Lauren and I are decorating the tree. We’re decorating the tree because it is December, because I’m a flexible Jew, and because Lauren is princessy enough to counteract all of my not caring about anything at all. So we have a tree, and we’re putting pink tulle around it. That’s how Lauren rolls.
I’m lucky to have her, and I’m glad she’s like this. She gets me outside of myself sometimes, and I need that. I pull out her snowmen, her angels and stars, and I smile.
“I almost got new ornaments this year,” I say, mostly to myself.
“Well, yeah. I mean, I wanted to get some, but then I thought, why bother?”
“I mean, I move. I just, I always move.”
“But.. that doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things.”
“Yeah, I know… I know… it’s just how I am with nice things. I either break them, lose them, or have to leave them behind when I go… and then I’m just… I’m so sad… so I just don’t really bother with things at all anymore.”
The second it comes out of my mouth, I realize how bad it sounds. But I’m just being realistic. I’ve moved so many times that anything I can buy more cheaply than ship gets thrown out. Anything I have to worry about breaking is a huge liability, and anything I can forget has already been left somewhere between Fort Lauderdale and Finland.
I’m embracing myself, I say. I’m just admitting that I suck at this.
But it’s more than that, if I’m being honest. It’s more than that. I’ve lived here for a year without a dresser or blinds. Without a phone that isn’t shattered or pillowcases my old roommate’s cat didn’t chew. One day I woke up and realized that I wasn’t ready to settle in because I still hadn’t been able to admit I’d ended up here. I haven’t moved on. Not in theory, not in life. Not at all.
People forget, and I try to forget, but I can’t.
The word “bride” made me itchy. I couldn’t wear it, it didn’t fit. I was terrible at ogling place settings and invitations.
Every sales clerk at every bridal store had pitched it the same.
“He’s English!” They’d squeal. “You’re going to live in Barcelona!” They’d shriek.
“It’s a fairytale!”
And I would nod, awkwardly, with a white dress 6 sizes too big clipped to me with the big orange bridal store clamps I’ve discovered they use to strap the samples on you. The dresses never felt right, but I loved him fiercely, and he and I were going to build the life I’d always thought was out of reach.
The engagement was, truthfully, a dream come true. Embracing everything I’d ever wanted with the man who always made me laugh and kissed me like the world was ending. No fear, side by side, traveling, living in a foreign country again. He would grin, sweeping me around in his arms, making plans. The first place he wanted to take me was Italy. We’d take weekend trips to Istanbul and buy produce from the farmer’s market by my language school. We’d live in a shoe box apartment in the Gothic district of Barcelona and give bike tours to tourists, and these would be the years we would talk about for the rest of our lives.
I remember his speech when I brought home the pamphlet for the language school, sighing with longing.
“Why don’t you just go? You go to school and I’ll work. You never let anyone do anything for you. You don’t trust anyone to love you enough. Let me do this for you… with you.”
And suddenly all the feelings I was never sure I’d have for anyone hit me breathless. I wanted to marry him, and I knew it.
Three weeks later on one knee, he pushed his grandmother’s ring onto my finger. Everything I never knew I wanted, I had.
It’s been fifteen months since everything came crashing to the ground.
How do I ever explain how piece by piece, everything fell apart? The mindfuck of loving a man like him was that his lifelong entitlement and privilege was so complete, he couldn’t even understand why anyone would be upset that all of his promises were empty, and all of his stories were lies. Every failure he’d ever had he was bailed out of by his wealthy parents. Everything he’d ever achieved had been purchased for him. The concept of consequences, that people hurt, that people cared, was lost on him.
When I gave notice at my job he was lying about filing our marriage license. When I was breaking my lease he was lying about getting a job in Spain to support us. We had planned to sell his house to purchase a home in Barcelona when it turned out – the house didn’t belong to him. His parents were bankrolling the charade. He’d attempt to get off on technicalities and I would angrily force the truth – none of those games mattered. We were adults. Trust mattered. Respect mattered. Responsibility mattered. He shrank from me, deflated in realizing his grandiose claims of taking care of us were just an empty boast. He fell off the grid for a week. He claimed he didn’t have a phone charger but posted on social media. I told him I didn’t care where he’d been or what he’d done. It didn’t matter. He was nothing to make a husband of. He was nothing at all.
My job was gone, my home was gone, I had sold my car and spent out my savings on the wedding. Everything I had worked so hard for my entire life was broken, wasted on this useless man, who thought nothing of what he had cost me. I thought that love meant finally trusting someone with something important, and when finally I opened up to it, I was stripped of everything I had.
In the wake of everything I lost, I collapsed in on myself. I turned off my facebook, I didn’t return calls. I cut out everyone who looked at me cross eyed or said an unkind word. Nothing but a bundle of frayed threads, terrified that if you touch me, I’ll all but come unraveled.
I cried when I saw pictures of old friends together, and I burned the contract for my wedding venue. I vowed never to lose so much to anyone, ever, ever again.
My dream of traveling the world with someone I loved was just that, a dream. And looking behind at the wreckage of my life I feel that I can’t take on a single thing if I have to worry that it will be taken away from me, because I just don’t have the strength to watch another thing I love fall apart. How could finally giving my trust, the best of myself, leave everything in pieces?
Everything I ever wanted broken, lost, and left behind.
A year later, after reassembling my life, my heart is still reeling from my losses. I’ve been wandering through life in some sort of aimless haze, somehow all stuck together on the outside – I got a job, a car, and an apartment again – but hollow on the inside. Cracked and empty. I have trouble feeling anything. These little activities with Lauren make me feel more human. It’s Christmas, so we’re going to buy a tree topper. It’s the thing to do.
Lauren and I are strolling aimlessly through the Culver City Target, picking out wrapping paper and buying trash bags. We talk about the holiday and her latest job interview. She turns to the wreaths and bows, and I, restless, veer off into the clearance ornaments that no one in the past month felt were worth $6.95.
My eyes feeling glassy, half in and half out of head, I pause to gather myself. And that’s when I see it. A little glittery globe. A shiny promise of the planet. I pick up the ornament and feel my heart warm with love and desire. Enticed and enchanted, I hold it for a moment, and walk to the front of the store.
A discount ornament with flecks of dried hot glue, a ball of cheap glitter all over my clothes, and yet… it’s something. I decide that I want something for the first time in a long time. Suddenly strong enough to risk another loss. In the flick of a heartbeat, something in me wakes up. I am not whole yet, but I am healing.
I clutch the globe to my chest, intent on making it mine. And though I promise myself to do my best not to break it, lose it, or leave it, I know that if my best leaves it shattered to pieces, or stranded in a suitcase in Belgium, my heart will learn to love something once again.
And in the mean time, I’ve got the world on a string.