The Pile

I’m sitting in the basement, in self-imposed exile from the living room, so Helen and her boyfriend can enjoy some privacy while watching reruns of “The Office” on Netflix. Cat #3, Coco, is frantically rubbing herself all over my laptop and apparently trying to make sweet, sweet love to the hand that I will not give her. I really should play with my cats more often; they are starting to get bellies like Sneetches.

At my feet lies the box, from which I have extracted all my old journals. It’s been down here, journals exposed, for nearly a month–ever since my latest fellow sent me all the biking clothes to say, in effect, “Here’s what you need to wear when you bike in cold weather, since you’ll be doing it on your own from now on.” He meant well, I know. But it got me thinking about another fellow, from the 90s, and how he couldn’t make it up to me when I discovered he’d been cheating on me all along with HIS former “true love.” It got me curious about how I process these things–these cases where someone to whom I’ve entrusted my heart lets it fall to the ground as they continue with their first choice. I wanted to find the journal where I put all those thoughts, so I could pick apart the precise incident or angle where I took the wrong turn to keep hanging on through the heartache and indecision wrought by these fellows.

What I discovered, the one night that I was able to flip open a few of these notebooks, is that I have always spent a great deal of effort trying to “be right” in a relationship–trying to be whatever girl I needed to be in order to completely enchant a man. It was never enough for him to simply care for me; no, I wanted him to be completely devoted and utterly in love with everything about me. I worked on myself, I worked on my man, I talked and analyzed and reasoned my way through every situation–and in most cases, I gave very little thought or energy to why I was so determined to make things work. For that matter, I gave even less thought to what I felt, beyond determination. Why couldn’t I just hang out and see what course it took? Why didn’t I ever define my own needs and pursue my own happiness, independent of a man? Why did I always try so hard? Certainly the phrase “in love with love” comes to mind, and that I was. But there was something else.

I’m not sure I was ready to figure out what it was that night, because I only flipped through a few notebooks before I turned my attention to the envelopes and packages filled with letters and mementos given to me by each man whom I considered to be, at some point, “the” man for me. The box of letters and whatnot from that fellow was clearly the most precious. I remembered his handwriting, how beautiful it was, to match his poetic ability to convey romance and delight in everything he wrote. Only now do I see it as a way to distract me from the obvious fact that I was only his backup plan. But distract me, it did. Even reading some of his notes and letters now brought back the allure he had for me. Until, that is, I looked up the passages in another journal related to the breakup and my desperate attempts to stitch together our unraveling. More than desperate, I was juvenile, even childlike in my belief that it could be mended.

That child is starting to interest me. I see her and feel her at each point of pain and loss–and not just in romantic relationships. I remember her presence after I got fired from the fancy consulting firm, and often in church and at Bible study. I made an appointment with my therapist to explore who she is and whether she holds the key to my unknowing.