A year ago at this time, I was in Belgium. It was one of the loveliest periods of my life. I was readying to see some friends, then travel to San Francisco to stay and write in Rebecca Solnit’s beautiful home for two weeks.
When Rebecca had offered to let me stay in her home, I hesitated because I knew that, during that same time period River Guide was going to be in my hometown.
I knew that, when River Guide was in town, we would pretend to be a couple.
River Guide and I made a good pretend-couple. Maybe that’s why we did it for three summers in a row.
I knew that I couldn’t turn down an opportunity like two weeks in Rebecca Solnit’s home for a guy who was only my pretend-boyfriend.
I knew that I had to place my own needs first.
He came to see me anyway. We sat by the river.
He said, “I don’t know what we’re doing.”
The other day, I went to a pub with my friend at 4 in the afternoon. We were going to have a beer and work. We took our laptops. Then, another friend joined us, and we closed the laptops. We had another beer. We ordered some nachos but not dinner.
At 9pm, I had the idea to text a guy that I knew. At 10:00 pm, the pub closed, and he said, “I am going to walk you home.” I cuddled up to his arm while he pushed his bike. He came in, visited with my pets, then left, and I went to bed.
Later, I told my mother the story.
She said, “You two need to talk about what you are doing.”
I told my best friend more of the story, and she said, with genuine fatigue in her voice, “You are bending over backwards to make excuses for this guy.”
On Saturday, I finished my first round of book revisions. I worked in the bakery where I often go. I added some scenes with my parents in the final chapters, and I started weeping.
I furtively wiped away tears in the corner.
I hit the end of my writing and thought, This is good.
I hit “send” to my editor.
And then I felt this intensity of emotion that I can’t explain. I couldn’t tell if I was happy or sad. Only that I felt euphoric and miserable. That I wanted to break into sobs. That I wanted to run a marathon.
Mostly, I felt grief.
I thought, I have to let this story go.
I thought, I have to move on now.
I thought, I have to move on by myself
I thought, I am all alone in this.
I went to the grocery store. I stood in line in a fugue state.
I was completely out of it when I heard, “Hey, Kelly.”
It was the guy who had walked me home the week before. I told him that I had turned in my book and was feeling a little overwhelmed. He asked if I was going to go out and celebrate.
I hesitated for a long while, thought of what my friend had said about me bending over backwards, then said, “I have not really thought about it.”
He said, “Well, if you want to meet up, I will celebrate with you.”
I said, “I will think about it.”
I texted him when I got home.
We sat in my backyard and talked. Fireflies danced in the bushes. A fat Mimosa tree hung blossoms above our heads.
He said, “You said that your book is personal, and it’s a sad story, and I know that it’s a memoir, so I don’t want to pry, but is this about recent events?”
And then, I told him my story. I told him about why I decided to write my story. I told him that I wanted to write about how I stayed out of love, and not fear.
He said, “Everyone must be really happy for you.”
“Everyone, but my ex-husband,” I said.
“Fuck that guy,” he said.
I didn’t tell him that, during the week before, Caleb and I had argued. Caleb is moving, and I had asked him for details. Because we share custody of Reed, he’s legally required to disclose those details, but he wouldn’t share.
I said to Caleb, “I think that you hiding this information is an abusive tactic that is intended to make me feel powerless.”
He said, “Yeah, you just go fuck yourself.”
I broke into angry sobs. I was angrier at myself than I was at him. I was angry at myself for caring.
But what I realized is that it is not normal to tell another adult, no matter who that person is, to go fuck themselves. I realized that no one in my life would talk to me that way now, but that, for so many years, I lived with a man who talked that way to me almost daily.
I realized that I have been blessed with an opportunity for reinvention.
I realized that I have been blessed with an opportunity for safety.
Reed told me that, after Caleb told me to go fuck myself, his new wife took Caleb outside.
I wondered how she felt about being married to a man who tells his ex-wife to go fuck herself.
I knew that she probably thought that I had brought it upon myself.
I knew that this move will likely isolate her. I knew that she will be away from her friends and family now.
I knew that her time was coming.
In my backyard, I told that guy, “I live in a really calm home now. My son and I get along great, and we live in a quiet way.”
He looked back at my house, at the double french doors that lead into the dining room, at the wooden deck with a grill on it, at the pond in the corner of the yard, at the lawn chairs. He held out his arm and motioned to all of it.
He said, “What you have done is incredible. You really have your shit together.”
I had to cut off communication with River Guide. I couldn’t be friends with him. I told him in January after Reed and I had dinner with him in Salt Lake City. When I had hugged him goodbye, Reed had said, “Mom, you stood on your tiptoes for him.”
River Guide and I had one more communication in April–a friendly text exchange, just to let each other know that we were doing okay.
I will always care about him, and maybe that’s the problem.
All I know is that I needed to put my own needs first.
When the guy who visited the other night got up to leave, I said, “Are you sure that you don’t want another beer?”
He looked at me for a while, then said, “I deliberately didn’t ice my shoulder, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to stay.”
I thought, I don’t know what we’re doing.
The next day, my friend said to me, “What do you want?”
I said, “I want four weeks away, so that I don’t have to think about this.”
I thought, but did not say, I want to be the type of person who doesn’t bend over backwards to make excuses for someone.
Tomorrow, I leave for a two-week writer’s residency at Vermont Studio Center. Shortly after I return, I leave for another two-week writer’s residency at Mineral School. By the end of those four weeks, my book should be going into production.
And then, I can move on. I can start a new project.
Maybe I can finally have closure.
Still, no matter how much things stay the same, my life keeps growing, keeps blossoming outwards.
Maybe I can finally have closure, but more likely, it will be an opening.