Break Them, Lose Them, Leave Them

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.

“Almost?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I wanted to get some, but then I thought, why bother?”

“What?”

“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.

TOSHIBA TRANSFERS II 1709

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.

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Too

It isn’t until the morning after – the sunlight streaming through the half ripped out vertical blinds – that I really feel like shit.

I only had one drink last night, followed by plastic cup after plastic cup of water, and a cold walk in the dark from downtown.  I had spent two hours crying on Travis’s bathroom floor, my phone, screaming drunken accusations, all in text.  Having broken up three days prior to New Year’s Eve, we thought maybe we could talk it out.

“I just don’t want to be around you while there’s all this alcohol.” I said. “I don’t think it’ll help things.”

I asked if I could just go downtown and spend some time with my friends instead of spending the evening alone, because everything was so volatile.  We needed to talk, just not then.

“Okay, sure.” He tells me.

But at two am the texts start rolling in.

“You bitch, you liar. You did this.  I didn’t do this, you did.  This is over, it’s your fault.”

Dumbfounded, I call a thousand times, but he never answers.

“You’re a liar.  You lied to me, I don’t give a shit you fucked up.”

I take off from the bar downtown, a taxi at this time of night is an impossibility, and run as fast as my broken hip can take me down the street, trying to get away from the chaos.  Trying to get him to call me back.  But he won’t.

“You’re in heels you bitch.”

What?!?  I send him pictures of my feet, my shoes… I have a destroyed pelvis.  For the last nine months they have poked me, prodded me, injected me, mangled me, found tumors, diseased bursa, and inflamed bone marrow, but they still don’t know what’s going on.  God, I’m not wearing heels.  He thinks I’m somehow betraying him with footware.

But he won’t respond, he won’t respond.

I’m tripping down the street, sobbing, when down the dark side street, a cab pulls over.

“Honey, what wrong, why you crying?”

But I can’t get any words out.

“Honey, it’s ok.  It’s ok.  I’ll take you home.”

Hysterical, I get into the taxi.  I manage to squeak out the only address I know where I can go to be safe.

The cab pulls up to Travis’s house, and the driver won’t take any money.  He tells me to go inside and that everything will be ok.  “Everything ok!”  He keeps saying, as he pushes the cash back into my hands. I call Travis.

“Travis… are you home?”

“What’s wrong.” He can hear it in my voice.

“I’m downstairs, can you get me?”

The part of this I most wish wasn’t true is that once Travis let me in to his bathroom and lent me a pair of oversized pajamas, I continued to try to beg sense into a drunk man for the next two hours, pulling off my false eyelashes on the bathroom floor.  He’s still screaming, swearing in writing, but he won’t take any of my calls.  Or my thousand requests for Facetime to prove I was where I said I would be.  I was doing what I said I would be doing.  I am frantically texting pictures of my face, my feet, the room, Travis, and begging please.  Please.  I don’t understand.  Why are you doing this to me? Please.  Please.  And so many other stupid words and phrases that turned out to just be words strung together that should have meant something but didn’t.

I stayed on that cold floor until four am.  Begging and grasping and completely lost.  I love him so much.  Why would he do this to me?  Why is he doing this?

And then I realize he is doing this because he has been drinking.  And I realize this is never going to end.  And after all that I feel an amazing sudden clarity; and I realize everything that I need to do next.  I send him a message, and I turn off my phone.  I wash my face, and climb into the far side of Travis’s bed, wearing his old sweats.  I tell myself I’m not going to cry there, but I keep crying there, then asking if it’s ok with his girlfriend that I’m there, then crying again, then saying I’m done crying, then crying some more.  He reminds me that the living room is freezing, that his girlfriend is a secure and kindhearted person, and that we’ve known each other since we were eleven.  It’s ok.  I cry some more and tell him I’ll try to shut up, but since I’ve cried so much I think I’ll probably snore.

Travis falls asleep immediately.

Travis snores.

In the morning, when the sun shines in too bright and it’s maybe only three hours later, we get up, because it’s too light to sleep.

“I want to make you breakfast.” He says, because he is a good friend, and because my stomach is empty, and because I have black rings under my eyes and am in desperate need of care.  I tell him that’s sweet, but not to worry.

“I have eggs!”  He yells, before realizing they’re past the expiration date.

“Eh, whatever.” I say

“You really want to take that kind of a chance?”

“I’m feeling lucky.”

I pause.

“Oh fuck it, I’m feeling the opposite of lucky.  I’m feeling a million times worse than lucky, but I’m feeling so terrible that a couple of bad eggs couldn’t make things any worse.”

Travis laughs.

“Everything you say sounds like it’s a quote from a book or a movie or something.”

“I think men fall in love with me because of that and then leave me when they realize I’m an actual person.”

He hugs me.  We go to Ralphs for eggs.

We make and enjoy breakfast.  I hand him my phone as it turns back on and ask him if there was anything not hideous or hateful said as it rings 8 or 9 times, indicating all the texts to wade through.  Travis checks the phone.

“No.” He says decidedly.  So I don’t read them.

About an hour later, another one comes through.

“Everything after last night just left me more confused that ever…”

And confused myself, I read every last hateful word from the night before until I am unshakeable.  And all I do is copy, word for word, the final text I sent before I turned off the phone.

“If you are confused, allow me to clarify.  By the time I come home, I want all of your things out of my house.  I want you to put your keys on the table by the door, and I want you to leave, and never, ever come back.”

He tells me he can’t get there.  He tells me this, he tells me that.  He gives a thousand reasons and excuses but he has a functioning car and his crap in my home so he’d better remove it.  I ignore him.  Travis illegally downloads Catching Fire so I can watch it since my bent up body doesn’t allow me to sit in theater chairs, and surprisingly it turns out that movies where lots of people die can be hard to watch after you’ve just suffered a major loss.  I cry, then say it’s a great movie, then cry, then say I love Lenny Kravitz, then cry some more.

Enough people have died in the film at this point that I’m starting to lose it.  I ask Travis to pause the movie and he does.  He has me covered in blankets with a heater straight on me, but I’m still shivering.  He comes over to pat my back as I cover my face with my hands and start to sob.  The hateful words said to me.  The loss of love I thought would last.  The disintegration of everything I planned around me all over again.  And it’s only because I’m so broke and vulnerable, only because I’ve been ripped up one side and down the other, only because my nerves are raw and my heart is bleeding and my dreams are crushed, do I suddenly whisper in his hear what I’ve been stuffing into corners, hiding under cheerfulness and positive platitudes, afraid to say out loud to anyone for the last nine months.

“Jon died.  Jon died.  I could die too.”

“I’m scared.”

And he holds me.  He holds me like a good friend would.

Dead Offer

I have a lot of medical bills.

I have a lot of medical bills and a lot of insurance paperwork and a lot of paystubs, and it’s year end, I’m trying to get organized.  I pull out my filer that I haven’t used in ages, and I start to whittle down the crap I can throw out.  This apartment could use a good scrub and an interior downsizing.

I plow my way through the first few categories – old photos, credit card statements, until I find a file that says “Dead Offers”. In the state of California, as a real estate agent, you are required to keep copies of everything you’ve submitted to anyone in the business for three years, including offers you fiercely negotiated and painstakingly drafted that just never got past someone’s outdated fax machine.  We call these denied or ignored pieces of paper “dead offers”.  I don’t know why you are required to keep them. You just are. I sold in late 2009 and now it is 2013. It’s time for the purge.

I thumb through the green file folders, yanking manila envelopes and stuffing them into the trash… and then I do something stupid. I slow down and start opening the files. What if something I need is stuck in there? What if there’s a reference I’ll want to remember? What if I still have a live, useful contact? I thumb through the packages and remember. The first house I sold, three weeks in, intense with pride and the rush of a bigger check than I’d ever seen on paper. The stupid family who backed out of the perfect townhome at the last second, dead set on home after home 100 grand more than they could afford or be approved for.

And then I saw it.

Jonathan and Cynthia Swanson. I run my fingers over the pages and in between, pouring over the ink… blue… proving it’s an original and not just a copy. His hands were here. His signature, illegible and ugly, but his.

They say everyone copes with grief in a different way. Some wail and cry and beg and bargain. Some twist inward with suffering, Degas ballerinas crumpled in the dark. I cope with grief the same way I cope with everything. Fists flying, jaw clenched, tears streaming down my face. The height of irrational-ism. The epitome of fury. The excruciating, futile fight.

I have a photo of the two of us together, my sophomore year of highschool. It’s a prom photo, him in a rented tux, my cabbage green dress – the only thing I could find in Los Angeles small enough to fit – and a background that looked like vomit. He wasn’t my date, but we took the photo anyway. We, of course, are smiling.

You never think anyone around you is going to die young, but you certainly don’t think that the person spending every other night at your dinner table, annoying you with the sound of his video games, making you laugh until you squirt milk out of your nose is ever going to be gone. The yin to a yang, the half of my brother that eats lunch on the back benches, the one who stays up late as we laugh into the night, writing jokes for the talent show. He’s simply there, woven right in. How could you possibly remove him? Won’t the whole thing unravel?

When he was dying, we took out every video we had in that house.  We, the ones taking shifts in his room day and night, playing cards, baking meatloaves, buying icecream, taking turns sleeping on the floor… we watched each play, each talent show, each school video with laughter and love.  I felt my heart swell, a water balloon begging to burst, watching him healthy on a screen when less than twenty feet away from us, intubated and suffering, he clung on.  The nurse came on Monday and told us to stop.  Stop playing, stop laughing, stop trying to make it light.  He can hear you, and he doesn’t want to go.  Be quiet, be quiet.  Let him go.  We silenced ourselves – sitting outside in the blistering August heat – hoping to be out of earshot.  Hoping we could help him let go.

There was a point near the end when everyone went in together.   We never really knew how much time we had, so we tried not to overwhelm him, but we would talk to him, stroke his arm or his hair, listen to music, and just stay close. When everyone went in together, I sat with Cindy. Twenty-five years old, blonde and wispy voiced with a baby not yet one year old.  She was gentle and sweet – and an iron trap. Holding it all together in a way that was eons from my body wrecking, car screaming, hate spewing fury.   With everyone else in the room saying goodbye, we sat on the couch and she let me hold her hand for a minute, as just for the smallest moment, the pressure away, she let herself cry.

You signed on the dotted line for a house, a husband, a father, a partner. You signed for the baby soon to grow in your belly, for the two dogs and the cat. You signed the package for your future, ever so carefully reviewed and revised, and with all of the boxes checked, sent it in for acceptance from the other side.

And all it was was a fucking. dead. offer.