Just as quickly as someone enters, they can leave. People make mistakes. They disappoint. And you’re left with yourself. Being alone is unbearable when you’ve enjoyed a reprieve with togetherness. I believed in the power of companionship. What I did not know then was that no one can heal you. You must learn to be your own company, your own cure. You cannot retreat into someone else for fulfillment.
The above passage is from Janet Mock’s latest book, “Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me”, an absolutely sensational narrating of Janet’s coming to herself as a young trans woman of color in Hawaii and New York. But this isn’t a review of the book, which I do highly recommend. It’s been a while since I read an entire book in a matter of days, if that means anything. But I’ll leave it up to you all to read it and love it for yourselves.
This post is much more personal than that. Which I guess is a sort of homage to the power of Janet’s writing, that she can force me not only to face my own heartache and brokenness, but to speak on it. Publicly. To get me to actually practice the commitment I made to myself earlier this year to lean into vulnerability again. [breathe] So here goes.
A little over two years ago, I reconnected with someone I had briefly met a few months prior. It happened over my 34th birthday weekend, when I was staying with a friend in Philadelphia while attending a conference there. To be honest, I didn’t really attend the conference much. Among other reasons, I wanted to see and spend as much time with this person as I could. She grabbed me. I’ll call her E. E grabbed me. And I didn’t even know the half of it back then.
The night of my birthday, I went out to a party with my friend and her crew, including E. I’ll leave the details of our semi-awkward-flirting-until-we-figured-out-we-were-both-into-each-other-and-kissed dance (not to mention my actual awkward dance moves), but suffice to say that there is a staircase in Philadelphia that is forever embedded in my memory. Later, what we both thought would just be one fun night, developed into the deepest and most meaningful love I had ever felt for or from someone. Very quickly.
And then just as quickly it was over.
The moment in which E and I entered each other’s lives, I was at my most broken self. E felt like the remedy, the medicine I needed to put myself back together again, and be deserving of love again. To be deserving of love from others and myself. What I did not know then was that E couldn’t heal me. Regardless of whether she wanted to or tried to or not. And that was a ludicrous desire in the first place. So when we broke, I broke all over again.
I wished I could reach for next-level spiritual goals, like being “able to be alone, to find it nourishing – not just waiting,” as Susan Sontag wrote. I didn’t wait, though. I sought and chased warmth in other bodies. I was always reaching for bodies to steady me, to brace myself against. Often because I was bored. Sometimes to fight loneliness. Always because I wanted to get out of my own.
I tried to fill E’s void with bodies. Bodies that just had first names – if those were even their actual names – and were willing and available. They showed up on my phone and then they showed up at my door. It was easy, most of the time. For those 20-30 minutes, I was not in my head, not sitting in my brokenness. But then they left and I was left with myself again. I never reached those “next-level spiritual goals,” and I’m not sure I really wanted to. That would mean having to let go of E in my heart.
She’s still there. Over 15 months after we broke. Still firmly embedded in my heart and my head and my soul. It is painfully obvious to me that she is not going anywhere any time soon. And I’m still “unwilling to leave completely,” not only “because I did not want to return to myself” like Janet, but also because I was afraid of leaving too early. Of letting go right when/if she ever… well, you know. Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe it’s pathetic or embarrassing. It probably is all of those things. And it’s real.
So here I am, learning to be my own company and facing my own uncertainty, not having surpassed much of anything, and laying it all bare. Learning to be actively ok with people knowing that I don’t know what I’m doing and that I’m not that good at healing or loving myself. I still talk to first-name-only bodies on my phone, but I haven’t been with one in a while. Whatever that means.
Not sure what writing and posting this will do or whether it moves me closer or farther from healing, whether this will turn out to have been a good or bad idea. But I can’t keep playing along to some image of wholeness that isn’t me. It’s too exhausting. And I can’t keep waiting on wholeness to happen before I open up and step back into the world. So maybe that’s a little of what I’m doing here – opening up. Rejecting the imagery of wholeness as tied to professionalism or success or desirability or ability to keep moving forward.
As for E, all I know is she is still the best thing to happen to me on any of my 36 birthdays.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society - Jiddu Krishnamurti
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