I fear my own regression. My life over the last year has been so deeply rewarding and rich with experience that turning to my old ways feels very much like willingly walking into a yawning chasm, an abyss of endless backslides. I duck out of social obligations far too early. I pull the "I've got a long drive ahead of me" line. And I feel the diminishing leap of joy in my chest at the thought of being part of a community of really, really good people. It's what I wanted for so long. I could lose it all faster than I even care to imagine.
There are certain things to which I will cling no matter what. The day after our break-up, I texted Barbara -- my wonderful, golden-haired mom away from Mom -- with more fear and dread in my heart than I could admit to in mixed company. "I don't know what you've heard," I told her, "but I would love to come see you on Thursday, if you're working." And I waited, tears in my eyes, holding my breath, for her reply.
"That would be wonderful," she said. "Love you."
I lost it. "I love you too," I replied. "So, so much."
"You will always be my girl," she reassured me. It was my priority. It worried me so deeply that I bit my tongue and held off trying to address this deep-seated flaw in my relationship, only for fear of losing the people who had brought us together, to whom I had grown to attached. I was more afraid to lose Barbara than I was to lose Steven. There are few people in this world without whom I could not go on, and I took a risk when I ended this relationship, because there are people I love that have loved Steven longer than they've loved me. I worried that if they had to pick a side, I would be tossed to the curb based on seniority alone.
But Barb is paramount. If I lost everyone else, and if I kept her, it would still be a victory. It would be worth it if I had gone through nine months of agony, just to know that afterward, I could go to the bar and Barb would hug me and fix me a cup of coffee (as she does, painstakingly measuring French Vanilla creamer into a cup, tasting it first to make sure it's satisfactory, presenting it to me with her hopeful, eager smile).
I digress. It wasn't like that at all. It wasn't nine months of agony. Before I met Steven, I wasn't sure that another human being could tolerate me, let alone love me. I wasn't sure I could live with a man and not cower in fear at night. I was miserable in my work, in my social life, in my past relationships -- I was just a miserable human being. The only way to get myself out of it was to make a concentrated effort and form a plan of attack. I would get ready for a night out like I was preparing for a battle at the Colosseum. I fought for everything I ended up getting.
This wonderful woman once wrote, "Short love isn't failed. Long love isn't successful," and I understood how long love could be unsuccessful -- it sometimes fades away -- but if love is short, that means it wasn't strong enough to withstand, which means it amounted to nothing in the grand scheme of things. That is a failure. Until now, I didn't realize that with even the briefest of loves, one can find the most prodigious victories.
If I walked away from this with nothing but hope for the future, it would be a credit to my experience. I have so much more than that. I have more friends, comfort in a social setting, places to go that feel like home to me, a job I absolutely love, a quantity of unforgettable experiences, and, most importantly, the confidence that carries me from one day to the next, telling me that I am not the hopeless cause I'd been so worried I had become. I know now that someone in this world can look at me and think I'm beautiful, think I'm unique, smart, funny, want to spend the rest of their life with me, want me to raise their offspring, want nothing more than just to be with me forever. I know it is possible. I know that I will find someone who loves me just as deeply as I love them -- no holds barred, just jump right in -- and it will be a long love -- successful -- and legendary.
I have all this hope in my hands that I didn't have when I started out. I have so much hope that even if, between now and then, I find short love, I will still consider it a victory, which is amazing. I didn't know before, but there is something to be learned from your failures -- for example, how to look at them as achievements. And all we can ever do is look for the next big hurdle -- the next big victory -- and even though I sometimes feel like I am checking out early and stepping into the abyss, I know that my next great conquest is out there, and I am going to find it, no matter how long a drive I have ahead of me.