From Lovers to Friends

“Why are old lovers able to become friends? Two reasons. They never truly loved each other, or they love each other still.” ~ Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt

It was eighteen years ago when we were together.  Much has happened since then.  He is now married and has two daughters.  I have been married and divorced, and I now have a daughter.  We have seen each other several times over the course of the last eighteen years, but this past July, at our annual international tournament, was the first time that we had an opportunity to be alone and really talk to and spend time with each other.

We slipped easily into conversation, and it was as though we had never lost touch, had never been separated by time and distance, and had never broken each other’s hearts.  I realized then how I had fallen in love with him eighteen years ago.  He is funny, smart, charming, well skilled at martial arts, and there is a level of comfort that I feel with him that I do not usually have with others.  Many people have asked me how I can be so friendly with him, an ex who had lied to me the entire time we were together, and who in essence had made me an unknowing mistress.
I suppose the answer is that I really do not know how.  All I know is that in many ways, I trust him.  I know that because he has already hurt me and has tried throughout the years to undo the hurt that he caused me, I feel as though I can trust him to not do it again.  Maybe this time, there are no stakes, and I can be friends with him freely, without expectation, and without hope for anything more.  Maybe what I feel for him is what true love really means, or maybe, what he and I had eighteen years ago was not really love, but just a friendship that had been taken to a place where it should never have gone.

The Return

“Something told him that something was coming to an end. Not the world, exactly. Just the summer. There would be other summers, but there would never be one like this. Ever again.” ~ Neil Gaiman, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

After twenty years, I finally returned to Termoli.  It felt like a homecoming of sorts.  It was bitter and it was sweet.  I regret that I waited so long to return.  After all, A passed away ten years ago.  I wanted to come then to pay my respects and to say goodbye, but life and situations got in the way, and this year was the first time that I saw a clear path back to this magical place.  It was as if all the stars aligned just so that I could make this journey.

His parents met me at the airport.  I saw them as soon as I exited the terminal.  I saw the love and happiness in their faces, and I felt the love and joy in their warm kisses and embrace.  We all cried tears of happiness, tears of pain, and tears for the loss of A, our beloved, who connected us then and who still continues to connect us all.

We swam in the sea every morning, and we dined al fresco in the evenings.  After dinner, we walked amidst ancient fortresses and breathed in salty sea air.  We drank strong cups of espresso, and ate glorious fresh food from the sea.  The sun was strong and beamed upon us every day.  At night, the skies were dark in the way that made the stars seemed brighter.

I will always remember A.  He will forever live in my heart.  Without him, I never would have known of this beautiful place, and I would never have had the honor to meet his beautiful family and friends.  He is what brought me to Termoli.  I have tasted a slice of heaven, and I know he is in his own personal heaven watching over all of us.

Over Him

“Your head’s like mine, like all our heads; big enough to contain every god and devil there ever was. Big enough to hold the weight of oceans and the turning stars. Whole universes fit in there! But what do we choose to keep in this miraculous cabinet? Little broken things, sad trinkets that we play with over and over. The world turns our key and we play the same little tune again and again and we think that tune’s all we are.” ~ Grant Morrison, The Invisibles, Vol. 1: Say You Want a Revolution

Relationships do not just end at the exact moment of a break-up.  Whether it is one person moving out, or whether there are words spoken between the parties signifying the end of the commitment, the real end of the relationship happens when you stop feeling for that person.
I did end our relationship when I found out.  I was hurt, angry and devastated. But I was also forgiving.  I was not ready to just let go of my dreams or my love for him.  We were living together, and we were sharing a life together.  I let my feelings for him, my love for him, override his acts of betrayal against me.       
And with my progress towards forgiveness, I let him back into my thoughts, my heart, and my life. We were not together in the conventional sense of being in a relationship, but we were together in how I viewed him and how he was a main figure in my current life.  
Over time, we had managed to maintain a very civil friendship.  He was there for me whenever I needed anything, and similarly, I was there for him whenever he was in a bind.  But underneath that friendship was a very strong desire to rekindle the love and the relationship that we once shared.
When he first moved out, I never took down any of the photos that I had of him that were displayed in various shelves around the house.  Aside from his belongings that he took with him when he moved, I kept most everything in the house the way that they were while he was still living there.  I even still slept on my side of the bed even though I now had the entire bed to myself to spread out.  It was not intentional — I mindlessly just kept things as they were — maybe an unconscious desire to preserve the life that we had together before the betrayal.    
I used to look at his pictures and feel surges of emotion, ranging from explosive anger, deep hurt, to gentle love.  I had little trinkets, reminders of him, lurking everywhere in the house.  There was the little neck pillow he bought from our trip to the Philippines together, the 9/11 memorial statue on the corner table that was his and was a reminder of the fallen World Trade Center Towers and the firefighters that held up the United States Flag amid the ruins, the ceramic of the iconic NYC coffee cup that he gave me, the paintings on the walls that he bought when we first moved in together… so many objects that tell stories of our life together.
Yesterday, I saw more reminders of him around the house.  Unhappy reminders.  I saw the chipped wooden blind that was damaged during one of our fights when he flung the car keys towards the window.  I saw the dent in the bedroom door from when I slammed the door in his face, and he tried to push it open with his shoulder.  I saw the folder of medical papers from when I was undergoing fertility treatments.  Reminders of not so happy moments.  
It was only just yesterday that I realized that my relationship with him is truly over.  It is over because I no longer hold on to the good moments that we shared together, but instead can look back at it with a clear set of eyes and also see that life with him was far from perfect.  In fact, if I look really closely, and if the walls could talk, the stories of bad times would outweigh the stories of good times.
This weekend, I will do some Spring cleaning and rearranging.  It is time to reclaim my space.

As You Are

“I envy people that know love. They have someone who takes them as they are.” ~ Jess C. Scott, The Devilin Fey 

I’ve been watching couples lately.  I watch how they interact with each other in public, and I listen to stories from friends and even strangers about their relationships.  I am curious about the mechanics of how relationships are supposed to work.  I feel as though my track record with past relationships has not been very good.  Did they all fail because of me?  Did they fail because of the men who I chose? Why have all my relationships failed?  Was I too intense?  Too clingy?  Or was I too distant and not open enough?

I try hard in any relationship in which I am involved.  With my last relationship, I tried so hard that I felt exhausted and spent at the end of it.  I try everyday, by being supportive, by listening, by rearranging my days and schedule to accommodate theirs, by taking care of them, and by being the person who I believe they want me to be.

I have spent most of my adult life being a skewed person of myself.  I have contorted myself to be someone else to make others happy, and along the way, I have forgotten who I am inside.

But the “me” inside, the “real” me, wants to come out.  It wants to be seen, to be heard, to be felt, to be needed, to be taken care of… to be loved.  When was the last time someone took care of me? When was the last time someone bent over backwards for me?  I have been so busy twisting and turning myself to take care of others, but they in turn don’t do anything to take care of me.

Every day, I see couples on the train, on the streets, in office buildings, and at grocery stores.  I see them holding hands, leaning up against each other, or even kissing.  I look at the faces of these couples, and I examine the smiles on their faces.The other night, I was at the grocery store.  I walked up on a couple arguing in the parking lot.  “You want to walk, don’t you?”  the man said to his wife.  “Ha!” she replied.  “I can’t believe you said that. You are so walking.” he said. She starts laughing. “Then you’re going to have to call my mother and tell her you made me walk home.”  They both laughed and he put his arms around her.  As I walked past them, they both smiled at me.  Here was a couple comfortable enough to fight, but yet remain loving and playful with each other.  I felt a tinge of envy.I deserve that, too.  I deserve to be loved, just as I am, and not have to work so hard at twisting myself into the person others want me to be.  Maybe if I didn’t try so hard and just be myself, it might just happen.

Nobody Knows

“He took his pain and turned it into something beautiful. Into something that people connect to. And that’s what good music does. It speaks to you. It changes you.” ~ Hannah Harrington, Saving June

I recently lost my mobile phone and lost all my data along with it.  I was quite lax with syncing my mobile and saving my data to a “cloud.”  As such, I lost hundreds of songs that I had saved on my phone.
Thinking of songs to download and then to upload onto my phone has been quite tedious.  Rebuilding my music library has been painfully slow.  Oddly enough, as I was flipping through channels on my television, I stumbled upon a 90s music station and I sat there and listened to the songs for a good hour.
It was like having the radio on, but over the television.
Although I really consider myself an 80s music kind of girl, the 90s were also an important decade in my life.  It is the decade in which I graduated university, and it was also the decade when I first got my heart broken.  I’ve always believed that you are not fully an adult until you have had your heart split open into a million pieces.
I spent much of the 90s loving, and then pining for the one who I have come to call my Immortal Beloved.  I am over him, now, but during that phase in my life, every breath that I took, every beat of my heart, and every thought in my head was for him.
So, as I sat in my living room over the weekend, transfixed to the 90s music station, I was transported back to that sad, lost, and depressed girl crying over her first lost love.
Listening to the music, I remembered the pain that I had felt back then, and the hopelessness that ran through my veins.  I did not know then that the heart is an incredibly durable muscle and can withstand multiple wounds and even be put back together after it has been crushed.
One song that I heard on the music channel was Nobody Knows by the Tony Rich Project.  It is a song about lost love and living with the pain of that loss everyday and no one knowing about it.  This song perfectly expressed my life when my heart was first broken.

Vestiges

Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.” ~ Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

I always thought that I had a good memory.  I can remember minute little details from my childhood, like the flowery bedspread my mother gave me when I was in elementary school, and the yellow flowery pillow sheet that I used to cover my favorite pillow, and on which I laid my head for several years and cried on for many nights during my teen years.  I remember portions of events from when I was young, and I even remember how I felt during those moments.

G is six now and she is often curious about how I was when I was her age.  She lost her front tooth recently, and she asked me how long it took for mine to grow back when I had lost my front tooth.  I was surprised when I realized that I did not remember.  I have a very vague recollection of losing my teeth, but yet I can remember the exact layout of my bedroom in our house on Greenport Avenue in California.

I remember the time my sister came back from school one day when she was in first grade and she told me that she felt lonely because no one in school liked her.  I told her that she could sleep with me that night and I sang to her until she fell asleep.

I remember the day my brother went off to the military, and how I cried when he left.

I remember when my mother turned thirty-eight and how I was afraid that she was getting old.

I remember the time I wasted being angry with my dad and how we did not speak for much too long for a reason that no one can even remember anymore.

I am trying to piece back the vestiges of my childhood and early adult years and while I may not remember losing my first tooth, or the first time I fell or got hurt, the memories and events that I hold close to my heart, I will remember those for the rest of my life.

Sandy

“It is the tenderness that breaks our hearts. The loveliness that leaves us stranded on the shore, watching the boats sail away. It is the sweetness that makes us want to reach out and touch the soft skin of another person. And it is the grace that comes to us, undeserving though we may be.” ~ Robert Goolrick, The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life

Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, leaving behind severe devastation in its wake.  New York City was hit hard, especially Lower Manhattan, Staten Island and the Rockaways.  Tens of thousands lost power.  Many are without food and basic necessities.  Some lost everything.  A few dozen lost their lives.

I was one of the fortunate ones in the city.  Except for a few minor inconveniences, I was not affected by the storm.
But the storm did change my perspective.
Last week, I wanted a better, higher paying job, a bigger place to live, and more money with which to enjoy life.  This week, after the storm, all I want is for things to go back to how they were before Sandy destroyed my city.
And I want to sleep a little better, knowing that GP, a firefighter, will come home to me after every shift.  He and the rest of the city’s first responders have been working tirelessly all week trying to clean up and salvage what remains after Sandy’s destruction.
When you come face to face with mortality and a sudden uprooting of your everyday life, you are humbled down to wanting only what you really need, and for me, that is G, GP, and the life that I was already blessed to have.

The Mailbox

“The dead are never exactly seen by the living, but many people seem acutely aware of something changed around them. They speak of a chill in the air. The mates of the deceased wake from dreams and see a figure standing at the end of thier bed, or in a doorway, or boarding, phantomlike, a city bus.” ~ Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones
Sanctuary of Zeus | Photo by TK

My friend M lives in a typical pre-war building here in New York. It is a building with a long history and a long roster of souls that have come and gone.

And some that have not left.

I visited her one afternoon. She lives on the first floor, adjacent to the front lobby, and just past the mail room. After she buzzed me in the front door that day, I walked down the long corridor towards her door. I passed the mail room and caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye a young woman bent down in front of the mailboxes. She was dressed in a long, white skirt and a dark top. I turned away, and then turned again to look back at the woman.

She had disappeared.

After a conversation with my friend and her building super, I learned the story of a woman who had died in the building. She was an elderly woman who had lived in the building since the first year the apartment building was erected. She was then a young woman who was engaged to a young soldier who was sent to Europe to fight in WWII.

It is said that her lover’s body was never found during the war. He was considered dead after they could not locate him after a mission he served in France. Accounts from other tenants in the building reported that the young woman never stopped hoping to receive word about her lover. She faithfully checked her mailbox every afternoon with the hopes of receiving some kind of correspondence regarding her one true love.

From what I saw that afternoon, she still waits.

True love never dies and waits forever.

100% Perfect Girl

One of my favorites …


Haruki Murakami: On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning

One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo’s fashionable Harujuku neighborhood, I walked past the 100% perfect girl.
Tell you the truth, she’s not that good-looking. She doesn’t stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn’t young, either – must be near thirty, not even close to a “girl,” properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.
Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of girl – one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the next table to mine because I like the shape of her nose.
But no one can insist that his 100% perfect girl correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like noses, I can’t recall the shape of hers – or even if she had one. All I can remember for sure is that she was no great beauty. It’s weird.
“Yesterday on the street I passed the 100% girl,” I tell someone.
“Yeah?” he says. “Good-looking?”
“Not really.”
“Your favorite type, then?”
“I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember anything about her – the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts.”
“Strange.”
“Yeah. Strange.”
“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?”
“Nah. Just passed her on the street.”
She’s walking east to west, and I west to east. It’s a really nice April morning.
Wish I could talk to her. Half an hour would be plenty: just ask her about herself, tell her about myself, and – what I’d really like to do – explain to her the complexities of fate that have led to our passing each other on a side street in Harajuku on a beautiful April morning in 1981. This was something sure to be crammed full of warm secrets, like an antique clock build when peace filled the world.
After talking, we’d have lunch somewhere, maybe see a Woody Allen movie, stop by a hotel bar for cocktails. With any kind of luck, we might end up in bed.
Potentiality knocks on the door of my heart.
Now the distance between us has narrowed to fifteen yards.
How can I approach her? What should I say?
“Good morning, miss. Do you think you could spare half an hour for a little conversation?”
Ridiculous. I’d sound like an insurance salesman.
“Pardon me, but would you happen to know if there is an all-night cleaners in the neighborhood?”
No, this is just as ridiculous. I’m not carrying any laundry, for one thing. Who’s going to buy a line like that?
Maybe the simple truth would do. “Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me.”
No, she wouldn’t believe it. Or even if she did, she might not want to talk to me. Sorry, she could say, I might be the 100% perfect girl for you, but you’re not the 100% boy for me. It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably go to pieces. I’d never recover from the shock. I’m thirty-two, and that’s what growing older is all about.
We pass in front of a flower shop. A small, warm air mass touches my skin. The asphalt is damp, and I catch the scent of roses. I can’t bring myself to speak to her. She wears a white sweater, and in her right hand she holds a crisp white envelope lacking only a stamp. So: She’s written somebody a letter, maybe spent the whole night writing, to judge from the sleepy look in her eyes. The envelope could contain every secret she’s ever had.
I take a few more strides and turn: She’s lost in the crowd.
Now, of course, I know exactly what I should have said to her. It would have been a long speech, though, far too long for me to have delivered it properly. The ideas I come up with are never very practical.
Oh, well. It would have started “Once upon a time” and ended “A sad story, don’t you think?”
Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others. But they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them. Yes, they believed in a miracle. And that miracle actually happened.
One day the two came upon each other on the corner of a street.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you all my life. You may not believe this, but you’re the 100% perfect girl for me.”
“And you,” she said to him, “are the 100% perfect boy for me, exactly as I’d pictured you in every detail. It’s like a dream.”
They sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour. They were not lonely anymore. They had found and been found by their 100% perfect other. What a wonderful thing it is to find and be found by your 100% perfect other. It’s a miracle, a cosmic miracle.
As they sat and talked, however, a tiny, tiny sliver of doubt took root in their hearts: Was it really all right for one’s dreams to come true so easily?
And so, when there came a momentary lull in their conversation, the boy said to the girl, “Let’s test ourselves – just once. If we really are each other’s 100% perfect lovers, then sometime, somewhere, we will meet again without fail. And when that happens, and we know that we are the 100% perfect ones, we’ll marry then and there. What do you think?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is exactly what we should do.”
And so they parted, she to the east, and he to the west.
The test they had agreed upon, however, was utterly unnecessary. They should never have undertaken it, because they really and truly were each other’s 100% perfect lovers, and it was a miracle that they had ever met. But it was impossible for them to know this, young as they were. The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.
One winter, both the boy and the girl came down with the season’s terrible inluenza, and after drifting for weeks between life and death they lost all memory of their earlier years. When they awoke, their heads were as empty as the young D. H. Lawrence’s piggy bank.
They were two bright, determined young people, however, and through their unremitting efforts they were able to acquire once again the knowledge and feeling that qualified them to return as full-fledged members of society. Heaven be praised, they became truly upstanding citizens who knew how to transfer from one subway line to another, who were fully capable of sending a special-delivery letter at the post office. Indeed, they even experienced love again, sometimes as much as 75% or even 85% love.
Time passed with shocking swiftness, and soon the boy was thirty-two, the girl thirty.
One beautiful April morning, in search of a cup of coffee to start the day, the boy was walking from west to east, while the girl, intending to send a special-delivery letter, was walking from east to west, but along the same narrow street in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. They passed each other in the very center of the street. The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in their chest. And they knew:
She is the 100% perfect girl for me.
He is the 100% perfect boy for me.
But the glow of their memories was far too weak, and their thoughts no longer had the clarity of fourteen years earlier. Without a word, they passed each other, disappearing into the crowd. Forever.
A sad story, don’t you think?
Yes, that’s it, that is what I should have said to her.

Will You Dance with Me?

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.” ~ Patrick Overton, The Leaning Tree: Poems
“Fortune sides with him who dares.” ~ Virgil
We move to the rhythm of life, twirling in and out of the situations we face in our lives. We dance to whatever song our own personal jukebox plays. At times our movements are colorful and full of spice, like a rumba, and other times, we glide slowly and gracefully to the sweet slow song of love.
There are some dances that require patience and practice. Or a leap of faith.
The most beautiful dances we see are the ones where much blood, sweat, and tears have gone into the production of the dance. There is always risk of heartbreak and disappointment. But to risk nothing would mean we would forever be doing simple turns and pliés. How do we know that we cannot do a pirouette if we never try?
Let us dance together in this life. Let us take all the risks and be there for each other through all the songs of life. If we fall, we have each other to pull ourselves back up. And we will continue to dance and dance. Together, we may even learn how to fly.