Photo Credit: Bailey Weaver , Creative Commons
It was a hot day in July when I met Ben, standing outside a coffee shop in Northwest Portland where I lived. He stood tall and broad, and I was wearing a long flowing dress that hugged my figure, blue like my eyes. I remember because of how I felt when I realized he was looking at me, self conscious in that terrifying and beautiful way — that strange and wonderful sense of feeling noticed.
We exchanged a few short, curious glances before I realized we knew each other.
Expressions of relief followed. He greeted me. I greeted him. We shared the niceties of years gone by. What have you been doing? how have you been? That sort of thing. You look good (no really, you look good). Subtext. Subtext. You know the drill.
I looked at the clock on my phone and smiled.
Over the next six months I unfolded in front of Ben. We went to dinners and to wine tastings and talked on the phone for hours. He traveled for work and I traveled for fun, and so when we couldn’t talk we exchanged blushing e-mails, conversations about favorite music and favorite books and places we wanted to live when we “grew up.” Honest confessions about being bored with the status quo and scared our lives would never amount to anything.
I tried. I really tried. He told me it wasn’t working and, even though I didn’t agree, I realized there was nothing I could do to change his mind and felt too afraid to fight for what we had because it might just intensify the rejection I already felt. So we moved on.
Or, I should say, he moved on. Not me. I lingered. Or clenched might be a more appropriate way to describe it. I obsessed over what did happen and what could have happened and what would maybe happen if I could only fix the problems he addressed. I stalked his Facebook profile and spent hours obsessing over who he was with and what he was doing and what he might be thinking while lying awake lonely in bed.
If I only I were prettier. More adventurous. More spontaneous. More responsible.
I came up with a dozen reasons why it was better this way — “If he doesn’t want me, he doesn’t deserve me” and “There’s ‘someone better’ out there for me” and “He’s moved on, so should I.” — all of which may have been true, but none of which spoke to the truth of what I was feeling. The truth was I was devastated.
The truth was I didn’t want to move on.
So, while my life sped forward I held on for dear life to the bumper of a speeding car that was going in the wrong direction. It dragged me over concrete and mud and gravel and by the time I realized what was happening I was battered and bruised and a shell of a person who swore she’d never love again.
There were guys. There were dates. But I compared all of them to Ben, and none of them measured up.
He was confident and wise and he reached to me first, and that made me feel secure and chosen, like he wanted me and would never leave me the way Ben did. He was certain and calculated and direct and so secure with himself he didn’t flinch when I unloaded all of my emotional baggage, in an e-mail, nonetheless — reason after reason why he I was too much trouble and he should just move on.
“I’m not scared of any of those things,” he said.
So, despite the fact I was scared — scared of the way I still had my fist clinched tightly around this thing in my heart, scared of the way it had hurt me so deeply, and scared of how I knew it would hurt him if I let it — I leaned in to the best of my ability, certain I would never get another chance with a man like him, and stepped quickly and assuredly (sort of) into dating, engagement and marriage.
I secretly hoped marriage would fix it, could erase it, would be the only thing powerful enough to make my baggage go away. What I didn’t know was that baggage never goes away on its own.
Truth all rises to the top in the end.
And rise it did, during an argument one day, filled with tears and anxiety because I knew if I spoke the words that kept trying to wiggle their way to the surface, this man who had given his life to me in marriage would see what I’d been holding back from him, and holding back from myself all these months, the thing I feared would be the last reason he needed to reject me for good.
I had never let go of my ex-boyfriend.
I’ll never forget what he said when I finally had the courage to speak those words out loud. He said:
And in that moment it became abundantly clear to me — the thing I wish I had known all along. Letting go was my choice, and no one else’s. It the one simple act of courage that could actually offer the freedom I’d been craving all this time — freedom from feeling so tired and wounded, freedom from feeling so thrashed around.
The choice to let go was my choice and it had always been my choice. I was the only one who had the power to let go of my baggage all along.