I just keep thinking about that dinner table. The smooth green of the glass. The accumulation of dirty dishes and empty bottles. How startlingly sober I felt as I sat there. How his body was turned in, facing another woman. How in the end there were only four of us and how very much I felt apart. How when this other girl told a joke he laughed in a way that he only ever, upon occasion, laughed for me. And how when that happened I sort of caught my breath and thought, oh, well, there’s that.
I think back now and wonder if I should have gotten up and left. Gathered my jacket and bag and quietly slipped out; hidden in the stairwell. Instead I went to the bathroom, studied my reflection, listened as they whispered--not able to hear what was being said, knowing I wasn’t meant to.
When the night ended, as it always does, we climbed into bed, side by side.
He slept. I did not.
The next morning, riding the train to work, I quietly wept. I could feel the woman across from me watching. I let her.
Running into an old friend this week I gave her a really cursory run down on what’s been happening of late and the most recent guy and in the middle of a quite a bit of nonsense, I looked up at her and said, I just don’t want to be that girl—that high maintenance girl who asks too much.
And this very dear friend who’s known me for quite a lot of time looked at me and said, Meg, high maintenance is throwing a fit when the guy is a few minutes late. Asking for what you need, saying how you feel, those things do not high maintenance make.
She said it in this way that was so no-nonsense, so very matter-of-fact, that all I could think was, how did I not know this before?
It was an Oprah ah-ha moment in the most embarrassing sort of way.
But asking for what one needs, giving voice to that, well, that’s a vulnerable thing. And hell if vulnerability doesn’t feel like standing naked on the edge of a cliff as a great gust of wind barrels towards you like a freight train.
The violence of articulation. I had a teacher in school who used that phrase and I’ll never forget it. The violence. Of. Articulation. How nearly impossible it is to say some things out loud. How catapulting them out of the mouth is part pyrotechnics, part gymnastics, and one hell of a leap of faith. And how some words, no matter how they are said, leave cuts and stains and scratch the mouth.
But I’ve been choking on I-don’t-knows for nearly a month now, so you pick your battles.
Why is it easier to say the cruel things? Why do those words slip out, slick as oil, so tremendously seductive and so incredibly damaging? It’s so hard to speak from a place of generosity. To say, I am sad and I am hurt, and this can’t go on, but I am nonetheless in awe of you. To say you deserve my respect—my kindness, even as I am so completely and maddeningly frustrated with you—hurt by you.
Because the thing is, it’s not just about the words and the difficulty of getting them out—it’s about figuring out where truth and generosity meet. It’s about speaking from the largest part of yourself—that part that continuously reaches for a bigger life, that says I want more and if you can’t give it to me, I forgive you that—not your fault, but time to go. That part willing to risk a little bit of lonely. That part that makes a practice of faith and thinks well hell if I’m not lucky that I get to feel this, hard as it is. That part that goes to the edge of the cliff again and again and again.
I’m so angry with him. In a completely and totally and ridiculously unfair way I am so absolutely angry with him. For not being the person I wanted him to be (I know). For not falling in love with me (Yes, I know). For not being courageous enough to fight for the thing. For not knowing he’s worth fighting for the thing. For that one time on the subway platform that he didn’t ask me to dance when the busker sang Isn’t She Lovely. For occasionally being so ridiculously great. And occasionally being so ridiculously not. For those moments when the light would slant just so and I would look at him and see that he’d be a fucking giant-of-a-man if he would just rise to the occasion. For lacking the courage and foresight and necessary grit. Or choosing not to recognize that he is already all the things he needs to be. And more.
He wasn’t the right guy. For me. He wasn’t the right guy, for me. And he certainly never looked at me like I was the right girl for him. And I am a girl who wants to be looked at like that.
I didn’t trust him. Which was my failing, not his. I didn’t trust that he cared for me. And god it must have been hard for him to constantly come up against that—to have to wade through my small and cutting comments that I paraded about as humor, when they were anything but. And that’s on me.
Because the thing about that dinner table is yes the glass was green and yes there were stacked plates and empty bottles, butI don’t know if he was flirting with the girl next to him or if he was just having a very good time with this very lovely person who was so very much attached to someone else. I don’t know because he’d had too much wine and I’d had not enough and perception is a funny, fickle son-of-a-bitch.
He was a tremendous lesson. Which wasn’t what I was looking for, but a blessing, nonetheless.
And we go again to the cliff. Different people than before. But I think that’s the point: You go again. You face the wind and you ask, what’s next?