My skin is buzzing. My stomach is queasy. My mouth is dry, and I am having a bit of trouble breathing all the way down. It’s not a panic attack, just shock, and I know it will pass. I’m not sure that I want it to, though. I kind of need it. I need to sit in the pain of what just happened, because it is necessary for me to process before I can move on. That’s the thing about being a writer. Something can happen in a moment, but it could be months before we understand it….. because it’s not just understanding. It’s the full knowing of every side to the story- or the ones we’re able to tell, anyway. There is no way that we fit into another’s mind. There is no way that we can understand the depth of human emotion to the degree that we can just describe someone else’s feelings. All we can do is hope that by describing our own, we reach some kind of understanding with ourselves.
When it was good, it was very, very good. When it was bad, it was wicked.
I am speaking of my relationship with Dana, both the way we came together in fits of joy and laughter, and how we came apart after years of making each other miserable with our words. We both deflected the other’s pain so that nothing was ever owned, just thrown at the other. It was never either of our faults, because we both felt so put-upon. I felt as if every time Dana had a problem, she found a way to make it mine. It wasn’t that she was depressed and isolating; I was inattentive even before Argo walked into my life. The problem with that statement is that I spent every waking hour not at work with her, and she resented me working long hours because she did not have anything to keep her busy while I was gone. Therefore, she spent her days waiting on me, or so it seemed, so that when I walked in the door there was a burst of happiness and light that seemed dependent on me, rather than lighting her up from inside.
When Argo and I connected with such an explosion, she did not go out and make friends of her own. She sat and seethed that I had a friend and she didn’t. Argo was Dana’s excuse for not trying to connect with me, because in her mind, Argo would eventually submit to me and I would be out the door. Nothing was further from the truth. I begged, plead, cried with myself and God to take the feelings I had for her and return them to a normal state of friendship, the kind where I didn’t ache for her because in my marriage, I felt so lonely. Dana’s depression left me quite vulnerable to Argo’s attention, but there was no reason to act on my romantic feelings for two reasons. The first is that my fidelity with Dana was sacred. These were feelings I had to work through on my own in order to heal and move on. The second is that if Argo had been a lesbian, I would not have allowed myself the luxury of feeling “in love” feelings in the first place. I would have seen a threat for what it was, and disposed of it promptly. Because she was so wholly other, I rested in the fact that it wasn’t going anywhere, that it was just fun…. and it was, for about a month. After that, it was just me feeling butt-hurt all the time because both of the women in my life were unavailable to me in terms of contact comfort.
Had Argo been in physical proximity, I know for sure that she would have supplied the hugs and cheek kisses I needed to survive the lack from my wife. I didn’t need sex, I needed affection. Aaron made sure that I had plenty, hugging me and putting his arm around me when I thought I would fall apart with grief. I isolated more and more in my office the lonelier I got, because it was more comfortable to write to Argo than it was to look at the problems going on in my own house. As I have said, I was on the ground and in the air. I had to make a choice. I chose the ground because I COULD SEE IT.
I chose Dana. I will always choose Dana. However, that did not mean that as her depression worsened and she began exhibing behaviors that I could not tolerate that I did not choose to disappear into the cloud again. My heart began to walk outside my body where Argo was concerned, because wherever she was, I wanted to be with her. I did not picture hot and heavy. I pictured the love we had on the ground growing over time, slowly, because I knew that it would take time for me to get over her in a way that my love feelings didn’t feel like small internal attacks. I was beating myself up, handily. I’d feel rejected by Dana and take my sadness to Argo who would put a Band-Aid on me and kiss it and make it better. Those Band-Aids became liferafts of an enormous proportion, and I could not hide my feelings any longer….. but not with her. She knew it from the start. I wasn’t shy, ever, about telling her, because here was my fear. My fear is that we’d meet and she wouldn’t know how I felt about her and there would be some sort of awkward moment where a touch creates a reaction and I wanted her to be sensitive to it. To know that she needed to treat me every bit as carefully as she would a man interested in her affections, because I didn’t want those memories burned into my brain. By then, it wouldn’t have taken much to absolutely undo me. Punch me on the shoulder if you want, but don’t ever let your fingertips brush the back of my neck, capiche?
It seemed like a fair warning.
Over time, though, even that wasn’t enough. I cut off all contact several times, gutting her emotionally because she didn’t want to lose me as much as I didn’t want to lose her…. but she understood my reasons for it. I wanted more than she could give, and I still valued her as a friend, but I just could not even keep it together. I cried and moped every time we fought, sometimes for days, and Dana was on the receiving end of all of it, as was Aaron. They both stood by me because they knew how hard I was struggling to bring my attention back to Dana and our relationship, and it worked. We sat around the living room and talked incessantly about anything and everything. Argo faded to the back of my mind…………. and then I thought it was okay to start working on rebuilding friendship, and within 48 hours, I knew I was wrong.
48 hours to undo everything I’d been working on for weeks and weeks of self-reflection, self-abuse by deprivation from contact with other people, just isolating as far as I could get because I didn’t want anyone to know my pain. It was humiliating. Falling for straight girls was such a middle school thing to do. It doesn’t happen to adult women, right? Adult women have the capacity to see that people are wired the way they were wired, right?
The problem is that I saw it entirely too well. I knew that it was hopeless, but so was my relationship with Dana at that point. She’d begun hiding things because she was scared of my reaction. Big things. I cannot elaborate further, but it caused waves of nausea in me that I didn’t know how to handle. My reaction was to run away, safe in Argo, or so I thought.
We had an agreement at first that I could say anything I wanted. She did not tell me when that agreement changed, and she started seeing my words not as useless rumination but out and out threat. She cut me to the bone when I found out that she wasn’t playing anymore, I’d lost my safe space, and don’t contact her ever again. She told me to stop ruminating, but I couldn’t hear it. I needed my safe space more than air. I needed someone to listen to my struggle, to listen to my heartache, to listen to the feelings I shouldn’t have told anyone but God.
But now they’re all there…. all out in the open. All there for her to digest, dissect, castigate.
I never felt like a threat. I felt like I was in my small place, in the fetal position, hoping the anger would stop long enough so that she could hear me without judgment again. But we were way too far gone for that, and I should have known it. I ignored all the signs, big ones, because I thought our relationship was invincible. As it turns out, not so much. Her judgment was swift, to the point that I almost didn’t move to DC at all because I didn’t know what would be waiting for me when I got here. What originally felt like a triumphal homecoming turned into slinking off with my tail between my legs. I cried all the way to the airport, and my dad said, “you know, Leslie…. you don’t have to do this. Do you want to call it off?” I said, “no, because then I’d just be letting Argo scare me. This move was never about her, and staying home just says to the world that it was.” I got to Maryland and threw myself into my own health and wellness, just like I’d planned all along. It was then that I allowed myself to get angry. It takes two to tango, and even though I had to own my half in what went down, she didn’t own hers. She just walked away and let me sit in my wrongness so that I’d know how ashamed I should be. It worked. I’ve been crawling on my belly with God since I got here, asking forgiveness for my sins so that even if God doesn’t exist, the peace of Assurance would still take my heart and help me to feel whole again.
In the month since, I have sent Argo some of my prayers, because just like God, I don’t know if there’s someone on the receiving end of them, but I hope so. I do not want anything so much as I want peace. The fear of enmity is overwhelming, because when the fight left me and I could see reality for what it was, I came back into myself and realized that even if there was no answer, there might be peace from sending.
I have done the same with Dana, and she is just as angry. She has a right to be, and she has the right to tell me that too much has happened between us to ever work on our relationship again. But that doesn’t ease the shock in which I am just bathed. I held on to too much hope, thinking that our relationship was invincible.
As it turns out, not so much.
She just told me about an hour ago that this month has been better for her than the last several years. I feel the same way. This past month has been more peaceful than I’ve been the entire time we lived in Houston, and my entire meltdown in Portland.
So why would I want to get back together? To prove that all of the enormous emotional work that I’ve been doing has a point. That I am capable now as a wife because of all I’ve been through in terms of self-discovery. That I understand how the relationship with Argo undid us because of my past history, and how that cannot affect me in the same way because I don’t pay attention to my bruises. I pay attention to my invitations. I concentrate on the ways there are to say yes to life, and not the ways my mind has tricked me into saying no. I feel that there is more redemption in resurrection than there is in moving on, but I care about Dana’s feelings and ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I want. I have put my needs above hers since she stopped taking care of herself because I went into survival mode. I had to be strong for both of us, and in the end, I couldn’t do it.
I begged and pleaded with Dana’s parents to help me, and it took me losing my mind with rage in front of them before they really heard what I was saying to them. I didn’t want it to come to that, but it did. I congratulated myself too much for standing up and protecting her, and not the emotional damage I inflicted. But what do you do when you go to your wife’s mother pleading for help, and she says that she cannot give any more than she’s already giving and perhaps Dana should find a new mother figure?
What would you have done in that moment? I tried to be the valiant husband-type that protected her wife from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
As it turns out, not so much.