On the Guest List

Being brave isn’t something you do for yourself; it’s what you do for others.

When J told me that he had a fiancée—when he casually mentioned she okayed me coming to the wedding—I knew it wasn’t something I could back out of. Pragmatically, I was fine with the entire situation. I have never been jealous when he tells me about her. I don’t imagine them kissing and burst into tears or become disgusted. I haven’t had those kind of feelings for J since shortly after we broke up. But in the weeks leading up to his day of matrimony, my stomach began to tighten. It was anticipation of what I’d imagine would be an awkward day, and I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it. There would be no dancing or catching a bouquet. This was simply a favor for J.

I systematically wrote out the card and placed a personal check in the slot on the left side. I did this while filling a flask that I knew I would need. The night before I didn’t eat dinner, and I stayed up too late talking to friends.

On a sunny, humid Saturday morning, my friend came to pick me up and escort me to the wedding as his date. We also brought J’s and my old neighbor with us. I had cigarettes, good music, and liquid courage. I could do this just fine.

And guess what? I did.

There was no dramatic outburst at the reception, where I wept in the bathroom stall. I didn’t ignore his new wife or make things uncomfortable. I even had a ten-minute conversation with the bride’s grandfather; he told me about his dialysis while he forced me to eat grapes, because I wouldn’t eat anything else. I smiled big. I schmoozed everyone. Even J’s mom. It was just about all I could take, and then, luckily, it was an acceptable time to leave.

When I got home, I was met with indifference from my boyfriend. He was upset about something unrelated, and without the emotional stronghold I needed, because I had been brave for just a little too long, I crumpled into my pillow and I cried. I cried on my drive to my friends’ house after my boyfriend left to get food. I let my emotions overrun me the second I walked in their door, and when I got home, I bawled again for an immeasurably painful time. Not even my sister’s calming familiarity could soothe me. On the other end of the phone, she reminded me that I’ve always been this way. This emotional. And I knew it was true, but I couldn’t stop the outpouring. I eventually did expunge my tears, because there was nothing left in me, but it wasn’t because I ceased feeling awful inside.

There’s nothing pretty about being brave.

It feels raw and draining to pretend everything is okay and that I am not a human with normal emotions—that even though I haven’t felt romantic love for my ex fiancé in six years, it still wouldn’t rock my entire core to see and hear him say “I do” to someone else.

He and I once had picked out our own venue, standing hand-in-hand blissful that he would get to ride in on a quad, and I could have my barefoot outdoor wedding. I had tried on dresses and asked my sisters and niece to be my bridesmaids. I had the perfect ring, and I was making my guest list.

My braveness the other day was just a symbol of everything I am lacking in my own life: I do not have a husband. I may not ever. I probably will never bear a child from my own womb. J’s old promises to me were now wrapped in my own tissue paper and sitting on a table for a woman I don’t even know to tear open and write me a detached thank you note in a month’s time. And that’s it. That is all I have to show for almost six years of dedication to a man whose wedding I attended on Saturday.

Being brave felt like it was for everyone else, but perhaps it was my own stupidity. I don’t regret that I went, as I know it made J smile that I was there, but that really was the only reason why I went. To support him. He’s never been much for friends, and although we are ex partners, we’ve always been able to be pals. Yet, everyone I’ve spoken to about this past weekend has wondered how I even made it onto the guest list. They told me they would never be able to do what I did.

Does that make me foolish or does that make me brave?

Sometimes I don’t think there’s a difference.

Unsettled

Is it weird that my heart breaks when my ex talks about his relationship woes?

The drive from Willimantic to Southbridge was nice. We needed to catch up, since it had been a few months since we had seen each other, and we text far less now that he has a girlfriend with whom he lives.

When I parked on the steep hill and stepped out of the car to find him on his front stoop, I wasn’t sure if she was there… if I should go introduce myself. Turns out, she had left the house before I arrived, so he got in my driver’s side and drove us to my mom’s, since I had just been driving for an hour. I joked with him that it’s fine, because I was too lazy to ever take him off my insurance.

On the way, we talked mostly about him—how things have been going with the girl; how involved he is with his church. We passed the cemetery I once peed in, because I couldn’t wait any longer, and I pointed and said, “I peed in that cemetery.” J replied, “Yup. And we were listening to Death Cab for Cutie. Fond memory of the early days.”

At my mother’s, he was his usual reticent self. While my sister chattered on about work and gardening, J pulled out his phone and silently played a game. Occasionally, he would say a word or two, but mostly he’d pause to look up at the tv and then back at his phone.

This might be regarded as rude, but it’s not. It’s just J. As soon as someone engages him in conversation, he’ll talk. He’s just always been the more introverted, quiet observer-type.

Out on the deck with my sister, I commented, “I was thinking about how quiet J was being and then I remembered J is always that quiet.” She goes, “Yeah. That’s J.”

It did not feel odd in the slightest to have him there with us while we celebrated my mom’s birthday. My sister provided a delicious dinner and we sat around and talked for a while. My belly was full, my eyes were stinging from cigarette smoke, and I was starting to get a headache, so very shortly after my sister departed, we decided to, also.

On the drive home, there was more serious talk about our relationships and god. It’s so fascinating to me how, now, we agree on so many things, that I give him advice and insight, and he listens and understands. We’ve traversed miles of communication barriers and selfishness in the four-plus years we’ve been apart.

We both wondered if we’d only ever be each other’s one shot at “it”. I told him that sometimes I thought so. Maybe that was our chance for love and we couldn’t do it. Maybe we are both destined not to find our “ones”. Those chances were buried just like the graves next to which I relieved my full bladder on one of our happy, free-spirited rides when love was young and rife with hope.

There’s only one other person since J who has remotely made me feel the way J has in terms of depth of connection and romance. In terms of overflowing emotion and true compassion and appreciation for their existence. He knows who he is.

But lately, I’ve just been wading endlessly in an ocean with a hazy horizon point. I can’t tell where I’m going, where I’m supposed to go, and what I’ll find when I get there.

Since I already have found what I’m looking for, twice, I don’t really know what else I’m supposed to uncover.

It’s been a long four years of feeling unsettled. Even when I was in my on-and-off-again relationship with my other ex after J, I never felt assured. I had no idea if he loved me or not, and he continually kept me dangled on some potential hope we might live together only to sabotage things and pull it away from me.

For years, I’ve learned only to trust myself. To love myself. And to know that even if I never find the “one”, I have enough self-love that I’ll be fine.

That doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t break whenever I think about the one who got away from me, or the ones who won’t give me a fair chance. That doesn’t mean that although I would not get back together with J, my heart doesn’t wrench and sizzle with anger that he’s dealing with immaturity or a person who doesn’t share the same aspirations and passions.

I want to cloak and protect him, maybe because we couldn’t protect ourselves from each other.

Maybe because I’ve been guarding and protecting myself for so long, it’s the only thing I know how to do.