Dance me to the end of love

I went outside tonight to let the dog out and noticed the stars in the sky. The Milky Way was visible again, cutting a path from almost due south to north. Over time, the constellations take their places and creep across the night sky, until Orion is back and the Seven Sisters rise in the east again. Soon it will be Winter again. Already, the trees are beginning autumn’s first blush. The night air is chilly and in the morning, you can see your breath.

This will all happen again and again, long after I am gone. Forever.

But sometimes it feels like nothing changes. Each year is a slog and it feels like I’m getting nowhere. But I had to think tonight that things have changed. This year, there have been many, many changes. My son no longer lives with me. I lost that fight. I fought hard and spent more money than I had just to go nowhere with it. The system is broken, and not only will my children have lost out, but generations after them as well.

I have been unattached for the longest period of time so far since I was 17. Not chasing anyone. No talking stage. No situationship. Just getting my shit figured out. It has been an important thing to do. A year of working through it, in spite of my usual efforts of trying to fix things that of course were unfixable. The most recent one is engaged now; that was fast. That’s three women I have been involved with. I used to joke with her about being the foster, helping rescues find their forever homes. I found some closure in knowing it was her turn. After a lot of insomnia last night and wondering why I don’t get chosen, I realized I sounded like her for a minute. Yeah, I found out through the grapevine. It’s only fair, since she still reads my blog and knows what I am up to. I’m just over here shaking my head. I don’t need to know anything else.

I know why I don’t get “chosen.” Like so many others today, it isn’t that I’ve “Given up” it’s that I’m working on me. I’m not compromising anymore. I’m not settling for a life that is “adequate.” I used to tell people I didn’t plan on dating again unless I met someone who truly knocked my socks off. Or maybe someone who I could trust with an open heart. But now, I know what I would rather do. Unless it was someone truly spectacular, I’m going to just enjoy my own company for a while. I’m going to enjoy sunrises, and remember the chill of the air on my legs on a morning in St. Louis at dawn when I was young. Or the way someone gently sang off key in my ear as we danced to Chris De Burgh at Homecoming, my palms slick against her satin red dress. Or the loves that have come and gone from my life since. Kitchen dancing. Holding hands as we drive. Speaking in a whisper as though the moment was so fragile we could break it with our voices.

Shrill piping laughter of my kids who invented a hilarious joke or rode really fast down a hill on their skateboard.

It isn’t a fear of never finding these moments again, it’s a fear that I might forget how all those other times felt, the little details that shined through with each of them. A sparkle in an eye, the cool way someone held a clove cigarette, the silent belly laughs, the rants about out of state drivers or a big smile and a shy wave whenever I came home, or when someone was speechless when I said they were beautiful.

My biggest fear in life is forgetting. And sometimes I really have to stop to remember those beautiful moments. Even when they are shadowed in pain. I wonder if there will be another who has one of those details, like some thread connecting them all, some aspect that resonates, as though I knew another soul before there was time and like the rest of it, everything shattered and was spread across the universe in a jumble, and sometimes we recognize a part of what we loved in someone else, glimmering, standing out from all the rest.

Will there be another face to stand out of so many others in a dark room?

One of my best friends has heard my sad stories too many times. More than she would like to admit. She told me once when I was wondering what I do with all of these memories of people who are gone: My lost children. Those former loves. Family who are no longer with us. I said I wished I was like Leonard Cohen, who kept all of these people from his life in his songs and poetry. She told me I get to keep them safe in stories. She’s a wise one. So, I write my stories and I keep those memories there for now.

I’m done trying to fix anything. There is a wide, unbroken world I want to see finally. A place of beauty and laughter. Of sunbeams that hang in tattered clouds, dappled on a grey sea. I’ll try my best to remember those sweet moments, but sometimes it stings too much to look at them too often. Like someone sitting in an overstuffed chair, wasting the day looking through pictures of their youth when there is still so much more to see.

That is why.

It’s not worth playing the game anymore, because so much of that just seems to be an attempt at a do-over. Righting the things that went wrong in a bad marriage, or trying to bring back that feeling you had when you were first in love with a new face. It’s the same picture, it’s the same You, just with someone else standing in place of another.

I would rather see what happens next. I can’t fix what went wrong and I can’t replace what was lost. It will never be the same again. It is never what you planned anyway. But you can open the next door and see what else awaits. To walk into a place so unfamiliar that you could be anywhere. You could be anyone.

It doesn’t matter if I become a catch in someone’s throat when they remember the little things and for a brief moment wonder where I have gone and if I’m still sad. Of course I am. I have the heart of a poet that I wear on my sleeve. But I’m somewhere else, lost on the infinite tides on my own adventure. I’m also happy. At last. Making all new memories.

Simplicity and Meaning

I’ve thought a lot about what I would want in a relationship. When we start out in life, we have no idea what to look for, and then as we get older, we begin to get a good idea. We set up expectations. Sometimes we get crazy expectations which would make it nearly impossible for anyone to fit the bill.

Young men often say they want someone who is a size four or under, they have to have a certain hair color, eye color, blah blah blah. Like any good plan, everyone has one until they get punched in the mouth. To quote Iron Mike Tyson.

I’ve boiled my list down to a few mandatory things, which I’ll share here.

  • Must be a good kisser
  • Must enjoy kitchen dancing (music optional)
  • Must be kind to animals
  • Not rude to servers and waitstaff
  • Must love to laugh (especially at themselves)
  • Must have their shit together

That last one is the kicker isn’t it?

Lately I’ve been trying to get my shit together even more. Some days I’m good at it, and others not so much. I recently started reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I got halfway through it in one sitting. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it tells the story of Viktor Frankl, who was a psychotherapist in Austria during the 1930s until he was rounded up with millions of other Jews and sent to death camps during WWII.

During his time in Auschwitz and Dachau (and other camps), Frankl made observations that sometimes the healthier people who were brought into the camps–bigger, stronger, better fed, etc.–were dying, whereas he, a doctor doing hard labor, was still alive. He attributes much of it to simply having a reason to live. The attrocities he saw on a daily basis became commonplace and after awhile all empathy was robbed of them. They fell to nearly animalistic impulses. But he held onto the belief that as long as he found meaning in his life, he could continue. Sometimes he held conversations in his head with his wife, whom he had no knowledge of being alive or dead. Some found meaning in art, which some still did as they continued the slog towards starvation and disease. A big one Frankl attributed to his survival was love. Whether it was love for the outdoors and a beautiful sunset, or the thoughts of his wife, or the love of his work. The man actually wrote notes for his books on scraps of paper while he was in the camps.

When people are exposed to stress and trauma over a long period of time, they become desensitized to awful things. They become cold. I have thought about that in my own struggles recently with my children, with court. I haven’t spoken about it much here, but the papers have all been signed. The loss of common sense in the whole thing. The disregard for logic or fairness…it’s enough to drive you crazy. It’s certainly enough to make you lose hope. My children are all gone now. Lost to parental alienation, and the courts facilitated this. It isn’t right. Remember what Mike Tyson said? I’ve lived that. I can see nothing but a hard life for all of my kids.

It was Father’s Day and not a single phone call or text. That was also done to hurt me (did it? Not really. I tend to agree with the Stoics on this one). They cannot go outside of their mother’s authoritarian control. Her only purpose is to cause pain in others, because they have to pay for her own demons, which she never dealt with. Showing love or compassion for me is forbidden. Believe me when I say I’ve been there and lived through it. Sometimes it’s just easier to do what she says unless you want to get hurt.

I started reading Frankl because of that situation. Because of the guilt associated with losing all meaning in your life. As a father–really any parent–our identity is tied to being able to provide for and protect our children. When our lawmakers take that fundamental right away from us, it is dehumanizing. We run the risk of losing hope. June is Men’s Mental Health month. A huge number of divorced dads commit suicide every year because of this system. A lot of dads turn to the bottle or drugs to cope. Really to numb that feeling inside that says they are unworthy of being on this planet. I’ve seen it. Hell, I’ve dabbled in it.

I keep hearing that “One day your kids will come around.” No. They won’t. There is no rule out there saying they ever will. No crystal ball predicting this. Sometimes, people are just lost to you. That is a harsh reality. Ask any parent of a drug addict or any parent whose child walked to school and never came home. Or any parent who sat in front of a doctor and heard the words “It’s too soon to tell, but we are going to run some more tests…” Telling someone otherwise gives them false hope, and over time, according to Frankl, that “reprieve” will cut you just as deep as the trauma. So, please, don’t tell me they will come around. You don’t know that. Nobody knows that.

You come to a point where you have to admit to yourself you did everything you could.

So, I’ve decided to look for meaning in other ways. I have my Work. I have my writing. I have my memories of good people who walked with me for a while. Many of them are gone, but I still carry that piece of them with me. That piece that I loved. Like Frankl, I have conversations with these old ghosts sometimes. At least the part of them who held my hand and told me I was worthy of love. I have dreams and goals. I have the rest of my life to live and I refuse to let myself die on my feet doing meaningless, unfulfilling toil, just because I am not allowed to live for anything other than children who have been indoctrinated to hate me. But, whether their mother likes it or not, I will always be their dad.

I have the work of getting my shit together too, because the door swings both ways. I have a lot of trauma to work through. I don’t expect a partner to fix me, anymore than I would want to fix her. Getting your shit together means addressing the damage of the past and finding meaning in your life. Allowing yourself to love yourself and others. And seeking purpose. Meaning.

Today, I spent time with my dad on Father’s Day. We had good conversations. He made lunch and dinner. We aren’t very much alike, but time shared with him had meaning because these opportunities won’t last forever.

Having your shit together is a thin line on the horizon. It implies having done the work to no longer hurt yourself or others. It speaks to self-worth and boundaries. It probably means you are forgiving of yourself when you mess up and own your mistakes. And sometimes it means you can even harden your heart and walk away if you have to. It means you choose Peace over Drama. And you stop bleeding on others who didn’t cut you. It means honesty. It means allowing yourself to feel safe and asking good questions. It means tearing down walls and having better boundaries instead.

It’s also a pretty big red or green flag for those who work hard to get their shit together.

I hope I can find someone who fits this bill one day. Like many things in life, there are no guarantees. But I really do miss some great kissing and kitchen dancing. Until then, I will continue to find meaning. Fulfillment. Joy. Life goes on.

Summer Moon

I am a creature who lives in his memories. They have sustained me through some really hard times and for that I am grateful. Tonight is such a night. Some might call me pathetic for it. I don’t give a damn what they think.

I have mentioned before that one of the things that woke me up and reminded me of my worth during my divorce was an old box of letters from a girl who used to carry my heart. Until I broke hers. The grass was greener, or so I thought. I’ve always thought of that moment in my life as a low point. In retrospect, I needed to leave because we weren’t progressing as a couple. Back in those days, we probably needed to figure out who we were as individuals first, but I didn’t do it that way. I rushed into something else almost immediately and realized it was pale to what I had. I was married two years later to the wrong woman. Then divorced fifteen years later.

I read those letters in that box. Two years worth of them. It wasn’t so much that it built my ego as much as it was it reminded me of who I was back then. It reminded me that I could be desireable, when my marriage had tried to prove I was anything but.

Three years ago this weekend, as I was still mending from a heartbreak, I met someone wonderful. She awakened something in me that had been asleep for a long time. Probably around twenty years. It hurt like hell to lose her a little under a year after we met. She was good to me, but couldn’t watch my ex-wife break me or my son anymore. It was breaking her too. So she left.

I had a friend who was there for me, who sat with me through that grief. There were times I sat with her through hers. We were friends. We got close. We talked every day. I knew her faults. She knew mine. There was always an attraction between us, regardless of who we were seeing, and sometimes I put her well past arms length because of this. She did the same on occasion. Then, after a few years of leaning on each other, our friendship became something else. Something I hadn’t ever experienced myself, yet reminiscent of those letters in that box. Knowing someone’s mind before knowing their body. She told me my crazy ex wasn’t a dealbreaker, and that scared me a little bit.

I felt such things for her, even though we hadn’t met yet in person. Welcome to the difficulties of modern relationships. But we shared things. And she knew me and all my foibles and I knew hers as well. We made plans to meet. We didn’t have letters, but we texted every day. Sometimes for hours. I would write her bedtime stories to help her sleep. If I was having a panic attack, she could call or text and it would stop.

Tonight I re-read our texts from a year ago. Fuck, I have been missing her. I didn’t miss the way she made me feel about myself either. I missed her. A year ago, I knew, just by her words, her voice, her smile, I was undone. I knew she had problems. Demons. Don’t we all? But already, the cracks were beginning to show, and even the day I drove up to meet her, she was hesitant. Rather than meet me right away, she hung out with her friends for a couple hours beforehand. Maybe she was psyching herself up. I don’t know. I knew she was having problems at work and school and the general chaos of life. There were days she seemed exhausted. Days that I would say something sweet to her and she thanked me for always making her feel like my words were genuine.

They were.

You see, I decided to open my heart again. To my friend. To someone much more.

When I kissed her…it was like my first kiss all over again, only instead of a night in front of Niagara Falls in June of 1993, it was on her front lawn in 2021; no less wonderful. Like we were old lovers, meeting again for the first time after a while of being apart. It was that way for me anyway. With that first kiss…I knew what my heart wanted. I told her she was an amazing kisser.

What she said to me could have broken my heart. “It’s not like I haven’t had a lot of practice,” she said. She took that moment away from herself. She doubted her worth at that moment. If I would have said that, she would have shaken me!

Our weekend was amazing, even though I was stressed out over life that hit me hard in the face as well. I was fighting off bronchitis again, and would go into coughing fits for a long time. I was tired from driving and stress and being in a new town and trying to make a good impression. Then there were things in motion with the custody battle for my son.

I read some of her messages again tonight. The cracks I saw were exhaustion, but her emotions at the time were solid. There was the reciprocity, the companionship I learned to cherish from my last relationship. And there was such friendship! We knew each others’ lives so intimately, even with only meeting just then. Hell, it worked for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks more than once.

Not long after we met–just a few weeks–I felt her pull away. She was going through some crap, and she did what I do too. Instead of reaching out, she pushed away. She’s had to solve her own problems her whole life. I understood. I tried to be supportive. Until the beginning of August, I felt a distance between us. I was told it was my own insecurities. But when you feel the vibe is off from someone you’ve gotten to know really well…you just know. And then, I said some things I regret. And she said some things too. Or rather…it’s what she didn’t say.

I re-read those messages tonight. Such passion. Such vulnerability. Such connection. I’ve tried to tell myself it was all bullshit. I’ve tried to get angry about being led on. I wasn’t. I just think…she wasn’t ready to be loved like that yet. I read those messages tonight, and I understood something about myself. I know now that I will never let someone in that way again. Not out of resentment or being broken, but because that was for her. That way of loving someone. My friend. My heart…anything else just reminds me of what we shared.

It isn’t that I don’t trust it anymore. It’s just that it was something I gave freely and cannot give again. I hope she holds it inside in some secret place. And when the times get tough again for her, I hope she can look at it like I did that box of letters. And she will remember that a man once looked at her smile and heart-shaped face, and it could put happy tears in his eyes. That eyebrow raise really, truly just disarmed him.

It was like falling in love for the first time again. It was unique. I felt safe with her, yet thrilled at once.

I have passed the midpoint of my life. I used to be angry for being denied a love like that. After all, she never said it back, even though I could tell. But I have seen the pictures. I have heard her voice. I have read so many of her words. Just because she was afraid to say those words, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. I knew. I loved her. I still do. I’m content to go through the rest of my life knowing that I won’t have something like that ever again. I know this now. She moved on and I had to say goodbye for my own sake. It isn’t healthy to love someone from afar and see them with someone else, knowing what you know.

Every time is like a song. Each love I’ve had is a story unto itself. Beautiful and strange. Losing her hasn’t made me bitter. I just know it won’t be like that again. The terminal optimists who say “It will be better! You deserve better!” Fuck. “Deserve’s” got nothing to do with it.

When I see the sunset like it was tonight, I think about her and the night we watched fireworks in her yard. I think about the long nights we spent talking. Those good mornings and good nights. The little details I can’t seem to shake from my memory. I miss those times. I miss my friend. I’ve tried to forget her, but I can’t. I knew a woman who was blooming. Realizing her self-worth, until she stumbled again. Fuck, we all stumble.

My close friends think I’m okay because I don’t talk about her anymore. It’s only because I know they are sick of hearing it. Tired of being reminded that I had someone closer to me once, who has left an empty spot in me, like the gap of a missing tooth you keep tonguing. Or rather, a ghost of who she was still sits with me and she’s just as confused as I am with what happened.

A big reason I write this is right now it feels like a long, cold night is upon me. I’m at a crossroads again. I have only a handful of very close people. But because I’m not going to post this on Facebook, they won’t even know to look for it. One of them is struggling right now. They have pushed me away and are in a place I cannot follow. Another is a dry drunk. A year ago, I would have talked with my friend about it. We could have talked about a great many things. But now, I have only myself again. Because I also grew up having only me to rely on.

I know I’m oversharing, but I’m low on connection lately, and there are times I think putting my story into the aether like this will somehow give it meaning. Life right now has been insular. The world is broken and doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense how two people who shared so much…weren’t meant to be. It’s not right. Everybody wants to fall in love like they do in the movies.