My 30s are over. They began with an epic move to Tucson where I started a brand new life (alone!) in a foreign place. They ended with the loss of three of the great loves of my life: Nik and The Sheriff died, and I parted ways with my best friend of a decade. The in-between years housed great adventures, a few comforts, mostly catastrophes, and confusion. There was one heartbreak after another, many moves, several jobs. My 30s were hard and sad, but they revealed a lot to me about who I am, deep down to my core. They showed me, too, who other people are, for better and for worse.
I was in love with Nik in my 20s. He was a kind and gentle person, remarkably creative, wickedly intelligent, ambitious, interesting, thoughtful. He was the perfect partner for the striving, restless young me. We spent our days renovating our dilapidated little house, making elaborate art projects, drinking too much coffee and beer and whiskey. We spent our weekends scouring used bookstores for old Penguin paperbacks and thrift stores for things made of Gabardine, horsehair and dotted swiss. I was too young and dumb to know that a man who buys you the perfect pair of alligator pumps and brings you coffee in bed every morning and writes you the loveliest of love letters is a very rare man, indeed. I was so young and dumb that I thought the world was my oyster and that men like Nik were a dime a dozen instead of one in a million so after six years, I let him go. I spent the next six wishing I hadn't. We stayed friends and kept in touch, and eventually, I realized that in the end we had had the perfect love, past tense, but it never could have lasted. He traveled and studied and met a new love. And then, this winter, he died. Suddenly.
I was in love with Sabine in my 30s. She was the first person I met when I got to Tucson and the instant her giant dark-sparkle eyes met mine, I knew we would be best friends. She was exotic and slightly dangerous with a sharp tongue and a delicious sense of humor. Like me she was a no-nonsense, hard-working farm girl with a sophisticated artistic streak, fiercely loyal to her friends and family. She had a tough exterior and sweet marshmallow insides. She saved me from the terror of being alone -- immediately making her community available to me. We threw elaborate parties together, cooked complicated meals, walked our dogs and hit the bars. Every time I moved, she rounded up a trailer and loaded up her old pick-up with my junk. She let me sob on her shoulder when my heart got broken and we laughed uncontrollably at the expense of others, at inside jokes, at ourselves. She confided all her hopes and fears in me, and I, in her. Probably because we were so similar: spirited, opinionated, with a chip-on-our-shoulder and our hearts-on-our-sleeves, we would occasionally have a knock-down drag-out shouting match and then wouldn't talk for months. We always found our way back to each other. When I moved away, we kept in touch and visited each other and talked on the phone all the time. Until this past summer when I got involved with another piece-of-shit man, and "insert long confusing story here" Sabine felt betrayed:
"Joce, Life has a funny way of weaving complicated webs. How our friendship began and how it ended would be hard for the best of screenwriters to craft. I appreciate the email and knew the time would come to talk about how it all fell apart. We’ve been there for each other through the best of times and the worst of times over the past decade supporting each other in one way or another and the next decade will most definitely be different because what do they say…Without change there would be no butterflies? Well, now that we’ve both rolled our eyes, scoffed and muttered "fuck you, Elaine" under our breath here comes the truth. Like you I’m not sure how to react, what to say or what hashing out needs to be done in order to find some kind of closure. I’m tired, old days are gone, old friends are gone and I feel like I’ve buried yet another sister I desperately wanted. Perhaps that says something about my need for female companionship and the truth that perhaps it's not in the cards."
I disagreed with her assertions, I apologized, I begged for forgiveness, but the truth is, and if anybody knows this, it's me, friendships, like other relationships, have a lifespan. I thought maybe she'd soften when she heard about The Sheriff dying. I knew it was over, for good, when she learned about Nik, and she didn't reach out. She was done, it probably took her years to get there, the second half of our uphill marathon friendship. I was the friend Sabine needed at one point in time, but I'm not that person anymore.
So Nik and Sabine are gone, in different ways, true, but gone nonetheless. I wasn't prepared the last time I talked to either to say a proper goodbye or to thank them for enriching my life in countless, invaluable ways. That's the thing about endings. They don't often happen on our terms.
And yet, both of them are still so present in my life. I am constantly stumbling on a thought, or remembering an experience, an event or conversation, that we shared. Daily, maybe hourly, my eye catches a sentence in a story, or my ear, the bar of a song, or I'll glance in a drawer or move an object on a shelf and all of a sudden they are there. Next to my front door there is the beautiful Art Deco mirror that hung in the house that Nik and I shared. A small chip out of each corner from when it traveled all the way to Indiana with us. Here is a stack of stationary that he printed for me on his old platen letterpress. My name and a little pink umbrella with matching pink envelopes. Here is the picture of me and Sabine at her wedding and there is the rocking chair that she lovingly restored for me; small with wide armrests with just the slightest hiccup when it rocks. Here is the green pebbled leather notebook where Nik kept notes and wrote the grocery list in his distinctive stylish hand, "coffee filters, spinach, red wine vinegar." Here is the thin gold ring topped with a humble gray button, a thirty-ninth birthday gift, the one before this one, when Sabine and I were still friends. When I got a new phone, the day after Nik's funeral, for some reason it reverted itself to 2014: all my pictures, and contacts and messages. There at the top of the text folder, dated two years to the day, was a message from Nik, "Thanks for taking time out to say hi. It was great to see you!"
Who will leave and what will remain of them? It's almost never who you expect. And the way they leave, that will surprise you, too. And after they are gone, what things will interrupt your day to inspire aching nostalgia, conjuring up the smile, the laugh, the smell or touch of the person you loved? The older I get the more the more my world is littered with those remnants.
On a hot, sweaty day at the end of August I was pouring wine at the annual Basque Wine Festival and a guy came up to my table and said to me, "Jocelyn? It's Dave. Dave from high school." Of course, I didn't really recognize him (it's been over 20 years, geez!) and I was dismissive, who cares about high school? But, then, something about the interaction stuck with me and I found him on Facebook and asked him out for a beer. When we met he greeted me with the most genuine open and friendly smile, I was taken aback. It was a smile so rare I hadn't seen one in a decade, and I'd only ever seen it from a handful of people: It was the smile of instant connection. Of knowing and understanding and agreeing: we are meant to be. Love is a good place to start my 40s.
But, of course, with love comes the burden of fear. Fear of losing that love to death, to change, to misunderstanding, to circumstances beyond my control. I hold hope clenched in my teeth and breathe through a deviated septum. Do love and loss form a double helix in your heart? They do in mine.
The last few days have brought record snow levels: schools and businesses are closed, people have abandoned their cars on side streets and, maybe for the first time in my adult life, I picked up a snow shovel and shoveled my walks, driveway and dug out my car on five separate occasions. Yesterday morning I slipped while trying to get my phone to take a picture of my landlord skiing down our street. The phone fell out of my hand and shattered on the ice. So my afternoon shoveling found me phoneless, without my constant earbud companions, and my brain insisted on thinking.
I've been avoiding thinking lately. Music, podcasts, the TV on in the background, anything to divert my brain from fixating. Fixating on politics, fixating on money, fixating on sadness and worry. Since the election I just want to put my head down and move forward, focus on chores, my job, my friendships, family. My dog. Relationships and responsibilities that, to some extent, I can affect.
Obviously, I'm not the only one who found 2016 a difficult year. Problems and troubles were micro and macro, individual and global. I felt defensive and misunderstood and confused both on a personal level and as a member of a larger community of friends, neighbors, women, Americans, taxpayers, artists, etc. And as much as I wanted to say something, participate in the discourse, offer an opinion, express my concerns, mostly I was silent. I felt like a train was rushing by and it was up to me to run alongside and grab a rail and hop on, but I just couldn't run fast enough to make the jump, to get on board, to help, to be creative, to offer wisdom and words and hope and support. I just got overwhelmed with the thinking about it all. What could, should, would I do? It was a particular torture, all that thinking and doing nothing. So I stopped.
But then yesterday I fell. And my diversionary tactics were diverted. I let a few thinks in: how could this year be different? It should be different.
I've spent my whole life making sweeping change, big decisions, attempting huge impossible goals, insisting on grand gestures. All that has led to monumental disappointment, failure, chaos. So instead, I'm going to start small. 2017 will be my year of baby steps. I'm going to write a blog post and not worry if it's brilliant or moving, or frankly, even interesting. I'm going to lose 5 pounds, not 20. I'm going to pay off a credit card and not carry around the weight of my student loans every minute of every day. I'm going to do one thing each day that makes me a better friend, employee, or family member but not all at once. I will find satisfaction in remembering to take the trash out on the right day, in not wasting produce, in making someone laugh. I will pick my battles more carefully. I will let it go of some of the guilt, some of the shame, some of the self-loathing, some of the anger, but honestly, not all of it. I will enjoy the company of those who enjoy my company, and not worry as much about those that don't. I will keep trying.
In 2017 I will keep shoveling. For as long as it snows.
Probably you need a laugh today. Personally, I don't know if I can muster it. There's a dull throbbing in my head, not unlike a hangover. My shoulders are in a permanent slump. My heart hurts like after a fresh break-up though for once it's not because of a break-up.
Today my boyfriend kissed me good morning and brought me coffee in bed with just the right amount of cream. Last night he brought me flowers and Champagne and made homemade noodles, comfort food. Later in the week we have plans for a bike ride down the Greenbelt, by the river. There is sun on the forecast. Today, tomorrow, all the days going forward, I need to remember I'm safe. I'm loved. I have a good family. I have wonderful friends. A job I like. Everything is going to be okay.
In the meantime, I'll try to laugh. I recommend you listen to the Couples Skate episode The Last Booty Call over at iTunes.
I'm sorry I've been absent. I'm sorry I haven't let you in on what has been going on. It's just...it's just that I don't have the words. I know, you're thinking, this girl is prolific with words. And it's true, I'm an open book and the open book is full of words. So, maybe they'll come eventually. Or maybe I'll remain speechless. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
In September my life completely changed. For one thing, The Sheriff died. It wasn't unexpected, obviously, but it still wrenched me in half. The end of an era; the end of the story of a scrappy girl and her scrappy pup taking on the world. But something else happened too. I fell in love. Like real, no bullshit, huge, generous, knock you to your knees love. Like, THIS IS IT love. The kind of love when you realize those other times you thought you were feeling love you were so fucking off base you should be embarrassed. THAT was not love THIS is love, you idiot.
This love is the kind of love that renders me inarticulate. It's so indescribable that every time I go to write about it all I can come up with is clichés, clichés about doors and windows and heads over heels and wind and wings. I don't want to subject you to that. So, for now, that's all I'm going to say. I'm in LOVE. Give me a minute.
W Kinda bummer cause it's dry n cows are a little thin, but work went well. Listening to cowboys tell lies: broncs they've rode, cattle they've roped, fights they've won and women they've had. Ya know...the usual tall tales. Thinking of my Pidge.
"I don't know, but I slept on the couch last night, so..."
"Enjoy the music. Play it fucking loud."
|Photo by Emma Arnold|
I'm flying back to Tucson tomorrow. I guess that means it's officially over.
He is the same - a conundrum, an enigma. His features are classically, carefully drawn, beautiful instead of handsome - dark hair contrasting with a light complexion - he has strong shoulders, narrow hips and long, elegant fingers. His skin is taut over his cheekbones, jaw line, and aquiline nose, the ivory color only slightly, barely more pink on his cheeks. His full lips rest equidistant between a smile and a frown. But his eyes, the color of smoke haze in a blue sky, are not windows into his soul; instead they dart around, rest on the middle distance - he avoids your seeking gaze. His movements belie the refinement of his physical being, he slouches, he is bumbling – he accidentally knocks the spoon against his coffee cup with a clang and drops his napkin on the floor. When he speaks it is in starts and fits with long pauses between. He doesn't explain what happened. What changed. Just that he's missed you. That he thought about you every day. As you leave the coffee shop, both of you bundled in a heavy wool coat, knit cap, scarf, he nervously rubs your arm and then wraps you in a long sigh of a hug. He kisses the side of your head, your hair. Can he feel your heart beat through the layers?
That is all it takes.
Previous relationships and life experience have left you emotionally gun shy – the starting point of any interaction is colored with hesitation and mistrust. And now the chasm between you and Kipling, wider and deeper from your break-up, has filled to the brim with paranoia, worry and uncertainty. He doesn’t contradict your concerns, he feeds them – he gives you even less of himself than before. He wants to see you less. He communicates less. He shares less. He is more reserved, quieter, less affectionate. Not that he’d been generous with compliments before…now he’s limited them to never. He ends each day with a text: Night! Unless he doesn’t.
When you mention an event coming up next month, he shrugs. He’ll commit for Friday but not Friday next and who knows what he’s doing in March. He remarks he’s looking for work that will take him out-of-state for the summer. Like it doesn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, matter to you.
You meet for a movie on a Saturday afternoon. When he gets up mid-film to use the bathroom, he takes his coat and hat with him. Will he return? Or will he walk out of the theater, down the hall to the exit and leave? Are you more surprised when he returns than if he didn’t?
He moves apartments but doesn’t bother to tell you.
He doesn't make suggestions or have ideas about how or why you spend time together. He doesn't ask you to go to a play or lunch at your favorite spot. But if you invite him for dinner, and make something special for dessert, he might be available.
He is busy. He has work. He should have called, he didn't. He is vague about where and what he's doing when you're apart. But he lets you hold his hand when you’re watching TV on the couch. And his sarcasm, cutting as it is, makes you laugh. And when he stays over, he walks the dogs and makes the bed and does the dishes without you asking. And in the deep dark depths of the night, he turns his naked body to yours and spoons you, his breath on your neck, chest to back, thigh on thigh. And then, you tell yourself, even if he is barely here, he is still here, and that is enough.
You hate this part of you maybe more than any part. The part that of you that says: “he is giving me nothing and I’ll take it. I’ll take this bit of moldy bread and I’ll relish it like it’s the most delicious bite of the most delicious cake I’ve ever eaten.”
Because you’re so hungry.
"In the summer of 2010 we were preparing to move into our new house in Tucson, Arizona. We spent weekends at antique fairs and shops finding all the perfect things to fill the rooms. One day I stumbled across a little wooden soldier with a round head and a drab canvas overcoat. Ken was in the Army Reserves and I liked the idea that this humble soldier would stand watch at our home when he was away.
We moved in at the beginning of August and only a couple of weeks later, while we were still unpacking, Ken lost his job in a mass layoff at Fort Huachuca. He panicked. There were very few options for jobs in our area, and we could barely afford the house payment as it was. He started sleeping on a cot in his office, often staying up nights to do job research. He suggested we take a trip to do some scuba diving in Mexico over Labor Day, to relax, forget about our troubles over the long weekend.
Late Sunday night we returned home to find the inside of our house flooded ankle deep - the tiny hose to the ice maker in the fridge had a hole in it and had been spraying water for three days. Nearly all of our belongings were waterlogged and ruined. The house was unlivable.
About a month later I found out that Ken had tampered with the hose - he had intentionally flooded our house for the insurance money. He had also taken out an insurance policy on my life just prior to our scuba trip. Had he planned to drown me in the ocean and lost his nerve? There were other deceptions, too. He had maintained a relationship with his former girlfriend and those trips away, the ones where my little toy soldier was standing guard, were rendezvous with her.
I packed up my remaining belongings and moved back to Idaho."
Listen to a longer version of this story here.