Muscle Memory

I’ve taken the words of T.S. Eliot to heart over the years. April is the cruelest month, from my experience.

Two years ago this week, I was saying goodbye to my last girlfriend, who had woken up something inside of me I thought might never come alive again. It wasn’t meant to be, even though she renewed my faith that you could meet someone on a summer evening, start dating them, fall in love, and be crazy about each other for almost a year. Not many people get that, and I’ve had it twice. I lost them both in April.

In just a few days, my daughter will be 19 years old. I haven’t spoken with her in three and a half years. I haven’t spoken with my oldest since April 4, 2016. I could list about a dozen other shitty moments of my life that have accumulated into Aprils all throughout my years. It’s a month to be skipped. A dead month, where the leaves aren’t even out on the trees yet.

Maybe that explains the funk I’ve been in. April is weighing hard upon me lately and like muscle memory, all of those sorrows are like the pain of an old wound. The grey skies and flurries. The naked trees and brown grass. Even just the way the air smells or the way the stars linger in the sky, with Orion just now reaching the western horizon at the beginning of night.

I remember an April day from a long time ago. A date with my first love. A perfect day. We started at the Denver Botanical Gardens on a day when almost nothing had been planted. She told me a secret about herself, something she had only shared with me at the time. I don’t know if she ever shared it with anyone else. Sitting there on a bench together amid the winterkilled flowers of last year, she cried happy tears. We went to the museum and stole kisses underneath the dinosaur skeletons. She talked about how she wanted to travel the world with me as we looked at dioramas of polar bears and seals together. We kissed for hours in City Park, using our long coats like a privacy tent. We thought we were cool. We had gyros at a dive restaurant on Colfax, and then drove to Golden to see the railroad museum. We never made it inside. Instead we kissed in her car in the parking lot until they locked the gates. Then we went to Westminster and watched the re-release of the Lion King in the theatre, finishing up the evening with more necking in her car until she drove home and I went back to my apartment alone, swimming in those feel-good chemicals the whole drive. It’s one of those days I wish I could relive over and over.

The next April, I was saying goodbye to her in the cold rain under a cottonwood tree in another park. The Hale-Bopp comet was still riding high in the sky with its twin tail. She didn’t want to get married or have kids, and I did. That was 25 years ago.

Doing the Damn Work

For anyone who hasn’t been visiting my site, I have been going to counseling regularly for years. It’s funny that whenever people tell you they are working out or trying to eat better, nobody thinks much of that. The Perfect Body is one of those things that we are all supposed to strive for after all. Whether it is sex appeal and trying to attract a mate or being in peak physical condition and overcoming potential health problems which could shorten our lives, hitting the gym has almost no stigma in this country.

Nobody hardly says anything to someone who is going to church or practicing some sort of spiritual health regimen. People go door to door to convince you that their particular brand of spirituality will get you into shape so you don’t roast in the eternal fires or hell or something.

I have noticed that if you bring up your mental health, people get quiet. They walk wide of you. In my experience, it’s best to not talk openly about going to counseling or group therapy or because it makes people uncomfortable. As though you are some sort of fragile ticking time bomb from the Island of Broken Toys. Admiting you are medicated (or self-medicating) is more accepted. But jeez, what kind of person goes to a therapist and talks about the shit that is bothering them? That’s downright…creepy!

It’s just unnerving to think that someone who is obviously unhappy with their life gets a pass of drinking a couple big ass glasses of wine every night, or popping pills to help them sleep, or being on some kind of prescription. But mention you are talking through your problems and addressing your mental health concerns and all of a sudden they look at you like Riggs in Lethal Weapon. Or Renfeld in Dracula.

Because I have been doing the work, I will argue that if I come across something traumatic, I’m probably going to be more capable of handling it than a lot of folks. Why? Well, I’m building up coping strategies. I’m not weak. I’m someone who has been through some shit, and rather than let it beat me into the dust, I want to know how to deal with it when–yes WHEN–it happens again. Or hopefully how to recognize patterns in the behavior of others and shut that shit down before it becomes my problem.

So, today, one of my musings out loud was how even though I’ve been doing the work, and though I have had plenty of awful things to deal with in my past, my experience is only middle of the road awful compared to some. And those who have been through hell…they haven’t gotten help. They’ve gotten really good at masking their traumas, and unfortunately they just keep repeating old patterns, or stay in their comfort zones and never challenge themselves any further to upset that equilibrium–because change is hard. Challenging yourself is terrifying if you’ve lived your whole life in a foxhole, and if you pop your head up…BOOM.

I have moments where pushing that envelope is very hard and dealing with my shit makes me want to just…not. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone who has done none of the work to go about their day. I mean, I’ve got tools in my toolbox. It just seems like if I didn’t, it would be like trying to loosen bolts on your car with your teeth instead of using a wrench.

Mental health is stigmatized in this country. It’s more acceptable for someone to have the fat sucked out of their ass and stuck in their lips than it is for someone to see a therapist every couple of weeks. It’s more acceptable to drink a gallon of whiskey every week than it is for someone to admit to a relative stranger that sometimes they are scared.

We wonder why suicide is a problem. Why drug addiction, alcoholism, mental/physical abuse, domestic violence, and all of it happen. Why it’s harder for someone to sit in a waiting room to tell a therapist what is bothering them than it is for someone to walk into a job everyday and answer that ubiquitous question of “How was your weekend?” and answer “Just great!” when they thought of ending their life the entire time.

Does shit rattle me sometimes? Absolutely. But I recover. I eventually find my Zen state of peace. I don’t run from the shadows anymore. I take them on. I’m still here, when a lot of people aren’t for much less than what I’ve been through. It’s no Red Badge of Courage. I wish none of us had to go through crap, but we do. It’s part of life.

I’m doing the damn work. One of my big fears, however, is wondering about the likelihood of meeting someone else who has been doing the work. Logistically speaking, people my age are single for a few reasons: either they were focused on a career and relationships weren’t a priority, or they had someone, they lost them, and either did the work to come to terms with that…or more than likely, they didn’t.

I guess that’s why God created Yellow Labs.

The crazy thing is though I do miss companionship, I don’t miss the games and bullshit people think comes with company. If the price of Peace is not getting a good morning text, it’s one I’m willing to pay. If that sounds bitter, I’m sorry. I’d rather have a deep connection than have my value quantified by whether or not somebody takes four seconds out of their day to text me.

I want the kind of person who I could sit with in silence as we drive and listen to the radio, and just from a squeeze of their hand, I know everything is good. The kind of person who it is a pleasure to go grocery shopping with. The sort of person I don’t feel like I have to hide from to keep the peace.

Still a Romantic

Tonight I was thinking about the last few years and how I started my journey of divorce with a vague idea of what I wanted in a partner. I wanted someone who was kind, compassionate, comfortable with their sexuality, patient, trusting, supportive, intelligent, humble, and had an adventurous spirit. Pretty much all the things I was lacking in a partner. To some degree I hadn’t seen all of in one person by then either.

These are all pretty basic things. Lots of them are just Adulting 101.

Over the years, I have learned that there are a lot of other things I have found lacking in my relationships which pertain to honesty, devotion, fidelity, loving in half measures, committment issues, doing the work, self-love, emotionality, empathy, overcoming past traumas (and not just covering them up), ambition, imagination, an adventurous spirit, feeling comfortable in their own skin, liking children, emotional maturity, being kind to animals, boundaries, and a similar moral compass. Returning their shopping cart. Tipping their server. Isn’t it weird to think that so many of these qualities are just absent in some people?

I think the closer you get to healing and finding yourself, you realize that many of these traits that become non-negotiables are just values you have yourself, or are working towards. My list of preferences and deal breakers is by no means exhaustive. And the more I continue ahead, the more I understand that for whatever reason it might seem impossible to have all of these virutes in one person, and it would be easier to just settle–well, I have these values, so odds are good someone else probably has them too. Right? Maybe they’ve got some other things they are bringing to the table I had no thought of. That’s kinda how I’ve been adding to my list.

I guess my point is to not settle. There are things I am working on everyday about myself. I don’t give myself a pass most of the time, so why am I giving someone else one? Maybe I won’t ever find someone who hits all of the high points. In which case, I’m fine with continuing my search and learning about my values along the way that are also important. I think every failed relationship I have had, has been a way to point me in the direction of the one I’ve been looking for my whole life. Like clues. Because with the sad choices, there have been plenty of nice things I never would have dreamed of eight years ago when I made my first list of what I wanted.

I try to live with those same virtues and standards, and I hope the odds are in my favor to find somebody who shares my particular blend of values. One of my biggest problems has been that I am a social chameleon, and only now am I realizing that some things actually bother me and I don’t have to put up with them at the expense of being alone. I kinda like being alone, especially if I don’t have to lie to myself when I’m not comfortable with a situation. Especially if I don’t have to tolerate fuckery.

There’s getting out of your comfort zone, and there is trying to be someone you aren’t. Like, I really don’t care if I ever go skiing again. Some people are really into it. I don’t have to be, and I don’t have to pretend I could be. I’m not a fan of crowds or loud venues like bars or concerts. I tend to not drink in excess. I don’t do drugs. I’m a one woman man. (Jeez, I’m a lot of fun, aren’t I?) I can think of other things I’d rather be doing than shouting in someone’s face, trying to have a conversation in a crowded place. Or having a hard time remembering what I did the night before.

Have you ever walked in a park at dusk in the spring and listened to nightengales? Have you ever hiked behind a waterfall? Have you ever just gone on a five hour road trip, singing along with the radio? Have you sat in a hot spring when it is snowing? Have you ever just gone into a library and opened up the oldest books you could find and just breathed in? Have you made love on a beach? Or sat and drunk coffee while watching people? Read poetry to someone under a tree? Have you worn a costume to an event? Told someone a story at night to help them sleep? Or sat on a couch with someone and just watched old movies all afternoon, feeding each other popcorn? Danced with someone for hours? In a kitchen? To no music? Have you raced to catch the last bus out of town and barely made it? Or felt your heart break waving goodbye to someone, even though you knew you would see them again soon, but they had their own adventures to go on, and you have yours? And been fine with it? Have you ever just held somone as they cried after telling you their most personal thoughts?

There are all sorts of things to do, and so many more I haven’t done yet. It would be nice to do them with the right person, but in the meantime I’m going to keep doing them with this person I’m getting to know much better: Myself. Though some might argue, he’s not a bad guy to get to know. He’s not perfect and has no intention to be. But he’s who I am, who I’ve been becoming, and who I’m stuck with for the next forty years.