We sat across from each other in silence.
The tension was palpable. I knew all I needed to do was to give in—to ask what I could possibly do to begin the process of reconstruction. It made sense. We created two children together. Clearly this was something worth working for. My mouth felt like it was glued shut. The restaurant sounds seemed to be getting louder as I struggled for words.
“Are you going to say anything?” she pleaded.
I wanted to say something. I wanted to explain that I understood that we allowed ourselves to become distant strangers while living in the same house. I wanted her to know that I remember how in love we once were and that it had gotten just as painful for me as it was for her. But no words would come.
I could only focus on a time in my life, 15 years earlier. I was so infatuated with a woman; I would’ve given her anything. And I did, too. I gleefully flushed my first year and a half of sobriety down the drain because she could not be talked out of relapsing, and my biggest fear was that she’d drive with someone else down to the city to cop drugs. I was sure she’d fall in love with them along the way. The thought of being replaced by someone else was, literally, worse than death at that moment. It was stupid and childish. I went with her and we both overdosed in my apartment and almost died. Even after that nightmare, I followed her around like a puppy for six more months. I would’ve done anything she asked.
Losing myself to another person like that was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever experienced. I vowed never to be controlled like that again. I was lost in this disturbing memory when my girlfriend’s voice broke through the haze:
“I’m not going to sit here like this all night.”
I knew all I had to do was say, “uncle,” and we could begin to repair the damage that our relationship sustained over the last winter. All I had to do was say I was sorry and I could continue living in that house and continue bringing up those two little girls. It was like I was standing on the diving board, petrified to leap. As I realized that no words were coming, the sounds of the restaurant waned and a tear fell down her cheek.
“Can we just go home?”
We asked the waitress to bring the check and we walked out to the car to embark upon the long, silent, uncomfortable ride home. That was supposed to be my birthday dinner. As we drove, I realized that if that was how things went on our first night out alone since the girls were born, we were doomed. I was out looking for an apartment a few days later.
I would imagine that even today, years later, she saw me as being “emotionally unavailable.” The irony, of course, was that my emotions were exactly what was running the show. Sad memories and feelings. Baggage from past relationships, coupled with hard-earned autonomy in a love relationship for the first time in my life. It took me until I was 40 years old to get there.
Opening up in the restaurant that night obviously would not have sent me back to the days where I was so easily manipulated, but it’s the proximity that was scaring me. Even flirting with that possibility was terrifying to me. All of life swings on a strange pendulum. We give too much, and then we hoard everything we have. We spend so much of our lives trying to find balance.
I still revisit this uncomfortable place in my relationship today. I would love to wrap this all up in a pretty bow and say that I have finally figured everything out. I am a wonderfully open and vulnerable lover, drenched in the sweet humility that all women wish for—but this is not true. Scenes like what took place that night at the restaurant still happen today.
Even last weekend, I remember admonishing myself for not just saying what I knew could win me a peaceful and loving weekend with my partner. The kind of weekend I could’ve only wished for when I was single and faced with the torture of electronic conversations with strangers on sites like Match.com and OkCupid. It was almost a physical impossibility for me to get myself to do it. I could only chalk that up to the seriousness of where things went with the woman from my past.
I almost died for God’s sake.
I am lying here now, next to her, because I was finally able to push through and simply say, “I’m sorry. I love you. Let’s start over.”
Progress. Not perfection.