I've been wanting to write about something particular but haven't been able to figure out how to approach it. I sidle up to it in my mind and take a look from this angle and that. I can't quite see it. It's there, in the middle, immutable but indescribable.
What are you trying to say, Karen?
Oh, I don't know.
I think it's about love.
The thing is that lately there has been a distance between me and myself, as though I'm not quite inhabiting the same space as my body. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. My body can be very disconcerting, what with the fainting and ensuing panic, the way anxiety creates its own image in my neck and inner ear.
The thing with bodies is that you never know when they will simply seize up and leave you missing them. I guess by that I mean, we should appreciate what we have, if what we have is still storing us, carrying us, holding us in its vital embrace.
A little while ago -- and I can't pinpoint exactly when -- I stopped caring how I looked. It's so liberating, I can't even tell you. If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I'd say, "Don't buy that." I'd say, "Stop looking in the mirror." I would explain, "No one will notice if your mascara is blue-black or just black or even not there at all." I would say, "That money would be better spent on a trip to Italy than on a pair of jeans marketed to make you think they'll improve the appearance of your ass to the point where everyone will love you."
We should all look out at the world around us more than at ourselves, don't you think? More than we look at our faces and bodies and see the ways in which we've let down the cosmetics companies and diet/exercise brands and fashion world, who would all prefer to see us looking more tortured and identical.
Oh, conform already.
No thank you, I'll pass. I am finished with conformng.
These pants are really comfortable. I'm not saying, "I've let myself go." I'm just letting you know that at some point, I let go of the thing where I care what you think about how I look. That sentence feels too full of words.
I go whole days, forgetting to look in the mirror. I see photos of myself and I'm startled. Look, there I am. I look happy. That's enough for now.
This segues into something else. I'm not sure how to broach it. Love is so tricky.
The thing is that my son had his first heartbreak recently. I promised I wouldn't write about it and I'll stop talking about him on the internet soon enough. I won't tell you the details but I saw him feeling all his feelings and I thought, "I'm done with that, but that poor kid, he's only just starting." I felt so terrible for him that this was the first of a few or of many. I hope just a few. Maybe it will be the only one, but come on. I mean, think about your life: all the times your heart has broken or you've broken someone else's. It adds up. That takes a toll.
Yet we are all still here, our hearts beating 73 times per mintue or more or less. There's an app for that. You can check your pulse on it. I do that sometimes. I don't know why. Like I say to my son, "If it stops beating, you'll know. The rest of the time, it's doing its job." The app should be able to scan for scar tissue. For cracks and fissures. For all the places where things have leaked out and leaked in. Tears, I suppose. Love.
I don't know how to teach my son how to protect his heart. I say, "You are love." I say, "I love you." I say, "It hurts less and less as time goes on." I say, "You'll love again."
He says, "You don't get it. You don't even LIKE love."
I'm stung. "I do so," I say.
But he's almost right.
I am single.
I like being single because -- at risk of sounding like a reality show contestant on a show where the prize is a fiance -- I don't like being hurt. But also because (or maybe mostly because) it is utterly exhausting being responsible for hurting someone else. Disappointing them. I'm not talking about intention. I'm talking about just the act of being yourself.
Never be who you think someone else wants you to be.
That never works.
But still, even being yourself, I don't know. Mostly... well. Are you going to measure up to the partner that someone else wants you to be? Oh, probably not. You'll be too messy. Not available frequently enough. You'll sometimes wear the same pants three days in a row. You'll forget to care about new music. You won't watch The Walking Dead. You won't ever agree on whether to stay in or go out. Pizza or Chinese food. Sometimes you'll just want to go to bed and read, alone, the fan blowing the summer evening air around you in cooling pools, a glass of ice water covered in a film of condensation on the shelf beside your bed, your dog sighing in his sleep, his head resting contentedly on your shin.
In small ways, you'll be disappointing, that's just a fact. No one ever measures up to what other people feel they are entitled to. "You deserve better!" people say. They really believe it. "I deserve to be happy!" As though this entitlement means that you deserve a partner who is exactly who you need them to be at every moment.
Ultimately, a balance will tip, and you'll become someone else's biggest disappointment. You won't be there for them when they need you. They won't be there when you need them. You'll measure your disappointments against each others'. You will have a mental tally of let-downs. Time will add layers and layers. Not all the layers are good, is what I'm saying. Mostly they aren't.
Which isn't to say that dating isn't fun. Sometimes.
Until it isn't, until you find yourself actively looking for the red flags, the things that will become the things that you can't and won't tolerate, the things that make you want to go home, turn on the fan, open your book again, relieved to not have to deal with this or that. Safe and alone.
Here's a true thing about me: Years after my divorce, I can still find things to be sad about. I can still be hurt anew by my ex. It wasn't an easy relationship. I'd say, on the whole, I was sad/mad/devastated/angry a good 80% of the time. Which is to say, I absolutely don't regret that it ended, although HOW it ended, I'd like to rewrite. It wouldn't ever have been the good thing I wanted it to be, this I know for sure. But sometimes, out of the blue, as I watch him becoming a better man than he's ever been, I feel so angry that I don't recognize myself. Incensed. Incandescent with something that isn't quite rage, but more like pain.
When you hold a flame against a dead, dry leaf, sometimes the flame whoomps to life and engulfs the leaf so quickly, even the oxygen is surprised by the heat of it. That's how it feels.
I'm very lucky in that I have male friends. Entirely platonic friends, who I love. I can picture growing old alongside one or another of these men. I can imagine not being angry with them. I can picture not having my heart broken. They are comfortable to me, like my favourite old Gap bootcut jeans (sorry, fashion world) that I ripped when I slid down a cliff a few weeks ago, a fall that released so much adrenalin that my legs buckled on the trail and refused to carry me home.
I'm fine though. I was fine. I am still fine.
I bought new jeans. They are ostensibly the same, but they are not the same.
I keep walking, every day, on those same trails. It's true that I'm more nervous now. I get dizzy with anxiety. I forget to look at the leaves and the trees and the owls and the wildflowers and instead I think, "If I fall here, will someone find me? Who will save me?" I think, "I am alone."
I think about the fall and about how one second I was standing on the path and the next second, the path was gone and underneath me there was air and empty space and like in a cartoon, my legs scrabbled for a hold on something that wasn't there.
But I go back into the woods. I walk.
We do that, right? All of us. We have bad experiences. Then slowly, we rewrite them, so that the postives outweigh the negatives. We brace ourselves. We try again. We concentrate hard on focussing on the good parts. The fresh air. The smell of the trees. The silent swoop of the owl, watching you watching him.
By this, I mean, I keep cracking open the door to love just a little bit.
I look at the sunlight illuminating the dust in the air in the room that is revealed.
It looks like a nice room. Warm. Friendly. Welcoming. There is laughter and good times and a grill on the adjoining deck. There is someone to talk to at the end of the day and a partner to take turns driving on road trips and someone else to say to the kids, "Stop screaming, it's just a spider." There is a shared bottle of wine, commiserating, a boardgame. He makes a pie and it's terrrible. I trip on the rug. He takes a picture and posts it on FB. We have an inside joke. A dozen inside jokes. We develop a code for when it's time to leave a party. We understand each other. The kids forget that they are scared to be out of my sight, if only for a minute. There's a feeling that's bigger than that. In the room, there's a family.
I think I might push the door open again one day. All the way.
It's possible that when I look inside, I won't just see the corners and how they accumulate cobwebs and disappointment. I might not look under the couch for all the ways it's going to let us down.
I may just go in there, like a cat drawn to the beam of the sun that's warming the furniture. I might lie down and stretch and sigh and just let it all go. The fear, I mean. I might sleep for a while. I might wake up and not be alone. I might be happy to look beside me and to see you there. We'll talk about something dumb someone said on the internet, laugh about a book, play a round of Mahjong.
Who knows who we will be? Or when we will get there? My hair grey and bobbed, the lines around my eyes and mouth etched deep from all those feelings I've felt for all this time; the kids grown and gone, you leaning slightly when you walk like you're almost ready to tumble off the path, almost ready to let go of everything that held you back until it was almost too late. Only this time, you won't fall. This time, you just might fly.