Recently, my life has borne an unsettling resemblance to a bad country song: my business has gone bust, my man is gone, my bank – and every other creditor – is knocking on the door, and my cat is sick. My tooth aches and menopause has set in with an undeniable determination. I’m afraid to use the old standby “well, at least I’ve got my health”, for fear the gods will hear and remember they left something behind. If it weren’t for my friends, I’d be down so deep the rescue workers would call it a sinkhole and tell the reporters there ain’t no use trying to get me out. Except that all the rescue workers are so busy trying to figure out which box to squeeze me into that they’ve just given up and told me to get used to being in the hole for a year or so.
Yep. If someone would just help me write the melody, we could both get rich.
Today, to add insult to injury, I woke up at the crack of dawn, thinking about it all. I lay there in a half-daze, floating in and out of consciousness, running it all through my head, like the bad song it sounds like. And suddenly, in one of those rare moments of insight, when the mists parted and the Hyoka stopped poking at me for a moment, I figured out why it all feels so bad.
It’s not that I haven’t been out of work and in debt before. It’s not that my heart hasn’t been broken by a lover before. It’s not even that so much gawd-awful crap is falling on my head at once, because even that’s happened before (except the part about the menopause, of course). It’s that, this time, for the first time in maybe 30 years… I was flying without a net when I fell.
Of course, I’ve played it too close to the wire before. More than we’re told we ought to, as responsible adults. No, this time the net I was missing was the emotional one. For the first time in about 30 years, my heart was all in. Wide open. With no protective layers wrapping it up nice and safe, just in case. And it hurt when I hit the ground.
I really wanted this. Yes, I’ve wanted relationships before – had more than my fair share, some would say. I’ve wanted ones I couldn’t have, and sometimes that hurt like hell. But for the last 30 years, when it came to matters of the heart, I’ve played with one card held back. Sometimes because it had become a habit, but mostly because it seemed the smart thing to do. The danger signs were clear, so I’d walk a little carefully (though it might not look like it from the outside looking in): one of the loves of my life was happy enough to have me, so long as it never went further than ‘friends with benefits’. Another wouldn’t leave his wife (I know, I know). And even my eventual husband put out clear warning signs from the earliest days of our relationship. In many ways, large and small, they all made it clear that I should keep my netting in place. So, even if I tried to ignore the signs, as I did with my marriage, I was, in some dark, safe part of my heart, ready. Just in case. In case I was setting myself up for a fall.
But not this time. With this affair – if you can call 6 years an affair – I threw away the nets. Why? It’s simple, really: because he asked me too. That’s all it took, all it ever would’ve taken. Isn’t it what so many of us want to be asked, in the deepest part of our trying-to-be-cynical hearts? To have someone say, come fly with me? When he asked me to take down the barriers, I tore them down happily. I redrew my boundaries and went all in.
And then found out he couldn’t do the same. Or rather: he didn’t believe he could do the same. Because that’s the real point, isn’t it? That you believe you can fly?
When it all fell apart, we tried to be friends. I’m usually good at that. In fact, I’m friends with ex-lovers I should’ve kicked in the balls upon leaving. But what’s the use? I always try to work from a policy of: if a person is good enough to love, why hate him now, just because we can’t keep loving each other? Or because he cheated (and deserves to be kicked in the balls)? It seemed to make sense at the time. So today, in the aforementioned moment of insight, I realized that the reason it’s all felt so horrid for the last weeks – or has it been months already? – is that I have been hating him a little bit. And I didn’t know why. Why has this been so different? Why is this fall tumbling over into every other aspect of my life? Why have I felt so broken?
And then I realized that it was because of having been all in with this thing that was us, that I’ve felt so…well… yucky…this time. All in meant having him reach for me in his sleep, pulling me into spooning position. All in meant knowing I’d be spooning him for the rest of my life, while my belly grew soft and his head grew bald. Being all in meant shaping my career choices to make that possible. Risking it all meant telling him all the ugly secrets I’ve never told anyone else, except one, and getting ready to tell him that one too. Flying without a net meant more than not being able to imagine my life without him. It meant him not being able to imagine his life without me, either. Until the unimaginable happened, and we started living our lives apart.
Okay, I thought, as I lay there in the too-bright room trying to convince myself it was dark enough to go back to sleep. Okay, so what am I going to do with this epiphany?
And then, I realized that – for me, at any rate – there was only one option. There can be no going back, no effort to find my net again. No anger, anymore, that we tried to fly without it. Because oh, what fun it was! There was that stretch of time we shared, when we were at the top of the arc, and we could almost see forever. When I remembered what it was like to love with abandon, to risk it all, to be all in, all the time. How amazing to feel that soaring, flying feeling again after telling myself, for far too long, that being an adult meant staying on the ground – in life, in love, in everything. The odd thing is that the moment this all came together in my head (and my heart), the heartbreak softened, I stopped hating him (as if I ever actually could), and I felt some of our love again. Like a gift. Or maybe that’s not so odd after all, is it?
I have no desire to go back now, no desire to deny the joy of flying. The amazement of taking that leap. Try it yourself: try remembering how it felt when you’ve been completely, fearlessly, all in. Consider taking that leap, with whatever – or whoever – makes you soar. Just be sure that, if you have a co-pilot, they believe in flying too.
As for me, I’m just going to have to keep trying, and keep falling, until I learn to fly again. To live and love the way I used to do, the way I have to, and the way we almost did.
And I’m going to do it without a net.
20 April 2013