange and ready to go watch the game at the official Longhorn bar.

“What did you do to your hair?” Christopher looked alarmed, nearly sick to his stomach.

“I cut bangs,” I answered, crestfallen. “You…don’t like them.”

Christopher had been studying on the couch. This seemed to be his favorite place to study despite my argument that the couch in the living room in front of the TV was not really the best place, considering we had a study. I also come from the school of thought (thanks Mom!) that the living room is a “common area” – therefore, not the place you should nap, or study, if you need quiet time. Those activities have their places.

However, the problem with the study was that Christopher’s desk was piled high with papers and junk, rendering it unusable. It was a tiny room, and I had two desks that I had brought with me from my condo in Austin set up in an L-shape in the corner. I was—am—hyper organized, and my side of the room was a cozy study space with everything neatly in order in addition to some bulletin boards with special pictures and mementos. This configuration led to a couple more ways for Christopher to be angry at me: it wasn’t fair that I had two desks, and he only had one and it wasn’t fair that I wanted to watch TV if he was studying.

And now I had committed the cardinal sin of changing my hair.

“We agreed you wouldn’t cut your hair,” he said, teeth fairly gritted.

I looked at him curiously. “I didn’t cut it – see how it’s still long?” I pulled my locks over one shoulder. “It’s just the front is different.”

“Whatever.”

We went to watch the game that afternoon, and it wasn’t until halftime that Christopher deigned to speak to me without anger in his voice.

More likely he was just drunk and forgot why he was mad.

Hurricane Ike interrupted that first semester quite early, arriving on the Galveston coast late the night of September 13. It seemed like Christopher and I were fighting about nearly everything, and Ike was no exception. I wanted to hightail it to Austin and the comfort of my parents’ house. Christopher quite literally forbade me to go. I know I was frustrated by this, but I don’t think I questioned how strange it was that he needed that type of control. Maybe he didn’t want to be around my parents. Christopher was positive nothing would happen with the hurricane; that we wouldn’t lose power and the storm wouldn’t cause any issues. I looked at him and wished I was already in my Prelude, speeding along I-10.

But I didn’t make a move.

My friend Kendra emailed me and we commiserated because she wanted to leave and her husband also refused. Was it something to do with being men and riding out the storm? She acquiesced to him as well, and invited us to a Hurricane Party at Cyclone Anaya’s.

“If we have to stay here, at least we can drink some margaritas!” she typed.

I asked Christopher if he wanted to go. He refused, and slammed the door on his way outside to tend to his dinner. He had bought a little hibachi grill and was in a phase of delightedly cooking nearly everything on it. Clearly he was angry with me and my suggestion we do something different than his plan.

Christopher decided the best place for us would be his friend Grant’s house. Grant was a fellow attorney from Austin who was married to an attorney named Kayla, and they had two sons. He was also the one who had suggested we actually get engaged earlier that year. I liked Grant and his family but I didn’t want to impose. It was an awkward weekend.

It was my turn to be livid when Ike turned out to be even worse than anticipated, and we lost power for an entire week. Christopher ignored my suggestions that we clean out the refrigerator early, before things spoiled. Just like he ignored my request to leave for Austin or to go to a Hurricane Party with my friends.

I didn’t really feel sorry for him when he almost threw up in the parking lot after cleaning ruined vegetables out of the refrigerator.

The semester dragged on. Friday nights in law school were nearly identical to those back in Austin when we’d both been working. He spent his nights with the guys and I stayed home to study, or drink wine in copious amounts. Sometimes I would go to an event alone. One night I went out for salsa dancing with my friends. Despite Christopher’s protests about my hair, I had gotten a touch up on the bangs, and they turned out horribly short. I spent three weeks pinning them back in what I hoped was an Audrey Hepburn-esque look. I still have a picture taken that night, the bangs pinned back, me desperately trying to dress up my cheap law student wardrobe with some kicky little Mary Janes, grinning uncertainly. What was the point of having a fiancé who didn’t like me very much or go anywhere with me?

One Friday evening I was invited along with his friends. I don’t know what convinced him I deserved to hang out this particular evening. His friend Beau’s girlfriend was in town from Florida, and she had brought along a friend who happened to live in Houston. Her name was Cheyenne and she was a riot. Her purse was practically a suitcase, and she propped the leather bag up on the bar at the Velvet Melvin and started digging through it to pay her tab. Christopher and the rest of the group were outside at a picnic table.

Cheyenne pulled out the biggest can of hairspray I’ve ever seen, along with three or four prescription pill bottles. “You have to be prepared!” she told me.

I was laughing and making fun of her. “You are clearly insane!”

She shrugged and cocked her blonde head to the side, saying “You are probably right”—before grabbing the hairspray and making sure her hair was big and stiff enough.

We returned to the table carrying drinks for the group. I was flushed with laughter and drink and plopped next to Christopher to relay the story. As I told it, he kept telling me to quiet down, and looked nervous. It was as if he didn’t want to hear what I had to say. Somewhat deflated, I turned to my drink and nursed it. The air was hot, humid. I watched the condensation form on my glass, drip to the table.

On our way out an hour later, Christopher grabbed my hand in death grip and jerked me along. “Let’s go.” His voice was low, controlled, barely masking his anger. “That’s enough from you tonight.”

I stopped walking along the deck and yanked back on his hand. “What?”

“You’ve been talking shit about Cheyenne the entire time, as if she can’t hear you. It’s mortifying,” he responded.

I simply stood there for a moment. “Christopher, I wasn’t talking shit. She and I were having a good time together. She likes me. I said all of that right to her face – and she agreed and we laughed.”

He shook his head, dropped my hand and stalked away. The laughter and conversation of the bar patrons on the patio drifted to me. I thought about turning around and going back to the table. Or going into the bar alone, shooting pool with some random strangers in a haze of cigarette smoke.

Instead I ran to catch up.

December 2008

Our final exam schedules were different, which meant that he was finished first, and I had two exams remaining. I finished an exam on an unseasonably cold December evening, and left the school, driving home through improbable snow flurries. At the apartment, Christopher was ecstatic about finishing up and raring to go meet all his friends and colleagues at Front Porch Pub in midtown. I was jealous of him being finished, of course, but I also understood how essential it was to blow off steam after an intense first semester of exams.  I offered to drop him off at the bar because I was worried he or someone else would drive drunk. I wore my fuzzy purple slippers in the car, feeling like an old lady.

“I really wish everyone could meet you tonight,” he said to me as I slowed for the corner where I would drop him off. A swift kiss and he got out of the car. I gave him a small wave.

No, you don’t,” I thought to myself and a moment later I wondered where the thought came from. A huge fat tear slid down my face. I cried all the way home.

Suddenly I admitted to myself that I was deeply unhappy.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I needed to, as I still had two more exams to take. I went to bed and tossed and turned, a million thoughts running through my mind. I was worried and stressed about my remaining exams. I was worried and stressed about me and Christopher. For the first time, I really allowed myself to picture us breaking up. What would it look like, living alone again? More than ever, we were living separate lives even under the same roof.

Somewhere around 2 a.m., I heard a car in the parking lot under our window, and voices. Because I was still awake, I peered through the blinds and saw Christopher getting out of the car, which seemed to be packed full of law students. Instead of driving away, it idled while I assumed he walked through the gate and up the stairs to the door. I climbed back under the covers and waited for him to come in.

He didn’t turn on any lights, nor did he speak to me. He went to the bathroom, and then I heard him grabbing something from the bookcase in the living room. Definitely not study materials—more likely a bottle of liquor to continue the party. And then he was gone, again. I heard squeals of delight as the car took off.

I had driven him to the bar so he could be safe and get a cab ride home. And now he was riding around with law school colleagues—most of whom I’d never met, owing to our separate lives—in the early morning and I assumed they were all drunk. Where were they headed? Obviously the bars were closed.

I felt like a fool.

He came home sometime around 4 or 5 a.m. Once he was there, I managed to catch a few hours of sleep. The next day I returned to studying, spending the day at the public library, slogging through notes. The library was cold, and smelled of linoleum. I gazed through the windows occasionally at the soccer field next door.

Christopher and I traded the occasional text, and since I had been gone all day and he was finished with studying, I was looking forward to spending time together that evening. I had mentioned it to him specifically after tossing and turning the night before while he partied till the wee hours.

I arrived home loaded down with my backpack, books and computer. I dumped my stuff with relief, opened the fridge, and peered in to see if there was anything appealing for dinner. I planned to take the rest of the night off and let my brain decompress. “What do you want to eat? Or should we go out?” I asked Christopher over my shoulder. Truthfully, I was feeling overwhelmed by the thought of actually making dinner.

“Oh, I’m meeting the guys at BW3 for football.”

I swung the refrigerator door closed and looked up at him in the harshness of the fluorescent kitchen lighting, incredulous. “We just talked about you hanging out with me for the night. You were gone all night, and then you had all day to hang out with your buddies.”

He shrugged. “I really need some guy time. Stop putting all this pressure on me. I just finished my first semester in law school. Please?”

January 2009

After Christmas, Christopher headed to Arizona to watch our beloved Longhorns play in the Fiesta Bowl. He wanted to take his father and grandfather to the game. It was some sort of symbol for him, I think, that could bestow gifts like tickets to a football game upon his family. I traveled to Breckenridge with my own family for a ski trip. It was yet another one that Christopher had no desire to join. I didn’t know if spending our time apart like this was normal, but I did know it didn’t feel right to me. I wanted a relationship, and a partner, but most of all I wanted a friend.

He didn’t really feel like my friend.

I woke up each morning of the ski trip and completed the somewhat arduous process of logging into the online system at school to check my grades from exams in the fall semester. As any law student will tell you, it is nerve-wracking to complete an entire semester of school without having any checkpoints as to how well you’re doing; then you complete that semester with one 3-hour long test. My friend Kimberly said, “I turned in that disk to the front desk and thought, ‘How can what’s on there be indicative of the blood, sweat and tears of the entire semester?’” Then it takes days, weeks to grade that test, plot your score upon the dreaded curve, and load those scores into the system. It can really ruin a winter break.

I don’t remember specifically what my grades were that semester, but I remember exchanging text messages with Christopher about them. In the middle of freaking out about his own grades, he would dress me down for my concern about my own. Perhaps this was because he was still in his first year, when grades supposedly mattered the most. He did very well his first semester, faring better than I had my first or second year. But that wasn’t good enough for him. And the way he made himself feel better was to continue competing with me. He kept informing me of the following: my school was ranked higher, so his classes were more difficult to weed out the poor students; he had more outside pressures on his time; he was working too hard at his job even though he wasn’t supposed to at all in his first year.

I returned to school in mid-January and ran into a friend named Randy who was my student mentor my first year. I was weighed down with the usual mess of bags and books, but Randy took one look at me and saw something more.

“That boyfriend of yours treating you all right?” he asked, concern in his brown eyes.

I smiled weakly at Randy. “Of course, things are good,” I told him.

Randy obviously didn’t believe me, but there wasn’t much more to say.

In March, Christopher moved into a house down the street from our apartment complex. We moved into a two-bedroom duplex with the thought we could share the bedroom again as a study, except this time we would have more room and things would be different. There was a covered patio out back and a carport that Christopher magnanimously said I could use and he would park on the street. Though his car was newer, I cared more about mine and perhaps that was why.

My mom came and helped us move, along with a gaggle of Christopher’s law school friends. Mom generously painted nearly the entire house for us. The living room started out with circus yellow walls, the old, cramped kitchen olive green. She painted everything a modern shade of beige that had become so popular but was probably called something like Mushroom Basket. We made countless trips to Target and Home Depot, making sure the lamps in our bedroom were feng shui. Each floor to ceiling window got long, filmy white drapes. The tile topped table fit nicely in the breakfast nook. The tiny bathroom was outfitted with new accessories like stainless steel toothbrush holders and a fresh shower curtain. Maybe it would refresh our relationship too.

I thanked Christopher’s friends with a message on each of their Facebook walls, making sure to write something unique on each one. “You are so awesome for carrying all those boxes up to the second floor – I owe you a couple of rounds at the Gingerman” or “I’m so fortunate to have you as a friend.” Christopher actually pointed out how cool that was. We were so far gone at this point I silently bristled with anger. His comments seemed as if he didn’t think I knew how to treat people and he was bestowing a gift upon me by telling me how he approved of my social graces. Just this once.

It was still March when I was studying for the MPRE, which was an ethics test that was actually part of the bar exam, but the usual practice was to take it early. It also unfortunately fell on a Saturday, so that meant I had to spend my Friday night studying.

I was in the study at my L-shaped desk when I heard Christopher and his friends arrive from happy hour. I could hear them on the back porch, the kitchen door and then the refrigerator door swinging open. I stopped, leaned back in my chair, ignoring the books and papers spread out in front of me. Their voices floated up to me from the kitchen as they grabbed beers and then disappeared as they went back to the porch to drink, smoke cigarettes, maybe a little weed.

It occurred to me, as I sat there twiddling my pencil, that nothing had really changed. I stayed home and waited for permission to hang out with Christopher. If he denied me that permission, or that possibility, I said nothing and went on my merry way. If Christopher needed to study, he did it in the living room, or the kitchen or our bedroom, or wherever he damn well pleased and chastised me for not understanding his needs or thinking the common space should be free for me to watch TV.

I wandered down to the kitchen, wincing as usual at his usual stack of books, papers and mail on the table in the breakfast nook, rendering it unusable. We had taken to eating  at the coffee table in front of the TV. Christopher came banging through the kitchen door.

“Hey,” he said, “I’m just grabbing one more beer before we go to the bar.”

“Mmm,” I responded, looking through the window of the back door. “Y’all just stopped by for a minute?”

“Yeah, wanted to smoke a bowl and grab some beers.” He was impatient, holding the beer and my gaze. “I know you’re studying and don’t want to be bothered.”

I saw a blonde girl on the porch, sitting at the table with the scattering of guys whom I had met, but not the girl. “Who’s she?”

The impatience turned to annoyance. He jerked his head in her direction, gave me a name that was lost on me immediately. “Like I said, figured you didn’t want to be bothered. Good luck with your studying.” He popped the tab on his beer and left, without offering to introduce her, without asking if he could call it a night early so I could get some rest, without giving me a kiss hello or goodbye or saying “I love you.”

I thought about going outside and saying brightly, “Hi! I’m Christianne! I’m Chris’s girlfriend and I live here!” while looking pointedly at the blonde and holding out my hand. Maybe my left hand, with the engagement ring on it.

Instead, I turned and climbed the stairs to the study and resumed studying for my early morning test. And I realized that one thing had changed—or maybe it had always been—that Christopher’s nights out with the guys included girls. And those girls weren’t me. And never would be.

***

Our fights became more frequent as the semester wore on toward May and finals. It was nothing new, but just how broken we were became increasingly obvious to me. Since December and the night I broke down crying in the car while he stayed out all night, we had grown further and further apart. He spent all his time at work, at school or with his friends. Saturday nights we would have wine on the porch. But when I wanted to go out, he was allegedly too tired, or wanted me all to himself. Occasionally we would go out with his law school friends or his colleagues. Never with my friends.

He didn’t clean up after himself, and our house was a wreck unless I cleaned. Because I had long ago started doing his laundry out of a misguided attempt to make him love me, he expected that to continue. So he let it pile up into a towering stack on his side of the bedroom.

“I’m not doing your laundry anymore,” I finally announced one evening. When I think back to the duplex, it feels hot and cramped and sad. I was so tired of trying to keep up with my own schoolwork and work life. Why did he think I had more time to do anything, including clean up and tackle his giant stack of dirty clothes? Perhaps I was supposed to do it on those nights I was alone while he was out with his friends.

“When did this policy change?” he asked with pursed lips.

“I don’t know,” I responded. I put my hands on my hips. “I didn’t think it was a policy. I thought it was something nice I did for you when I had the time. But you took advantage of me.” I suddenly flashed back to the days in my condo in Austin, when he would sit on the porch and surf the Internet as I went up and down the stairs carrying loads of laundry. Sometimes he’d smack my ass, but never did he offer to help. Then he moved to Houston and we repeated the same dance, though things had changed—he was now studying law textbooks and smoking a cigarette—and I, too, had two jobs—school and work—but for some reason I was still walking up and down the stairs while lugging loads of laundry.

I was suddenly really, really angry. I was angry about that and about a lot of things, and our relationship deteriorated even further. I started spending nearly every weekend in Austin to get away from him, while twirling my engagement ring around my finger and telling my brother and his friends while we sipped cocktails at bars that everything was okay, that he was just busier than me so it was easier for me to get away.

Christopher was angry too, because along with the laundry, there were things I didn’t want to do anymore, the most important thing to him being intimacy. We fought about it constantly and he didn’t seem to connect the dots—if the relationship was healthy, if he was nice to me, took me out, helped me around the house, listened to me, encouraged me, was my friend—then I would want to be with him. But as it was, I hated him. And I didn’t want him to touch me.

We barely tolerated each other. I watched the laundry pile grow and refused to do anything about it. We kept having fruitless talks about how to fix our relationship, something that’s difficult to do when one person refuses to acknowledge that it’s broken, and if it is, that they have anything to do with it. He tried to explain how embarrassed he was by me in social situations, and that’s why we didn’t go anywhere together.

There it was, our recurring theme. He said that I was cold and unfriendly at his law school happy hours, which is why he never invited me anymore. “And then, you’ll start talking to some guy and he flirts with you the entire time,” Christopher continued lamenting. He was lying on his back on our king-sized bed, one arm flung dramatically across his face, as if he could hardly bear discussing this; as if he could hardly bear how clueless I was to how much people detested me.

I was standing in front of the bed, arms folded. “So let me get this straight—I’m cold and unfriendly, but then suddenly I’m flirting with someone? I think you know me better than that; you know if someone flirts with me, I’m not flirting back. I’m just talking to the guy. You just said I don’t do enough of that!”

And then he dropped the bomb.

“Well, at some point, it looks as if you invite it. And that reflects poorly on me.”

“I can’t even talk to you anymore.” I turned on my heel and left the room.

***

Early in May, the air conditioner in our duplex broke. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as we were in the middle of exams. We hauled our mattress downstairs to sleep on the living room floor because it was too hot upstairs. Even the living room was hovering around 85 degrees. It was miserable.

One evening, we got into an inevitable fight. I insisted on counseling. He refused.

“It seems we’re at an impasse,” I said sadly, staring at the floor, the walls, anything but his face.

“Yup.” He agreed.

“I’ll make plans to find somewhere else to live,” I told him, feeling numb. Still not looking a t him. “Tomorrow.”

I slept on the mattress that night. He slept on the couch. Despite the heat in the room, I felt cold.

In the morning, I emailed my boss that I wouldn’t be coming to work that day, as I was looking for an apartment. I scrubbed my face free of makeup, because I couldn’t stop crying, and put on a purple sundress. After several stops and a recommendation from Kendra, I found a nice apartment I couldn’t really afford, but I thought that maybe I deserved it. I would figure out the money later.

That night, sitting in the office we shared, we changed our respective statuses on Facebook. I didn’t know how to hide it from my timeline, and I wanted to—I couldn’t imagine the horror of it showing up in everyone’s newsfeed and seeing the condolences and comments come across—but Christopher did. I can still see him sitting there in his desk chair, computer on his lap, making it “official” on a social network. It felt somehow even more final than signing a lease earlier that day had been.

We decided to work on ourselves for the summer, and unable to really call it quits, decided to talk again on August 1. We parted with tears.

***

 

My new one-bedroom apartment at the Cheval reminded me of my days in the condo, before I met Christopher. Everything was purple—my couch and chair in the living room, the duvet and throw pillows on my bed. I hung pictures, arranged my desks into yet another study haven for my final year of law school, spent too much money at places like Target. It felt like such an indulgence after the old pre-war duplex: It smelled of new carpeting and I had a washer/dryer in the kitchen. I put up a bulletin board above my desks and covered it with photos and cards and little scraps of paper with quotes I liked from my friends and family. One of them, from my friend Brent: “You are the coolest chick I know.” Pictures of me with Kendra and Monica and Minnie, grinning into the camera.

“I have a life apart from Christopher!” I wanted the bulletin board to scream.

I worked, went to the gym, bars, took summer school classes and tried to figure out what I was going to do in August. We didn’t speak. It was mildly excruciating and I wasn’t sure what to do in terms of dating. Was I single? Was I still with him? In my mind, of course, it felt like it.

The pictures from that summer are all of a girl desperately trying to escape from her relationship limbo. I alternated weekends fairly regularly between Austin and Houston—it was almost as if I lived in both places. Girls’ nights out in Houston. Dinner at Ibiza, all my friends partnered up; me the lone single girl. Wearing my favorite hand-me-down dress from Kendra: it was this awesome kaleidoscope of colors, shapes and lines, with a strappy neckline and knee length skirt. I wore it with some sky-high orange heels. Drinks at Pearl Bar with those same girls and a weird guy named DJ that no one liked but seemed to always randomly show up. Celebrating the Fourth of July in Austin with my brother and his motley crew. My brother and I sitting at the bar at Bull McCabe’s, which Gigi and I fondly dubbed “Jimmy’s Irish Lair.” I met some guys and did my fair share of flirting, texting and even going on dates.

But the days counting down until August 1 were few, and I had an exam coming up. Christopher’s birthday was on July 19. I thought about him all day. I wondered what he was doing. Did he miss me? Despite everything, I wanted to go forward with him. But I didn’t think the effort would be worth it without counseling, and I didn’t think he would ever agree to it. Distracted, nervous, I emailed him the next day and told him that I wanted to focus on my exam, and perhaps we should push off our talk until a week later.

His email back cut me to the core.

“Let’s just put off any talks for now. I’m not sensing much excitement or desire on your part to make a run at this. And I’m tired of the rejection. Good luck on your finals and beyond…”

I stared at the words on the screen, hardly believing what I was reading. What? I promptly forwarded the email to Monica and my mom, asking for their advice. What did this mean? In the end, I decided to let him know that’s not what I meant, that I missed him, still loved him and that I would meet him to discuss our relationship. Again, he floored me with a response about how he had been working on himself, reading about relationships and he was willing to try therapy.

“I think I have to try again,” I typed to Mom.

“If that’s what you feel is right, then you should,” she replied.

Fall 2009

In early September, we spoke desultorily about our respective summers and our plans moving forward. He was going to New Orleans for a weekend to visit some college friends. I wrangled an invite, even though I could tell he was unsure about it. We didn’t know how to navigate this new place we were in—were we friends? Boyfriend and girlfriend again? Just trying things on for size?

I didn’t wear my ring anymore. It lived in its original box, nestled in blue satin, hidden away in my dressing table. I lived in my cheerful, sunny apartment, and he had a roommate in the old duplex. Some law school colleague of his named Sean. It was strange—I sort of felt like he was living in my house.

Sean and Christopher picked me up for the road trip to New Orleans on a sunny early fall day. I squeezed into the back of Sean’s Jetta with luggage and dog fur, and they opened the sun roof and smoked weed. It made me nervous—what if we got in trouble? Our law careers would be over before they really started.

“If you have an issue, you shouldn’t have come,” Christopher told me. He was wearing a pair of aviator sunglasses and I couldn’t see his eyes. But it seemed like they would have been narrowed in disgust.

I was quiet after that.

I can’t remember what we were ostensibly celebrating in NOLA. Maybe someone had passed the bar exam; maybe someone’s birthday? I had borrowed a dress from Kendra for the occasion. It was a black and white halter top with a flowered pattern. It made me feel pretty, though nothing could make up for the strange uncertainty that hung around me and Christopher; the inquisitive glances from his friends who thought we had parted ways for good.

We piled out of the car en route to Benjamin’s house to get a daiquiri just because we could—this was the world of debaucherous New Orleans!—and I giddily read the menu out loud, debating my choices. I asked the portly man behind the counter what was good.

“You’re not from around here,” he said with a Cajun twang.

“From Houston!” I answered, and decided upon something extraordinarily syrupy sweet, made from Everclear and rum. Because, again, New Orleans!

“Don’t ever tell people you’re from out of town,” Christopher schooled me upon once we returned to the Jetta. “They just take advantage of your naivety.”

“I’m naïve? What the fuck? You think the guy behind the counter is going to chase us down and rob us now?”

Our night was not off to an auspicious start. I once again got quiet, stared out the window and sipped on my daiquiri.

We arrived at the house for the party, which belonged to his friend Charles and his wife Janice. They met in college, got married and moved to New Orleans so that Charles could join the family law firm. Basically, Janice’s destiny had been laid out for her the moment Charles asked her to study with him freshman year.

“Christianne!” Janice greeted me with a smile and a hug, but the strangeness of my being there was as palpable as the New Orleans humidity. The house was enormous, and ancient. We were shown to a room upstairs along a narrow hallway. It was drafty and echoed with each footstep. I wondered if the place was haunted.

Drinks flowed. I was hyperaware of Christopher’s judgment of my drinking, and equally so about his friends and their feelings about me, and us. It led to a slow nursing of my drinks and seeking out quiet corners to observe instead of participate in the party. I hardly interacted with Christopher at all. If I had been too close to his side, he would have called me needy and annoying. And it was I who had invited myself along on this trip.

After midnight found a group of us on the back patio, some smoking cigarettes or weed. Janice was with us too, telling some story that involved curse words and probably sex. Janice was loud, smart, attractive and funny. She gesticulated wildly as she talked, and Christopher smoked and laughed. I stared at him. What would have happened had I told that story? He would have been mortified. Yet, here he was laughing along with her.

Shortly thereafter, the group remaining decided to go out. But between the social anxiety and the booze, I had no gas left in the tank. Again, not wanting to seem clingy or desperate, and unsure of how to navigate this new relationship in which we found ourselves, (could I even call it that?) I told Christopher to go ahead with his friends. I went to bed, blinking away tears into the darkness. What the hell were we playing at?

In the morning, Christopher was hungover. Suddenly he was the clingy one. He lay in bed moaning about how awful he felt, asking me to fetch him food and drink to help him feel better.

“Dote on me,” he said, adopting a pathetic pleading look.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I told him. “You were the one who went out for shots at 2 a.m.”

The request for “doting on him” also involved sex, and I turned him down. For about a billion reasons. But what I said was that I could hear everything going on up and down the hallway, and I really didn’t want his buddies in the room next to us to hear.

Obviously, this was not well received.

New Orleans was a bust.

***

One Saturday in October, Christopher and I had plans to watch football at his house. Perhaps a better way to put it was that Christopher was having a party, and he allowed me to come. I had a spread of snacks for my girlfriends the night before for book club, but I had saved my special queso dip for the party. People were making fajitas out of the brisket Christopher had smoked, drizzling queso over them. They were raving about the delicious queso, and Christopher was annoyed. “I spent all night smoking that meat and people are more excited about your Velveeta cheese.”

A little voice spoke up in my head: “This isn’t going to work, and you know it.” This voice spoke up more often than it used to.

One of the guys on the couch with us sharing my excruciating pain was a guy named JT – a wiry, tiny guy with black plastic framed glasses. He had brought himself and his little sister Devin, and they were LSU fans. Devin was only 20; not even of legal drinking age. She made me feel ancient, and Christopher made me feel dumb, beginning the day with his queso jealousy.

I smiled brightly at JT and Devin, “Wait, you didn’t get the memo about watching football here? You can’t come if you don’t root for the Horns!”

JT and Devin just smiled lamely. I couldn’t tell if my joke was just bad or if they were taking me really seriously.

Late in the fourth quarter, as the Longhorns pounded some crappy non-conference team, interest in the game waned because the scores kept piling up on one side of the board. JT and Devin, unaware that they were in my way, stood in front of the TV.

“You make a better door than a window!” I said to them. I again smiled to show I had no harsh intentions.

“I’m sorry – didn’t realize I was in your way,” Devin said to me, and scooted over.

Later that night, after the game was over and the crowd had dwindled, a smaller group of us took to the back porch so people could smoke. The talk turned to whether God cared about football, and I laughed and said that was ridiculous.

“Don’t you think God has better things to do than choose a football team?” I pointed out. “And how would he choose?”

Christopher’s friend Hank shrugged. “Christians are just better people.”

I cocked my head at him. “You think so? You’re a Christian?”

He said he was.

“So, what makes you better than me?”

He shrugged again.

“I really want to know,” I continued. I was honestly intellectually curious about how Hank felt he was a better person than I. “We’re both sitting here drinking booze tonight, but you’re going to church tomorrow morning and I’m not, so that makes you better? In what way?”

Hank had no answers for me. Christopher, predictably, was not happy with this discussion. He made this clear in our next counseling session.

We attended regular sessions at this point; it was a depressing weekly activity that seemed to point out that we weren’t meant for each other, rather than one that was patching our holes. I would pick Christopher up at his office and drive us to the U of H campus, where we sat side by side on a little green couch in Dr. Greg’s office. Afterwards we would have a sad lunch, both of us barely talking and picking at our food.

Dr. Greg was a sober individual who frowned constantly. It was a weird facial tic. And I could never figure out if he thought I was nuts, if Christopher was nuts, or if perhaps he just wondered what exactly we saw in each other.

“How was your week?” Dr. Greg asked on the afternoon after the Queso Incident, sitting across from us in a straight-backed chair with his notebook and a pen in his lap. I was dying to see what his notes said.

“It was great,” Christopher offered. My mom had been in town Sunday and we went to brunch. “It was great to see her,” he said, and even went so far as to say things seemed “normal.”

I had stifle laughter. If by normal, he meant he was mad at me again. He clearly wasn’t going to bring up the God and football incident, so I did.

Christopher rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, that. You were being adversarial and insulting.”

“Oh come on, Christopher, we’re all going to be attorneys soon. I was arguing, and asking for his side of the argument.”

“I’m sure Hank felt attacked. You can’t just assume that everyone is as smart as you are.”

While I nearly fell off the couch because he had just paid me a compliment, and about my intellect at that!—I was still incensed. “So I’m supposed to assume people are idiots and they can’t keep up with me? That’s not a very nice thing to do.”

Christopher was just as angry as I. “I always have to run interference for her,” he complained to Dr. Greg, while I looked up in surprise. He did? “She was being so mean to my friend JT and Devin at the party that JT came up to me at school and apologized to me.”

This time, I really did laugh out loud. “You have got to be kidding me, Christopher. I was joking with them about rooting for LSU and that they were standing in front of the TV while I was trying to watch! You think I have social issues? It sounds like JT is the one with issues. I have other social circles, and groups, and I have plenty of friends, and I have never had a problem.”

Christopher snorted derisively. “You don’t act the same way with your friends, just mine. And the reason your friends like you is that they know you well. Your first impressions aren’t great.”

I was trembling with rage, and angry tears started coursing their way down my cheeks. “It’s infuriating that you think I’m such an asshole. Why are you with me anyway?”

Dr. Greg, frowning, broke in. “Okay, Christopher, what I’m hearing is this – Christianne is her own person. She’s not going to change. This is who she is, and you’re going to have to decide whether to take her or leave her.”

At that moment, I realized Dr. Greg was on my side. I looked at him gratefully through my tears.

That session didn’t even end with a terrible lunch. I simply dropped Christopher at his office and he mumbled something about calling me later.

December 2009

By the time the end of the semester rolled around, I was encouraged that we were going to therapy, and at least we were talking about things we hadn’t before. But we were far from healing our wounds.

For my birthday, I decided to have two celebrations: one in each of Houston and Austin. Friday night would be in Houston at the Hotel Zaza with Christopher and assorted Houston friends; Saturday night at Bull McCabe’s (Jimmy’s Irish Lair) in Austin with my brother and my long-time Austin friends. Even though I had been gone two years, we were still close. All of my close friends in both cities knew what was going on with me and Christopher, but it was the group of Austin girls that knew the real five year history; the ugly, unvarnished truth of my feeble attempts to hold things together.

The Zaza had been chosen for its fun party atmosphere, which was sorely needed after the brutal semester of both law school and relationship navigation. A decent group attended: for the girl with no friends, I had a solid group, including my buddy Kendra. And of course Christopher.

The Monarch is the restaurant and bar inside the Zaza. It feels like it’s made of glass—everything sparkles. The drinks are fancy. The bartenders are attractive and attentive. I wore my hair curly and my favorite bustier from White House Black Market and black pants. I drank vodka and talked with my friends. In many cases it was the first time people had met Christopher, since we never socialized with my friends.

But in fact, he was missing much of the night, either smoking or smoking and talking politics with someone he considered either important enough to impress or stupid enough to convince they were wrong.

My friends were effusive in their praise, so happy to meet this guy who I had been hiding all this time.

It was strange. I wanted to scream at them, “But don’t you see, he’s kind of a jerk?” and then I would wonder where the thought came from. Why wouldn’t I want people to love him?

Saturday morning I drove up to Austin without Christopher. I met up with my girlfriends and we did a second birthday celebration. I found myself lamenting to them how the Houston group had loved him. Was this weird? I asked.

“Whatever,” KK said, rolling her eyes. “He performs well in front of the crowd. They don’t know the real Christopher.”

We poured another shot.

Sunday night Christopher came over and we went out to dinner. It had been a long, lazy weekend full of booze, food, and happiness: exams were over and I could relax for a couple of weeks until my final semester of law school. I was feeling optimistic about me and Christopher despite all the problems, despite my strange feeling on Friday night that he wasn’t worthy of my friends’ adulation, and in turn, mine. Perhaps in May we could figure out our next step, but I was perfectly happy at that point to stick with the tenuous hold we had on our relationship.

Christopher was not.

I poured a glass of wine from the bottle of white in my fridge, walked over to the purple couch and sat down with a leg folded underneath me. “Do you want any?” I asked.

“No, I want to talk about next semester,” Christopher said. He was sitting up in a nervous way, sort of jiggling his foot, which was crossed over his knee.

“What about it?” I slurped some wine.

“I’m not happy with where we are,” he said, his blue eyes looking into mine with a mixture of sadness and coldness. “I don’t like living apart. I don’t like that you’re not wearing your ring. I want us to move back in together, you know, get a cat. And be more intimate than we are now.”

I considered the stemless wine glass in my palm, thinking that I was going to need more. “That’s a lot to lay on me right now. I really like having my own space.” I looked around the living room, my eyes resting on the corkboard with my “life is fun even without him” reminders. “I’m not ready for all of that again. We’ve only been back together for a couple of months, and we still have work to do with the therapist.”

He shook his head, crossed his arms and stared at his lap. I focused miserably on the backward Longhorn cap on his head, thinking, “We’re back here again?” and picturing all the cleaning and laundry I was doing when we lived together; the strangers on my back patio; the lonely nights by myself. Why would I want to move back in with him and perform sexual favors?

“I love you,” I said softly, after another fortifying sip of wine, “But maybe we want different things right now. I’m just not ready yet.”

A tear slipped over his lower lashline. He furiously wiped at it, then stood up, shrugging into his fleece. “Okay, I gotta go. I can’t stay here tonight. I need to think.”

After a beat, I got up, put my arms around him and tried to hug him, but he wasn’t accepting it. “Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

He nodded into the top of my head, and left.

I sank back to the couch with my wine, wondering if those had been the right words to say.

***

Though I didn’t have school over the holiday break, I still had work. Monday morning, that’s where I was when I got the email. He addressed me as “Christianne” which was something he hardly ever did. I knew instantly it wasn’t good.

He told me that he didn’t want to go to our regularly scheduled counseling session the next day; in fact, he didn’t want to go to counseling at all anymore because our talk the night before had clued him into where we stood. He said he was sad that I was drawing the line. He wasn’t giving up on us forever, the email went on, but he just needed a break for now.

The words blurred on the screen in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. This guy was breaking up with me via email? After five and a half years? It just didn’t seem right to me. I wasn’t ready to move back in, pick up where we had left off, and resume my role in his life, so he had decided it was over. It was all about Christopher. Always had been, always would be.

We didn’t speak for that week. It was a strange sort of limbo, but in many ways, I had grown used to it. Christopher and I had been rather star-crossed nearly from the beginning. Maybe both of us had been in love with the idea of the other one, the idea of us as a couple. I went back to Austin for Christmas, spent the weekend talking things over with my mom, trying to figure out where to go from there.

He sent me another email a week later, again on a cold December morning at work. He reiterated what he had already told me—he and I weren’t working out, loved each other, but it wasn’t the best thing right now. Again, he mentioned that he didn’t need counseling.

I went into my friend Michael’s office. “He sent another email. Can he really break up with me again?”

Michael looked shocked, and more than a little mad. “I thought he broke up with you last week via email. Another one?”

“Yeah, I think he was really trying to drive the point home,” I said thoughtfully, then promptly burst into tears.

January – April 2010

New Year’s 2010 was difficult. The breakup was fresh, and while it seemed like a good time to start over, I just didn’t know how. At the last minute, I took off for Austin: I could hang out with my brother and his friends, and try to pretend the last five years had never happened. Speeding down the highway, I played a mix CD at top volume, torturing myself with breakup songs, sobbing in my car. I kept wondering if he was thinking about me too.

I tried to move on. It was my last semester in law school, so I had plenty of things to keep me busy between school, work and preparing for the bar exam. Graduation, in a way, seemed like only the first step.

Even though I was busy, I spent many afternoons and evenings fighting tears in the school library. It was almost inexplicable—we hadn’t exactly been doing well for a year, maybe even more—so why was this so hard for me?

After a girls’ night out at one of those silly clubs with velvet ropes, expensive drinks and poor lighting, I stumbled out of a cab into the stairwell of my building. It was April, graduation just a month away. The night air was close and the stairwell smelled vaguely of smoke. I’d had far too many drinks to make good decisions, and a girls’ night spent with two friends in long –term relationships meant that I had been thinking about him too much. I texted him as I made my way up the stairs.

“I miss you” I typed, thinking somewhere in the very back of my mind that his was a stupid thing to do.

His reply was almost immediate. “I miss you too.”

“WRU?” I asked.

I reached my apartment, put the keys in the lock and sank to the tiled kitchen floor, phone in hand. He was just leaving his law school spring event—what we all used to refer to as law school prom.

He was at my apartment within a half hour, and we poured drinks, and hugged, and kissed and talked. We took our drinks to my balcony. He smoked. We drank. We talked about everything we had both missed over the past four months. We admitted to missing each other, trying to be strong, me admitting with a sad smile that I had clearly broken first.

“Yeah, but I’m here,” he whispered.

I woke up with him next to me in the morning and felt a strange mix of failure and relief. I had failed when I sent that text message. Yet it was so comfortable to have him by my side, curled around me. He still loved me. I was still so broken that I needed that assurance, or I didn’t feel whole. I was nothing if someone didn’t love me. Even if that someone didn’t really like me.

My mother was so disappointed.

“I was so proud of you,” she lamented via email. “On our spring break ski trip, you didn’t cry about him once.”

Her disapproval slayed me, but I felt helpless to stop this thing I had put in motion once again.

Christopher seemed to feel much the same way I did. He was almost angry with me for distracting him from school, and I felt the familiar resentment rear its head. As if I didn’t have school, commitments, responsibility? He wanted to get over me, he said, and then I had sent that text. I flashed back to that night, where I had admitted my fault. But he had responded to that text message; he had shown up of his own free will.

Yet in Christopher’s way, he had managed to make this mess mine and mine only.

On a Thursday afternoon about two weeks after my drunken text, he sent me an email. It was ostensibly a list of our relationship issues, so we could figure out what to do next and where to go from here. It was actually a list of my faults, and he laid the blame for our failure thus far squarely at my feet.

Each bullet point was like a swift punch to the gut. Number one: his friends didn’t like me because I had treated him so poorly throughout these past two years. I sputtered with indignation. His friends? I wasn’t nice to him? It takes two to tango, I wanted to pound out over the keyboard in response. As if he had treated me like a princess? What did he think my friends thought of his email breakups with me?

Number two: I was too jealous of the time he spent with other people, especially women. It was just his nature, he explained, and part of his career path. He didn’t seem to get that I wouldn’t be jealous if he respected me and our relationship; or if he actually invited me to these events. How was I supposed to feel confident in his feelings for me, if he didn’t want to take me anywhere with him because he was ashamed of me?

The third bullet point was a judgment about my drinking thinly veiled with concern for me. According to Christopher, I was outrunning some unspeakable, deep seated horror. Never mind that I was the one who had been in therapy for years, who had suggested couples therapy. Never mind that he drank just as much as I did, smoked pot and dabbled with harder drugs like cocaine. Obviously, I was the one with the issue.

The list went on. I didn’t attend to his sexual needs properly.

He worried I would never “give [him] a child.” It was the last bullet point, and as I sat at my desk in my sunny apartment reading those words, my jaw dropped. Somewhere along the way, Christopher had changed his mind again, and now he was vilifying me for it. He explained that he thought being a parent was one of the most wonderful experiences a person could have in our “human lives,” and he didn’t want to miss out on it. Most jarring perhaps was his suggestion that we look into surrogacy or adoption. I was stunned. After five and a half years together, he wrongly assumed that I didn’t want children solely because of the possible physical effect on my body. Had he ever listened to a single word I had said?

I paced the apartment. I talked to my mom for an hour on the phone. I emailed all my friends, forwarding them the list and asking for their opinions.

I had been with this person for nearly six years. I had slept with him, next to him, I had cried with him, comforted him, fought with him, laid bare my soul for him, talked with him into the wee hours of the night. I had stayed home waiting for him, I had apologized to people I didn’t think I had offended for him. I had tried to contort myself into some misshapen version of me, so that he would love me. And yet, after these six years of love, recriminations and tears—this is what he thought of me. This is what he thought of the person to whom he had proposed, the person with whom he had planned at one time to spend his entire life—this is what it boiled down to.

I was an anti-social drunken prude who was too vain to bear his precious offspring.

I wrote back to him and simply told him that this list was too much for me, that I loved him, but that it was time to go our separate ways.

I didn’t look back.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love, Part 1

I met my first husband in line for the bathroom at a St. Patrick’s Day themed frat party twenty five years ago this month. With such an auspicious beginning, who would have guessed that it wouldn’t last? I nearly didn’t meet him at all, as I was about to leave the party because some drunk frat boy had just smacked me on the butt. I realized my cup was empty when I went to throw my green beer on him. I ended up shaking my cup at him and yelling, “Not nice!” while he laughed and shrugged like, “Whoops, my bad!” It was time to go. I didn’t want to ride the subway with a bladder full of green beer, so I got in the long bathroom line and the guy in front of me turned around, smiled and said hi. I was going to smile vacantly and look through him, but I noticed that he looked kind of like Lloyd Dobler from the movie Say Anything, which is a stupid reason to fall for someone, but I was 20 and it was a good time to fall. I opened my mouth and something super sexy came out, “I really have to pee, so don’t stink up the bathroom or use up all the toilet paper.” I was such a sweet talking devil. How could he resist? He laughed and was waiting for me when I came out, so we sat on a couch and started talking. I found out that he was not one of the frat boys, but was home on spring break from his college, which was four hours away. Frankly, this made him even more attractive to me, as I tended to be far more enthusiastic about romances that seemed like they would be excitingly short-lived. It soon became clear to the fratties that Lloyd (not his real name, but let’s just go with it) was not one of them, and they not-so subtly asked him to leave. He and I, along with my sweet roommate, who had been waiting while I chatted up Mr. Say Anything, got into a cab headed back to our dorm. My roommate went to bed and Lloyd asked me if I wanted to get coffee. I always say yes to coffee. It was a magical night, lightly snowing and cold with a big bright moon giving off a glow that gave the trees and sidewalks a sparkly luminescence. I am not made of stone. How was I not going to fall in love with him? We walked to Harvard Square together and sat at the counter of The Tasty and had coffee and talked more. Elton John’s Rocket Man came on the radio and he said his dad used to call him the Rocket Man and made him a t-shirt with the nickname emblazoned on it that he wore all the time when he was a little boy. After our coffee we went into the Store 24 and bought gummy worms and other candy that you can eat at 2 AM when you are 20, yet still avoid heartburn and belly fat. I saw a card that had a picture of a chubby guy sitting at a diner counter and inside it said, “missing you” and I told him he should buy it and send it to me and he bought it. Then we walked back to my dorm and sat in the lounge watching MTV and eating gummy worms and milk duds, and we talked on and on all night. When it was light out, we wrote our phone numbers on the back of a jello box (I seriously had eaten jello for dinner that night. How was I even alive with that kind of diet?) and then I walked him out. At the door he leaned in and kissed me and I remember it being this monumental thing, where I thought, “Whoa….something big is happening.” Maybe it was lack of sleep and too much sugar, but that was the first kiss I’d ever had where I saw fireworks.

We spent nearly every day and night of the next week together and then he had to go back to school. I was sad that he was leaving, but it didn’t seem sensible to try a long distance relationship. The morning he left, we said that maybe we’d get together next time he was in town and kissed goodbye. I was a little relieved that it was over, because the week with him had been way more intense than anything I’d ever experienced romance-wise and I felt like I needed to catch my breath. I was watching tv with my friends that night, when the phone rang and it was Lloyd, drinking at a bar near his school. He said, “I was wrong, I think we should give a long distance thing a try. I don’t want to wait and see.” I was surprised, but thrilled. I threw caution to the wind and said yes.

Everything about love was so new to me. I’d had a couple of boyfriends before, but it had never been like this. It all seemed like magic. He wrote me letters from school and would draw me funny cartoons and write silly poems. He took a train and a bus, traveling a ridiculous amount of hours just to come see me every couple of weeks. We were crazy about each other and never seemed to run out of things to talk about. We came up with silly ideas and stories and laughed like maniacs. We made each other mix-tapes. Plus, we were both young and adorable and having the type of sex that people with endless energy from a diet of 80% sugar, who are limber and need very little sleep have. Lots and varied. Ah youth. I found a way to stay in Boston for the summer while he was home from school (four part-time jobs) and we spent all of our non-work time together. We loved taking long ambling walks through Boston. Sometimes we’d ride the subway to a stop we’d never been to, then get out and walk around for hours. The first time he asked me to marry him, we were on a late night walk, just four months after we met. Our summer together was ending in a matter of weeks and we were both starting to get anxious. “We should get married!” he said and I just laughed. But he stopped and spun me around so he was looking in my eyes and said, “I’m totally serious. Let’s get married.” “But we can’t! We’re too young!” I said. I adored him more than I’d ever adored anyone in my life, but I had no interest in being a wife. I still had two more years of college. He said we could do it and still finish school. Maybe we could just secretly get married, and we wouldn’t even have to tell anyone? That idea actually appealed to me. I like secrets and I am prone to doing ridiculous things on a whim. We didn’t do it, though. Before he left to go back to school he bought me a gold ring with a little heart-shaped amethyst stone in the center. “Will you wear it on your left hand?” he asked. “I want everyone to know you are mine.” He was always saying crazy shit like that and I just ate it up.

We should have done it. We should have made that spectacular mistake early. Gotten it out of the way and been divorced before we could do any major damage to each other. Instead we had a long distance relationship while we were in college, then moved to Texas together so that he could go to graduate school. He asked me to marry him again when we’d been together six years. This time it wasn’t romantic. We’d been growing apart and fighting more and more. And then he had a health scare, something minor that seemed major, and when we got back from the doctor he said, “Maybe we should get married?” And I said, “Sure, why not?” And we tried to plan a wedding, but neither of us was really interested, so we flew to Vegas and got hitched in the Chapel of Love. Maybe it was an attempt to get back to the days when we were younger and frivolous and did wild things together. Eloping in Vegas is some wildly crazy fun. Sadly, I’d say it was the last time we ever had crazy fun together. Things quickly went to shit after that. The jealousy and possessiveness I’d mistaken for passionate love in him was starting to smother me. He seemed to disapprove of everyone in my life: friends, family, anyone that took my focus off of him. I somehow thought that marriage would make this better, that he would feel more secure and loosen up a bit, but it seemed to make it worse. Two months after we married, we had a huge fight where he was angry at me for talking on the phone with my sister when he wanted me to watch tv with him. He yelled at me and punched a wall, and I grabbed our car keys and took off. I drove around aimlessly thinking, “I’ve made a huge mistake and I am going to need to get out of this marriage.” But I stuck it out for two more years. I always loved him and I kept hoping that the stress of both of us being in graduate school was our biggest problem. We still seemed really compatible, as long as I didn’t spend too much time away from him. And working full-time while going to grad school didn’t give me much opportunity for a social life, so things just went along for a while. He was at the point in his academic career where he was teaching his own classes, while working on his dissertation. He seemed restless and unhappy. He began telling me salacious stories about a colleague who was having an affair with a student and I was fascinated and repelled. Somewhere in the back of my mind it began to dawn on me that he knew way too many details about this affair. One day I came home from class and he smelled like a fruity shampoo that we didn’t have. He left to go play basketball that evening and without thinking, I logged into his email. I’m not sure what drove me to do it. I’d never done anything like that before, but it was easy because his password was my name. I found a chain of his emails with a college friend of his, whom he was supposed to be meeting in New Orleans that weekend. It was all about keeping a secret from me. It said, “Don’t worry, I’ll tell her I’m with you if she calls.” And it ended with “Fuck your brains out this weekend!” So then I knew.

I’m not saying I was perfect. I know I can be petty and mean. Conveniently, I can only remember two instances of my egregiously bad behavior towards him. One was in college when we’d had a fight and I hung up on him, then got all dressed up and went to a party. I met a guy and ended up making out with him in a bathroom stall, standing on a toilet. I thought it was hot at the time and now I can’t believe I didn’t get flesh eating bacteria. The other thing is shitty, but not nearly as gross. Once he was sitting on our bed, shirtless and I went over and poked him in the belly and made that “hee-hee” sound like he was the Pillsbury Dough Boy. This seems way meaner to me now that my stomach will never be flat again, due to having three babies. These days, I’d cut somebody who poked me and made the Doughboy sound. Then I would cry. But at the time I laughed maniacally at him while he stared at me in horror.

Also, that amethyst heart ring he bought me? I lost it. He had another one made for me a few years later and I lost that one too. I was appallingly careless back then. But it may have been symbolic. That ring and that relationship sometimes made me feel smothered and I would take it off for a while to breathe and be myself again. I think I knew it wouldn’t last, but I still hoped it would. Maybe he felt the same way.

When I found out he was cheating, I was devastated and furious. I kicked him out of our apartment and proceeded to cut all of the crotches out of his pants and underwear, then folded them up in a box for him to take with him. Surprise, asshole! I threw out all of the love letters he’d written me in college, including the “missing you” card from the night we met. I gave him back my wedding ring and told him it didn’t mean anything to me and I never wanted to see it again. I held on to being angry, because when I wasn’t angry I felt more lost and desolate than I ever had in my life. I divorced him, even though I still loved him, because I thought that he’d end up ruining me if I let him stay. I don’t think it was the wrong decision, but it was one of the hardest things I ever did.

I wish I hadn’t thrown out all of our love letters. I wish I hadn’t let my second husband convince me to throw out the three wedding pictures that I had from my time with Lloyd. I wish I hadn’t lost the heart rings. I have no physical evidence left of that relationship and sometimes it feels like it never really happened. I’m writing it down now, while I still have the memory to do so. It’s already flawed and missing pieces, but I can still remember that feeling of first real love, long before things got so sad and ugly between us. It was a pure and beautiful thing.

He and I aren’t in touch today. I once ran into him at the gym a few years after we split and we had a nice conversation. I haven’t seen him since then, 12 or 13 years ago. I’m not really interested in knowing him now and I don’t want him to know me. But I am glad that he was my first real love and also that he was my first real heartbreak. The love we shared opened me up to so many good things. When you’re in love, I think you learn to be generous, kind and vulnerable in ways that you never have before. Maybe that’s why we keep doing it, taking the leap even though it can turn on you. It makes all good things even better. But the heartbreak from that relationship taught me that I was strong, brave and resilient and that I was capable of picking myself up and moving forward on my own. It has been immensely helpful to know that in my life. I am grateful for all of it.

 

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Transcending the Slumps

Nearly two years ago, my life took a painfully dramatic turn. My primary focus for nine years had been creating and maintaining a stable marriage and family and I’d poured everything I had into it. But suddenly I was faced with the reality that this life I’d been building was based on an illusion and not sustainable anymore. My world pretty much shattered at that point. But I needed to pick myself up and go back to full time work so I could support myself. Then I could start patching myself back together, while still being a stable and loving presence for my boys. It seemed impossible at the time, but somehow I got lucky and found a steady job in my field with benefits for me and my kids. It was a huge break and I am very thankful for it.

It’s definitely not ideal to be learning a new job and meeting new people when your life is falling apart. It makes small talk excruciating. You don’t want to be the freak who unloads all kinds of weird personal information onto your new coworkers during month one. Or ever, really. So I mostly kept to myself. Now I’ve been at my job over a year and have a pleasant relationships with my coworkers, but I don’t know any of them very well. It was too much of a minefield to talk about anything personal, especially at first. I never knew when I’d just burst into tears. But it turns out you can actually cry discreetly at work or pretty much anywhere in Austin, because there are always allergens in the air to explain away your red watery eyes and the way you go through a box of tissues a day. I learned to carry big sunglasses, eye drops, mascara and tissues with me at all times and I would head out for a walk if I felt like I was going to burst into tears. I think it’s pretty hard to tell if someone is crying when they are walking at a steady pace and wearing big sunglasses. You can run and cry as well, because sweat obscures the teariness, but eventually it is hard to breathe, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Crying in the car is a bad idea, but who can help it? Use caution. Luckily this phase does not last forever.

Sometimes I feel like I feel like I am doing really well and have my life back together. But so far it hasn’t seemed to last for very long. I fall into tailspins where I’m filled with self-doubt and I don’t feel strong anymore. Last week was a rough one: my ex acted weirdly and put me in an uncomfortable situation, my children were angry and sad and I didn’t know how to help them, some guy I don’t know very well said something rude and careless to me. All of a sudden I felt every crack in my broken teacup of a life. And everything felt wrong again. So that’s where I am right now. In a slump, I guess. I’ve been here before, so it’s not like it’s unfamiliar territory. All I know to do is keep moving. I’ll take walks at lunch. I’ll run when I can. I’ll try not to dwell on the feeling of things being wrong. I’ll move my thoughts to something else when I get too focused on sadness. I’ll throw myself into work. I’ll try to write, though as you see, nothing funny comes out. But I’ll do it anyway. I’m writing this now, on my lunch break because it feels like I’m doing something productive to get it out.  And I know a lot of you have been here, too. Maybe you’re in a slump right now. If so, I’m with you. We’ll just keep moving forward.

I’ll see and talk to the people I trust. The ones who know that this is where I am sometimes and they still accept and love me. The ones who help me see that I’m not doing everything wrong. That I am moving forward. It’s just taking the time it is taking. I am incredibly lucky to have a group of these people who help pull me up when I am falling down.

My kids’ hard time is the roughest thing for me. I want to make it better, but I want to give them the space to move through what they are moving through. My middle son is the one who is most obviously struggling these days. Last week he said he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be happy again. He’s eight. He reminds me that I can’t sink into any of this, because I have to show him how to pull himself up. I remembered an article I read that suggested that you can find “thin slices of joy” every day if you look for them. You can notice how nice the breeze feels on a walk or savor the first bite of something delicious or hear the beginning of a song you love or really notice how cute that goofy pug in a sweater is in the Facebook video your friend posted. Maybe you aren’t going to be happy all the time, but there are always little joys you can notice and that may help you get to a better place. I talked about this with my son and we’ve started trying to notice the little happy things in our lives. He’s been mentioning to me when he notices something good and I’m trying to do the same. We all got excited about the big full moon the other night. Maybe it will just become second nature to us. We’ll start automatically noticing all the little joys we are so lucky to encounter and things won’t seem as wrong anymore. We’ll learn how to be happy again. Maybe this is the beginning of the next phase.

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