Sunday came through again last week. (FYI, “come through” I’ve learned is Philly-speak for “drop by.”) It was a Wednesday. Ash Wednesday to be specific (And didn’t that turn out to be prophetic??) It all started with his typical “I’m driving down your street . . .” phone call modus operani. If you’re a regular reader, you know what happened next. (If not, stop now and read “Sex vs Intimacy” parts 1 & 2 and “Seriously? Again?!” before you go any further.)
At some point in our catch-up over the last month conversation, the subject of a young woman he has known for 5 years came up. I know he’s close to her. They were even involved very briefly years ago (or so he’d said). But she’s 28, a single mother of 2 little kids, and he’s 52. Ergo I thought (and he’d led me to believe) it was now a surrogate daughter/friendship/she needed help to get by thing. Curious (ok, suspicious and confused) I asked how they’d met. Through a mutual friend, to whom he no longer speaks, he answered with a laugh. Why? Because he ended up liking her more than the friend who’d introduced them. And then he launched into the spiel I’d heard ad nauseum over the last year: “She’s beautiful. I love her, her whole family actually . . . the grandmom, her kids . . . they’re like family.” Yeah . . . I’d heard it alllll before. But tonight there was something different in his tone . . . or maybe it was my willingness to keep my head in the sand?
<!!! ALERT !!!> Ladies, DON’T ask a question you DON’T want to hear the answer to!!!
“If you care so much . . . (Insert: forced casual shrug and desperate attempt to conceal rising emotions.) . . . why don’t you be with her?”
I need to pause for a moment. I deliberated long and hard about this post. Not about writing it. Believe me. I needed to write it! To get it out so I could let it go. But to actually publish it? The conversation, the details . . . yes, I vowed when I started singleat60 to be honest and candid (and I have been praised for it), but this is incredibly personal–and extremely painful. To broadcast to the literal world (or at least to the 100 countries where this blog is viewed) my private life? Shouldn’t there be a line one doesn’t cross? And besides, there’s nothing humorous here. All the wit and sarcasm on the planet won’t make this post amusing.
So why do it? I had to ask myself. Does anyone truly care? Does anyone truly need to know? In truth . . . no. No one. And in truth . . . anyone. Anyone who has related to anything I’ve written regarding this relationship. Anyone who has had a chord struck, an ah-hah moment or a me-too realization. Anyone who has felt kinship, comfort or inspiration in the knowledge: “Damn! I’m not the only one!” And so there it is. My justification for the no ones. And my purpose for the anyones. To read further or not is your choice . . .
I expected a lot of possible answers. Like “Judith, really? It’s not like that. She’s got little kids and I’m not into raising a third family. Look at the age gap! She’s looking to get married and I’m never going down that road again.” Yep, I expected any and all– except what I got.
“Because she’s not ready to be with me.” (Knife) “Yet.” (Stab.) “But I can wait.” (Twist.) “It’ll happen.” (Pull out and plunge in again.)
Blood pouring (metaphorically speaking) I staggered to my feet and headed straight for the scotch.
“Why are you upset?”
“I’m not upset. I’m confused.”
“No, you’re upset. I can tell. You’re slamming shit. And you always say ‘confused’ when you’re upset. I don’t mean to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you. You know that. Talk to me. Come here. Tell me what’s going on.”
Really, motherf****r! You can’t figure it out?? You’ve just told me you’re in love with another woman. A barely employed, car twice impounded for no driver’s license, check-cashing joint regular, old as your daughter, 28-year-old!
I’ll never know how I sat down again next to him. Almost calm. “I wish I knew what’s wrong with me . . .” is what I said. (What I meant was “why I had fallen again for the wrong man?” And “why her–and not me?”) Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. The word beat inside me like a drum . . . the fucking irony, too! The night we’d met, he’d brushed off our 9 year age gap as irrelevant. “Age is just a number,” he’d said. Who knew the fucker’s slide rule went both ways! Talk about your slipstick!!
“There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re beautiful. You’re talented. You see the world. Judith, look at me . . . come here.” He pulled me closer. “You know I love you. You’re a great friend. I trust you. And I do miss you sometimes . . .”
And as if it couldn’t get any worse . . . he kissed me. And then lowered the hammer that smashed my imagined control. “Why do you love me?”
And THERE IT WAS! OUT IN THE OPEN. I had never said it to him, had– in fact– taken great care not to. “I like you. I care about you. You’re important to me.” Those were the words I’d cautiously used. But NEVER had I uttered that word. Hell, I’d never admitted it even to myself. And now there it was–the fucking L word outed. Like he’s known all along?
“I don’t know. I wish I didn’t.”
“But you do.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“What do you want from me?”
Not enough obviously I wanted to scream. Instead I started to cry. And the bastard held me and told me to.
Eventually I stopped and the conversation started again. He backed off his avowal of certainty and gave some half-assed list of all kinds of relationships and how there’s no guarantees and things can change. “Let it go,” he said. “Just go with it. In the moment.”
“You’re hedging your bets. Keeping the door cracked. Men always do. They never truly leave.”
“Men leave,” he retorted, his voice and eyes suddenly like ice. “If I fucking leave, you’ll know it.”
What I knew was that it was over.
In last week’s post I wrote about reconnecting with an ex. How no one and no thing can tell you to move on until YOU are ready. And so my advice comes now back to haunt me: Take what is to be taken and learn what is to be . . . (Hells’ freakin’ bells! Would someone please tell the damn Universe to laugh a little quieter? I’m trying to draw a fucking metaphor here!)
A rekindled relationship is not unlike the vase of tulips sitting my table. They are one of my favorite flowers. I love their look–but more, I love the way they make me feel, mostly because of the memories of Europe they hold. But despite all effort, they change from the perfection they were. The flowers open and the stems bend. They actually become more beautiful to me than in their original condition. But still they bend and droop. And wilt. And still, I am able to see beauty and feel enjoyment. In fact, I convince myself the artful wilt and yellowing leaves are flaws to be embraced. (Doesn’t it say something about one’s goodness, if they can see past external defects and still love?) Then the petals drop and the stems are gangly sticks. Only I can still see beauty and worth to keep. My friends see ugly, wilted remnants of what was. They think I’m nuts to hold on to the tulips. (Yes. We’re still talking tulips here.) But I still feel enjoyment and so I want them there. Until the day I don’t. The day I stop seeing the arrangement for what it was and now can’t ignore it for what it is. The day I can no longer overlook the deficits. Too much of what I loved is gone. It’s ugly. It’s dead. It’s time to say goodbye.
But now the table will be empty. Tulips are out of season. Who knows how long until I can find them again? So look for another flower, I tell myself. Or put a freakin’ plastic plant there–or a pile of coasters and a pair of salt and pepper shakers. Whatever. Or not. The truth, I tell myself, is I just got used to it being there–I’ll get used to it being bare. (Now we are no longer talking about tulips.)
Honestly, I cannot tell you why Sunday stayed until Friday. Maybe I was still stubbornly, foolishly looking for enough beauty to keep the arrangement around? But what held up our arrangement–trust and possibility . . . yeah, tulip stems. Fallen and empty. So all weekend I looked at the tulip petals scattered across my table. And I stoically mourned loss. (Ok, I cried and smoked–but the loss part is true.) Come Monday I knew. There just comes the time . . .
The time to say goodbye. And it hurts. It hurts like hell.