It’s mid-December. This time last year, I thought I was heartbroken. I wasn’t. I was lost. I was finding myself. I was coming out of the fog of 10 years of oppression and vehement co-dependence. My heart wasn’t broken, it just hadn’t been together for a very, very long time. But I remember myself. Lying in my bed. I had Christmas lights wrapped around my bed’s headboard, and they were the only lights I used for two months. All I did was lay in bed and listen to Bon Iver and cry. I thought I was falling apart, but I was coming together.
Five months previous, I was standing in a clearing in the middle of the woods at night, in the pouring rain, waiting for Bon Iver to take the stage and perform the new album 22, A Million in its entirety for the first time. It was one of the most miserable days I’d ever experienced. I had no jacket, no umbrella, and no desire to see the show. But the people I was with had at least the latter, so in the dark rain I stood, shivering and feeling my body want to collapse and cursing Justin Vernon’s name internally. I was too exhausted to cry. When I finally got to crawl into bed around 1 a.m., I punished myself by reading old text messages and convincing myself that something I thought was special was falling apart. It wasn’t. Special. It never was, so it couldn’t have fallen apart.
For reasons I don’t quite grasp, humanity is obsessed with the passing of time. Every week, every month, every year, we crawl towards the end and express how surprised we are that it’s almost over already. Are these endings constant reminders of our mortality? Or are we simply mortified that we have let yet another week/month/year pass without accomplishing anything noteworthy? In our shame and embarrassment, we verbally declare that we honestly cannot believe another consistent passing of time, trying to convince those around us that we absolutely would have accomplished something great, if only that pesky time hadn’t flashed past us before we could even notice.
In truth, we have accomplished a lot. Each day that we open our eyes for a set amount of time and then close them again at the conclusion of that day is an accomplishment. I am astounded at what I have accomplished in the last 12 months. I have led projects, planned events, made friends, connected with people; I’ve made a difference. A big one. I am daily surrounded by people that legitimately give a shit about me and love me, even when I am convinced they do not. In a lot of ways, I am exactly where I have always wanted to be in life. Sometimes it feels very, very good. Sometimes it is so overwhelming that I feel like I need to hide because I can’t handle all of the emotion.
This year, I do not have Christmas lights wrapped around my headboard. I feel so disconnected from the holidays that they might as well not exist. Despite the things that have happened this year, I am still here in this bed. I am still crying. I spent all that time coming together just to fall apart again. Crying in bed is the only leeway I give myself to revel in the sensation of truly being alone. I fill up every other spare moment with work, with friends, with films, with books, with podcasts. I say that I enjoy living alone, that I was made for it. And in many ways it is true. But being alone and feeling lonely have never been the same thing. So even though there are people in my life that tell me they love me on a regular basis, that I often feel confident and appreciated, that I have had people to share my bed with, that I have a support system and a full life, I still cry. I still feel lonely. There is still something missing.
I can’t help but feel like this is the penance I have to pay. That I have been given so much this year that I didn’t deserve him too. Everyone is asked to make compromises in life, and perhaps this is mine. I don’t recall a moment where I was asked to choose — him or everything else. It was chosen for me. Some aspect of the universe, I can only imagine, far too familiar with the impetuousness of my heart, was sick of me fucking my life up over situations like this and pushed me on another path. Perhaps rightly, as even now I can tell you that, were the choice presented to me, I would choose him. Without flinching. I would give up everything I have just for the chance for us to be together. Impetuous. Erroneous. But strong and resonant.
At dinner the other evening, I tried explaining this to a friend. When we are really in the shit, in the deep, dark trenches of being in love, I understand that all of us believe with every cell in our bodies that we have never felt for another person like we feel for this person. That we never again will feel like this for anyone ever again. That this is truly the person we were put on earth to find. And after it ends and we gain some time and distance, we realize we once again fell under the intoxicating spell of our synapses and hormones and we are doomed to live in this figure eight for all time. This is a situation which I feel I have perfect clarity on.
And yet I also believe this time is different. This is the one time in my life it is different. I am happy to face up to my own contradictions and the reality that I have said this before. I have the vision to see that there could be a point in my future where I am ashamed to have once again fallen into this cycle. What I do not have is the language to explain why this time is really, actually different. And maybe that’s part of it. I’ve never had the words to explain him. I’ve never been able to accurately illustrate how he makes me feel, or how things were when we were together. It was something I had never in my life experienced.
There are so many small moments we shared that are integral parts of our mosaic. There is one from mid-July that I can pinpoint as the filmatic definition of my time with him. It was late afternoon, and we had already been working for approximately 12 hours that day. The sun was still high and bright but had just tipped over the apex, and you could feel the hours drawing down. We had accomplished a lot that day and knew we had to be back in another 12 hours to put in another 12. For everyone there, it was time to call it a day. It was time for final checks, walking to our cars, and saying, “See you at 5 a.m.!” Instead of that, he peeled up to me in a golf cart and said, “Get in”. I crawled in next to him and he put his foot down on the gas, pushing the cart to its limit, bobbing and weaving through the obstacles in the yard. For 10 minutes we raced around, the breeze cooling us in the 90 degree temperature and sunshine. We didn’t speak much. We just sat close and felt the moment. We were at work, exhausted and overwhelmed, and yet we both clung to those 10 minutes of being together, wind in our faces and the landscape of a manufacturing plant’s yard laid out before us like an otherworldly, liminal space made just for us.
I told you I haven’t been able to illustrate this properly.
I don’t actually feel like I’m falling apart without him. Some days it’s touch-and-go, but for the most part I can see a clear path for me separate from anything we ever seemed to have. It just doesn’t happen to be the path I want. I want it all. I don’t want to have to choose. I don’t want the choice to be made for me. I don’t want to be lonely. I want the job, my friends, the success, the hard work, the pay off, the experiences, and the relationship. It’s not antithetical. It fits. We fit. All of the other aspects of my life that are working? We share those things. We share everything except for each other. The amount that feels wrong to me is boundless. I witnessed the looks on the faces of the people that knew us both when we were together, and it made sense to them the same way it made sense to me. We fit. Unburdened and becoming.