for better or worse

08.22.2015 – I dreaded facing this date for months.

what I used to think was going to happen

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I do not recognize the girl in that January photograph – physically, emotionally, or otherwise. The end of the relationship was the end of her too.  I don’t mean this as hyperbole.  Nothing causes you to peel off facades faster than experiencing some of your worst fears.  Everything is different now.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than I was.” – JKR

I’m sorry that it took too long to realize admit that our life had become forced.

The truth is that with how things were going, neither of us would have put ourselves first.  I could not have put energy into pursuing dreams while trying to hold together a relationship that wanted to shred itself apart every painfully scripted day; and she could not have put energy into figuring out what she really wants while trying to be what I needed.

I believe that our time together wasn’t a waste or a mistake just because it ended.  It would be dishonest to say it doesn’t still sadden me to reflect on good memories, remember the depth of love, and understand that ultimately we still failed to provide for one another what we each needed.  But it’s becoming more bearable pain, like nostalgia.

Above all, I hope she is for better.

I hope the same for myself.

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Drowning Waters – an Open Letter

To the Grasping Urchin,

I didn’t ask you for anything.  And you never offered. I stood stripped, freezing, and alone – but smiling.  Nobody asked or noticed.  I did not begrudge them.

When you came around, grumbling and soliciting, as ever, I did not condemn you for it.  What had I ever been for you but another source of validation and support?

I merely said, for the first time, “Right now I cannot.  I have nothing to offer.”  You have no idea what it stripped from me to say as much aloud.  In that moment, I acknowledged that, years of effort to the contrary, I am incapable of saving a single other person, perhaps even myself at this point.

Why, then, would you choose this momentafter I admitted my limitationsto confess your anguish and need?

Would you like my last breath?

Unlike you, I never pulled anyone into the drowning waters with me or tried.  But I am not a buoy or a raft.  Your options are to claw your way to the surface or go under, just like the rest of us.

I wish you success, not luck.

-Amber

Change – an open letter

To the Well-Meaning Meddler,

I must object to your recent attempt at intervention.

There is a difference between busted and lost.  I am not “repairing” myself.  If anything, I’m upgrading.  Truthfully, I’m still figuring it out; but I do know that it’s not a restoration project.  So you can stop waiting.

Just because I am different, perhaps even a stranger to you now, does not mean that I am in need of urgent assistance.  I’m sorry that so many of our previously shared commonalities have ended.  We both wish it was less awkward to relate these days.  But I am unfiltered and genuine—much more than beforeout of respect for you, my other loved ones, and myself.

Similarity is not the sole foundation of our friendship, nor should it be the basis of any strong bond because people must change.  I am confident we can move through this and get to know one another again.

However, I cannot be the girl you knew before – because I am not who I was.  Please cease to expect or ask that of me.

I hope we’ll understand one another again in the future.

-Amber

How to Be Alone

Before this past April, I had never lived alone.

Nor has my brother.  Nor my sister.  Nor most of the close friends I polled today; two did for one month.  I do have a friend who told me months ago that she lived alone for about a year and it was an enlightening experience.  I also know two inspirational women living alone in their retirement (one divorced, onepossibly my future selfa self-professed “cat lady”).

I don’t think I actively avoided living alone.  The circumstances (e.g. relationship status, financial stability) never quite aligned to make such an option a viable consideration.

First, I lived with my parents, as it goes.  I shared my college dorm with five suitemates, then shared apartments with some of those same wonderful ladies.  Afterward, my then-partner and I moved into her mother’s basement.  When we saved a little money, we got our own place.

But now, for the first time, it’s just me.

Don’t get me wrong; I consciously chose this.  There are plenty of roommate locator resources available and I even looked into a few ads.  But part of me really wanted to know… what’s it like?

I’m an excellent student, but “how to be alone” is one lesson no human being can teach another.

I got a little, affordable place.  It has its quirks (pink tile bathroom, really!? I semi-recovered it with a cherry blossom shower curtain), but it’s a nice community overall.  I have chosen everything about the space very carefully and slowly, with a humble budget and without others’ opinions unless I request them.

11214201_10102481388649129_8520014165509733340_n11401304_10102481362336859_7567641696176261719_nI have minimalist tendencies and want to maintain my mobilityin the likely event that I move to another city within a year or two… contingent upon my career, which is going so well herebut the space is pretty bare even by my standards.  (See also: the Toast.)  I could certainly use a television stand and a bed frame, but I splurged on a very nice mattress.

Not to mention, I’m borrowing some of the furniture.  Still, what little I’ve acquired was given meticulous consideration.  “After all,” I continue to ask myself, “how often will I have the opportunity to restart my life, to discover and reinvent myself honestly, without outside influence?”

After only three months, I can say that nearly everything you’re likely to find online in a “Top 10” article about living alone is true.  The pros and cons are easy enough to brainstorm even without the hands-on experience.  I researched thoroughly prior to signing a lease.  I probably would have been a bit more anxious about it, but I was a little devil-may-care at the time.  Still, I was informed.

I knew what I was in for when I signed the lease.  But it is incredibly different, somehow, to go through with it day-in and day-out.

Actually, I don’t notice much of a difference on weekdays.  Admittedly, it can be jarring after a silly or spooky moment to turn around and remember that nobody witnessed it.  (It’s especially frustrating when those little moments don’t quite translate into stories-worth-sharing-later.)

But it’s largely easy enough to pass a single evening without wallowing in the throes of ennui; besides, plenty of social interaction takes place at my office.  In fact, I find that the more evenings I spend alone, the more I grasp the levity of the phrase “spending time” – it’s an actual expenditure of the most important commodity available to us.

Weekends are different.  For a long while, I kept myself constantly distracted, visiting everyone, traveling, filling my schedule to within an inch of requiring time travel.  Recently, realization struck – I’m avoiding the very thing I set out to do.

Google_Calendar

Attempted visual aid for my keep-doing-stuff fanaticism of late. (Note: I actually use my employee Outlook calendar more regularly even for personal appointments, but this one has the better aesthetic.)

I do not yet understand how to spend extended periods of time with just myself, which is to say, how to simply be.

Eventually, all of the busyness took a toll.  I find myself scatterbrained more often lately and greatly in need of some rejuvenation time.  So this past weekend, I decided to not run around frantically occupying myself and being social with anyone-and-everyone.  I wanted to focus on being alone, being comfortable with solitude.

On Saturday, I achieved very few of my original intended goals (do the laundry, finish reading a book, update LinkedIn, write something).  I tried to remind myself that I could simply relax and be gentler about excessive expectations for a while.  That life as I know it will not disintegrate before my eyes if I give less than 100% for a period of time.

Naturally, on Sunday I relapsed into productivity hyperdrive.  I appeased the guilt of declining social invitations just to laze around for an evening by ensuring I had quantifiable results of a stay-at-home weekend.

Yet, I’m starting to realize that nobody else notices the difference at all.

No outsiders can distinguish between when I spend a day alone in my apartment driving myself mad, a day alone in my apartment making active progress on Important Life Stuff, or a day alone in my apartment doing nothing at all.  Because I’m alone, in my apartment.

Since that thought parked itself in my consciousness, I fluctuate between feeling liberated, like I can do anything and feeling isolated, like nothing I do matters to the outside world.

I’m trying to shake it, but I feel a bit selfish all the time because everything I do now is for me.  I share it with nobody on a consistent basis, so most of what I buy, cook, or create is just mine. It feels so contrary to my core nature that for a long time I just didn’t.  I didn’t shop for groceries (unless the cat was nearly out of food).  I didn’t cook, but I’d eat food if it was there.  I didn’t write after an initial stint of processing through blogging (read: unfiltered feelings dump).

I dedicated my entire life to making others happy or proud.  I’m not sure if anyone along the way made me their central focus to that extreme.  And to be honest, I don’t know if anyone should or not.  I’m a proponent of unselfish, unconditional love, but we are the only ones capable of leading our own lives to fulfillment.

It’s hard, so much harder than I imagined, to learn at age 27 how to live alone and put myself first.  But I don’t regret choosing it.

gratitude

to all of the allies

and to all of the lovers

to all of the screamers

the supportive parents, the accepting colleagues, the good neighbors

to the ones who glittered signs

and the ones who challenged us

(because the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory)

to the first girl, who taught me that I did actually feel something

and to the second girl, who taught me never to settle

to the future woman

and the many beautiful friends

to the authors whose books were banned

to the teachers whose careers were threatened

and to all those whose voices carried when sound itself was danger

Thanks for getting us here.

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kill the perfectionista

She overtakes me slowly, but wholly.
None, not even I, hear her approach,
because she is remarkable,
and exactly who everyone prefers.

The Perfectionista has mastered life like science,
and holds me under so I cannot revert it to art.
She doesn’t mean to tyrannize me;
she assumes consciousness when I am lost.

Truthfully, I recreate my monstrous superior time and again,
devouring my Jar of Shoulds, ceding desire,
sidestepping paths I wantand therefore fearto pursue,
choosing, rather than realized self, the ideal standard.

It takes catastrophe to surface me.
When I see her, I hesitate to return,
because she is magnificent,
and exactly what everyone needs.

Outsiders’ reflections cue recognition,
noting peculiar virtues, successes.
She doesn’t mean to lobotomize me;
she champions defense when I am threatened.

Shamefully, I allow her to conquer me as well,
gulping my Bottle of Don’ts, relinquishing control,
feigning my way into best-loved automation,
escaping hardest truths through easiest scripts.

“Perfect” is not, has not been, and could never be a compliment.
If anyone sees it, be afraid,
not envious, nor intimidated, nor especially, proud.
And please help me.
help me kill her so I can live

Begin Again

Amber:

My favorite blog for years. And of course she had the perfect words. 💜

“If you can trust that there is always more good on the way (because there is), you can stand in the tornado and let it tear away what isn’t serving you. It’s scary to let go when you don’t yet know what will replace it. If I give up my partner, my home, my concept of who I am as this person, who will I be in the future?”

Originally posted on Truth and Cake:

I wasn’t sure when I would start blogging again. Would it be a few months or a year or would the time stretch on and on and on indefinitely? I know the answer now. You write when you can’t not write any longer. When the pieces of your heart have mended enough to hold the words.

My heart’s a little leaky but it’s got space and love and a whole lotta desire.

It’s time.

Divorce is a mofo. And it’s a redeemer. My divorce gets filed away somewhere between soap opera extraordinaire and everyday heartbreak. Because no matter the details, the shape of the betrayal, losing the person you loved is hard. Rebuilding your life is painstaking work.

I now understand how contrast works. It sits somewhere in my bones.

You can be the saddest you’ve ever been in your life and overwhelmingly grateful. You can ache with loss while…

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fair weather games

I go out alone

a way a ways away

paying in distance for anonymity

avoiding familiar haunts

so as not to encounter ghosts

a song plays unstoppingly

if a girl falls into the woods,
with no one there to hear,
was she ever anywhere else at all,
is she really even here?

I dance this beat with tone-deaf strangers

they wonder

attractive women who sicken me

they crave

indistinguishably kind and dangerous

they expect

I unravel myself gracefully

drunk from absorbing winter’s chill

elicit her nameless laughter

catch the pleased phrase “like magic”

I don’t believe in it though

I say as much to her bewilderment

then I leave

alone

unobligated

unaffected

and satisfied.

Rage – an open letter

To the Reckless Gambler,

You tried to double your odds, but you rolled snake eyes instead.

You never should have put me in a position to choose between being on your side or doing the right thing. Of course I told her what you said to me. Don’t you know me at all?  I am not that kind of girl.

“Why?” you dare ask.

Well, certainly not for enjoyment (believe as you will).  Neither was it easy to do.

All I wanted was neutrality.  If she had not requested answers, I would have stayed out.  But I keep my word and tell the truth when someone especially in a position not terribly unfamiliar to my own recently asks it of me.

For years, I’ve had recurring dreams of tornadoes, awaking to ponder if perhaps I fear chaos or death.  I finally realized that it’s my own presence; I am the typhoon.  It gave me no joy to be the force that blew away this facade because those gusts carried away lost smiles.  Maybe the next person will listen better when I say keep away.

I resent your efforts to guilt me for your own behavior.  You did the wrong here, whether you’ll admit to it or not.  You ought to know well the limits of acceptability for your partner.  Stop treating the truth like an option to be used only when advantageous.

Kindly refrain from trying to manipulate my empathy anymore.  It won’t work.  You have no right to ask me to lie or rescind my promises for you.  You may not take my integrity and I certainly owe you no more explanations.  Do not contact me again, I don’t care what name you use.

Furiously,
Amber

friends ask me what I’m doing lately

The grey dress.

Your mother gave it to me. She was always buying me cute outfits.

I remember you saying, “You’re the kind of girly daughter she’s always wanted.”

I feel your resentment for me budding in that moment.

I throw it in the pile.

The off-white hoodie.

It was one of the first times any of us had had wine (Manischewitz and it tasted like juice).

Your brother spilt his wine on me and apologized so profusely that I couldn’t help adoring him.

Most of it came out in the wash, except a few pink flecks that always reminded me of that dinner.

I throw it in the pile.

The blue dress.

I wish I hadn’t worn it on that horrible day, when we met and you wouldn’t even look at me.

I’d worn it on dozens of other occasions to make me feel strong and beautiful.

But I can’t remember any of those now; only the time when it couldn’t.

I throw it in the pile.

The grey fleece zip-up.

Frankly, I don’t know how I survived winters before I met you.

Between your mom’s gifts and your hand-me-downs, I pretty much have to eliminate my entire winter wardrobe.

Nothing could keep me warm this past winter anyway.

I throw it in the pile.

The perfect dress.

Ah, this one is the hardest; it was my very favorite dress.

But I wore it to our engagement celebration dinner.

And then there’s the photo from a game night not too long ago where you have your arms around me and the gaze you’re casting on me looks convincingly like love.

I try to throw it in the pile.

Maybe I can manage it tomorrow. For now, I’m going to sleep. Enough purging for one evening.

once

Once when we were younger, you kidnapped my hand.
You tugged so hard I thought it would fall off, because
I did not understand anatomy yet.

You asked me how fast we’d have to spin to fly.
I made up something like ten thousand miles an hour, because
I did not understand gravity yet.

We raced in circles, your fingers latched to mine.
To this day, I still remember exactly how it felt to fly, because
I did not understand reality yet.

Mosaic

Any dream interpreters out there?  Mine aren’t usually ambiguous (at all) so I never have to try very hard to understand them.  But this time, I dozed off and dreamed…

I was pulling pieces of my face off (which sounds more violent than it looked).

The pieces were like these tiny mosaic tiles or maybe chips of painted porcelain.

In fact, it felt incredibly liberating to shed their weight.

Unfortunately, the vantage point of the dream kept zooming away, so I couldn’t see the finished product.

But it seemed like underneath was just a faint glow; there was no person in there at all.

I thought, “Well, that figures,” and felt nothing in particular about it.

Then, I woke up.

what we do

behaviors become habits

habits earn descriptors

descriptors cluster into constellations we call characteristics

characteristics compose identity

identity changes the course of life

I must choose carefully what I repeatedly do

though it is easier to start well than remake oneself

I still take heart in “growth mindset”

nothing is fixed

 

The Tear Collector

I once wrote, “You only like beginnings, puzzles, and broken things.”

Last night I dreamt you were catching my tears in a vial and holding me. It went on like that for a long time.

Finally, I stopped crying. I smiled at you. You smiled back.  Later I would wish I could have frozen myself in that moment.

Then your eyes welled up, so I offered out my arms to hold you in return when you wept.

You abruptly spun me around and shoved me away.  I stumbled off, confused.

Didn’t you also want to let go of your pain?  Couldn’t you love me anymore now that I was strong?

(Reality overlapped with dream momentarily as I also wondered what you meant by “find someone more like you”.)

My heart made me turn around so I could tell you I would not let you shut me out and yourself down.

Instead, I witnessed you grasping another.  She, too, cried into a bottle; I don’t know if you emptied the very one you’d given me for so long or if you simply had another or even a collection.

Before I could investigate whether you had a stockpile nearby, sharp recognition ejected me from the dream altogether.

I awoke remembering the girl you asked to bring along to your company party.  How strange, I hadn’t worried about that request at the time, nor a dozen other now-obvious occasions.

You did tell me that she faced enormous hardships in life (many tears to shed).  If my dream was revelation and not subconscious fabrication, I wish you both well with the last breath of my former life.

A final note you’ll probably never read: you often said “iFix” and “iFind”.  But one day, I hope you do allow someone to catch your own tears.

Falling Out of Love with You

was like walking slowly
to a vast, gorgeous lake
carrying only a rusted spoon
to empty the waters

or digging straight into the core
of this battered planet
with that same unavailing utensil
and my own clumsy hands

I searched for more efficient demolition
but it turns out the keystone
was just you, not reciprocity
(though that was lovely for a while)

yet I kept hacking day by day
at abandoned forests tree by tree
with the dull edge of my witless tool
as per your request

beaten

at first they’re kind of squishy to hold, hearts,

but you get used to it

except you dropped mine

and yours was sick

we saved them both

but it took a lot of time and work

after they recovered and felt secure

or at least mine did; but you said so too

you dropped mine again, this time harder

and more intentionally

then I realized you’d snatched yours back

clever slight of hand, leaving me with none

but it’s okay – you can keep the heart I gave you

or leave it in that floor

because it no longer beats

and I’m slowly growing a new one

This one is just for me.

in the future

a weird thought

that doesn’t cause me as much grief today

one day in separate places, at different times

you and I will describe one another as “the girl I dated for most of my 20s”

I can already hear the words so clearly

“it was great for a while, we were engaged actually, but it didn’t work out, we were so young, and we just weren’t right for each other in the end”

origin of a cat lady

for weeks now (already?)

the kitty sleeps on the pillow next to my face
instead of on top of my chest

it’s like she knows it would make me sad every day
to start by seeing the empty place where you once were

so instead I roll over each morning
and get swiped in the face with a tail

true love

you were never lost, were you?

“I will always find you

because you found me first”

those were your words, I think

but they were based on a false premise

I was quite lost

when we found each other

we journeyed together

until I found myself

you called me your home

but then you wouldn’t stay

because you weren’t really lost

you just wander