We’re all the lucky ones

Because it was on a weekend this year, Valentine’s Day might have passed without me noticing if it weren’t for a few Facebook friends sharing photos of bouquets and festive table settings. Unlike some previous years, I wasn’t bitter or envious of those in a pair. Sure, it would have been nice to have someone be like, “SURPRISE! Here’s a first edition Lolita with a butterfly doodle on the title page. Now let me buy you a steak!” but I wasn’t aimlessly hurling frustration just because I don’t have a guy to buy me flowers and a card.

When I think of Valentine’s, I recall an album I heard a few years ago: Daughter’s “If You Leave.” It was a dark winter morning & I was getting ready for work and I decided to buy the album on Amazon on a whim. I was groggy, craving soft sheets, snuggles, and the adoration of someone else and the lyrics hit me in the gut.

And if you’re in love, then you are the lucky one,
‘Cause most of us are bitter over someone.
Setting fire to our insides for fun,
To distract our hearts from ever missing them.
But I’m forever missing him.

It was a melancholic day in my cubicle. I spent most of the day thinking of loves lost, envious of those lucky ones who took their companionship for granted. I missed the days of democratic valentines when I didn’t understand the holiday, I just knew I was going to get 28 poorly torn and folded cards from my classmates. In middle school when I actually did get the holiday, the first three weeks of February were a slow roasting hell, seeing the halls covered in advertisements for the carnation sale. I think I received two $1 carnations – both were from female friends whose generosity felt cruel because they weren’t boys. High school was where I started seeing that it wasn’t so much about love and affection as it was about the things guys bought girls. Since boys weren’t buying me anything, it was fortunate that it was cool to hate Valentine’s Day.

I had several vaguely memorable gifts Valentine’s Days that I can fondly recall; The lunch, latte, and bouquet from the produce boy. The blood red roses from Jon. My first Kindle & pearl studs from Bill. The Second City tickets from the professor. Last year’s dozen roses delivered at work after a first date.

What I hate most about Valentine’s Day is how reductive it is. That list isn’t representative of those relationships. They ranged from simple blushing and hormone-heavy infatuation to complex and sustained commitments. But somehow, whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around, the first thing that comes to my mind is all the previous February 14ths – not the relationships I was in at the time. It takes a while to recall how the produce boy made me blush every time he delivered a white chocolate raspberry latte from my favorite coffee shop – longer still to remember how badly I craved any sign of love from Jon and how deeply I celebrated any instance of affection. It’s somewhat easier to recall the easy tenderness Bill and I shared, and the thrill of the professor’s support of my hobbies.

I listened to “Youth” again the other day, and it didn’t hold the same sadness it once did. Instead of focusing on the lingering bitterness over someone, I consider myself lucky to have experienced such a range of love and despair. It means I’ve been able share myself with a person and he’s trusted me enough to share himself with me. A successful relationship isn’t necessarily one that ends in marriage and eternal commitment. A successful relationship can also be one of mutual discovery and growth. Even the relationships that ended badly were ones that lead to further self-awareness. It’s cliche, but it really is better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.

While the ego bruise from Valentine’s Day might still be fresh for some readers, I still want to tell people to treasure wherever they’re at. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, don’t place any importance on this arbitrary day. Just treasure your moments and savor whatever you’re doing.

Vonnegut sums it up better than I can tonight: “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

I’m like Fat Amy but with introversion.

It’s Friday night and I’m in sweats. I’m alone on my couch. I just inhaled a personal pizza. I’m halfway through my first cocktail. I’m listening to Norah Jones’s discography on shuffle. If I were trying to out-sad you, I’d tell you I was contemplating the beauty of the partially deflated balloon my roommate got for Valentine’s Day.

It’s sort just hovering around a single light. Sort of like that scene in American Beauty with the plastic bag being tossed around by the wind. Poetic, the way it mocks my loneliness.

Judging balloon is judging you and your loneliness.

Stoic helium balloon knows how you really feel

Just kidding. I’m not lonely. My pizza was delicious and my cocktail is refreshing. Vince offered to make me dinner tonight, but I declined. I’ve been craving a night to myself. I say that like I have this incredible social life. Really I’m just figuring out how to be an adult. I don’t know how they do it. I feel like I deserve a parade when I work a full day, go to the gym, shower, AND put my dirty clothes in the hamper.

But I’m not trying to out-sad you. I did that a few months ago, because I didn’t know how to deal with it. I use self-deprecation as a tool for self-preservation. I make fun of my loneliness and sadness before other people can ask me how I’m doing. Sort of like Fat Amy.

Fat Amy

If you’ve been reading for a while or if you know me well enough, you know that about a year ago, I went through a breakup. I was sad and lonely for a big chunk of time. I drank too many whiskey drinks and listened to Ok Go too many times. I ate too much bread and just avoided looking in the mirror. While my roommate was out with her boyfriend, I would find myself sitting alone, unable to do anything but make fun of myself.

True story, just use the search bar to find all my posts on heartbreak and breakup and love and relationships and all those other uplifting topics.

The optimist in me says I was dealing with my situation head-on. But the realist in me knows I was denying the issue and pretending to be stronger than I actually was. But eventually I started to believe myself. I don’t know (or particularly care) what this says about me and my coping capabilities, but eventually I got through it – I became strong on my own. Now I value my alone time. Maybe a bit too much at times.

But you know what? All that matters tonight is how quickly I can get in bed with my heating pad for my hip (I skipped training last week, ran 3mi on Tuesday night, 3.5mi on Thursday and decided I was too cool for stretching), and start reading. And anyway, I’m being responsible. My boss requested I stay in.

Well, sort of.

Well, sort of.

The last time I volunteered to help her out on a Saturday morning project, she (and several of my coworkers) saw my painful recovery from the night I went to a rave. I was so out of it that morning that I didn’t have the mental capacity to lie about where I had been. So when a coworker asked what I had done the night before, I told her, “I went to a rave.” Now, almost two months later, they’re giving me crap for it, constantly making jokes about glowsticks and E.

I bet they’ll have a hard time thinking of something to tease me about when I tell them I read the last 130 pages of Gone Girl alone in my bed.

Returning the Ring

As I discussed in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about autobiographical fiction. The following is very, very much based in reality. I wrote it about two years ago as an autobiographical fiction assignment for my personal narrative class. I suppose I could tell you what parts are fictional, but that would take away all the mystery and fun, wouldn’t it?

By the way, any feedback and comments are appreciated.

_____

I left my car running in the driveway. The exhaust coughed as I walked to his front door with a plastic bag. It was sometime before seven and Scott was sure to be in bed for at least another four hours.

Good morning, love. I hope you have a wonderful day!

My day was already planned. Feeling sorry for myself after a night of little sleep, I had called in sick to work. The idea of spending eight hours typing useless data and making numbed small talk with women in surrounding cubicles was just too much. After graciously returning Scott’s belongings, I would stop into the coffee shop and get a quad-shot iced americano that, between the sickly bitter espresso and obnoxious amount of ice, would eventually give me a headache. That headache would later be dulled with a half bottle of vodka and fruit juice while I got bikini baked.

Don’t let David hit on you anymore, otherwise Imma have to go down to Ohio to beat his ass. 

His junk had to go. A cello concerto scribbled on a stack of staff paper, a Russian textbook I had borrowed, pit-stained undershirts I had begged him to bleach, and a six pack of Leinie’s Red. I walked up to the front porch and dropped it all into a heap. I dug into my pocket for the last item – a ring of his grandmother’s.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxxo

The tiny pile insulted me. After a year, this was all I had to show. Scott wasn’t the nesting type, apparently. Not with me anyway. He never said sweet things to me. I figured he just had the quiet kind of affection. So of course it was a little surprising to see that he was willing to send adorations via text to a girl who lived three states away.

I’m going to rehearsal now, but I’ll be thinking of you the whole time. xoxo

I wanted the revenge to be grand. I wanted him humiliated. Everything I could think of seemed so typical: Spraying painting “cheater” across the front of his house. Salting the lawn. Sprinkling sugar in his gas tank. Putting his name and number in the craigslist casual encounters. Signing him up for subscriptions to eight different fetish magazines. Slamming an axe into the hood of his car. Buying a billboard and listing his indiscretions. I wanted to do it all though. I wanted to make his life as difficult as possible.

I wanted him to burn with shame the way I had when I had seen the text messages the night before. Scanning his inbox, I found he told this “Belle” that he loved her more times in the previous five hours than he had in eleven months with me. The worst part was that the texts were burned into my memory and kept playing on repeat like a short film.

I love you, Belle. 

I put the ring between my teeth and reached to tear pages out of the Russian textbook and shred his concerto. I ripped the t-shirts in half while considering what to do with the ring. I could toss it in the lawn and let the lawn mower jam up next time he mowed. I could somehow melt it down into the shape of a dog turd and send it with a friendly note.

I wanted that ring to be destroyed. He had left the other things with me without a thought. He had copies of the concerto on his computer. The textbook was two editions old, and he neither remembered nor cared about the vocabulary and verbs. I cracked open a beer and tipped it upside down, soaking the pile.

Next door, a neighbor was unraveling a hose to water his flowers. He watched while I smiled, waved, and reached for another bottle. I poured all six onto his things.

It started to feel good. Almost as good as I had felt the night before, slapping him across the face.

I wish I could be there to hold you as you fell asleep tonight. 

But this ring was more than all of that. It was still resting between my front teeth and saliva, no longer held back by tight lips, was beginning to creep out of the corners. He had given it to me two months earlier, on the morning of an audition. We had spent the better part of a year at universities two hours apart and I had decided to transfer to his university. I told my friends I was transferring to save money, but I really did it to be closer to Scott. He had encouraged me, saying it was obvious that music was in my soul and that I should study with the violin professor at his university.

“Literature doesn’t suit you,” he told me. “But it’s obvious that music is your real passion.”

Flattered by his apparent ability to realize things about myself that I didn’t, I prepared an audition to complete my minor. He had done his best to convince me to change degrees altogether, but I wasn’t willing to dedicate four more years to a bachelor’s degree. While my fingers were callusing and my neck developed a persistent red mark from my violin, Scott encouraged me and told me he was looking forward to playing in the orchestra with me.

On the morning of the audition, I was running through the second movement of the Haydn concerto in a moist practice room when he had knocked on the door, an americano in one hand and the other in his pocket. “Morning, love,” he said. “How’s it going?”

“I’m nervous. I can’t get the double stops right in the cadenza,” I said, taking the americano from his hand. “I mean, I can get them right half the time, but the other half sounds like crap.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” Scott said, kissing my forehead. He sat down on the piano bench. “You’re going to get in no problem. Half the violinists here suck anyway. Play a little for me.”

I took a drink from the americano, ignoring how it burnt my tongue and focusing instead on the tensions in my body. My left shoulder had a knot. My wrists were sore. The spot on my neck felt raw. My fingers were sweaty and rigid. The caffeine I was sucking down wasn’t going to help me feel any less shaky. I handed the drink to Scott and picked up my violin. While I played, Scott watched. I got through the cadenza perfectly. When I finished, he stood up and kissed me again.

“I’m proud of you, Ashley,” he told me, hugging me. “Like I said before, you’re going to do just fine. There’s no reason to stress.”

“I know, I just haven’t done this in a while.”

“I want to give you something,” Scott said. He reached into his pocket, retrieved the ring, and pressed it into my hand. “It’s for luck.”

“Thank you,” I said, looking at it. A think silver band with small dots framing a smooth center. It made me think of a zipper. I slid it over my right ring finger, not wanting him to think I thought it signified an engagement or promise.

“It used to be my grandmother’s. It’s really not worth anything, but I wanted you to have it,” he said. “I found it in my dresser the other day.”

“Thank you,” I said, a little amazed he had given me a family ring. “It’s really nice of you.”

His jaw got tight and he suddenly looked like he regretted giving it to me. “It’s not like…you know, a ring ring.” he said. “It’s not an heirloom or anything, just something my grandfather made for my grandma and I somehow got a hold of it.”

“Don’t worry, I know. An engagement ring would have to have a big ol’ diamond, anyway,” I joked, sensing his discomfort.

I still think he’s an asshole.

I took the ring out of my mouth and looked at it. Slimy with my spit, it shined a bit more than usual. It was ugly. I had recognized that the moment he gave it to me. Since it was too big for any of my fingers, I had put it on a chain of beads and occasionally wore them around my neck. He had given it to me halfheartedly so I wore it halfheartedly. Maybe it was his last ditch effort to commit to me. By giving me a tangible sign of commitment – even if it was a worthless piece of family jewelry – maybe he felt like he would have to fully commit to me. Maybe it was a peace offering when I didn’t realize there was a conflict. Maybe it was a pathetic attempt at making up for what I was about to find in a few weeks. Whatever it was, it didn’t make much sense.

I remembered his face the night before, when he came into the room, seeing me with his phone my hand. Shocked. Eyes and mouth gaping. Taking a second and hoping the worst hadn’t happened, he swallowed and asked, “Did I miss a call?”

“No, but who the fuck is ‘Belle My Dearest’?”

Suddenly I realized the emptiness in my stomach. I blinked hard and dropped the ring on the pile. I took the empty bottles, placed each neatly in the cardboard caddy, and crowned the weepy mound.

Rules for When You See Your Ex-Boyfriend

  1. If possible, wear an in-ear speaker that plays a continuous loop of yourself reciting all the reasons you’ve broken up/why he’s now an asshole. 
  2. Avoid alcohol, you moron. 
  3. Don’t revisit rituals from your relationship. Did the two of you play Scrabble together? Not allowed. Did you drink Guinness and watch Burn Notice? Don’t even think about it. Feel free to drink caffeine-free tea and watch Shark Week reruns though. 
  4. Keep your damn pants on, you moron. If you’re wearing a dress, put on some spanx since they’re essentially vagina armor.
  5. Wear your least sexy underwear so that in the event the pants or spanx are removed, there is one more barrier before you do something you regret. Yes, ladies, this means you could and should pull out the granny panties you only wear when you have your period. 
  6. Don’t create new and novel memories. Never shot a pistol? Don’t do it with him. Anything fun and exciting that will be remembered as a personal milestone should not be acted on unless you wish to forever remember the first time you shot a handgun was on a sweltering hot July day with your ex-boyfriend’s new Walther 9mm while sweat stung your eyes and dripped down your back. Or something. 
  7. Notice how he changed and how he stayed the same and react appropriately. Exhibit A: Does he wear a new cologne? Does it smell like pine and an intimate toy cleaner? Take note. Exhibit B: He shows up with 3-day stubble and wearing that grey t-shirt he knows you love? Pompous ass.
  8. Stay out of the bedroom. I don’t care if you just got a new bed and you’re living in a new apartment. He’s not allowed to see it. If he’s spending the night, he can sleep on the damn kitchen floor with a towel and an uncased pillow if you’re feeling generous.
  9. Remember that there is no such thing as unconditional love. Then remember your damn conditions, you moron.
  10. Don’t. Just don’t see him. It’s not a good idea. Nothing good can come from it. You’ve broken up for a reason. Remember that reason. Maybe he said he was “missing something” (he probably still is) or maybe he kissed some indian bitch who plays the flute (he probably gave her a hickey), or maybe he’s unsure of how he feels (he probably still needs to shit or get off the pot), whatever the reason, it probably still exists and you have no more time to waste.