Running into (and away from) your ex

I got divorced in January of 2010, walked out of the courtroom, hugged my ex husband one last time, got in my car and drove away and never saw him again. Welll, that’s not 100% true, because there was one time about seven years ago that I saw him in the food store and hid in the bread aisle until I could run out, but that had more to do with the fact that I looked like a slob and was in my pajamas, rather than not wanting to see him because by that point I could have cared less.

When M. and I broke up, I was still very emotionally invested in his health and his life, but I knew any interactions with him encouraged him and that was not fair to either of us. I did not want to give him false hope that we would get back together. Neighbors would tell me they saw his truck on our street by my house, so I knew he was around, but it seemed harmless. Strangely enough, we didn’t run into each other anywhere, even though we lived only a couple miles apart. However, I was very aware of my surroundings, sort of knowing that us running into each other was inevitable and mostly dreading it.

It finally did happen last December. I was coming out of the gym and he was going in. As with most things, it was not as bad as I thought. We chatted for a little bit. In retrospect, I am grateful for this happening because he died less than two months later. It was the last time I ever saw him.

My gym was closed for a long time because of covid, and then because of flooding from a terrible storm. It just recently reopened and I finally started going back. It was weird because I felt like I kept looking at the door, thinking he was going to walk in. I feel like that happens a lot. I see someone who looks like him from behind walking or I see the same color truck as his and I have to remind myself that he is gone. I will never have to think about running into him again. How strange life is…one of the things I used to worry about is now something I wish could happen.

My boyfriend (also an M. name so I need to find an abbreviation for him….maybe Dr?) has an ex wife with whom he coparents, so she is very involved in his life. Luckily, she and I get along well, minimal problems and she is accepting of my relationship with the kids. But it is weird to me to be with someone who has baggage who is still present. Like they text about the kids and see each other multiple times a week. I can’t imagine what that is like because I have literally ZERO interaction with an ex at all.

It is like you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I never wanted to run into M. until he passed away and now I wish I could run into him, to see him one more time. As far as my ex husband, I hope he found a new food store really far away…preferably another state! 😉

Time

Dear M,

When I think of you now, so much relates to time. Even from the beginning of our relationship, time was a factor. How many days would pass before we saw each other? How many days until you moved in with me? And then…how many days were you sober, how many days were in the coma, how many days were you in the hospital? As an English teacher, it is ingrained in me to find symbolism. The object that would most symbolize you would be a wrist watch. Very fitting considering how much you loved your Omega.

But time is different now when it comes to you. It is no longer days. After you died, it became weeks and then months and then finally…a year. I was dreading February so much. November always was my least favorite month because of losing my grandparents and getting divorced. February tried to take that title over.

With the date you died looming, my emotions were all over the place. But, strangely, on that day I felt so little. I had grieved so much for so long, it felt anticlimactic. I slept a lot, which indicated I was sad, but I planned to look through my “M box”- a tote of things I had packed up when we broke up and then stuffed new things into after you passed away. I told myself all year long I would look at it on the anniversary of your death (there needs to be a better word than “anniversary” for something sad). I finally did open the box at night and looked at photos and items that belonged to the dog and so, so many cards. It was sweet and I felt nostalgic, but I was not overcome with sadness like I thought I would be. I talked with my therapist about it afterwards and she thinks because I finally got answers about how you died, I had more closure than I thought I had.

A week or so later, my sister and I went out to dinner for your birthday. You would have been 39. I took her to “our” restaurant, which I had not been to since we broke up. It actually felt like a celebration. Again, instead of feeling sad, I was happy to remember you and all the good memories of our life together. It really felt like turning a corner. Being able to think about you and focusing on your life instead of you being sick or drunk or dead. I really celebrated your life on your birthday and it felt…right.

I will ALWAYS be sad about you being gone. It is just a part of who I am now. But, February is almost over and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I finally felt a sense of peace, of being able to move on, of being able to balance grieving your loss and remembering happier times with you.

There is a quote by Robert Frost that I always have up in my classroom: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” This past year, I have missed you, I have been depressed, I have been heartbroken, I have been SO angry, but my life has also gone on. I have been overjoyed, I have been happy, and I have fallen deeper in love with a wonderful man. I would like to think it is what you would have wanted for me.

Mad

I’m so fucking angry all the time. This is not a comfortable emotion for me. I have always historically been a crier. No matter what the situation, my gut reaction was to get upset and cry. Not anymore. Sometimes I think I just have no more tears to cry. And when they dried up, I became filled with rage instead.

I feel so shut off from everyone right now. Part is that is self-preservation and protection. I am escaping into myself by withdrawing from people and situations and emotions. The other part is that I find myself just wanting to lash out. At times when I would normally be sympathetic or be able to show that I care, I feel myself harden, the anger percolating dangerously close to the surface.

This started- no surprise- right after M. died. The circumstances of his death are still unknown, at least to me. People tell me that “it doesn’t matter HOW he died, the end result is the same”. I am consumed by it. I still NEED to know. I drive to work drafting emails in my head to send to his mother, sometimes demanding the truth, other times begging for it. I read so much after he died about the stages of grief, desperate to understand. Denial…check. That lasted a couple of weeks. Then came anger aaaannnnd I’m still there. Stuck. I kind of feel like I moved through the other stages, but kept anger tucked in my back pocket. It is a weird comfort, years of pent up anger finally being unleashed, but it is directed all the wrong places. It is like a firecracker- scalding hot and bright red and then it explodes and just goes everywhere.

I have always avoided anger. The absolute worst feeling is knowing or thinking someone is mad at me. And I seldom get mad at anyone, even if I have just cause. It just has never been my go-to emotion. Now, I don’t know how to stop being mad. And I get angry at the dumbest things. I feel like I have been pushing people away, especially my boyfriend. And I don’t even know how to explain to them why because I don’t understand it. It seems too simple (or like a lame excuse) to say, “I’m angry because M. died”. But I’m SO ANGRY BECAUSE M. DIED.

The worst part is I feel mean. I know I’m hurting people who care about me and who genuinely want to make sure I’m okay. And I know I’m doing it in the moment and I don’t care. That is the complete opposite of who I normally am as a person. The person I am pushing away the most is my boyfriend, who is so lovely and wonderful and probably so very, very confused. I just don’t know how to articulate how I feel (which is also very unlike me). My anxiety is so bad right now I just want to be left alone and I know if I continue to act like this, I am literally going to be left and alone.

Lastly

Dear M,

I spend a lot of time thinking not only about all of the things you are going to miss out on in the future, but also about the “lasts” of things you did before you died. Many of them are unimportant, like what was the last thing you ate, what was the last song you heard, what was the last show you watched on TV, etc. Yet, others feel significant, like who was the last person you spoke with, what were the last words you said aloud, who was the last person you hugged…

I know that I was the last person you loved. I know that sounds assuming and kind of obnoxious. When we saw each other in December, I kept hoping you wouldn’t ask me if I was dating someone. I feel a sense of guilt for loving another man now. I think you and I both knew that we were never going to be together again, but I think there was a part of you that hoped for that. If not because of still loving me, at least knowing that being back together with me would have provided you with comfort and care and stability. I didn’t want to tell you that I had moved on because I was afraid it would create a downward spiral, that it might cause you to relapse in the event that you were maintaining sobriety. Even up until the end, I truly never wanted to hurt you.

But you hurt me. Sometimes I feel frustrated that I was never able to express anger towards you. When I found out about you being unfaithful and hiding how much you were drinking, I couldn’t be mad at you because you were in a coma. When we broke up afterwards, I didn’t want to show anger towards you because I wanted to be supportive of you trying to get sober and you were still so sick.

Even now, I don’t feel a lot of anger towards you. I feel angry that you are gone, but not directed at you. But I also feel guilty that I have moved on. It is really hard to mourn you and love someone else. I feel like my heart is split, like I can’t devote it fully either way. I am happy now with him and I hope that you would want that for me. I can hear your voice saying, “fuck that guy” (lol), but I think deep down you knew you could not give me what I needed or deserved.

He was with me when I found out you were gone and has been unwavering in his support ever since. He lets me cry, gives me space when I need it, listens to me talk about you. I can’t imagine how hard it is for him, but he is so patient and kind.

I feel guilty that I was the last person you loved, but I love someone else. I did love you- I truly did and I tried SO hard. I learned the hard way that it is just impossible to love someone who does not love themselves. It makes me sound conceited to say that, but I know it is true and I am grateful that you knew what it felt like to be truly loved, even if you couldn’t always accept it. You told me many times that no one ever really cared for you the way I did. I am glad I was able to give you that gift, that I was able to love you when you felt unworthy and you couldn’t love yourself.

Memories: Part 1

Dear M,

All throughout the day, I think about how I want to write to or about you. It is just so, so difficult to actually DO it. I have so much I want to tell you or things I want to write about you- about us- but now that I am sitting here, I have writer’s block. I think it also makes it real. If I am writing about you being gone…that means you are gone. How is that possible? It has only been two months since you passed away and I can already feel vivid memories of you fading away. I want to remember everything about you. It feels like the harder I try to recall certain things, the harder it is, almost like they just have to come to me organically. So many things remind me of you.

It’s crazy because I think throughout the day how I want to talk to you, but even if you were alive, we were not communicating like that. I see something funny or a meme or a news story and my gut reaction is to text you. Then I remember.

Baseball season is starting. I think a lot about all the things you won’t ever do again- like watch another opening pitch or take your nephew to his first Yankees game and buy him a hot dog and souvenir. Obviously anything related to baseball or MLB reminds me of you. I remember when we went to the new Yankee stadium for the tour. It was such a beautiful day and I have those photos of you and us in the dugout. When you got your new job, I remember decorating the house with baseball balloons and cupcakes and plates and decorations and big league chew packets. The people at the party store probably thought I was having a party for a seven year old 🙂 Even though going to games at the stadium were fun, my favorite memories were us on the deck. You would bring your computer out and stream the game. The dog (and sometimes the cat) would sleep at our feet in the sun. Sometimes you would grill and when it got dark out, we would turn on the strands of lights and burn citronella candles. I remember us hanging those lights- it is such a funny memory. We spent an hour positioning them around the deck, stapling them so carefully to the posts. When I flicked them on for the first time, it was beautiful. Then you went to adjust one and got shocked and the whole strand blew out. You were so angry and frustrated, but we both managed to laugh about it. Then we tried again, but used clips instead and they are all still hanging to this day. The little black mark is still on the vinyl of the house from where the bulb exploded.

Last night, I was reading old emails between us before I fell asleep. I haven’t been able to do that- or to look at letters or cards or anything like that, so it felt like a step. It was so bittersweet to see the evolution of our relationship, from hooking up to starting to care about each other, to becoming “official”, to the struggles of being long distance, to you moving in with me, etc. Many of them were mundane, everyday, silly conversations, but a lot of them were about feelings (or “feeeelings” as you would sarcastically say lol).

One of the first serious emails was from November of 2011 and in it I wrote to you: “I know you think this world wouldn’t really be drastically different without you in it…but please know that MY life would be missing something if I didn’t have you.”

Several people have said to me that I had to have seen your death coming. I didn’t. I really, honestly didn’t. I’m so angry that in some ways if does seem like the world is not drastically different without you in it. I want to yell from mountaintops and tell random strangers that you are gone and about your life. He existed! I know there was nothing on social media, I know there was not an obituary, but he died!

But, my love, the other thing I wrote is undisputedly true- MY world is missing something without you in it. It is forever changed and will never be the same. I will never be the same. And I promise to try to hold on to every single memory that I can.

Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful 😉

Unanswered Prayers

I used to be a huge Garth Brooks fan and I just heard a song that I haven’t listened to in many, many years. It is called “Unanswered Prayers” and the lyrics include the following lines:

“Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’
To the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
‘Cause some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers”

I am not religious at all, but I can appreciate the meaning of this song. Sometimes the thing we want the most is not what is best for us. I don’t really believe that “everything happens for a reason”, but I do think that there is a reason for everything.

When my exboyfriend was sick and his alcoholism was at its worst, I hoped and wished for him to get better so that we could have a future together. I do not really pray to god, but I do talk to my Mama (my deceased grandmother with whom I was very, very close). I remember pleading with her to save his life, to help him survive the coma, to help him get better.

The most important thing at the time was his health and our relationship- and my feelings- took a backseat for a long time. But that was going on long before he got so sick. His problems, his addiction, his depression was always at the forefront. I would ask my Mama to help him, to help us as a couple. But that never happened. He never got help and the consequences were devastating.

I know now that my Mama was not ignoring my requests. She was simply giving me what I needed, which was to NOT give me what I wanted. If I had stayed with my ex, I would have been stuck in his sober/relapse cycle for my whole life. And even if he did get sober, I would have just been waiting with baited breath for him to drink. I would have been suspicious every time he stumbled over a word. That is no way to live- for me or for him. My Mama gave me the opposite of what I thought I wanted and I ended up with failure, but freedom. I realize now that is what I needed more than saving my relationship.

And after the pain and suffering and excruciating loss came something unexpected…a new relationship. One that is light and healthy and equal and secure. I never thought I would be with someone who took care of me. I have never been in a relationship that didn’t include drama and arguing and codependency.

If my “prayers” had been answered by me asking for the wrong things, I know that I would not be happy right now. I believe that it was a gift to NOT get what I thought I wanted, because I know, without a doubt, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and with who I am meant to be with.

Teaching a different kind of lesson

born-to-inspire

I shared an article on my personal Facebook page the other day that really resonated with me (I will include the link below).  It was about how having schools closed right now for the purpose of social distancing is not a “vacation” for teachers.  Throughout my 20 year career teaching English, I have faced many difficult situations, but nothing prepared me- or any of us- for this.

Yes, I am home in the comfort of my own house, wearing pajamas for most of the day.  I do not have children of my own and I live by myself.  It does give me flexibility in my day to binge watch a show for a couple of hours or take a short nap, but I sincerely wish I was at work instead.  I miss my school, my colleagues, the routine and my classroom.  I truly miss my kids.  I have 120 11th graders that I am responsible for every day, not to mention my “formers” (the students I had last year, many of whom I see daily).

I work in a very diverse school district.  This means that many of my students struggle in many different ways- some financially, some with social anxieties or other mental health disorders, some with language barriers, some with difficult family situations, some with learning disabilities, some with food insecurity, etc.  My school is using distance learning and luckily our students were provided with Chromebooks before the virus began to spread and I have been in touch with the majority of them, whether through our class website or email.

This is not a vacation for me.  I am worried about my students- now and in the future.  Are they nervous, scared, anxious, worried, confused, alone, eating, sleeping, healthy…?  I am a junior class advisor and planned the prom for April.  I am waiting for the directive to cancel that.  It makes me sad that students will miss out on milestone events in their high school experience.  I know a school dance is not important at all right now in the bigger scope of things going on in the world, but to a 16 year old, it kind of still is.

There is so much uncertainty right now and as an adult, I am overwhelmed by the fears and anxieties and stress I feel.  I can’t imagine being a child right now.  For some of my students, school is the only stability they have in their lives.  I worry what kind of lasting effect this will have on their mental health, their future economy, the world moving forward.

Yesterday, we found out the gender of my sister’s baby- a girl!  It was so wonderful for ten minutes to celebrate something, to forget about all of the urgent news alerts constantly lighting up our phones.  But then it was back to reality…my sister is twelve weeks pregnant during a pandemic and my niece is only two and a half and my father has compromised health and my mother is over 70 and my brother in law was laid off yesterday and I am struggling with agoraphobia and there’s no toilet paper and *deep breath*….

Every opportunity I have to interact with my students I am trying to be as positive as possible.  I made funny memes to make them laugh (or at least roll their eyes).  I sent a picture of my niece opening the box with bright pink balloons popping out at the gender reveal.  I tell them how I am doing with my new “coworkers”, who sometimes annoy me and step on my computer (aka my two cats).  I tell them I am here for them…anytime. I reassure them that we are all doing the best we can do right now and that things will be okay.  I am doing this for them, but also for myself.  I also need to be reminded that this “new norm” will not last forever, that things will go back to the way they were, that we will be okay.  It is much harder to convince myself, though.

Here is the article I mentioned above: boredteachers.com/…/covid-19-quarantine-isnt-a-vacation-for-teachers

 

Complicated

trading-style-simple-complicated

I had my first “date” since breaking up with my exboyfriend.  It felt too soon, but I had to remind myself that the romantic part of the relationship with my ex ended far earlier than our break up.  I had not been intimate with anyone (including him) in well over a year.

It was a guy I knew from high school, but not very well- more like we had mutual friends.  We both agreed we did not want a relationship, rather just a “friends with benefits” situation.  I am not sure why I thought that was a good idea for me because I overthink EVERYTHING.  But, I also knew this guy is not the one for me and I just wanted to put myself out there in an effort to move on from my ex, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

I was very nervous but everything went well and I enjoyed his company.  I was surprised when he continued to call and text me every day- I was not really expecting that kind of communication, but it was really nice.  We made a second date, which he canceled on the same day and then another second date, which he also canceled (one hour before).  Both times he canceled he blamed work (which I believe because he has a demanding job), but he never attempted to choose a different day.  It has been two weeks now and I feel like if he REALLY wanted to see me, he could have carved out some time.  It’s like that movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You”…if a guy wants you, he will find a way.  So, I did what I always do and started asking everyone’s opinion on what I should do- my guy friends, my girl friends and my sister and took their advice (which really ended up not being what I probably would have done) and maturely told him it wasn’t working out.  He was snarky back and said he “gets it, I don’t trust men” and told me he doesn’t “do complicated”.

I think calling me “complicated” was presumptuous on his part.  I mean, let’s be honest, I definitely AM complicated, but I did nothing during the time talking with him for him to be able to fairly make that assessment about me.  I didn’t call or text him and I was totally okay with the first cancellation.  I know I didn’t do anything “wrong”, but yet I feel like I messed up.

My sister asked me why I feel the need to ask SO many people their advice and opinions on what I should do and without even thinking I responded, “because I don’t trust myself.”  My answer caught me off guard, but I realize that it’s true.  I feel like I have made so many bad choices and ignored a lot of red flags in the past and now I am not comfortable trusting myself to make decisions .  She also asked why I was settling for this guy.  Not that he is a bad person or anything, but he does not have the qualities that I want in a partner.  Again, without thinking, I blurted out, “because I have low self-worth”, which I also realized is very true.

I was enjoying talking to someone new because it felt good and I liked the attention and it was a good distraction from everything that happened with my ex.  But then, I just started obsessing and worrying and analyzing and questioning everything about this guy.  I think I just need more time.  And I know that I need to focus on myself more and deal with some unresolved issues.

I don’t know why I think I do not deserve to be happy or to have a wonderful person in my life.  I sadly wonder who would really want to be with me?  I think my exboyfriend accepted me and the problems I have because he also suffered from mental illness and he was so sick himself.  I feel so flawed and damaged and…complicated.

Hiding in plain sight

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I went to an Al-Anon meeting tonight.  I have not been to one in probably almost 20 years.  At that time, I went because of my father’s alcoholism.  This time, it is about my ex-boyfriend.  I guess technically I am killing two birds with one stone.

The topic the speaker chose could not have been more perfect for me.  It was about feeling responsible for other people and not focusing on yourself.  For SO LONG I felt responsible for my boyfriend, especially at the end of our relationship when he was hospitalized and so ill.  I put him and his health and his alcoholism first and I knew he really needed me.  It was all about him, but really most of our relationship was that way.  He said something to me right after our dog died…he said, “I knew I wasn’t taking the best care of her, but I also knew that you would.”  I thought I was helping him, but really all I was doing was taking away any responsibilities or consequences.  In reality, I was making it very easy for him to drink, because he knew I would hold everything else together.

Someone in the meeting said that they often get lost in other people because it feels makes them feel safe.  I recognized that is exactly what I have been doing these past few months, since everything in my life became complete chaos.  My sister bought a house at the end of June and ALL I have done this summer is help her pack, move, decorate, etc her house.  I also have been helping her with her two year old daughter.  I obviously love spending time with my niece, but I know I have been hiding in their lives and their new home as a way of avoiding my own.  I also realize that I have been trying to do EVERYTHING for my sister, whether it be at her house or helping with the baby.  Another member of the Al-Anon group spoke tonight and said that they always want to be needed because if they are not doing things for other people, they feel worthless, like they have nothing else to offer.  That is how I feel about myself right now and I am aware that I have transferred a lot of my codependent tendencies from my exboyfriend to my sister.

So, here are my takeaways from tonight’s meeting…

  1. I am not responsible for anyone else’s behavior.  I should not feel guilty that I can’t be supportive of someone who is harmful to my emotional well being. I am only responsible for myself.
  2. I cannot save anyone, especially those who do not want to save themselves; people need to face the consequences of their actions. 
  3. I have to stop trying to do everything for other people and start realizing I have more to offer.  People will still care about me and want to spend time with me, even if I am not “doing” things for them.  I have to stop needing to constantly feel needed.
  4. No. More. Hiding.  As much as I love my sister, my niece and their new lovely home, I must have my own life and enjoy the time I spend at my own house.