Previously on Nayrotica…
… On one rainy day after class, I made my way across the city to see my friend’s art exhibit that he had been working on for the past year. The rain poured and I speed walked through puddles, getting pelted in the face by drops and umbrellas– being tall in a congested city of umbrella-carriers is a health hazard. I finally arrived at the gallery, soaking wet but ready to take in some subversive queer art. The space was crowded, I made my way through the people looking for the host, my friend. Finally spotting him, I continued zigging and zagging until I was standing directly next to him. We warmly (and wetly) embraced and greeted each other as gal pals do.
We spoke for less than a minute and as I said, “This is quite the turn out!” I turned to indicate the masses, and as I did so, I locked eyes on one man in particular. There, standing mere inches away from me, was my ex-husband. Mouth agape, finally I said,
It didn’t register immediately even though I clearly recognized him. The bad dream was still happening and I was doomed to forever be asleep. I continued staring at him, “Hey.” I repeated myself just in case he didn’t hear me. But oh, I knew he heard me and just stared. Stuck somewhere between my brain and my throat and running on a loop was, Why are you still in my city!? And why are you at my friend’s opening?! But no, I came up with, “Hey.”
My friend, the artist, noted the look of shock and uncertainty on my face, gently put his hand on my back, and repeated numerous times, “You two know each other?” He kept saying it, until finally I moved away from his hand at the small of my back and did the only thing that made sense in this very logical triad of men staring at each other– I fully extended my arm and pointed at the man in question: an accusation of sorts? Perhaps I just couldn’t find the words. He returned my gaze and gave me a pseudo-shocked facial expression, one that I had come to previously understand as one of endearment, but the sentiments had suddenly changed. “Wait, do you two know each other?” I asked, inquiring as to how and why the artist and my ex-husband were both in the same room, standing on either side of me. They shook their heads, indicating that they didn’t know each other and this brought momentary relief, even though I was still face to face with my apparently now-mute ex-husband. He didn’t say a thing!
I stepped a little closer to him, and my pinched throat eked, “Hey.” There it was again, the shortest and most eloquent greeting, but this time I managed to get more out, “How are you?” His response was brief as he was in the midst of purchasing a print, “Good.” With that, he stepped away and finished making his purchase.
My artist friend approached me again, “So…” he playfully broached the topic again, “HOW do you guys know each other?”
I paused, watching my ex-husband laugh (likely to show me how much fun he was having, therefore burrowing under my skin) and exchange his card for the print he was purchasing. Finally, I gathered the saliva to wet my mouth and was able to respond, “I can only tell you who he is if you promise not to bring it up with him.” He agreed to the favor, still not knowing who the hell I was talking to or why I was being so dodgy. “He’s my ex-husband,” I paused. It was the first time I referred to him publicly as someone in relation to me… not The Fella, but my ex-husband. He looked at me, slightly taken aback, and I continued, “I married him a couple of months ago, and it didn’t go very well.” Now he was straight-up aghast and let out a little laugh, appearing partially enamored with the frankness with which I told him. “Wow,” he said, “I did not see that coming. Are you okay?” I nodded and explained that I may not be able to stay long, but that I was also happy that I showed up to support him. He understood and without much more of a thought or an exhale, I hugged him goodbye.
It was time to retrace the diagonals of my entrance and get across the crowded gallery. The exit glowed and I was determined to enlist my invisible blinders so as not to see any ONE person that I was hoping to avoid– I did not need another altercation or interaction with The Fella. As I slid and sidled my way through the expanse of leather and flesh and plaid, I saw him through the faulty non-existent blinder on the side of my face, Don’t look don’t look don’t look! I repeated to myself. And since listening to myself hasn’t always been my strong suit, I felt my head swivel on its point of attachment with my neck, and as I did so, there he was placing his wallet back in his pocket. He wasn’t facing me, so I was able to maintain my gaze. Unfortunately, that was when my blinders miraculously started working and I was soon on top of a man clad in short-shorts and a tank. Literally. I had been moving forward with such speed that I knocked him over– flashing back to a moment I was playing soccer recreationally one summer and a gal pal friend yelled at me, “Acknowledge your mass!” as I shoulder checked her and she wound up flat on her back— however, this time I also fell forward. On top of him. I caught myself, hands on each side of him in a plank position.
“Oh my god! I am so sorry!” I said, still planked and hovering over him. I smiled and took in his appearance. He was very handsome; I had literally fallen into another meet-cute. He looked at me smiling, either from shock or happiness, and opened his mouth to say something, our eyes locked.
“Get the fuck off of me!” Apparently he had been smiling for the former reason, and I was suddenly aware of the crowd that formed around us. I looked up and took in the onlookers, “So sorry, really. I feel like an idiot. Sorry.” As I stood, there HE was with a quizzical look on his face. I stood, forgetting about the road kill still on the floor next to me, and only saw The Fella staring at me. WHAT!? WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME?! NOTHING TO SEE HERE! MOVE ALONG!
“Oops,” I exhaled and shrugged my shoulders. He continued to look at me, as did the rest of the crowd. There was a silence in the room, occasionally with unaware cackles in the distance. “What?!” I shouted and people flinched from the volume of my voice and the hostility that was aimed at one person. “What? Is it so shocking to see someone slip and fall? That’s what happened! It just happens sometimes. You know! So, stop looking at me! Seriously!” Everyone just stared as I continued pushing my way through the crowd towards the exit. I was melting down. “DON’T LOOK AT ME! There’s art on the wall! Look at the art! LOOK! AT! THE! ART!” I finally reached the exit, almost free.
I planned on leaving without looking back, without giving my ex-husband the opportunity to see my face one more time, but I couldn’t do it. I turned around and looked at him. His face had relaxed and there was commotion around him, people helping the innocent road kill up from the ground. I half-smiled and raised my hand to wave. I turned around and left the building in the quickest way possible.
Finally reaching the sidewalk, I was quickly transported from the reality of what happened inside the gallery, to my new existence standing in the downpour that was happening outside. I felt the rain touch my skin, washing away my worries and anxieties. I stopped walking, looked up at the grey sky and closed my eyes. Allowing the rain to pelt my face and combine with the tears that began to form from the relief of escape, I hesitated for a moment before darting in any direction that wasn’t where I had been, knowing that there was nothing left for me in the past. After swimming a block away, I got punched in the throat by reality and no longer was I just producing solitary tears, but I was opening weeping, holding myself up on the gate of a Manhattan walk-up.
There I was standing in the rain. Alone. And then it struck me: I didn’t bring an umbrella. However, more poignantly, no one was chasing me. I was running from no one other than myself and the story that I created in my mind. In a sea of people buzzing past me on their way to live their respective lives, I was chasing myself away from an art opening to which I was invited. Instead of being the fabulous person I am, I ran.
I was alone.
I was unprepared.
I was crying.
That was the moment I would keep coming back to in my brain over the next year. It was that solitary moment that helped me realize what I had become– suddenly I was acutely aware of the part I played in the narrative that I created. I no longer wanted to focus on the story of how I was wronged by a man I met in Berlin and married in a Polish forest. But instead, I wanted to tell the story of how I tricked myself into believing that I was more than the flawed person who needed the help of those around me. I was trying so desperately to live my life alone; to make a life that was just about me and no one else. My story had become one of solitary existence where everything happened to me– a story where I had no control and crazy moments unfolded around me. I was unwilling to acknowledge that the common thread in all of the tales I was spinning was… me. I was single-handedly creating an unbearable and unlivable life.
Like most change, it didn’t happen for me overnight. It took more mistakes, more men, more time to pinpoint the root of my anxieties surrounding relationships, and specifically with that relationship, that marriage. Gradually, I accepted the idea that I was worthy of happiness and love, something I historically relegated to those around me. I didn’t need someone else’s affirmation of my worth anymore. Sure, the impotence to rely on those around me for reassurance still emerges, and this goes back so much farther and deeper than a Polish forest, but that was the moment that crystalized this thought pattern for me. My mind doesn’t work like others, I know that now. And I guess I secretly knew it for a long time, but I didn’t want it to be true. I changed my life previously, but I forgot that physical changes aren’t enough– there needs to be a paradigmatic shift, as well. When I gave up drinking, I wanted that to be enough; I wanted that to be the change in total. At the time, I felt like that was sacrifice enough for me– and that the change I longed for in my life would follow, not only because I had altered my life, but also because I thought that I deserved it. I deserved change. First of all, in that moment, I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to be different in my life, but I did know that I was unhappy, and I was convinced that it was because my brain was wired a little differently. Surely the elimination of alcohol would be enough. But it wasn’t. You see, I was looking at it all wrong. I was looking for personal change, something that is completely in our hands. I can change anything I want about myself with enough time, money, commitment, dedication. But what I was really looking for was growth.
Growth is something that happens over time– you cannot force it or speed it along. It can be infuriating and debilitating when it doesn’t happen at once. And there will be set-backs. However, I am finally growing again, I can feel it. Mistakes, when made time and again, elicit change. In light of my previous failed relationships and my previous infractions of human decency, I have implemented changes in my modus operandi– and it is uncomfortable. I hate feeling unsettled when I am trying not to rely on a pattern of behavior or thought that has previously failed me. It sucks! I am actually doing this right now as I write this– I want so badly to reach out for reassurance, but I am not, because I know where this gets me– it is time to try something new. It is time to put to rest this feeling of discontent that relies so heavily on the creature comforts that have brought me nothing but pain.
Today I work with a new perspective– life isn’t supposed to be easy. It hurts, and we learn from pain. We learn from the things that challenge us, and we get to choose which pieces inform us of who we want to be and how we want to live. But we cannot hold so tightly to the reigns; this gets us nowhere but in a place of content and stasis. By attempting to control our narratives, we eliminate so many exciting and unseen paths. As a result, I push myself these days to live outside my comfort-zone, existing in the ambiguity of each situation– knowing that my stomach is in knots and listening to it when it says move forward.
And now, I look back on all of my romantic relationships and know that I have never been in love. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about these men, because I did. Very much. But I cared for reasons that weren’t selfless. I cared for personal gain. I said and did what I thought they wanted me to do, so that I could feel like I was contributing to a narrative that held up to the onlooker. I have never shared myself with someone genuinely. Until now. I am trying and it hurts and is uncomfortable and for the first time I am not doing things that I think would make someone happy, but instead I am showing up in a genuine and caring way. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable, and the joy that emerges from small moments of honesty and unabashed freedom is breathtaking. I have done things recently that I would never have allowed in the past in fear that the image I was hoping to present would be tarnished. The truth is I AM tarnished, and I don’t care anymore.
This is me.
To be continued. Always.