Forever Heart

For a few more hours, it is your birthday. I don’t know what you’re doing to celebrate or who you spent it with. I didn’t ask.

I couldn’t.

Knowing that yesterday you saw my hand-writing in purple Sharpie on the package I mailed you, that your hands opened the card and held the letter–imagining you feeling the soft plushness of your gift as you gave it a gentle squeeze–it’s the closest I’ve felt to you since we last saw each other and shared those three sacred words.

I’ve lost something immense.

When I really think about what I’m letting go of, I can’t handle it. But I also never really had you, either. Yes, I may have had your words of devotion, your insatiable kisses, your loyalty, in a sense, and we shared a deep intimacy; however, you were never my boyfriend, I never met your sister, you didn’t tell your friends about how this amazing girl stole your heart. No vacations were spent together. No mundane moments. No walking up and down aisles of a grocery store looking for the right kind of mustard, or asking each other where we left our keys. We never spent an entire Sunday afternoon lying on the couch watching cartoons.

That’s what I lost: The chance to ever experience more than a handful of sultry, passion-soaked hours together. I missed out on the every day. On being yours–and not in the possessive, derogatory sense–in the this girl only had eyes for you and wanted you to be proud to hold her entire heart sense.

Even though I didn’t get to wake up next to your sweet-smelling bed-head and drowsy eyes more than a few times, and even though I have no idea what you’ve been doing these past months or what thoughts gather in your brain moments before they trail off into slumber, I feel so much love for you on this day.

I’d like to think I know you in a way that no one else does, and I don’t need to know how many reps you did at the gym, what you are wearing, or what the last errand you ran was to know this.

I may have missed out on so much of your life, and perhaps, I was cheated of the experience of being immersed in your world as your girlfriend, but one thing I haven’t been kept from is your heart.

Just knowing your day has been wonderful, without any other details, fills me, because when two hearts have the connection ours do, that is never lost.

I can no longer ask you how you are doing and I can’t tell you how I feel delirious on opiates whenever we speak or touch, because if I can’t have your open, vulnerable love and commitment, then I can’t know how you are.

Just knowing you are out there is enough. Maybe it will be different someday.

I feel warm with the satisfaction that my words and my gift touched you last night, and today is yours–just for the very special you.

If I can no longer tell you those things, then I’ll just let you know, from time to time, here.

Transitioning from being in love with you to just loving you is hard. Stubborn and persistent memories douse me in a perfume of belonging and fixation, and my selfish sorrow of your erasure thrashes at my body so violently sometimes that I have to force the thoughts out before I am weather-wrecked and broken.

Yet, it is also just so very seamless to love you in any capacity, because you’ve bared yourself to me. I might feel gratitude on this day because you were torn from warm comfort and exposed to the unyielding swinging axe that is the very nature of this life. It is an unforgiving place at times, but the day you entered my world, my heart was forever changed.

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.

The Day You Find out Why

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ~ Mark Twain

On a beautiful afternoon, while sitting in white plastic lawn chairs in the driveway, my father told me that quote. He said something about it taking him sixty-something-odd years to figure it out–that life is about experiences.

As he continued to pull drags of smoke into his mouth from his cigar, I took a sip of my IPA and realized that after 32 years, we had finally come to a place of real respect and appreciation for each other’s company.

Growing up, my father was always there, affectionate and stern. He was interested in taking my sisters and me to do things like play mini-golf, go spelunking in caves, and visit historical places across New England.

dad & me

Relating to my mother has always been easy, because she is so much like me: affectionate to the brim, understanding, and full of empathy for others. My dad is another story.

After my parents’ divorce when I was 11, the dynamic undoubtedly changed. My dad eventually pursued other women and I was becoming a teenager, disengaging, little by little, from the childhood father who would put me on his shoulders and run up and down the hall, turn into the Tickle Monster, or let me sit on his lap while he watched golf.

We would butt heads a lot, since my dad was probably consumed with the stress of taking care of teenage girls–a subject with which he’s hardly familiar. I was depressed, highly sensitive, and buried in a thicket of misery and emotion that my father deemed as overdramatic and “silly”. But when you’re a 16-year-old girl and your heart has just been broken for the first time, it really is the most massive and unceasing amount of pain you can imagine.

I asked for therapy, thinking it would help. I remember my father saying to me, “We are Volponi’s; we take care of our own problems.” The maddening insensitivity I felt at the time, gaining an impression that he just didn’t understand. He did take me to therapy, and I only went to a handful of sessions before insurance would stop paying.

Strangely, his commentary about self-sufficiency runs through my head all the time…

I am a woman who has grown to take care of herself, imbued with a resilience from where I do not know it came.

After going to college and eventually grad school, I moved out of my parents’ house for good. During this time, my father was beginning to recognize that I was a person of responsibility. I could save money, I didn’t get into trouble, I graduated with two degrees, and I could hold a steady job.

I felt like he was finally proud of me.

See, my father has always been the kind of man who is not very verbally expressive with his emotions. I remember showing him my senior yearbook photo only to get the response, “You look better when you’re smiling, but my girls are not half bad, huh?”

I was reprimanded for things like leaving a spoon in the sink or forgetting to close the garage door when I left. I, often, was not praised for doing extra things around the house to gain his and my stepmother’s approval.

It’s something that’s hard for me to admit, but my whole life I have always wanted my dad to tell me he loved me or feel like I wasn’t being judged for my mistakes. I wanted to feel like daddy’s girl.

In stereotypical fashion, I have constantly sought out attention from men to fulfill this longing of unconditional love that, at the time, I did not think would ever come.

But that’s when this story turns into a beautiful one.

Over time, slowly, we began to mend our relationship. I opened my heart to compassion and continued to try without giving up, and my father learned a lot about himself as the years went by. I can’t tell you exactly when it transpired, because there wasn’t one defining moment, but we began to really like being around each other.

OOB

My dad and I talk about science and movies; we muse about theories of human behavior. I teach him new words, and we share music we both like with one another. We talk for hours, we go to beer tastings, and he has even taught me how to ballroom dance (although I forget them now). We have the same sense of humor; we’re both rational and articulate. We both like to “shoot the shit”, yet always find ourselves in deeper conversation.

One of the most important things he’s ever taught me, however, was when I was much younger. I was upset about the falling-out of a friendship, and at a stop light, he spoke these words, “Not everyone that comes into your life is meant to stay. Some are only supposed to be there for a little while and serve a purpose during that time. Then, someone new comes along.”

It might not seem pivotal or grandiose, but to me it was. It relieved years of pain I was feeling about lost connections with friends and with boys. I was filled with a sense of peace that every connection has meaning and importance and that not one is necessarily greater than the other.

It changed how I impact and connect with people every day.

My father has always been someone I could rely on if my physical or financial world came unbound. It wasn’t until after my break-up with my ex fiancé that I realized how much my father could be there for me on an emotional, supportive level as well.

One of the sincerely most incredible things in this lifetime has been watching my father grow as a human being.

Not only has he become more in-tune with his own emotions, he has empathy for others. He has sagacious thoughts and uses words, now, like “soul-mate”. My dad brings pictures of me on his phone to social gatherings to show them off; he has even gushed to his driver in Italy about how beautiful I am. He constantly reminds me not to sweat the small stuff (a book I had bought him years ago), and he has admirable moral integrity.

Yes, I’m still working on him about killing bugs or wishing nuclear bombs would drop on the houses of people who’ve wronged me, but no one is perfect.

I have always been lucky to have a father who is capable of supporting me if I need help. I am even luckier to have a father who can also connect to me as a person, where I feel the amassing and ever-growing love.

I have never been lucky in romantic love. It is something I fear I’ll struggle with for the rest of my life. Men fall for me and then forget about me. It’s something I’ve never really understood, and it is something that haunts me.

Yet, when I examine what it is that I would like to have achieved in this life, I’ve realized that it’s already happened.

I would like to fall in love and feel that a man won’t abandon my wants or needs, but more than anything, I already have the unconditional, unwavering love of my father.

Some people never find that with a parent with whom they had always felt disconnected. In this lifetime, I get to have that. That knowledge is like an expanding, glowing orb inside my heart, because I feel as though something that was supposed to be accomplished in this life has happened.

So, I don’t truly know if my dad has ascertained why he was placed on this earth, but on his day of birth, I would like to tell him at least one very important reason why.

I would not be the person I am today. Aside from all the wonderful traits he genetically passed along to me, I am buttressed by a bond that has changed the way I view life.

I imagine every parent wants to know they’ve done the job of child-rearing well, and my father has surpassed that. I’m a well-adjusted, loving and intelligent human, but I also have fulfillment in life. That fulfillment allows me to reduce self-destruction, to be proactive about positively affecting other people’s lives, and helps me to love deeper while I am here, waiting for the day to find out why I was given life.