I’m re-reading Writing Down the Bones. I say re-reading although I don’t remember having read it before. It was first published over 30 years ago and I graduated college almost 20 years ago. It must have been assigned reading for some class or another. It seems like something I would have read. Yet I don’t remember it and it is challenging me in all the ways my writing should be challenged.
I wrote a blog post about binge eating yesterday and it’s gotten a few likes.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. My blog is anonymous; I’m fairly certain there’s no means by which anyone could trace it back to me. But I didn’t think anyone would find it or like it. I thought I was writing just for me. I thought my writing would be horrible and that I was using the blog only for the practice Writing Down the Bones encourages.
Knowing people like this blog and might read it makes me nervous. It’s pressure I need to let go of. It’s another task for me, to write as if nobody is reading but know that people are reading. I have to ignore what I might think their expectations are. I have to forget about building a fan base and that’s hard to do under any circumstances, no matter what it is I’m doing. I have to not care about being looked at and continue trying to write the bones.
That’s the big challenge now. Writing the Bones. Getting deep down inside and writing all those First Thoughts that I’m not only afraid and ashamed to let the world see, but afraid and ashamed to let myself see. Confronting them is my slain dragon. If I can do it I will be my own knight in tarnished, battle-scarred armor. I will be the one with a sword brandished high, raised in triumph to the skies.
I will keep trying to get there. This is an unforeseen hurdle but not an insurmountable one.
I just finished re-reading Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. This is a book I definitely remember having read before, but I only vaguely remembered the content. I was younger then, probably in my early 20s, when I last read it. I’m sure I identified more closely with the children and teenagers in the book than the adults. Sally and Gillian, when they are young and being bullied. Antonia and Kylie, teens with all the angst, depression, lack of self-awareness and feelings and doubts so many of us have during those years. I understood these characters when I read Practical Magic for the first time, those many years ago. I empathized with them. I was them. For the most part, though, back then I enjoyed Practical Magic for the story. I missed so much of what it has to offer.
Now that I am in my early 40s, I understand adult Sally and Gillian. I understand shutting the world out and putting up barriers. I understand feelings of not being good enough and I understand running away from love because it’s a depth of feeling and degree of risk too scary to fathom.
There’s a part towards the beginning of the book where Gillian remembers her time with Jimmy and remarks on her envy of women in relationships who aren’t afraid to be themselves with their partners.
“Jimmy’s eyes had cold little flecks in the center, and each time she kissed him Gillian wondered if what she was doing wasn’t a little like making a pact with the devil. That’s what it felt like sometimes, especially when she’d see a woman who could be herself out in public without fearing that her husband or boyfriend would snap at her. ‘I told you not to park there,’ some woman would say to her husband outside a movie theater or a flea market, and those words would move Gillian to tears. How wonderful to say whatever you wanted without having to go over it in your mind, again and again, to make certain it wouldn’t set him off.”
That’s what it was like with my ex. It’s the best illustration I’ve seen of what it was like, of the fear I lived in constantly. He never hit me, although there were a few times I was certain he was about to and I shrunk back and cowered in fear as though making myself a smaller target would minimize the possibility or the degree to which it would hurt. No, physical violence was too bulky and Neanderthalic for him. He preferred psychological abuse. Snide comments meant to ensure I never had a moment of happiness or contentedness. Remarks aimed to cut me down so I wouldn’t get ‘uppity.’ Always making sure I was kept in my place, and that I knew my place was behind and far below him.
Everything was a competition with him and he needed to win at all times. Even the most basic conversation had to be done in such a way that he felt he was on top, or else there were days of sulking, door slamming, looks of recrimination and words of worse to deal with.
It’s not just the beautiful works of authors like Alice Hoffman that make me think of him. During the holiday season, I indulged in Hallmark Christmas movies far more than is healthy for any person to do. There’s always the ‘bad guy’ in those movies. It’s inevitably the guy the main character is involved with and plans to marry, and everyone can tell he is a jerk but her. That guy reminded me of my ex, particularly during the climactic scene where the bad guy would give an ultimatum. It would typically be something along the lines of, “Give up this thing that’s incredibly emotionally important to you or I’m leaving you.”
That’s my ex. “These things that make you happy are worthless and you’re worthless if you think they have value.” Ultimately, I realized he didn’t actually have any opinions about whatever the ‘thing’ of the moment was. It was only about the fact that I cared for it that caused his disdain. If I wanted something, if something might cause me some feelings of happiness, I couldn’t be allowed to have it, whatever it might have been. I wasn’t allowed to be happy unless he felt he was happier. He needed to win, in all things, in all circumstances. Everything, every last thing, was a competition and he didn’t just need to win, he needed to conquer. To annihilate. To destroy.
I see it all now and it shames me. At the time I didn’t, but it was gradual and I didn’t know I was in boiling water until every part of me was in pain all the time. People call me strong for getting out but I see myself as strong for staying in it for as long as I did. Old me would have run away at the first sign of discontent. This time I tried to make a relationship work. I worked so hard to make that relationship work. I didn’t run away. I didn’t back down. I kept trying and kept fighting. I’m proud of that.
But now, now that can see it all, I see what was really happening. What was really happening was my heart was already broken when he and I met. I didn’t think it would heal and I didn’t think myself worthy of it healing. This is the part that’s challenging to write. This is the time when I have to get deep inside and write the bones and I don’t know how.
I didn’t feel I was worthy of more than what my ex could offer. Because I had broken too many hearts before. I had run away from too many relationships with too many men who had loved me, and this was what I felt I deserved.
I was in love with the man I was with before my ex. I was in love and I didn’t want it to last. Sometimes love doesn’t last. Sometimes you date someone for two and a half years and you haven’t moved in together yet and when you start having serious conversations about moving the relationship forward you realize things aren’t going to work with this person. In my case, he lacked life skills and the ability to be patient or understand real financial problems. I realized that a life with him was going to be exhausting, like being with a child who wants what he wants and won’t understand that sometimes there are forces outside of you that dictate what has to happen.
Sometimes it’s two of you against the world. Sometimes it’s only you and you realize the person you’re with is part of the world. He isn’t standing beside you or behind you, helping you in battle. He’s in front of you, facing you. He’s one of the things in your life you have to deal with. You realize he’s not a partner helping you and supporting you and holding you and letting you cry when you need to or cheering you on when you laugh.
The thing is, he was. For almost two years, he was. And I loved him more than anyone I’d ever dated. I loved him and his son so much that the idea of not being with him, with them, of the love being something temporary, was more than I could handle. It wasn’t how it was meant to be. Love lasts forever. If it doesn’t, it isn’t really Love.
I know now how foolish that is. Love can be brief and can still be love. Love like that doesn’t die, but sometimes it isn’t meant to grow into something deeper and more lasting. Sometimes circumstances dictate that can’t happen. Sometimes circumstances change and love changes with it. Ideally, love grows into something stronger but sometimes circumstance causes love to fade.
Sometimes it’s just seeing each other in different situations over time. Perhaps the first time you start to negotiate life strategies isn’t until a few years in. Maybe for a couple years, your relationship is wonderful because you haven’t tackled any real problems together yet.
That doesn’t mean the love wasn’t real and it doesn’t mean it will be easy to get over. I will remember him forever as a true love.
They say it takes twice the length of a relationship to be truly over it. He and I were together for two and a half years. It’s now six years later and for a little while now I’ve noticed I can think of him without all the feelings of anxiety and hurt and anger I once felt. But when I met my most recent ex, it had only been a year. It had only been a year since the breakup with the man I loved more than any other man I’d ever known, and all those feelings were still on the surface and raw. And my ex would not let me discuss them. He didn’t want to hear anything about my previous life. He stifled me in that regard. It’s one of the many things that I wish I had examined more closely.
I don’t want a man who is afraid of my past or who doesn’t allow the real me to be exposed. I don’t want a man who is scared of raw naked emotion or intimidated by my passion. I don’t want a man who doesn’t want to be my friend and who only wants to be ‘my man.’ I don’t want another man who is incapable of being a good partner.