Sunday, July 19, 2009

Practice makes perfect.

You’d think I’d be better at it. Yet the situation continues to leave me breathless, chest tight and swallowing against nausea, each time it happens.

I was sitting in my college apartment when a roommate came home and perched on the edge of my mattress. She knew I’d been deeply infatuated with a certain student one year our senior. He was graduating as we wrapped up our junior year and, as I recall, she disrupted my packing for summer break upon entering my room.

I recall looking up at her, tucking a stray lock of hair behind my ear and tightening my ponytail as I shoved books in boxes and clothes in suitcases. I nodded, not speaking after she told me and returned my attention to what I was doing.

“Maybe they won’t go through with it,” I mumbled, terribly hurt but unsurprised that his girlfriend was wearing an engagement ring. “Plus, it’s not as though he was ever interested in me. It was a silly crush. And I’m over it.” Tossing random items in containers, I glanced up at her, noting her concern and sympathy and shrugged. “It’s fine,” I told her, maintaining eye contact this time. “Really. I’m fine.”

Yet I still remember curling into a loveseat in my tiny apartment in grad school, weeping bitterly over the pages of the college magazine that contained a tiny version of their wedding photo. “I’m happy for him,” I said out loud, gasping between sobs, head aching and chest tight. “I am happy for him,” I told myself after I’d calmed myself and showered, curling around a pillow in bed. “Even if he had liked me, we wouldn’t have been right. He’s a good guy and deserves to be happy. So why does this hurt so much?”

Yet it remained so – an awful sense of loss and defeat – and the stray thought would pop in my head. What if I’d allowed the back rub he suggested when we were studying together rather than firmly declining his request? If I were granted three wishes, one of them would be that he’d loved me. That I’d been able to experience emotions behind not only the ‘I really like you,’ portion of infatuation but also the ‘and you really like me back’ part as well. Knowing that I hadn’t, acknowledging that I wouldn’t, was rather excruciating.

I remember him now, the one I called Gabe in that series of posts, and feel a sort of bewilderment. I neither miss nor want him for my very own. I think he and his wife have three children now and I sincerely wish them every happiness. I simply don’t care enough to do otherwise.

The lovely thing about painful experiences when young is that if you’re unlucky enough to experience a similar incident in the future, you have a baseline. A sort of, “Yes. I remember that sucked but then it got better and now I’m completely fine. Stands to reason that this will go the same way. Delightful!” The first paper that was rejected was The Most Hideous Thing Ever. The third one was treated with a vague shrug and a quick choice of a more suitable journal. The first major mistake in Industry was greeted with my certainty that I’d be fired at any moment. The hundredth that I made last week was barely noticed. I was too busy to care.

So when a Facebook status I monitor occasionally shifted to 'engaged,' I cursed myself for looking. I’d been in love with him years ago. I had any number of hopes and daydreams that centered around him and the feelings I believed he had for me. I was crushed when it was revealed that it was never as I believe it to be. Yet, eventually, I came to view it as an extended crush – a rather odd episode with a rather good guy. My lingering curiosity over him – the stray thought that if I’d reacted differently when he invited me to visit or if I’d been less rabid when things ended so badly – was (pretty) easily dismissed.

Except, when faced with the fact that the failure in our interaction was mine – that the one who remains alone when the other happily moves on was me – left me completely still. Motionless and breathless as I tried to process the magnitude of pain. I finally closed my eyes and gently pushed the top of my laptop to meet the base. I put the computer aside, remaining seated as I tried to decide what would ease the misery.

“Oh, it hurts,” I murmured when I’d opened my mouth to insist to the empty room that I was fine. Shaking my head in denial of my reaction, I reached for the heavier of the two laptops beside me, burying myself in work and feeling profoundly grateful for the efficacy of distraction. Even when wanting to go home and see the girls, I panicked at the thought of having to think about my feelings. So I downloaded audiobooks (Sookie Stackhouse, C.S. Lewis and a collection of erotica. I believe this makes me interesting. I understand if you believe this means I’m painfully neurotic and conflicted.) so that I could remain distracted.

Yet after cuddling Little and Smallest Ones and marveling over how they’re growing and how beautiful and brilliant they both are, I took a nap. Tired after the early morning drive – Chienne and I set off before 6AM on Saturday – I curled on the daybed and drifted off to sleep only to be tortured by nightmares of difficult conversations, begging someone to love me, having to watch as someone I wanted decided I was inferior to the alternatives. I woke and wiped the tears from my cheeks and rolled to stare at the ceiling. Then I closed my eyes again to pray.

I felt more peaceful after the amen. I still ached, but it was the more familiar sensation of acknowledging that I am alone and most likely to remain that way. That’s unpleasant – always has been, always will be – but the degree that it hurts varies widely. I also realized that I do not miss him. I do miss being in love – thinking of someone and feeling warm and happy – but that feeling of longing has little to do with this particular man.

“I hope he’s happy,” I whispered, checking to see if it was true. I winced when I realized it wasn’t. So I thought very hard and tried again. “I hope he’s happy,” I said more insistently, willing myself to mean it more than just a little. “I wish I were happier,” I finally stated, nodding when I recognized the truth in that statement.

The difficult part is reconciling that I have no faith in my ability to successfully navigate a romantic relationship. I believe that if I were to try again, I’d end up hurt again. Facing yet another engagement announcement of a man I’d loved and a woman who was decidedly not me. And though they are getting easier to manage – I really do think I’m fine now – I can’t say I want to do this again.

1 comment:

Amelie said...

Oh Katie. Many hugs to you.

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