Wednesday, January 21, 2004

So What Is This Love Thing, Anyway?
This post has been floating around in the back of my head now for a while. Usually when that's happening, a post on somebody else's blog will knock it loose. This time, it was This Fish Needs a Bicycle, with a post called The Stayer. To be horribly reductive, she's being pursued by this guy who's nice, stable, etc. and, well, you can imagine the rest. She just doesn't feel "that thing". Her question to herself (and it's an excellent question) is whether she's addicted to drama and needs to retrain herself to go after a nicer class of men.

If I say that I've just been through something similar, it'll give the wrong impression, but I'll say it anyway: I've just been through something similar. When Christie and I first started seeing each other, though, the part of me in charge of "that thing" was broken. Like an old car that starts only when the weather's dry and the wind just right, I got flutters and flashes of something that might have been love, but there was so much noise going on inside my head that I couldn't tell.

Christie had her own issues, having been married previously to... Let's just say she was reasonably gun-shy about committment. She's also compassionate and patient, which made her willing to sit through my hemming, hawing and equivocating. Ultimately, though, when it comes to the question of why she stayed, you'd have to ask her. I'm just glad she did.

For more than a year, then, we tried to dance with one foot out the door, and we did all right, I suppose. Whenever a major holiday came up, we'd retreat to our corners and nurse our wounds, and the rest of the time kept to a fairly strict schedule when it came to spending time together: one evening during the week, one night on the weekends.

Halloween 2002 was a turning point. We had plans to go down to Springfield for a party. Not only would we be spending a major holiday together, but it would be a 4-day weekend, the longest we'd ever spent in one another's company. Two days before we were to leave, my grandfather died, and I suddenly had a funeral to attend 3 hours away from the intended festivities. We stuck to the plan, however, except that I left her for 24 hours in the company of my friends (who she barely knew) while I went to the visitation and funeral. Needless to say, it was not The Best Halloween Ever. In fact, we were both pretty bitchy the night of, and barely spoke on the drive back to Columbia. The real turning point, I guess, was that we kept seeing each other.

For Christmas, we exchanged gifts, but she was with her family and I was with mine. Valentine's we decided to "pretend" we were in love, and she got me a 2,000 year old bronze ring (actually, several of them in a beautiful puzzle box), and I wrote her a poem that thanked her for waiting with me on the edge of the dance floor "until my foot began to tap". We told each other we were faking it, but we both knew what was going on in our hearts.

Of course that I knew I was falling in love didn't mean I was happy about it. The sight of a hairclip on the bedroom floor would trigger a flashback, and suddenly I'd be terrified, as my brain filled with all the ways it could go wrong. Sorry, scratch that. Would go wrong. We were doomed. Doomed, I tell you!

Sometimes, it goes without saying, the voices in my head become a problem. But if there's one thing I've learned in the last three years, it's that most of the voices in my head are not my friends, and they lie. So I put my hands over my ears, sing the "I can't hear you" song, and go on with my life. Because that's what it is: my life. Not theirs. It's a question of who's in charge, and I refuse to let the lunatics run the asylum.

There's a concept in Buddhism called the "near enemy". Every positive emotion, they say, has a near enemy, something that looks very much like the positive thing, but negative. Call it an "evil twin" if you're not comfortable with Buddhism. And love's evil twin is selfish attachment, clinginess, or whatever else you want to call it. Love's evil twin is what made me think, when Carrie left, that I was dying, but it's love that lets me hope she finds happiness. And it's love that lightens my load when Christie's around. And even when she isn't.

Another turning point came a few weeks ago. Carrie had been over to pick up the last of her stuff, and the whole experience had been depressing, frustrating, poignant and a half-dozen other half-dollar words. I took some time to put the feeling into smaller words, then sat on the front porch with a cigarette. I was stewing, and I knew it. My thoughts were running around in a little circle, and it was obvious that they'd be doing that all night, no matter what entertainments I threw in their way. Christie was across town at a game night with friends, probably playing Boggle. Maybe Cranium. I could see them all laughing and enjoying one another's company. Six months before (or maybe even as little as six weeks before), the image would have made me even sadder as I pictured some unbridgeable gap between that happiness and my sorrow, but now I saw that the gap was about two miles wide, and that there were good roads the whole way.

It was a simple choice, really. If I stayed home, I was in for an all night pity party, and the only time I'd be happy that night would be when I was thinking of Christie. Or I could get in my car and actually be with her in less than five minutes. The light on her face when she turned around and saw me come in the door sparked an anwering flare in me, and I haven't looked back. Well, okay, actually I have looked back. Sorry, the rhetoric kind of carried me away there for a second. I've looked back and seen that what I thought of as love was shaped more by movies and rock songs than actual lived experience, and that I'd let those stories carry me away from the real life. I've seen the choices my life presents, and I choose to be happy. But I also know that a fire needs to be fed, and love is the same. Luckily, Christie's the type that likes chopping wood, as do I.

There are other turning points that I'm neglecting, of course. Like helping Theron and Dionne prep their nursery for painting, when Theron asked "So, when are you guys moving in together?" What can I say? He has a slightly different version of the Best Friend Handbook than most people. But it gave us a push. The good kind.

Or early, early on, when Christie send me an email catalog of all the things that had gone wrong in her day. It might have been just your standard bitchfest, but she ended it with *le sigh*, and my brain exploded in a wonderful bouquet of hearts and stars and little twittering birds, though it'd be months before I could acknowledge to myself what had happened.

What can I say? She sends me.

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