In July 2002, my South Carolinian friend broke up with Ben Affleck. As I listened to her narrate the reasons for her decision (suddenly, he'd become a marriage-breaker; that, she could not abide), I realized that I was being given a gift: mechanisms for both entering and exiting relationships that, for whatever reason, were taking place only in my own mind. Knowing these mechanisms doesn't make them any easier to deploy, of course, particularly if one possesses a delayed-reaction heart. (Perhaps we all have these? How could I ever know?) And so it was that I careened through the rest of that calendar year deeply engrossed in what could only be called an imaginary relationship, despite some trick appearances to the contrary.
But one day in February 2003, I woke up and realized: I needed to break up with him. He needed to be gone from my life. And so I did it. It was 63˚ that day, and so brilliantly sunny, and in the middle of the afternoon, I strode out to downtown Ithaca and bought myself some gerbera daisies. I felt physically light, actually buoyant. I have some pretty clear tendencies, see: I repeatedly fall, hard, for beautiful, brilliant people who can't or won't pay attention to me, and then I do everything I can to try to get them to pay attention to me. I think of it as a flair, a real gift, for the unrequited. Someone asked me, many months ago, about the last time I'd been romanced. And I couldn't come up with an answer. Even after I thought for days I couldn't come up with an answer. It's just not the way love--or anything like it--has ever worked in my life. Every time I do this number on myself, the effort to push through from going unseen to being seen weighs on me, at first little by little, and then lots by lots. And so getting to that breaking point, that moment when I realized that I had taken on something that I didn't deserve and couldn't want, and then shrugging off all that accumulated weight of slight--it all felt so lightening and lovely.
That night, at the venerable Glenwood Pines, a man waiting behind my friends and me said, "One of you smells wonderful." We looked at each other and cocked our eyebrows, trying to keep from laughing out loud at this hammy guy. But secretly, I was pretty sure it was me he smelled, and that what I was radiating was something like relief, and glory.
(Of course, it was later that night that the person I'd just dumped finally got around to asking me out (kind of), thereby reinforcing the wrong part of the lesson I'd just taught myself. Let's leave that aside for now.)
Over the intervening years, I've had a number of imaginary relationships--with a small college (not my current, I should add), with a famous novelist, with a sketch comedian. They've never been particularly serious or difficult to leave. When things are serious, possibly even life-changingly serious, it's harder to deploy the imaginary break-up. But it can be done.
This morning, I woke up to the sound of a car being pounded to death by fraternity brothers in a parking lot near my house; they worked on demolishing that car for the better part of the day. And then I looked up my horoscope. Now, I have a mostly joking relationship to horoscopes--far less serious a one than to bibliomancy, for instance, or to Signs in general--but I will still check them when they're around, and one shows up in my e-mail each morning. Today's (edited very slightly) reads:
It's frustrating to have a vision of what could be, only to have someone veto the whole enterprise. But what can you do? A lot more than you initially realized, it turns out. Keep refining your plans.I thought I understood what this piece was saying, and it was perplexing to the point of real frustration. But suddenly, late in the day, I realized that I'd been reading it inside-out. When the right reading kicked in, I celebrated by putting on my Superhero necklace and going out for saag paneer with my excellent friends, at Mount Vernon's glorious new Indian restaurant. (I could just as easily have put on the silver Rebecca Haas necklace I usually wear. A few times since I bought it for myself as a birthday present last spring, my mother--knowing that my jewelry generally has some kind of significance--has asked me what that silver circle sitting over the pulse in my throat's hollow means. I haven't been able to respond adequately, much less eloquently, on any of these occasions. But here it is, as closely as I can get it: I'm wearing it for openness, generosity, wholeness, and clarity, without which four things I'm not anywhere.) (But tonight, I forewent serious meaning for the glitter of green facets. And while no one told me I smelled wonderful, my excellent friend did say, "You look so nice!" "Laundry night," I told her. I'm not one to tell an untruth.)
Lately, I've been listening to Regina Spektor. It's not often (or ever?) that I send you to YouTube from here, but tonight I will: try her out with "Samson" and "Fidelity," both of which have terrific videos (the latter, in particular, hearkens back to an earlier age of video narrative and joins my list of favorite happy-ending videos). It's "Fidelity" that I'm house-dancing to this evening. "Suppose I never ever saw you," Spektor sings in the second verse. "Suppose you never ever called. Suppose I kept on singing love songs, just to break my own fall." Well, suppose indeed. I'm keeping on with the singing. I've got this voice, see, and you'd better believe I'm refining my plans.