I sat outside on the patio, under starlight, drinking and smoking as I tended to do at the time while worried. What had I done? What had I done to myself?
I had absentmindedly taken a full year, and then some, of palate-cleansing solitude. The last woman I liked, dated, but could never have loved or cared for, taught me that I had no idea what I was doing. All force, no vector, a later saying went. She was someone who dated like a vacation, in that it was fun while it lasted, but it had a definite end. I was like a concierge hoping for full occupancy, but secretly knowing people wouldn’t stay forever. The whole thing was, at the end, a huge joke, a match made in heaven’s pub. The best thing she ever did was defend me to the police who came by, guns, flashlights and dogs drawn, to answer a report of a break-in. An illegal search of my apartment, which I hadn’t been in for the previous week and had only just entered that day, turned up a large bag of marijuana. It wasn’t mine. My eyes were glassy because it was 5 o’clock in the morning, officer. Take that bag, officer, because it’s not mine and I don’t care. I’ve been 1200 miles away for a week, and I have dozens of witnesses.
Well, as it turned out, she vouched for my innocence and my aversion to pot. As I later found out, she had also slept with that particular officer, which was both the reason he was hyper aggressive towards me, and the reason he ultimately believed her and left me alone. Thank you, blue boys and girls! The inner of the two window panes is still intact, so how could someone have broken into the place? I became sharper and more sarcastic as I became more annoyed, and I eventually told them to leave. You’ve got the pot, I don’t care, no one is here, we both told you this, I have done nothing, so… have a nice night, Johnny Five.
That was a fun vacation for her, I’m sure, but I was too serious. I was on a mission of soul-searching, of realization, of revelation, of abject loneliness even in a crowd, and in the midst of making a few decisions that would change my life. I would work out the rest of the year at the resort, taking care to date no one since I was leaving, and then go back home and go back to college. Maybe graduate and get a nice job, meet a nice woman, and have the picket fence and the mortgage and the suburbs and the whole thing! Hooray! The American Dream! Hide the dreamcatchers.
I thought about all this, sip sip, puff puff, flick flick, repeat. Thought about how in just a few months, and just one woman, everything I had planned out for the next few years had changed dramatically. How smart was I, anyway? How easily manipulated to change myself, and change again, and again, fitting someone’s ever-shifting image of the ideal husband and father? How easily controlled to alter my patterns, my essence, my being? But she needed me, I told myself, and I was going to be there for her. I was in love with her. No, not herself. Not that one.
Her daughter. I could at least do that. Be the father I had always wanted to have. Right? That made it worth the sacrifice, didn’t it? Didn’t it?
As my friend told me recently, while I ruminated about much the same thing: get down off that cross. We need the wood. That cross I built up over the years was like one of those giant electrical towers in the flyover states, carrying enormous wires from place to place like a chain gang of giants walking across the land. (That’s what I would imagine they were when I was young, anyway, speeding down the highway in the back seat of a car.) I just jumped off, because there was no climbing down from that. It hurt to land, but not as much as being up there.
I could not have slept if I tried. Each time I went inside, determined to sleep, I would instead grab another beer and go back out to the patio, listening to the night, looking at the stars, smoking another cigarette, and figuring nothing out except how to bleed more quietly.
Years later, I thought it was that I didn’t know how to relationship, didn’t know how to love. Everyone felt like versions of each other, with different hair color and eye color, different heights, different voices, but the same face, the same stare, the same programming. I chose that every time. Maybe I just didn’t know how to choose right. Someone, many someones, told me what would happen if I chose this. I listened not. It would be she and I against the world.
It was she against I against the world instead. And to her, the enemy of her enemy was her friend. I was in a class by myself. What an elite position, huh?
One night, recently, something passed in front of the bedroom window while my eyes were closed, blocking out the suburb’s dawn effect, yet I sensed it. I woke up to someone whispering in my ear. I couldn’t make it out – it was not English. It could have been something like ‘Níl a fhios agat conas a ghrá duit féin.’ I’m not sure. I think I know who it was, or who I believed it was. I opened my eyes and said the name of my friend. I got no answer, and no one appeared to be in the room. But while I was awake, a thought entered my head. I was so close, but the thought from years ago, I don’t know how to love, was incomplete. So close, but missing something.
I don’t know how to love myself.
If I had known what was missing back then, all these things wouldn’t have happened. I would have turned out fine. Relationshipping would have seemed easier and better. Happiness would have been visible from any window, instead of some inaccessible magical kingdom told of in fables.
I stubbed out the last smoke, thinking it was a stupid habit I should have never picked up. Finished the last swallow of beer, another habit. Walked into the house and up the stairs to herself. The first two habits were so easy to break, in comparison. I would learn that like most habits, I can’t move away from it, can’t control it, can’t reason with it.
I can only stop.