You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.
~ Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
I never claimed to be in a cage, but seven years ago, on a drive in Colorado, the man I was living with told me he felt like he had “clipped my wings” and I didn’t argue.
I fell silent, a familiar heaviness in my stomach, and I watched the other cars on the highway—their colors blurring together, a kaleidoscope of metal and mirrors, racing away.
That relationship, like most of the others, ended with a hasty departure.
As a teenager and well into my twenties, I might have argued that I was one of those wild, free spirits that women secretly yearn to be. I moved to different parts of the country on whim after whim, and I thrived in each new setting. I made friends easily, I integrated into whatever scene I found myself in and I always had a suitor (or two) in the periphery; I was never a boy scout, but I believed in preparedness.
My adaptive nature doubled with a smoke and mirrors virtue: from the looks of things, I had my proverbial shit together. I was the girl who conquered highway systems and metropolitan layouts without batting an eye, who landed jobs easily and fit in quickly. I projected fun. I smiled—a lot.
Somewhere simmering below this drive to go and meet and see, was a perpetually dismissed fear of being stagnant and inactive, but mostly, a deep-seeded aversion to being alone.
I couldn’t stand the thought of anything that would impede growth, so I lived and grew with a manic sense of urgency. I hated to think that I might be left behind, so I always left first. I made elaborate plans to leave jobs, cities and partners and executed them with impressive swiftness—all to dodge a loneliness that I couldn’t quite bear.
To cope with this fear, I ignored it. I moved often and surrounded myself with people who subdued that gnawing sensation. I outran the discomfort of being alone; always on the move, yet never getting anywhere.
I was a modern day Holly Golightly, until now.
Things change when you find yourself in a relationship that makes sense. I mean sense on the most primitive, soulful level. You see the very best version of yourself when you look in your partner’s eyes, and suddenly, running no longer feels like an option.
I found that, of all places, in my hometown. After leaving Denver, I returned home to find that one of the oldest friends I have on this planet, my childhood sweetheart, had also moved home—just a few weeks before.
Josh grew up three houses away from mine. Childhood memories cast him in an ambient glow amidst movie-like scenes: neighborhood sessions of hide and seek, his gram’s basement where his drum kit resided, and his living room at night—curfew set by the rolling credits of The Late Show with David Letterman.
As children tend to do, we grew up, we moved away. He attended music school in L.A., then moved to Philadelphia. I attended massage school in upstate New York, moved back to Pennsylvania, to Arizona and Colorado. I hung on details I received second-hand about how or what he was doing, and felt a familiar stir when I was relayed a “hello” through my older brother, or heard he had asked about me.
He was the unattainable standard—setting the stage for a lifetime of failed relationships—but I take comfort in knowing that the six year old version of me had it right.
Within a month of the same year, we retreated home, both dealing with the aftershocks and liberties associated with failed relationships.
Unaware that Josh had moved home, and only days after I had made my triumphant return, I accompanied a friend to a bluegrass show. I floated through the club, overwhelmed with the freedom of being home and seeing so many dear friends, when I felt it: a light tap on my shoulder. I turned casually, but quickly lost my breath when I found Josh standing there, all grown up, grinning.
Some memories refuse to fade with time. These are the memories that change us, that signal a shift in our path. The embrace in that bar room changed the course of my life forever, and when I recall it, I still sense the ecstasy I felt that night. That embrace is the reason I moved home.
Life is complicated. Ours are no exception; but, our life together has been passionate and full. I like to think our commitment to one another happened long before that happy reunion, but it has taken work, real, honest work.
I struggled with the belief that this man, this perfect man, was actually going to stay. To commit to him, I had to allow him to commit to me. I had to believe that I was worth staying for, and I had to stay. The thought of dismantling this mental barrier, of leaving myself vulnerable to isolation, horrified me.
Perhaps it was the comfort of having such an honest piece of my history become my counterpart that made the nature of this fear worth addressing. Deep down, we get the sense that we’ve known each other in lives past, like there’s a familiar force that led us home to each other. But then again, maybe it’s just what a healthy relationship is meant to do: transform fear.
My new found stability is under some of the most unstable conditions I’ve ever known in a partnership. I am the faithful companion to one of the most charming, intelligent, handsome men I’ve ever known, but he lives a life largely outside of our domestic quarters. In addition to all of his dreamy attributes, he happens to be a talented (and busy) musician. As a result of this fact, I live a life largely independent of him.
Had this scenario been presented to me ten years ago, before the children, before being reunited with him specifically, I’d already be gone—probably some place much warmer.
The universe steps in when you ignore lessons, and I was standing in a corner, eyes closed, ears boxed, screaming “I can’t hear you la la la la la laaaa.”
So, my undeniable lesson showed up in the form of an ideal mate, the one I could evolve with. I couldn’t leave, not this time. Connection to another person, in it’s most pure, beautiful form, can transform us and sustain; I needed to experience honest devotion before I was willing to face the pang of loneliness. There’s nothing submissive or defeatist about that fact, either.
I was lucky enough to discover my inner strength through the lens of a partner. The thing I had fought against for so long, became my redemption.
I said goodbye to my Mean Reds.
With time and patience, I looked inward. I addressed probable sources for this fear: childhood memories, teenage trauma, issues of self-worth and confidence. I had done this before, I had read self-help books and convinced myself of “progress,” but this time he was there, reinforcing every positive step I took.
We established a system of communication I didn’t believe to be possible. Issues rarely have time to fester; they’re unearthed and dealt with, leaving time together for the important things, like laughter. Unyielding commitment and trust hold up these walls, and that, I’ve finally realized, doesn’t evaporate when he’s not physically close. This is love.
So, here I am. Tonight my man plays two states away. I’m here in our drowsy house, sipping whiskey, listening to the radiators hiss. Sleeping children upstairs and a wakeful mama downstairs, I am completely alone.
For the first time in my life, I’ve chosen a partnership that requires solitude and quiet. I’m staying with a full, happy heart; I’m not a victim to my anxieties anymore because I was willing to face my deepest fear. I faced it for the sake of love for this man, but more importantly, for the sake of love for myself.
I’m a modern day Holly Golightly who finally found her “Fred”—I’m still working on acquiring the cat.
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