samedi, novembre 26, 2011

Affection and heartache, one year on

Once there was a middle-aged woman who saw herself as the soul of commonsense and moderation. She guarded her feelings as though they were precious jewels.

To indulge in drama, in the ups and downs of male-female relationships and to fail (for that was how she saw it) could have an impact on her relationship with her children -- and they came first.

She saw enough of that silliness around her -- men and women coming and going as children got attached and then abandoned.

With a bit of pride, she thought "I will not be that kind of parent." And it wasn't as if on her infrequent dates (she was very finicky) a man had swept her off her feet with his charm.

She was to find out that, at least in her case, that wasn't the way it worked.

He had recently suffered a significant break-up (details blurred for the sake of privacy). His dating profile was posted, he freely admitted, to salve some wounded pride. What did she have to lose by meeting him?

Simply a dinner out with a new potential friend.

When they met, for a casual dinner in a local Thai restaurant the week after Thanksgiving, he gave the impression of being stunned. Tears in his eyes, those of a person who has suffered a great grief, belied his words about moving on.

While they had a shared passion for the written word, they worked in completely different fields. An avowed atheist, he had little time for organized religion, seeing it as the root of many social evils. When she confessed that not only was she religious, but an ordained minister as well as a journalist, she waited for the conversation to skid to an abrupt halt, and was surprised when it did not.

She liked his humility. His tears touched her. She enjoyed his intellect. It became clear that his children adored him, always a gold standard for her.

But that's where it stopped that night.

He wanted to see her again -- just as friends, they agreed. Again, and again, as the months went by, she teasingly assured him that she didn't think he was ready to date.

The veteran of many, many more relationships than she, he was of another mind.

The conversations on the phone grew longer, going well into the evening. Emails would fly back and forth, their frequency increasing day by day.

She had the sense, in those early days, that he sometimes turned to women for guidance with his romantic life -- women who would blithely interpret other women for him, telling him where to file them. That wasn't her m.o.

The very things that divided them became chances for discussion, for new understanding and laughter. They seemed to be larger, more tolerant, more grown-up when they shared their differences with each other.

They seemed to turn each other, sometimes, into better people.

She challenged him. He came back at her without rancor.

They didn't always speak the same language, but they taught each other new words.

She didn't notice when she started to have more than sisterly feelings for him. Because, if she hadn't, why did they have to have the obligatory sex conversation (s)? If she was just a friend, why did she keep an ear attuned for the women he was dating, and how seriously he took them?

She didn't care became...she could wait. Wait for him to deal with the devastation of the relationship gone so terribly wrong, with the wounds to his confidence and his faith in women. She was good at waiting. It's not as though she needed to study for the role.

A few kisses, some movies, nights out -- a growing affection in the midst of the tempest that was his life (thank you, Prospero).

On a sunny, warm spring day, light flooding the windows of her daughter's bedroom, she stared out the window as he said that he'd like to start spending more time with her, to find out if there was a possibility of creating more than a friendship. O.K., she said. I'm scared, she added. I don't know anything about romantic relationships.

There is more, but it was between them.

And then, swiftly, the landscape changed again. Woe betide those who underestimate the lure of the raven, his Bellatrix Lestrange, Mr. Rochester's "sweet demon. "

She wanted back into his life.

One evening of escape together, playing at being a couple at a charity benefit, the night flowing by without effort, making it seem easy.

One night.

The would-be daters agreed that it would be best if they had no contact (for the sake of privacy, I will not go into the details, for this is my version, not his) while he figured out what to do about the other woman. She had a prior claim.

But it was in that month apart that things changed definitively. In so many ways. Watching him writ large, she walked the hills of her town alone and cried, day after day, the pounds slipping off her bones like unwanted weight on her spirit.

As it turns out, his lover was just toying with him. Perhaps she couldn't stand the idea that someone else found him desirable.

No matter. When their inevitable (as it turns out) breakup came, he was also a different man.

It took his friend a while to figure that out.

One evening they spoke on the phone, the hours sliding by with their old ease. She seemed to feel, he chided her, as if they could pick right up where they left off. He needed freedom. He needed to date other women. He needed to figure out who he was in the wake of the breakup of his prior very long-term relationship.

She agreed. Based on what she'd observed while he was under the spell of the blackbird, she also wasn't sure what to think, she told him. They would work it out, he said.

A week and a half later, it all fell apart. She didn't have everything he wanted, he said.

She didn't become aware until later, when she saw an anniversary date on Facebook, that he had already begun to date the woman with whom he is now planning a life.

Our friend, who had little acquaintance with magic, wondered how else to understand this ease, banter, insight, and lack of defensiveness.

Now she doesn't trust herself to know real tenderness from the chimerical kind.

She doesn't know anymore what constitutes a healthy relationship.

She still believes it's about change and growth and passion.

What that looks like for her, she's not sure. At least for now, she is attempting to define it differently. She, too, is changed.

She is pretty sure of one thing, however.

He won't remember that they met a year ago.

Driving down a crowded road towards the local mall the day before Thanksgiving, streets clogged with holiday shoppers, tears spring to her eyes, and a sob escapes her lips. What an interesting reversal - she's in tears and he's madly in love.

And she doesn't even know why she weeps.

After all, she's moved on, too.

Bad timing, with her daughter in the car, her daughter who sees so much and understands so little about adult love and friendship. "What's going on, Mom?" she asks.

Quickly she spins an amusing, distracting story, hoping that the child will forget the sad and recall the bizarre.

A year, and so much has happened. Maybe, in time, she will see the time they spent together as a gift. She wants to be there so badly -- not to wait.

But she can't speed up her steps anymore. So here's to anniversaries. Even when they don't exist.

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