“Is the power of love worth the pain of loss?” -James
“Julia! Hey come on, I know you’re in there! Julia!?” I open one eye just a slit and see my best friend Audrey, silhouetted by the porch light, pounding on the window. “Julia! Look, Chris just called, let me in!” I roll off the couch where I’ve been for the last two hours since Chris took his wallet and keys off the hall table for the last time. I haven’t moved except for the rise and fall of my chest as I inhale deep yoga breaths trying to clear my mind. Making my way across the floor on my hands and knees, too weary from the years of unhappiness to stand, I debate letting Audrey in. I reach the door and pull myself to my feet, better to face reality like a sane person I decide, lest Audrey think I’ve completely lost my mind. Through the curtains I see her looking back at me with an expression of pity. I do not need pity! I tell myself. But I let her in anyway.
“Jules, my God!” She bursts through the door and immediately takes charge, “are you O.K.? No, you’re definitely not,” she says and follows me back to the couch were I nestle myself back into the imprint my cast-off body has formed in the cushion. I close my tired eyes hoping that when I open them again she’ll be gone. I count to twenty and take a peek. Damn. Still there. “Jules!” I hear as if through a fog. “J-U-L-I-A!”.
“Oh for God’s sake Audrey, I’m not deaf, just depressed.” I burrow deeper, “can’t a girl wallow in misery for a least a day after her boyfriend of almost EIGHT YEARS just walked out?!” I scream from inside the cushions.
She lowers her voice and says sweetly, “I’m sorry,” then a pensive pause which draws me out a bit from my cocoon. “Julia, Chris said you left him?”
I bolt upright from the couch, “what!”
“He said you ended it.”
“Why would he say that?”
“Dunno, maybe he wanted to make you the strong one.”
“I tried to be strong last week and I couldn’t do it, remember? No, he left me, he definitely left me.”
“But this is what you wanted, right?”
“Oh God, no, yes. Yes! I do, but I don’t. I mean, he should have left years ago, I should have left years ago. All that wasted time!”
“Hey, you can’t start thinking like that. Come on, it’s Friday night.”
“I know, don't you have plans with Todd?”
“No,” she laughs sarcastically, “he has plans with the TV, couch and a pizza. Let’s order sushi and start figuring out what to do with all Chris’ stuff!”
“No leave it, he’ll come for it while I’m at work tomorrow.”
“Audrey, I spent that last two years trying to end this, the quicker I get on with my life the better.” In an effort to muster all the conviction in me I stand up, walk over to the mantle and start removing the photos of Chris from their frames. Out go the evidences of my twenty-first birthday, Halloween 1997, and a formal we attended out freshman year in college, when Chris was still a skinny eighteen-year-old. I make it about half way through when I come to my favorite one of him taken on top Mt. Modnadnock a few years ago. It was probably the last time he ever went hiking with me and he actually looks like he was enjoying himself. I turn the frame over to unhook the back, but I can’t do it. I can’t erase him completely, not just yet. But I can’t look at him either. I put the frame face down on the mantle and allow one tear, just one, to escape from the corner of my left eye.
“Hey,” Audrey says and comes over to hug me. “We can do this later,” I nod quietly. “You know what? Someone I work with has a friend looking for an apartment,” I raise my eyebrow in interest. “He’s a doctoral student at BU, psychology, it’ll be good for you.”
“He? Is he cute?” I’m serious yet Audrey laughs.
“Jules! Well, I guess you can’t be that depressed! Yes, he’s cute and VERY gay.”
“Good, get his number.”
How do I obtain conviction? Was I supposed to be born with it? Was I sick the day it was taught in school? I decided to seek professional help on this one and for the first time in my life I go to a therapist. I’m not embarrassed by it at all. Peter Gabriel once said, “People are like cars. Sometimes you just need a tune up”. Right on Peter!
It was interesting, being psychoanalyzed I mean. I tell her that even though I just ended an eight year relationship I’m not depressed. I missed the idea of Chris but not Chris himself. I’m not suicidal or prone to self-mutilation. And I’m definitely not spending my days wallowing in self-pity and bingeing on cookie dough ice cream. Basically, I learn that all therapists do is let you talk. Eventually you work out your own problems and they get paid handsomely for it. I could have saved $400 and had a nice chat with my cat. But she, the therapist not the cat, did do one thing for me. She had me make a list of all the traits I was looking for in a man. I tell her I was terrified of making the same mistake twice: staying with someone who wasn’t right for me. My therapist thought this list would help guide me away from Mr. Wrong. But would it help guide me towards Mr. Right? Probably not, yet here it is in case you’re interested:
1. Listens to me - not hears me -actually listens and remembers what I say. 2. Helpful, actually takes out the garbage before you have to ask him ten times. 3. Affectionate, warm. 4. Doesn’t have un-dealt-with baggage (let’s face it, everyone has baggage). 5. Open and honest, doesn’t hide things from me. 6. Takes care of himself, keeps in shape. 7. Adventurous, likes to travel and try new things. 8. Has nice, tolerable friends and appreciates my friends. 9. Appreciates nature, like I do.
The first few are probably on every woman’s list, I admit they’re pretty basic must-haves in a guy. But, the bottom few are what really define me: Julia. And the funny thing is that Chris doesn’t fit any of them.
My therapist decides that after only two appointments I’m fine to re-enter the dating world. I’m not mentally insane in any way. I’m fit to date when I feel I’m ready. As I leave her office I vow to myself I will never waste my time on men that I know wouldn’t make me truly happy. Conviction obtained. Post long-term-relationship goal # 1 met. Way to go me!
Now that I’ve obtained conviction and the therapist assured me I was all right in the head what am I to do? Finding myself free to do whatever I wanted for the first time in eight years I decide it would be a good idea to stay single for a while. So, I go right out and sleep with my best friend. No - not Audrey! I don’t become a lesbian. Chris didn’t screw me up that bad. One of my best friends happens to be a guy, Alex.
I met Alex in Nova Scotia while away for my junior year in college and we instantly clicked. Luckily for Chris I didn’t have the “list” back then (Alex fits it almost perfectly) and I wasn’t attracted to Alex, I just found in him a really great friend. But, I truly believe that no man and woman can be really great friends without sex eventually getting in the way. If you’re attracted enough to a person to admire their mind and opinions then they’re attractive enough to sleep with. After college Alex got a job as a personal trainer at a Cambridge gym. I saw him as often as I could without making Chris too jealous, which was hard.
When you’re feeling dejected and unattractive and a relatively attractive nice guy all of a sudden wants to hang out with you all the time it feels good. Alex is also an amazing listener (#1 on the list). He lets me prattle on and on about all sorts of relationship issues and actually remembers what I say years later! A true find for any woman.
As these lonely months after Chris and I split drag on I find myself becoming more and more attracted to Alex. He’s an athlete and had an amazing body for a start (#6 on the list). He also likes almost everything I do and for the first time I truly realize it. We’re both very into music - the same kind of music-, like walking in the woods, hanging out by the ocean. He’s like a male version of me, and the complete opposite of Chris. I decide with my newly-found conviction that I had to have him. And I get him all right - but it’s a bit of a let-down. Honestly, how can someone be worse in bed than Chris? Maybe Alex was just nervous, I don't know.
One snowy January night Alex asks me if there are any potential prospects out there that I have my eye on. I get the feeling he’s probing me to see if I’m ready for someone and that he’d like to be that someone. Whoever I rebound off of is going to be used and cast off like a sweaty towel. I need to warn him. I tell him that “I feel bad for the guy that I rebound off of.” I did my duty, he was warned. A bottle of wine later and I find myself in his bed. Now, I’ve crashed on Alex’s couch many times after a few drinks and we’ve always behaved ourselves. Like I said, I was never unfaithful to Chris. But tonight is different. This night I’m crashing in his bed at his invitation, although it seems innocent enough.
It feels really good to be lying next to a man again. And a fit man, far better than the blubbery Chris. At first we just try to fall asleep, but I can feel the muscles in his legs as I lay beside him. I slowly snuggle up to him and he inches closer, so I inch even closer and the next thing you know we’re jumping each other. At a lull in the foreplay I feel I needed to reiterate my earlier warning. He says he still doesn’t care, he can’t keep his hands off me. It’s fun: feeling wanted. Unfortunately, the foreplay is the best part.
It’s really too bad about the Alex situation. He’s so close to that perfect guy for me, but not close enough. The not-so-good in bed thing is a problem. I don’t want that to be an issue again. Been there already. And, even though I am still a little attracted to him (he does have that amazing body) I’m more attracted to his amazing ability to be my friend, even now, post-sex. So friends we remain, closer now than ever. At least I was no longer doomed to never have sex again. And at least now I know that someone out there (who’s not a freak) finds me attractive.
This blog started out as a place to post fiction about not feeling grounded. I quickly realized that I prefer writing essays about living mindfully, living green, ecology, motherhood and looking for ways to feel more grounded, hence the "holdfast". Thanks for visiting!I hope you found what you were seeking. -kate
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