They say you should follow your heart.
But my heart tells me lies.
They say not to cry over spilled milk.
But sometimes I need to cry.
They say everything happens for a reason.
But sometimes I want an explanation.
They say nothing is sacred.
They say chivalry is dead.
They repeat what everyone else is saying time and time again.
But in the midst of the platitudes and the cliches, I say it only matters what He says. But sometimes that is hard to hear His voice through the cacophony of what they say.
I have just slowed the peddles of the stationary bike at the gym when I see him, a guy strolling into the open door of the ladies bathroom. He’s looking at his phone, not the sign that says “WOMEN” in all caps, or the photo of a woman jogger at the entryway.
A moment later, as I round the turn near the doorway, he comes back out, a sheepish look on his face. Our eyes meet, and we both giggle.
“Sorry,” he says to to me, as if I am somehow a representative of the entire female gender he has wronged by treading on our sacred turf.
I’m walking home from the farmer’s market. I shift the bag of vegetables I carry, whose strap is wearing a track over my shoulder. It’s unseasonably warm, or maybe there’s no such thing in California. The car is parked on the street, both of its street-side doors hanging open. A woman leans one arm on the roof and rests the other on the door. Her face is twisted in anger.
“Get out of the car, Jordan,” she says.
“Sit your a** down,” says a man from the driver’s seat.
A young boy sits frozen in the back seat, caught between the wills of two people I assume are his parents.
“Get out of the car Jordan,” she yells.
“Sit your a** down,” the dad counters.
My heart breaks for the boy as I pass. No matter what he does, he makes one of the two opposing decision makers in this life mad.
My car is stopped at a red light when I catch a glimpse of him in my rear view mirror. He is unabashedly, fervently singing. I can’t hear the words, but I can see them taking the form of his lips, as he bellows into the cab of his car. I smile at his theatrics.
Somehow, it is endearing to catch an adult in a child-like state. For one minute, he has forgotten the bills and the chores and the stresses of today, and is instead letting them swell from his lungs in the form of song.
I think about it sometimes, how I have these brief encounters with people who have entire lives I will never know, understand or probably ever encounter again. Yet for a few seconds, we cross paths, and I get a glimpse of a stranger’s present moment. Their joy, their embarrassment, their pain.
For them, these seconds are part of their stories. For me, they are moments with strangers.
I have the phone tucked in the crook of my shoulder as I listen to him from the seat of my desk in my dorm room. Dad is trying to talk me out of quitting my music minor. “It’s too hard,” I protest. “Most of the other students have dropped out.” Somehow, in his quiet, coaxing way, he is bringing me back around. It’s been 14 years since then. With “music minor” scrawled securely on my diploma, I am glad he did.
Fast forward from that phone call. We stand in the dealership as I look around. “Which is it?” I can’t stop smiling. Dad points. There in the center of the floor is a cherry red Chevy with a gigantic bow on the top of its roof. It is so perfect — unscathed, unscratched. It has 18 miles on it. It is mine. A few months later, I pack it up and drive to California. It has been 10 years since then. It is now scathed and scratched with the paint peeling back from its roof where the bow was and 92,000 miles on its odometer. It is at mile 91,254 I find out how Dad really felt when we hugged goodbye. “It was really hard for him when you left,” mom tells me.
Fast forward from the day in the dealership. I am sitting next to my sister on her wedding day, wearing a maroon taffeta dress. She is glowing. I think she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in that moment. My dad stands in front of a crop of round tables, as people in dresses and suits look on, their chins on their fists or tucked in their laps. In the midst of his speech, he sings brokenly the song he used to sing my sister when colic kept her restless through long nights, “Amanda, the love of my life, you will make a gentleman’s wife.” I am overcome. I absently wonder what he will say at my wedding. Six years have passed since then, and he still hasn’t had the chance.
These are the things that wash over my mind tonight — all those little memories that sum up my picture of him: wise, supportive, loving. I’m sitting on the laminate floor of my hallway, a passage way too narrow to sit with my legs outstretched. “Please God, don’t take my dad.” I’m crying. Not the pretty, subdued kind. The sobbing, gut-wrenching, begging kind. Like somehow, if I cry the hardest I have ever cried in my life, God will take mercy on me and answer my prayer. “Don’t take my dad, or I will walk away and never look back.”
The threat scares me a little. Do I mean it? I wonder. I don’t know.
I have lived life believing a fallacy: That there is some sort of quota on hardships. Once someone has reached that magic mark, they are done. But I am learning that past losses don’t exclude you from the present ones. Sometimes the inverse is true. For some people, it’s as if one begets another, like a snowball tucking in more snow to its girth as it gains speed downhill. I thought once my mom was diagnosed with cancer, that meant my family was done. I feel silly for believing that now.
My dad told me about her diagnosis while I was driving my car on the highway. “I have some bad news…” he started and I started sobbing. He has always been uneasy with tears.
That was four years ago. Tonight I was in my car again when he tells me about his own. “I have some bad news …” he starts. This time I hold back so he can’t hear me. But the tears come and don’t stop long past when I am sitting on the floor in my hallway. Long past after I go to bed. Long past the treatments are over and the tests come back clear.
Part of me is waiting for the next phone call as I’m driving , as if my mind is walking on the eggshells that are my family’s health and happiness. I can’t stop thinking about the advice and the wedding and the other big life events I need him for. So the pleading doesn’t stop with the good news.
“Please God, don’t take my dad.”
That boy – the one I thought I was going to marry – is married now to someone else.
When I found out, I was strangely unphased, and phased, at the same time. He had been engaged for what felt like six years. It’s about time, I thought.
At the same time, it was a unsettling and anticlimactic conclusion to a chapter that should have been closed along time ago. He was the only one who ever had real potential. Our relationship was not a fantasy or a fairy tail like many others had been. It had all the uncompromisable parts, and some added bonuses too.
The night I broke up with him on the phone, he told me he would come find me in two years. He never did. Instead he met a girl on a plane. No one ever meets the love of their life that way.
I have wondered what would have happened if he had shown up at my door after those two years instead. And immediately when I have that thought, I’m glad he didn’t.
I know it happened the way it should have.
And then I wonder.
This is the tension between what’s lost and found.
Being the odd girl out in a group of guys is complicated. But never discussed. Or maybe it’s not a big deal.
It’s late, the dusk beginning to creep over the pavement like a fog. It’s quiet, the silence held taunt like a tent.
My shoes beat out a quiet rhythm on the pavement, not audibly, but I can feel it.
Sometimes I feel like moments like this are the only time my mind is clear. I don’t think at all. Or I think in a steady bubbling stream whose fitful jumble begins to cull out logic. Or I pray.
Someone starts a lawn mower, pricking the silence like a pin.
Running is one of the few times I listen to dub step and electronic music. For some reason it fits. The pulse of the beat is driving, all-encompassing. It is like stepping to an alternative world. It distracts me from the heavy temptation to stop.
I’ve always liked hills. That seems like an unlikely preference, but they are a rift in the boredom of the flats. They are a challenge I like to pose to myself.
“I love running. I’m not into marathons, but I am into avoiding problems at an accelerated rate. ” – Jarod Kintz
This is the only time when avoiding problems works.
The raindrops are ricocheting off the driveway outside my window, pinging against the cement and flowing into the cracks. I spend more time than I should staring at them.
I keep thinking their calming rhythm will release the tightrope strapped painfully taunt within in me. I’m restless.
Restless because I’m hungry. Restless because I am chilled. Because I have work to do that I don’t really feel inspired to finish. Because I can’t find my a document I need to do my taxes. Because my place is a mess. Because it’s too quiet.
But really, it’s because someone else has chosen something fleeting over me before we even had a chance. Once again.
There is nothing I can do about it. And nothing I should do about it, because by its virtue, the choice disqualifies him. Or at least it should.
Periodically, I think about it in the same circles I have thought about it a hundred times. I arrive at the same place as the time before. And it frustrates me. And maybe even infuriates me. And makes me silently yell at God for not budging or myself for going down yet another dead end road or him for being so shortsighted.
I find myself wishing for the big gesture that will never come. Because who makes a big gesture for someone you just met?
So I turn up the heat and make lunch and do work and search for my illusive documents and clean and turn on music. And it doesn’t solve anything. But at least it is a momentary detour from the circles I’m spinning.