Empty eyes pasted on familiar faces masked with smiles. Walking by, arms reach out. Returning the embrace, I feel my light dim. Conversations head toward bottomless places and I’m falling down the dreaded rabbit hole. Once people, now hollow, stand before me. A small town where the past is still the present and looms somewhere between death and delusion.
Someone pulls my arm toward him and criticizes a tattoo. A former family friend makes eye contact, inviting me to say hello. An ex, high on something, begins unraveling about his girlfriend. Another recently sober ex chases down his supposed-to-be-sober girlfriend. People from the past are land mines, planted everywhere, and I am one misstep away from total destruction. With each word spoken and every gaze in my direction comes darkness. It seeps from their eyes and snakes through their mouths.
I’m not safe.
I escape to the bathroom and am intercepted by his sister. We take to the dance floor. In a strong-armed effort to have a good time, I remind myself of the intention I set for the weekend: to be loved and surround others with it. Convincing myself music will drown out the past as it collides with the present, we dance. Deep breath after deep breath, I swallow air in a weak attempt of pushing down the emotions. I look for anyone with a smile and stay close.
I search for him across the sea of hungry faces. Hoping to catch his eye, but he’s not within sight.
The alcohol continues to flow and more of the inevitable ugly truths find their way to me. I attempt to stay balanced as pieces of myself fall away. Fighting the urge to pick up my dress and head for the front door, never looking back; yet contending with my love for him and his family try their best at our togetherness. His sister in my ear, telling me he is off doing cocaine while his mom and aunts try to find a way to unite us. Uncles say I’m a catch and husbands of cousins forget their wives as they watch me move on the floor. As they circle, I fade. Falling further away from myself. My energy dwindles and with it goes my smile. The endless love I promised to be and to give, gone.
He’s back within sight. Enough to remind me of his presence, but positioned intentionally to remain out of reach. Higher energy than before and sweating. I get close and ask if he took something, shrugging off the Adderall he asks, “Want one?”
I start to question whether it’s me or my life in California that inhibits him from getting any closer. Before I could open my mouth to connect again, he’s gone. I’m swallowed in the sea of faces, no anchor.
Unable to breathe I stop dancing. Back in the bridal suite, locking the door to the bathroom I search through my contact list in desperation. Wondering who to call that would be able to hold space for it all while not criticizing me for staying in it.
I don’t know how long I’m in there, but at some point, the band stops playing. He texts me, asking where I went and lets me know he’s headed to the bar.
I wish to be proud of the way this night ended. I wish I could say that I didn’t give my power away for the last countless time. I wish I could take back the time spent waiting for him to show up in a different way.
I wish I could say that we didn’t sleep together, that I didn’t share my feelings, and that I didn’t invite him west. That I didn’t hold out on hope on mixed messages and mind games.
I wish I could tell you that I know how this story ends, but I don’t. All I know is I’m headed back east this summer to close this chapter and start a new one, with or without him.