A long time ago, I read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book Bitch—yes, the book she admitted to writing on coke—a and one part has stayed with me, which is her assertion that maybe female victims of domestic violence, rather than avoiding the beat-your-wife types if they came with dots on their foreheads, would head straight toward them. I haven’t kept this in mind because I think it’s some fantastic insight into domestic abuse, but because the idea that we, as humans, will always avoid difficult situations rather than seek them out has proven, at least in my case, false. I often go directly toward the choices that are most catastrophic for me.
To that end, I’ve had an ongoing relationship/friendship with someone who, if I had to add up the hours I’ve cried over them, would surely be relegated to the category of “not worth the trouble.” I’ve cried in public, in private, at work, you name it.
I’ve tried, to the best of my ability, to avoid him, but we are both plagued by this incessant grasping at information about each other, and thanks to the internet, that information abounds. I know the book he gave to his wife when they were courting, I can watch him play video games on YouTube, I can learn all sorts of things I shouldn’t know, in addition to the things that he’s told me that I also shouldn’t know.
None of this has prevented me from putting him on my personal Do Not Call List, or rather, my personal, Do Not Pick Up The Phone List. I don’t call him, and deliberately haven’t programmed his number into my last two phones, but I recall with extreme clarity that he was the first person to text me when I bought my new iPhone at the Portland mall. When you dream about someone, and vice versa, when you should be well over them but aren’t, it’s easy to think that there is some cosmic reason you can’t seem to forget about them, even if you have no intention of seeing them up close and personal. It’s gotten to a point where it feels almost like the universe is laughing at my attempts to move on, because the more I try not to think about him, the more he’s there, in various guises. As one character says to another in Brian Farrey’s excellent YA novel With or Without You, “I guess sometimes, we all do things even after we’ve lost sight of why we started doing them in the first place.”
There are so many things I wish we could do, starting with simply having coffee, maybe seeing a movie. Yet as much as I long to bring the intensity of our connection down even just a notch, I know that that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon because, frankly, the mere thought of standing in front of him, brings up every insecurity I have. I did it earlier this year and can safely say it was one of the hardest things I’ve done in 2011. Every single aspect of myself I despise is brought into vivid, dramatic light and brings up questions I don’t have the answers to. For the life of me, I have no idea why he’d want to spend any amount of time with me when he could spend it with his wife, who, every time I compare myself to her, I come up so short I hate myself all over again. My friends tell me I’m too hard on myself, and I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as perhaps it does, but I can’t apologize for telling the truth, which is that what started as something I thought I could handle is now something that to even think about makes me utterly lose any semblance of cool I have. It’s moved way beyond sex, which we haven’t done in well over a year, into some other, deeper place–for me, anyway.
I don’t have a good reason why I answered my phone the other night, except that I’m weak, and I wanted to hear his voice. I was, and am, flattered that he wanted to hear mine. Much as I love email and texting, hearing someone’s voice, or even just their breathing, gives you a different kind of energy and personality that words on a screen, no matter how avid of a reader I am, simply cannot.
I didn’t know that after we got off the phone, I would have a breakdown of epic proportions. I was supposed to meet a friend for dinner, and when that plan got scrapped, I was so hungry, tired and emotionally spent I simply couldn’t figure out what to do or where to go. I went home and proceeded to cry loudly, grateful I live alone and only had my Hello Kitty pillow for a witness. It was the kind of sobfest where you talk out loud, where you ask what you’re supposed to do, even if you’re not actually any specific deity or entity, even if you don’t expect an answer.
Ironically, the call happened right after a therapy session where I reported that things were going so well in my life. This was the same day that I finally plucked up the courage to call a psychiatrist to look into ADD medications, something that’s been on my to do list for months. I was so proud of myself for being adult and mature, and then there I was, back in the same old emotional sinkhole I’ve been in for longer than I care to admit. I know that the problem is mine and mine alone; it’s not fair to put the blame for it on anyone else. Sure, I can ask him not to call me again, but neither of us are exactly masters of self-control. We are both passionate, impulsive, curious, hungry, selfish, flawed, among other things. My hunch is that our similarities are what draw us to each other, what make me continue to think that I’ll find comfort from the upheaval he causes in my life in…him.
So in the span of about two minutes it took to go from “Hello” to “something more important than you came up” (and it always does) I found myself spiraling fast into a place I hope never to revisit, even though I know it’s unlikely I’ll never have a low low moment like it again. They are part of life, and I don’t want to numb myself, medically or otherwise, to the point that I feel nothing. I also know it wasn’t just him or his dismissal that made me break down; it’s about forces larger than this specific person, some lesson I’ve gotten stuck on and need to move past to get to my future. I don’t know what exactly caused it, but it happened and in the week that’s passed, I’ve been using it as a guide to help me make structural changes to my life that will help me do everything I can to be stronger in the face of those kinds of feelings.
Regarding our friendship, or whatever muddled version of it we share (though lately it’s felt like like sharing and more like something where we each feel and think things from afar, and occasionally acknowledge those things to each other), I wish fervently to salvage the parts of it that are powerful in a healthy way. For all the downsides, there is a part of me that lights up to even think he’d spare a moment thinking about me. I’m sure I don’t deserve it, but honored that I somehow warrant it anyway.
In her song “Trouble,” Shawn Colvin sings, “I go to the trouble like a light/Or like a dare/Trouble is just a friend to me/ I know it’ll always be there.” I’d liken this situation to that, except that every time I pick up my phone when he calls, I hope it’ll be different than what happened the other night. And sometimes it is. Once in a while, we can transcend all our differences and simply be truly in the moment, in as pure and vivid and clear way as we can. Those moments are rare, indeed, and perhaps all the more special for their rarity. Sometimes that medium, the phone, through which we first got to know each other, is able to transport me from the ugly reality of real life into somewhere much better. Of course it’s momentary, of course it’s a brief blip, a high followed by, usually, a low, but I fall for it every time.
Alas, there’s no relationship version of the FTC there to monitor my incoming calls. That would be a lot to ask of the government, so this cannot apply: “…if you ask a company with which you have an existing business relationship to place your number on its own do-not-call list, it must honor your request. You should keep a record of the date you make the request.” Moreover, I should be adult enough to be in charge of my own calling habits. I did, since I started writing this, actually give that number a name: his initials, plus Do Not Pick Up. Yet I’m stubborn and hopeful enough that I doubt that will prevent me from doing so. Apparently, you can’t hurry love, but you also can’t hurry getting over someone who’s unhealthy for you to love.