Terra Firma

It was the right thing to do.

Telling Tony it was over, I mean. Most of the time, you don’t do that with friends. You don’t have those official break it off words. But this time, I had to, and not for her. For me. Our relationship went to such a dark place in me that I had to admit what I was doing and come clean. I was living with her in her stories, and ignoring anything that had to do with my actual life, the one where my wife lives.

Dana’s jealousy was never that I would leave her. It was that Tony was taking up so much room in my life that she started to wonder if there was anything left for her. I just didn’t worry about it until it occurred to me that there might not be enough room for me, either… and please don’t misunderstand. Tony is not the problem here. I am. I stopped taking up room. Period. Her stories became more important because that’s what I’ve always believed- that others’ stories are more important than mine. My past history says that when you suit up, I’ve done something wrong. That obviously you are suiting up because I am a bad person and you cannot trust me.

That exact thing happened. I sent my sister a snippet of an e-mail that I wrote her, and when she found out about it, she automatically assumed that I was sharing *everything.* Her words and reactions including mine.

The problem was that I hadn’t.

She started treating me as if I was guilty before she even knew whether I was or not, and that feeling never went away… even when I said I hadn’t done anything wrong and she claimed it was “water under the bridge.” It’s not water under the bridge if you’re acting like your friend is suspect even when they have flat out said that no one will ever be able to get information out of me. No one. Ever. I would die first. Literally. I’d take a gun and blow my brains out to protect anything she told me if it was ever serious enough it required that kind of protection.

She blew away a piece of me. That piece that says I am a capable and good secret-keeper, because I’ve been doing it all my life. She attacked my integrity, the piece of me I try so hard to keep together even when the rest of the world is falling apart.

Stepping down onto firm ground and saying, “no more,” was my only shot at being able to heal the part of me that broke.

Are we gladiators, or are we bitches?

There’s a great rock song called “Inside of You” by the band Hoobastank. It was popular in the dark ages, when I was in high school or college or something. It’s about sex. All rock songs are, in some way or another… well, the good ones, anyway. But what happens when you aren’t having sex with the one you want to get inside? It becomes a metaphor for being able to hold her brain in my hands. The guitar cuts into my ruminations and reminds me to car dance the fuck out and LET IT GO. I broke up a friendship, and a good one, because I felt as if it was only honest on one side… and that’s not fair. Let me re-word that. It was plenty HONEST on both sides, but very little recognition until it was much too late that I was in deeper than she was because nothing that happens in my life would ever threaten Olivia Pope, let’s just put it that way. NOTHING.

So, to extend that metaphor, I realized that I was signing on to a lifetime of being Jake… that guy Olivia loves beyond all measure and at the same time, would drop him in a hot minute if Fitz had a free hour.

In this metaphor, Fitz is not another lover. It’s her job… which makes it doubly difficult because it’s not a matter of “I won’t tell you.” It’s a matter of “I can’t.” My way of dealing with that was to absolutely understand, drop comms immediately, etc… and then while she “goes to the bank and the post office,” I become so short of breath that even my coworkers are starting to ask if I’m okay because they can see the tears in the corner of my eyes for hours at a time.

I went to her and said, “I can’t handle this, I need help.” And she said that she would no longer be communicating about certain things. Period. Because that was the answer. To make it where the anxiety I already felt didn’t have a place to go. As I told her, there is no future. There is only right now. I feel anxiety right now.

And yet, even that wasn’t why I left. I left because there were so many things outside the purview of what she could say and she couldn’t that she wouldn’t talk about anything without SUITING UP, when in the beginning, it never felt like she was doing it. Perhaps she was, and I never noticed. I’ll never know, and that’s ok with me. What I know on my own is that in the beginning, we were both in jeans and t-shirts…. or at least, IT SEEMED THAT WAY TO ME.

Later on, it became clear that she wears bullet proof vests under her t-shirts, and I, however, do not. Our relationship became a great habit for her, and I was so glad to help- to feel like I was helping- until I realized that it was getting impossible for me to love a gladiator without wanting to be one myself. I disappeared into this relationship into an entirely different way than I did with Diane- with Tony, it wasn’t that there was the promise of sex. It was the lure of soft power. I don’t get to be a power player, but I get to hear about them, get to know them third party, and excoriate them in novels based on juicy bits of information I just happened to find on my own, like it dropped down in the middle of the street.

Don’t worry, it looks insane from the outside that I’d throw it all away, too. I just realized that I didn’t want to be a gladiator unless she needed me to be that, because otherwise I am a shy, quiet writer in love with her wife who is content to stay home and watch Scandal on TV, because having Scandal in my living room was causing me to split into two separate and distinct personalities- the Leslie I’d always been, and the new Leslie, who wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything.

I am a gladiator because she helped make me into one. She helped turn me into the gorgeous woman I am today, because she taught me how to use emotional separation to get what I wanted in a positive way, like being able to separate out emotions so that I don’t just explode all over the place and have to apologize for it later.

I wish I could do that in this case. Nothing would make me happier than to go back to her and say, “this was all a mistake. I love you and I couldn’t have been more wrong.” I did think that at first, and then the more we started talking the more I realized how incredible our relationship was for her.

Epiphany

Yesterday’s sermon on “render unto Caesar” got me thinking about my church and what I can do to help. You cannot even imagine how large our budget for ministry is, and there have been a series of unfortunate events which has caused that financial security to be in jeopardy. It’s hard for me to hear- extraordinarily hard- because since I love Epiphany so much when I hear we’re in trouble it’s just like “shut up and take all my money.” I wouldn’t have made it this year without Douglas. He is literally my light in the middle of the mess, because his 13-year-old voice and his 13-year-old hugs are as beautiful as prayer, because he has something that I don’t…. a childlike innocence that feeds my soul.

Douglas has a brother and a sister, so I feel horrible that I talk so glowingly about him when his siblings activate my mother lion just as much. Douglas is special to me because we’ve spent time together, not because I don’t want to spend time with other kids besides him. :)

I have been going through a very dark period in my life, especially in my writing, because I’ve had to have a way to exorcise some demons that could never be talked about in reality. I need the separation of fiction to be able to explain the unexplainable in metaphors. My church family, especially the children, pull me out of that dark place and into the light. It was actually at my friend Nicky’s suggestion, because we have a few of the same dark spaces and his kids keep them in check, too. Since I don’t have kids, my church kids are ALL my kids.

And don’t even get me started on Joseph.

Joseph is my choir director, but that’s his professional title. His personal title is closer to dragon slayer, because he takes care of me in a way that no choir director ever has. I finally sat him down and said, “this is going to sound crazy, but I need you to believe me the first time.” I laid out everything. It has given me the flexibility to be able to say things like, “could you switch the rehearsal order because I cannot sing “Be Thou My Vision” under any circumstances tonight. It is literally one of my biggest triggers. Normally, I am fine, but I need to Messiah and get the hell out of here.”

He didn’t make the rest of the choir rehearse it, either.

And then there’s Frances. My heart literally flips when she walks into a room, because we have that friend love like nobody’s business. I don’t know how old she is, just that she has more gray hair than me, and I cannot even tell you how much that doesn’t matter. We have shown each other that we are the same age in more ways than one, like passing notes down the aisle in the choir stalls.

Plus, we’re Episcopalian. Stephanie, Dana’s sister, is an Episcopalian. Dana and Steffi’s parents are Anglican. Stephanie is in California, we are in Texas, and the parents are in NoVA….. and yet each Sunday, for exactly one and a half hours, we are in communion together, saying the same words that people have been saying together for hundreds and hundreds of years. I know that communion will outlast Dana’s parents lives, and then Dana, Stephanie, and I will kneel every week and STILL have communion with them, loving them in their “light perpetual.”

Lastly, my love for Christine and Lisa is legendary, but only from the standpoint that they consistently theologically hit it out of the park and leave me thinking, “Keep. Up.” I grow with them and write about them because they give me so much spiritual food to chew on that I am in theology nerd heaven. I also love that Christine invites people to the pulpit that excite me just as much- that the level of theology nerd doesn’t drop when she’s not there.

I don’t have any monetary suggestions yet, because Dana and I need to walk through what tithing would look like and if not tithing, how much CAN we give? I decided to look past money and tell you with my heart what I see in this congregation and just hope that one or two of you will decide to show up with a hideously large sum of money.

I’m just kidding (no I’m not).

On the Ground vs. In the Air

Being in a relationship with someone over the Internet, no matter what kind, is dangerous. There’s an element of that “Stranger on a Train” feeling, where you can tell anyone anything and there are seemingly no consequences. Adrenaline is jacked up because you’re talking about things you wouldn’t necessarily talk about with anyone else- that you’d feel safe enough. That’s because in an Internet relationship, you don’t know each other’s friends, their families, their work colleagues…. you don’t know anything except what you’ve been told. Once the rabbit hole is established, things come through it at an alarming rate.

It becomes a relationship built entirely in the cloud.

And by that, I mean that you don’t necessarily think of real world consequences when you’re giving away things about yourself in the first place. I have been doing this Internet thing a very long time, so for me, there is no separation between physical and virtual. I have friends who I’ve only met via Facebook who have come all the way from DC to Portland to spend the weekend with Dana and me (Pri Diddy and Nina, take a bow). It would never occur to me that my Internet friends aren’t my “real” friends, because enough of them have met me in the flesh to know that there’s no issue with them, either. They stepped off the plane and literally started talking about the last time I’d pinged them, like 20 minutes before they boarded.

In this relationship, I never could have done that because I never had the safety of knowing whether our Internet relationship would transfer or not, and it became apparent to me that it had better. There were real life consequences for our future that neither of us really talked about…. like what would happen if our Internet trust was ripped to shreds and even though we don’t want to talk to each other, we still love the rest of our families beyond all measure. And honestly, I’m not even sure that she doesn’t want to talk to me. That was unfair. What I know for sure is that I don’t want to talk to her, because our relationship robbed me of something precious, which is the feeling that our “Strangers on a Train” relationship quickly devolved into first children who always have to be right, even at the expense of feeling safe.

I told her that it was starting to feel like an emotional affair because it felt so clandestine. I’m not even sure she knew what I meant by that, because it wasn’t romance. It was the fact that she kept saying that she never asked me to keep her a secret, that our relationship has always been above board, that all she wanted was for me to keep a few things back because everyone is allowed to have a personal life, etc….. while at the same time, saying flat out that we have no connections except Facebook. Those two things in the same breath undid me, because it was cognitive dissonance. Is it ok for me to tell everybody we know each other, or are you going to flip your shit when our families find out? Is everything above board, or do I have to pretend that the only thing I know about you is that you like dogs and books, in that order?

My emotions were getting so jacked up that I couldn’t live in two worlds anymore, because Dana was on the ground and she was in the air. I had to choose. Where did I want to build my house? I chose the ground, because I could *see it.* My trip through the air was salting my ground, and at a rapid pace. I was giving the air more time, and my crops were withering.

I finally realized what I was doing to myself, and I had to stop it. I didn’t want any more cognitive dissonance, I didn’t want any more of Dana feeling left out, and I didn’t want any more of Aaron (my actual best friend) rolling his eyes every time I brought up her name because he knew it was going to be some kind of obnoxiously long and involved rumination.

Most of what that rumination contained was feeling like I was in a relationship on two fronts, and handling both of them poorly. With “tony,” it wasn’t sexual. Just tender beyond belief. When I felt things that made me go all starry-eyed, I knew she was doing it without even trying. If you let them, straight girls’ll do that to ya. :) She never did anything, anything that ever made me feel like this was a romance. The fault was in our secrets, not our behavior.

The secrets we didn’t have, because outside of Facebook, we have no connections.

Trademark

The friendship I was trying to resurrect was a worthless endeavor, and it pains me so much to say it, because I don’t mean that I got so angry that I don’t love her anymore. I mean that she has every bit the inner landscape that I do… more so, even. When that inner landscape became threatened (on both sides), we each did things to push each other away that cannot be fixed. The reason that it is so incredibly permanent is that we are first children. I don’t know what that will mean for her, but I can tell you exactly what it means to me.

For the purposes of this essay, we’ll call her Tony just so I have a name instead of long blank spaces. That’s boring.

The long and short of it is that because our inner landscapes were threatened, we can never go back to being leslie and tony. There are too many defenses to keep that from ever happening again, especially as voices across the Internet with no context *other* than that. We needed each other desperately when this started, and now the mission is over.

She told me that she had enough to worry about in her actual physical life to worry that she was dragging me in, too. I feel exactly the same way, and also, fuck that noise. I didn’t love her like she was virtual. I loved her because we’re not related by blood, but we might as well be. The piece that you don’t know is that Dana has known her since she was a little girl, so that’s why there’s no thing about me being absolutely, 100%, over-the-top in love with someone’s mind that is not Dana’s. She knows Tony. They’ve met. Let’s just say Dana thinks that my attention is………. justified. :P

Or, well, it was until it became too much, too close, too fast. Neither of us were breathing through the choices we were making, just allowing each other an all-access pass.

Or were we?

As time wore on, it became clear that something was very, very wrong. I was still leslie, and she had become Tony, Trademark. tony was gone.

I allowed her to walk around in my inner landscape because I *thought* she was letting me walk around in hers. Turns out, I only have a very surface perspective and I would like to keep it that way. I cannot know any more because I do not want surface platitudes. I want her inner landscape, and it was seeing my entire world disappear when she said that what I knew wasn’t really much at all.

While she knew everything. Everything.

When you are friends with me, the moment you start walling off your feelings, I’m out. I’ve been in that relationship before, except that time, I was never told that I wasn’t getting the whole story and waited around for a quarter of a century before I figured it out on my own. This relationship is different because when tony started paying attention to me, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me, and I smiled like I’d been knighted. I’m not sure exactly what she does for a living, but it’s something Olivia Pope-ish. Who doesn’t want to know Olivia Pope? Who doesn’t want to crawl around inside her brain like it’s a transistor radio?

The thing I liked about being tony and leslie was getting to know popcorn and wine Olivia, and not the GLADIATOR in a SUIT.

All of that went away when the fixer broke me. It cracked my reality. You mean I have given you access to anything and everything and you’ve repaid me with telling me a version of the truth?

No. No. No.

It feels too close, too personal, too beautiful a way to keep me on a leash, wondering if tony will ever reappear.

I am cutting my losses to save my sanity, because I feel violated. I feel like I did everything to become a powerful woman’s secret-keeper, because she told me that publicly, we had no connections beyond Facebook. What I realized last night is that I’m not sure it ever should have been more than that, because we each torched each other as only first children can, because we’re both exceptional at it.

I honestly don’t know what I have in me in terms of writing about sex or violence. Let me flex my muscles. I am so, so sorry if this is the literary equivalent of beginning oboe. I already know I don’t know how to do this. I am not offended if you decide to go back to Dooce.


Violence

My tools are laid out meticulously- mise en place for murder. Bourdain would be so proud. There’s a cigarette lighter, a 12-inch flexible boning knife, a scalpel, and a blender on the table next to me. The blender is mostly for intimidation.

Mostly.

I’ve been thinking about this for so long that I can’t decide which way to take it. The man who continually abused my abuser raped both of us emotionally by robbing us of normal growth and development. For her, it was physical. For me, I never felt like I was enough, and over time my emotions dwindled into shades of rage so intense that now I can literally disconnect my id, ego, and superego. Every decision in this room is a measured conversation, and we’ll all fight to the death. It’s not a question of whether we’ll fight, only how long.

I decide to start with his hand and see how long it would take me to find inspiration for something truly memorable. I take the flexible boning knife and tease it across his palm. When I see the droplets of red gather in his lifeline, my metaphorical penis stands at attention. It used to bother me that I got off on violence, and then I realized that I didn’t want to apologize anymore. I wanted to use it. If delicately filleting human beings for information doubles as a sex toy, well, then, we’ve just used the tools we’ve been given to accomplish our goals, now haven’t we?

Blood is pooling in his palm now, and it’s starting to look painful. He’s sweating, and there is nothing soaking up the pools gathering at his feet. Slow, humiliating exsanguination has become my style. I take the knife and lay it on the table, then reach into my right breast pocket, where I’ve been hiding the ace up my sleeve. Two pills. One aspirin, one Warfarin. I have just allowed things to get quite a bit more interesting.

My hand is steady as I force the boning knife down into the meat of his cheek, saying in a sweet, childlike voice; “come on baby… just the tip.” He’ll take this blood thinner one way or another. He’s starting to whimper. The more he whimpers, the more I disconnect. Just because he’s in pain doesn’t mean I have to do anything about it. He didn’t. I pictured the woman I loved giving him a blow job and when he came the knife slid from the corner of his mouth down past his jaw and into his neck. I didn’t hit any major veins, just cut him enough to make him severely wish there was a drink to be had. I smirked. There was Lone Star in my trunk and I’m not the sharing kind.

I told Jack this was a good place for a “mindful pause” and handcuffed him to take him to the car. He could sit and spin until I finished. Like I cared it was a hundred degrees. Fucker wanted sympathy, he should have thought of that years ago.

I take my longneck and drink it til my mouth feels like it’s been kissed by an angel, as Texas beers are wont to do. I’m starting to hit my limits in terms of options. I need accomplices so that I have more eyes on this thing. I can keep him alive, but it’ll be close. I need to call Daria. Now.

Sex

-frog.- had just turned 15. Keela, or as -frog.- liked to call her, “kee,” was 18. -frog.- called her “kee” because it was emotional shorthand for the little girl that lived inside his hero, and Keela deserved his reverence. “kee” was his equal.

-frog.- was in the unenviable position of having met someone he wanted to marry at a time when the odds said it was impossible. He was a freshman in high school. Keela was a senior. The only time he ever saw “kee” was in his backyard, on the hammock between the oak trees covered in shade where she would take off her t-shirt just to let him listen to her heartbeat and reassure him he was real. It hadn’t been sexual- to hear her heartbeat was a miracle, and had been since he was 12. Today, though, something was different.

He was lying on top of her when he felt her quicken, and had to think. Keela was so strong, and “kee” was so weak. How could he tell them he loved them both? He looked down at her with new eyes. “kee, if this feels right, choose where you want me.” -frog.- saw her eyes flash, and then she was on top of him, guiding him past the temple gates, teasing him that the extra half an inch he’s been hiding from her will come in handy… and it did, for ninety whole seconds. He’d worshiped at the temple and only had time to offer one prayer.

-frog.- felt guilty. He hadn’t done anything, just let her ride him until his penis literally felt like it might need rehab, and he thought that sex should be more than that.

For those ninety seconds, though, she was screaming and holding her hair in pleasure, and when the earthquake stopped, she kissed him deeply, as if the rest of the world were in black and white and he was the only one in color… and then she came again, squeezing him into her further, and in that moment, -frog.- knew he’d found his religion.

-frog.-

The real meat of my novel will be in the relationship between Kermit and Keela, the son and daughter-in-law of Leila & Gregory Doyle. By then, Rebecca has been missing for almost ten years. Kermit was 20 when he watched his “stepmother” get into the back of a cab and never come back. It’s been ten years since his last hug, kiss… he thinks of his stepmother’s touch, her fingers tangled in his hair, and for a moment he is happy and for a moment he can forget the possibility that she is dead.

Keela is the only person that knows his pain… that knows his joy. She has traveled into his inner landscape and back out, willingly diving again so that -frog.- never has to feel alone.

-frog.- struggles to understand the depth and breadth of Keela’s love his entire life, because every time he thinks he does, she surprises him beyond belief.

That will never be more evident as -frog.- overhears “the plan.”