I read recently about the term "zero point." Zero point is, loosely defined, the exact second that a tragedy occurs, that single moment of loss that devastates your plans and completely wipes out your future, that point of no return that starts the ball rolling towards eventual destruction.
Men can be strange beasts. I know this, but am infuriated all the same, because if you were to ask me, I'd say I'm a fine catch and worth the compromise I requested. I asked him to stop talking down to me. I asked him to try. He told me to get the hell over it, and I felt I had a choice: I could, in fact, get the hell over it -- or I could get the hell out.
Leaving is so much easier than being gone. I've been sleeping for the last three nights in a bed with the man who wanted to marry me this time last week, who, this week, thinks I am worth losing. Each of the three times he crawled into bed beside me, I would curl away from him; he would curl away from me. We slept like two shrimp on a bed of ice, and each night I would have the hope in my heart that he might turn to me and say, "I can't take it anymore. I'm sorry." And each morning I woke up disappointed.
Last night was brutal. Thunder storms. I lay so close to the window that the crack of thunder made me gasp, shook me out of my fetal position, made me feel vulnerable and unsafe, and I would have given any number of things (but my pride) to have him hold me and kiss my hair and keep me protected and warm. Things just don't happen that way.
I haven't had the best of weeks. Last Saturday, my vehicle sighed and gave up -- the battery, we thought, so we jumped it. It got us home, but it was officially out of commission after that. And my computer went next: can't even boot it into Safe Mode. According to my father, I will probably lose my files -- that means all my music, and the book, down the drain. And on Sunday, I asked Steven to play nice and he opined that he had done nothing worth apologizing for, and I said, "I will need the apartment for the rest of the week so I can get my things packed."
The next morning, my ride to work texted: "I've been throwing up since 4am. I had to call out. I'm sorry, I promise I'll give you a ride any other time." So I sat through the awkwardness of having him drive me to work less than twelve hours after our break-up. On my lunch break, Taylor came to see me. We ran into someone Steve and I know, and when I, in my soggy voice, said, "Steven and I aren't together anymore," his knees did a quick buckle and I almost began to cry.
My first choice for a place to stay would have been Taylor's house, but as he already has a friend and her baby living with him, there's not really any room for me. My second choice would have been my brother's apartment in Newark -- twenty minutes away -- but that would have been an inconvenience, and so here I am, at my parents' house, a week after the fact. And it's not my battery or my alternator, it's the computer for the van. Needs to be replaced. Money pit. God is piling it on.
And forgive me for writing out of order, but one of my frustrations this week is that I clearly requested to have the apartment to myself, but he's in my face every spare moment of every day. I would lie down in the bedroom at night, doze off, and awaken to him, drunk, asking me to come out and talk to him. I hoped for drunken reconciliation, but he refuses to swallow his pride. I asked, "Is there nothing we can do to fix this?" and he scoffs.
"It will never be the same again," he said. "Game over."
I went to the bar to see my mom away from Mom, and he was there. I ached in my soul for her, and he ruined it by being present when I wanted to pour my heart out, stifling my misery, suffocating my chance at comfort. I sat at the end of the bar, quietly crying while she stroked my hair, and he stood at the other end of the bar shooting pool. He tells everyone, "It was just time to move on. No hard feelings," then he drinks and jokes and laughs and parties way harder than he should be.
Yesterday I came to my parents' house, and the long drive wore on my emotions, frayed them like an old garment. When I approached my parents' house, I burst into tears. I feel like I'm free-falling, leapfrogging backwards over the giant strides I've made toward normalcy and independence. I pulled into the driveway, and Gavin wandered up, poked his head in the car window, and asked, "Omi? Why are you and Steve broke?" It pulverized me.
And I'm sitting here watching my shabby little box of dreams get sucked into the abyss, trying to quiet my burgeoning depression. Every time I drive over the bridge, I want to drive off of it. I find myself staring lustily at high-rise buildings thinking, oh man, would that jump kill me? And I don't even want to get started on the rollercoaster. It would have been so epic.
Then, tonight, Laura and I skidded to a stop behind a head-on collision that would have probably killed us if we'd been just a quarter mile further south than we were. Drunk driver heading north in the southbound lane slammed into the van in front of us, and we screeched to a stop probably eight feet from the wreckage. The driver was stuck in the car. Her tire was some four feet removed from her vehicle. And my perfect child was in the back seat whimpering. And if Steven didn't have the biggest ego on the planet, none of us would have been there. Laura and Gavin would have been safe at home, and I would have been where I belong: sitting at the bar with him and my mom away from Mom, not vulnerable or unsafe at all -- and far from the zero point I'm sitting at now.
Earlier in May, Steven's car broke down. That put us down to one vehicle, which was an interesting situation because our schedules are pretty much touch-and-go. When he gets home in the morning from work, it's time for me to leave. When I get back at night, it's time for him to go back to work. It's pretty convenient if you have to share a vehicle, but that also meant I was stranded at home without a car for most of the month -- less than fun times, guys. Less than fun.
Now, going down to Dover to see Gavin during the week is pretty much an impossibility at this point. It's a long drive, and I work longer hours now than I did before, which means even less free time. That's fine; I can go see him on the weekends. The only problem with that is, I could only go down on weekends when Steve wasn't working -- because if he was working, that meant I was stuck at home. So I've had to wait for a weekend when we both have off, which is every other weekend. The first weekend we both had off, we had plans set in advance with Barbara (she set aside a night for nothing but country music at the bar for Steven and me), then we had a church function (the bishop was stepping down) and we also had a birthday party and a baseball game to go to. Dover is an all-day trip, we just had too many things going on to drop all of it and go downstate.
Steven fixed his car a couple weeks ago, so for Memorial Day Weekend, I could have gone down alone to see Gavin while Steve was working. But I didn't, because I'd made plans several months prior to go to New York for the weekend with some ladies. And you have to figure that after a month of not seeing Gavin, I was pretty much in shambles, but the cottage was paid for and I'd made a commitment to Barb.
This past weekend was really the only weekend that I've had available to go see Gavin. I'd hoped to be able to kidnap him for a good chunk of Saturday or Sunday because I missed him so much -- but I ran into some accusations along the way that put a fairly effective halt to my intentions.
As though I weren't miserable enough already, having not seen my family -- my WHOLE family --- since Mother's Day weekend, my sister felt it was necessary to point out that there were probably many times that I could have come down, and I opted not to. I don't think she was aware that I didn't have a spare vehicle all month, but that's neither here nor there. Whether I had a reason for my behavior or not, I felt it was uncalled for to have her telling me that not only was it a willful decision to pick other activities (read: snuggles with my boyfriend?) over Gavin, but that my behavior warranted punishment in the form of her actively resisting my visit downstate.
It isn't enough, apparently, that she scoffs when I say I miss him -- as though by virtue of my not pushing him out of my vagina, it might decrease my capacity for emotion. It seems it is also within her power as his mother to say when I can and cannot see him -- which it is. She has the authority to withhold him from me. But why would she do that? I come down and roll around in the grass with him and keep him safe and happy, and she gets to do whatever she wants in the meantime. She sees him every day of his precious life; there is no reason that she should fight so hard to keep me from spending a few hours with him.
She tried, though. She said the weekend is the only time she gets with both Jack and Gavin together, and that I can't expect to just infringe on that 'family' time. She said that she already had plans to take Gavin to his other aunt's house (ouch! burn!). And I just sat here quietly, feeling the slow swell of my heartbeat, breathing with care around the lump in my throat, eyes burning from crying, and all I replied was, "I understand. Let me know when it's a good time for me to come see him."
I refused, and still refuse, to defend myself with her. Anybody who knows who I am knows how much that boy means to me. Let it never be said that I haven't loved him enough or sacrificed enough or tried hard enough. But even I have my limits.
Laura changed her mind about the other aunt and somewhat reluctantly agreed to let me see Gavin on Saturday. She brought him over for a barbecue. Steve went out and threw water balloons with him, and then Steve and I took Lily and Gavin in the pool for a couple hours. When Gavin's medicine wore off and he began acting out, I told him that play time was over and he needed to go in the house. He climbed out of the pool, sobbing, and walked to the back door of my parents' house. Ten minutes later, when I came inside to dry off, I stepped into the bathroom to change, and while I did that, my sister took Gavin and left.
I cried yesterday over this. I don't see him for a month, and then when I DO get to see him, you don't even let me say goodbye? Not so much as a knock on the fucking door, "We're leaving," where I could wrap a towel around myself and kiss his forehead and tell him that I'm sorry that we couldn't stay in the pool but we would come play with him again soon. Nothing. Not a goddamn word. That makes me feel absolutely fucking stellar. I know he's not going to hold a grudge because I made him get out of the pool, but I cannot stand leaving things like that. The last time I saw him, he was crying on the back porch waiting for someone to bring him a towel. Right, that's the image I want to carry around with me until my sister deems me worthy to see my child again -- you know, when she decides to stop playing God.
Then less than a week later, my boss pulled me into her office and told me that they were sending me up to Jenkintown, PA to train for my new position. A coworker of mine, Nicole, is also training for this position; we drove up to Jenkintown together. It was so exciting. She's awesome, and thank god, because four hours in the car with someone who isn't awesome would have been downright unbearable.
The owner of the parent company met with us and talked for a couple of hours, then sent us off to train. This job is so much more fun than the customer service I've been doing. There are only going to be about seven people total working for this company, and each one of them is a joy to work with from what I've seen. Nicole and I have spent the last three days in the Pennsylvania office meeting everyone and familiarizing ourself with the work, and on Monday, everybody's coming down to Delaware to set up shop.
The owner is pretty phenomenal. Awhile ago at work, they started training me to do work for one of the superiors, and while I was filling in for her day off, I had taken a call from the owner. His name is Adrian, and one of the reasons my managers let me go to the new company is because the first time I talked to Adrian, he turned right around and told them that I was outstanding. When we finally got to meet him, he was so incredibly informative and warm and accommodating. For example, he gave us $40 cash for gas money plus paid us for lunches, and told us, "I know you have a long journey to get up to this office, so here's what we'll do: I'm going to say that I'd like you to be here at eight-thirty, but I don't want you to go crazy trying to get here on time with all the traffic. So as long as you're here by nine, I'm fine with that." He was careful to ensure that neither of us had obligations at home (kids, etc.) and even went so far as to join us for lunch at a café around the block. He only made us work 5.5 hours today, but he paid us for a full eight. He is truly a remarkable dude (if a little too plucked and polished for me).
But I'm truly ready to come back to our office here in Delaware. Today we brought over some hardware (monitors, CPU towers) from the PA office to set them up in our old place, and our old managers snagged us at the door and wanted to gab our ears off about how exciting it all was and how well Adrian had said we were doing.
And I am excited -- excited!! -- to go to work on Monday.
Make it hurt.
I deserve it."
In front of every single member of his family.
Man, you have never seen so many concerned people. Steve's brother, Tim, immediately stooped down to help me up, brush me off, and ask, panicked, "Are you okay, sweetheart? No, no, forget about your pride, we need to make sure you're not seriously hurt."
"Dude," I said, "I am fine. I don't know if you've noticed this, but I'm really cushy. I landed on built-in padding. I am okay."
For the next ten minutes, they fussed over me. "You went down hard," his grandmother warbled. "My goodness. Are you sure you're alright?" Yes. Yes, I am. Even my pride didn't hurt too much, since I figured, of all the ways to handle an incredibly embarrassing moment of klutziness, mine was very smooth: no tears, no injuries, and a quick recovery.
Once we got home that night, Steve was in the kitchen putting away the leftovers, and he stopped for a moment to appraise me and ask, very seriously, "How are you feeling after your fall?"
"Oh, for Heaven's sake," I said. "I'm fine! Really!"
"Well, you scared me!" he cried, indignant. Then he softened. "Please don't do that again. It was terrifying. I thought you might really be hurt."
I rolled my eyes. "I didn't even go down that hard."
"No," he agreed, "in fact, it was pretty graceful."
"Yes. It was like slow motion. You even managed to tuck your foot under your heiney so your underwear wouldn't show. It was probably the prettiest fall I've ever seen."
I burst out laughing. "So you're saying I had it under control?"
"It looked," he said, "like you'd been practicing for that moment your entire life."
That doesn't mean I wasn't hoping it would never come. Oh, well. Pray for peace, train for war, and don't wear skirts to supper with the in-laws.
Typically, I have enough money to go down to Dover at least once every two weeks, sometimes more. It's not a cheap trip, certainly, but then I knew I'd get homesick, and I knew I'd have to shell out the money to go see my family. I've tried to set aside a certain percentage of funds per pay period in order to facilitate this routine, but this past pay period, I regrettably had more bills than I would have liked, plus a smaller check than I'd planned. I had to sacrifice my trip.
Now, between you and me, I can ordinarily take two weeks without seeing my parents. This isn't meant to imply that I don't miss them (I certainly do) but I've lived without them, and even during my last few months at home, my work schedule wasn't exactly conducive to seeing them on a daily basis -- not to mention I ran away all the time to play house with my boyfriend on weekends. The same holds true for my sister. I don't have to see them all the time. I've always been able to call.
The problem is, there's one person in Dover that I can't call. There's one person in Dover that can't answer my texts. There's one person in Dover that I haven't seen in two weeks, without whom I've never had to live for more than a few days at a time.
I know I said it when we parted ways to live in separate houses for the first time; I know I said it when he started school. I know you've heard it before, but it bears repeating: I had absolutely no idea that it would be this hard.
It doesn't help that Steven's family is close by, just a ten-minute drive to go see his own nephews, one of whom is a bright little six-year-old with an enduring love of Bakugan toys. His name is Braeden, and he comes running up to meet me at the front door, hurtling himself toward me at breakneck speeds and throwing his arms around my waist. He's charming, but I watch his little six-year-old behaviors and it makes me want to cry with want of my own little lamb. It makes me think of the times I've seen Gavin recently, when everything he shows me is new to his life and new to mine. There's this whole universe of things that he has and knows and loves, and I've had nothing to do with them at all. I haven't been there to participate in the least.
I'd hoped that I could seamlessly merge from the life I've had to the life I have now, that I would be able to carefully balance between my past and my present to avoid a culture shock or withdrawals. But it's been sneaking up on me for about a week now. I call my sister and want to talk to Gavin, but he's already in bed, or he's busy doing five-year-old things that don't include cell phones or aunts who drop their nephews like bad habits for the chance at -- what, a normal life? What was I thinking?
I returned a call from Laura today, and ended up telling her awesome things about my awesome life. "Today," I told her, "Steve came home from work and tried to wake me up to have breakfast and watch a movie with him. And I didn't want to, even though I'd told him I'd wake up when he got home, but it was 7:30 in the morning, so I said, 'If only we had a couch, I could come lay down while you ate.' So he went into the spare room and got the inflatable mattress, moved the coffee table in the living room, and set up the air bed in the middle of the floor so I could hang out with him without having to be vertical. And we ended up making a fort and sleeping on the living room floor all day after eating breakfast burritos and butter pecan ice cream. It was great." And it was great. But then I realized I'd spent precious time telling her this story when I could have been talking to my child. And by then it was too late.
"I have to go wash Gavin's hair," Laura said, by way of gracefully disconnecting the call.
"Oh," I said. "Give him like sixty kisses for me."
"Yeeeah," Laura replied shiftily, "I only ever get like... one."
"Isaidgivehimsixtykisses," I hissed.
"Right," she said. "Why don't you come do it yourself?"
Instantaneous tears. "You're mean," I whimpered, wounded. "I'm getting off the phone, you're a jerk."
"Good day," she said pleasantly.
I sniffed. "Good day." I hung up the phone and turned so Steven couldn't see my face while I explained what she'd said and why she was such a butthead. He knows I'm having separation anxiety, but it sort of came to a crashing crescendo today, which I don't think he expected. So when I was standing in the living room and I wailed, "I'm emotional!" and he yelled back, "What's new!" he wasn't expecting to turn the corner to find me actively weeping. Poor guy.
"Are you really that emotional?" he asked, not bewildered, but fascinated.
"Yes!" I sputtered. "Obviously!"
He just grinned and bear-hugged me until I could breathe properly, then he called me a boob and handed me some Chapstick. I think it's hard for him to understand what it's like, because his nephews are so close. If he wanted to swing in to pick Braeden up from school and take him to the batting cage, he could. I can't. I have to have money and time and my car in order to drive three hours round-trip just to kiss my kid on his perfect little face.
This is what I've been fearing his entire life, ever since he was just a tiny little lima bean, a little pearl of cells on an ultrasound photo. Don't get attached, I told myself. He's just your nephew. Don't get so close that you can't be without him.
Oh, well. I'm Alice on this one. I give myself very good advice...
Now that our roommate is a thousand miles away, a warm, quiet calm has filled my entire life. We haven't got much now in the way of furniture, so the whole place echoes with shining hardwood floors and padding bare feet, but what we have is ours, and what we do with it is ours, too. I'm sitting in a computer chair that only has one arm, my monitor is propped up on a box to bring it to eye level, and my desk is a folding table, but I am writing here, and the sheer joy of it outweighs any aesthetic distaste I might have for empty spaces. (Which is irrelevant, because minimalism is clearly where it's at.)
I started writing about three hours ago, after Steve left for work and I'd watched all I could of a Will Ferrell movie. When I sat down to begin the book, I thought it would be about embracing abnormality, but it looks more like it's about striving for the exact opposite. I can't find words to express how thrilled I am with having a 9-5 desk job, a grocery list, and candles burning that make my apartment smell like cantaloupe. I wake up in the morning to the love of my life walking through the bedroom door, setting his jacket on the bedpost, and softly saying, "Honey, I'm home."
Most days, I just mumble, roll over, and hope that he doesn't mistake that for a lack of enthusiasm. I am entirely enthused, down to the soles of my feet. When I wake up, shower, and hurry out the door (frequently forgetting my phone), I am thrilled to be rushing out to live my ridiculously normal life, to come home in the evening and toss my keys on the counter, to have supper with him and talk about which family outings we'll need to attend over the weekend, which friends we'll need to visit, and which groceries we need to think about replenishing. We're making a life together that delivers us from the least appealing parts of our pasts, a life that, piece by piece, we are building from the ground up. We are preparing a foundation right now to support a life that will, with luck, carry us through many years. This seemingly boring routine is the most exciting my life has ever been.
Last night, we talked about proposals. "I told them," I said, laughing, of friends I dined with on Saturday, "that I already knew where you were going to propose -- I just don't know when yet."
"And you won't know," he assured me. "Yes, it's going to happen, but it'll be a surprise."
As if I haven't had enough surprises -- surprise job, surprise move, surprise rest-of-my-life walking up to me outside a bar -- I look forward to being surprised again. I am surprised already. I am surprised that a life that, six months ago, didn't look very promising, has turned completely upside down and left me here in a never-ending maelstrom of happiness. I am surprised that, after everything, I am able to live normally, as any other human being my age would expect to be living. I am surprised at myself for choices I've made, and surprised at fate for not giving me cause for regret.
I am in such a constant state of surprise that I no longer worry that things won't turn out perfectly. Every time I turn around, things get better. I am getting great surprises when I expect bad ones. I am so consistently proven wrong that I am just letting it happen, and I have no concern that I am going to wake up one day and realize that it was all just a dream, or that I've been wearing rose-colored glasses. History dictates that if I expect that, I will be surprised again in a completely positive way.
And as for a surprise proposal, it's more than I would ever ask for. Half my nights, I get to fall asleep on the shoulder of someone I love more comfortably than I could have ever imagined before. I am cared for by someone whom I admire more with every passing moment. We have already taken the steps to begin our lives together -- rings and doves and singing choirs won't make my life any more worthwhile or complete than it is now. I hear him say it's going to happen, and it's almost as if I don't have to wait at all. It's not some faraway dream that I'm anxiously waiting for, the next, exciting step that's going to take this relationship, our love, my happiness to the next level. I am living in the middle of my fairytale. I am at the pinnacle of my joy. I know it can't get better than it already is.
But I've been surprised before.
Last night at 1:45am, I got a text from a number I didn't recognize. I opened it sleepily, saw words that didn't compute, and went back to sleep for a minute or two. Then I bolted straight up in bed and re-read it.
"Your communication lines are open. I'm on land until March. Congrats on your No-Named-Boy. And that delightful girl is no good for me."
Is that a haiku? I thought. No, no. It's my Greggie! I disorientedly replied, thanking him for getting in touch with me, and he said, "You're quite welcome," and goodnight. It made me so happy that I called Steve at work, sleepily squealing about the return of my Cookie Boy. Now I am up past my bedtime, talking to Gregory about all sorts of things, and it's really good for my soul/soul-area, just like getting a text earlier that morning from Taylor was good for my soul. Taylor hasn't had a phone in months. Now he's back on the grid, and so is Greg, and my job rules, and Steve and I have a Christmas tree, and there's a shower caddy in the bathroom half-consumed by my surplus of body washes and loofahs. I mean really. Can I get an amen, y'all?
But work went well today: the base pay rate alone is better than what I was making, plus there are monthly bonuses and commission, and it's a desk job which is amazing and I can wear any pretty thing I like. No more uniforms.
So what I am doing is sitting in my Dover bedroom on my Dover computer while I wash business casual clothing for my Wilmington job. I work a solid five days a week there, 9-5 (so grown-up) and no weekends, so I'll be sleeping in Wilmington until Friday night when I won't have to work Saturday morning -- but truly, there's no reason for me to have to sleep in Dover ever again. So staying at Steve's last night because it was more convenient was actually my first official night of living there.
That's pretty sweet, I think. When Steve came home from work at 7am, the first thing he said was, "Good morning," followed by, "I am a happy, happy man," to which I groggily replied, "Why," and he made a shrugging gesture.
"It's Wednesday morning," he said, "and I'm home from work and you're still in my bed. Why wouldn't I be happy?" No reason. He made pancakes while I showered. He walked me to my car, told me I looked very nice, and wished me a great first day. When I went on my lunch break, he was conveniently at the bar where we met (shooting pool, not drinking), which is conveniently in the next parking lot over from my new place of employment, which made it convenient to get behind the wheel and drive six seconds to go see him. It's like the best fairytale ever. "And then the princess, in her business casual attire, went to the bar on her lunch break to be with her prince charming for eighteen minutes, which was not quite long enough -- but then any span of measurable time wouldn't really be long enough anyway, would it?"
I guess what I am trying to say is that I'm absolutely horrified by the speed with which things are falling perfectly in line. A week ago, we were batting around the idea of moving in together. A week ago, I was worried sick about finding a job, because every other time I've had to look, it's taken months. A week ago, we had Joe until January 22nd, we couldn't figure out holidays because I had no definitive work schedule, and nobody knew what was going to happen (or when, for that matter). Now I have a job, I know where I'll be sleeping every night, where we'll be on which holidays (he gets Christmas Eve, I get Christmas morning, and we're doing New Year's Eve up at Penn's Landing on the waterfront in Philadelphia) and the best part of all of it is that I'm not killing myself to get what I want. I left my interview yesterday laughing AND crying at the same time, so confused and overwhelmed and surprised that things keep going well. I want this, it's happening, and it's better than I ever could have dreamed. Which leads me to my final question: What's the catch?