Roughly six months ago my husband and I separated, and roughly two months ago my divorce finalized. I have spent many moments in tears, anguish, anger, loss, grief, desperation, confusion, longing, loneliness, and bitterness. These moments, when they occur, are exhausting and they never seem to end. A moment of agony can stretch to infinity and feel like an entire lifetime of sadness, whereas a moment of joy, however powerful, seems fleeting in the retrospect. The collection of these moments we call experience and our human existence, and when we look back we tally the moments of joy and moments of despair and have a general sense of what our life has been life.
When we have a bad day, at the end of the day we look back and think “what a terrible day”. When we have a week with four bad days out of seven (or perhaps just one REALLY bad day) we look back and think “what a terrible week”. However, anything longer than a seven day cycle makes us consider the moments of joy more than the moments of despair. I think it is the short-circuit that protects our brains from entering complete meltdown mode. I honestly could not tell you if the past month has been mostly good or mostly bad, but I have a sense of how I feel about it.
To extend that out even further, I look back at the past six months. There were days when at the end of the day I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Not literally, of course, but I was so exhausted and emotionally spent and afraid that the moments of joy were overpowered by the dark space in my soul.
There were weeks when I felt degraded and demoralized on the inside, where I felt that this process was never going to end. I remember having a conversation with my father and he said to me: “One day, sooner than you think, you will look back at this and it will just be something that happened to you.” I am pretty sure I laughed. A cold, bitter laugh. I believed him of course, but time seemed to stretch out to infinity and the happiness seemed too far out of reach to grasp.
And what is happiness really? Fleeting moments of joy that any moment could be viciously ripped from our grasp? The carrot on the stick? Life is the treadmill and we are stupidly chasing after that carrot never getting any closer to it. And life soothes us and cajoles us… just a little bit farther. You’ve almost got it.
This is the mindset of a terribly sad human being, one without hope and faith in the greater good and the big picture. More importantly, it is the mindset of a human being that has lost hope and faith in ourselves, for I believe that no matter which faith we subscribe to, each one of us knows in our heart that we are chiefly responsible for our own happiness.
So what happened to me that instead of feeling dejected and hopeless I started feeling… calm and sure? I have no idea. It was a cumulative effect, I think. A combination of a wonderful man, a supportive family, a rewarding job, and just time.
A few weeks ago there was a tragic shooting in Connecticut. I remember being on my way to work and hearing a small snippet of something on the radio. For all I know it was put out there in black and white but my brain just refused to process that information. Little by little it was talked about at work but I didn’t have the space in my head, while working, to process what was happening. By the time I left work I had the story. When I got home, my parents and I watched West Wing and every moment where we were supposed to laugh at the show, I felt a deep sense of betrayal at my own urge to laugh. A coldness inside of me, a sickness, and anger. I tried to talk about it with my parents, but all I could get out was “I heard about the shooting. I am upset.” and then we moved on at my insistence.
That evening I tossed and turned in bed for close to an hour knowing I would not get any sleep. Something has been nagging at my subconscious. Well, that’s not exactly true. I had been thinking this thought for hours but they were only words in my brain. The emotional surge hadn’t quite hit me yet. I kept thinking about Joseph, my ex-husband’s younger brother. He’s almost seven. When I met Kyle he was two. I watched him grow, learn to speak, develop a personality all his own, attended tee ball games, attended events at church, played with him, read him books, gave him baths, and even though I tried my hardest – he always beat me at mario kart. Every time.
So this thought in my brain kept repeating: “Joseph. Joseph just started school. Some of those children today were Joseph’s age.” And whether as a product of my vivid imagination or just severe emotional rawness, I kept picturing the scene. Children laughing and singing about the letters of the alphabet. Children learning to write. Children learning to read. Children being children, the light of humanity, until someone with a rifle walked in and shot them. And it was so profoundly disturbing that I couldn’t sleep, and all I could think about was Joseph. And then, laying in bed at midnight on a Friday, I thought of Kyle.
All it took was nineteen seconds of complete madness to pick of the phone and call him. I didn’t even hesitate, there wasn’t a reason to, I just had to make sure that he was okay. That Joseph was okay. That the disturbing event of that day hadn’t sent Kyle into a tailspin. And it wasn’t until he answered the phone that I felt completely and utterly foolish. I muttered that it was me, and the background noise made it clear he was at a party, but something in my voice alerted him that something was seriously wrong, and he left to party to talk to me.
It took me a while to get it out, and he coaxed it out of me, talking to me only the way Kyle can. And I burst into tears and started babbling about children learning how to read.
He calmed me down in his Kyle way, talking about things you can control and things you can’t control and God which I found, still, to be maddening. But at least he was true to form. And then we talked for four hours, at which point I had to get off the phone to try to get some sleep before my double.
It was the first time I had heard his voice since I moved back home and the first time we had talked without the anger that goes along with one person leaving another. It was interesting and informative. I had forgotten what his voice sounded like, almost. More, I had forgotten what it was like to listen to him talk. I live in New England now, and the people here are considerably different from the midwest, and when I moved back to Ohio at 18, I was definitely a New Englander. I had forgotten how abrasive he is, how raw, and how if he has a filter, it’s dusty from misuse. When I first met him I found these qualities charming and refreshing, and in a way I still do. But the shiny has worn off in a big way, and although I can appreciate these qualities in him, I don’t find that we have so much in common even having a light dialogue.
I had also forgotten about how we argue, although there was something deeply comforting about arguing the same way we always did. It doesn’t really matter what we were arguing about, but he played the role of Kyle and I played the role of Kyrston and it struck something deep in my soul. Some things never change. I think that’s why people stay together. They feel safe with what they know. And no matter how ludicrous a situation may appear to an outsider, the ones within are cozy in their misery.
We talked about how we felt about separating, and how we felt about our relationship. Our perspectives are so different they are almost opposite and some things he said I find to be false and I am sure he feels the same way about some things that I said.
We talked for hours and hours without even realizing how much time had passed. We got emotional, we got angry, we got sassy and we had some laughs. With some time apart we were able to talk to one another without the residual anger getting in the way of being productive. I had forgotten how easy it is to talk to him, how natural it feels, and how I can say just about anything without reservation.
After our conversation, I spent a week feeling entirely different from how I had felt thus far. I spent the week feeling angry at the universe for allowing me to fall in love with someone so radically different that it would never work out in the end, and I also spent the week feeling so sad that something so seemingly wonderful could go up in flames. I know that we have different opinions, I know that he thinks that if we tried we could make it work somehow. I feel the opposite, that you might be able to fit a square block into a circle hole but the square and the block are going to be miserable during the process and no matter what you do it will never be quite right. And there’s quite a difference between a little bit of wiggle room in the fit and large gaping holes. We feel these holes on the inside and we should probably try to avoid, whenever possible, getting married with all the holes.
Perhaps if one or both of us were a more complete and healthy individual it would have been okay, but we cannot play that what if game. That way leads to madness. So, we just have to suck it up and move on down the road, with a little bit of faith in ourselves and the greater good and bigger picture.
I suppose there are days when I feel like the Kyrston I’ve always been is dying. She is fading away and putting up a big stink about it. New Kyrston is moving in and I feel very lost in this transitional period of my life. I am not really sure about anything. I don’t know where I really stand on the issues and day-to-day I am very inconsistent.
Another thing that happened is I had a series of friction incidents with my boyfriend. And yes, it feels very weird typing that word. It feels incredibly odd to be referring to him as my boyfriend after writing this big long piece about my ex husband. But what else do you call a friend you’ve had for almost a decade with whom you share a mutual attraction and chemistry that you started seeing and developed an intimate relationship with? I think boyfriend is a much shorter term that encompasses all of that.
Despite my warnings about my intense screwed upness and warnings about crazy emotional drama and severe baggage, he was all for it. He listens to me and is sweet and caring and wonderful. He is intelligent and kind and patient. He spoils me and then considers my definition of “spoiled” to be completely absurd. He is just… awesome. He’s also stubborn and strong-willed and argumentative, but he’s still a fantastic human being and has been for the eight years I’ve known him. And so when we started seeing one another, we had a lot of conversations about Kyle. As a matter of fact, I believe he has been a critical part to my healing. There have been so many incidents wherein I have learned something new about myself just by having him around. I have had to confront many unhealthy aspects of my personality not only because he makes me feel safe to talk about such things, but because he calls me out when my behavior is ridiculous. And for a while, everything was perfectly fine. Except.
Except that I wanted to have one foot in and one foot out. This person, whom I claim to respect and care for, was held at arm’s length. I was trying to protect myself from getting too emotionally involved with someone who, really, I became emotionally involved with eight years ago. I was treating him with a level of aloofness that he didn’t really deserve. After all, it’s not like he’s just some guy I met at a bar that I can yank around. He’s a person I’ve known a long time and who has never, not once, let me down. And I thought that if I just made it clear over and over what the deal was, that would make a difference. And instead, I treated him with minimal amounts of respect and through my actions made him feel very small. And then I started to feel guilty, because I knew that he was getting absolutely no return on his investment. And then, I got in it my head that our relationship was bad for me, because the last thing I need right now is to feel guilty that I’m letting someone else down.
And then, we had a series of “fights”, which were really just incidents of friction, and finally I had had enough. I was feeling so miserable about the whole thing that I just said I couldn’t do it anymore. And since all of this unfolded on Christmas Eve, of all days, and my sister was here and that was the priority, we had a series of follow-up conversations.
And for the first time, he said all of the things he had said before, and I said all of the things I had already said, and he continued to say the same things, and I continued to say mine. But something changed in my head.
I wondered to myself, Kyrston – why do you feel so goddamn awful right now? He’s just a guy, and you promised yourself that you wouldn’t do the thing where you get all emotionally attached and then feel like a slave to your attachment. Why is it you feel so terrible? Is it really about him, or do you just not want to be alone? What is it exactly that is wrong with you?
And although all of that sounds kind of negative like I was beating myself up, but really it was more of an incredulous feeling. All this person wants is to love me. He just wants to be nice to me, and listen to me, and talk to me, and treat me well, and to love me. To feel like more than something disposable, to just be respected and treated like he has value, which he has demonstrated umpteen times. He’s not asking me to marry him, or move in with him, or make any kind of long-term commitment or promise. He and I work opposite shifts, he doesn’t demand a lot of time, he just wants to feel like more than a shadow in my life when all he’s done is been an incredible source of light and joy. Even when he gets upset, no matter how hard I try, I can’t deny that he is being perfectly reasonable and by requesting a bit of human respect. So what the HELL is the matter with me? What the hell is wrong with me that I just can’t let someone love me, even though I feel all screwed up inside and feel like someone else’s toy they got tired of playing with and tossed aside? Why can’t I see in myself what everyone else sees and just feel good about that?
And upon considering these questions, the most basic one being: Why am I refusing love and positive feelings? I just laughed. I laughed at myself for being so incredibly moronic. It is the most ridiculous and absurd thing I have ever heard of. And that question has been asked of me by many a person in my life. My parents have expressed mass amounts of concern at my inability to accept positive feelings about myself. That I don’t think I deserve the world on a silver platter. That happiness is something I have the right the search for, and that the constant reinforcing of negative emotions about myself is dangerous and unhealthy.
And so something just clicked in my head. And now I don’t mind so much. And just in case I doubt myself, or think that I am making an astronomically huge mistake by even allowing myself to open up the tiniest bit to another human being, I think about how awful it can feel to be alone, and how awful it can be to be with someone. I think about how there are moments of joy in shared human experience, and the safety and sense of rightness that goes along with having people in your corner.
I remember that looking back on my life I see a lot of negative things that happened to me, that I was the victim of, or that made me feel bad. I haven’t had a bad life, as a matter of fact I think I got a pretty good deal. So why is it that when asked by my parents about the childhood memories I have, there are a laundry list of times I got in trouble, or times that someone treated me poorly, or times I felt bad about myself?
If you were to ask me about life, I would tell you that it is a whole lot of pain but none of it is unnecessary and that all of it shapes who you are. That there are character building exercises and that since most of it is out of our control, we shouldn’t worry so much and we should seek out joy. That instead of looking at the end of the day or the end of the week and seeing the stack up of negative moments, find the three moments in one week where you felt absolute joy and feel how much more positive that feels.
Furthermore, looking back, an entire week of negative moments does not guarantee another week of equally negative moments. There are moments in life where yes, we are truly miserable. And then there is just one moment, when your heart swells and your soul sings and the faith in humanity is restored. It’s exhausting to be a part of, especially if you are like me and your emotions are so all over the place. And I think that I have been spending so much time, years in fact, keeping tabs on myself, allowing myself little room for personal growth, and being a slave to my fear. When I said it out loud, that I am afraid, it seemed silly. Not silly to be that way, I did get burned after all, but wasn’t it me that said that human beings cannot exist without human connection? That people need each other to get through this awful mess?
I think they do. I think they do, and that more damage can be done by shutting people out. It isn’t natural. Am I going to go out and started developing deep meaningful relationships with people? Probably not. No offense to those potential people, but along with all the perks of human connection comes a lot of maintenance and I just don’t have it in me. My first priority is and always shall be my relationship with my self, second to that the relationship with my family, and third my relationship with love and closest friends. I think this statement and promise to myself boasts balance and health. For a long time I put the needs of others before myself, and I am getting better and better at not only handling my needs versus others in the moment, but projecting my future needs and managing relationships with others appropriately. It seems like these are skills I should have learned a long time ago, but I’m a little late to the party, guys. Sorry about all the mess.
Lastly, I leave you with this. The moments of joy are what count. Our interpretations of life are just that, ours. My New Year’s resolution is to find the joy before finding the negative. And none of that “Well, something negative happened and here’s the silver lining” bullshit. Find the joy. If you are like me, and you carry food on trays for a living, a lot of days can be rough. But there is always at least one moment of joy in each day. There is someone out there whose path intersects with yours and restores your faith in humanity. There will be a moment when you really see the beauty in what it is you do for a living, the beauty of where you live, or the beauty of a memory. By looking back and seeing the joy, the light, we will all sleep more soundly at night, and have faith in much better tomorrows. Because as the universe balances itself and there will inevitably be hardships and unhappiness in our lives, so will there always be moments of joy.
I remember you telling me about him before you left. I obviously can’t judge your heart and how you feel about him, but I subscribe to the notion that there’s no such thing as keeping someone at arm’s length, at least emotionally.
You either love someone or you don’t. If you find that it is torture to “keep him at arm’s length,” as you put it, then you already love him but you may not be ready to admit it.
If you can keep him at arm’s length, then you don’t love him and may not be ready to admit it. Perhaps you can, but true affection is not something you can so easily suppress (unless you’re a sociopath, and I know you at least well enough to know that you’re not a sociopath).
It could be something else entirely. You may be afraid that if you do accept his love and care, that you may not love him back. That’s something I’ve struggled with, and still do to this day. So perhaps I know how you feel on this, or at least understand it. Perhaps you’re afraid that you’re incapable of being happy.
Perhaps you have shunned joy because deep down you’re afraid that the joy may not be enough.
I think that your notion of first being happy with yourself is the right path. Otherwise, your joy and self-worth will always lie externally, at the whims of those to whom you give your heart.
Of course, I could be wrong about all of that. As always, my hopes and thoughts go with you, my friend.