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I’m haunted by a sudden memory flash. In bed. We are both terribly upset. He is asking me to tell him something, even if it isn’t true. Just tell him.

What did he want me to say? That everything would be okay? That would could make it work? What was it? I remember him say, “Just tell me…” but what came next?

I can’t remember now. I remember that I couldn’t say it, because it wasn’t true. I said what I could say that was as close to it as was true. I tried to say something true that would be reassuring. I remember that I was hurting badly.

I think it was September.

What did he want me to say? I need to know. I need to remember. I desperately need to remember, and I can’t, and I feel insane not remembering.

A friend asks me what’s different about this break-up that brings up jealousy. It is not, I realize, about the break-up per say, but the relationship. The insecurity I felt in the relationship–I won’t detail, again, why; suffice to say more than one reason and serious reasons, too–is still there. And that’s why this is hard in that particular way that I haven’t felt before.

I knew what I meant to Nick, to O. I knew what I meant to other people who meant this much to me. I knew how much they loved me. I knew I wasn’t erasable. And I don’t know that now. The things that made the relationship not work, in this case, were things that made me feel unimportant or ignored or turned away from or unvalued or disrespected. Those same things are making this part now so much harder.

I get stuck on the photos. All those faces of people he loved or loves, who are some part of him still. I like this about him. And, I am like this, too. Not with photos, but clothes, dishes, and other small objects from past people. They are there, incorporated, integrated, part of me.

Mary’s shining face. Alison with her tongue out. I’m not bothered that they are there, and never have been. But where am I? It’s like I could just disappear, and no one would know. Whoever is there next doesn’t know I mattered to him, doesn’t know I existed to him. I’m terrified he’ll forget, too.

It’s not just about the photos, of course, but that’s one spot it crystallizes.

I’m thinking of Ben Lee singing, “I can write my way out of this pain.” I do feel things lighten, a little, with writing this morning.

I remind myself: This will pass. I won’t always feel like this.
I remember people who love me. I try to remember, I try to remember my way out of the hole, though they are far and I need love, near.

I try to tell myself a story about what happened and why. To remind myself. This is difficult. The problem doesn’t feel cognitive: it’s in my body and emotions, not my thoughts, so it’s had to convince myself this effort with thoughts is worth it. But I don’t know what else I can do to address it, so I’m trying this, per Max. Trying the narrative. It doesn’t do much in the moment, but maybe with enough repetition it starts to shift things. To align my warring parts.

The fact that I can work with myself a little, talk to myself a little, not just the blind panic since Monday, is good. A baby step, but good.

 

A member suggests this:

Assume good intent, but remember intent < impact. Your words might fall in a harmful way on someone else, and it’s important to take responsibility when that happens, regardless of your original intent.

“intent < impact”. This is a crucial point, and one that I’ve never seen put so succinctly.

It is, of course, complex. There is what we put out into the world, and what filters we perceive information through, what history we come with, and so on. You can say, “Good morning” to someone and they read it as sarcastic when it was sincere, and I’m not sure you need to “take responsibility” for that.

But there is something simple and crucial and true about this statement.

I’ve been trying to come up with some guidelines for bookclub discussion. This is what I’ve got so far, adapted from safercampus.org:

- “One Person, One Mic”: No interrupting. One person will speak at a time.

- Presence: Try to give each other our full attention. Avoid using your phone/ tablet/ etc. during book discussions.

- Generally, it will be most effective to speak from your own experience, and to ask others to speak from their own experience. Avoid asking others to speak as representatives of groups of which they may be a part.

- Call “in” when people make hurtful comments. As a group, we’ll continue to discuss effective ways to do this both within and outside of the group. One simple way to start is to ask for clarification. Another option is the “Ouch. Oops. Oh.” method: when someone says something that falls on you in a harmful way, you say “Ouch,” the person who said it says, “Oops,” in acknowledgement, and then we pause to discussion what was hurtful or problematic about the comment. The “Oh” refers to the subsequent learning moment.

- Assume good intent, but remember intent < impact. Your words might fall in a harmful way on someone else, and it’s important to be responsive when this happens, regardless of your original intent.

- “Step up and step back”: If you usually don’t talk much, challenge yourself to speak more. If you find yourself talking more than others, speak less to make sure there’s enough conversational space for everyone.

- Self care: This is a place for open conversation and respectful dissent, and some of the topics we address may be emotionally challenging at points. If you need to step out for a few moments, or leave, in order to take care of yourself, please do so.

I like that I’m one of the people he’s calling right now. I like that he calls me from the hospital, that he reads me the eulogy. I like feeling like I can help. I like feeling useful. Feeling useful is a relief: it pulls me out of my own pain. It makes me feel connected. It makes me feeling purposeful. All of that feels like a rope.

And, it’s intimate. Someone I love is letting me up close in a profound way, and even though there is pain there, it feels good and right to be up close.

***

I talk with another friend last night who is struggling with work and meaning, his values versus his financial constraints. It was hard, calling and then hearing the pain in his voice. The blustery quality his voice takes on when he’s struggling in this way. And there was some inertia: I heard it in his voice, and I have to decide to shift, to cross the energy barrier to engage.

It’s still a bit unusual for him to lean on me in this particular way. Usually when he feels like this, he holes up. We talked last week about this, about how, he said, with certain kinds of struggles, he doesn’t think to ask for help, to lean on people. He had said he wasn’t sure what the point was: “Most of the time, I already know what I have to do.” And so we talk about what leaning on people can mean, or be for. We talk about emotional support, empathy, encouragement, and so on.

So, I’m glad that he’s sharing this with me. I’m honored. And impressed: I know this isn’t natural for him, and it can be so much harder to take a risk when you’re already in the hole.

So, we talk. And, again, the relief, the rope, of being there for someone else, of immersing in someone else’s world, of doing something useful, of connecting so up-close. Of course we haven’t fixed everything in a night, but, at the end of the conversation, he tells me that he feels a bit better. I can see it in his face, feel it in the way his voice changes.

 

Nick reads me the eulogy he’s been working on. It’s perfect.

I remember her. I didn’t know her well, but my impressions were that she was smart, opinionated, nowhere no shy, and gorgeous even in her late 70’s. I remember the radio on, and her kitchen, and that she always wanted to give me clothes of hers. There are a couple plaid shirts I still wear, Ralph Lauren, well-made. Even as a scrawny teenager, I couldn’t fit the ballerina waistband of her slacks.

I remember the cakes–plum, of course, most of all. The plum sliced thin, arranged immaculately. And the small, shoelace-chewing dogs–surely, a one word term in German.

I remember her hands.

Most of all, I remember Nick with her. I remember the way he loved her. I remember how consistently he was there for her. I remember him checking on her, taking care of her, listening to her, loving her. I loved him for that.

I wish I were there.

It’s too much. I find myself thinking: I’m not very resilient.

Which isn’t fair. I’ve been so scared for so long. And all this dealing with medical stuff, the year off, the panic hell of going back to school. And, then, now, my hands, my heart, these terrifying diagnosis words, trying to come to terms with the idea that it might be a while til they know which one applies. And my heart, my god, my heart. My heart. Feeling like I’m losing him feels like the ground cracking open and falling through.

It’s too much.

I can’t. I am so worn out. I am so alone. I need. I need love, comfort, company, solace. Not because I’m not resilient, but because I’m fucking human. I need someone who loves me to hold me all night and tell me it’ll be okay. I need care.

I have been resilient. I have kept going and going and going, with pretty minimal self-destruction. But I’ve hit a fucking wall.

 

I tell her about that moment last night. Feeling so happy. How good it felt to be close to him. I tell her I slept with him. She says, Yes. She knows this before I tell her.

I expect her to scold me. Instead, she says, Of course. You need… And she wraps her arms around herself, the motion of holding close. I appreciate this. I say, I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t do this. I don’t know what to do when I leave.

All I want to do is lie in bed with him. Rub his feet with my lavender scrub. Hear his voice. Be close.

She says: Call him. I don’t tell her I already did.

Why is he here?
Why is he willing to be here?
Why is he willing when I’ve said so many painful things? They are all true. They are all things I need to say. I’m not sorry for saying them because I need to. And, I know they are painful for him. There’s a resilience in his being here anyway. I see that. I see the strength in that.

I’m so grateful. It feels like grace.
I want to ask why he’s here, but I don’t want to break it.

It felt so damn good. It felt like heaven.

I felt loved. And safe. And it’s been a while since I’ve felt that.

I felt completely happy for some moments there.

I asked him if he was happy. He said, Yes, but a look passed through his eyes first, and I wondered if that hurt. My asking. If he said yes to please me. It did please me.

I feel like I’m in a trance. I knew I couldn’t be there after he left, so I left with him and came straight to work.

Asking Pab years ago, when I lived on Pitman St., about needing people. I was in a lot behind a house across the street–maybe looking for good reception? I was asking if it was okay to need people sometimes. Pab telling me: “You can’t blame someone for taking a drink when they’re thirsty.”

I was parched.

Later all the thoughts will come: Was this fair to him? Have I done wrong by him?
Later I’ll see if this makes it all harder on me.

For now, I’ll stay in my daze.

Why did I try to soften it? To spare his feelings? I was aware of wanting to share my experience, and wanting to be careful not to one-up in doing so.

Why did I say I’ve been scared on and off?

I was scared for months. I was scared since February. There were moments that interrupted it, times when I was less rather than more scared, but it is not accurate to say on and off. There was an underlying unease, even in many of the moments that felt warmest, because I knew: some thing could go wrong, and if I say that I’m hurt or angry or upset, even a little, he might go a million miles away emotionally, or it might turn into a fight. An unsafe fight. No matter how I put it, not matter how carefully.

I realized: I only really feel as safe as the conflict is.

Maybe I’m not honest about how scared I was for how long because of how unreasonable it sounds. How stupid it sounds to say: I was scared for 9 months. How stupid it sounds to stay for that much fear. How humiliating that is. God, I feel stupid. God, I feel like an idiot. Who else would do that? Who else would stay for that much fear? Who else would accept that? God, I feel like an idiot.

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