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! 😉

Metamorphosis (part 1)

Part 1: The Caterpillar

Covid was one of the best things to happen to me as far as my agoraphobia goes. Nowhere to go, nothing to do…everyone HAD to stay home. For two years, I had the perfect excuse to not go anywhere. There were no vacations, no trips to the city, no concerts at the beach, no day trips, no overnight visits…nowhere to go, nothing to do. For two years, my comfort zone steadily shrank and my anxiety was practically nonexistent. That aspect of quarantine was wonderful. I was stuck at home, newly in love, and so content to just snuggle on the couch with him binging Netflix and Hulu. I still did weekly therapy, focusing on remote teaching, my new relationship, and the death of my exboyfriend. But, inevitably, life has started to go back to “normal” and I am left feeling very not normal. I knew Covid was a causing a huge step back when it came to my agoraphobia, but I don’t think I really grasped how much it negatively affected me. Before Covid, my “comfort zone” was an hour and a half or so. I still got anxious going somewhere new, but it was pretty manageable. I struggled with bigger trips and flying was still a huge obstacle, but I was doing ok. Over the past two years, my comfort zone significantly shrank to being about 25 minutes or so and I don’t like being in the car with other people. I especially am anxious about driving with my boyfriend and his two children. I have spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the need to expand my horizons and widen my comfort zone, but I haven’t actually acted on it. A couple of weeks ago, my friends went on an overnight girls trip to a place about two hours away. Even before Covid this trip was not one I usually went on, but this time I didn’t say no right away. I really did think a lot about going, but the length of the drive, coupled with a night at a bar and sleeping in a hotel was just overwhelming and I did not go. I obsessed over the decision, cried a lot, and was incredibly hard on myself for not being ready to do it. I realized that I had to stop just saying I was going to take drives and push myself and I needed to start just doing it. A couple of days ago, I drove (with my boyfriend) to my parent’s house, which is about 45 minutes away. Even though it is a route I had done hundreds of times in my life, I have only been to my hometown two times in the past two years and I had not driven that distance with my boyfriend before. It was the tiniest of accomplishments, but still was a step in the right direction and it was better than nothing. I decided that I am going to try to drive to the beach tomorrow morning by myself. It is about an hour and fifteen minutes away. I know the only way I am going to get better is to keep pushing myself to drive more often and go a little further each time. I am going to bed tonight telling myself that there is no pressure. If I start driving and can’t make it, I can go home and try another time. So…until tomorrow…

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.

Love hard

I think I love my boyfriend too much. I have never felt like this before. I am like a teenager who has a major crush. Sometimes I just find myself just staring at him and I always want to touch him. It is sweet, but it also makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel vulnerable and it is hard to think about how much it would hurt to lose him.

When I was in college, I dated a guy for a couple of years. He treated me really well, but his family was also very supportive of me during a time when my own family was incredibly dysfunctional. When he ended our relationship, I was completely heartbroken. He made a fleeting comment that has stuck with me, even 20 years later. He said something about me putting him on too much of a pedestal and how it put so much pressure on him. He was a great boyfriend, especially considering our ages at the time, but I think I allowed myself to depend on him too much. I became needy, which is never a very attractive quality to have.

I am very independent. Before meeting my current boyfriend, I was fine being single. I have never really been someone who needed to be in a relationship. In fact, after my divorce and after my other long term relationship ended, I wanted that time to myself, to focus on myself.

I think part of the issue is that I really just think my boyfriend is amazing. He is the sweetest, kindest, hardest working, most responsible man I have ever been with. It’s a good problem to have. But…it still feels like a problem. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is like I need to pinch myself that this is real- that this is really the relationship I am in. I dealt with so much drama and pain in the past and it is still hard to believe that a relationship can be so healthy and good and easy and drama-free. We have only gotten into a couple of disagreements and neither manifested into a fights. That is very foreign to me, as my previous relationships were full of conflict and arguments.

I have written before about my lack of self-worth. Obviously, I think that plays a role in this. There is a part of me that truly feels like I do not deserve someone as good as him. It is just crazy that I look at this man and feel what I feel. It isn’t just attraction. It isn’t the “newness” of it- we have been together for almost two years. I don’t know how else to explain it besides I just feel like I love him too much.

I read an article about the “dangers” of loving someone too much and I feel like I am pretty introspective (20+ years of therapy will do that!) and am honest with myself. I tried to see myself and our relationship in the examples, but none of it fit. I have good boundaries with him, am still very independent, and have a full social life outside of our relationship. Hs is with his children several days/nights a week and I keep very busy. I can see his flaws (look, even though he is wonderful, he still makes mistakes) and I don’t think he takes me for granted (this has been a problem I encountered in other relationships). I think the only one that stood out to me was that he might end up feeling smothered. Like I am going to be like that cartoon girl who picks up the cats and hugs them too hard and they hate her. I don’t want him to feel pressure that he is responsible for my happiness and well-being because he is not. I say I can’t imagine how I would survive losing him, but the realistic part of me knows that I would because I have gotten through very difficult times and lived to tell about it.

I think it is the vulnerability that scares me the most. Loving him makes me feel weak and out of control. My anxiety does not enjoy that feeling. The LAST thing I want or need is to be in another codependent relationship. I probably need to just stop analyzing things so much and actually just allow myself to he happy and enjoy being in such a great relationship.

The Sign

Dear M,

Ever since you passed away, I have been OBSESSED with getting a sign from you. Just something to let me know you didn’t suffer at the end and that you are okay. It got to the point where that was all I was thinking about and I was trying to interpret random things I saw to give them meaning.

A coworker of mine has the reputation of being a medium. I went to talk to her about it. I don’t know if I really believe in that (I’m sure you remember my last visit to a medium lol), but I was willing to try anything to feel better.

What she said actually made sense. She said that when young people die suddenly, they are sometimes confused about what happened and it takes time for them to accept it. She said that it would be too difficult for you to be able to send me a sign until you were at peace. She also said that I am too upset to be able to really receive a message or a sign from you because my emotions would block them. So, I guess we have to wait until we are both ready.

My sister had a dream about you a couple of weeks ago. She said that in it, you two were standing next to each other in your apartment and watched your last moments and then saw you pass away. She said you were really confused about what was happening and then finally came to a defeated acceptance. She said you kept shrugging your shoulders and repeating “I guess it was all too much.” When she told me about the dream, both of us were able to visualize you doing that.

Then a guy that you went to middle school with wrote on your Facebook page that he had a dream about you where the two of you talked about your death and cried about it together.

Will I ever dream of you?

I feel like I am going through the stages of grief, but I don’t know that I will ever accept your death. I don’t know that I will ever be able to move past how you died. So if it is true that you have to accept being gone, too, I don’t know if you will ever be able to send me a sign. But I really need one so badly, my love.

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.

My exboyfriend smells…

I emptied my bathroom garbage today and I found my boyfriend’s empty deodorant stick. I plucked it out of the can, uncapped it and took a sniff (this sounds really disturbing, just stay with me…). It really didn’t have a strong scent. It was just clean and fresh and simple and subtle.

My exboyfriend was full of smells. When we lived together and he would shower, my entire house smelled strongly like his body wash. I have 100 scented shower products in the shower and yet, that never happens. He would purchase and wear expensive colognes and reapply them during the day. Sitting next to him, I could always smell him and most of the time, his scent was heady and a combination of cool, musky and very masculine notes.

The scent that dominated his body was always his deodorant. I LOVED it. I can’t even describe it…it just smelled like him. I would cuddle up on his lap and just inhale. He knew how much I was attracted to it and although he would try out new colognes and beard oils and soaps, he always bought the same deodorant.

When he was hospitalized for a month in a coma, I slept every night with a stick of his deodorant uncapped on his pillow next to me. During the night, half-asleep, I would scoot over just so my face was closer to it. It brought such an overwhelming burst of feelings- comfort and love and familiarity, but also loneliness and fear and loss.

I must have known back then and I certainly do now, that much like a stealthy smoker, he used all of those strong scents to cover up the smell of alcohol. Because even though the cologne and soap and deodorant were applied, inevitably I could smell the faint, sharp, bitter scent of vodka that would permeate from his pores when he walked by me.

My new boyfriend is very low maintenance. He does very well financially, yet is content to buy whatever body wash is on sale at the store. The first time I showered at his house, I jokingly made fun of him for his single bottle of V05 Strawberries and Cream shampoo. He rarely wears cologne. He doesn’t have a scent that I can put my finger on or describe. He obviously doesn’t smell bad in any way- he just doesn’t smell like anything really.

But I held that empty deodorant just now and it seemed like a metaphor for my life. The guy who wore all the strong, sexy, artificially created scents…he was not true to me. He was always covering things up and lying. He pretended to be something he was not for a very long time.

But my new boyfriend…what you see is what you get. He doesn’t feel the need to be anything other than who he is. He is authentic, honest, and true. There is nothing he needs to cover up or to hide. He also just smells like himself…and occasionally like strawberry shampoo 🍓♥️

LET ME TELL YOU…

In the past few weeks, my boyfriend has (quite innocently) forgotten to tell me about some changes in his schedule and a trip he booked with his children. It is not a big deal and he certainly does not need my approval for anything. It does bother me a tiny bit, just because I feel like I try to tell him everything.

And therein lies problem number one. I am an oversharer. I tend to tell people too much about the details of my life. I read that people who overshare tend to be narcissistic (I don’t think that’s me) or feel inadequate (oh, that’s all me!). I have a really hard time making boundaries and I also am a people pleaser and want people to like me.

I almost said to my boyfriend, “in my last relationship, we told each other everything” and thankfully stopped myself. Yes, we told each other the minute details of our day to day lives- how his commute was, funny things my students said, what we ate for lunch, etc. We also told each other a lot about how we felt about issues, big and small and I thought we had good communication in our relationship because we talked A LOT. But, looking back, I realize a lot went unsaid. Like how he neglected to tell me that he drank vodka on the train to work. Or how he was sexting with a woman 25 years older than him.

And even though I felt indignant about those things, I have to admit there was a lot I didn’t tell him. Like how unhappy I was to get in bed by myself every night because he completely avoided any opportunity for intimacy. How repulsed felt when I would get a whiff of vodka from him when he walked by. The fact that I fantasized about coming home from work and having him, the dog and all of his stuff just gone from my house forever.

In my new relationship, everything just feels more…mature. Yes, we don’t talk 20 times a day, don’t exchange meaningless texts at work, don’t detail the minute details of every second of our lives. But, we have mutual respect for each other, complete trust, and mature conversations. When it comes down to it, those are the things that matter.

Even in my friendships, I am trying to create better boundaries. I have one very good friend who seems to be very judgmental and self-righteous about my life and my choices. Her opinions come off like law and I realize I give her way too much ammunition. I also ask for advice too often and then receive it unsolicited when I don’t want or need it. I often feel attacked and depressed by these types of interactions. My therapist told me that one side effect of Covid-19 is that people feel they have the right to judge what other people are doing. Who is going out to dinner vs. who doesn’t feel comfortable in a restaurant. Who is still socializing vs. who is staying home. Who is getting the vaccine and how did they qualify vs. who isn’t. It is really difficult to know what the RIGHT thing to do is, but it is an individual’s personal decision. I am just trying to now keep my personal decisions a little (or a lot) more private.

I saw a quote I really liked while I was reading about these topics. “Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.” So, that is my new goal- to create and maintain appropriate and healthy boundaries. Because at this point, what OTHER people don’t know won’t hurt ME 🙂