Yup, Life is Complicated

I won’t ever forget the date: January 12, 2000.  I had moved two and a half years previously from Boston, Massachusetts, where I had spent ten amazing years; getting my degree, becoming a part of a vibrant community, and really growing up.  I moved to Boston from a small town in Alberta, Canada, where I was born and spent twenty years, to go to Theatre school and realize my childhood dream of treading the boards on Broadway.

To this day, I’m not sure of the exact reason that made me want to move to Los Angeles, California.  There were a lot of factors – relationships, jobs, opportunities, but when I vacationed there for a week in June 1997, I made a decision, and by that November, I was back permanently.

Even though it was not a move to a different country, it sure felt like one. Culture shock hit me – I needed a car to get anywhere.  I knew only a couple of people, and so depended on them for introducing me around – a lot of pressure for them – and had to find a job that would pay the bills but still be flexible enough so I could audition and take classes.  No problem, right?

The pond of Los Angeles turned out to be enormous for this little fish.  Getting acclimated to the traffic, the culture, the weather – it was the hardest transition I’ve ever made, and I’m pretty good at geographics, trust me.  I managed to find an office job, get set up in an apartment by myself, and made a couple of close friends; I even started doing work in theatre as well.  I was in my early 30’s, and though I was depressed that I had not met my self-imposed “Goals by 30” (Husband, Kids, Broadway), I was doing OK.  I had my twelve-toed Calico cat who made the journey West with me, thrift store furniture, a used Honda, and a clunky computer to surf the internet on (what internet there was fifteen years ago was fledgling and slow), and, feeling extremely alone, and lonely, I set out to meet someone, using brand-new dating websites like Spark and AOL.

I’ve always been drawn to the bad boys. I don’t know why. The ones who never quite commit, that always leave you hanging, but have that broken, chewy caramel center inside their hard candy shell. I struck up a friendship with one such Lost Boy on that fateful January 12, 2000.  Isolated and missing my Boston community, and a walkable centralized city, we wrote back and forth via e-mail for a couple of weeks before meeting in person.

I should have listened to my instincts, the ones that said, “Nope. Don’t do it. Just keep walking,” when we finally saw each other. But I didn’t. 

He had hair down to his waist, with a Kool-Aid-colored goatee, a lip, eyebrow, and nose piercing; wore a hockey jersey and mid-calf cutoff jeans with white socks and black Converse hi-tops, and a black watchmen’s cap. 

But those eyes.

Piercing and blue, they were full of rage and love and hurt and pain and soft and hard and need, all at once. I was hooked immediately. We hugged a little awkwardly, and headed out to dinner at Spoons Restaurant, chowing on onion bites and draft beer.  We drank a bit more than we probably should.  My resistance was low, I was lonely, and my self-esteem was non-existent.  We had sex that night for the first of only – maybe – a half a dozen times; and I got pregnant.

When I saw that “+” sign on the ClearBlue test, it was like a Hitchcock movie.  I saw my face in the bathroom mirror, and my focus dimmed, feeling like I was in a tunnel – reality moving away from me as I stood still.  I cried and didn’t stop for about two weeks.

I told him a few days later; I’m pretty sure I had already made up my mind about what I wanted to do, but I wanted to hear him out.  He threw out the “Hail Mary” and I bought it.  “I love you,” and, “I want to be with you,” and, “I just don’t think it’s the right time right now for either of us,” and, “in the future,” and, most importantly, “after we’re married.”  I nodded.  I was relieved. I had never felt so stupid in my whole life. I had been a good, Catholic girl most of my life. The judgment I had rendered on so many others now fell hard on me.

But, I listened, to my inner voice, this time. It wasn’t the right time for us; I didn’t know if that time would ever be right.  He had a problem with alcohol – his blackout drinking continued, and after the abortion, we only slept together once more, even though he kept saying that he loved me.  He finally admitted that he wasn’t in love with me. When we would go out, he would drink till he passed out, and I would put him to bed and sleep on the couch.

After a few months of that, through a weird “six degrees of separation” coincidence, a co-worker asked to speak to me, and when we were alone, told me that her friend knew a friend of his – and that they were “together.” I was hurt, but somehow, I think I already knew.

As if this wasn’t humiliating enough for me to stop seeing him, or answering his calls, I answered his phone once while he was in the shower, and got an earful from that girl he was seeing, where somehow I became “the other woman” and “in the way of his happiness.”

This went on for almost a year.  I am ashamed to admit that.  I couldn’t let go.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t focus at work.  I lost almost all of my friends, because I couldn’t stop obsessing about him, and what he was doing, and who he was doing it with, and most importantly, why he wasn’t doing it with me.  I thought so little of myself that I couldn’t see how bad this whole situation was, and didn’t have the courage and self-esteem to say, “enough.” I didn’t know who I was going to be, without him, and I didn’t want to find out.

I came home from work every day, and immediately turned on the TV.  It was on for noise, not for content.  I didn’t care what it showed, I just couldn’t stand the silence in the apartment.  On the way home I would stop at the grocery store, or the convenience store, and buy two large bags of junk food. It didn’t matter what it was, as long as it was big, and crunchy, and bad for me.  I would stand in my kitchen, over the sink, listening to the news, or whatever program was on the station I had randomly chosen, and look out the window at the green hills over Burbank, eating everything that was in those two bags without being conscious of it.  Sometimes afterwards, I would throw up. It was pretty much the only thing I was eating – I couldn’t concentrate at work; I was sleepwalking through my life.

I don’t know why the next set of events fell into place in exactly the way that they did, but as I look back it seemed like sheer providence that they did.  I had gone to a St. Patrick’s celebration at a bar with him, and he drank heavily. I decided to try and keep up with him, drinking everything he did.  As we walked back to my apartment, I collapsed on to someone’s lawn and passed out. He left me there and continued to my apartment.  Fortunately, my next-door neighbors were walking home shortly after and found me, helping me up and getting me home.

The next morning, he was gone, and I struggled to get up and go to work.  But I did.  I thought all morning about how I could commit suicide and make the pain stop. Nothing was working, so to me, logically, suicide was the next thing to try.

The window by my desk at work looked over the 134 Freeway, at the Central Ave. overpass.  I had a floor to ceiling view of the mountains in Glendale that day, swathed in mist, lush and green, as a late winter rainstorm slaked the parched earth.  I turned my desk chair towards it, and just stared.  I felt contentment for the first time in many months.  I felt I had lost my faith since all of this began, and I sighed heavily as tears threatened to leak out of my eyes.  “If you’re there, if anyone’s there, in the Universe, tell me what I’m supposed to do! I’m so lost and so unhappy. What am I to do?” I said quietly, the green of the hills and the overcast clouds calming me.  The cars on the freeway below made sluicing water sounds as they splashed through the puddles on the asphalt. I sighed one more time, and as I blinked away the tears, a rainbow came into my sightline from the west, translucent, vivid.  I held my breath as if afraid that my breathing would blow it away. I blinked twice more and it was gone.

Feeling stronger than I had in a long time, I turned to my computer screen.  I vaguely remember someone mentioning Al-Anon to me.  I can’t remember if it was a friend, or a stranger, but I am completely in their debt for it.  I found a lunchtime meeting right down the street from me, got in my car, and showed up.  I was so afraid to go up the stairs to the meeting room, but my legs seemed to go of their own volition. I listened to people share the same feelings, and hurt, and hopelessness that I felt at that moment. A kind woman came over to where I was sitting and introduced herself to me. She became my first sponsor. I told her a little of why I had come, and she gave me her phone number, and said, “call me tomorrow.”  So I did.

We talked, she listened, and she didn’t judge. I laughed for the first time in many months, and she invited me to other meetings, even picking me up, and when I balked, she said gently, with kindness in her eyes, “get in the car.”

At the meetings, I met other people who had similar experiences, and different ones, but we all felt those same feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, despair.

I worked the Al-Anon program really hard those first few years, as if my life depended on it; because it did. I learned so much about myself, and about the disease of alcoholism. I slowly started to regain my self-esteem. I started to trust again. I became a better employee. I was just a worker among workers, person among people. I was able to contribute to society instead of just taking.

It took a lot of time, and writing, and tears, and soul-searching, to come out of the severe depression and hopelessness I had been in. When it came time to make my amends, of course my ex was on the list. I was able to take responsibility for my part in that relationship, ask for forgiveness, and ask what I could do to correct it. He did not want to hear it. But I was able to say goodbye to the person I had been, that had in some ways, thought I deserved to treat and be treated the way that relationship was.

It was the last bit of cleaning up that part of my past.  It had been four years since I had dated, and through listening and watching others, I learned what that really was about.  How not to fall into the physical part of it so quickly – to talk and laugh and learn about a person before giving my deserving heart, and my beautiful body.  Because looks and libido will always fade over time, and if you can’t have a conversation with someone, or make each other laugh, it’s going to be a really long slog.

I was terrified to date in L.A., but my friends and my sponsor helped me navigate those uncharted, and often stormy, waters.  I continued to work my program, and met a sweet, kind, generous, lovely man who gave me butterflies when he smiled at me.  We were married two-and-a-half years later at City Hall in San Francisco, quietly, with two witnesses, and the love bursting out of our eyes.  Eight months later we held a big reception in a friend’s backyard, so that we could share our commitment to one another, and to say, “thank you” to the people who had held us up, protected us, loved us, and strengthened us.

The day wasn’t perfect, the marriage has its troubles now and again, but it’s been ten years; almost fourteen since we met. I look back at that person I was seventeen years ago, and I know the she is nothing like me now.  Marriage is hard work.  Life is hard work, too.  But the rewards are so unbelievable. I wouldn’t have it any other way, truly.

I am still sad sometimes, about the decision I made in terminating my pregnancy.  I would have a seventeen year-old, going on eighteen now. But without a shadow of doubt, it was the right decision for me, at that time.  It was the catalyst, for me, to a new way of living.  If it hadn’t happened in the exact way that it did, I know I would not be where I am right now.

Was it a pyrrhic victory? I hope not. Life is not always wonderful; and I’m not always happy, but I am a better person, in all ways; I am more useful to God, my friends, and my family than I was that lonely night, January 12, 2000, when this was all set in motion. I continue to grow and give away what I have learned, even though the price exacted was enormous. But you know what? If I could go back and do it differently, I don’t know that I would.  That’s how much this journey has been worth to me.

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