By Design

Shortly after my parents divorced my mom relocated to Phoenix. She did her best to persuade me to join her, offering me any car of my choosing and promising more sunshine than I’d know what to do with. Tempted as I was, I declined. Frankly, I never even really considered it to be an option. I feared what my leaving would do to my dad and brother. I held myself responsible for keeping them together and was convinced they’d fall apart without me. Always one to spare feelings, I told my mom I couldn’t leave my friends, which was in fact simply a different version of the truth.

The choice was mine to stay, but I still felt left. My mom wanted to be happy, and my adolescent brain couldn’t understand why that had to happen all the way across the country in the desert. Her geographical relocation translated into my being left. A subtle message that my heart carried into my own adulthood.

It wasn’t in that exact moment, but over time that I decided to design my life in such a way that I would be the one doing the leaving. I would not be left, geographically or emotionally. Motivated by self-preservation, I became a vagabond of the land and people’s lives. Never overstaying my welcome in any one place, and equally as careful not to become too attached to any one person.

The design plan was simple: build up walls by never being vulnerable. It was easy to execute after years of protecting myself and others from my emotions. I told stories of feelings and struggles that through repeated tellings became free of genuine emotion and attachment. They served as a wall that gave the illusion of vulnerability and openness. On the other side my heart sat protected and alone.

The plan worked. Until it didn’t. Somewhere around 30 I looked around and realized that the walls had served more as isolation than protection. I had still experienced heartache and loss, and was beginning to intimately know intense loneliness. While I had many close friends, and a few who managed to make their way behind the walls, I had never let myself love or be loved in a way that I now recognized my heart longed for. What was designed to keep my heart safe was now slowly weakening it. What was meant as a plan to avoid sadness was in fact keeping me from knowing happiness.

I could feel my heart pounding on the walls but I had no understanding of how to take them down. The awareness served only to create an internal discomfort that made me restless in a way I felt ill-equipped to manage. As I contemplated the idea of not taking the walls down alone I experienced a rush of fear and an urge to make them higher. My head was not on board with my heart’s plan, and grew increasingly suspicious of its intentions. As a compromise, I began to take the walls down slowly, one brick at a time.

Deconstruction is a work in progress. It is painstaking and at times affecting in a way I don’t fully understand. To this day, when faced with emotional discomfort, especially if it pertains directly to my heart, my first instinct is to leave. To run, really. I look frantically for the nearest exit. I become consumed with thoughts of how I can literally and figuratively remove myself from the pain. All under the guise of needing some space to clear my head, I hunt for new geography. I plan trips and adventures and distract myself with places that are not this place where I experienced hurt.

And I let myself go; I have a sense that wandering is my nature and to fight it seems useless. I follow my head to whatever corner of the country it decides is safest. I let myself go with the understanding that the bricks I have taken down stay down. I don’t let myself undo the progress I have worked so hard to make. I won’t block out the light that is starting to pour in.

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