The official end started on February 3, 2013. I use the term official because in some ways we had been breaking up for years. But on February 3, 2013, it took a turn.
The night before was date night. And date night had gone very well. We both got dressed up and as I walked through the restaurant, in a yellow silk dress that hung just right, and very tall nude heals, I turned heads. I noticed. He noticed. Told me I was the most beautiful woman in the room and that every man and woman in the restaurant knew it too. I remember the compliment well because he rarely gave them to me. We had dinner and wine and conversation. It was a great date.
On February 3, 2013, the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Superbowl. Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child performed during the half time show. And I had some of my closest friends over for the game. I had just finished cleaning up and was getting ready for bed. Benny had seemed upset all night. Angry even. He’d been upset for a few days and had said it was work related. I knew he took his job seriously, much too seriously if you asked me, and so I ran with the answer.
But on February 3, 2013, when I asked him once more if he was okay there was something in the way he looked at me and I knew. I knew there was something. “I feel like something is missing between us,” he said. REALLY?!?!? I thought. It was not the information that he was giving me that I found daunting. I was not blind. There was something missing between us. Several things in all honesty. But I found the timing to be like a swift kick in the stomach.
Nearly two weeks prior, on Martin Luther King Weekend, my father moved out of our family home. The big yellow house. Our big yellow house. I was out of town at the time in North Carolina with a group of friends. He called as I was walking through Asheville on my last afternoon there to tell me he had put a deposit down on an apartment the day before and he was in the process of moving. He sounded defeated. Though, in all fairness, this was a bed he had made for years, decades even, but surely one he never expected he would actually have to lay in. But here we were. For the first time in the history of their relationship, which had spanned three decades, my mother had taken a real stand and asked him to leave. When I was a child, she would leave. She would pack our suitcases, sling me over her hip like just another bag, and off to my grandmother’s house we went. Sometimes for days; sometimes for months; and on one occasion for slightly over a year.
But he was moving this time. This time was different. She sounded different. Resolved. Out of love for him. Not angry, but there was surely some indifference in her tone and selfishness. Definitely selfishness. She was finally putting herself and her peace of mind before him. I was processing this end. Mourning the end of my family. No matter how dysfunctional, and dysfunctional we were, they were my family. My parents. My parents that regardless of what had happened or come their way, they had somehow, for better or worse managed to stay together and now it was over. Birthdays and holidays would never be the same again. Dinner with my parents was forever changed. And I, who arguably already had commitment and trust issues, now had more proof that I was right. That people let one another down, that people gave up and walked away, and that sometimes enough is simply enough and there is nothing you can say or do to change the fact. No amount of time can undo it because things are over. My parents’ marriage was over. There was finality to it. And I knew it.
“There is something missing between us.” No shit. “I still love you” he said. I find that very hard to believe, I thought, but I didn’t say anything. I was already in my head. I had already retreated. And my mind can be a very, very scary place. How could this be love? How could this be loving? You just kicked me when I was down, I thought. You kicked me when I was losing faith in humanity. You kicked me when I was losing faith in love. Not that I thought what we had was “it.” I too knew there were things missing. Most importantly, to me, a certain intimate connection that only comes when two people can truly look one another in the eye and see into each other. There is no need for words or even touch because there is a connection and you can truly see them. Benny couldn’t do that. He didn’t like quiet. He didn’t like eye contact. It always felt forced and disingenuous. I doubt he ever truly saw me or even wanted me to see him.
I have always known and believed that in our heart of hearts, when we are truly quiet with our thoughts and ourselves and we truly want to hear the truth—about ourselves, our paths, our relationships—we will. In my heart of hearts, I always knew he wasn’t the one. But I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe so so bad. Believe that hard work and commitment would eventually bring the rest of the pieces together. A belief system that I certainly learned from my mother. I have never known when to walk away. She had never known when to walk away. Until now. Something had shifted for her and she had finally done it. And two short weeks later, I was given the exact same chance.
I fell into a deep depression. A depression I knew well but hadn’t felt in years. A depression that was paralyzing. That made me cry uncontrollably regardless of the audience or location. A depression that took my appetite and brought a strong desire for vodka and marijuana. One night, as I sat in the bathtub of the apartment we had moved into together just two months prior, I sobbed. I was shaking. I was stoned. Beyond stoned. And had vodka on the rocks in my hand. This had become a very regular occurrence. I drank and smoked. And drank and smoked. And drank and smoked hoping to feel less. Numb. I was not even chasing happiness or a better feeling; I just wanted to feel less. Less disillusioned. Less jaded. Less broken. Less stupid. The weeks following the breakup are a blur. I drank a lot. I smoked a lot. I was scared a lot. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot. A whole lot. I was not angry. I was just sad.
After shedding a few tears in front of my boss one day he asked if I wanted to go to New York for the annual board meeting. I had been working for the company for five years and had never made it to the NY yearly meeting. But I needed a change of scenery. I needed a break. An escape. I had already started to plan a trip to Asia but it still seemed like it might not happen. It seemed like something we were all discussing but would eventually just fall to the wayside. We would lose interest or get scared about the amount of money that needed to be spent and we would let it go, I thought. So NY sounded like a good escape. My company would purchase my flight. I would see one of my closest friends. And I would get away, even if only for a few days.
It was around that time that I had resolved to become an active participant of my healing process. I started working out on a regular basis, started seeing a therapist, forcing myself to go out, had recently begun dating, and felt like I was coming back to life. I had a big fear that I wasn’t truly feeling better and had just become so busy I wasn’t dealing.
A month and a half later I flew out to New York.
I am not a fan of avoidance behavior and I think people do themselves a great disservice when they lie to themselves. I arrived in New York and rather than run from museum to museum as I had initially intended, I spent the entire first day in bed. I did not move. I finally allowed myself to sit with my thoughts. No alcohol. No drugs. Nothing to numb the pain. I cried. Mostly because I was angry at myself. I felt silly. I felt conflicted. I still felt sad. Still hurt. But I was free. In the weeks leading up to the trip I had really begun to relish in that freedom. In the knowledge that I could do and be whatever I wanted. The knowledge that it was all on my terms and here I was, with another chance to get it right. I had climbed the mountain and was looking down. The worst was finally over I thought.
Sometimes you meet people and you have no idea what they are going to bring into your life.
I didn’t think Noah would bring much beyond a fun night in NY in early April. He’d walked into a gay bar and was immediately pointed out by one of the other girls I was with. I thought he was gay. In retrospect, the idea still makes me giggle. We spent the rest of that evening together. It was fun. Sexy. Exciting. I was surprised by the ease of it all. Surprised when I wanted to kiss him. Surprised when I wanted to continue kissing him. Surprised when I wanted to see him again. I knew I would be back in NY eventually and so we kept in touch.
Somehow we all got it together to go to Asia. And I started to see the trip, the trip we had begun calling the trip of a lifetime, as the end. The end of my old life. Of the bad feelings. Of the insecurities that had plagued me during the last five years. The end of being depressed or saddened by the loss of a relationship that I knew wasn’t right for me. But most importantly as the end of settling. Never again I told myself. Over and over again. I wrote it on my mirror one night in bright red lipstick. Never again. I would do what I wanted from this moment on. I would seek instant gratification instead of always waiting for things to “get better.” I would follow my instincts even if all those around me disagreed and thought I was digging a bigger ditch than the one I was in before. I would do what I wanted. Whether it seemed stupid, or like a waste of time and money, I would finally do what I wanted. And it felt so, so good.
So we booked our flights to Asia. And we were flying out of NY. I wanted to see Noah. I knew I wanted to see him. I can’t really explain why I wanted to, it was just a feeling. I was intrigued. Attracted. And knew it sounded silly and childish but I didn’t care. I had been so structured and done what was expected of me for so long, regardless of whether it made me feel better or worse, and I was done with that behavior. I would take the chance and see how it felt. If it went poorly, I didn’t care. We lived in different cities and I had to go to NY anyway to fly out with Isabella. If it went well, maybe some of my faith in humanity would be restored.
I arrived at JFK at nearly 2 PM and was surprised that he was waiting for me outside the gate. A miscommunication that worked out very well. He was in a suit and tie and was completely swoon-worthy. He took me kayaking–my first time–and I was struck by his patience and attentiveness. It was fun. A new experience. It was easy. Spending time with him seemed effortless. We went home, made dinner together and went out for drinks. The next day we went to numerous museums, the botanical garden, and walked around NY.
The morning that I left to Asia, I was disappointed. The trip I had been looking forward to for months, the trip that was going to change my life, I would have happily skipped to stay with him.
I am losing my mind I thought. I tried to remain rational. We lived in different cities, I reminded myself. He was younger. Perhaps it was a fluke, I considered. Two days is not enough time. Though I admitted to myself that they were two of the easiest days I had ever shared with a man. I couldn’t rationalize the feelings away. And I can rationalize just about anything. I was smitten and there was no way to talk myself out of it.
Over the course of my trip in Asia I found myself thinking about him often. I wanted to go back to NY. Two of my friends tried to convince me to go home. The trip was already nearly 3 weeks long and I needed to go back to work, they said. You are wasting your time, they said. I said I would think about it a few more days before deciding.
I went to a café in Cambodia with Isabella one afternoon. Katie was feeling ill and Milania had gone to get a massage. “So what are you going to do about Noah?” she asked. I giggled and said I knew it sounded crazy but I wanted to stay in NY for a few days. Work was slow. My boss is understanding. And I had an amazing time with him. “Do what makes you happiest boo,” she said. Such a simple statement, and with it, I had made my decision.
I had come to realize that the two days prior to my life changing trip had been more life changing than the actual trip. It was not that I was in love with him. It was that he restored something in me that I thought no longer existed. Simply put, he reminded me that people can be good for absolutely no reason. That people could be intelligent, and nice, and driven, and giving, and affectionate, and without pretense. Reminded me that I could connect with someone genuinely and effortlessly.
So now I sit in his living room. Alone. And it truly strikes me. I rarely feel comfortable anywhere alone. Much less in someone else’s home, in a different city, and in my mind-which no longer feels so scary and ugly. And yet here I am. Still. Quiet. Listening to my heart of hearts. Perfectly fine. And happy. So happy it brings tears to my eyes. I am so filled with gratitude and realize that everything has led to this moment, to this feeling. I forgot what real happiness felt like. I forgot what I felt like.
And I am not so silly or naive to believe that this will always feel this way or that this is the beginning of a happily ever after type fairy tale, but I believe in possibilities again. And that is the biggest gift a few days in NY could have ever given me.