Friday, September 29, 2006

Snippets - the depression version

The bathroom floor thing
It has recently been brought to my attention that much of the worry I’ve caused during the past week has been triggered by the amount of time I spend on the bathroom floor. While I don’t – while feeling normal – think, “I don’t have anything going on. Think I’ll go hang out and try to nap in my guest bath.”, it’s probably not nearly as bad as you’re thinking it is.

When I was little, I had terrible headaches. I still do, but was less capable of dealing with them at that time. I’d often end up nauseated, and would naturally spend time in the bathroom in case I needed to be sick. There was no heating vent in the bathroom of our first house, so Mom kept a small space heater in there for bathtime. I adored the heater – it had a little knob on the right side of a metal box covered with contact paper that looked like wood – with the little knots and lines and everything. Then there was a metal grate on the front and thin threads inside. Kind of like a toaster, cut in half and with a fan to blow the warm air into the room.

I, carefully supervised, would turn the little knob to the appropriate strength, then settle myself on the floor to watch the threads inside start to glow orange. Then the room would get nice and toasty, and I’d be able to hear the gentle hum of the fan. So, when little Katie was sick, I’d retreat to the bathroom, snuggle into fresh towels that smelled of laundry detergent, and watch the space heater.

The space heater – Mom must keep it for sentimental reasons because it’s nearly 30 years old now – is in the basement. I’ve turned it on within the last couple years and it doesn’t smell pleasant. The dust has worked its way into every crevice and somehow that smell – burning dirt – isn’t so comforting. My parents decided, by the way, that since the bathroom in their current home has appropriate ductwork, there was no need for the heater to take up floor space. So the first time I was sick, Mom settled me in the bathroom – because I should win a prize at fighting back nausea, which means I’m sick for much longer, but I never actually have to throw up – gave me fresh towels and nodded when I ordered her to the basement to get the space heater.

“I need it.” I insisted pitifully. And agreed when she said she’d run a bath for me while I waited for her. By the time she returned, I’d curled up with my back to the bathtub, listening to the rush of the warm water, and had fallen asleep on and around the towels. So my new coping mechanism was bathwater, which is very wasteful, but easier to find if I happened to be away from home.

I took a lot of showers when upset in undergrad, but don’t remember hanging out on the floor. I think it’s also true that my moods are rather easily controlled by being around people. My girls seldom let me wallow – would leave me for only a short time before knocking and just waiting me out. Eventually I talk, and feel a bit better. I also had the option of going home, which was helpful.

Grad school found me on the bathroom floor a lot. A lot, a lot. When I got depressed and anxious so often, I decided it there was no reason to be physically miserable as well, so I started dragging a pillow with me. I’d cover up with my green terrycloth robe and cozy into the dark warmth, listen to the water, and feel safe. It’s where I can let go – cry and panic and feel – without trying so hard to stifle it. The lump in my throat goes away while I just deal.

So the bathroom thing is longstanding. It’s not good, but it – I hope – isn’t as bad as you were thinking. I recently spent so much time there – not as a way to inflict more pain, but as a way to offer some comfort – that I left the pillow and blanket and knew my safe place was waiting when things got too much.

The point in this story is that mild depression for years can develop some semi-effective coping mechanisms that are less than ideal when a more major episode hits. I’m mulling it over.

About Last Night
I rather adore Unnamed Friend. It strikes me as impossibly lovely that I would have taken anyone to hang out with since it’s quite lonely without local friends, but the person who found me ended up being truly smart, fascinating, endearing and lovely. I, unfortunately, don’t deserve her lately and I’m really used to deserving my friends. Being supportive and interested and good. And I will – I’m still pulling myself together, but I will be a better friend.

But, well, we’re opposite in several areas. 10:30PM found her wide awake. I was half asleep. But I have a laptop which I happily handed over while I shuffled off to bed. 6:30AM found me wide awake and her half asleep (probably trying to be all asleep, but between me (very quiet) and Chienne (not so much), I’m sure it was difficult). So I went for a walk, loving the cool weather over which I’m sure she frowns. Then I came home, the dog quickly woke her up despite my best efforts to avoid it, and we talked some more. It was good for me. I focused and cared and was relieved that the ability was starting to return.

Bad Moment – yet again
When she opened Firefox last night, my tabs appeared and Unnamed Friend said that she too was impressed with my site stats lately.

“I know!” I said, trying not to be too chipper (mornings are my favorite time of day) while she stared in her coffee cup. “Misery loves company. Or people can’t look away. Either or, I guess.”

I’m getting better though. I’m eating, so the sickness and shaking has eased a great deal. I slept last night. Well, for a while. I don’t know what time it was when I woke up – I moved my good alarm clock to the office and left the one I can’t really see in my room – and I knew I could wander out to the living room and talk (or sit or cry – whatever). I didn’t.

For whatever reason, every instinct in me screams for solitude in the bad moments. I can’t be around someone else. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. So when I woke up and realized I was quite upset, I thought about trying to leave the safety of my room. Then desperately tried to soothe myself when I panicked. So I stayed in bed, every muscle clenched, eyes tightly closed, and waited for it to pass. When the worst was over, I was damp with sweat and shaken, so I showered. Tried to creep quietly toward my master bathroom so I wouldn’t worry my friend. It relaxed me enough to rest again.

I’m not sure how long it lasted, but I’m not eager to repeat it. But I’m rethinking my strategy of getting up and moving around when I wake up at night. Perhaps I can wait it out and control the intensity. I’ll see.

Something nice
I got some work done today. It was relatively straightforward, but positive nonetheless.

I haven’t taken Tylenol PM since Monday. I had a nice problem going with that, so I’m somewhat relieved to have broken that habit while getting through this week.

I finally felt ready to open the guest room door and sit for a little while this evening. A sleepy Chienne – she sat up with my friend between trips down the hall to check on me – sat and yawned on my right while Sprout checked her out from my left. She actually seems much better – no lunging at all from the dog. He’s more jumpy though. But it’s coming along. He really wants out of that room, and the only way to do that is through her. They came within 4 inches of each other and he was purring and she wagged her tail. Turns out this “all in good time” thing might work out. Who knew?

I answered email today. I know it bothered me more than it bothered anyone else, but I’m relieved to have done it. Now I need to tackle my voice mail.

Thank you
If it hasn’t been clear (and I fear it’s been overly obvious), I’ve relied on the blog a bit to work through some of this. Used it as a lifeline and pictured being able to push the bad posts toward the bottom of the page with more positive entries. So whatever your reasons for reading or commenting or sending good thoughts, I’m very grateful. Especially knowing that I tend strongly toward being alone when I’m like this – unwell – it’s a comfort to have told someone what’s going on. I’m not sure why – not completely clear on my motivation – but it helped me. Thanks.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A bit better still.

I think the worst is over. I hope. I really do hope.

I slept last night. Even dreamed! Unfortunately it was of some of you telling me that I had rushed through this process and was kind of an awful person and friend for neglecting all your sweet email because I was “supposedly depressed.” Which I thought was rather mean of the dream blog readers. There was no “supposedly” about it. Honestly. And I have every intention of responding to email – I want to do that. I’m getting strong enough to offer more than “Please help me. Tell me what to do to make this better.” in response to some of your thoughts. So 6 hours of sleep in 3 different efforts is better than I’ve done lately. It helped.

When I blinked myself awake and saw that it was 6:30, I smiled. It’s the first day I haven’t waited for dawn this week. It was with an almost euphoric sense of relief that I realized I wasn’t sick - I didn't feel great, but I wasn't sick. Didn’t have to put myself on the bathroom floor again. So I shuffled past the guest bath and cuddled into the couch to rest. Watched it rain. Let time pass until it was essential that I get ready for work for a meeting I’d scheduled on Monday.

I put on pants that were unflatteringly loose. Stepped on the scale to find I’m 10 pounds lighter. It turns out that if I stop eating for about a week, the weight just falls off. That might actually have something to do with why I felt so sick all the time. I don’t look good, though the weight was free to go, honestly. I’m not sure why, but as I got ready, I found myself thinking I wasn’t quite right.

I’m different.

It’s likely a stage of the recovery and I am starting to see recognizable traits emerge. I just finished fluttering around my little nest – doing laundry, organizing clutter, quickly cleaning – because I invited Unnamed Friend out. She’s missing her laptop, dear thing, so I said we could order pizza, I would actually listen when she talked, and she could sleep in the office if she didn't feel like commuting home. Which meant I had to wash the bedding since the blue comforter that goes in there has been traveling with me at night lately. And, “Hold on, let me get you a blanket off the bathroom floor.” is hardly what guests like to hear before bed. So the bathroom is now just a bathroom again instead of my safe place to agonize. I may need it back again, but I feel stronger for now.

I couldn’t focus at work – found myself staring at walls more than anything. But I can listen in meetings. Took notes, asked questions. It exhausted me, but I did it. And when people ask me how I am – even in passing – I’m able to chirp “Good, thank you. And how are you?” rather than murmuring indistinctly, wanting to say “Hanging on by a thread. A thin thread.” I think I cried this morning, but not for very long. And not since.

The lingering problem is this shakiness. I physically tremble quite a bit. I was lighting my new candles – the scents soothe me – and noticed that I needed both hands to hold still enough to touch the wick. I’m shaking right now. Not quite stable, much as I’d like to believe otherwise. It’s a shame it took me this long to admit it, isn’t it?

The truth is that at the first sign of recovery – being more functional, feeling less sick, not hurting so much – I want to make it all disappear. Never happened! All better! Just don’t think about it anymore! Therapy still scares me - I don't want to do it. But I’m thinking about it. I might need it. I know. I’m getting there. There are reasons and lessons here that I’d just as soon ignore. But the darkness got overwhelming - with the black template and miserable writing, I'm not sure how some of you read it - and it would be good if I had some coping mechanisms in place when I face this again. I didn’t know it could get that bad, wasn’t aware of my limits. So I’m still shaken and pretending to feel normal – be normal – is incredibly appealing.

I have some thoughts – what’s going on with me and God, how I feel about home (up north) versus home (my house), Sprout (He’s doing well, basically. I talk, he purrs. I pet, he purrs. It’s coming along. I’m not there yet – I don’t love him – but I’m starting to think I’ll get there.) I just can’t hold thoughts together for very long today. Keep thinking “I’m not sick! How absolutely fantastic!” or “I’m hungry! I can think of things I’d like to eat!” or about how pretty the weather is right now as I walked in to work or how happy Chienne was when she saw the hamburger I picked up on my way home from work for her.

The trembling is disconcerting - once I wrote it down, it's very difficult to ignore. It’s better than sickness and pain, and I’m very grateful to not be there right now. As for what comes next, I’m not sure. I’m trying to figure it out. I’m very focused on being kind to myself and not asking for more than I can deliver at this point. It’s pretty selfish, actually. If something upsets me, I stop doing it. If something makes me happy or eases me, I gravitate toward it. It’s a very basic style of behavior, I think, but this shaking is getting in the way of being very complicated. As strength returns, the selfishness will recede. I think it's starting already and the relief I feel in those moments is extreme.

I’m doing better. Not all better, but I think I’m edging into “OK” from “better than I was when it was too much.” When a friend coming to visit elicits a reaction of "That's nice. It should be good." rather than "How am I supposed to pull energy together to deal with this?!" that's enough reason for contentment for now.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Really, really bad. Then a bit better.

Charlie listened last night in grim silence as I told him the story. After we talked for a bit, he offered some advice that worked for him. For when sleep wouldn’t come because he thought I might be torturing myself. Going over all the times I should have known – did know – and talked myself out of it. Trusting someone who lied. Loving someone who was wrong. Feeling ashamed and overwhelmed and lost.

I don’t think he’ll mind me writing what he does. I hope not, anyway. I think it’s brilliant and I’ve used it, so I wanted to share.

He said that he has – in the past – pictured himself pitching a baseball game. Creates vivid images of the field, all the players, the lineups. Watches the batter and decides on a pitch, throws, watches to see how the batter reacts to his pitch, follows it all the way through. Foul balls, strikes, balls, hits, runs batted in. It’s complex and complete and allows a distraction from the negative thought that otherwise can become overwhelming.

“I like baseball.” He said. “So it helped me. I’d get through a couple innings, and then fall asleep.”

I miss sleep – very, very much. But I didn’t use his technique last night. I have stopped taking the Tylenol PM. I think I was so miserably sick yesterday morning – the flushed cheeks, and hot stomachache and extreme nausea – because I decided to take my antidepressant in addition to the Tylenol PM that would help me sleep. The next step was to pick one and try it alone. Obviously I have a problem with Tylenol PM – it barely works anymore anyway – and I know I need the help with my mood, so Celexa won out. And it was all I took. So I slept for about 3 hours, but not all at once. 10:30-midnight. Awake until 1:30, but I refused to pick up the laptop. Enough – there’s nothing here that can help me right now when I can’t sleep. Slept until 2, then suffered through consciousness again. Then 3-5:10 offered more rest, but I woke up feeling sick.

I went back to the bathroom – I’d left the fluffy blue comforter from the office on the floor with a gray pillow – took a saltine out of the package I left by the sink and tried to eat it. Turned on the shower, lay down, and prayed I’d be able to sleep. To move on. To let go of the pain and forgive. Find myself again. I don’t know how long I was there. It doesn’t matter. It was bad.

I finally got up when light came down the hall from the living room windows. Turned off the shower, turned on the light and brushed my teeth. I debated before scraping my tongue – I didn’t want to throw up and did feel sick – but a clean mouth sounded nice. So I did, happened to glance in the mirror, and was taken forcibly back to a time which I have remembered, but never with with such complete terror and agony.

Grandma – the one who took care of me while my parents worked, who read me stories, cuddled me close, always believed I was right and smart and beautiful, loved me so much, whose eyes looked like mine, who listened when I talked and always offered comfort – died when I was in high school after suffering from deep depressive episodes for over a year. And even after I’d turned my back to the mirror, I closed my eyes, clinging to the toothbrush with both hands, and remembered. The hospital visits, then those to the infirmary. Times when she was supposed to be better, but wasn’t. All the backslides. Finally losing her and realizing that as much as we expected it, the pain was too much to bear.

I was close to her until she got so depressed – never abandoned her for my friends as she expected. I always liked to spend time with her – I’d go to the retirement home to visit and we’d read books – I on her bed, she in her recliner in the mauve studio apartment. We’d go out to eat or to plays. Took trips. Talked. For hours and hours. She’d tell me stories and I’d do the same. We’d read the same articles and discuss them. Watch the same television shows then talk some more. I loved her. Knew her. Was like her.

And so, I knew that someday I’d face this. A depression that was too much. That eclipsed my ability to handle it. Crushed me underneath it and left something I didn’t recognize. I promised myself I’d get help – would not subject my family to the confusion and that is viewing depression to those who haven’t experienced it. And I have, I told myself, trying to soothe though I was visibly trembling with terror. Because what if I can’t fight this? What if I’m gone? Get buried so deep that I can’t respond when people talk to me? Forget details of the simplest conversation? Can’t recover and lie in bed, waiting for death. I’ve seen it. It happens.

I was gasping for air, starting to cry, unable to cope, barely able to breathe. I believe that those moments were the bottom. The worst I’ll have to experience with this particular episode. Because I don’t have any more strength left. Every instinct screamed that I needed to tell someone. That I was sick. That I didn’t know if I could do this. That I was scared. So very scared.

So I told him. Wrote email because the very act of contacting him meant I was sick, I think. Why reach out to the person who hurt me? I don’t know why – if I knew he might not care and so could just practice telling someone indifferent so if I had to get help, I’d have an idea of what to say? Because if anyone deserved to have to deal with me in those moments, it was him? Because maybe he’s a little sick too and he might understand? I don’t know. But I did – I wrote and I shook and I cried through half a box of tissues. And after I finished, I felt a little better.

I had done it – told someone I might not be able to handle this. And if I could do it once, I could do it again. I’d be OK. For this time, I’d make it out.

So I put the laptop away, walked quickly to the bathroom to retrieve my blue comforter, and cuddled under it on the couch. Gripped the top in both hands as I held it under my chin and heard myself saying I was sick. Undeserving a family someday because I’d put them through this – this illness. I had seen my future in Grandma. That was going to be me. And it had nothing to do with him – what he did. It was just a trigger for now, but another trigger would come. And I’d get sucked into a hole so deep and dark that I wouldn’t be able to claw my way out.

Baseball, I thought. Charlie said to think of baseball. I normally can take an example and adapt it to my particular needs – I’m sure he meant I should visualize something that made me happy – but I wasn’t capable in the moment. So I clung to baseball. That’s OK, I soothed, baseball is pretty. The green field, the brown diamond, the white lines and bases. Pretty, bright uniforms – red for one team, white for the other. Big numbers of the backs of them in contrasting colors. People in the green seats that made up the stands. Parents with their children and people with their friends. People they loved. That was nice – having people who loved you.

I think I’m supposed to pitch, I decided, able to breathe again, the tears stopping, my hands relaxing as the held the blanket. I wanted to retain the focus, so I made myself step on the mound, looked at the ball in my hand, stared at the batter who seemed terribly far away, and threw it. Smiled as it landed about 5 feet in front of me. Dad always said I throw right into the ground.

Then I watched as someone came over to pick up the ball and return it to me. I looked at him, not speaking, and smiled. Took the ball and looked again at the batter. He’d moved closer so I could get the ball to him. I thought that was sweet.

So I threw it, and he hit it – very gently – and I watched as it rolled slowly to the side. Looked up at the man who stood next to me – who had retrieved my first pitch – and tilted my head toward the ball. He smiled and went to get it, offered it to me, and took my spot on the mound when I shook my head and scooted over. The players returned to their original positions, no longer crowded around me to provide support because I wasn’t very talented.

I stood behind the new pitcher, watching the game go on without paying much attention. Baseball isn’t very riveting to me. But it was pretty, I thought, turning to watch the ball sail toward the outfield. I wanted to see if someone caught it, but got distracted watching the people in the stands. Someone was eating a hot dog, and I decided I might like one. Perhaps I’d leave the field for a little while and get a soda. Decide between a hot dog and pretzel.

The last time I had a hot dog was at the airport with Carrie, before leaving Orlando. I loved Carrie, I thought. Remembered riding in the car on our trip and asking her to skip forward past a certain artist.

“I might need you to delete her from your iPod.” I said after she skipped to the next song without asking for reasons behind my request.

“Just say the word. I’m there for you, pal.” She said, still not looking away from the road.

“You don’t want to know why?” I asked as I laughed at her.

“To choose between you and a singer? No chance.” She said, and looked at me to smile.

So I smiled, relaxed a bit under my blanket, keeping my eyes closed and mind focused. Not on baseball, but on people. Good people who populate the world. The reason I trust everyone. Why I try to act in a decent manner. Why – even in the moments of great despair – I still want to see tomorrow. It’s good. My experience indicates it just is.

He responded to my email. It helped – reading it. It hurt too, but some of it made sense. I think I’ll need time to get through all of it. But he said that he was the exception rather than the rule. That’s true, I would decide later as I tried to read his words through tears. But I think his behavior with me – these past months – have been the exception for him too. Doing bad things doesn’t make you inherently bad. It can, I guess, but it doesn’t have to. I don’t believe it will in his case. I just don’t.

But before I read it, I went down the hall, walked slowly away from the couch and toward my bed, and stayed focused on good moments. Family – my cousin who always hugs me hello, who has become not only the older woman I admire and adore, but a friend. My mom – the loving, smart, funny woman I try to emulate. Daddy – who didn’t hug his parents at all growing up, but hugged Brother and I all the time. Friends – M, who was enraged and worried in email and in the voicemail I haven’t returned. Rachel – concerned and disappointed because she wanted the best for me. Charlie, I thought, wrapping my arm around a pillow and snuggling under my covers, who when I said I didn’t like nighttime anymore - nights were for being completely alone?

“I’m not going anywhere.” He said, and I smiled into the phone. And he wouldn’t have. Had I not let him go to answer another call, he would have sat with me all night. Far away. Someone I met online. Someone who cared. I had been right to like him, trust him, create a friendship with him.

Unnamed Friend had been calling while I talked to Charlie, and I smiled over her just before I went to sleep. We haven’t known each other long, but she’s been a solidly comforting presence since the beginning of this. Keeps checking on me because she’s one of two people – my cousin is also in town – who can actually show up and sit with me. She offered to do so last night. Knowing that she would come was more than enough. We talked again today. She bought me ice cream on Monday, listened while I talked, offered distracting stories when I couldn’t. She went with me while I filled my prescription, and told me why it was really OK to take them. I was right to trust her too. People are good – I’m not wrong about that. They’re just not always good. Sometimes we screw up. That’s OK.

Sometimes I screw up – it doesn’t make me damaged beyond repair. I’m getting help. I’ll get better. It will be good again.

I was better – just a little, but better – this afternoon. I changed the template and sighed with relief at seeing the blue return. So much better, I thought. Maybe they won’t worry about me so much now. They’ll know I’m doing a little better until I can write and tell them. The pills are starting to work or I’m starting to heal or some combination thereof.

It was bad – the past few days, this morning – so bad that I was terrified I’d try to get through it alone. Push everyone away because I was so scared. But I didn’t. I believe that when I fall, people – even him – want to help me up. And if I eventually come across someone who doesn’t want to help – who is incapable or disturbed or evil – there are others on whom I can focus.

There are still moments where it’s bad. Where I feel hurt and sick and scared. But they’re growing less severe. I’m able to sleep a little more. I ate today – a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and another for dinner. I’m starting to care more – just a little. I fixed the 5th part of that series. When I wake up tonight and it’s bad, I’ll know it’ll be OK later. I can do this. I'm exhausted and I wish it were over, but I do know that at some point, the pain will ease even more and the joy will find its way back in. It has to. That's how I think the world is.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Me - version not good

Remember the cat I found? Sprout? Cat blogging sounds nice – how he really liked the feather toy that Unnamed Friend brought him. He purrs constantly when I’m in the room. His ears look good finally. The fur is growing back over his sore spot. He eats well but is a bit messy. He meows only when he needs something and always rises from his sprawl in the window when I come through the door.

I don’t love him. (It's not going to be the good kind of post.)

I found him when I was hurt over the first phase of this loss, and he’s been around – though rarely seen – through this new phase that doesn’t appear to be ending, though I have moments where it eases. I wondered, as I watched Unnamed Friend pet and play with him on Sunday night, what the hell was wrong with me.

“Will you take him?” I asked, because… I don’t know. I don’t love him for some reason – it’s like my heart is rejecting any newcomers. And I’m left befuddled over the sensation, or lack thereof. It’s completely foreign to me. I don’t decide to care about an animal – it’s automatic and immediate. And I acted upon what I expected to feel – gave him milk (which, yes, not a good idea. Sorry, cat people.) and tuna and water. Put him in the guest room and bought cat supplies. I scoop the litter twice a day and find the Fresh Step clumping kind smells like laundry soap. I’m fond of it. I’m taking care of him, and I pet him. But I don't spend much time with him. I don’t talk to him.

That might be it – what concerned me when Unnamed Friend shook her head and informed me that I now have a cat. I’m silent when I’m in the room – am silent as much as possible, actually. So instead of my typical friendly chatter – asking how he is, what he’s doing, his plans for the evening, complimenting his pretty coat and paws – I’m quiet.

“Hey.” I say when I walk in the door and pause to let him scamper across the bed to greet me. I’ll sometimes offer a “Don’t” when he tries to rub against the scoop as I’m cleaning his litter, then pet with my left hand while I work with my right. I offer food and fresh water while he stretches to put his paws near the top of his plastic food bin. And with an “OK, then.” I generally leave the room. If his family called, I’d give him back with a sense of relief, I think.

It’s just so strange. So unlike me. Yet it’s real. I can’t summon the love and I’m bothered on an abstract level.

I went for ice cream with Unnamed Friend yesterday afternoon. She walked to meet me in the place I knew rather than a much more convenient spot that left me confused. I’m hardly sharp lately though and could see myself wandering, lost, alone, looking for something I wasn’t sure I could find. It made me sad. So we met near my office, then backtracked to find ice cream.

“What did she give you? If you don’t me asking.”

“I don’t mind. I’m not sure I remember though.” I frowned, trying to bring something from memory as I dug my spoon into more Chocolate Therapy as we walked toward a bench. “Celexa?” I asked. “Does that sound right?”

So we talked for another minute and I told her I’d dropped off the prescription. I sat in the chair in the exam room earlier that day, told the doctor I didn’t like having blood drawn, wasn’t big on these exams. I’d likely cry – I cry when I’m nervous and pathetic. She was sympathetic, and we continued to talk for a little while as I tried to relax.

“I’m not very stable.” I finally confessed. “I, um…” Shaking my head, I swallowed against the constant lump in my throat. If I’m not holding back tears then it’s nausea. It’s becoming rather normal, though it’s still unpleasant. She cocked her head at me and waited.

“There was this guy.” I finally whispered. “And we ended things, and I’m sad.”

“Were you serious?” She asked quietly.

I opened my mouth, closed it, wondered how to explain. I finally shook my head and nodded my thanks for the tissues. But I’d brought my own.

“It was for me.” I said quietly. “I thought…” And I shrugged because I was still working through what I thought. Smiling involuntarily when I wrote out how happy I was. Nodding in understanding when I explained why I hung on. It makes sense to me. Still. “I wanted…” I tried to continue and looked at her, confused.

“No.” I finally said more firmly, gathering my composure. “I don’t think it was.”

“Do you think you’re depressed?”

I nodded, hating myself for admitting it for some reason. But I am. When I’m curled up on my bathroom floor at least once a day, weeping, in such pain that I can’t really comprehend it? Holding on to furniture as I pace after reading an email to stabilize myself against wracking sobs? It’s rather difficult to deny. I’m not doing well at all.

“What would you like to do?” She continued, softly. For the sadder I become, the worse I look, the more fragile I must appear.

“I don’t like therapy.” I whispered. “I cry a lot.” Then I choked out a laugh and wiped my eyes, momentarily grateful for the Bare Minerals that resists water quite well. The dark circles under my eyes are quite impressive lately. I tried hard to cover them and didn’t want that powder to wipe away. “Apparently I cry with any sort of doctor.”

“How about antidepressants?”

“I didn’t like the idea before. I’m a little afraid of them, I think. Will I be less me? I like me. And I want to be able to quit relatively easily. Someone told me Paxil was a bit tough to stop. The man I… Anyway, I don’t want to have to take it if I start feeling better.”

So we agreed that she’d write a prescription and we’d start at a very low dose and see how it felt. I didn’t even have to fill the prescription until I was ready, she said, rubbing my shoulder and telling me I’d be OK.

I decided – on the drive to the office – that I’d fill it. Take them. I’m so miserable, after all. Not coping very well at all. I remember thinking that I had shattered. There were pieces of me lying all over the place and I had to find the energy and hope to put myself back together. Find the good pieces, probably save the bad pieces because they provide interest and balance, and try to remember how they used to fit. Focus. Work without having to put my head on my desk and grasp for any sort of acceptable professional behavior. I need some help.

But what if I’m not me? I wondered, worried. Then blinked with pain when I answered myself with the thought that being me is working so very well lately. This huge capacity for love of which I was so pleased? I can’t find it. Can’t connect to it. That was the part I liked – the emotional connection to everything around me. Without it – feeling disconnected and flat – what exactly was I trying to save by avoiding the pills? I was going to take them.

And I cried and cried – sitting at a traffic light - as I realized that part of me may have died. Or at the very least was so wounded by my decisions and actions that it’s hidden away – I hope it’s secure and safe. But my rational side failed to protect it. And if it wasn’t gone, I couldn’t muster enough hope that it would return. So I’d take the chance that the SSRIs might kill or diminish that Katie-ness. Not because I wanted to – I loved being me – but because I couldn’t do it anymore. Wasn’t strong enough. So I whispered my apologies to myself and wiped away tears as the light changed and it was time to move forward again.

I stared at the prescription bottle last night, having picked it up yesterday while Unnamed Friend waited with me. There were moments where I felt normal – brief conversations when I was distracted. Email from friends who were unaware of my pain and with whom I could tease and laugh. I just talked to Charlie and as I listened to his news, I was fine. Felt like me.

“It only happens once.” My officemate said as I slumped at my desk yesterday afternoon, blinking back tears of her own at years-old pain. “It’s only this bad one time. Then you’re smarter. You protect yourself, don’t let people in. They just hurt you.”

I frowned, but nodded at her. I hadn’t meant to make her cry. I was like a painful disease – infecting everyone with whom I come in contact. I don’t mean to – it just happens. I’m quiet – not all there. And people notice and ask, and I can only deflect the questions for so long. The pain, you see, is all there is. There are moments of normalcy – where I can laugh and talk and think. There are sparks of anger, but I haven’t felt one today. Not a real one. It’s basically this giant cloud of misery that presses on me from every side. It hurts – even physically. I open my eyes after trying to sleep and I see it, remember it, moan and try to escape it. The moments of escape become vital. So very important to try to regain any sort of recognition of who I am right now. I crave them. Am apparently willing to hurt people to get them.

I've brought up bad memories for Unnamed Friend. Found myself gasping with indignation at my thought that she could handle them. I was the one suffering now. I needed company and if she couldn’t handle me, she should say so. Wrote a pretty brutal post this morning and waited with narrowed eyes for him to read it. I wanted him to know that I found him vile and malignant. Perhaps I could transfer some of this pain he caused. After I firmly pushed back tears waiting for church to begin on Sunday, I found myself unmoved at receiving communion. What was wrong with the bread? I thought as I moved back to my pew. I hate the wafers.

And I don’t love my little cat.

I made Jill cry later yesterday afternoon. Stopped by to get a phone message and asked how she was.

“How was your appointment?” She asked, because I’d let her know I was coming in late. “Sit.” She said when I shrugged then tried to leave. “Are you doing OK?”

I shook my head. “It’s too much.” I told her, swallowing hard and blinking back more tears. “I just can’t take any more. There was Winnie and I miss her and think about her and it’s sad. And there was this guy and I hoped, but he wasn’t, and I can’t. I miss my parents – being home. I wanted my own family, but I don't think... Can't hope... I don’t know how to do this. So I’m taking something to help. I think.”

“You know what I think?” She asked, and I stopped staring at my shoes to meet her eyes. Shook my head, took a tissue.

“You don’t know who you are.” She told me. And I blinked at her, unable to process such a thing. I know myself. Or thought I had. But maybe he was just mirroring back this confusion that existed in me. The insecurity and self loathing for not being good, pretty or loving enough. I couldn’t make a relationship work – nobody loved me and there had to be a reason why. I can’t stay steady, I thought. Keep bouncing around trying to figure myself out.

“Maybe not.” I whispered. For if I hadn’t known myself before now, this new creature that seemed willing to do anything to avoid further distress was certainly bothersome. I didn’t know her – didn’t like her.

“You need to look in a mirror.” She advised. “See yourself. See what we see. You’re beautiful. Confident. Intelligent. Loving. Sweet.”

“I’ll try.” I said because now she was wiping her own eyes. I didn't want to upset her further by confessing my inability to do such a thing in the near future.

What I see when I look at myself now though? I’m broken. But I’ve watched my family fix things for years. I can repair myself. Carefully search for the pieces, puzzle them together, then carefully glue. It won’t be the same – not exactly – but I think I’ll be OK.

In the meantime, certain traits have defined me over the past days - they must be controlled. I sat today and thought about him and I understood. If his story was true and he had been wounded so deeply – much, much worse than I am now – then he might have been suffocating. So desperate for air that he was willing to push me under so he could breathe for a moment. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s evil – certainly don’t want to believe him to be so. But if he was looking for an escape, I can understand that better than I wish I could.

I told Unnamed Friend to stay home tonight – I’d be fine. If I needed her desperately, I’d call because I know she’s willing to help. I’m unwilling to be the person who uses her – who disregards her pain and the consequences of said pain so that I can avoid being alone. I edited this morning’s post after I experienced the satisfaction of seeing him read it. Hoping he understood me – that it hurt him. That isn’t what I want, I decided firmly – not for him or for me. I told him to stop reading if it was painful, and sighed with relief when I realized I meant it. Don’t hurt. Just be OK. I would like that. And I picked up little Sprout and kissed his head for the first time.

“I’m working on it.” I told him as his pretty green eyes peered up at me before he jumped to the bed and lifted his head for me to stroke. I’ll find all my pieces and keep them safe until I’m ready to glue myself back together. I’ll take the antidepressants to see if they help, not because I’m punishing myself for making a bad decision. I will forgive him – not just because I read Matthew 5 aloud this morning, as directed by my devotional, and nodded along. I think it’s right to forgive – soon – because I know my own flaws. Am displaying them quite vividly here lately. The desire to do that is there, though the ability isn’t just yet.

“I want to love you.” I told Sprout and he continued to purr. “I will, I think. Someday.” I scratched under his chin and smiled at him. “Soon. I hope.”

Here's what I think happened, part 5

I remember being in grad school, holding some results that might have been something and might have been nothing. We could have technically published, but we remained unsure as to the true meaning of the results.

I, of course, wanted to push ahead. Get a paper! Put something out there! My advisor felt differently. Explained that once it was published, I had to own it. If it turned out the initial data were misleading, it would be unfortunate to have people know that we'd interpreted them foolishly.

I tend to act quickly - make fast decisions based on how I feel at the time. So if you read what was initially here - from when I first published it, it was pretty vile. It came from a place of such anguish that I want to comfort myself even as I think of it. I didn't understand. Kept torturing myself by reciting those words he wrote to me, trying to determine what might have been partially true and what was certainly and brutally false. It was bad. I started composing the post yesterday morning as I was curled up on the bathroom floor - I've spent considerable time there lately. Even keep a pillow and blanket ready so I'm not too physically uncomfortable. The emotional misery is overwhelming enough. I was sick, crying, tapping my foot against the side of the tub, arms wrapped around myself in an attempt to soothe.

Anyway, I thought of it - all these synonyms for hateful words that I could use because I like to describe people and events with too many adjectives. A theory that I thought was at least partially true - what happened, why he did what he did, what it could possibly mean. It gave me comfort. No, that's not right. It gave me a sick kind of satisfaction. That he would read it and perhaps understand the damage he'd done. That she - the woman who wrote the blog I found - would have the opportunity to see how bitterly angry I was (at the situation. Never at her. I'm not, thank God, a monster). I'm not able to offer her much right now - I'm too fragile and ... ill. I'm not well. That's the sad fact, and as I'm getting better - as the depression eases the terrifying grip it had on my thoughts - I'm able to reflect with more clarity on what I'm trying to do here.

I still don't know, to be honest. As with everything, I'm trying to rush the recovery. Push forward as hard as I can so that I don't have to be the awful person who wrote something so hateful. But I was. I wrote it and though I'm told this text will replace any feeds that exist, there's always a chance that someone saved it - or memorized parts of it so that he/she could recite it internally to inflict pain - and I have to deal with that. I don't like it. I think someday I'll be terribly ashamed of it. But for now, I'll do what I can to fix it.

Now I've read some blog archives myself, and if you happen to be reading this at some point in the future - or catching up - you might be saying, "No, no, no! I read all of this and I don't get to know what happened?!" Never fear - I'll write it. But keep in mind that I'm still healing. This is, of course, one sided and could be foolish. I tried to stick with the facts in the beginning - what happened for me. I deviated from that in this initial entry - tried to define what happened for him.

The truth is that I don't know. But, well, here's what I think happened at the end.

As I was lost in betrayal but hoping to ignore it - explain it away as easily as he had - I received an email from another woman with whom he'd been involved when he'd been writing to me. I asked her some questions and she was kind enough to answer them while providing an enormous amount of comfort. I invaded her privacy in what used to be written here as well, and for that, I'm deeply sorry. It was wrong. I thought that it worked so well with my story and apparently I have a bit of a problem with narcissism. It was more important to me to write something cohesive and bitter than to protect someone's privacy. I didn't want to hurt her - or any of the other women who might have shared some of my experiences who read this - but I was trying so desperately to escape from myself that I did it anyway.

As the details came together, it became obvious that he wrote to many of us. As to how many, I don't know. I'm not sure it matters.

Some of the details were the same - the photo he shared was consistent as was much of the background information. From there it seemed to vary from person to person. I can't comment on their experiences (though I did before), but with me? I think he was responding to what I offered and I gave him a great deal. He took my words and using a great deal of intelligence, skill, maturity and knowledge, he gave me what I wanted. He manipulated me very effectively. He lied outright multiple times. I trusted him - loved him - and he was undeserving of those emotions.

The details of this betrayal - for I do feel cheated, though no promises or professions of love and exclusivity were offered - remain very painful. I could easily rewrite the phrases he wrote that linger in my mind - formerly beloved and completely false. Terribly untrue. Painful to a point I can't articulate. I could think about the other women - at least the ones of which I know - and wonder if he felt differently toward each of us or if he just used us because he could. I did do those things - I probably still will for a while - and it hurt. I decided that it had turned me into a person that I didn't recognize - who was so damaged that she was willing to damage whatever and whomever she could.

You'll be able to read more recent entries to see how I do. I think I'll be OK, but that may not be the case. Time will tell, and though I very much wish I could, rushing this process is not overly effective.

As for him? I could tell you he has read this - the whole series, likely multiple times. I could tell you we've exchanged more email, and if you're shaking your head at me, that's OK. I know. I decided that I'd take this post down if he asked. Just as I'd earlier given him control of how much I could tolerate - he had to decide when we should stop, and until then, I'd endure. That's unfair of me. It wasn't a responsibility he deserved - and you can take that in a positive or negative sense. I think I meant it as both. So, looking back at this now, I had to decide if I was OK with leaving those words I originally wrote here. I wasn't. It wasn't a side of me I liked. I'm sorry I did - wrote it, posted it, left it up for a couple of days. He did not ask for its removal - didn't in any way indicate he thought it was anything other than true. I wasn't manipulated - not on this particular issue. But I kept thinking about it, and when Unnamed Friend told me how to remove it from the RSS feeds "if you decide to take it down at some point. You don't have to. But if you decide to." I knew my present feelings were the right ones. I did something bad and should fix it.

I hope I have. I'm still not sure, but at least the effort is there.


After some time passed, I decided the original text - after some editing - could return. It's raw and painful, but it was honest. So here it is.

OK, how to tell this without hurting those who don’t deserve it? I keep writing it and not finishing. I want it to be over now though. I’ve been awake since 3 – having slept only 3 hours – and the anti-depressant that I took for the first time last night is making me sick. Or perhaps I’m just sick in general. Doesn’t matter so much in the moment.

I wrote this series, in part, for her. The young woman behind the blog I read. I’d hurt her, you see, and even in the agony that defined the time after I read her – that defines the present moment – I felt guilty about that. There can be reasons for bad behavior – I was hurt, confused, needed so desperately to understand – so I read what was available. There was gratitude, though it was hidden under misery, because she inadvertently exposed me to the truth of a situation that I never would have faced. It’s knocked me down, honestly, and I’m not sure how long the recovery will take. It’s not going well. But for her? I didn’t know what they shared, but I was guessing that she was as innocent as I was. That I caused her to feel vulnerable for what she wrote on a blog? That was wrong. I hated it.

So when she and her friends arrived to read me, I nodded and watched Site Meter. She had hidden her most previous posts, publicly saying only that something had happened, she was sad, and she wasn’t going to be posting again. Well, hell. That’s not what I wanted. I resolved to leave her alone. I was barely coping, so I had little comfort to offer. If she was happy with him, I hoped she’d continue to be. That they’d work. That she was stronger, better, more than I could have been. Normally what people think of me matters a great deal – I would have been deeply bothered by a community showing up and perhaps sneering over my pain when I’d caused some for their friend. But they were silent, which was kind.

I couldn’t send her email – I didn’t want to intrude any more than I already had. I’m doing some damage here lately – some purposely, some very regrettably and accidentally. What she offered me was the ability to know what happened with her. So I decided I’d offer her the same. I’d tell my story – a cautionary tale, as it is – and if she wanted to come read it, she knew where I was. I didn’t understand it – couldn’t make sense of it – didn’t want to believe it. But I have information. And I’m strong (stupid?) enough to post it.

He mentioned – several times – that he wouldn’t discuss his breakups on his blog. Something like how writing about endings and trashing one’s ex can be seen as nothing other than sad and pathetic. First, I’ve spent the last four hours alternating between standing in the shower, trying not to throw up and lying on the bathroom floor, covered in a blanket and robe, curled up in misery. Sad and pathetic? Welcome to my life, folks. I don’t care. It’s true. At least it’s honest and he wasn’t. He was not.

I got email after I started the series. Or maybe before – I’m not remembering things very clearly. Am behind on responding to sad or sympathetic email, but I’ll get to it. But I read this message and laughed. Shook my head because the guy’s an evil genius. So adept at writing characters and playing roles that the manipulation is effortless, stunningly effective and ruthless. Finding out about the woman with the blog? Chance. I was cyber-stalking him and happened across her. But finding out about this other dalliance? I should have known months ago. Can’t believe that I didn’t. I mentioned her to him! Was jealous of her! And when he didn’t respond to that section of my email so long ago? He must have forgotten, I decided. I remember her mentioning a brief internet thing awhile back, and shook my head for her sadly. I had chosen a better guy, I decided. Except it was the same man. And after it was revealed? It made sense.

“Did you see a picture?” I asked. “With a cat?” The one he – what was it? – "overcame [his] clumsy digital ignorance to scan and send just for me?" (I wish I didn’t have his words in my head. The suckers are hardwired into memory and I don’t know how long I have to keep them.) Of course she had.

“And the story? Where he was so betrayed and wounded and scared of a new relationship? Afraid to trust too much?” Yep, she’d heard it. And I giggled when I wondered if he just used the same text. Had Word documents with the appropriate stories at the appropriate times. They were effective, after all. And when juggling women – and I suspect there were many in his past, present and future – you have to maximize efficiency. Write a good story, then just keep using it. Hell, he didn’t have to put the story on his blog to discuss! The readership was likely huge just through email!

I’ve decided - just now - that I was in love with an imaginary man loosely based on some characteristics created by a brilliant writer. It was a good character too. Peter. Strong yet sensitive. Honest yet guarded. Complex and moody and absolutely fascinating. Confident and so intensely insightful. I loved him. Still do. Miss him terribly.

As for the writer? The man behind the curtain? He liked the Wizard (from Oz), by the way. Found him compelling. I’ve always wanted to kick the Wizard in the shin. Miserable, manipulative, weak ass. But we’re talking about what happened to me. I think I’m going to look at it like this. There was a character – Peter. And a writer – Pete.

I don’t know Pete. Don’t want to. While I could be wrong, I believe him to be vile. I think he misleads and manipulates and lies. Uses people for some reason that I refuse to understand. Because that would mean that malignant trait – that desire to invade and destroy – is present in me. And it’s not. I don’t hurt people. Not on purpose. Not with such cold disregard.

Peter liked decorum – I teased him about it. Liked WASP topics a lot. I suspect he’d frown over his author being called Pete. That pleases me. But would it really bother him? Don’t know. I don’t know that man. Is Peter based upon Pete? Maybe. Well, in part, definitely. The facts have to check out. Peter had to live where Pete was so site stats wouldn’t lie. I had to be able to find him online. Know where he worked. How he spent some of his time off.

How did I fall for Peter so completely? Well, he liked me. He spent hours reading my blog – I remember blushing over site stats long ago, nodding over how quickly he’d shown up to participate in my plan to find love! I hadn't been writing all that long at that point. He was fascinated by me, I decided happily. Read my entries. Knew me very well before leaving a single comment. And the comments? Ah, they were good. I love the comments much more than his blog. He can be unlikable there – superior, pompous, overly sharp and bitter. But in comments? Perfection – easy, funny, insightful, sweet. So I fluttered and developed feelings and got tired of waiting. Sent him email. And so we began.

When you’re speaking of someone trained in theater and literature, it’s not surprising – in retrospect – that he could be remarkably believable as he told me what I wanted to hear. So I think I helped write Peter. Recoiled just a couple of times, but then he understood how to work around my quirks. He would edit the lines, correct himself, then I would smile, move closer and cuddle in again. I was open, after all. Offered all the information he could want or need to tailor Peter in a way that would make me fall, give over, flutter under his attention.

So when I talk to some of the other women? Their Peters were similar, but not exactly the same. After all, that’s not very challenging for dear Pete, is it? And the man is smart – smarter than I am. (Dammit.) He must be cunning and shrewd, understand people to some heightened degree. He was mature enough to pull characteristics from centuries of literature and his own life experiences. At least I think so. Had honed what was certainly natural talent to select the right pieces and weave them together so elegantly that I would never suspect he was anything other than sincere. Peter was sincere. I needed him to be, helped write him to be, so he was.

So the Peters are the same basic models. Like, um, software. Same program, different versions. Whether I was version 2 or 247, I have no idea. If I was near the beginning of this little game, the guy is, quite simply, a genius. He was completely believable. So much so that even faced with the evidence – two women who had similar experiences with him during the time I’d known him – I could write with all sincerity last night that I missed him, wanted him, loved him. I couldn’t make it come together until I started writing this last entry yet again. I can look at it like this – Pete, Peter-version Katie, Peter-version Julie, Peter–version Wendy. They were perhaps nearly identical – it’s a hypothesis I simply can’t test. But there had to have been differences. We wouldn't have all fallen for the same version.

My Peter didn’t like to talk on the phone. Maybe her Peter would talk for hours. My Peter let me lead. Guided a bit, but mostly did what I asked. There was very little chasing. Another Peter might have initiated contact. Chased and flattered and captured. My Peter never said he loved me, never made promises, only issued a single invitation to visit that I didn’t take seriously. There could be a Peter who freely admitted his love, who was making plans for her to live with him, incorporated visits into this elaborate play he was creating. Her Peter wrote from England while he was on a trip - it was challenging to do so, so maybe she was flattered. My Peter asked his father to let him use the computer from the beach house. Told him it was important, then wrote to me. And I was thrilled.

And, damn, it was compelling. It fascinates me even as I’m repulsed. For I was an unwitting player. I didn’t know we were acting – even part of the time. When he said he wasn’t using me as a transitional relationship? Would “wait in complete and total celibate isolation until someone perfect came along. Unfortunately, she *has* and she lives all the way across the fucking country!” I believed him because I wanted to. It was what I wanted to hear, what I prompted him to say. I stood on a stage and raised my eyebrows and basically demanded he recite his lines. Good script though.

I’m not a writer. Have never claimed to be because my “fiction” is so based in reality – it’s real with some details changed (if that). I’m just telling you stories. Things I’ve heard or seen or experienced. It’s all me. There are differences between how I act at work and at home, with family versus with my Peter. But it’s all genuine. All real. All me. He’s a writer – makes fantasy seem real and compelling and right. It’s what he does – what I think feeds his soul. That he’s decided to pursue it as a hobby? It makes some sense to me. I may be wrong, but I doubt it. And it should be a book – some fantastic novel that allows people to know Pete because my guess is that he’s one of the most interesting people you could find. What drives him? What does he gain from making women love Peter? It’s not him. In my mind, Pete is not my Peter. It won’t make sense.

So – from the ball I curl into on the bathroom floor – I wondered how this could be true. How I could accept this so I could start moving on. Escape the pain. How could Peter apologize so convincingly, so sweetly, so perfectly, then lie about me to someone else? (I think he did based on her blog – I don’t know for sure.) The only thing I can come up with is Peter–version me is different than Peter–version her. We always knew I was in love with a mental image – that there were pieces of him I didn’t know. Then there are the pieces of him that were untrue or misrepresented. So Peter, for me, is that image. That character.

It hurts that he wasn’t real. There is a gaping hole where the relationship should have been because the guy didn’t exist on any real level. I once heard about someone missing a person who was figuratively dead though she remained physically alive and well. She hurt and lied and cheated in such a cold and callous way that he had no idea who she was. Because she wasn’t the person he knew or believed her to be. And as I think of that, I realized how I think I want to view, mourn and understand this. Is it right? I have no idea. Will it work for me? Probably. I hope so.

As for Pete? Wow – I don’t know. If I’m being generous, I could speculate that he’s finding himself. Trying out these different roles with different people and finding what fits. Not trying to be hurtful – maybe he does genuinely regret that I’m in such pain right now. I don’t think he meant for me to look behind the curtain. It was just supposed to end, I suspect. Stop. Go away. Peter became rather unlikable in Act 3, so perhaps I should have quietly exited before the show was over and beat the traffic out of the parking lot. I didn’t. It’s why I don’t read real novels or see brilliant plays. I get too attached. Emotionally involved. I wanted to keep him and couldn’t let him go. So I had to see the truth.

Am I glad I did? That I’ve now had contact with some of these women and watch others read these words, wondering if they understand because they know him too? I don’t know. I really, really don’t. There were good parts – I was very happy. I made some good changes based on how he helped me feel. This part is really hard though. I’m working my way through it in a very clumsy, pathetic, undignified fashion. Trying to come up with a theory that I can repeat to myself until I stop hurting so badly. I think – though I’m not sure – I wish Pete well. Maybe more therapy would help. Perhaps it’s all research for this drama he’ll eventually write. Hell, if I understood it, I’d write it. But, as I said, I’m not a writer. I try to see what happened, examine it, understand it, then record it. That’s it.

And that is it, I think. There’s no happy ending right now, though I’m continuing to improve. It hurts to hear about the other Peter versions, but I’m curious. Interested. I’ll answer email, read comments, watch a relatively enormous audience compared to my normal readers come to read. It’s OK. It happened. I’ll be fine. It’s a shame – I thought I found someone to love. Might have been able to love Pete. But I don’t think it was part of the story for me to be offered that chance. So there’s not much to do than move on, heal and look again.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Here's what I think happened, part 4

We’re reaching the end. I couldn’t stand making all these plans, having all these hopes and mental images that were becoming microscopic chances that were not, apparently, meant to be. So I finally wrote another email that followed several he hadn't answered, asked what he wanted to do. Said it wasn’t necessarily a fair question - demanding a decision, but I couldn’t find the fairness in asking myself to wait endlessly for someone to decide if I was wonderful and worthwhile or just too much work. I wanted his interest – to try – or I wanted out. So we agreed that taking an indefinite break was the right thing for now. And I let go.

OK, I tried to let go. After 7 months of having someone – in some way or another – it’s tremendously difficult for me not to reach out to them. Demand more attention. Why wasn’t he reading my blog? Why couldn’t he take some time to send email? Just to see if I was OK? What had I done wrong? Did he think I was crazy? Was I? If I’d calmed down, would he have come around? Should I have waited longer? What if we were almost to the turning point and I’d let go days too early?

And so it hurt. I didn’t understand completely, but I tried. He was busy, though I hate that excuse. It makes me feel small and unimportant, and I so badly wanted to matter to him. I couldn’t get his attention – regardless of my numerous efforts in recent months – and I wondered what part of me was lacking. It was difficult. I was sad with no outlet. I still cared about him very, very much. He was a good guy I met at a bad time. And while it seemed like such an easy thing to overcome – the timing - there were just too many factors working against us. But that was OK. It wasn’t meant to be. I would live.

At least until he did the smart thing, changed his mind, and asked me back. So instead of fantasies of us together – being happy and intimate and close – I pictured his return. He’d miss me, I thought. He’d have to if he felt even the tiniest fraction of what I felt. He’d realize that dating is a rather miserable process and it would be better to deal with someone he already knew – me – who understood him, appreciated him. Then I could bring back my happy little plan! Move, date, see what happened. It could still come together. It was better – healthier – to let go in the short term, but the hope that I’d still end up with what I wanted was irresistible. So I indulged in it. Continued to hold his spot in my heart because I thought he’d want it back.

But I want things now – impatience is a character flaw. So I tried to figure things out. Make myself more appealing somehow. Get his attention. If you've ever had someone make you feel special and beautiful and important, then stop, you'll understand. It's hard to explain. I wanted him to make me feel happy again. So I tried to understand what was taking up so much time when he should just change his mind already.

[This is hard. Really, terrifically difficult. Were it not for the nudge from Unnamed Friend, I would leave it alone for another day. Let myself dwell here in the worst part - the most confusing part - of the pain. She said it might be good to get through it. I agreed, then went to bed. Cried. Wondered how much good advice I'm going to turn down? So here we are. Bear with me.]

So, bored on Friday night, doing work that was uninteresting, having no plans, I snooped around. Looked for sites that linked to him. And I found one. Read, with increasing sickness, someone else write of feelings I remembered from my own beginning with him. This awe that someone so wonderful existed and found her. How she was simultaneously thrilled and miserable because he was out there, but not physically close to her. There was more, and I read all I could find, then sat. I knew all those feelings – they were once mine. It was all so familiar and how he could have been all that for someone else for months while ignoring me – when I needed him, was waiting for him… I was sick.

Then came the angry email. I had sighed earlier over our gentle ending. If nothing ever happens, I thought, it just kind of died softly. It mattered to me – there should have been something to signify the ending! It’s not even a good blog story because there’s nothing to say. I fell in love, and he didn’t. He was wonderful, but it didn’t work. I eventually gave up, but held on to the hope that he’d eventually see me again. Eh - not a good story at all. Unsatisfying. So I dealt with the sadness that I wasn’t going to find anyone. If he didn’t come back – and I knew he wouldn’t though the hope was strong – I was on my own. So I tried to work through a bit of that.

Ah, but this was the drama I had sought, apparently. I was wronged! Betrayed! He was certainly evil! And I wrote.

I need an answer to a question as I decide whether I regret you completely or just considerably. When I offered you the out in July - [when he said he was in love with someone else] - why didn't you take it? It strikes me as infinitely more honorable.

Because when there are other women online (and yes, it makes me mildly pathetic that I looked) who profess love for you, it strikes me as despicable (I'm angry, yes.) that you couldn't own that. This is just ... beneath you. If how I'm seeing you now is in any way correct, then how I saw you before was incomprehensibly wrong. I honestly don't understand how I could have been so completely incorrect.

This is childish - this whole thing likely has been. So - my apologies. I wish it hadn't happened. I'm going to assume you'll act on my request to delete any emails you still have. Please forget it - I - ever happened. I just couldn't tolerate the idea of you thinking of poor, dear Katie - of this sad girl who loved you based on something completely incorrect. So. Forget it. Please. Never happened.

And I was awake all night waiting for an answer. It didn’t come, so I wrote some more. I was lost in pain – sharp, sick misery – and needed him to make it all better. He had to. It was what he did for me – even when we were bad together, he knew what to say. There had to be an explanation I could accept. Something I could cling to as I was so hurt and confused. My next email? OK.

Please say something. Help me make sense of all this. Indicate the irony in how I now have a much better understanding of how you were hurt. Tell me why you were glad I asked about visiting over Thanksgiving. Offer me some explanation of how someone I thought was so wonderful, compassionate and self-aware could have done something so cold and selfish for so long. Anything. Tell me something so that I can stop being sick, or perhaps grow sicker in the short term so that I can be better in the long term. How could you know how I felt - about you, about being ignored, my hopes for the future - and hurt me so badly?

You owe me something here. ... give me some closure on this. Please. Soon. I can't stand myself right now and don't know how to escape it without understanding it.

And he tried, bless him. He offered more words that were lovely and soothing, and I let myself try to believe them. I ought to let him go – we just weren’t right. What we had was genuine – he had cared and hoped we’d be together, but there was too much working against us. He just couldn’t hold on anymore. He was sorry. He knew he was cold and cruel to have hurt me when he knew how I felt. But there wasn’t anyone else for him. It was sad, but I should trust the next man. He would love me and I should give to the next love all that I hadn’t been able to give this love. I’ve never been able to share his words with anyone – have protected them viciously. I've paraphrased here because I need to – they’re all I have to figure this out. But much of what you’re reading - and have read in the earlier posts - is his. Phrases and sentences I’ve memorized and included because they became a part of this whole situation. He just writes so well. I was eased a bit, felt better. He did care, I told myself firmly. We had something. It’s OK. Nothing’s really changed.

But apparently he didn't write quite well enough. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I wanted to fight - hurt him because I was so miserable. So there's one more email I'll share.

I hate this. Feeling like this - being like this. It's miserably undignified. Messy. Overly dramatic even for me. I'm trying to figure out the point in all this. Largely because I was letting you go. I absolutely know we weren't going to happen and have been slowly and painfully accepting that for months. That, my dear, isn't your fault or responsibility. Things change. You were in a rather bad place when we started, and were honest about that, so it's easy to warn myself not to do this again and move on.

Until I read... I don't know if I can do this. Write it out and point to this other woman who seems to mirror my early feelings for you. Because I'm sure she's lovely and perhaps what you feel for her is real and I don't want to have bad feelings toward that. I hope you find someone amazing when you're ready for her. I think I just wanted to hold on to you as some really nice event in my memory. And I don't think I can. Because if there's someone in [state removed] who - justified or not - believes that she's dating you, is considering moving to be with you [at some point], well, as you say, I know how that goes.

That puts me in the position of considering myself just a blip in your life as you moved on to something better, or one of many women you used to feed your ego or ... I don't know - whatever it is you're trying to do. The blip is OK. I could say that something happened and while it wasn't right, it was rather lovely while it lasted. But the latter - reading someone eager for your next email, telling her friends about you? God, [name], I think that's kind of sick. How many of us are there? And why? And I think I keep thinking about it because it just doesn't fit. You're brilliant so it can't be that you don't understand what you're doing. And while you are justifiably selfish and cold to some minor degree, using someone so blatantly would require you to be some quite different than the man I thought I knew. Did I really read you so wrong? How is that possible?

You're right about much of what you said. This was always my deal and I take responsibility for it. Had hoped to retain friendly feelings toward you because I thought you were so great. But faced with evidence to the contrary, I'm just lost. I was pleased with you - I picked you at the wrong time, but had circumstances been different, I decided I was getting closer to finding what I wanted. But now? Wow. I don't want to view whatever it was that we had differently. I'll let you go, but I wanted to wish you well in doing so. End well. This is not ending well at all. Instead of a dull ache of missing you but knowing it's for the best, I'm struck with this miserable, sharp, sick regret. I don't want it. I want you to make it go away. And in the event that you can't, that much of what we had was not true, I think I want to hurt you. Which isn't something I can like or respect in myself. This is just so wrong - not at all how it was supposed to be, even in my worst case scenario preparation.

I'm sorry - I'm struggling right now and trying to make myself feel better. I can't imagine doing this again with anyone, which is the truly awful part in all this. Hopefully it will pass, and I'm sure I'll forgive you completely because there was really very little of this over which you should feel badly at all. I know that, despite recent words to the contrary. I guess I hope you don't hurt her - or anyone else - as you continue to pull yourself together and thrive. Ever since learning about transitional relationships, they've struck me as selfish to some extreme degree. Just bouncing off people, taking out past hurts on those who don't deserve it, taking comfort in the fact that you can hurt as well as be hurt. (Not that you did all those things - I'm speaking generally.) I have no interest in participating in that, and I'm unfortunately at an age where everyone has something regrettable in his/her past.

Enough, though. You're right about that. I wish I hadn't read her last night - it was a really, really bad idea. But I'll leave you alone now. It just wasn't supposed to end this badly. But there you go.

When he said there wasn’t much he could say, he was right. I was told that she misunderstood – had been informed that he didn’t return her feelings. That just because someone loved him didn’t mean he loved her back. And, oh, how well I knew that fact. Had spent painful months learning it. But it hurt terribly to hear. Then he apologized. He usually writes in long paragraphs. Mine are short - I think they're easier to read, ensure that you get my points, indicate my degree of sincerity. So when his apologies came double spaced on the screen, I believed him. I don’t stay angry at those I love - didn't want to be angry at him - so I read it and closed my eyes at the pain.

I wanted him. Was lonely and felt this connection. I thought he returned my feelings. And he said he had for a while. That it was real, just not right. So I cried when I told him I was sorry too. Asked that he take care of himself. Offered some instructions on how to do that – things I thought were important – because in my mind, I had hoped to handle some of them. But I wasn’t going to get to take care of him. This was final. He had ended it and I appreciated it. He could have taken such advantage of me - I would have offered him everything. No questions or reservations or promises necessary. So through resisting all these steps forward - the phone calls, the meetings, sex, my moving to be near him so I could dote in person - he saved me a tremendous amount of pain. I'm grateful. And as for ending it now? I didn’t know that I’d be able to do it on my own - needed him to say that it was over. But it hurt. I had doubts of what we’d had, his intentions, but I nudged them aside in favor of aching with the loss. And it hurt.

There's more. I don't know if I can get through it. I really don't. His part is over though. I haven't heard from or written to him since. Well, I have written, but I didn't send them. I swear.

The thing is that I miss him. When I think of people who could help me right now, he tops the list. Even with all of this, I want to make excuses. Offer "No, but..." to anyone who thinks this was not so great. Maybe I forced him into it? But, no, I don't see how. He appeared to have started things with her when we weren't doing well? True - and I was comforted by that, still had a tiny glimmer of hope that eventually we could be friends. (So he could fall in love with me at long last, of course). Because I didn't handle myself so well. We were not exclusive, though I really think I told him that if he decided to email other women - share something like what we had - that I wanted out. But maybe I didn't write that to him. Maybe she really was confused - had chased him and he didn't want to hurt her. So while it hurt and I was angry and confused, I think I would have still hoped for him. It was, after all, just one other woman.

Except, not so much.

But I don't know if I can get through that. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. It doesn't make sense to me at all, regardless of how hard I try to figure it out. Plus, when the story ends, there's nothing left to say. You'll know what I had to get out of my head, but I'll still be sad, disappointed and lost. I don't know that this was a good idea. It was hatched out of pain and it has helped some, I think, but I don't know that I can wrap it up. Don't want to admit it. I like my entries to end with hope! With some brightness even when I'm sad. And there's nothing I can offer at the end of this. So I don't know that I can end it. Maybe this is enough.

Regardless, for now, it's all I've written.

Here's what I think happened, part 3

I started taking walks when this all started. Found myself so ridiculously happy that the energy had to be spent before I could go to work. I found walking for 20 minutes through my mildly hilly neighborhood wasn’t as torturous as I feared. In fact, with all my hopes and fantasies, the trip was nearly joyous. I would move around and make plans. As days passed, I found it felt wrong not to walk in the mornings. It was instituted as a habit and I’d take time to take care of myself – lose some weight so I could feel attractive and ready to meet him without reservation – and I could think about him. I thought about him nearly constantly some days – he was just so spectacular and made me so happy, so I wanted him to have more room in my head. I spent less time in touch with family and friends because I was eager to dote on him. And when I did talk to them - especially my friends - it was often about him.

I walked for over an hour this morning – it’s misery now. Well, the thinking is. The walking is fine. That’s just something I do – part of life here. I wake up and walk before work. Always. It’s a thing. And so did he become part of my daily life though we’d never met. I remembered funny things to tell him. Read books I thought he’d like so we could discuss them. I very much wanted to be sophisticated and intellectual, but soon relaxed into being me because he seemed so charmed and fascinated by who I was. By my capacity for love, joy and hope. And, sort of like my trips around the neighborhood, that capacity grew and became normal. He mattered to me more than I could have imagined anyone would have. I didn’t think I’d make a good girlfriend, honestly. I haven’t been in the past. But I would have been for him – found time, energy, patience, love and was so eager to hand it over that I found myself bouncing in anticipation of hearing from him.

In the midst of this excitement, I was rising in the middle of the night to check my email because he might have written before going to bed. Going back to sleep, secure in his attention and affection, only to wake early the next morning so I could reply before he got out of bed. It was addictive, honestly, and I hooked myself as quickly and completely as I could manage it. He was funny, articulate and delightful to read. And I loved who I could be with him – sometimes insecure and sad, though he could easily lift me out of it. Sometimes confident and sexy, which was new for me in a way that was scary but special. It was amazing and right. I was happy in a way that I hadn't been before. Ever.

So things were good, right? Really, really good. And we both started emailing someone – the same person. I asked if he'd read her blog because I sometimes had no idea what she was trying to say. He understood though, and upon learning that, I congratulated myself on my choice of online crushes. Wasn't he smart and deep and wonderful? She sent email that was quite critical of something I'd said, and hurt my feelings once. But he took care of it when I told him, explained away her reasoning and made me all better. I was in touch with her for … I don’t know, about a month? And near the end, she warned me. Talked of transitional relationships. When people are in pain, they lash out, she explained. Hurt others unintentionally, handle the next relationship badly. She saw that happening for him – he was exceptionally bright, funny and self-aware. And when he hurt someone, he’d certainly regret it because I was right. He was very sweet and wonderful. But he would hurt someone, she promised. He had to in order to move on.

“Don’t let it be you.” She said. “I know you want more and you’re eager, but don’t meet him. And if you have to meet him, do not have sex with him. Really don’t let yourself do that.”

She had points, as did my friends who were starting to grow concerned that we weren’t transitioning into a telephone relationship. We had, in fact, lacked the email contact that I so enjoyed in the beginning. Yes, I agreed, it was bad, but I would fix it. Just wait. I have a plan. Sure, I told my online friend, I see your point. Perhaps some people handle themselves badly after a bad breakup. But not him. He’s different. He knows me, cares about me, *like* likes me. He won’t hurt me. He couldn’t. So while I appreciated the advice, I told her she might be right, but I was ignoring it.

Then I talked to him about it. Said I didn’t want to be a future regret. Should we should stop and allow this to be a lovely memory? I was scared. (At least I think I said that – I’m still not able to read his words right now.) He agreed, actually. Said he needed some time to work through some personal issues, very much did not want to hurt someone as loving and open as I was. So he needed time and if I wasn’t able to give him that time, he understood. He’d wish me well and I could move on.

And I was crushed. I wanted him to be ready. I’d waited so long until now, why did I have to continue to watch time pass without moving forward with someone I loved? But. Love isn’t like that, I lectured myself. You have to put someone else’s needs above your own – not always, but sometimes. And when I understand those needs, respect those feelings, I can honor them by waiting awhile. It’s not like I was going to get over him quickly anyway, and being in pain with him in my life seemed better than the pain without the guy. So I hung on.

I wrote a pained blog entry – I was just so sad. Found myself crying in the bathroom at work, barely pulling myself together to get through the day. But he happened to read it and said Don’t Be Sad. For whatever would happen between us wasn’t happening right now – we’d figure it out later. And, bad or good, it just wasn’t determined yet. And, as far as news goes, inconclusive is more hopeful than ‘no way in hell.’ So I let myself hope and wait and continued to write email – sometimes bright and happy, other times teasing him into offering a reply, others offering support and comfort, others telling him that I was hurting. This was hard. Maybe we should stop.

I decided, by the way, not to meet him. He seemed reluctant, then when he agreed, I found myself surprisingly hesitant. Told him that it didn’t seem right. I wanted to meet him but I wanted it to be special – not a rushed meeting when he wasn’t ready. It seemed like it wasn't the right time, though I was quite disappointed. He agreed easily, tried to comfort me when I was hurting afterward, and said that moving slowly was a good thing. Something about if we were right, then it was annoying but not harmful. And if we were wrong… well, that.

But we weren’t wrong, I insisted to myself and my friends. Talked endlessly to M, Rachel, Carrie, even Elle. Told my mom. Violet. Yes, it was hard for now, but I saw it like this. I cared about him – deeply and sincerely – and wanted to wait for him. I would always wonder what would have been and didn’t think I had any chance of finding someone better. I wanted him – this one – to meet my family, see my house, share my life. No, he wasn’t there yet. He was honest about that. But this wouldn’t happen for no reason! The world isn’t like that! He couldn’t have appeared in my life exactly the way I wanted him to, be even more than I imagined he could be, and then just disappear! I refused to believe it, accept it. And so we went on.

We barely emailed – I tried desperately and sadly to keep myself from contacting him and failed more often than not. I was likely obsessed to some degree. I just wanted it so badly, thought that I could force it into what I needed it to be. But when he admitted he was in love with another women – actually two other women – I said I understood. Thought that was wonderful and special and deserved to be honored. He should pursue that. Find happiness. Because I knew few people who deserved it more. But he explained – his heart wasn’t closed because of those loves, he said, and I decided that meant it was open to me. He concluded that email with “Write still. Please.” And I did. And I would. Hoping, but coming to understand the futility of that feeling.

This summer was rough. I was sad about him – was slowly informing my heart that the guy was great but the timing was awful. We had something special but I had to get ready to let him go. But I needed him – needed someone – to help me after bad things started to happen. I didn’t get the grant, I told him. It was OK, but disappointing. No response. I was depressed, I wrote. Starting to feel listless and despondent. I was a bit worried about myself. Nothing. My friend died and I was miserable over it. Here he offered something, but it was distant. Blatantly forced because he wasn’t feeling much for me. He was going out of town, after all, didn’t have email, couldn’t help. Be well, though. Take care of myself.

I decided – even I have to shake my head here – that it was some kind of test. If I could take care of myself, prove that I was strong and capable, perhaps then he’d love me. Decide I wasn’t too much work after all and I’d somehow get him back. So I told him – wrote proudly that I was doing better. I wanted to take care of my heart and feelings because I was good at it. I was fine. No worries, OK?

He said I was amazing. Strong, capable and loving. I felt things to a strong degree and that was beautiful. The compassion and pain came with a sweetness and joy that made life worth living. And I was so relieved because maybe we were turning around. Then, in July, maybe I could get him back. Things were looking better in his life and perhaps as some pain receded, there would be room for me. It was going to be better. I wasn’t willing to give up – it wasn’t that painful. And he obviously still had hope.

This is the key point, the argument that silenced my friends.

“He cares about me. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but he does care about me. He wouldn’t hurt me purposely – I’m absolutely sure about that. I wouldn’t fixate on someone like that! I’m older now, smarter, ready for this. So when the time comes when he knows for certain that he’s out – it’s never going to work – he’ll tell me. I know he will. And until then, I just have to decide whether I can deal with the pain. And when there’s the slimmest chance of a payoff – getting to keep him – then I’m OK. I’ll be fine.”

I delivered it with great passion and they nodded carefully, quietly urged me not to get hurt, and, I think, settled in to wait with me for the inevitable end. It was coming, of course. There was more pain and confusion and conversations about what to do. I wasn’t doing well with it – thought about him too much, wasn’t quite able to reconcile the him-in-my-head with the man who might not care so much. But the fantasies, I mourned. I loved thinking about him – how it would be if he’d visit, what we’d do, where we could go eat, all the places we’d visit and things we’d explore. And I could visit him too! It works for some people, after all. Why not me? Maybe we could write a few letters – I’d never seen his handwriting though he’d seen mine. Talk on the phone, start moving forward.

And so, at the continued inquiries of my friends, I started nodding. “I know.” I said. “I’m not doing well. Soon. I’ll end it soon.”

For it turns out that like anything in life, as my capacity for a good thing grows - as I was able to love more deeply and selflessly, so does my ability to mourn the loss of that love - that person - to a degree I had previously considered impossible. I made more room for him than I dreamed I could. Much more than he asked for or wanted, but I tried to insist he take it. I was so ready. So sure he was right. The fall from that was sure to be spectacular – as the rest of the experience was. Intense. New. Surprising.

Not yet though. I said that - to myself, to him, to friends - many times. I'm not ready. Things could change. He could care again. I didn't want to lose him. Not yet.

There's not much more to tell, though I've certainly left out a lot of details. There's just the end left to go and I can't make myself write it out. Not yet.

Here's what I think happened, part 2

The danger in email is the false sense of security. Of safety. I was involved on some deep level, and because I felt that we’d shared so many thoughts, assumed he was similarly infatuated. We got to know each other – I can’t remember what we discussed and found myself clenching when I tried to go over the emails to remember the timeline of what happened.

I complained and he listened. Soothed. I had a bad day at work planned and he seemed to wince for me then offered some distraction. I was a bit jealous of someone I thought held much of his interest, and… well, he avoided answering that section of the message. I brought up sex – in what I still think is a well-written email, actually. Years of reading romance novels apparently paid off in that way – then realized that my motivation for bringing up that topic had nothing to do with me. I misread something he wrote – was told that he was talking about someone else with this longing I thought was for me. It wasn’t. He was honest about that and we stepped back, though he put significant effort into trying to reassure me. I was scared – realized he had the power to hurt me pretty badly. Yet I didn’t want to stop.

So we went on. I was eager for his attention and lavished my own on him. I doted on him, I think he once said, and it was true. I missed him if he couldn’t get to a computer and send email. I wanted to start thinking about moving forward. He was wonderful and I was growing tired of email alone. I wanted more. So I started to push.

Our messages got more intimate. We slowly eased into fantasies that I would read – over and over – for months. He filled the empty place in my head where a husband – someone I loved and wanted – should have been. And I let him. Told my family, assured them that I’d be careful, but warned that I might be making a visit soon. I wanted to meet him. To see where we stood. He said he wanted children – I did too. I thought about the balance we’d offer each other and how we would be as parents. He didn’t want me to get ahead of myself – we just weren’t likely to end up together. But at my continued pushing – explanations and offers to move and willingness to make this work – he agreed, said he saw the possibility though it wasn’t likely. Wanted to be together as we were until one of us needed more. And though I wanted more then, I was willing to give it some time. I’m relatively young, after all. I have quite a few years before I’m looking at “now or never” and believed he was right even if our timing was not. If I could get grudging agreement from him, that was enough encouragement for now.

My friends had varied reactions. Elle immediately said he seemed too detached. I was so interested and he was so reluctant, she said. Something struck her as off. M was thrilled. She knew that someone amazing would come along for me! This was fantastic! When would we meet? Talk on the phone? It was all just so exciting! Rachel was similarly joyful. She too knew he was out there. Though she had settled in her own life, I had waited – not so patiently – and was finally being rewarded. Carrie wanted more details – demanded to see his picture and know more about him. She deemed him perfect and added her blessings to the others. I even talked Elle into him, though she was skeptical from the beginning.

As things went on, I read more and more. Fell deeper and deeper. Knew enough to fill in daydreams, and he played his role perfectly. Matched my pace at his fastest, and slowed me down at others. When I told him I was falling in love with him, then tried to take it back, he made it OK. I was always left feeling good about him – partly because he was such a wonderful guy with honorable intentions, partly because I wanted him to be the one. No more looking. It wasn’t perfect – he was complicated, moody and selfish. But he did care about me – got angry over one particular personal problem I shared and I thrilled in our feeling the same way about the same thing, emailed when he’d get depressed so I could go into a routine of how spectacular he was to remind him that life wasn’t so bad. We seemed right – I remember as I got to know him, I said that I could handle him. His faults were fine – I could deal with the bad stuff - no, would enjoy enduring the bad stuff - because he was so incredibly worthwhile. I was so glad I found him and the happiness over this – a set of email messages – colored my whole world for a while. Someone loved me, or at the very least was on his way there. It would be fine. I'd simply demand that it be so.

The twinges came very infrequently – a sense that something wasn’t as it seemed. I pushed them aside as quickly as I could. I trust easily and quickly. It doesn’t make sense that you’re out to hurt me or use me, especially in situations such as this. I’m not all that pretty – though I have lovely days – so if he was interested, it was because he saw my heart. My poor, open, vulnerable heart that certainly would never hurt him. The rushes of fear were infrequent, but I talked myself out of them. I hadn't loved like this before. Didn't think I'd have anything so intense in my life. I wasn't silly enough to let it go because I had questions. We'd figure everything out in time.

But I’d get jealous. It was an emotion that was new to me in relationships – I’m usually very relaxed about other women – friendships, even flirtations. If he doesn’t want to be with me, then I’m out. I can’t deal with competitive romance like that – while it may work for some people, I am not one of them. So I mentioned (or think I did – I can’t quite make myself go through old email right now to check) that I was too insecure to handle it. If he decided he wanted to pursue another relationship – in life or online – I’d want to know so I could opt out. My feelings were terrifyingly strong and there was one particular online persona who threatened me, I felt. I don’t remember reassurances on this subject, to be honest. I encouraged him to date if he found someone near him and he had done the same from the very beginning. I wouldn’t remain unnoticed for long, he noted, and if someone amazing came along, he would certainly step aside and let me explore that. Be envious of the man who was able to love me.

How sweet, I thought, then wrote. But no. My feelings for him were too intense to neglect. Why would I settle for the relationships I’d known – in all their blah moments and lack of excitement and longing – when I had this sparkling example of what should be? I was all in. It was part of who I was – who I hope to be again – and I didn’t want to look back and wonder if I would have tried harder, waited longer, trusted more… If I could have kept him. Tried to make him happy. Let him do the same for me.

It was about this time that I confessed I’d had a couple of other email flirtations. Nothing like him – not at all – but I felt badly about them. Stopped with one man completely and shifted firmly into friendship with another. Betrayal at this point was something I couldn’t tolerate in myself. I wanted to know – and wanted him to be aware – that I had picked. Chosen him and would focus all my energies there. It was actually the interest of these other two men who made so much of these feelings easy to accept. They seemed to like me – find me funny, intellectually attractive, and all three tried to correct me when I was too hard on myself. Did I have any intention of meeting and marrying the other two? Goodness, no. The very thought is silly. But with him… I wanted it. Put my hands to my lips when he asked if he could help falling in love with me though he didn’t think he was ready for the emotion. Could he know me and be content with fantasy and email? He said he doubted it, and I convinced myself it would happen. He would love me – I deserved it, we were right, this was it.

But after my confession of other former interests, things slowed. I had hurt him, I decided, and bitterly regretted my openness in this area. He didn’t have to know – it was terrible to unburden myself only to place that knowledge – that I had wondered about other men, was exploring myself as an attractive woman with much to offer – with him. It made him doubt me, “us.” At the same time, I unwisely started asking for a meeting. A short one as I’d be his city for a couple of hours on business. I wanted to meet. Please? Just for a little while? It doesn’t have to be intense or loving or anything. I just wanted to see how it was in person – to let go if he ran away in revulsion upon seeing me. To determine if this click – the sense of “oh, yes. Pick him.” existed in person.

He freaked out. Then so did I. There were sleepless nights in a strange city as I tried to comfort myself with what we’d had. Friendship, affection, fantasy. Humor, mutual admiration, and a tremendous amount of hope. I could fix it. Tried, actually, with a couple phone calls. The first was miserably awkward – I was left lying on a hotel bed afterward, heart beating too fast, thinking of how strange it was to be corrected about the sound of someone’s voice. It wasn’t what I expected, you see. Had heard mental-image-him speak differently in my head and when confronted with reality, I felt shaken. He was right when he said I didn’t know him – how he acted, his faults, preferences, daily behaviors. Had I fallen for someone who didn’t exist outside my thoughts? Was this like an imaginary relationship with some extra help from a man who lived a couple time zones away?

And here lies the mistake, I think. I should have let him go. I knew something had shifted and he would attribute it to various personal reasons, he assured me we'd get back to what we had. The teasing, good humor, affection, sexiness. And I would see glimpses of what we first had – the happy, teasing, loving exchanges – but it wouldn’t return. We took a slow slide into something else – something distant and colder. And instead of accepting it – understanding his lack of interest as, well, lack of interest, rather than some demons he was working through that were glitching my happy little plan – I fought. As hard as I could for as long as I could. Another phone call convinced me we could work things out – I did love him. Could reconcile the character in my head with the man he truly was. I knew enough to know I wanted him, berated myself for my moments of doubt – of wondering whether we should call this off before someone got really hurt. Did I not want to be happy? To have someone amazing in my life? Of course I did. So I watched my Gmail account fill with messages I sent that went unanswered. Our ratio of me:him was about 3:1, maybe 4:1, in terms of messages written. It felt different. Wrong. But I’d been so sure before that I couldn’t let go, didn’t want the regret of wondering if I’d just been more patient, more loving, more relaxed then I would have received what I so badly wanted.

So I talked myself into believing it would be OK. He did respond eventually, and if he was a bit cold and disinterested, that was fine. It was a phase. He was justified and we’d eventually move past it. I felt I knew him on some profound yet incomplete level and was eager to know more. So I pushed. Shamefully hard at times. And he agreed to meet when I was in town.