Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Step 6: Conversations with God

This last weekend my intent was to put a serious dent in the Project. This did not happen. In part because getting motivated was absolutely out of the question for some reason, but also because it was not hot but incredibly muggy and many of the activities I was considering doing would have had me hiking or riding a smelly bus or train in a puddle of my own sweat and I may never know why that didn’t sound super fun.

I did go out to eat by myself again, though, and each time it gets easier and more natural. I enjoy it, actually. I think I’ll keep doing it after I’m coupled as well. I did manage to tick at least one thing off my list: I went to church.

I want to preface this blog entry by saying this: I have been procrastinating on putting this up. I have been purposely avoiding it for 3 days. Embarking on it is a little nerve wracking for me and as I prepare to put the words on the page, my palms are sweating. Wish me luck, will you?

That having been said, onward.

I was raised Lutheran by my grandparents, who were active in my life. I don’t know how “Lutheran” is different from any other brand of Christian, but it is, evidently. They were devout Christians, and I went to church with them every time I spent the night at their house, which was every few weeks. I read the Bible enough to have favorite scriptures that I could recite. I don’t know that I ever fell in love with God, but I fell in love with religion. I fell in love with the power of faith and prayed earnestly with confidence that if I was a good person the Lord would protect me. I was a sheep and he was my Sheppard. I was raised this way from when my grandmother was “reborn”, when I was three.

When I was twelve I was raped. Rather brutally, I’m afraid. After this happened, I never again returned to service.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” Matthew 10:16

Add to this the violent upbringing, the years of homelessness, and the ensuing depression and degrading relationships that resulted in one suicide attempt after another, and I’m sure you can imagine why perhaps I was not keen to be on speaking terms with God. He stayed on his side of the room, and I stayed on the other. We eyed one another awkwardly, but we never let on to anyone that we had known each other at one point. Most people had no idea that I knew he existed, and most people would assume from the life I was living that perhaps he had forgotten that I did as well. The death of my boyfriend, the miscarriages, the divorce. No, we were obviously mutually exclusive.

When I set upon the Project and decided to go with the “church step”, I hadn’t thought much of it. It would be a beautiful place, I intended to go to St. Mark’s in Seattle, which is huge, gorgeous, and overlooks the city. It also allows gay and lesbian ministries, of which I am a big fan. I thought I would sneak into mass on Sunday, listen to the choir, bow my head when it was time to pray as I have politely done at so many Christmas dinners, and be on my way. However, as the day got nearer, I got more antsy about it. I got more nervous. I lashed out at the idea of dressing up just to show up at God’s house – who does this guy think he is? I shouldn’t have to show up on schedule wearing literally my “Sunday best”. You’re God. Part of the burden of being you is that you have to take me as I come, right? You get to bear down on my life with no mercy, an Esau to the world’s many Jacobs, and you have to take whatever I have become as a result of that. This mind set should have foreshadowed what was to come. It did not. I decided not to go to Mass. I went after last Mass, when the pews were emptier. I had no idea the emotional deluge that was to unfold.

When I arrived at the church, my stomach churned. You’d think I was a witch or a Satanist the way I felt when I pulled up to park. I hesitated briefly before walking through the doors. A slight sigh of relief was uttered when I did not burst into flames upon entry. After some confusion, guilty shuffling, and uncertainty about whether this was “allowed”, I took the lead of some others seated among the pews, and I found a spot in a far back corner.

The church was vast and beautiful. I had never been in a place like this before. The Lutheran churches to which I was accustomed were small, contemporary things. Stepping into the expansive hall, you could hear the sounds of prayers still lingering in the air. The walls absolutely vibrated from the hymns sung so soon before I had arrived. Any venom I held before I swallowed into my belly and felt a great weight of religion sink upon me. Here I was. He saw me, I could tell. He was watching. He was waiting for me to make the first move.

I stared at the floor for a long time waiting for the words to come. I was sitting with my feet planted solidly about shoulder width apart. My elbows rested on my knees and I sat hunched with my hands hanging limply toward the ground. I must have looked exhausted. I carefully considered all the things I had lived through, the ways they had strengthened me and the ways they had made me scarred, jaded, self destructive and afraid. God was patient. When I finally raised my face toward the cross, tears were in my eyes and all I could muster was, “So… what happened there?”

I thought at first I must seem insane to the other people in the pews, and there were several. Even speaking as quietly as I was, I was speaking out loud. I wanted to make sure he could hear me though, I didn’t intend to repeat myself. My self-consciousness was but a flickered hesitation. Where else are you expected to mumble things across desperate lips than at church?

I’m guessing my conversation with God lasted about an hour. It may have been more, I doubt it was less. We talked about all of it, all the hardship, all the joy. Tears spilling over my war-torn face I thanked him for the grace of my children, I begged him to see how grateful I was for my blessings. I also begged him to explain the rest of it to me.

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15

For so many years I drown. What life did I live, in what ways did I stumble so young, that warranted that I should know no mercy? The ugliest joke of all seems to be that so bruised am I now that at even the kindest touch I wince. When happiness or comfort descends, I have no knowledge of how to approach it, or nourish it. I have only ever learned how to cope with pain. To even the best of people, the chain is always on the door to my heart.

Which brings us full circle to the Project. I manage somehow to, with one arm, push away the idea of being alone, while with the other arm drawing in one destructive relationship after another. I feel such a need to be in relationships, but I am so fractured that I am only comfortable in those that tear me down. So afraid have I been to be alone with myself, that I have settled for the hardship and emotional ruin of a heartbreaking relationship over the idea of not being in one at all. I fear abandonment at the same time that I fear being loved. This, to me, seems like a fucking joke. And that’s what I told God, out loud, among the creaking pews, chandeliers and boney rafters. Yes, I said “fucking” in church. If he didn’t like the word, he wouldn’t have made it.

I was thrown headfirst into stormy waters when I was just a baby. Every time the sea would calm and I’d begin to tread water, he’d bring another storm until I was at last too tired to swim. Sometimes I would just want to sink. Too many times I tried to drown, but couldn’t even manage to do that right. I’d surface, the waves would break upon me, I’d choke and flail blindly with no site of land. My whole life was the fucking storm. I’d cling to a man like he was a branch floating on the water. Never enough to keep me afloat. A big enough storm would break and he’d be swept away or snap. You don’t let me die, you don’t let me live. So, what? I’m sick of sinking, and floating aimlessly, or waiting for the next wave. Tears streamed down my face now, my pain and anger falling like rain at my feet. If anyone was at this church now, I didn’t know it. My chest ached, my mind flew. All the parts of me that still had faith in religion and the soul rose up from me and shone like a star. 20 years of hurt and confusion alight there, brilliant in its power and purity. Sobs begged to wrench free but I held them tenuously. I would not let a fracture be driven in what I was doing here. Toe to toe I looked God in the eye and I spoke from that deepest place in my heart, that box within a box held far within my keep. That scared child, covered in blood and fear was there, and I gave her courage and a voice.

With this Project I’m doing, I said to God in closing, I build a ship. It is not tall, or wide, or beautiful, but it is strong. It will carry me. It will not break upon the rocks. In this ship, even alone, I will not be cold or afraid, I will not be broken upon by the storm, but I will weather it there. If someone comes with me into my ship some day, then they can weather the waves with me as well, but if they leave, my ship will still be whole. It is not their ship. It is my ship, and I am building it myself. Give or take your mercy as you see fit, but if life is an ocean then I will cross it as a captain and not a castaway.

I am no one’s castaway.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Step Five: Going to the Movies

I didn’t expect this one to be as hard as it was. How difficult could it be, I thought, to just sit in the dark with a bunch of people that are too invested in what’s going on on the screen to notice that you even exist, let alone that you are not with anyone?

I tried to choose my movie wisely. Nothing scary, that would only remind me there was no one there to cling to when I wanted to hide my eyes. Nothing romantic, obviously, why would I want to poke a bruise? I considered a drama, but settled on the safest choice – a comedy. It was a movie I had wanted to see: The Change-Up, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman.

First and foremost let me say that my favorite part of this step was not having to consult anyone else about any part of it. I went to watch whatever movie I wanted to watch – there was no compromise involved, there was no consulting. I went to the theater I wanted to go to, at whatever time I damn well pleased. I bought the treats I wanted and nothing more or less, and the soda was my choice and no one else’s. These details are small, but they aren’t really. This is what being alone is, for good or for bad: making your own decisions and then reaping the benefit or damnation of those choices.

I took a seat in the theater – not terribly crowded, I got a good seat. The commercials were on so I checked in on Facebook and answered a couple of emails. I turned off my phone, tucked it in my purse, and settled in. When the lights went down and the trailers started… that’s when I noticed I was alone. No one to steal my popcorn, but no buttery fingers to intertwine with my own. When a movie looked like shit, there was no one to whisper that to and have them nod. When a movie looked damn good, there was no one to say “Ooh, let’s see that!” and have them agree or shrug. 

The movie started and was immediately hilarious. I enjoyed the whole damn thing, actually. Laughed til I cried probably 8 times. I went in to it expecting it to be a 50/50 shot at being passable as a decent movie, but it surprised me. It was really funny, and poignant, and it felt honest. There were a couple of moments that felt forced, but in any comedy when you introduce sentimentality I think you risk that happening. Still, they did a much better job with it than I would have anticipated. I highly suggest it. Crass as hell, of course. You’ve been warned.

I noticed how weird it is to laugh out loud at something when you’re alone, but not alone. My laugh, particularly, is embarrassingly loud, and in addition to this I find things funny that I don’t think most people find funny because they are so black and dry. I laughed out loud at parts that no one else laughed at… and my laugh sounds like a goddamn foghorn in the quiet. But I’m used to being stared at for my laugh. Don’t make me laugh in a fancy restaurant unless you like attention. What caught me was how hard it was to watch the parts of it that were sentimental. And I don’t mean the romantic parts either. I mean the parts where Ryan Reynold’s character (or is it technically Jason Bateman’s? Just stay with me here) – your typical bachelor  – starts to feel what it is for his friend to be a father, and be loved and cared for and the ways that while the family life may be hard it is also vastly rewarding. There I was, tears in my eyes, and no outlet for it. No one to kiss on the cheek, no one whose hand I could squeeze, no shoulder to rest my head upon whimsically. Listen… it just kind of sucked, okay?

I’ll tell you what, I didn’t realize how fully I had converted movie going into a social activity over the years. I feel my movies, I live in them. There are so many small, intimate ways that you interact with the person you’re with. You share in the laughter, you share in the sadness, you soak in the emotions on the screen and you play them out in silent ways with your company. I had no partner for projection there. I mean, think about it, have you ever tried watching a movie with someone you aren’t really connecting with? You spend that 90 minutes stiff and inhibited, scaling back your expression and in turn your enjoyment of it. As quiet and personal as the movie watching experience may be, you want to share a movie, not just see it. You can’t directly interact, but you interact nonetheless, just in barely discernible ways. If anything, this step made me realize how very much watching a movie with someone tells us about who they are and what they’re like. It teaches us about how we connect to that person on a natural level. 

A theater isn’t just a dark place for youthful gropings. It’s not just a place to laugh or cry or sit on the edge of your seat. It is about reaching out for human connections, both with those on the screen and those beside us.
On the other hand, because I had no one to share with, and no one to project my emotions towards, I also had no one else to share my attentions. I could give my full focus toward the movie and just react to it. And the reaction was pure. I didn’t laugh harder because someone was laughing beside me, I didn’t stifle my laugh because the other person wasn’t laughing and wouldn’t get why that was so damn funny. I wasn’t self-conscious when things got sad and my eyes got teary, and I didn’t get weirded out by all the boobs. 

I did what the Project is about: I reacted to things on my own terms, and got an honest opinion from myself that wasn’t affected by anyone else. It’s not a huge leap in my understanding, but this isn’t about huge leaps. It’s about healing, and healing is a slow and patient process. I feel the healing though. The wound isn’t open anymore. The scar is forming nicely, and scar tissue is much stronger than regular tissue. It’s not always beautiful, but it’s strong.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Step Four: Linner. Or Dunch.

I stumbled upon my most recent step on Friday. My plan had been to go home after work, but instead I made a detour to the mall. My original intent was to pick up something I needed: a new charger to replace my worn and frayed iPhone adapter that was finally dying on me. Once I got there, I even further detoured off course: I went to Victoria’s Secret. I had been needing new panties for a while now, as well as a new bra. They were having a sale. My daughter had mentioned to me that I never seem to buy myself anything, I’m always buying things for them. So I buckled down and I entered. 

Most women would be appalled by going underwear shopping. There is little in this world more mortifying than standing in front of a mirror, under unforgiving overhead lighting, and trying on underwear. You might as well glue massive belts of silly putty all over your body for as lumpy and pasty as you look under those lights. I spent a couple of years as a fat girl, then more recently as a well-rounded girl. Unforgiving is a kind word for it. However, since losing 20 pounds in my break up with Ben, my body looks – to be frank – amazing. Flat tummy, toned arms, thighs and ass just the right amount of fleshy without having too much jiggle to them. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a little cottage cheese on the thighs and stretch marks here or there. I’m 32 years old for god’s sake and I’ve had 2 children. But all things considered, I look great.

So for the first time since high school, I was happy with what I saw in the mirror. I tried on bra after bra, panty after panty, and I reveled a bit in my new found sexiness. I held my head high, I had confidence in what I saw. When I left with my bag full of delicious goodies, I felt damn good. I walked outside and the sun was shining. I bought my cell phone charger, stopped at a jewelry store and had bought the cute little robot necklace you see in the picture above, when my tummy growled. I considered all the fast food places I could stop at on my way home. Everything sounded gross. Burgers, fries, sub sandwiches, tacos. Yuck. I considered for a moment the sushi place by my house whose sushi I love. I could just get some take out… and take it home… and eat it alone at my dining room table… Sigh. That didn’t sound good at all. I was happy, I was energetic, the sun was shining. I didn’t want to go home. It struck me then – why don’t I just go out to dinner here? The Blue C Sushi was right around the corner. When the idea fell upon me, it settled my soul immediately and I smiled to myself. Perfect.

People were lining the walls waiting for a seat. I approached the hostess and she smiled and stared. I could hear her brain trying to find a polite way to say “Just you?” so I saved her the trouble after a long silence. 

“Just me!” I said, and smiled.

 “Oh, okay. Well, there’s a seat open right there along the bar if that’s okay?” 

“That works!” I said, and seated myself. 

This is great, I thought, no wait when you’re a one instead of a two or a three. Blue C was a perfect place to break the hymen of eating alone as well. I didn’t have to sit in uncomfortable silence as I waited for the waiter to approach with a menu, I didn’t have to look over a menu then wait for the meal to come once ordered. The food was already there, making its way around the conveyor belt. I sat down, pulled down a California roll ( I usually start with a California roll, it readies my palette for what lies ahead) and began to mix my soy sauce and wasabi. The waiter asked what I would like to drink, then brought me my Diet Coke. I was sitting next to a couple and their daughter. They weren’t speaking, just eating and watching the cartoons on the wall as I was. After 5 or 10 minutes, they stood and left and I was at the bar alone for a while. Next a couple sat down, but they left a chair open between themselves and me. I ate my California roll slowly and watched the cartoons. Samurai Jack was playing. I had always liked that show. Pity the sound was off. 

I had pulled down some edamame and began to snack away at it when someone came and took the single seat beside me. It was a man, I’m guessing in the range of 22-23 years old. He had nautical tattoos on his arms and a clean haircut. I guessed him for a navy man. He ordered a Sapporo and took down a plate of California roll. He excused himself and took the soy sauce and wasabi from near me. The restaurant is set up for couples, so there was only set between us. I checked my email. There were a few from work that I checked and answered. The man next to me was doing the same thing. I pulled down the vegetable tempura as he pulled down a plate of my next choice: shrimp tempura roll. 

We had been sitting there for about 10 to 15 minutes, the two of us, not speaking except to say “excuse my reach” as we got more wasabi. I figured he was pretty harmless in the predator category, and I considered one of my future steps: the park bench. You sit and you have conversations you never would have had, if you hadn’t been alone. That was the adventure, right? So I took a leap. It felt awkward. I went for it.

“Do you usually eat here by yourself?” I asked him. 

“What?” He hadn’t heard me. The music is a bit loud there.

“Do you eat here by yourself very often?” I rephrased. He shrugged.

“I’ve eaten here by myself a few times. I usually come with my friends.”

“I’ve never had dinner by myself.” I said.                      

“Really?!” he said, surprised. That made me feel less weird. “Well, this is a good place to come because you don’t have to wait in line usually, and you don’t have to wait for the food to come, you just pick it off the belt.”

I nodded. He seemed receptive to conversation. He told me about being in from the navy (so I was right!) and how he was stationed on the Lincoln and they were just in port for a month or so. He was from Dallas originally. No accent though. He introduced himself (his name was Preston) with a handshake. I told him about the Project and he was impressed by my decision to take a handle of things. He said being alone isn’t so hard as long as you’re like me – outgoing and social.  We shared stories about our tattoos, traded stories about visiting L.A., NYC and San Diego. We sat and talked for about an hour as we ate sushi and he order another Sapporo and I got a refill on my Diet Coke. I talked about my kids, he talked about his parents. There was no flirtation about it, but there was a good social connection there. It was neat. When we were full, we got our checks and left. We didn’t exchange information, but I thanked my temporary friend Preston for his company. 

I don’t consider this my “Dinner” step, though technically it was dinner. This restaurant wasn’t a real fancy restaurant with linen napkins, I wasn’t at a table or a booth. It was much more like my Lunch step, I think, only it was later in the day. But I liked this experience so very much. I like that it was spontaneous; I didn’t plan it out and ready myself and walk out the door. It was a natural part of the course of my evening. And that’s what the Project is about, isn’t it? Finding value in my everyday aloneness. Not forcing myself into aloneness, but taking the aloneness that is there and finding the good in it. Settling into it. That’s what I did, and it felt natural. 

As with all the steps, I reveled in the fact I had nowhere to be, and no one to answer to. I could take as long as I wanted to eat my sushi and speak with my new friend Preston because it was just me. If someone had been there with me, I would have learned more about them and there is value in that, but since no one was there I was able to learn about this entirely different person. And I also learned a bit about myself. I am easy to talk to. I draw people out. I am always going to be okay being alone, because I am an innately social animal and in some ways I will never be alone. Place me in any setting and I will find a way to thrive. That is a noble attribute. 

The Project is working, you guys. Look at me go!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Step Three: Going in Circles

The day I went to Greenlake was perfect. It was warm but not hot. I got there around 7:30 at night, and the crowds were beginning to diminish but they hadn’t vanished. The sun was setting on Seattle as I began my walk. I didn’t take my earbuds, I didn’t really want to do anything to deaden or distract. The point was to enjoy my company, not to turn off the sound of my own thoughts.

The first mile was awkward. I felt like I was being stared at. There are 2 kinds of people at Greenlake: 1) The Alone People, wearing their jogging shoes, or riding their bikes, moving quickly and dodging between the Not Alone People or 2) The Not Alone People, traveling in their pairs and packs, slowly grazing like cattle around the perimeter. I felt at first as though I was wearing antennae, because I didn’t fit in. I was alone and meandering. I imagined that people were wondering to themselves, “What’s wrong with her? Is she high? Did someone die? Did she just get dumped?” OH! Bingo. Yah, I felt like I had a glowing, light trimmed arrow pointing and flashing at me from above. I hardly noticed my surroundings for that first 30 minutes or so. I mostly paid attention to the feel of my feet taking one lonely step after another. I wanted a hand to hold. I wanted a voice in my ear that wasn’t a stranger’s.

I was creeping into the second mile and had begun to let my thoughts sink into Ben again. That happens pretty rarely lately. I’ve been healing pretty well and letting go of a lot of the residual attachment I had to my life having Ben in it. I was no longer thinking of him first when I woke up in the morning, or last when I went to bed. My chest has lost that ache that had become so familiar with each breath. Hours were passing at the end of which I would realize I hadn’t thought of him at all. I was mending. But as the sun began to set, I turned inward. I was thinking about my future, and how bright it appeared to be, but as so often it does my mind wandered not to my successes but to my failures. Why had I been so disposable to Ben? Why had I been, after so much history, been so easy to throw away? Am I kidding myself in believing I have something to offer? I began to wonder if maybe the idea of me was much better than ACTUAL me. Am I a great interview, but a terrible employee? Am I fun on paper, but just not worth dealing with? Would all of my future relationships be tainted by my willingness to put my ideal self forward, only to disappoint with the reality of what I am? I stopped at a shady spot beneath a tree looking over the lake. I watched the ducks drift by, slipping across the glassy water, and the voices and sounds of the people on the trail evaporated into the ether as I began to cry. It wasn’t an audible cry, it wasn’t that cry in which you bury your face in your arms. It’s that cry where you’re just not sure what to do but crying seems right and so you let it happen. Fat, wet tears rolled down my cheeks, and since I was hidden away from everyone else, I let them fall.

I don’t want to feel broken anymore.

Eventually I stood and walked out from under my tree and when I did, there was a bench in the grass across from me. An old couple was sitting there, quietly holding hands. They weren’t exchanging words, but they were connected. I pondered for a moment the comfort inherent in being still with someone. It’s so much more intimate than talking or gesturing or imposing some idea. You are simply soaking in their presence, the joy of their company. I wondered at the idea of having that with myself. Noiseless and still in my own presence. As I began the rest of my walk, I began to feel a sort of calm come over me. I wasn’t so worried about the other people around me. I focused on the sound of my own breath, of my heart beat in my ears. I paid attention to the way my arms and hips moved in time with my steps. I looked out over the lake, and paid attention to the different trees that were planted around the grassy park surrounding the water. The sun was setting and the air was cooling and it felt good in my lungs. It felt clean. I let the breeze wash over me and paid attention to the feel of it crossing over my skin. It was good.

Again I felt that feeling that I felt with the other steps. It felt… free. I was here alone. I had no one to entertain. My thoughts and feelings were my own. I could laugh, I could cry, I could walk slowly, or speed my pace. There was no one else to consider but myself. Thinking of that pushed my shoulders back, it lifted my chin. I didn’t have anyone here to accompany me, but I also didn’t have anyone to answer to. I felt strong, I felt brave. I felt FIERCE. 

Which is probably what brought me to the debacle at the beginning of mile 3. I had poked my phone into my back pocket (I was expecting my kiddos to call, but I didn’t read or answer any text messages while I was there for my alone time. That wouldn’t be very “alone”, now would it?), and my car keys into my hoodie pocket, but I had locked my purse in the trunk of my car for safe keeping. I had forgotten to bring a bottle of water with me. By the time I started the 3rd mile, I was thirsty, but I had no water. There was a small shop by the side of the lake that sold beverages. As I approached it – penniless as I was – I saw that it also sold ice cream. God damn it. Now I wanted ice cream, too.

I had no money, the car was about a mile away so it made no sense to walk there and walk back. Still… ice cream. I looked around me at my surroundings and saw to young men sitting on the grass across the trail. I considered my position carefully, shrugged, and went for it. I was feeling fierce. I could do this.

“Hi!” I said. They looked up at me. I smiled my 100 watt smile, cocked my head to the right.

“Hi…?” They said, almost in unison. They were maybe 19 or 20. 

“Could I have 5 dollars?” I asked. That was all. They watched for a moment, as if awaiting elaboration, but I offered none. I felt this was a challenge. The one on the right spoke.

“What?” he said. Obviously he was not my target. I shifted my attention to the one on the left. 

“Could I please have 5 dollars?” I asked again. Jacked up the smile wattage to 1,000, head tilt to the left, cute little nose scrunch to seal the deal. There was an almost imperceptible pause before the boy answered, during which I was almost worried.

“I think I have $5…” he said, and dug it out of his wallet. His friend looked at him as though he was buying magic beans, though those would have had a more realistic turn around. I thanked him with another 1,000 watt smile and went to claim my reward.

Mmmm… bottled water and ice cream dipped in crunch bar. 

I got a dollar back in change and I returned it to the young man. I’m not sure what he thought when he saw me approach him holding water and an ice cream, but I’m sure a lesson was learned there. Don’t worry, I’ll pay it forward.

Regardless, by the time I got back to my car, I had a smile on my face. I didn’t care that I was alone. I was sharing the inside joke with myself about getting a silly boy to buy me ice cream for no reason. I had enjoyed the sunset, gotten some exercise, and pushed the envelope of my comfort zone, all while being reminded I’m actually still kind of young and pretty.

This trip did more than the others. It encouraged me to do more. I felt confident as I was walking away. I was excited for the next step, and the step after that. I think between the steps, and my growing comfort with the sound of my own footsteps in my house, and sleeping alone every night for so long, that I’m getting a grip on all of this. I feel some long dormant part of me tossing and turning, rubbing its eyes, and taking a long stretch. 

My soul is waking, I can feel it.

Interlude: In the Name of Absolute Transparency aka Don't You Dare Suggest I'm a Coward

First and foremost, I’ve been called out.

Something’s been going on that may be affecting the Project, and it was recently suggested that I would be too ashamed by my failure to be honest with it here. That’s defeating the purpose, isn’t it? Lying, hiding? This isn’t about my audience. Yes, you’re here so I’ll maintain some accountability, but the purpose of the accountability wasn’t about avoiding judgment – my life has been riddled with judgment since I was a young white trash girl living with a goat in an apartment (long story). It was about maintaining accountability so I would follow my steps. I didn’t want to chicken out when things got uncomfortable as I pushed my boundaries. 

Let me make this perfectly clear, first and foremost: My life is my own, and I make the decisions I feel suit it best. Sometimes people consider them self-destructive – such as the people who suggested I abort or give up my son because I was young, unmarried and had just moved in with Rich a month prior to finding out I was pregnant. Thank goodness I didn’t listen to those boneheads, I would have missed out on 10 years of one of the most amazing kids I’ve ever known. I was told to (begged to, really) quit my job over a year ago. I powered through it despite popular opinion, and despite the boss I had at the time making me cry on a regular basis. Today I have the most rewarding job I’ve ever had because I stuck it out. My gut doesn’t always steer me wrong. Only I can know my life from the inside, and I have to make the call based on what feels right.

So here we go. Transparency. Honesty. I have been talking to a boy. He lives in another country. He is handsome, charming, and he bought me a present. 

You are more than welcome to consider this a blatant disregard for the Project. I can certainly understand the urge to consider someone I can’t touch, meet, have sex with, sleep next to, cuddle with, or even meet for coffee a very serious risk to my attempt at being alone. I have never felt so involved as I do right now. He is able to meet all of my emotional and physical needs as defined in a relationship from his vantage point 4,772 miles away. Okay, okay, my sarcasm is getting a bit catty here, but you’re catching my drift, right? I’m just saying – have a little perspective. However, you are more than welcome to your opinion of this contact.

I am Jack’s complete lack of concern.

The project is mine. I defined its boundaries, and its purpose. I defined its parameters, and they were as such: 6 months alone. Follow the steps, do them alone. Learn how to enjoy my own company. I didn’t consider my main goal to be being unsupported and cut off. I never claimed I would be celibate, I claimed one thing: no boyfriend for 6 months and learn to be comfortable in my own skin. The goal was so that in the future – relationship or no – I would be able to feel okay on my own so I wouldn’t *need*  a guy. I would be okay doing things on my own. However, life changes every day. We adjust. The Project is only as static as my own reality.

On April 20th, Ben left. Since that day I have not been told “I love you”, no one has curled close to me at night, no one has held my hand or tucked my hair behind my ear. On October 20th, I will have been without the comfort of those affections for 6 months. Will that mean that I have not been told I’m pretty? No. I get “You’re pretty” at every dive bar and skeezy club I end up in. That’s not realistic. Will that mean that I won’t have had sex? Nope, it doesn’t mean that either. I’m saying – where do you want me to draw the line? Is it if I “seek out” men to tell me I’m pretty so it makes me feel better and less alone? Is it if I let a man buy me a drink at a bar? What if I talk to the man? What if I let him take me home for the night but never see him again? Where does the line end? My opinion is that it’s my decision. This is my project. I determine its purpose and its worth. No one else can decide that for me. 

I am talking to a boy. He lives in another country. I am going to continue the steps because I think that learning to be alone is still real here, and still essential here, and I am not swayed by his attentions in relation to the project. I am going to continue talking to the boy who lives in another country. I am not going to be made ashamed by your disapproval because I believe I am still able to accomplish what I came here to accomplish – learning to be okay on my own. I am still here alone. My house is still empty. My bed is still empty. 

When the Project is yours, you are welcome to make your own rules. I will judge them accordingly. If you give up on me and my ability to follow the steps, or if you have decided that the Project is worthless now, then so be it. I am not continuing it to appease you anymore than I started it to appease you. 

But don’t think for a minute that I’m going to hide a damn thing. I may be a broken fuck-up, but I’m no coward.