When A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes

Anger was getting me nowhere. That was always the case. When I was a little girl, my brothers knew that if I got mad at them, it was only a matter of minutes, after cajoling, funny faces, and tickling, before I burst out laughing against my will, letting them back into my good graces again. I was always the first to cave in an argument.

As I got older, the sulking period grew a bit longer, especially depending on how long resentment had been building up, but that negative time was still a flash in the grand scheme of things. After a defensive eruption of harsh words, I would always wind up feeling worse after the initial high of finally getting the pent-up emotions off my chest. The disconnect always left me feeling empty. So much of my life derives meaning from connection.

Some people can hold grudges until the day they die. I have friends who haven’t spoken to their parents in years. Or who, after some harsh words said in the heat of the moment, lost their best friends forever and pride forbade them from ever making up. I never could understand it. No matter how angry I got, no matter how hurt I was over something, I always sought peace, forgiveness, or some other form of closure.

Around the middle of this week, after I got great feedback and commendation at work, very promising leads for the next step in my career, and an awesome writing project for the summer, I was riding high. I had two fabulous dates with The Brit. I was feeling inspired again. I was re-connecting with friends I’d somehow gotten out of touch with.

During one of my daily chats with Tina, the mutual German friend of Mr. Etiquette’s and mine, I spoke of how I just wanted this cloud of negativity between me and him to be behind us. It was the only thing holding me back from really being at peace with the moment. I told her I felt this urge to reach out and lay down the olive branch between us. She encouraged me, smiling, as I sent the following message:

I’m sorry if u felt I was too harsh on u. I want to let go of this negativity. Life is looking so good for me right now & I want to enjoy it fully w/o the shadow of this ugliness between us. I sincerely wish you well.

There was an agonizing five or more minutes where he didn’t respond, and then the phone rang. Mr. Etiquette popped up on the screen. I anxiously picked up. He talked, and I mostly listened for a long time. I heard his perspective. I let him say what he needed to say. I let him talk about Sara without feeling like it was competition. I listened with forgiveness and understanding in my heart.  I felt it when he said he was sorry and that he never meant to hurt me. I said I knew that, but he did. I felt it when he said he missed me and when he told me how much i meant to him and still do. He still confused me with certain words he repeated that I thought still gave hope. I told him why saying those things weren’t fair right now. He understood why it confused me, but he said he didn’t say this things to confuse me. It was just how he felt. He said he really wanted me to still be in his life in some friendly capacity. He didn’t know how we could do it but he asked me if we could try.

After our phone call ended, Tina and I continued our Skype talk. She sounded very happy that we had reconciled to the point of at least making the effort of truly being friends solely this time. Mr. Etiquette started messaging her. He said how happy he was to talk with me and glad we were making amends. He told her he was heading out to see a show. Nosy me asked where he was going. I knew he wasn’t going with Sara, since she only gives him a couple hours on Sunday afternoons right now. They are not boyfriend and girlfriend. They are just moving slowly to start “dating” again.

He told Tina where and asked if I wanted to come. He hated going to the bars by himself. I hemmed and hawed. Thought it was probably a bad idea. But I had just told Tina that the only way I could see us being successfully friends was if we had activities outside the home that kept us positively and constructively doing stuff, not over-analyzing and going into the danger zone of emotions. Tina gave her Swiss opinion. Mr. E and I both deliberated, my dad objected, but finally I decided let’s go for it.

I showed up looking killer. I didn’t intend to. I wanted to just be totally casual in regular jeans and a cute top. Until I realized I had a couple hours earlier put all my clothes in the wash. So I was left with a top I originally had bought for work (but it looked downright scandalous when I put it on tonight), and white tight jean capris. Only thing that went with those were tall wedge-type heels. I decided it didn’t hurt for him to see me looking fabulous, not broken and grieving.

He certainly approved. Unfortunately even in his casual wear, I still found my heart turning over a bit, but I tried to be as blase as possible. Of course, he wouldn’t allow it. We talked of many things. At first he sounded hopeful about Sara, her possibility for recovery. How there were things she was doing now that reminded him of the old Sara he loved, which gave him encouragement. But he admitted he was also scared. He found himself waiting by the phone. Wondering why she didn’t text sometimes. Wondering if he didn’t initiate contact, would she? Wondering if he can trust her to show the next time. I reminded him it’s still so early, she’s not yet getting the treatment she needs, and he’s got to be very patient.

He kept telling me how amazing I looked. How wonderful it was to see me. How much he missed me, my smile, my laugh, how easily we can communicate. “Things are so easy with us. I hope things can be this easy again with Sara again,” he said. Seeing me again reinforced how strong his feelings for me had been and still are. He worried if things didn’t work out with Sara, and I had moved on, he wouldn’t know what he’d do if he lost us both. He questioned whether he was doing the wrong thing, making a mistake to choose Sara now.

I told him there was no wrong choice. Even after he’s proven to himself that there is another amazing woman he was starting to fall in love with, he still can’t fully let Sara go. The only way he will ever know for sure if Sara still is or is not the woman for him is to see a) if she can and will get mentally healthy again to be the happy and wonderful girl he was blissfully in love with for 6 months b) if by then, too much time hasn’t passed that he has given up hope, and c) if they get that far, can he trust that she will stay consistently healthy enough that she won’t completely shut him out again for a year like she did and break his heart all over again. So many ifs I said.

“I have always been a dreamer,” he told me. “What if I’m just deluding myself into thinking she can ever really get healthy?” We talked for a while about the real possibilities that even with the proper medication and therapy, she might not be able to fully conquer this generalized anxiety disorder that she seems to have inherited from her mother. But I reminded him she’s starting to being proactive now and including him in her struggles. That’s a big change in the right direction.

When all the psychoanalyzing got too depressing, talking in circles, we spoke of other things, of the great things going on in my life. He sounded so pleased for me, and I was so proud to be able to share how amazing life was growing for me again even without him by my side. I showed I was strong enough to stand alone from him. I said I was dating again. That made him jealous, he admitted, wanted to know about The Brit. Tough shit. He cautioned me not to move too fast. “Like I did with you?” I asked. And then the music finally started and we got caught up in the joy of just grooving at a show together.

After the show, we talked as he drove me home: “I am a man torn between my love for two different women.” He wondered if the woman he once loved even still existed or could still exist again. Will things ever be as easy with her as they once were, as they were and still are with me? Will intimacy, whenever she allows it again, be awkward and just feel plain wrong? I told him he won’t know until he experiences it.

“There is still more than the wonderful friendship we have between us here,” he said, while we sat in my driveway, unable to leave just yet, very loosely holding hands, possibly for the last time. “You feel it too, right?” I silently nodded. “There was always so much more between us than just the chemical,” he said.

Though this night maybe should have been painful and just opening up old wounds again, it wasn’t. It confirmed to me that Mr. Etiquette wasn’t the completely asshole I’d demonized him into in my own grief over losing him. He didn’t handle things right, but who knows if I would’ve done it better in his shoes. It also confirmed to me that what we shared was real and mutual, and not something I made more of in my head. Somehow that was reassuring. So off we go to be sometimes friends. There’s too much between us now to do more than just touch base every now and then. Yet that’s okay with me now. I have found the peace and closure I needed.

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In Grief and In Confusion, The Past Meets My Future

Monday was the wake. The place was packed with dazed and crushed 21-year-olds who had never faced mortality so close to them before. HH's little sister was loved by so many people from so many walks of life. Memorials to her young life paved the walkway–photographs, a video montage, her baptismal gown. At the head of receiving line was Mom, who burst into a new dose of painful tears when each person representing a different part of her life or the daughter's walked by.

When I came in with my oldest brother, who grew up with HH, HH gave me a huge hug and whispered how much it meant to him that I came. Later, in a text, he asked if I saw him smile when he saw me come in. He thanked me for making his insides light up.

The next day, Winnie and I went to the funeral together, as planned. We met up with two other childhood friends and sat together through the touching ceremony. The congregation was overcome with a chorus of sobbing when HH's middle sister, S,  got up to give her tribute to her little sister. She talked about their close bond, tearfully spoke of how her sister will never be an aunt to her kids, how she will never get to see her little sister get married, etc. She shared funny memories as well. I've never seen a crowd so overwhelmed with emotion before.

The burial was somber and mercifully brief. Afterward, HH came over, surprised to see me and nearly picked me up with a huge hug. He asked how I was, and I shook my head. "No, how are you?" He commented on how I was burning up in the heat of the sun, dressed all in black, giving veiled compliments about my looks. S came over to us, her friends, and we spoke about how it was a perfect day. How the birds were singing, the sun was shining despite the threat of clouds later in the day. Little sister was buried next to a plot carrying a Yankee flag, her favorite baseball team. HH and his sister said the family had been seeing signs of little sister everywhere.

We went back to the church for the reception. Winnie, M (one of the dear friends of my childhood), and I sat at a table by ourselves. We spoke in hushed tones about the accident, our worries about how the family was holding up, noting how neither HH or S were eating, how S looked like a frail bird.

M asked if HH was going to move up here. I said I sincerely doubted it. Somehow we began discussing my brief relationship with HH, how it went from absolutely amazing to heartbreaking. M commented that S was exactly the same way. She only let people get so close before she pushed them away. That brought me some kind of comfort and closure, even.  M said how our job was to stay in touch with S, to make sure she remained connected with her friends, and that my job was to convince HH to move back to the state to be back with his family.

Suddenly HH, S and her husband swooped upon us. HH sat next to me, pulling me to his side. He kept hugging me, squeezing me to his side, and finally he tightly grasped my hand in his hand. "It means the world to me that you are here." We closed out the reception, bringing smiles and laughter to S's face. When Winnie and I got into the car, she said, 'I would certainly say the HH was very glad to see you!"

Yesterday, I texted Harlequin Hero, asking if he wanted to get out and do something outdoors while the weather was nice, also allowing him to get away from the sadness and drama that surely overtook life at home this week. I wasn't too surprised when later, HH replied, "What are you doing tomorrow? Is the weather supposed to be nice again?"

Today, he wound up being caught up in family stuff all day. I was about to write it off as a raincheck or even a blow off, when he texted, "I'll pick u up in a few."

It was after 7 p.m. when he arrived in his new truck. "Did you have any thoughts for where you want to go?" he asked. "I just needed to get out of the house." I mentioned we could try to find a park or something that wouldn't kick us out after sunset. As we drove by the tavern where we met and where we went to many a karaoke night, he noted all the vehicles parked out front and I said teasingly that it was Thursday: karaoke night. "Really?" he replied. "Maybe we'll drop by there afterward."

First, we just drove. We talked about my illness and my plans for the near future. We talked about his sister. We talked about spirits and signs from loved ones when we needed them after they'd passed. He painfully spoke of her last attempt to reach out to him before she passed and his missed opportunity to reply. He shared more extended family drama.

We navigated the familiar streets of our hometown. We went through the automatic carwash to wash his truck. Then we headed for this pond that we thought was still accessible. It wasn't. We wracked our brains for other teen haunts, and tried another place. We saw a fence and a "No trespassing sign." Next to that, though, we saw fresh tire tracks through the grass. HH followed it until we got to the beach in front of a lake.

It was a beautiful night. The sky was clear, and we could see stars everywhere. We could hear frogs and crickets and smell the water as the breeze wafted its aroma in our direction. We found a park bench to sit on. He pulled me toward him. "You are so warm," he said.  "I'm freezing." Our bodies remembered history, as he pulled me onto his lap and pulled my face to his.

After a time, the breeze was no longer refreshing; it was just cold. We retreated to the truck. We continued where we left off. We enjoyed each other a little bit more, we laughed. Reaching for him, I accidentally grabbed the Gatorade bottle in the beverage console in front of us and started cracking up.

"Have your boobs gotten bigger?" he asked later.

"Why, do they seem like it?" I replied. "Yeah, I've gained a little weight," I said proudly.

He nodded appreciatively. "I thought they had an extra bounce to them; I can really cup them good now," he said, gesturing with his big hands.

We started talking about everything. He is looking at houses in town, including some in my neighborhood. The taxes scared him, so I told him to look one town over. He mentioned he'd need a roommate. I asked how serious he was about getting a house here. He said something about how he was almost 40, and it was time to settle down.

"What, with wife and kids?" I asked. He said he was too old to have kids. I said, you're an athlete, that's no excuse. "Marry a 23-year-old," I joked. He said that was too much for him to handle. "Okay, marry a 30-year-old." He said, yeah, someone closer to his age would be more realistic. But then he ducked his head and said something about how all that's not so important to him right now.

Then he told me how until last week, he had gotten back together with his ex-fiance. The one who had completely shattered his heart and forced him into a shell from which it took him months and months to emerge. I was the one who first drew him out of it over a year ago. His sister had sincerely thanked me for bringing some happiness to him again. Anyway, a little over a month ago, the ex drew him back again. He was ready to move her up with him, he'd bought a truck just to handle the horse trailer she'd need to bring her animals up. He planned on surprising her with the truck last week, but she couldn't/wouldn't find the time for him. Then, his sister died.

The gf's response was terribly lacking. Then, instead of comforting him on his long, agonizing drive home, even for just a few minutes on the phone, she couldn't find time for him, instead more concerned with her friend who broke her ankle. Boyfriend's sister dying vs. a broken ankle. The former kind of seems like it should rank as a higher priority in terms of being there for someone, IMHO. HH agreed. He couldn't believe that all he got were a couple of empty texts. Any time he called, she never answered. He wrote her off then and there. Deleted every text conversation, her phone number, etc.

He said, what am I going to do, go back down to my place down South and be a hermit or be up here with all these people who love and support me? Exhausted from an incredibly long day, he took a power nap in my arms. Wide awake, I thought about everything that had happened this week, the sorrow, the surprises left and right. I thought about the other person in my life who suddenly seemed very far away, and yet more concrete and complete, filling my cracks and never leaving me wanting except for his physical presence.

After HH dropped me off, I talked to one of my best friends who saw me through and after my relationship with HH, and she surprised me by saying he sounded like he was starting to realize how much I meant to him. I said he's probably just reacting in grief and will disappear. She said it was more likely that if this is what I wanted, I would have to be very, very patient but this might possibly lead to a happy ending.

At the beginning of this week, I was thinking about being ready to start a future with someone else. At the end of this week, a part of me is left pondering the past again. I feel like this is the story of my life, to always have the past drawing me back in, forcing me to make difficult choices or wonder if I'm really able to let go. Honestly, I don't even know if there even really is a choice to make, but if there is, I don't know if just how easy it would be for me to say no this time.

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