"So catch me up on things," my therapist said as I settled onto her sofa, set my cup of hot tea on a coaster. "It's been almost a month."
I updated her on all that had transpired since our last session in mid-December. I told her about how a close friend of twenty years failed me at a time I was so needing her to be present. I told her about a visit to Florida that included calm conversation, genuine belly laughs, and nary an argument with my mother. And I told her about the lengthy interview process that forced me to cancel our scheduled session for the previous week.
"How did it go?"
"Oh, it went really well. I met with the Director of my entire division. That was a fantastic discussion. But the interview I had after him was ridiculous and made me realize I didn't want the promotion."
"Totally. She was trying so hard to intimidate me and I just don't have time to manage something so unproductive."
"It sounds like you're making incredible strides," she said, beaming with pride as she relaxed against her chair-back.
Except that wasn't exactly how I was feeling. Instead I was struggling with a sense of frustration at work. Just that day I learned I needed to be in San Francisco the following week for a lunch meeting that no one could explain. This in addition to mastering and taking a test about an entirely different product and attending an event an hour from home. All I wanted to do was sit at my desk and finally catch up on work that fell off during my so-called vacation.
"You don't see it, do you?" my therapist asked.
"Paige, I'm blown away by the progress you've made with your mom. Even when your friend was shitty, you did what was best for you and told her how her behavior was hurtful. You've made smart career choices to ensure you stay on track. And you're dipping your toe back in the dating pool."
"Yeah, except that hasn't amounted to much."
It hasn't. Though I updated my online profile to include newer pictures and more current statements, the pickings felt slim. More importantly, I wasn't feeling overly interested.
"Why?" she asked.
"A coworker recently noted some guy was checking me out and I didn't even realize there were men in the room with us."
On the one hand, I miss resting my cheek on a man's chest, my body rising and falling with the movement of his breaths. On the other hand, I feel insulated from the actual acts needed to graduate to such intimacy.
"You're putting too much pressure on yourself!"
It was a familiar accusation.
"When I look at you, I see a woman who is together. You're dressed elegantly, not like you've thrown in the towel. You're a woman about town with a thriving career. And, more importantly, you have your shit together. Enjoy the moment and the rest will follow."
"Now that you're putting yourself out there, I sense you'll be snatched up soon enough. I'm serious! Hang on tight because wonderful things are heading your way."
I took in her giddy grin, her confident optimism, her genuine excitement for me and decided to follow her lead. After all, she hadn't steered me wrong yet. Plus, in my heart I knew I was ready to stand beneath the moonlight and enjoy a kiss with a man who makes me weak in the knees. I just couldn't see through the haze clearly enough to trust it could happen.
Monday, January 13, 2014
"Oh for fuck's sake," I said as I glanced at my phone.
It was New Year's Day, a time for fresh starts. The sun was slowly climbing above the horizon. A gentle breeze rustled the palm fronds outside my bedroom window. And there on my screen was a text message.
Happy New Year, Paige. Think of you often. -A
Words that once would have lifted my heart and warmed my skin were now nothing more than a tedious annoyance. A gnat buzzing about by my ear. A lone strand of hair somewhere on the back of my shirt, completely unreachable but irritatingly brushing against my arm. Sun glare after a rainstorm when you've left your sunglasses home.
I set my phone back on the bedside table and stepped out of my bedroom to join the rest of my family. My mother was stretched across a living room sofa with a mug of mediocre coffee in one hand and the latest issue of Garden & Gun in the other. Leslie and Anders focused on the 1000-piece puzzle we had started a day prior. Olivia was in the kitchen eating a bagel.
Though I didn't look at the text again that day, I found myself taking moments to digest this new perspective. It was surreal without being unsettling. I felt like an actor in a long-running play for which I'd always been a lead character. Yet now I was seated in the audience. And from this view, it was a completely different story unfolding before my eyes.
Throughout my time with Alaska, I stood center stage. Yes, twice I caught him tangled up in lies that, upon untangling, indicated the presence of other women. One time he told me he was in Michigan visiting his sister. Another time he was fishing out on the Kenai Peninsula. It wasn't until I discovered crumpled up boarding passes, papers long forgotten, that the truth surfaced.
Now, somehow being expected to play the part of the other woman, my heart ached. Not for me, but for Alaska's wife. She was likely awakening in his Hawaii home, ignorant to the intimate note he sent a few hours earlier to a former love. She would brew coffee, run her fingers through his hair, suggest they run into town for breakfast. He'd kiss her on the lips, tuck his phone in his pocket, and wonder why I hadn't replied.
Five thousand miles away from me was a complete stranger living a life I once wanted. She married a charismatic man so easy to adore. She lives in one house with a view of Cook Inlet, in another perched on a cliff in paradise. It is a glamorous life that she has yet to learn is unbelievably fragile. Except there on my phone was the first crack. A sliver separating the ground beneath her flip-flop clad feet. An earthquake so gentle, she probably failed to even feel the shudder.
Running on the treadmill, lying by the pool, connecting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I found myself pausing to reflect. Having grown so far beyond the anger and heartache, I know exactly what comes next for his wife. There will be moments of sadness and fear, hurt and frustration. She will sob so hard her bones ache. She will attempt to forgive, though will struggle to forget. Eventually she will settle into a distrust that will blanket every movement Alaska makes.
Knowing this path slowly unfolding before her, being so familiar with the events to come, my heart broke for this woman. It was the only feeling I had in response to that text message. Well, that and utter disgust for the man who sent it.