When there is darkness, there are little farewells everywhere. Narratives of despair, grey mornings. Tonight, because I am about to leave the only house I’ve lived in for more than a year in the course of the last decade, I sit with the emptiness of it, like I used to do in my 20s before I had a cell phone and Internet. You know, real life. With furniture removed, and only a few chairs in the front room it feels even more open, and reminds me of the hope I felt in coming here. So much life has happened between these walls—sorrow, despair, joy, all that is. I am remembering that era of moving in, almost 3 years ago with a sensation like the end of summer. Nostalgia is too easy a word sometimes I suppose.
When I came here it was September and hot. I knew not a soul in this city. I left all of my windows open to the night air and painted the walls the colors of things I love—sunny yellow, turquoise in my kitchen, a soft creamy color to sleep in the bedroom. I had no way of knowing that I would fall in love with the boy across the street, his strong arms, his perfectly speckled eyes. I had no way of knowing that I would love him more than I thought possible, that he would become my best friend, that he would rescue me, in so many ways I didn’t even understand. I didn’t know that I would come to know myself even more deeply through that loving. Or that in the end, I would not be able to countenance the dissatisfaction I would also come to know as a part of loving him—with the anger, the late hours, his absences, my own fear of commitment to both New England and our life together, my judgmental, obsessive mind, his lies. I had no idea, and luckily could not foresee that our time together would then end in a shattering, and ultimately, because of it, I would decide to leave this little house. I knew not, that our ending would introduce a new truth in my life—one of my own imperfections. And now, being so close is too much torture for my small heart.
And I could not understand the darkness I would be plunged into, how poisoned by this I would become. This town is small; this street is not quiet. I’ve spent months awakening to the sound of his door opening, closing, and letting her inside. I have seen her tiny face across the street, upturned towards his, her blankness. I’ve felt the hammer of betrayal again and again. I have felt sorrier for myself and more dis-empowered than I’d care to face. I have told myself a million times that it shouldn’t matter and then I’ve ignored my own advice. These have not been my finer moments. Try as I might to do otherwise, I took her existence, her car parked in front of my house, to mean I was not good enough, not good enough to be loved. I’ve wished more than anything, that I could call my mom or hug her. Each heartbreak has its own face, and this one has been like being flung from a building, or pushed into deep water, terrifying. I have failed miserably at moving on, perhaps. Stepping forward. Though my mind has known all the facts—the truth of this being “for the best,” my heart has regularly refused to accept it. I’ve been stymied.
I have also failed at forgetting. Months have been consumed with simple thoughts that became like fire at my back. I let them rule my heart some days. I am not proud. No one who loves me thinks it is worth suffering so; I do not think so either. In August, I woke in my sleep, wondering why my bed was so wet, my body drenched, why I was gasping for breath? For a moment I thought it was somehow raining inside my room. Grief can make the magical things seem possible, much like love does. I spent those early morning hours, while my body dried, consumed with thoughts about being held, in the chair in his front room, as we would do every evening, my hip resting between his powerful thighs, my lips pressed in the nape of neck, breathing him in, marveling at a constellation of freckles across his flesh. The constant realization that this simple, daily act, was a thing forever in the past, felt like being cast out. It’s funny, how loss or love isn’t really about the big things. After all, a mind can rationalize the big things and create new habits. It’s about the smallest pieces of time you pour yourself into fully that linger and surface from the depths unexpectedly. So many tiny, terribly important things have happened living here. I have grown to love my neighbors and know them as friends, I have been happy. I have grown up. I have made a full life here that I am proud of.
This afternoon, while talking to a friend I watched the last flurries of today’s snow falling on the evergreens that ring our campus and told her the truth about how I’m feeling every morning this week. Despair doesn’t really cover it. Loss doesn’t either. Heartbreak that’s been dragged out. A desire to feel differently, be different. And it was then that she reminded me of the whispers. She told me that waiting for a shout from God, a flood of relief, is not always possible, is foolish. But instead to know that there are whispers of the truth everywhere is a pathway out. She made me promise to listen for them. I heard that Mary Oliver poem in my head, Wild Geese, You do not have to be good, you do not have to crawl a hundred miles on your knees, repenting.
So, in the dark of the night, I have begun to listen. Listening for what I can hear sitting in this empty room, writing. What is truly there when I feel my own body move and am warm, when I hold my friend’s daughter in my arms, when I see her parents laugh at the end of the day and be a family, the early mornings with Nia in the park, suffering my way through the cold and then laughing as I realize her only job is to frolic in snow, and mine is to let her. Another friend’s cinematic, shining red hair ahead of me on the trail against the stark white of winter, the scent of her perfume, the sweetness and generosity of her friendship. All the doors that are open to me. When I loosen the noose on my own foolishness, my own determined delusion that love ever really ends or goes away, or that it is a thing ever out of my grasp. Every miniature moment of gratitude and release. When I remember that, in reality, I always belong fully to myself, that I have choices about my own attitudes. That my story is much larger than this small piece of it. And yet, there is a part of me exhausted by my own need for a happy ending.
True, I am sentimental, I swirl the past around on my tongue with all things; I feel big things. True, the reasons for this pain are deeper than just this set of circumstances and I have a particular gaping hole around being left for someone else, about being told I don’t matter. True, this winter is hard on everyone in New England. But also, no one will know the softness of his body like I do, or its strength, the heat of his sleeping. No one will ever understand me that same way again, my secret morning thoughts, my eyes brightest for him. I am all changed now. Only we two know the complexity of loving one another, the failures, the beauty, and the two sides of one story. There were moments between us, neither of us could or ever would speak of, which, for me, is unusual. Maybe love is just that, and it lasts as long as it does, no matter the damage done to it, no matter how much folly it was to begin with. Maybe you love, despite the facts of another person’s imperfections, or your own, even if those imperfections have nearly capsized you. When I forget about this, I am consumed with anger and regret. When I remember, I am grateful. And so, I have been welcomed to the world of the imperfect, the broken, the world of strife. And I have in return for that suffering, been held, by the love of friends, when I am weeping, terrible, unable to turn away. I have been humbled. When I have forgotten to love myself, others have loved me instead. Sometimes I see him and we embrace, homecoming and exile all at once.
It’s difficult to admit that I am no longer hopeful in the same way about life. Nor am I truly happy. But I’ve decided to listen for whispers from the world of beauty, of tenderness, of light, in all the moments I live in, just to see what might happen. I’ve decided to turn towards, and not away from the next steps. I look inside my own heart; back to myself, to see what is left there that can lift me into the next chapter of my life. I will myself to faith in renewal, in the depths of a dark winter. I look for the momentary reminders of the existence of happiness. I take the next steps through the never-ending deep snow.
Do you know, what it is like, when you are riding your bicycle under dense trees in the sunlight, or in the sunny window of a car when the light and shadow flash so quickly by? It is almost strobe like, but not quite. It is only right to close your eyes for a brief moment and to try to feel the light and shadow that come in equal measure, the inescapable way time is suspended there. I am moving from this place. I am moving down a few streets, to a green house on a second floor, for a new life. It will be five minutes and a lifetime from here. I sit in this room one last night.