Crossroad — taking those first steps into oncoming traffic
There was a dream I had after ten years with Joshua, married for eight of those years, where I was walking the earth alone. Everyone had vanished. I was shivering so I stopped to rest on a swing in an empty park next to a bridge in the middle of nowhere. Fall leaves were swirling around me in an otherwise desolate landscape.
Everyone was dead and I was alive.
While there were no bodies in sight, a ray of light hit me. I realized that Joshua had gone to heaven (at least another place not of this realm) along with every other human being. Somewhere embedded in my mind was the realization that I had chosen — yes, chosen — to stay behind. I had chosen to be alone in a world devoid of all life rather than be with him.
I was also struck by another feeling this dream offered me. In it, I felt alive, much more so than when I was awake. My lack of commitment to the man who supplied a stable environment left me lifeless during my waking hours. He was a stranger living in my home who kept me in a straight jacket.
I could not speak for fear of offending. A sterile ambivalence — impotent — caught in limbo. It was a living death. Trapped below thin ice — I could see the light above but did not have the strength to break through — to shatter a prevailing sense of dread. Yet the warmth that could give me life was on the other side. I could not breathe and the lack of air was suffocating. I was too paralysed to move.
I woke up from that dream with a heavy sadness filling me to the brim. It stayed with me for days, haunting me, enveloping me, drowning me. Two days after that dream, I took off my wedding ring. In that moment, the message that I was ready to let go was telegraphed to the world with my visible act of defiance.
That the marriage lasted almost two years beyond that point was in no small part due to both players struggling to wake up from the slumber that comes with sleepwalking. How can you shake yourself awake when you are so sluggish?
The lethargy made it hard to fix something that did not seem to be broken but did not really work either. Yet there were splits at the seams — stuffing falling out — both of us trying to find ways to fill the rapidly emptying holes. He pursued further study at university. I thought moving to another city might do the trick.
You see the signposts but you do not read them. They can be lit up in lights flashing so brightly that innocent bystanders find them blinding. But the capacity of humans to live in denial to avoid confrontation is extraordinary. And when someone finally displays enough daring to be decisive, it still seems unexpected and sudden.
In the end, he plucked up the courage to walk away. Into the tenth year of marriage, he found what he thought he was looking for in another woman. At the time, he did not have the nerve to say so and could only muster the age-old lame excuse — “I just cannot be with you anymore”.
My stable but sterile world was ripped apart.
After a twelve-year relationship, being abandoned was unsettling. This is an understatement. It felt more like having all my confidence sucked out the tiniest pores of my body — sweating stone beads of blood. These droplets were jigsaw puzzle pieces falling far to the ground. Even though I knew deep down it was the right outcome, I remembered I was never any good at solving puzzles. Especially when many of the pieces were destroyed or missing in action — damaged beyond repair from the fall, shards shattering out of sight with no prospect of ever being found again.
My trust betrayed, the despair seemed to engulf me. Starting the year suddenly single opened a floodgate. The despair was a festering wound that seemed like it would never heal. There were reminders everywhere serving as tiny prods amplifying the bleeding aches.
How far does a person fall when they feel this way?
There is something about drinking a half a bottle of scotch, and several cocktails, and swallowing (perhaps too many) tablets to help me sleep without which I would not have crystallized the notion that I really did need to recognize and hold on to life. I did not want to die. I just wanted to learn how to cope better with the pain that ebbed and flowed inside of me. And much as I tried to hide it, sometimes that pain seeped through; sometimes it oozed; sometimes it gushed. That festering wound had fed my fears almost to the point of no return.
Ultimately, the wound that had been reopened by his departure had nothing to do with him at all. While his leaving had been a catalyst, the reminders were not about missing him. My epiphany was that I had spent years holding back — trying my utmost to suppress a range of feelings and it created the background noise that had come to define a marriage built on lust alone.
I had spent so long pretending — being something that he wanted me to be — that I lost all sense of who I was. I had no choice but to acknowledge those feelings and attempt to understand why I had chosen for so long to ignore the noise.
I had not only been sleepwalking, I was doing so without any direction. Little girl lost. I had to find myself.
A new job instead of a new city was my knee-jerk reaction. Better to walk first than to try to run. I speculated that something that could challenge my mind would at least start the healing process.
I do not think I recognized the nature of my wound immediately because I renewed an anti-relationship sentiment as a form of self-defence. Perhaps not altogether unexpected but it meant that I was still walking with my eyes firmly shut — determined not to open them until I was sure another human being would never hurt me again. I feared I might go to my grave without sight. There were many more well-lit signposts, which I pathologically ignored. More denial.
My first plunge into any form of intimacy came almost six months to the day quite by accident. We do not always see opportunities when they present themselves but I had before me an (almost too good to be true) offer. Out of the blue, there was a man whose raw sensuality suggested my first ride would be gentle and satisfying. The boy was beautiful on the outside.
How often do people mistake sex for true intimacy? The one night stand is mostly about acts of selfishness. And the tune is always the same. You fool yourself into believing they are the solution. Crashing around, banging, ships passing in the night. Do all that you can to avoid the small talk, avoid exchanging anything that vaguely resembles commitment. Come, go. No ties. Nothing. You are delusional — convinced no one will get hurt if it is only about the sex. What a raging lie.
The lack of connection was never starker. I thought I was ready. I thought I needed to be ready. I thought that by accepting his offer to service my “needs” I would convince myself I was ready. He fucked to serve his needs. I really didn’t know what I needed.
It offered me less than nothing.
I tried the same ride a few weeks later but the boy could not have filled the empty vessel even if he had been trying. To continue to believe that physical contact was a perfect substitute for experiencing real emotions would be to regress into the same pattern that I had followed with religious fervour most of my adult life.
“Let your instincts guide you properly, there has to be a first time for it,” I kept saying to myself. Listen to the whispers. Before me is a multi-jewelled treasure chest just waiting to be opened? And, by opening it, I will discover a reflection of myself and regain what I have long lost — the sense of who I am.
The person I chose to guide me through my journey of self-discovery was a fellow called Ian. He was a man who annoyed me the first time I met him. Madison Avenue style, dark hair, strapping, smoking a cigarette, his luminous green eyes stared at me intently. For a fleeting moment, I believed that television show might have been based on his character. The Hugo Boss Blue aftershave he wore was strangely comforting. He spoke so softly (that was what annoyed me) that I had to lean across to hear what he had to say.
This choice remains a mystery to me. I do not think it was random selection. Perhaps it was because he annoyed me that I took the step to befriend him. Here was a person who could clearly press buttons that solicited a reaction and, for some inexplicable reason, I showed a willingness to let go and react.
Let the reactions wash through you. So you feel like you are in a spin cycle that you cannot stop until all the extra dirty water is sucked out and away but when you stop spinning, you are cleaner for it. I was scared beyond comprehension. I would be vulnerable in exposing parts of myself that the world had never seen; pieces that I had long since tried to eradicate from my own conscious memory. Who does that anyway?
Strangely, he wanted to listen. We took small steps at first. A couple of hours at a transport transit lounge, and we bonded. It seemed so natural like it was always meant to be. In a heartbeat, we spent a night just talking, in a conversation that meandered between idle banter and revealing expose. We discovered part of ourselves in each other. There were not enough hours in the day to talk, listen and reflect. In those early days, one of those reflections was that I felt strongly connected to this person.
Sometimes I thought it was just happy coincidence. By random selection I found someone able to help me move forward just at that moment when I felt ready to hop on the train. Sure, I took several steps into oncoming traffic before sliding into the subway only to catch a runaway train. Within moments, the tracks were strewn with bodies split in two, but I had to be on that train. He hopped on and off as his mood took him (and this was no mean feat given the train seemed out of control at times) and it was difficult travelling for both of us.
Sometimes I thought the connection was much stronger. He showed faith in me. He provided insight into my attitudes and motivations. He took me to a level of understanding deeper than most people ever got the opportunity to experience in their whole lives. Maybe (just perhaps) he was giving me a basis to rebuild my trust in relationships by helping me to build my trust in myself. I have never known anyone to do any of these things let alone all of them. He might have made a good career in counselling such was his skill to draw me out of my self-imposed hermitage.
To my surprise, he confessed during one of our sessions that he was experiencing precisely the same benefits from me as he was giving to me. It was strange to hear him say “you have provided all these things to me and a whole raft of other people and you are completely oblivious about the best aspects of your nature”.
His affirming words lifted my spirits. “You make me think long and hard about the questions you ask me,” he said. “You place so much faith and trust in those around you to aspire to discover their truth. It is obvious why I and so many others are drawn to spend time with you”.
Among his statements of good were occasional bombshells though. He chipped away at my valuing his gift of friendship. It did not help that in one brief moment of alcohol-induced weakness, he admitted to me that “I seek your approval because I love you”. Confusion reigned supreme.
For most of the time, he was measured in his responses. For most of the time, he was unambiguous in stating what he did not want or need from me. For most of the time he refrained, from telling me he wanted me to be all the things I could not be.
Perhaps it was not significant that this dilemma existed. There were days when it did not bother me at all. But there were also days when it felt like it would consume me. Those were the days when the easiest thing to do was to keep him at arms-length. The irony of all the ring-fencing was not lost on me.
We coined a phrase, “speed bumps”, to describe those moments when I struggled to cope with my reactions and feelings to the way he tested my boundaries. These were only metaphorical blocks — the notion that I held myself back from feeling all that was good as well as all that was bad about my friendship with him.
I should not have been afraid to embrace those feelings and the warmth and compassion he provided. For a fleeting moment in time with him, we reached a point where the roughness of the tracks we travelled no longer mattered.
I discovered many things by letting Ian help me to open the treasure chest that was my emotional core even if I now feel rapt with the knowledge of what is inside of me now seems to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. I had taken my first real step towards allowing someone else to have a genuine part of me.
At what point did I realize that fear of emotional intimacy was a shackle that dictated the terms of my (to that point many doomed) relationships? At what point did I start thinking I should let go of that fear? Be free to be more myself especially now that I understood better who that actually was? At what point did I decide to move forward instead of back?
Have I really reached that crossroad?
It seems I have gone from one extreme to another — from an emotional desert to a physical desert. I believe (I guess I have to) that there has to be an oasis somewhere in my future but is all that lays ahead of me a mirage?
Will it always be beyond my reach?