I hate that feeling you get in your stomach when you’re about to be emotionally sucker punched. There’s no dodging it. You can’t bob and weave like you could if a tangible attacker were headed for you. There’s no talking it out. You just have to stand there, with your feet straddling the railroad tracks and wait for that locomotive to come plaster your guts over the rails.
I can remember two occasions, vividly, where I stood there with my back straight and my face stoic and took my punches.
The first time, I was 22 years old. A new mom with a baby so young that my house was still obsessively decorated with childproof bumper rails and baby gates. Barely an adult and shoved, face-first into parenthood with my then-husband, on the surface a family man, working hard to change his circumstances. Within two years time, he went from a green jumpsuit behind double-plated glass to a manager in a white-collar career. The poster child for first-offender-felons, he really had turned his life around.
Saturday morning, it was Valentine’s Day. He promised a romantic dinner at home that evening. Our son was not yet a year old, so there would be no going out this Valentine’s Day. Not like we had gone out for other V-Days, mind you. The first Valentine’s Day that we celebrated together, we were newly engaged (the first time). He bought me one lonely red carnation and Dumb & Dumber on DVD. To be fair, it was (and still is) my favorite movie, so the gesture was sweet. It wasn’t sweet, however, to come home from an 8-hour shift slinging lattes to find him and our two best friends hot-boxed in my bedroom, watching the movie. My carnation was on the kitchen counter next to the cellophane packaging. What a bummer.
I didn’t have my hopes high for our first married Valentine’s Day together. Even with lowered expectations, I was still disappointed when he didn’t come home. He went in for over-time on a Saturday. I thought that was pretty strange, but didn’t question his dedication to his job. He didn’t answer my calls, all afternoon and into the night. My frantic phone calls to his dad and his brother left me more worried and puzzled. Nobody knew where he was. I started to worry that he was hurt, injured, in a ditch somewhere. Then a phone call the next day, after no sleep.
And it happened. I imagined a giant, animated fist appearing stage right and walloping me from the side, my limp body curling over the oversized knuckles and then, rag-doll-style flopping to the ground. He wasn’t coming home right now. He needed some space. He was not happy.
I was at home with no car. No car seat. No money. In serious need of a trip to the grocery store (and the liquor store).
That following Tuesday was our son’s first birthday. He didn’t come back to visit with his son for nearly six weeks. I remember bundling up my baby and rolling my umbrella stroller down the street, in the gutter because there was no sidewalk, because we needed food from the grocery store.
What a mess. Such an empty, hollow feeling inside my gut. It took me months to recover from that. I look back at how fragile and weak and spiritless I was in that time and I’m damn near disgusted with myself.
Then again, the other memory that resonates in my head for that sucker-punched feeling was a similar betrayal. I had been dating the filmmaker for about a year. We ended up being together for over three years and I have never felt such a psychic presence in myself in any other period of my life. My intuition was hyper-sensitive and I never listened to it… Even when unflappable evidence existed, I held fast to my romantic notions of love and happiness with a chronically unhappy man.
I woke up in the middle of the night, gasping for air, a panicked dream ripping me from my slumber. My heart was racing and something, somewhere, deep inside my gut told me to go and get on the computer. I don’t really recollect how I broke into his email that first time (my intuition would lead me to this one more time, more than a year later), but I somehow skated my way into his inbox and right there, in plain sight, an email to the other woman. My chest felt tight.
“I can’t wait to get my arms back around you,” he lovingly wrote. “I miss your scent.” Romantic words for such an unromantic man, I thought. And, as if I needed evidence, I printed out this email and went hunting for more. I found, in total, about twelve emails between these two lovers. My printer ink was struggling to make the letters as I struggled through salty eyes to read, and more so, believe these emails.
I took them to bed, feeling floaty and out-of-body like a ghost. I sat up in the bed a long time that night, in the dark, only my bedside lamp illuminating the room. The emails were in a messy, strewn pile in the floor next to my bed and I recall laying there, on my side, staring at the pile and wishing I could just roll off the bed and into the abyss, like Alice… Wake up somewhere else, where all the rules were different.
I was pretty frustrated with myself in these recent weeks recollecting all of these horrible memories, plowing through my head and my heart like war-era flashbacks. I’m engaged! I’m happy! Why is my subconscious dragging me into my dark and unhappy past? And I realized that my body, my heart, in an attempt to make room for all of the good that is in store for me, was making space… Pushing old, dark memories out of my head to clear an area big enough for all the good that is supposed to be… Exercising the demons.
I guess this is part of the reason why writing this stuff down is good for you too… Even though I don’t want these memories taking up space in my head or my heart, I never want to forget the feelings. I never want to lose touch with where I’ve been and the men I’ve loved and the lessons they all taught me. It just makes me exponentially more and more grateful for Colin every day.