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Letter From My 48th Year (Feb 28)

I feel like a fraud when I read my love poems. They’re spun out of thin air and imagination. From a lifetime of reading romance novels. From watching friends fall in and out of love. From TV. And movies. I feel I should read a disclaimer before I read any of them: “I know not of what I speak. Enjoy the poem!”

By writing about my father I have written my way into looking at him with tenderness. Perhaps by writing love poems I’m writing my way toward falling in love? Am I writing my way toward openness? Toward vulnerability? Or am I merely writing about the love story that might have been If I’d had a different set of wounds? Will the poems ever be more than the made-up stories I tell because I don’t have any of my own?

I think that’s why C crosses my mind every so often. I want to be able to say, “Yes, I’ve been in love. His name was C— and he played soccer.” It feels so aberrant to not be able to declare that authoritatively. Not having been in love can make me feel like I’m broken. It can make me feel even worse than you feel when you get picked last for the team.

It makes some conversations so uncomfortable. The kinds where over a couple few martinis you’re dishing with your girlfriends about the boys, the men (or women) you’ve loved and lost. I resort to talking smack about my celebrity crushes (Hi Armie Hammer!), hoping to get a laugh, hoping to disguise the fact that I have nothing to say and that my lack of romantic history is my sunken place, and the outside me who smiles benevolently at happy couples is just a facade.

That’s why nearly 30 years later it still feels so important to put a name on what I had with C. It hardly matters now, and also it matters terribly.

Please don’t misunderstand: I know I am beloved. I know I have many people in my life who I love and who love me right back. I expect that unless I outlive everyone, there will be people at my funeral who will wish desperately I was still around and will feel a little empty in all the places I used to be.

I also know that I don’t need a man to complete me, that I am a complete person in and of myself even if I never have a romantic partner. I won’t die alone. I won’t die unloved even if I may die with the world’s record for celibacy by someone who’s not a Catholic nun or the Pope.

I’ve known longing. I’ve known hunger. I’ve known exactly what Lenny Kravitz meant when he sang, “I just can’t get you off of my mind.” And yet I still don’t know if I’ve ever really been in love.

 

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Letter From My 48th Year (Feb 27)

I’ve been thinking a lot about C, a man I knew in college. At the end of Call Me By Your Name—the novel, not the film—thirty-something Elio visits forty-something Oliver, and I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to run into C again, how he would see me, how I would see him. He’s not on social media at all, but I have seen one recent photo of him and he looks like a man on the verge of 50 tends to look, though he’s still recognizable as the handsome young athlete I last saw roughly more than a quarter of a century ago. I think I could still spot him in a crowd. I imagine I’m fairly recognizable too—fatter, less outwardly drenched in neediness, but still the same round face, the same cheesy smile, the same childlike voice.

It feels odd to write about C though I haven’t told you much of anything at all. It feels somehow indiscreet as if I’m roping him into my tell-all without permission. No, that’s not exactly right. It feels indiscreet because I don’t know how to accurately describe who he was to me, and by writing about him, it feels like I’m implying we were something to each other, that I left marks on him, the way he’s left marks on me. And I just don’t know if that’s true with any certainty. I just don’t know if he’d recognize me in a crowd, or if he did recognize me if he could put his finger on who I was or if he’d even want to.

I’m babbling. Cause I don’t want to write what I’m really thinking about: Did I love him? Did I even know what it meant to love someone then? (Do I know now?) I know that he made me feel my emotions quite powerfully—jealousy, anger—emotions that I was used to tamping down inside me. He disturbed the numbness I cloaked myself in like a security blanket, like a wall. But I don’t know for sure that I ever disturbed anything in him.

I hungered him. I craved him like a drug. I liked the drama of dissecting with my friends every look he ever gave me, every conversation we had. I liked martyring myself in the feelings of unworthiness he triggered in me. (I should say here that those feelings of unworthiness and martyrdom were self-generated; C was never anything but kind to me,)

What the film Call Me By Your Name gets exactly right is the way in which the late teens and the early 20s are a time of gestures. Though we have accrued hundreds of words by the time we hit that age, we rarely use our words when it comes to crushes and infatuations and even love, depending instead on how we interpret or often misinterpret each other’s gestures. And we don’t have the capacity it seems to distinguish between the intended gesture and the accidental gesture, each of which sends its own (supposedly) soul-baring message.

Like me walking down a hill toward campus with C and his friends one day. He tried to put his arm around me and I pulled away for a moment, just to change my purse to my other shoulder so I could comfortably walk him, and then of course he pulled away from my pulling away and… And I wanted to say, “Oh, I was just switching shoulders…” but that series of gestures had spoken so loudly—with the wrong message, of course—that the conversation about us wanting to be close to each other was effectively over.

Or when I saw C several months after we graduated and he reached out to give me a hug, and I froze in his arms and he felt it as a rejection. If I’d known how to use words (and if I’d been courageous), I might have told him that my tension was not a reaction to him exactly, but that I was shocked by how powerfully good it felt to see him again and to have him hold me and I’d simply short-circuited a bit.

I realize these stories do nothing to answer the question of if I loved him. I know he was capable of short-circuiting me, I know I had to numb myself against him, I know I was decades away from being able to be openly vulnerable in the face of someone who made me feel so damned much. But surely, given that this post is populated with “I’s” and “me’s” mean I couldn’t have really loved him. Thinking through it as I write this, he seems more like an object to be acted upon than a love interest. But can someone who was merely the foil for your one-sided romantic drama mark you the way he has marked me? To borrow from myself, what do I name this things between us that left me with “shocky fingerprints?”

Letter From My 48th Year (Feb 14)

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Like every singleton in the free world, I used to slump deep in a funk each Valentine’s Day bemoaning my perpetual free agency. I did have a boyfriend one year for the big day—the one year I actually had a boyfriend—but he was not gifted in the gifting department and it just felt a bit perfunctory. (Given that in that relationship I was, if I’m honest, more interested in performing love than actually open to falling in love,  that was probably par for the course.) But then one year, maybe a decade or more ago now, I decided to send Valentine’s Day cards to all the people I loved. Which broke the woe is me spell.

These days I think it’s sweet when people wish me a happy valentine’s day, and February 14 no longer sets off a spell of pining in me. I realize it’s a completely manufactured holiday, but hey, if we’re going to make shit up, I’m down with making up a sweet (albeit completely consumerist) holiday.

Speaking of love, at dinner with L. the other night we started talking about that idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. Which is not bullshit exactly, but it’s not entirely accurate either. The idea behind that sentiment always seems to be that everything will be magically wonderful if you just commit to celebrating your own awesomeness. Which is always a good idea, but will only get you so far. And will probably make you try to measure up to impossible standards like having your shit together all the time and all at the same time. Which, let’s face it, is not a thing that can actually happen. For anyone.

Love, real love, isn’t only about the good bits; that’s the kind of love that comes with conditions. (We actually need some other word for that.) What we’re hopefully striving for in a long-term love relationship is unconditional love, and that’s where we need to start with ourselves if we want to end up having that with other people in our lives, whether or not they are people we want to make out with. We need to get comfortable at looking at all of who we are in this given moment. Without judgement. Without guilt or shame. With compassion. With empathy.

This doesn’t mean we have to like everything we find. And we probably won’t. But we do have to be able to say, At this moment, this is who I am and I’m going to embrace myself without judgement. Which is both excruciatingly hard, and excruciatingly necessary, even if we’re quite happy being our own valentines for the rest of our lives.

Let me leave you with this, which is so much more a true thing than that “You complete me” nonsense…

Open Letter to Joni Mitchell, Day 7: The Aunts

Me_Deeb_The Aunts_Blog

Debbie, me and The Aunts in Trinidad circa 1974.

At Christmas, when I say I go home, I mean I go to New York, but not the house in Laurelton, Queens where I grew up, or the Cambria Heights one my mother and sister moved to when I was away at my freshman year of college. I go home for Christmas to my Aunt Francis’s house in Long Island, the house where I sleep on the couch so I can snuggle with the cat and where there’s always room for everyone no matter how many of us are crammed in there and where my childhood piano takes up half the living room cause we can’t figure out how to get rid of it now that my 20-something year old cousins no longer use it.

In my own 20s, I didn’t go home for Christmas for years. It was too painful. At my mother’s house, no matter how long I’d stayed away, I was always once again the girl made awkward and stupid by fear. I always lost my voice, I always lost my bearing the moment I walked in the front door. Whether I was in a fat phase or a thin one, I rarely managed to feel pretty at my mother’s house. I knew she disapproved of how I dressed, which was neither provocative nor frumpy, but was merely not the way she dressed. I felt like an outcast because I loved all the wrong things—going to the movies, literary novels, art museums—too much, and I didn’t like the right things—going to church as often as possible, long drawn-out Bible studies—enough. So I avoided going home, saying I couldn’t make the trip from Chicago because I couldn’t afford the plane ticket.

But then I moved back East and decided it was time to join the family again. If Maracas Valley is the heart of my mother’s side of my family in Trinidad, Uniondale and Baldwin have become the heart of our family in America. My mother’s never there with us for Christmas. She stays in Charlotte, sometimes with her husband, sometimes on her own. I am both angry and relieved that she never joins the rest of the family—her younger sisters, her nieces and nephews, her cousins—for our holiday revels. When I visit my mother, I know she is happy to see me, yet even as I hug and kiss her, I can feel her holding me somewhat at arm’s length. My aunts and cousins, on the other hand, burst into wide smiles when they see me. They draw me into close hugs. They text or call me several times before I arrive to find out when I’m coming, if I’m on my way, how soon I’ll get there. I know my mother loves me, but with the aunts and by the aunts, I feel beloved.

According to the 10th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, one of the definitions of beloved is “dear to the heart.” And that’s how I feel with my aunts, that the entire time I am with them, they are pulling me close to their hearts. My mother loves me, I know, but that love is intricately wound with distance, a distance only occasionally bridged by tenderness, and never for very long. On the couch at my aunt’s house, someone is always sitting next to me, or throwing their legs across my lap, or trying to share my blanket. At my aunt’s house, I am always safe.

My aunts weren’t always “the aunts.” I didn’t always say or think that phrase with unbounded affection. The aunts—my mother’s two youngest sisters—lived with us when they both emigrated from Trinidad, first Fran and then Maria, the baby of the bunch. They were barely out of their teens. They’d been raised by a mother who compensated for all the ways she’d been emotionally broken with rage. This rage was often leavened with humor, and my grandmother could also be quite tender when she wanted. But she was also mercurial, and strong-willed, controlling and unaccepting of the idea that someone could have a life other than the one she dictated and planned for them. Her three sons all stayed in Trinidad, but she made sure all of her daughters made it to the United States, even if she had to bully them and wreck their romances to do it. I think my grandmother saw her daughters as problems to be managed, with terror if need be. And that’s how my aunts saw my sister and me, as targets for their own incipient rage. One particular favorite game of theirs was to feint that they were going to hit us, and then as we braced, to laugh and ask, “What are you breaksing for?” breaksing being Trinidadian vernacular for “fending off blows.”

But as they met other women who did not parent their children with slaps and sarcasm, they promised themselves to do differently. And they did. My sister and I delight in telling our cousins how awful their mothers used to be and how they’re so lucky to have the new and improved versions. This tattle-taling is done not with malice, but with great gratitude that they somehow escaped at least this aspect of their emotional DNA. And this parenting is not just for their own daughters, but extends to my sister and me as well. The same is true of my aunts’ first cousins, who always say the same thing when they see Debbie and me, “Oh, these are our first babies,” as they hug us close, show us we are beloved.

My mother has changed in some ways too, but there are so many ways she hasn’t that I find it hard to accept the affection she tries to give me now. I have added my own distance to hers and I’m not sure if what is between us is actually love, or not quite love, or almost love. Or if our love is like the moon on the night before it’s full, when at first glance, it looks whole, but if you peer closely, you can see the slightest sliver still missing.

When I speak to my mother on the phone, I have to anchor myself firmly in the present, remind myself to receive and revel in the affection she’s offering in the here and now. If I let even a wisp of the past creep in, her affection rings hollow. The coldness and constant criticism and lack of praise I remember from my childhood, chills the warmth of whatever loving words she’s trying to offer.

I do not know if there was a time I was ever beloved to my mother. I’m fairly certain that she knew even as I grew in her womb, that just as soon as she could—which turned out to be when I was three months old—she’d leave to start our new lives in the States, though I wouldn’t be part of that life till I was nearly three years old. I have always wanted to ask my mother how she could stand to leave me. What part of her did she have to bury? What did she have to excise? When she tourniquetted her love for me so she could survive the wound of leaving me, did she know she was risking a permanent amputation?

This wasn’t just a mother going back to work after maternity leave. This was a mother allowing an ocean to come between her and her child. Perhaps it’s that ocean that I sense in the shade of difference between being beloved by my aunts and being loved my mother. To be honest, I don’t know if I want to figure out how to cross that ocean completely. We seem to do well muddling around somewhere in the middle of that ocean, even though it’s not all that satisfying, and neither one of us ever feels safe enough to remove our life jackets. I don’t know if it’s giving up or accepting what I cannot change to never call my mother home. And if I do have a place where I am beloved, and people by whom I’m beloved, maybe it’s a question I don’t have to answer.

Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 17)

But I’m going to be blatantly Pollyanna and say it also means bad things end, and good things get even better or just change into a different version of a good thing. Nothing’s ever in stasis, is it? No matter how stuck we feel. Hmmm, so maybe that’s the only thing we can count on as being true forever? Everything changes eventually.

I’m not sure what to write about today, how to follow up on change and forever and stasis. It’s all been said, right? I can’t think of a single jumping off point that doesn’t feel like beating a dead horse. I can tell you that I went to see Inherent Vice today and I didn’t hate it exactly but I also almost fell asleep a few times during it. I love Joaquin Phoenix and I appreciate P.T. Anderson’s work, and I’ve adored Josh Brolin since The Goonies, but I just couldn’t find my way into this film. I felt bad because I really really wanted to like it. I didn’t want to keep getting distracted thinking about what it would be like to make out with Joaquin. What it would be like to date him, hold his hand. I mean he’s nuts, right? Super talented and super nuts. And I can’t quite decide if that would be exhausting or exhilarating.

And I’m wandering to the bus stop in a delightful winy haze (yes, it was an 11:40 movie, yes I got popcorn and wine anyway CAUSE I’M ON VACATION, DAMNIT!) daydreaming about holding Joaquin’s hand and trying damned hard not to notice how lonely I am. Not friend lonely. Not person to have breakfast before work with lonely or friends to laugh with at the office lonely or some place to go for the holidays lonely. It’s someone to kiss lonely, someone to hold my hand lonely, someone who just wants to stick his nose in my neck and take a good sniff lonely.

I don’t mind being alone, but I do mind being untouched. I do mind the day to day hunger for someone else’s skin next to mine. I’ve been celibate for more than a decade now. I’m a little ashamed to even type that as if it’s some badge of defectiveness. But really, I stopped sleeping around because I couldn’t quite play by the rules of the one night stand (I always wanted to have breakfast the next morning), and, you know, with the faulty narrative of the pitch lake sloshing around inside me, I never was able to have an actual relationship. I always thought—oh, when I lose weight I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! When I go out more, I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! If I stop mean-mugging when I walk down the street and actually smile more, I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! When I learn to love myself and treasure my alone time, I’ll get a boyfriend. Nope! I’d like to think the pitch lake is all but drained at this point and still, here I am on my couch. Alone. Being a little too fond of how soft the blue velvet couch and squishy gray blanket are against my skin.

Intellectually, I know how precious my freedom is. I can make plans without consulting anyone, change my mind at the last minute, live like an utter slob, eat cheese and crackers for dinner every night for a week if I want, go weeks without doing laundry, you know, live the perfect bachelor lifestyle. I love being (romantically) alone—except for those aching moments when I don’t.

What I want more than anything is to find someone who I love being with even more than I love being alone. Who won’t pull away when I rub the small of his back. Who’ll understand why I hate talking on the phone cause he’s read every single thing there is to read on outgoing introverts and send me e-mails that make me giggle instead. I know that when it comes to relationships, I’m difficult, ping ponging between a wide-open heart and prickliness, affection and sometimes (God help me) outright disdain. I always envisioned that I’d meet someone who’d see right through me and when I got to the part where I tried to run away cause I was overwhelmed by all the vulnerability and responsibility of loving someone, he’d just kind of hold on to me while I ran in place, windmilling my legs like some they do in cartoons, till I ran some sense into myself.

But maybe the fact that I’m yearning after Joaquin Phoenix, who I’m just going to go ahead and stereotype as the wild-eyed difficult artist type means deep down I don’t actually want anyone. I’m not exactly daydreaming about the settle down and have a quiet life guy next door, am I? Or maybe it means that I’m looking for someone who seems like he’s like me, at least the me I am when the filter’s down and I’m having a hard time doing all those socially acceptable things one is supposed to do? Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all except I was lonely and there Joaquin was 20 feet high on the screen and looking deeply kissable? Maybe it means—though good Christian women who are trying to work on their relationship with God aren’t supposed to feel this way—maybe it means I just need to get laid. Sigh…

To be continued…

Open Letter to Marc Maron (Day 7)

…like any good poet, I was always good at suffering. Though back then, in my 20s and my 30s it was always for the wrong reason. In other words, men.

Men were a challenge–going all the way back to grade school before they actually bloomed into men–mostly because I had to both protect myself so no one would find out about the pitch lake monster and also pay homage to my raging hormones. I seemed to be able to get the best of both worlds by throwing myself with great force at men who were emotionally unavailable and/or completely uninterested in me. If my target had a girlfriend I’d make sure to become his best friend because nothing says love like having a front row seat to masochistically watch the boy you’re in heavy-duty like with love someone else. If by chance there was some shred of interest by a suitable man, I’d make sure to be around ALL THE TIME, which until you’ve sealed the deal is, luckily, exactly the way to not seal the deal.

Notable fact: I tried online dating back in the early 1990s when it was back-of-the-newspaper dating and met some rando (with a very bad perm and way-too-tiny shorts) for a double date at the Science Museum. Online dating–over the succeeding couple of decades–was also a great way to go through the motions of being a normal woman with normal urges while making sure no one got close enough to find the monster. And when all else failed in my quest to neither have my cake nor eat it, sarcasm worked. Wit can be a terrible weapon in the hands of a confused and floundering but intelligent and literate woman.

As I type this I’m listening to Roberta Flack. On vinyl. Killing Me Softly, which has that great two-sided piano cut-out flap on the cover. The first time I had my own record player—it was probably the mid-1990s—I played the song “I’m the girl” relentlessly. “He likes me yes/no more than that. The one he really loves/is you.” “I’m the one he’ll leave after a while/I’m the girl.” It was my f-ing anthem, and I suffered. Which was all I knew about love. All I’d been taught.

To be continued….

Writing About Love, Day 3

What follows is not a good poem. In fact, I haven’t looked at it since i made one attempt at a second draft in November 2005. (I eventually stole parts of it for another poem.) But it’s an interesting poem, I think, because of what it’s trying to get at—that there is an element of possession to love. We want to both possess and be possessed. That there is something somewhat cannibalistic about love, in how much we want to not only hold the beloved, but we want to have them inside of us, woven into the very fabric of our DNA. Of course, if we’re relatively sane, we don’t act on that deep desire. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s taboo to talk about, but we all have a whiff of the obsessive about us, particularly when it comes to love. In the case of this poem, the beloved in question is my mother, who I’ve now figured out was actually standing in for both of my parents. Two people I wanted desperately to possess. Two people who could never figure out how to possess me.

I should also say that the poem is dark, and I find myself resisting that darkness sometimes. It feels wrong to have so much fun being twisted, and I don’t want anyone to think I am actually this extreme. But as all great crime fiction writers know (at least the ones who write for the BBC), sometimes you have to push things to the extreme to get to the very ordinary human truth.

Eating Mother (second draft)

There is a certain desire toward
cannibalism of the beloved mother.
It asks an act of violence,
this sacrament of love.

I love you so much mother
I will wear your heart
hanging from my lips,
the best stick parts
gouged out. When

you expelled me. When
you threw me out
from between your legs,
didn’t you smell the grief?
What else is blood but mourning
for what has been broken?

Now I see your teats are a substitute
lacking the rankness of true intimacy.
They are given too freely.

I suckle too for the ghosts
who didn’t make it, those
you kicked out before
they had hands to hold.

What choice have I
but to open my mouth wide
as all our tiny mouths.

Mother–

you are our beloved suckling pig.
you are our beloved first kill.
We are giddy with blood and delight.

Shall we dance?

for Danna

1. Dancing is equal parts rhythm + joy. Rhythm makes the dancing look good, joy makes the dancing feel good. A person in the throes of joy is infectiously beautiful irregardless of the downbeat and their appreciation or ignorance of it.

2. I can only dance when I love my body. I think swan or hawk or eagle. I don’t think albatross. The more I dance, feel each individual muscle stretch and bend and glide and hurl itself toward the waiting air, the more I marvel at my body, the more I think “home,” the more I think “blessing.”

3. Each day I know more and more the truth of youth being wasted on the young. The gaggle of twenty-somethings on the edges of D’s 60th birthday dance party mutter “I’m not a good dancer” when we try to tug them onto the dance floor. Dance now, I want to say, before you discover the price of joy, before you learn it’s not always a gift, but a prize hard-earned. Dance now while your body is still just a body, not a warning or a stop sign or a penance.

4. I think love is that moment of joy exploding because though you are in a room full of strangers, there is your dear friend, your home, exploding + exploding + exploding till the room is littered with her joy.

5. Songs to dance to: “Thrift Shop” — Mackelmore and Lewis; “Get Lucky” — Daft Punk; “Moves Like Jagger” — Maroon 5; “Tightrope” — Janelle Monae; “Rock Wit You” — Michael Jackson; “Lonely Boy” — The Black Keys; “Don’t Hold the Wall” — Justin Timberlake; “Hips Don’t Lie” — Shakira; “Hey Ya” — Outkast;

At the Broken Places

The scar from my abdominal surgery is six inches long, snaking vertically upward from the top of my  pubis, listing left diagonally across the twin fatty folds of my belly, just missing my navel before petering out. The skin is puckered, that dull shiny pink of new scars. On either side of it, my belly fat hangs misshapen, one side hanging much lower than the other, a graphic ghost of where the tumors used to be. The incision itself doesn’t hurt, though the areas around it seem always on the edge of soreness. Still, it’s sound. I’m all knitted together and no longer in danger that lifting the wrong thing, or stretching too high will undo the surgeon’s work. True, when I overdo it, I do get sore inside, but it’s uncomfortable not outright painful.

I’ve been thinking about this scar a lot. How, somehow, my belly has knit itself back together. Sure there has been help from the surgeon, rows and rows of stitches inside me, and surgical glue to hold the very top layers together, but within this scaffolding, the cells have known to grow back toward each other, not the same as before, messy and not pretty, but whole. I can’t help but think of other scars, the ones made by harsh words, broken promises, all those that walked away or refused to show up. We all want to “return to normal” after these wounds, but I’m realizing that every wound permanently scars us, and some show more than others.

But though we may have scars, we don’t remain broken. We may not always be pretty at the wound sites, and there may be residual pain, but—with God’s grace, with the willingness to be scaffolded by the love of those who persistently show up—we can, like our bodies, return to whole.

Break Open This Heart….

This is a lightly-edited version of what I found myself journaling about this morning before church…

I love my life, but still, there are sometimes those moments when I wonder how I’ve made it to 43 without the expected benchmarks—a husband, kids, a few heartbreaks. Truth is my heart was broken so early, so repeatedly before I was even a teenager by people who should’ve known better that I couldn’t see past the wreckage for a really long time in order to let someone in. I’m wondering why it seems the only men I can ever expose all of myself to are married or gay. Is it because they won’t demand anything of me more than what I’m willing to give? Or is there just a certain type of courage I lack?

With a married or gay man, I can have a deep and intimate friendship but I still retain—I’m not sure what the right word is—is it my identity that’s at stake? Is it my selfhood? What is it that we give up when we enter into an intimate, romantic relationship with someone?

I have platonic friends of both sexes who have seen both my best self and my worst self. They’ve known me to be kind and generous and sweet, but they’ve also known me to be arrogant and jealous and mean. So, if I’m okay with giving all of that to my women friends, my married male friends, what is it that I’m withholding or scared of showing possible romantic partners and why? What is it that I’m afraid they’ll demand of me that I haven’t already willingly given to my friends?

I’m fairly certain it’s not just sex. Will it be fumbling and awkward given that it’s been more than a decade since I’ve even made out with anyone (and didn’t have much practice before that)? Sure—but I also know without a shadow of a doubt that it also will be so much easier than before cause I don’t intend to sleep with someone (or marry someone—they go hand in hand for me) until I feel utterly and completely safe.

Is it possible then that I’ve kept myself closed off from true romantic love not because I’m unwilling to open myself up but because I was raised with the deep knowledge that men are in fact bogeymen, that the most tragic thing that can happen to a woman is heartbreak, is being abandoned with mouths to feed and school fees to pay? What if I’m not actually afraid of romantic love but rather I’m scared of its aftermath? What if the real bogeymen is the dread of heartbreak turning me into a reflexively controlling woman who lives her life from a place of fear, becoming more and more impervious to receiving and giving love as I get older?

Growing up in my family of strong-willed women, I saw few happy endings. I learned that men always cheated and women (and the children) always suffered. As an adult, I can look around and see the relationships that have lasted, where there is mutual love and respect and tolerance, but those stories came a little too late.

So my real challenge is, I think, not just learning to be open, but convincing myself down to every fiber and cell, down to the DNA level, that the story of my mother, the story of my grandmothers, are not my own. That a happy ending for me is not only possible but is absolutely and positively worth the risk. The challenge is remembering that even if I do suffer a broken heart, I am resilient. That a broken heart or a string of broken hearts won’t make me brick myself up again unless I let it. I can not only be free to love, but I can be free to heal and free to love again, wounded, maybe, but also wiser, with a heart broken open to let love in, not keep it out.

Okay, it’s time to begin…

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