My intention was to fill my weekend alone with steps for the Project. I was going to hit the coffee store, and walk around Greenlake on the beautiful, sunny Saturday, then on Sunday I was going to look into taking the train or bus somewhere, just to get a feel for riding alone. I was full of ambition because for some reason Ben’s ghost had stopped so frequently haunting my thoughts. I think doing the 4th of July on my own made a difference. I could feel myself healing a bit. I was proud of the progress my heart was making.
As quickly as my strength seemed to increase, on Friday night as I sat alone it just as quickly vanished. I was up until 3 a.m. keeping the voices at bay that seemed so eager to remind me of what a hopeless, unlovable mess I was. I squeezed my eyes shut and buried my head in my pillow on the couch and though I couldn’t cry my heart beat hard like my chest was as hollow as a drum. Sleep came slow and struggling.
Saturday I lay in bed until almost 1. I couldn’t bring myself to get up. I didn’t want to face my house, the sunshine, my reflection in the mirror. I knew I was supposed to get up and take one of my steps but every move I made my body groaned with missing Ben. How productive would I be in this frame of mind? How much progress could I make? Wouldn’t I just go and sit and wallow in my loneliness? Eventually I made it to the couch, but I didn’t move. I ate junk food, I watched T.V. and I sat under a blanket, trying to ignore the shard of sunshine and blue skies I could see peeping through the crack between my living room curtains. I laid here, frozen by my depression. All. Damn. Day. I went to sleep at that oh-so familiar time of 3:30 a.m. and I woke up only 5 hours later.
When I woke up, I groaned at being awake. I hated it. I hated waking up alone again, I hated the quiet, I hated that my stomach was growling which meant I was going to have to get up and go to the trouble of putting food in it. I got up none-the-less. I ate breakfast, I took a shower, I put on my clothes. All things that I shouldn’t be writing in a blog about but they were all very small victories for me at this point and I celebrate them as such. I grabbed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and set out into the daylight for the next step.
There’s a good-sized Starbucks that just opened near my house and this seemed a good opportunity to check it out. When I arrived it was empty of all but one customer. The cushy leather chairs and ample sofa were all free so I ordered my drink (I’m a true Seattleite, and I was a Starbucks girl myself once, so my sunny day drink is an iced grande half-caff toffee nut whole milk no whip light ice mocha. Say that 3 times fast) and got comfortable. As I settled in, I became a little disappointed that there weren’t more people there. My goal, I guess, was to test my comfort zone by being alone amidst a lot of people. I absolutely rue that thought process now.
I was only there about 20 minutes, just long enough to become really at ease, when the door opened and a man walked in that was so beautiful my mouth gaped open. I was sitting near to and across from the door, so naturally he had a point blank view of my ogling. I quickly clamped my jaw shut and jammed my face in the book but the damage was done. I felt him watch me out of the corner of my eye as he waited for his drink. I looked up and made the briefest of eye contact with him before I hurriedly turned back to my book and he pretended to be looking at the ceiling or floor or some silly thing. His order was called. Grande soy chai tea extra foamy latte. The store was empty now, every chair, every table was free. Out of them all, he sat in the cushy chair next to the couch I was curled up on and opened his book. He had dirty blonde hair and those blue eyes that weaken my knees. He was wearing Chuck Taylor’s and a plaid button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I buried my nose deeper in my book and reread the same line 4 times before it would sink in.
When Ben came around, I hadn’t seen him in years. My heart had seemed to wilt and fade in my marriage, and my next long term relationship (after my marriage, but before Ben) was after months of false start relationships that left me unimpressed and detached. When I got into that middle relationship, I barely felt anything at all, but I had truly begun to believe perhaps I didn’t feel sparks anymore. I hadn’t felt head over heels in love since I had first gotten together with my husband, back when I was only 20. I thought perhaps being “head over heels” was something you only did when you were very young. Perhaps it was unrealistic of me to think I would feel that way again. Perhaps I had been hurt, and disillusioned, and abandoned so many many times that I wasn’t capable of trusting someone enough to let myself feel that way. Perhaps I should work at just finding someone that I thought was fun, and compatible on most levels with me, and call it good. Perhaps this was growing up.
Meeting with Ben after those many years, the feeling was absolute, immediate and utterly overwhelming. I was terrified. I told him I was terrified. I begged him to leave me be if he meant to do what he always did with women: get bored, get detached, and leave. He insisted he had changed and he seemed to have. Despite the way my heels flew so quickly over my head, I forced myself to remain detached from Ben. I reminded myself that he always had one foot out the door. That despite what my friends told me, someday his fear would over take him and he’d be gone. For all the times he told me he loved me, and cared for me and brought me into his life, I could not, would not, allow myself to believe he would stay. It was too dangerous to commit my heart to all this completely, to be intimately vulnerable on every level. We had our bumps in the road here and there, days when he spoke the words out loud that he was afraid. I saw him struggling to let me in, which was so against everything he had ever taught himself. A week after a particularly rocky spell in which I was sure he was about to run, he sat beside me on the couch and mentioned almost in passing that he would never break up with me. We had been together over a year at this point, and had our struggles. He said I was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he wasn’t going anywhere. A couple of days later, he texted me something similar, telling me that I was perfect for him, why would he ever purposely mess this up? That night I wrote a journal entry entitled “In Which I FINALLY Feel Secure with Ben”. I was finally at a point when I felt like I could relax, that he was mine and he meant to follow this through. Despite the chips and cracks in my surface, he saw my value, he knew my worth, and he loved me. I was home, and I could stay here.
3 weeks later Ben left.
The man in the chair at Starbucks had a book too. I jumped as though kismet itself had screamed just then into my ear as I saw that he was reading a very well worn copy of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. By Tom Robbins. My favorite novel. My eyes lingered on his book and hands for too long because he looked up and smiled and caught my eye again. I lifted my book again, but it was too late.
“That looks pretty new.” He said.
“Your book. It looks new. Have you read the series before?”
“Oh, no. I love the movies, I was afraid reading the books would ruin them.” I didn’t smile. I looked back to my book. My stomach was fluttering in that way that would usually make me smile coyly, bat my eyes, and tuck a lock of hair behind my ear. The feeling of my stomach fluttering made me feel out of control. My heart sank. I heard him laugh.
“I can understand that. I’m a big fan of the movies, too. Are you excited for the new one coming out?” He had put his book down in his lap, so when I looked up from my book he was giving all of his attention to me. His eyes were warm, and he looked a little nervous. I felt my chest tighten and my face flushed. My body reacted in that warm, drawn way that a woman reacts to a man. I hesitated.
“Yes. Yah, it looks good.” I was speaking very quietly now. I felt like I was being rude. This feeling of getting attention from this man, though… it made me panic. The idea of liking him terrified me on a deep, primal level. I couldn’t even breathe. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. I heard a voice in my head explode, “NO!” and it wasn’t about the project, and it wasn’t about keeping myself from doing something I had told myself I wouldn’t do. It was absolute terror of caring. I could see down the tunnel of my “relationship” with this man whose name I didn’t know to holding his hand and laughing and cuddling on the couch and sleeping beside him and I could see that moment he fucking walked away and left me standing there more broken than I already am. In a flash, in an instant, I saw it all. I closed my book, scooped up my purse, and he watched me awkwardly as I ran out of that coffee shop and into my car. I left my coffee, like Cinderella’s slipper as I went. I drove away, deciding to try a different Starbucks in a different town about 20 minutes away. My hands and legs were trembling and when I hit the highway I broke down into tears.
By the time Ben had come around I was so cynical about my heart. Why had I been such a fool to believe that he would be different? Why I had I let him in? Into my life, into my children’s lives? Why had I ignored all the ways I am broken and fucked up and believed that I could actually maintain a happy relationship? Why did I think anyone was capable of knowing me, and understanding me, and being okay with what they found? Why do I keep telling myself I am worth a damn?!
I pulled up to the next Starbucks none-the-less. I wiped my face and steeling my determination I got out of that fucking car and I went in the coffee shop. I ordered another goddamn coffee and I found a comfortable chair and I sat in it. I know my face was red, and swollen from crying, but I didn’t care. I didn’t stop to look at the people around me. I’m sure I looked desperate and strange. I ordered a Chai latte this time, extra foamy. For a moment it reminded me of the snowboarding trip I had taken that winter with Ben. I had gotten hurt pretty badly and sat alone in the lodge drinking the same latte. We had gone with his sister. I miss her. I miss believing that someday she, and all of his sisters and nieces and nephew, would be my family. But this is neither here nor there. The memory was there for but a moment, then gone.
I began to read again, and as any good book does, I was pulled in and the worries of my own life washed clean from the slate of my mind. I drank my Chai and lingered. Eventually my shoulders slumped a little less, I began to look around at the other faces in the shop. I watched the people filter in and out. I watched a couple sit at a table, not speaking to each other, their eyes wandering along the walls but not passing more than a word or two. I tried to decide if what was between them was a cold distance, or a comfortable silence. I considered that when Ben and I were together in restaurants and coffee shops, there was always talking, sharing, joking, laughing. Our silences were just gentle, natural pauses in our banter. I considered also, that now I was going to be sculpting and developing a very different kind of balance between silence and conversation with myself. I was going to have to learn how to listen to what was going on inside my own head. To listen to my gut and instincts again. To rebuild the walls I may have been foolish to tear back down.
In the end, it was relaxing to be reading alone in my coffee shop. As much as the memories were present, I knew I didn’t have to struggle anymore. Yes, I don’t have that wonderful feeling I had when I felt like I was home, but I also don’t have to struggle and wonder and second guess and walk on egg shells, wondering if I’m worth loving. The only person I have to worry about loving me right now is me.
Boyfriends and husbands, even our friends, will leave us in the end. Not to be too dark here, but in the end, we are alone. Boyfriends and husbands leave you or die, friends get boyfriends or have babies and suddenly they drop off the face of the earth. You only have yourself at the end of the day, so the most valuable thing we can do for ourselves is assure that the one thing that is always with us – US – is at its best. Ultimately, our own personal integrity is all we have. I can’t remember the last time I really focused on cultivating that.
It was only the coffee shop, and it was a small step, but I took it on my own, and that made all the difference.
Forward, forward, ever forward.