Then, one by one, came the cubs. A den of young artist strays I collected who come to eat my one-pot meals and cornbread, assemble my furniture, and let me subject them to cult classic movies they have to see. They ensure I know what music to listen to nowadays, which alleys are the best to wander around under full moons, and how to say “feel me” and “trill” with a straight face. Most of them think I’m 28. Meh. 28 was a decent year. I’ll stick with that.
Then came the kittens. If you have been anywhere near my Instagram (@biancalynne), Snapchat (@unimermicus), or on FB (www.facebook.com/biancalynne), you have witnessed at great length and detail the onslaught of my recently acquired status as single mom to a coupla rescued littermates last July: then seven-week old kittens who are now eight-month old obnoxious adolescent kittens who play with their water instead of drink it and have wholly violated my beautiful white space couch (to be fair, I didn’t know I was getting kittens when I bought it). The orange tabby, sweet but slow, big weenie Archie, takes after me in that he is a serial plant killer but I’m pretty sure he kills plants on purpose—and Oona, my dilute tortie, still thinks she runs the entire household basically the same way she did the moment she stepped paw indoors, despite the fact that I have told her countless times there is an application process to become department chair. We have endured the last several months together including the tears and jitters of having first shots and a few fleas last summer (baking soda and table salt did wonders there), two weeks of the runs last fall (canned pumpkin helped a lot), and their being fixed a week before Thanksgiving. They do not under any circumstances let me sleep in. In fact, Oona wakes me up with kitty kisses at 3:30 every morning for her middle-of-the-night snack (i.e. she can see a sliver of the food bowl beneath her food). And they have basically cock-blocked my love life in that two of my gentleman friends are very allergic and now cannot come over.
Two days ago it was Valentine’s Day and while I am not a big artificial holiday celebrator (anymore), I was feeling very overwhelmed by something I didn’t know was possible for me to feel again. I went to bed that night grinning and kinda weepy, as is typical after I’ve wrapped a longish film shoot that day, not just because of the amazing spectrum of women we got to meet that day, but because I felt, and feel, pretty much in love with all of the things.
A few years ago, old me would not recognize this new me. Literally and figuratively. Not just because I look a lot different, but I honestly think old me wouldn’t have liked new me very much—or at least not have trusted her. Old me was very cloistered. She worked a lot. She wrote some. She never really felt well. She didn’t go out at all much beyond gigs. And she was so busy pouring what was left of her undivided attention into trying to figure out what had taken a right turn at Albuquerque in her marriage, she couldn’t nurture anything or anyone else. Not a plant. Not herself.
Trying to love someone you have grown apart from (in all the ways that matter in a long-term relationship) is kind of like trying to fill up a sieve. You sort of operate business-as-usual because it’s familiar and even if it doesn’t feel good all the time, at least it’s predictable. But at the end of the day you’re left with something that is empty and cannot by its nature ever be full. The how and why you ended up with a sieve instead of a bowl without holes is another story, but I didn’t—couldn’t maintain my friendships even though I kept up social appearances, and even my family and closest, most intimate friends…didn’t know really the extent to which I’d created a bit of a private emotional and psychological hell for myself in thinking I could save something that couldn’t be saved. Love eventually came to mean something to me very different than it does now. Love felt painful as in ice-hot. Impossible to handle. Something to be locked up and looked at, but not to be experienced or imbibed. Love felt like something you had to do with armor on.
The most caring thing my ex-husband and I could have done for one another was part ways as spouses. Of that, I have no doubt. He’s doing well it seems like, and I’m glad for him. We can still talk about our projects together with appreciation for one another’s challenges and triumphs. And while we don’t discuss our romantic lives (there is such a thing as too much too soon) I don’t know what I expected to feel when I’d heard he’d moved on with someone else. What I didn’t expect was to feel not much of anything expect it was kind of like hearing about an old friend dating someone new. I didn’t feel sad or rejected or even nostalgic. I do remember feeling even more glad that I made my exit when I did because I knew that sticking around long enough to hate him would have taken more effort than to let him go be him the way the cosmos wanted him to be. And the longer I held onto the good ol’ days, the longer it would take for me to get to work on being present for myself. And knowing that I don’t resent him for moving on is actually kind of a relief. It shows that I’ve done more healing than even I realized.
I won’t go so far as to say I’m 100% put back together. Loving without fear, or should I say, loving despite fear, still requires a kind of ultimate vulnerability and sacrifice that feels too big for me to want to completely invest in again any time soon. For one, I’m enjoying being self-centered. Being able to cut the phone off. Cut off communication and not be accountable full time to someone other than the kittens. And two, the prospect of being all in with someone again does frighten me because I know what I am capable of now in terms of losing myself in someone else. And that clearly didn’t work last round, so there is definitely still some scar tissue left to sort through.
Thus, I have some lingering phantom limbs of doubt—like, was that it? Was that my shot? Did I blow it for forever? Now what? These are things it’s difficult to admit out loud. You might be reading this like, “Girl, you crazy. Of course it’s not the end!” But some days (particularly when I’ve binge-watched something like Once or listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill too much that week or I see photo after photo of couples together celebrating Valentine’s Day in my feed) it does feel like that. Especially when you live in a mid-sized town and everyone is either already hitched up, has already either dated and blown it with someone you might have considered dating or they know/are good friends with your ex. So, then it’s like, do I import? And if I do, I’ve done long-distance before and even under the best circumstances it’s like, ugh. And even if I was ready to be in another relationship, what PTSD-esque triggers are left from the demise of the last one? I won’t know until they show up.
Not that I’m raring to jump back into the double-dutch of the dating game. I just enjoy companionship on occasion like everyone else and spending time with people I find attractive is good to do after eighteen months in helping me learn what I like and don’t like for the first time in y’know, a decade. And I’ve been out with people and have had a great time with some and not so great time with others, not all of them from this town and not all of them in this town, some younger, most older, none of them Captain Picard, unfortunately, and it’s been interesting. It’s nice to have a reason to dress up every now and then, or dress down and just stay in. It’s nice to know someone also finds you attractive. It’s kind of weird to learn how creepy some guys…okay, a lot of guys are towards single women. For some reason—I’d forgotten or blocked that out entirely. Some of my friendships changed after the split, became more awkward, or dropped off because my male friends are married and it feels, I think, weird for them to be so close to an un-married woman. And their wives might not appreciate that either, which I get. But, y’know,I’m just sayin’, if I wanted a married man, I would have kept the one I had. Or, if my male friends aren’t with someone, some of them just don’t know what to do with me now that I’m single. Like there’s something just inherently indecent about an unattached woman.
There are things I wonder about now that I have pulled my head out of my private sand bucket and have become more social—I ask myself a lot of questions, like am I more suited for an open relationship moving forward? Or should I just say no to any kind of relationship at all for awhile and do me? How long is awhile? How long do I hold out? If I do commit to another person, is that settling? How do you know? And what does one settle for or compromise for these days? Is there someone and some situation so singular out there that would satisfy most of my requirements so much I could pass up another opportunity if he walked in—like even if Idris Elba walked in, okay, my head might turn, but he wouldn’t keep my attention because the Bae in front of me is my Forever Bae? Or is all that a Western construct I’ve been sold through too many pop songs and movies like The Notebook?
And then…okay. Let’s say, y’know totally hypothetically speaking, there is someone in particular in my life, who under normal circumstances, I would consider a kind of frontrunner—let’s say he stimulates my imagination and intellect and motivates me and makes me snort-laugh in ways no one else currently does, but we’re separated by geography and life in general. Say, he’s overly-cautious with me sometimes, and maybe I’m not cautious enough because you know what I can’t write poems about? Restraint.
But somewhere along the line over the last several months, let’s say I carved out a place for him in my life. Or maybe he carved one out for himself. Who knows? Let’s say I just looked up one day and there he was: a fixture. Suppose I think about things I want to tell him first. I want to know what he did all day. You know, theoretically, my head would know that is all perhaps just twitterpated chemicals firing off in my brain. But, boy. Those be some some strong hypothetical chemicals.
But that leads me to more questions. One, would I just be in it (and by it, I mean any relationship I may find myself in now or down the road) for the agony and ecstasy so I a) wouldn’t have to face myself in the Epic Kingdom of Alone-dom, Population: 1,) and b) so that I have something new and tantalizing to write about? How do I know the difference of being in love with someone and being in love with the idea of someone? And honestly, why do people say that? Being in love with the idea of someone and y’all’s potential together is probably responsible for 97% of how most couples I know initially got together. And even if you’re in love with them, truly them, doesn’t that take like, years to figure that out? And even if we did decide mutually we were in love, like it’s the real deal, integrating two lives together is a lot of work, mane. Two whole sets of values, beliefs, goals, visions, aspirations, desires, needs….on top of the plants and kittens and cubs? I’m already exhausted just thinking about it. Two, I also realize that it’s not going to be just anyone who’s okay with being with me. I travel a lot, I am included in a lot of events and projects and activities. I’m an overachiever and from what I have experienced and witnessed, most men’s egos, whatever they say, are hard-pressed to watch their girl or their wifey’s name be in more people’s mouths than their own. Then the relationship becomes a competition.
So, mostly, I’m just winging it. It feels good to turn a head or two. Or three. I preen and bask in the attention like any other woman newishly single again might. But most importantly, out of all this, and probably the biggest reason I’m in no rush to commit to any one person wholly and completely again, is because as corny as it sounds, I’m learning more about what it’s like to love my independence, my freedom, living alone, my desires and needs and who I am when I’m alone. It’s not as hard as it used to be. Certainly not as hard as it was feeling like you were alone in your marriage. I mean, for one, there are the still-living plants, the growing cubs and kittens I have to attend to. They won’t all feed themselves.
But here’s the thing. At the tail-end of Valentine’s Day, I realized something that did in fact, make me very emotional. It wasn’t that I didn’t have that special someone right there in front of me to say, “I love you so much I’ma share this here last piece of choklit with you,” it was that I realized quite suddenly and unexpectedly, that when it comes time for me to say that thing and all it entails to someone again and mean it despite the risk…y’know…I believe I could.