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Things I Can’t Do

Paulette Beete - 007I

…Take photos as well as Carrie Holbo.

Wind film around the reel in a darkroom

Drive a car

Stand in high heels

Wear a size 6

Remember all the words to my early poems

Remember all my passwords

Memorize “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Take back that missed chance I had to see Prince

Start over at the beginning

Forgive easily

Give up chocolate for ever

Like soy milk

Balance my checkbook

Tell you everything

Not think about him every once in  a while

Remember the steps

Do the Dougie

Understand all the words when British singers sing in their own accents

Forget all the bad times

Remember all the good times

Count to ten in a language that’s not English, French, Spanish, or Italian

Tell Dija I’ll sing at her wedding

Tell Carolyn and Dave we can do something else

Tell Kevin I’ll go to the prom with him

Let Sedrick comb my hair

Forget Christophe’s birthday

Understand why you did that

Drink like I did when I was 25

Not draw that guy that map cause I’m drunk and so is he

Play the piano well

Make Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon

Make my friendship with her work again

Stop rewinding to certain scenes in Fish Tank

Throw myself all the way open

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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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