Write about a time when you didn’t take action but wish you had. What would you do differently?

I wish I’d had more empathy for all of my friends when they were angry and escalating. I shut down at mean words and will match you because I am no longer taking in information. I am too overstimulated and get brain race. If your words are angry in tone, mine will match it. I finally learned to say “peace out. I need time.” But if you choose to throw a match in response, I will go nuclear. You chose not to give me time so I didn’t explode for what, the thrill of it? Some words you can’t take back without significant work, and I’ve only just now recognized to stop trying when people aren’t interested. I ask them to stop doing what is hurting me, and then it ceases to matter what you think of me. I want to stop those emotional swings from happening altogether, because it might feel powerful in the moment, but it will hurt me forever. If I’d been given time to think about it, my response would have been different. I’d have had time to come down from physical rage.

I know life gets so overwhelming, and to pay attention to my emotional needs is exhausting because I talk a lot. On the flip side, I will cater to your every emotional need if you let me know what they are. If you don’t want to, I want to move on. There is nothing more painful than realizing that the season of a relationship is always set to Death Valley heat. It’s especially painful when you realize it at the same time, because both parties know that they’re hurting and there’s going to be so much left unsaid, because each one is emotionally injured in different ways. One from showing their emotions, one from keeping it all in.

Over time, the one that’s putting it all out there resents that the other one isn’t. This is because they get blamed for emotionally needing things or cajoled into thinking they’re crazier than they are, if at all.

The one that keeps all their pain bottled up either feels guilty or angry. So the cycle continues until the one who’s putting it all out there realizes that the person is always going to be locked up. That they’ll give the appearance of change and growth but their natural personalities win out. To an extent it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you can hear change happening, you can anticipate good things. If you’re shut down, you know it’s going to be a train wreck because you’re not open to hearing what the other person has to say, and yet still trying to maintain a picture. It’s the difference between only knowing someone to the extent that you meet people in public and not behind closed doors. This happens even in marriages, because it’s a familiar dance of intimacy to many, many people.

I wish I had known how bad it was for me long ago to engage with people who weren’t emotionally available, capable of receiving and giving large emotions. So many times over my life I haven’t walked away fast enough. In particular, it was a big mistake to be with Kat at all. She was so abused, so young, that even though I was, too, our trauma was not on the same level. She was a wire monkey, blaming me for anything and everything that went wrong while just being affectionate enough to think we had a future. Then, while I was at my mother’s wedding, she slept with two of her male coworkers, left me, and married another man entirely like three months later. I wish that I could have avoided that happening altogether, but my heart went out to her quickly. I have been the Lanagan Search & Rescue and the Build a Butch store all in one.

It just reinforced the tape that I was worth nothing, that I’d been so horrible to her that’s why she left. It took years for me to figure out that I could have avoided that pain by recognizing the pattern faster and not letting her get away with shutting down as much. It wasn’t serving either of us to stay together, because she didn’t know how to handle my large emotions and she didn’t know how to handle hers, either.

Dana did, but only up and to a point. Her trauma was on a different playing field than mine, but she thought she was over it… yet still had the same trauma reflexes as me. We abandoned each other and we meant it. When we both calmed down, we regretted it. I just regretted it a lot more, and allowed her to have access to me even though she’d already made the decision to leave and just hadn’t told me about it.

I thought we had a chance at so much more if we worked on ourselves and at the same time, knew I couldn’t look back. I’d been forgiven to the point that she kissed me on the sidewalk where anyone could have seen, and it was a ruse. I know this because she made sure to tell everyone else what a project I was while I assume, trying to keep me calm. She didn’t have to do that, because it was an even worse gut punch. I was in a bad place, and feeling coddled made it worse. I did everything I could to convince her that she was capable of more than she was giving the world, that she needed to be a storyteller and get back to theater or teaching. We both numbed out too much and made each other laugh without talking about our real issues. She became a wire monkey and in some sense, she had to be. She didn’t want to take in any more information. She was done.

I am taking responsibility for my half and saying that yes, I am a complete train wreck of a human being, but it was never your job to fix me and I wouldn’t put that on anyone else. I would rather someone stop interacting with me than keep that vicious cycle going.

My entire world hung on two words when I put it out to my beautiful girl that we should hang out, and if you’ve been reading, you know what they are. “Someday, perhaps.” She became a wire monkey, and in some sense, I made her that way. She wasn’t ready, and it was okay. I said the ball was in her court, and nothing changed for years. She felt like I was picking on her, and picked me apart in return. I felt like I was handling both sides of the relationship at all times, responsible for provoking her and responsible for fixing it and responsible for making sure it never happened again. Trying to figure out what was making me come off like the irritating jerk she thought I was, because nothing was ever going to normalize without rethinking meeting in person. It’s a different pace, talking. I never could have said anything I told her that was personal if I thought she didn’t want to hear it; I would have been able to see her eyes when we talked and judge whether she was really open. I grieve for all the lost opportunities to give her a love of cooking.

The worst part for her is regret. She’s made every opportunity to tell me that she regrets ever meeting me because she’s told me personal things about her- while still being curious about my life. Treating me like her secrets weren’t important to me made me feel worthless. She picked the right person to tell, and I wanted to prove it to her. Then, I broke trust, and I earned everything I got afterwards and wouldn’t have blamed her for anything that happened after that. I didn’t expect this relationship to last almost ten years, but I was exhausted at feeling like I was the wrong person to open up to because sure as shit I wouldn’t change. Except I did. She doesn’t even realize how much work it took for me to forget the pain of loving someone I couldn’t have in order for me to make a joke like that. How much I sat in it until it didn’t hurt anymore so that when she dropped in a propos of nothing, I wouldn’t react. I wouldn’t hope for more. But the longer it went on, the bigger I hoped.

It felt like she was a priority, and I was an option. It made our relationship go up and down so fast it was like a new brand of roller coaster…. mostly because I thought the best way forward was straight through, and her route was around the city. Sometimes you’re just stuck in front of the Pentagon for a while, and then you move past it and the monuments just get more stunning. But if you don’t realize that I’m going to the Lincoln Memorial, and I don’t realize you’re halfway to McClean, we both miss the beauty of each other’s experiences.

Just like I’ve been stuck in many, many other cities.


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