Checking the time on my phone, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath in, and threw the covers back. I sleep better now, now that I’ve changed around my room. “I needed a new perspective,” I told my roommate earlier this week, when he walked into the Penthouse to find my furniture in the hallway. The thing that’s always hard for me is the sleeping together. I know it’s science, that hugging and cuddling releases oxytocin and dopamine, which creates a sense of well-being and happiness, etc. etc. Which is great, until it doesn’t happen anymore, and the withdrawal sets in. So I needed a detox. And the one way I could think of to do that was to erase the environmental triggers. So I moved my bed and bought new sheets and soon I was sleeping more soundly, waking up happier, pleased by the sight of my “new” room, where no one else has been but me.
I had friends from Minneapolis who were up at their cabin for the holiday weekend, and we were meeting that morning for brunch. I slipped on a pair of skinny black jeans, cuffed them quickly, then donned a black shirt and a light black sweater. Slipping on my sandals, I threw my hair up into a ponytail and then bounded down the stairs to unlock my bike. The morning was cool and cloudy and everything that I could ever want in a Sunday morning, just on the cusp of fall. I love fall so much. It’s so easy to forget in the haze of summer sunshine, but leaves and lakes and boots and jackets and bonfires…it’s what I come here for, over and over again. An endless loop of fall in the Northwoods. Riding my bike past my old place, I smiled a little as I remembered that this was the day, two years ago, that Katy and I went to River’s Edge for River Jam and I ran into the boy who would define that early fall for me…and pretty much my new adult dating existence, if I’m honest about it. He was beautiful and smart and a great, great kisser and he had a lot of potential. And I really wanted him, but it was the first time in a long while that I let my feelings shield and protect me, instead of tossing them to the wind to see what might come back. And I am really glad for that. The lesson I was meant to learn with him is that potential doesn’t mean shit, quite frankly, and it was time to be done with boys who were super cute but just a lot of talk, and who, at the end of the day, don’t really make you feel all that great about yourself.
He was really beautiful, though…
You fall for pretty strangers and the promises they hold. The line from an Indigo Girls song felt true when I was 17, and sometimes, to my dismay, it still feels true at 34. Sometimes it can feel like I’m living in a rerun, only with different actors saying the same lines.
“I was totally happy being alone, and then he had to breeze in with his hot face and awesome body and smart words and fuck it all up for me,” I joked in an email to a friend earlier this week, about a boy I had been seeing this summer. Last night I deleted his phone number and text messages from my phone. Because I want to believe that I’m getting better at this, and even though I don’t always perceive my own best interests, I know enough to know when it’s time to call it quits. I learned a lot. I enjoyed myself and had a great time and I learned a lot about myself. But I also learned that, while I do really like him and I’m really grateful for the time we got to spend together, this is just not the time for us.
I am no longer doing battle with ghosts of boyfriend pasts, but I am still finding myself in a hard fight with my own heart. I had a lot of things come up, while dating him…tendencies and habits that I don’t really like about myself, that I would like to change on my own instead of making someone else endure those particular brands of bullshit. The biggest thing that came up for me is that there is this sense of lack… A hallow space inside, that I keep expecting someone else to fill. It shows itself in this persistent sense of boredom and restlessness that I used to take as a sign that I was ready to meet someone and make out with someone and become excited about someone again. And then I would, and I would become confused and frustrated and disappointed by the fact that I still felt that boredom and restlessness even when I was meeting someone and making out with someone and getting excited about someone.
And I realized that I felt that way because the trick isn’t about finding “someone”…it’s about finding me, and figuring out what it is that I feel is lacking inside, and what I can do, on my own, to fill it. And it’s the reason why I’m happy when no one else is around and so scattered when someone is…because they magnify it. I don’t have to think about it when I’m just concentrating on myself. When I’m sleeping next to someone, though, it becomes this dull roar, this persistent yearning to be constantly soothed and attended to, this bratty underground expectation that I should be made the center of their universe. (And who wouldn’t want to date that, right?) I have this piece I started working on at the beginning of summer that talks about self and body image and how we – I, you, ourselves – are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and it’s ironic to me, that I put that piece on hold when I met him. Because I wanted to see what would happen. Because I knew that there was a reason for him coming into my life this summer. And there was, and I am glad for it. But now it’s fall, and it feels like it’s time to pick that piece back up again. Say goodbye and wish each other well. Thanks for all the memories, have a good year at school, maybe I’ll see you next summer.
Rolling down a slight slope in the road, I felt the wind pick up my ponytail and I closed my eyes against the breeze for just a moment. Trying to remember where I was last year, I opened them again in surprise when it hit me. It’s been a whole year. A year ago this weekend, I was fresh off of leaving Chris. Last Labor Day I was staying with Katy and sorting through my stuff and writing heartbroken emails to Erica and trying to figure out how I was going to tell my mom about what had happened. The idea to move back up here was one that I actually resisted from the first. “I don’t want to move back up north,” I remember telling Katy through my tears, as we sat on her deck the night I broke up with Chris. “I don’t want to move backwards, I don’t want to go back up to the place where I first met him. I just want new right now.” But then things fell suddenly – ridiculously suddenly – into place, and it started to feel like the universe was conspiring to bring me up here. So up here I came.
And what a year…I produced two new projects that I couldn’t do anywhere else, I (finally) published my second book, I met people who are now some of my closest friends, I started dating again, and I had the best summer of my entire life. I built a life here. This blogger, Andrea, once wrote a post about reading “all the things” where she talked about how many of the pages were about always leaving and never staying, always leaving and never staying. And it struck me, when I read that, that she was right and that I had barely even realized it before. A lot of my adult life has been about always leaving and never staying. And I made a decision a while ago that I would at least try to build a life here. That instead of always looking forward to the next exit sign, I would concentrate on staying and enjoying myself and look forward to the next season of here. And I have, and I’ve been happier for it.
Laughing as I almost biffed it on a curb, I pedaled into the packed parking lot and found myself thinking about how, after tomorrow, most of these cars will be long gone from Hayward proper. There’s a certain sadness to Labor Day Weekend, up here…the lakes and the streets get quieter, the silences get longer. But there’s also a kind of magic to it. It’s the thing I love most about fall, how it always feels like a Metaphorical New Year. New beginnings, a fresh start. The decision you have to make on the first day of school: Who will you be this year?
This year, I’m committed to sparkle motion. To throwing up my hands and making magic, just because I can. To using the lessons I’ve learned in the past few years and making something concrete out of them that I can share. To more bike rides on early Sunday mornings before I fill my day with books and coffee and writing and music. To daily adventures of exploring this place where I live now and what I want my place in it to be like, and then quiet evenings with friends to talk it all out. Because we are so blessed, to be here, in this place, all of us together. To long, gorgeously long hours of writing, because my self-imposed summer vacation is finally over, and the season of fall and winter is always where the real rhythm of my writing begins. To a pleasant, productive season of moving deeper into my own heart and getting comfortable with it – all of it – and using my time more wisely. I want to look back on this weekend next year and remember this bike ride and be able to say, once again, that it all started from there.