A Story, One Year Later

I was running late this morning, stepping on the subway around 8am instead of my usual no-later-than-7:45. At first I was slightly annoyed with myself, as it’s a busy time at work (so basically, business as usual) and I’d wanted to stop at Starbucks for a coffee before the line reached epic proportions, but all of my annoyance rapidly disappeared when I heard the familiar voice over the subway system wishing us all a good morning – my favorite conductor was back! I haven’t heard his voice since one random morning back in November, and before that, since…

It hit me at that moment that the last time he’d been narrating my morning schedule was just about one year ago, when everything in my life was different. I don’t mean the obvious things – less tattoos, longer hair, different job – but the thing that probably shaped my last year more than anything else. This time last year there was a story playing out in my life that had every hint of a happy ending, but instead. Well, let’s just say instead. I’ve never told this story in its entirety here, but it’s one of those stories I’ve wanted to tell for a long time, and now feels like a good moment to get the words out of my head once and for all.

It all started in mid-April of last year, when a red jacket caught the corner of my eye one day while waiting for my typical morning train, hoping I’d catch the one where the conductor wishes you a “beautiful morning.” It was an interesting jacket on what turned out to be a really cute guy, waiting on my subway platform. I entertained the brief funny thought of “what if I met someone on the subway?” and smiled to myself at the ridiculousness of such a notion before pulling out one of my many back issues of Vogue or Vanity Fair that I’d been working to catch up on, having let them pile up for probably four months. My favorite conductor was running things that morning, and in between his cheerful “Good mornings!” at each stop, I stole a few glances at the cute guy; my imagination took over with a few “what ifs” and “wouldn’t it be funnys,” and then he got off the train one stop before I did, and I went back to my magazine, prepared never to see him again, not like I’d recognize him if I did – after all, how many subway strangers do we encounter on a daily basis in this city?

I walked down the steps the next morning, trying not to trip over myself as I pulled out the Vogue and flipped to the dog-eared page to keep reading, when I looked up and saw a flash of a red sleeve in the corner of my eye as I walked to my normal standing spot on the train. “Strange coincidence,” I thought, looking at him quickly again and happily confirming that he was, in fact, still cute. I buried my nose back in the magazine and spent the next three weeks doing the exact same thing every morning. I would walk to the train, either see him immediately and try to strategically position myself “close but not obviously close” so that we’d stand near each other on the train, or get there first and stare down the train tunnel, hoping that when the train doors open he’d appear like he did sometimes, having arrived after me; always my nose was buried in a back issue and we never said a word or even looked at each other, or at least he never caught me staring, so I thought. One morning we were standing next to each other and I tripped into his arms on a jerky train movement, better than if I’d planned it. Embarrassed, I looked at him and apologized breathlessly, but he just smiled and went back to the game on his phone, so I was convinced this crazy crush I was rapidly developing was entirely in my head.

In early May last year, one of the cool spring mornings that turn into a hot afternoon, I realized I was out of magazines. Out! I went to start hunting for my Kindle or a book, but stopped myself after a minute. “Maybe,” I let myself think, “this is the morning he’ll say something.” I was too much of a chicken to make any sort of move, especially because I was still positive it was all in my head, but I let myself play into the “What If” like a teenager dreaming about the magical love story that we learn as adults only exists in Nicholas Sparks novels. I remember exactly what I was wearing that day: my favorite ankle boots that are just tall enough and an at-that-time new maxi dress that I knew looked fantastic. In my last minutes of “should I find a book or not” that morning, I was running a few minutes late, and came down the stairs just in time to see the train arriving; without any time to look for him I got myself to the nearest door and waited for it to open, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw The Child notice me at the door and quickly turned to hide his smile. “Holy shit,” I thought, walking into the train and somehow finding myself next to him, holding the same pole and feeling electric with a nervous energy, “this might not all be in my head.”

We rode the train in silence for the entire ride. He kept trying to catch my eye and smiling, and I was furiously biting my lip trying to suppress my own smile, unable to focus on solitaire on my phone, barely able to look anywhere except my own arm holding the subway pole. We finally pulled into his stop, and I saw him turn towards me, which was not the easiest way for him to get off the train. My heart started pounding, pounding, pounding like a warning, and I heard the buzz of the doors open. I finally looked over at him and he was staring right at me with a smile on his face. He started to walk past me out the door, when he stopped, put his hand on my shoulder, leaned into my ear and said “So I’ll see you tomorrow?” I laughed then, pure joy and relief and something I still can’t define, and told him “I’ll see you tomorrow.” That was it for the first day – we didn’t exchange names, or numbers, or anything other than those words.

I won’t get into the details of the next two months. I don’t want to relive the first two weeks where he said all the right words, how we were in constant contact, hungry to learn anything and everything about the other person as quickly as possible. I don’t want to think any more about our impromptu first date, a walk through the entire city one Tuesday night holding hands, and our first kiss on the corner of 17th and Broadway, or the twelve-hour date where he met my friends and my brother, and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have found him. I don’t want to relive the first time he said just three words to me and how things felt like they were perfect, perfect, things couldn’t get any better or feel any more right. I don’t want to remember how immediately everything changed one Friday night where I left work early to put on makeup and change out of my ripped jeans and he blew me off the whole weekend, 72 hours of silence without an explanation and never an apology. And more than anything I don’t want to think any more about every morning before that day on the subway where he’d put his arm around me and kiss me before walking off the train, and whisper in my ear “I’ll see you tomorrow?” every single time, even if we had plans later that night.

I hadn’t thought about him in months, having long deleted every trace of him from my life after he abruptly left Manhattan for good without saying a thing to me, until I walked onto the train this morning and saw a cute guy walking towards the same door. I had a brief moment of “What if” before cutting that thought short, reminding myself that I’ve done the subway thing and I’ve learned my lesson, to be sure. He ended up standing next to me that whole train ride, and I found that I couldn’t stop reminiscing about this time last year, the exact week before everything started going downhill. It’s true once you notice something that it’s everywhere; now that he’s been on my mind again, if briefly, I keep seeing things around the city that remind me of him, like his haircut I could pick out of a crowd with ease, or his glasses, and there was a moment while writing this post that I had a flashback to the look he would give me on the train when things were still wonderful. It’s the only time in my life anyone has ever looked at me that way and it took months to forget how that look made me feel.

I had a version of this story written in my drafts folder last spring, a complete draft, waiting for the perfect moment to share the Adorable Love Story for the Adorable New Couple, and everyone would get to experience my happiness at no longer being single in the city, and how cute that the girl with the NYC Skyline tattooed on her arm met a boy on the subway. Instead I had to slowly delete bits and pieces until there was nothing left, no trace of his promises anywhere, not in my phone, not in my blog, not in my life. I suppose it’s silly then, to put the good parts, the early story of Us out there now, but it felt important to get the words out of my head once and for all. Plus, I’ve come to realize that I don’t mind reminiscing about the good parts of what happened. It was a great story for a period of time, and in the end I came out a stronger person. He was the first in a trio of men in my life last year to say a lot of things without meaning a single one of them, and he is the one that really instigated my not wanting to date this year. But he also taught me to open myself up to the chance of love again, and instead of dwelling on what went wrong, one year later I want to remember that there are good things out there, if you just take a moment to look up.

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Alley-oop

When you drop a basketball onto a hard surface, the ball obviously doesn’t just hit the ground and start rolling, or bounce back to your grasp and stay there. The ball bounces once, then again a bit lower, and again, and again, until it starts rolling away from you, onto the next person or next location. I never gave this phenomenon much thought, because let’s be real, why would I, but it popped into my mind recently as an interesting allegory to other aspects in life. More specifically, it came up as I was thinking about everyone’s favorite post-relationship phase: the rebound.

I mean maybe not everywhere...

I mean maybe not everywhere…

For a long time, I assumed this phase was something tangible and noticeable, an actual relationship of sorts that can be defined as the official “Rebound” from a heartbreak. But rebounds are less concrete, happening in waves, much like the basketball bounces that get lower and lower. The first one is bigger than you’re expecting: it’s sooner than you thought possible and also more intense, pushing out memories of the broken relationship by forming new ones, first time you meet, first kiss, first sleepover. It’s seeing the person every weekend, twice per weekend, while thoughts of “what is this?” permeate your life, raising all sorts of questions: is this really happening? is this even real? But what goes up must come down, and eventually the rebound is just that: after the initial excitement of Someone New wears off, the flaws come out. Sure, he’s successful and smart, the views from his TriBeCa apartment are amazing and you get along really well. But it’s not the right thing and it never will be, and that’s okay. So you move on.

The next bounce is smaller and fades faster, fueled by great chemistry and hindered by timing. It carries through to the next few mini-bounces, hope goes up when you go on that date, laughing and joking and enjoying yourself the whole time, but back to bouncing when it’s another week, another week, another week where you just can’t seem to get the timing right. It might happen again, another bounce, another date, but eventually it’s time to take a step back and consider how much effort you want to put into something that maybe isn’t working out. It’s a rebound from the rebound: taking a step out of your comfort zone yet again, finding just a little more about yourself, and figuring out just a little more where you want the ball to roll next.

Personally, I think the rebound phase is important to the healing process, a way to lick the wounds from a broken relationship and learn about yourself and your needs so you can move on. It’s easy to forge an emotional connection with someone when you know all the wonderful things that come with a committed relationship, but it’s difficult to form any real attachment when half the time you’re comparing him to your ex, and the other half you’re trying to figure out what it is you really want. Rebounds make it easier to get used to the tangled world of dating as a 20-whatever, the emotional highs of a new connection, the lows when you realize there’s no expiration date on being single, and the confusing middle ground when you’re just not interested someone and you don’t know why.

Eventually the momentum fades and the ball stops rolling, no longer bouncing, bouncing, bouncing into the confusing world of the not-relationship. There’s a settled feeling as you wait in the wings, you cease craving the emotional connection you lost in the big break-up because you know what you want, deserve, and need for the next person that picks up the ball. Rebounds are that way to settle slowly into a single life, a way to confront what dissatisfied you about a previous relationship and walk away from it without becoming an emotional mess.

I don’t know if there’s a name for this next phase, the post-rebounding, where you’re waiting for someone special to surprise you, rather than looking for someone who will pay attention to you. Right now it’s nice to let events play out as they will – after all, once you’re done bouncing, you never know when it might happen that someone will pick up the ball again. It could take weeks; it could take months. It might even be sparked by something as simple and silly as a smile from a very cute stranger on your morning commute.

Awkward Turtle

Have you ever had to break-up with a friend? From experience, it’s not as emotionally jarring as a relationship break-up, but there are residual feelings of hurt and such that last much longer than post-relationship parting. Over time, we all have friends that fade into the back of our minds, instigated by distance, time, or the general growing-apart that comes with growing up. Consciously ending a friendship, however, is another beast. It’s the decision to delete the person who shares your good news and bad, the one who calls you out on poor decisions and then makes a few of her own. It’s telling the person you swapped clothes and secrets with, survived high school with, learned to drive with, that you won’t be there anymore, not in the present, not in the future. It’s hoping that time and the distance of multiple states will ensure you never run into each other again.

So what happens when your ex-best friend moves to your city?

It all started with a bit of casual Facebook stalking while immobile on my couch last weekend with what felt like strep (again), but was apparently just my larynx being an asshole. She and I haven’t been connected on social media since our break-up (friendship break? burnt yearbook? There should be a specific phrase for this), and I stopped checking in on her years ago, but I heard the phrase “Awkward Turtle” on whatever sitcom was providing the soundtrack to my exciting night in, and she immediately popped into my head. Memories of casually wandering through our hometown, linked arms, Frappuccino in hand, laughing at the absurdity of ourselves, came flooding back like a tidal wave. I can still smell her shampoo (bumble&bumble), hear her voice shrieking “AWKWARD TURTLE” as we teased each other in the back of the music room, the devious double-reeds, at it again. We used to stay up late at my house, planning our weddings, planning our prom, planning how we’d survive college when she was going Very North and I was going Very South, taking pictures of everything with disposable cameras, preserving those moments of carefree abandon like precious jewels, promising Best Friends Forever.

The details of this break-up are as personal to me as those from my relationship break-up. For such a long time, those details were tinged with red, seething with feelings of betrayal, abandon, apathy and myriad other emotions I never thought I’d associate with her. Our last correspondence was mine, a scathing message almost 7 years ago, where I told her that if I ever saw her in the future I’d turn away, like she was a bug on the sidewalk instead of someone I’d loved as a sister for all those years. As the months and  years passed, rage became anger became nothing, and the hole she left in my life slowly scabbed over and healed, leaving a tiny scar that stopped twinging in time. I never thought I’d have to see her again, never imagined she’d be in my city, living close to my office and working close to a neighborhood I frequent.

She looks different these days, her long hair chopped to her shoulders, the curls straight as the grid lines of the city. I’m sure I look different as well, though I can’t see the changes. I find myself wondering if I’ll actually run into her someday, if we’d even recognize each other amidst the strangers lining the sidewalks, heads down, walking fast. I’ve tried to summon the same rage I felt all those years ago, but mistakes we make at 19 are inconsequential by 25, and all I can feel is the deep sting of nostalgia and curiosity. I wonder if she thinks about her part in our break-up, the nasty words she sent by snail mail and the apathy she conveyed when I tried to reconcile one day, crying into the phone, in need of her friendship one last time. I wonder if she remembers my terrible words, written as I was blinded by anger, so much that I hardly remember what they were, just that they were awful on purpose, playing on every insecurity I knew, a grenade of “FUCK YOUs” written in colored Sharpies, her favorite. I wonder what kind of adult she is, and if she lost the dreamy quality I desperately tried to emulate for so many years. I wonder if she would still abandon me for a boy. I wonder so much.

She inspired me to write; she inspired me to be amazing. She made me into someone that distrusts easily and deeply fears another friend abandoning me when I need one the most. We were more than children but less than adults, stuck in a limbo that tore us apart. She might still hate me, or she might be as curious as I am to catch up one last time, to see if we grew into the adults we planned as children. Maybe I’ll reach out to her with a simple apology, and see if she wants to get a glass of wine. Maybe I’ll just keep hoping to run into her in the street one day, just to prove 19-year-old LB wrong. I wouldn’t turn away, I wouldn’t cross. I’d probably just stare, let the memories take hold of me and see if she does the same.

The Dilemma.

Hearts floating away.

Setting sun and hearts and hearts

I had a revelation this week while reading the first few entries in this blog and marvelling that I haven’t given posting up yet. Not that my intentions aren’t in the right place, it just took me 2 years to learn Twitter and 3 to learn Instagram, so I assumed I’d need at least till I was 30 for a good blog. But I digress.

Every relationship in ours lives, whether romantic, friendly, professional or the special, special bond we as humans have with Nutella, teaches us lessons. Through all of those relationships, I’ve learned how to act and how not to act in social settings, how to react to stinging comments with a shred of grace and how to hurl insults like weapons, hell-bent on maximum destruction. And yet, in such a space like this, where I share the results of my vast experience with Poor Decision Making, it’s easy to skip the lessons I may have taught others to focus on my own journey. I’ve been trying to find a way to write this post to emphasize that there are always two sides to a story, and always so many lessons to learn, but I’ve hit a dilemma that I’m having a problem overcoming.

Translation: I don’t want to paint myself as the victim of my last relationship. I made plenty of mistakes too. 

I’ve written, and rewritten, and read over and deleted, all of these words, trying to find the right way to show that this may be my space, but I won’t pretend I’m perfect. I tried giving a history of how that relationship shaped me, in ways both good and bad. Rifling through those memories ended up being a bit too much, both in the amount of words needed to explain my questionable actions and decisions; and in what content I was actually comfortable sharing. I tried refraining from telling the parts of the story that directly involved him, focusing only on my actions and motivations, but there’s no point in sharing “I was acting like a spoiled child, demanding attention, sulking when I wasn’t his sole focus” if I can’t tell you why we were fighting, or how that silly fight he definitely doesn’t remember helped me to be a better girlfriend. I’ve tried, and tried, and tried, but the words I find are all too invasive, too personal, too much.

Sometimes, I forget that my stories and my lessons aren’t mine alone. I share them with someone, who, despite likely not reading or even caring about this blog, doesn’t have the chance to tell me “no, don’t share that” or “I’d rather keep that private.” I also don’t want friends, strangers, internet people, anyone, thinking that I’m this hapless female, driven wild by a relationship where I did Everything Right and he is Wrong and I saved everything by walking away. The best I can do is to say that we all make mistakes, and we all move on, or hope to at least.

I suppose this is a silly post, and possibly didn’t need to be uploaded. But if nothing else, playing fair is one of the most important lessons we’ve ever learned, any of us. It didn’t feel fair to continue writing words for anyone without considering a particular someone.