Here's how change typically works in my life: It's like I'm standing at the top of a mountain and I begin to realize that it's time to climb down. Maybe the weather's turning or I see a lion charging up. Maybe it's just the vaguest of realizations that fear has accumulated all around me, and it's making me uncomfortable. So I get out my telescope and my tape measure, and I try to calculate whatever I can: the angle of the slopes, the height of the mountain, the rate at which I think I can climb down. I think about the imminent trek downward constantly, and I massage those thoughts obsessively like silly putty -- molding and re-molding -- sculpting my thoughts into all kinds of scary shapes. I peer down and contemplate all the work I'll have to do and how much it might hurt and how scared I am -- and I wait. I want to get down but I'm too afraid of the trip.
So the Universe kicks me in the ass and sends me tumbling down the mountain, head over heels, ready or not. And when I finally reach the bottom I've got a mouthful of dirt, I'm bruised and bloodied and dehydrated, and I'm not sure where I am.
I am now in enough pain to make my way to the nearest triage.
A few months ago my boyfriend of two years came back from a weekend away with his kids, walked into our apartment, and told me that I distracted him from his responsibilities and that he was worried he was failing his kids by being with me. He was re-considering everything that had happened since his divorce (especially me) and was thinking about trying to put his family back together. He just wanted to go home, he said, but didn't know where that was or if there was room for me there. And he couldn't figure any of it out with me around.
And there was my kick down the mountain.
Our relationship has never been perfect -- he's struggled with feeling pulled in too many directions and I've questioned whether what he has to offer me is enough. What we have is messy and complicated and hard as shit. But the love that has come out of the chaos is the real kind--the kind that's beautiful and terrible and generous and ugly -- the kind laced with so much fear and even more hope. So despite the sloppiness of it all, it's always been a foregone conclusion that our love would see us through anything.
Except nothing is a foregone conclusion. What I realized right away -- viscerally and completely -- was that anything and anyone can be taken away from you at any moment. That's not hyperbole, it's just the fact of the matter. So in light of that risk the question for me now becomes, how do I accept that impermanence without living in the fear that it's all always about to fall apart? How do I accept what is happening -- hate it as I may -- and move forward anyway?
In other words -- how do I become ready to change?
Truth is, I'm not sure. Haven't found The Answer yet--that perfect recipe for the graceful, dignified way to move through a swamp full of fear and heartache. All I know is what I did, and what I continue to do.
The author and her boyfriend last year.
Here's what I did: I stopped breathing and let the moment flatten me. I yelled at him and stormed out, and then called an hour later to try and negotiate. I stopped sleeping and cried for a week straight. I chopped off my hair. I pled with him -- tried to convince him that he could love both me and his kids at the same time. I sobbed to my best friends and let them see me with my guts spilling out, wet and shiny and slippery. I walked around our apartment in my skimpiest clothes. I stormed out again. I told him that I hated him. I was blinded by the sharp white light of unexpected grief.
And now, several months later, things are different and also, they're not. He no longer thinks that he's failing his kids but still fears that I distract him from his responsibilities. I'm still crying, but not nearly as much. We're still us, but not nearly as much.
Here are a few things that I'm not doing anymore: trying to convince him of anything. Waiting for him to figure anything out to move on with my life. Wishing for a magical and swift return to how things were. Expecting an answer anytime soon.
And here's what I am doing: I'm trying to hear what he's telling me and I'm giving him his space. I've moved out. I'm bearing the breathtaking pain of losing the truest thing in my life and of missing my best friend. I'm laughing with my friends at whatever's funny about any of it (including him). I'm trying to figure out how to trust him again. I'm writing my ass off. I'm moving forward despite being in the horribly uncomfortable place of not knowing--that purgatory in which you know that real damage has been done and nothing can ever be the same, but there's still a chance it might turn into something better. I'm searching within for some answers instead of out there. I'm remembering who I am without him, and I'm opening myself up to change. I'm trying not to miss him. I'm aching for him. I'm thinking about leaving. I'm deciding to stay for now.
And I'm doing all of it so imperfectly and so fearfully, but sometimes there are no points for style. All that counts is the doing.
The only way to change is to change. And sometimes the only way to do that is to be brought to your knees in pain, and crawl toward something new.
An earlier version of this was originally published on NYSpirit Magazine.