I’ve decided it’s time for more honesty here. I’ve had moments where I was able to really dig in, but for one reason or another, Virtual Napkins has always been a carefully curated collection of stories. Now, though, for my own self-journey, it’s going to get a little more real and a little less selective. So let’s get started, and let’s start with Jane.
Jane, who I’ve only written about in passing to this point, was probably the first adult relationship I failed at. It would be the first in a long line of cars piled up on the highway–the wreck that caused the gridlock of the rest of my emotional adult life. We worked together, and I thought the most important lessons she had to teach me would be something about not dating people from work, or keeping business and pleasure separate, but I think Jane is still teaching me from her place in the relationship graveyard that I keep gated up in my brain.
The first time I ever saw Jane, all I saw was legs–long and straight and brown. And I saw a lot of them. As Alan, the character in my novel would say, those legs went “all the way to the floor.” And Jane isn’t even the inspiration for that character in the book. She had just been gifted with several aesthetic gifts, and she liked to wear dresses and skirts that our boss would not approve of but would also not be very sure of how to talk to her about the length. Jane wore high heels–heels that were probably too high for her. She seemed clumsy in them when she walked. Clunky, maybe, is a better word. But when she stood still, or crossed those monumental legs, it was clear that the heels were not a functional choice (are they ever?). They were purely a garnish–a leaf and a lemon wedge on the side of the plate that was her body.
I was with Jane for a long time, and there are smaller moments of pain and ecstasy that I experienced with her that we will probably explore as we go. But this is a survey of our relationship, and if there is a word that describes it, the best I can do is “tumultuous.”
Tumultuous (adj.): excited, confused, or disorderly
That’s from the Oxford English Dictionary, and the reason I choose that word, more than its definition, is its list of synonyms: stormy, turbulent, passionate, intense, explosive, etc. That’s it in a list. Jane and I had a stormy, turbulent, passionate, intense, explosive, relationship. It was exciting and confusing and disorderly.
Jane was easy to love and impossible to be with. She was beautiful but didn’t believe it even if she dressed like she did. She was a particular kind of broken that I didn’t know how to fix, and I wasn’t strong enough to keep her from breaking me in a similar fashion. So the duration of our relationship was a struggle and and oscillation–between passion and turbulence. Some nights, she would walk in from the gym and pin me to the wall, dropping to her knees in the hallway before dragging me up the stairs in our much-too-big townhouse. Others, she would drop the groceries hard on the counter and yell at me about things I can’t remember because I was too worried that her volume would draw the interest of the neighbors and, therefore, the police.
The weekend she moved into the townhouse, we were as in love and in sync as any couple ever had been. But she wasn’t being invited back to work the next year. And that was why I invited her to occupy the same space as me. And that’s no reason to move in with someone–or so I’ve taught myself.
So the fire and the passion and the momentum carried us for months until it didn’t carry us anymore. The scales started to tilt toward explosive and stormy–started to tilt away from passion. I started to go out to the bars with my buddy Darwin. I slept on the couch at night and would join her in the morning when she would creep downstairs to retrieve me.
On one of these mornings, at the end of that semester after which she would not be returning, we crawled into bed, and with her head on my chest, she asked me if I thought she should pack her things and go to live with her sister in Lynchburg. And as I’ve done so many times, and am sure to do many more, when she opened the door, I walked out.
And that should have been the first sign. I did love her. In spite of it all, I did. And it hurt me to go, as it always does, but still I go. Honestly, it should have been a sign much higher than the “first,” but in looking back, this should have been it for me–the moment I realized that I am a leaver–forever the nomad. Not that I leave places, because I do that too, but that I leave people. Not all people, but a lot of them. If I keep you, or if you force me to keep you, I love you in a way I don’t yet understand.