11/23/2005

I stayed for me

I have not always been a strong person. Eight years ago I moved to Chicago for a man. I know some of you are already shaking your head in disapproval. I was divorced, dating a lot, and searching for the next love of my life. Unfortunately I thought I met him while on a brief weekend get-a-way. We met coincidentally at a small sandwich shop in the neighborhood my friend lived in. He was actually wiping the tables down when we walked in. I thought he was cute...but I liked to date men with a bit more ambition careerwise. We sat down and he brought us a couple of menus. He smiled at me and said, "this one's on the house." I thought he was sweet but he was probably going to get fired for giving out free food. My friend saw me giving him the once over, "so you like what you see eh NWC?" "I do, he's cute, but he's a bus boy or something." Yes I know that sounded completely snobby. "No NWC, he owns this place," she replied. Oh, the potential became clear. We ended up exchanging phone numbers and went on a couple of dates before I headed home which was 3 hours away. Instantly we had this connection. We talked about all the things that are supposed to be taboo on a date, politics, religion, sex. He said he'd never met a woman so intent on speaking her mind. I was flattered. We tried to do the long distance thing but it was hard. When you only see someone on the weekends you tend to be on your best behavior so you never really get the 'feel' of a real relationship. He decided it was just too hard to keep seeing each other so he told me it was over. I was devastated but I knew I'd survive. It had only been a month, how serious could we actually be? One night about two weeks later, I'm sitting at home and the phone rings, it's him. He tells me he misses me and asks me if I'd ever consider moving to Chicago. I thought about it for exactly 30 seconds before I responded, "Maybe." Two weeks later I had found a new job, quit my old job, found an apartment, packed my things and headed to the windy city. We became the super couple. Everyone in the neighborhood knew me...I was dating the sandwich guy. I immersed myself in his life, gave up my free nights to help him out in the restaurant, let him practically live in my apartment, did his laundry, cooked his meals, loved him with all my heart. I loved him so much that my heart ached for him when we were apart. I didn't care that my life lost most of it's originality to become a shade of gray in his world. I was happy. We dated for one year and the day before our anniversary I came home from work and his dog was at my apartment but he wasn't. No note, no voice mail, just a dog and an empty apartment. I paced the room, I called his friends, his restaurant, his cell phone - no one had heard from him. Dog and I sat on the couch looking at each other with eyes full of confusion, neither of us seemed to know what was going to happen next. Three hours later he came through the door with a bewildered look on his face. He sat down next to me and proceeded to break my heart. He didn't want to get married, he was confused, he wanted to do so many things he hadn't yet accomplished and all his time was spent with me, he just couldn't be with me anymore - but, he still loved me.

I'd like to say the rest of the memory is a blur but I can't. It's burned into my brain, every moment that it took me to get over him. No matter how hard I tried to forget him, I couldn't. We lived so close to each other, 1/2 block to be exact. I'd see him walking his dog, driving past my apartment, working at his restaurant. He was there in my life, yet he wasn't. I tried dating other men but I was labeled, the woman who used to date 'sandwich guy'. I had no idea how to live my life because for a whole year my life - was his life. My friends were his friends, my hobbies were his hobbies, my hang outs were the places we used to go 'together'. I absolutely could not see myself separate from him. It's a dangerous place to be, that place where you can't see any purpose to your existence. The friends who did choose me over him, tried to help me, comfort me, make me see that it was his loss not mine. I was blind, I was deaf, I was dumb. I stumbled through the days making myself think that one day I'd wake up and it would all be over. I'd be happy again, I'd be able to walk down the street and see him and smile and not cry and not feel - broken. It didn't get easier because I started spiraling out of control. My love for him began to border on obsessive. A friend of mine who had a loft apartment right next door to his restaurant decided to move, she let me take over her lease. I became suicide bomber except the target was my own life. If it was hard to get over him before, it was near impossible now. I would see him several times a day, I'd hear his voice when he'd walk out of the restaurant, I could see his car from my front window, I could see him - and that was almost enough to pretend he was still a part of my life. It sounds crazy doesn't it? But when you wrap yourself in so much pain, it's very hard to see anything outside of the pain. You don't think rationally, hell, you don't think at all - you feel. That August there was a street festival in our neighborhood. I tried to immerse myself in the festivities. When we saw each other we tried to be friendly, but as much as I wanted him, I did force myself to keep my distance. He wasn't innocent through all of this, he often still called me, still asked me to have a beer, still gave me tidbits of his life - most likely to keep me hooked like a bass with a lure through its' mouth. There were men, lots of them actually, trying to get my attention. They bought me drinks, fed my desire to numb myself, showed me how to masquerade as the someone I used to be. And then it happened. I saw this woman hanging on his arm, she was rubbing his back, playing with his hair, she was - what I used to be. Anger came rushing up through my chest, I wanted to scream at him, yell how much of a liar he was, punish him for leaving me. I wanted him to hurt as much as I did. He walked by me, I grabbed his arm, he turned to look at me, I cried. Looking back at that moment I can imagine that I must have looked pretty pathetic. His reaction, "NWC you need to get a life." "A life, you mean one like the life I used to have before you," I screamed. "You took me, took my love, took my time, took everything I had to give, and then you left, never once looking back to see the path of destruction laying at your feet," I yelled. He walked away. My friends took me back upstairs to my place, they comforted me, they told me love sucks - and this I knew was true. They stayed as long as they could but they knew there were no tools powerful enough to heal me. I laid their crying for what seemed like days. I pushed every memory of him through my brain and forced myself to relive each one second by second. When the sun came up I dragged myself into the bathroom to splash cold water on my face and when I saw the reflection staring back at me, I stopped crying. I did not recognize this face, those eyes - they did not belong to me.

The next day I called a therapist. I remember trying to make every excuse I could to cancel my appointment but by the grace of God, I didn't. It was hard, sitting there telling a total stranger about my obsessive, destructive, behavior. She held my hand, she told me I'd done the right thing coming to her. It took months to feel better, but eventually the tears fell less, the pain in my heart took up only portions of my day instead of consuming them whole. I was able to hea his voice outside and not run to the window to catch a glimpse of him. I was healing. One morning I stepped outside my front door and ran smack into him. He looked at me and smiled. I said hello, he asked how I was, I said 'good' and I actually meant it. He asked me if I wanted to get a drink later, I said 'no thanks'. He looked surprised but I think he saw it, the strength in me. I walked away from him that day without regret, without a stabbing pain in my chest, without wanting to run after him and change my answer. Later that night while sitting on my couch watching Ally McBeal, tears started streaming down my face and I couldn't stop them. The pain I felt was different this time, it was the kind of pain you feel when you realize that you are visiting a place for the very last time. It's the pain you feel when you say goodbye to something that has kept you company for so long,even if that company was your pain. Pain can wrap itself around you and become more of a friend than an enemy, I was saying goodbye to a friend. I climbed out of that pit I'd thrown myself into. I clawed, I sweat, I scraped my knees, but I hoisted my broken spirit through the darkness and came out the other side a better person. I tell myself now when I think of that journey I took to this city for a man, I came to this place for him, but I stayed for me. I'm thankful for that.

15 Comments:

  1. ladylongfellow said...
    Kudos. The most terrible experiences in our lives that we think we will never get through, actually end up molding us into who we are.
    Chuck said...
    Isn't there a verse or something that goes something like, "...and the two will become one flesh..." I know it's referring to marriage but I think in your case your heart was 'married' to his. I don't think we're made to be torn apart like you were. You were made for better. You will grow back stronger...it's called a scar. But scars can be a mark of distiction instead of shame. Glad the counseling's been good.

    You're a good writer...I don't often read blogs this long without losing interest.
    WDKY said...
    Well, you wrote that so beautifully that I was there by your side... and it hurt! The thing is, NWC, that so often we mistake what we think is love, for love. And maybe, in situations like this, it is at first, or at some time. It's like we can never see what's really happening ourselves, though...
    Networkchic said...
    Chuck, many thanks for reading my blog. I find it rather easy to write well when you know your thoughts and more importantly are willing to share them.

    WDKY - my hindsight is 20/20
    TJ said...
    That was written so beautifully, NWC--you have a great gift to be able to express, in words, some of our most intangible feelings.
    Jaimie said...
    NWC: I read this post. I must admit it sounded a lot like me, the me before. I wrote about it in the post "Teenage Love, Interrupted." I don't think you were a teenager when this occured, but it is a similar experience that we share.
    You are a strong woman. Never forget that.
    sirreene said...
    If hindsight were foresight those shrink sofas would be alot less worn. Thank you this post and have a Happy Thanksgiving.
    Chuck said...
    I've come to Chicago to legal tech conferences. You guys KNOW how to eat. Aside from the intense cold I love the restaurants downtown and roaming around the city. But, I'm addicted to the climate and culture of the South.
    Mike said...
    Absolutely amazing post! You are a strong woman! I've gone through a lot of what you've felt, as my marriage just recently ended and I to made many of the same sacrifices for her. Come read my blog sometime...it's my outlet for the pain and hurt of the past, but has helped me cope and deal with things in a healthy manner...so much that I'm back on my feet and back to myself again. Start from the begining if you want to see my whole story, and my progress. There is always light at the end of the tunnel! Enjoy the windy city...been here all my life and wouldn't pick another city in the country over it! Take care..and be strong! Mike
    NML said...
    I am so touched by this post and I was rooting for you to rise up! Well done to you for doing what you needed to do to get over it and you are strong, brave person and don't forget it!
    Shannon said...
    THANKS NWC, I think so many of go through something like this, I know I have, and I felt pathetic, going through it, but getting to the other side I love that feeling of stregnth, and you wrote it so well... I can agree usually I get bored if its too long... thanks for sharing your humaness... Happy Thanksgiving!
    Caterpillar said...
    NWC, that was so beautiful and perfectly described the pain which so many of us have felt before. And the obsessive thing - scary, but so easy to fall into.

    And by you taking the step to get the help, that showed your inner strength which we all see now!
    Sky said...
    Thank so much for posting this. I, too moved somewhere for a man (shhh, don't tell anyone). I think your writing and the style of your writing actually helps me in some weird way that I can't explain. I can always relate to your pain, it's as if you are telling me my life story with a little variance.

    It is nice to know that you were able to say no thanks in the end. I am not sure I have grown enough to do that myself. I give you a lot of credit.
    Violet said...
    So well written! Beautiful!
    Whiskey Belle said...
    I stumbled across your blog in 2005, and havent been keeping up with it. I just found out my ex of a year is engaged after only 10 months of being broken up with me and 5 months of a relationship. I am so happy that 4 years later I stumbled onto this particular post. It is EXACTLY what I needed. Thank you.

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