rejection

A response to love.

“I think I still love my ex-girlfriend.”

“What about me?”

“It’s just that…”

We both knew it. I’d said no too many times, and eventually you stopped asking.

“Okay,” I said. “So where does that leave us?”

“I’m going to try and get back together with her.”

“Okay.”

I couldn’t eat for a week.

“Someday,” I said “I’m going to tell you to go away and mean it.” You wrapped your arms around my waist and put your head on my breast, your face turned inward. You got tears on my yellow linen shirt. I would button the jacket to my suit until they dried. “But I guess that’s not today.”

“I can’t do this,” I say to you over the phone. I’m too weak to do it any other way. I know you’ll cry and I can’t deal with that. “You want things I can’t give you.”

I hear your tears across the line.

You shrugged off my hand. Our friends were around, and our relationship had always been a private one so I didn’t think much of it. We went back to your room and took a nap. It was hot and the sun came in through your window to make it worse. You were sticky and I was sticky and I thought neither of us cared.

“m.,” you said. “I think we need to stop doing this.”

I swallowed hard and forgot what else you said. It took me years to forget how you smelled. Sometimes I still wake up remembering how you felt.

After months away, I was home. I lay on my bed and called you. Or you called me. I’d seen you only a few days before. The taste of you was still on my fingertips. Over our time apart, our last fight faded through first stilted and then flowing messages sent across the world. When we’d been together, everything had suddenly made sense.

“There’s something I need to say,” you said. “You can probably guess what it is. You know, J, I just can’t stop thinking about her. I know she said no, but I’m just going to keep hoping and hoping.”

That wasn’t what I was guessing.

We were drunk, again. It’s how we were together so frequently. You were telling someone a story, about something or another. I was zoned out, wondering how I’d gotten there and how I was going to get home.

“…my girlfriend…” I heard you say.

“Back in the US?” Someone asked you.

“Canada,” you said.

I looked at you. “Family business,” you said to me quietly. We’d talk about it later, you meant. We never did.

We sat on the front steps. I think it was hot. I don’t remember. I remember you wearing your beige t-shirt and those shorts I secretly thought made you look ridiculous.

“We’re making each other miserable,” you said. “I think we should stop.”

I nodded. We’d been going back and forth with that for months.

“We’ll see each other in October,” you said. I knew we wouldn’t. All of me was numb.

The next time you spoke to me, you told me you had a girlfriend and your dad was dying.

We’d barely slept since Wednesday night. We’d fought the night before. You said you didn’t want to live with me, you didn’t want to think about us having a future together. That wasn’t why we fought, it didn’t come out of our fight. It came later. After things made sense again. Then, what you said was with us and next to us. It slept between us that night.

In the morning, calm, I asked you why.

“I couldn’t deal with people saying, oh, look at him, another girl who’s–”

This was something I’d heard before. I felt cold.

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disaster

I sit on my bed, legs crossed and torso bent over them. The windows are open and sun and breeze run around my room. I look at my computer in front of me, hitting refresh on twitter and facebook and switching between IMs and IRC.

This is what a disaster looks like. This is my tragedy.

love

We sat in your room. You kissed me by the blue light of your computer screen.

“I love you,” you said.

“That’s not possible: I don’t love you,” I said.

I don’t remember when you told me you loved me. You said it so many times, it stopped meaning anything.

“Why don’t you want me to be your boyfriend?” you asked.

“I’m going to Pittsburgh in August.”

“I could go with.”

“You have a life here.”

“But, I love you.”

We walked through Panther Hollow, hand in hand. It was dark. We’d started playing Capture the Flag at twilight, and now we could barely see in front of us. We helped each other up the creek bed. I don’t remember what we were talking about.

“I love you,” you said. It snuck out. You looked at it, desperation in your eyes, as though by somehow wishing it enough, you could take it back. You looked at me hopelessly. “I didn’t–I do, but. I…”

I choked on the words, wanting to say them back, and not knowing how.

“I love you,” you said without looking at me.

“That’s just something people say after sex,” I said without looking at you.

We sat on the porch. Painfully drunk. I knew later you’d be vomiting. I knew I would get you a glass of water and you would down it in one go. I knew you would pass out next to me and throw an arm over my torso in the middle of the night. I knew as soon as you woke up in the morning, you’d pull it back and pretend nothing had ever happened. We’d done this before.

I smoked a cigarette, knowing it would be one of my last. My mouth tasted like watermelon jolly ranchers. You took my cigarette and had a drag. You put it back in my mouth.

“You know, I–” you said.

“I know,” I said, cutting you off. You wouldn’t remember it in the morning. It would hurt too much to hear you say it.

I dared you to put the cigarette out on my arm. You did.

After three months, I knew I had to do it. I didn’t know what to say. I tried the words in my head. I knew how you felt; I knew what you would say. I stood in front of the mirror and practiced, like they tell you to do before a speech.

The entire trip I tried to find the right time, but I never did. The words, again and again, died on my lips.

Before I’d even gone to the airport, I mailed you a postcard that said it all. You were annoyed that your roommate knew before you did.

Even in confessions, we were separated by an impossible distance.

The flight made me stiff, and the air and adrenaline kept me running. We had to be quiet, and there was a lot to say. We lay on the floor, surrounded by darkness and invisible obstacles and the defining features of our relationship: the heat on your skin, your voice in my ear, your featureless silhouette in the night.

“I told him that I think I love you,” you said.

“I love you,” I said. You crushed your mouth into mine and I forgot where I ended.

constructed

I’m in a room full of people. I recognize some of them–a lot of them actually. I also don’t recognize a lot of them. Some of them are dressed well, and some of them are in t-shirts and jeans. In front of us a man is talking about a man who died two months ago. He says something about the next generation. Our children. I turn and look at a baby in a stroller. His eyes are open and he’s staring up. He’s making a face, like he’s deciding whether to cry or not.

In my mind, the dead man is a distant cousin and the baby my nephew. I put my arm around the person next to me, the one I call my rabbi. This is my Boston family: the baby’s mother and his father. The one on the floor, resting her head on my rabbi’s leg. People standing and sitting behind us. Two men sitting at the front of the crowd with the parents and brother of one of them. A man on a screen, a video playing from Germany talking about the man who is my distant cousin and his close cousin.

This is my family and they’ve lost someone and not knowing what else to do, I cry.

death, 03

I sat down with my new supervisor for the first of our weekly one-on-one sessions. “I don’t know what CN told you,” I said with little warning, “but there were two deaths in my family last month.”

“I knew you went to Florida,” JC said.

“Yeah, so I fell really behind. I’m still catching up.”

Death is like that. Still catching up. AA, my cousin who came to our grandmother’s funeral, was given three days of bereavement leave from her office. I took nearly a week and it still wasn’t enough. I’d still been reeling from the news of my uncle when my mom called me at work and told me my grandmother was in hospice. I retreated to one of the conference rooms in the office. I sat there in silence for several minutes before I began to cry.

I went home after that and sat in the shower with the water running until the steam and scalding drops turned cold and the redness in my skin faded. I’d barely been functional at work since the news of my uncle–the day I buried myself against W and my body rocked with sporadic, uncontrollable sobs. I spent the rest of December useless. I’d sit at my desk, sometimes just staring at the screen, looking out the window, doing nothing for hour after hour other than listening to my own breath and watching the clouds move.

I won’t lie and talk about how close I was to either of these people. I was closer to Alec than I was my uncle or my grandmother. I felt, I feel, bad about how deeply I was–am–affected by these deaths. I grin and say I’m okay, that it’s not that big a deal. Both were, in their own ways, expected. That didn’t make them any easier for me. I didn’t want any sympathy and I didn’t want to share it. I had the liberty of privacy. My grandmother, the last of her generation, had been an extraordinary woman with a quiet life. My uncle’s death was not reported by anyone outside of his family. No one knew unless I told them and, even though I told the internet, it passed with silence. My sadness was my own. I needed it to be. I needed time to process and understand and grieve and I still do. Three days could never be enough.

Someone I was–am–in love with once told me that how I feel is how I feel–it doesn’t matter what anyone else says I should feel. I shouldn’t be apologetic. I return to my grief, the grief I feel I don’t deserve. I grieve for my student and Jeff, who both killed themselves years apart. I grieve for Moses and Alec, my grandmother. Now I grieve for Aaron. I am angry and sad and my heart aches for my friends who lost someone. This grief is mine, this struggle for understanding is mine, and I deserve it.

felt/feel

Felt.

He was on his side facing the wall. His legs, too long, tried to curl into his chest. My leg wrapped around his midsection. He turned onto his back and my leg slid, resting on the knots of his hipbones. My face in his neck and his smell in my nose.

He told me about a girl he loved. He said he wasn’t sure what to do with her feelings, how they changed and shifted. One day, he said, she loved him. He was so wrapped up in her. He understood what it meant to be loved.

What it felt like to be loved.

“Do you feel loved?” I asked him.

“Sometimes,” he said.

Feel.

I always imagined that feeling loved would be someone driving out of their way to pay for the groceries when I forget my wallet. Someone doing the dishes. Putting their hands into that grey water I cringe just thinking about. Them doing this without being asked.

Love is doing the dishes.

These ideas came from Charlie Baxter’s book Saul and Patsy. Perhaps not the most likely source. When I read that passage, it just made sense to me. Loving someone, actively, is the moment in doing things for them because you know them so completely. You know, without asking, that some small action will, even unconsciously, be something.

When people do the dishes so I don’t have to, they don’t know what it means to me. They don’t know how much I hate washing dishes. They do it because they don’t mind, or they like it. They think it’s polite.

I like to watch them. I like to hug them from behind and close my eyes and imagine that I am loved.

Milestone

One of my friends is pregnant and I am so excited.

Other friends of mine, my age, older, and younger, have children. However, these children have been created (and generally exist) in places I have minimal access to and interaction with. I read tweets and blog posts about pregnancy. Facebook statuses and photos as announcements. Second hand words about things that happened. Instant messages informing me about the existance and deveopment of these children.

However, here, where I live, one of my friends is pregnant. I get to see her grow. I understand the “glow” people talk about. I’ve been witness to one session of pregnancy nausea, and have been told about hormonal lows. Over dinner she tells us about things the doctor said, or how someone demonstrated how to make the baby kick. I’ve witnessed the name debate, taken part in the friend arguements about what is an acceptable name to subject a tiny person to.

This really is a community event–a community exerience–and I loove being able to be a part of it.

Around my age, people start getting married. My Boston community is mostly past the getting married stage. They are coupled. They have had their weddings and signed their paperwork. My non-local friends have also managed to move into this stage–this stage of being married rather than getting married–in the same way non-local friends moved into having children: it happened without me being around.

Among the people I am close to (as opposed to the people I wish I was close to), I have missed the lead up to the milestone–while being aware of, or even bearing witness to, the event itself. The events–having the child, having the wedding–are not things limited to the small in-group. They are publically announced and witnessed by a larger in-group. A mixed community including friends of varying points away from the center, co-workers, family, and those people with whom you have to share out of whatever obligation you construct for it.

I have never been to a dress fitting, a bachlorette party, or a session of sitting around making some minute decision, like what font to use as placecards. I have never been in a wedding, and quite honestly, never expect to at this point. These are things that society, that culture, tells me are necessary milestones for someone coming of age in America.

I have always been desperate to be part of the in-group, the community. This is something society tells me I should be. Even the outcasts in Glee have a tight group with whom they are inseperable and hopelessly dedicated. Among themselves, they share things that they do not share with the out-group. These are deeply personal and important thoughts and experiences. The best friend, the group of close friends, the sense of place and belonging is something I have longed for so strongly, I have literally traveled the world in search of it and more than once left people behind.

When I was in middle school, my friends all ended up at the same high school. I did not go there. I had such a radically different schedule, that I stopped seeing them regularly during the week. Without me, they developed their own experiences and culture. I turned away from them after feeling rejected, even though I wasn’t really. Something similar happened during university, when I moved out of the campus owned apartment I’d lived in with my best friends. I had to move out, due to school policy. They didn’t. Being as caught up in myself as I was (and still am), I viewed their lack of conversation with me about what was happening, and their excitement about the person I viewed as my replacement, as pure snubbing and spent the next two years all but purposefully ignoring them. I steeped myself in others–people who I did care about, and still do care about–more out of a selfish desire to belong than to value those people for who they are.

University, in general, was a time for me to struggle with this desire to be part of something. My highschool days were isolating and devoid of the cultural experiences of class, extra-cirricular activities, and sports. In Pgh, I tried to do too much too quickly, cramming in all those missed experiences from highschool into not enough time. I missed too much of the important early bonding. I fell hopelessly in love with a boy I pushed away, and when we broke up I found mysef lacking other meaningful relationships. In the wake of this, I struggled to form new ones and ended up with the abovementioned friends I used to live with. This general trend, of trying to force myself into communities and turning my back on them when I felt rejected, carries across as a trend in my life: volunteering at the museum, working at the library, the groups I was involved in at school, the reading groups I was in, the honors community, my department, the school I used to teach at, the community of ex-pats, and even the multiple groups of friends I have in the Boston area and other outside areas.

As I muse over these things, I still find joy in my friend’s pregnancy, in and of itself and, selfishly, as I fit into it. It is, for me, a sign of being accepted. Getting to share this milestone is something I spent so much time looking for, I missed it again and again. Now that it’s here, I hope I don’t get lost in my own narrative.