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The Reminder: Clearing Space

This is one story of love and healing during a global pandemic.

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It’s only because I’m now a few months on the other side of this, feet in the sand, gazing at the water with the sun peeking out from behind a few tall trees, that I am able to write and remember without too much pain. Like many of us these last months, I’ve had to dig deeper, rely on what I’ve learned, and find reserves that I didn’t even know existed in order to greet the next day. For everyone and in a myriad of ways, these months have been challenging. Now, on the other side of this story, I wake up each day feeling a humble and deep gratitude for just being alive.

*****

All told, it was eighteen months that we were in and out of each other’s lives. He made me laugh, was smart enough to have meaningful conversations, and lived just a few stops away from me on the subway line. At first, that was all I required to continue to say yes and spend my time getting to know him. After we broke up the first time, I wasn’t sure I’d see him in my life again, and was surprised that reconnecting went so well after a few months apart. More surprised, still, that after our meeting, he asked to see me again. That was almost a year to the day. Still, there was a tiny, Tinkerbell-flutter of a feeling that wouldn’t leave me and wouldn’t let me really relax and trust him. I kept it casual and at arms length, I realize now; a protective mechanism.  

In late February 2020 and then increasingly in March, everyone I knew was evaluating daily what they should do. Should I leave NYC? What was happening overseas?  Was it going to get worse here? Is that a sore throat I detect? Do I have it? This ravenous, invisible threat was closing in on us.  Like so many others, I decided within 24 hours to leave my apartment when things began shutting down. I cleaned, packed my plants and enough clothes to workout and be Zoom-casual for ten days. My family drove the two hours in to get me, on a NJ turnpike so desolate you would think it was the end of days.  

Being an adult living with a parent again is a strange balance. I developed a morning routine of coffee (of course, coffee first), meditating, writing and listening to podcasts before turning on my work computer and zooming all day. I’d squeeze in a workout and went on walks with Mom after she returned home from working in the hospital each evening. While literally every single thing in life and the world was changing and morphing, he stayed constant. 

He’d deny it now, but he did text me every single day. He was disappointed I left the city so abruptly – not talking to him about my plans, not checking in, not seeing him before I left. All this, I found out later. But in those first two months, hearing from him was a lifeline back to my real life. I didn’t know where things would go with us, and I didn’t know when I would see him, but I did know at some point I’d smile each day. And that was enough.  

Gradually, we had a few video chats and phone calls, too. I would put on mascara and find the good light just for those calls, to see him. I’d screenshot his smile or his laugh so that I’d be reminded later that night when turning over in my guest bed would only result in finding another pillow, not his strong arms and sweet kiss.  

This whole time, my friends never met him. Probably because I knew. Wait. Definitely because I knew. Nevertheless, we continued to get a little closer. He shared his feelings with me a bit.  He said he missed me and wanted to see me. He was planning on getting out of the city and spending some time in Colorado for a bit. He was going to work from there, see his friends, enjoy the COVID-free air and welcoming regulations around one of his favorite activities. 

That evening in early June, he looked nervous on the video chat. I saw his eyes darting around a bit and I’ll admit, I kinda liked seeing him so vulnerable. This was new. Was he changing and growing, maturing, even, during this pandemic?! Could it be?! One can hope. Then he mustered the courage to look directly into the camera and asked me if I would be open to joining him there in Colorado for a week or two. Of course I was open to it. Besides missing him and hoping upon hope that our very casual time together would evolve into something more, I was honestly tired of being stuck in suburbia, being told how to load the dishwasher properly. I also knew that soon, my mother was going to be asking my step-father for a divorce, and I could NOT be around for that. So my answer was an enthusiastic “yes” and we got to planning. 

For the next month, I day-dreamed about how great it would be to be with him. I tried to remember his smell, how his hands felt, how his hair threaded through my fingers. I was so excited to have something different to look forward to that I didn’t even think about how difficult it would be to have an N-95 mask on for nearly seven hours, and how truly dangerous and potentially irresponsible it was of me to consider this trip.  

I determined that if I was going to do this and go to be with him, I was going to do the best I could not to get this thing. People I knew lost their lives. Dear friends lost jobs. Though I believed I needed this respite, I wasn’t going to be clouded about it. So there I was that morning, loaded up with only my carry-on, because I never check bags. I planned ahead with coffee and eating and put on my N-95 first after I got out of the car. After that went the surgical mask and goggles. I had hand sanitizer and a seat cover for my plane seat, so that I would minimize touching anything and everything. That get-up would not come off until after I was out of the airport on the other side.  

The Philadelphia airport wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great. I was on high alert from the moment I stepped inside; everyone was suspect and no one was safe. I kept at least 10 feet distance and tried to distract myself from the marks I could feel forming on my face from the mask. I tried to think of other things as my breath turned stale in the mask. My jaw got tighter and my eyes got drier. This was not easy, but I hoped it would be worth it. At least, I told myself, that this trip would give me answers. I would either come back from it firmly single, or firmly coupled. If I’m honest, I was on the fence. But let’s not forget, too, that the very night that I left for Denver my mother was having the conversation about the divorce. So I felt justified in taking this trip.  

Once on the plane, things shifted. The pilot and staff were all following the rules to a T. Everyone was masked-up and being respectful. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, because I really did not want my first experience with the general public after three and a half months of quarantining to be confrontational.  

Upgraded to first class and with the view from the window seat to further help my wandering mind, the flight went quicker than anticipated. On the other side, I got out of the airport as quickly as I possibly could. I found a quiet spot outside away from people and finally took off my mask and goggles. Those among us who have been wearing this gear daily deserve a tremendous amount of gratitude and respect from everyone else who’s not them. Those among us who state that mask-wearing is a burden they cannot bear are not only incorrect, but too selfish to even talk more about here, so I’ll leave it at that.

Though Colorado has beautiful mountains, when you land in Denver and look around, you may not know it if it’s a cloudy day, because it’s just so flat. I’d been there before, though- once for a solo vacation and once for work, so I knew how to get myself on to the train. Once inside, alone in a car, I breathed deeply and put on some makeup. I felt butterflies creep up inside me; little did I know it was actually Tink again. 

After thirty minutes to decompress, he found me at the station and gave me a huge hug and picked me up. It felt so good to be in his presence and back to being with him again. He smelled just as I remembered. His hair was longer and his muscles were a bit bigger and more defined. I appreciated the effort and planned to show him how much I appreciated it later that evening.  

Finally I was here now, with him. I had done it. I had flown across the nation during a deadly pandemic to be with this man, be vulnerable and put my heart out there, meet his friends and spend the next 10+ days with him. He carried my bags and we had so much to catch up on, that we just talked and talked and talked through the next few hours. As I settled in, we went grocery shopping, had a semi-romantic, outdoor dinner later on, and we continued to talk and laugh. I was blissful. It should have been a clue that he didn’t kiss me right away, but hey, maybe he was nervous too. But that night in bed I was reminded why I had always come back to being with him this last year and a half. 

The next morning I got up early to keep my working hours on east coast time, and delighted in being domestic and making us coffee. I quietly tip-toed around the place, not wanting to wake him. Those first few days were really lovely, honestly. Though we were both working all day, we really worked alongside each other quite well. He went to the gym and I went on runs to explore and be outside. We got scooters in the evening, which for us started at 3PM, and explored the different spots around downtown Denver. Did I want more romance? Yes. Did I want more passion? Yep, sure did. Was I OK giving him the time and space to find it? Yes, we had been apart for so long, so I was.

Night two I met his lovely friends.  We hit it off right away, which I loved and I could tell made him an unfamiliar mixture of excited and terrified. That night, he stayed up later than I could. He got high after he drank a bit more, and came to bed late. There were the butterflies again… But that next morning he was truly at his best, so all was forgiven after a dizzying hour or so.

That weekend we went on a few fantastic hikes. The heat was intense, but I truly loved being out in nature and focused on that. I was also focused on giving my mother the time and space she needed to work through her own relationship. We kept in touch, but it was so healing for me to be independent for a few days again. I needed to remind myself of who I was, really.  

Back in NYC I have a truly fantastic life that I worked my ass off to build. In addition to my beautiful family, I have my fantastic chosen family, which make life so full and rich. I have my favorite spin class and the favorite coffee shop I go to afterwards, treating myself to an oat-milk latte before heading home and organizing the day. I relish the time I spend in the park – running or reading or people watching…or dog watching! I have a job that is fulfilling and pre-pandemic I finished going to all the museums in the city that I hadn’t yet explored – determined to soak it all up in the city that I love and have lived in since 2007. I have a business that I am building with great momentum. I have beautiful creative outlets and am filled up by seeing all of the excellent theater and art all around me. At that moment in Colorado, I realized I hadn’t given myself a chance to mourn this beautiful life, or the people that I’d lost and been separated from for months. Now I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, I know my experience is full of incredible privilege and that many many others lost much more than I did in the past several months. But being out and on my own; being in nature where I can always feel alive and grounded, is something that my soul needed. When I was out there, staring at the sky, just listening to my SELF, I was reminded of who I am and what matters. At that moment, that breath of fresh air was all the medicine I needed.  

You would have thought that after not seeing each other for a few months we wouldn’t be able to keep our hands off each other. Not the case here, strangely. I had expected more and was disappointed when I felt things drifting into friend-zone territory. I didn’t understand what caused the potential shift though. We hadn’t had a disagreement of any kind. We were getting along- getting closer even, so what was this? Once again, the flutter in my belly. It was Tuesday and I’d been with him for five days. I was to stay to until the following Sunday and then return. He had a romantic weekend cabin escape planned for us that we were looking forward to. That night he  made reservations with his best friend and his wife at an exclusive restaurant. I got dressed nicely for the first time since March, and it was July.  

Dinner was great, I have to say. His friends are lovely people and fantastic company. They asked me great questions about myself and we had a ton in common! I could see myself continuing to be friends with them and if this relationship worked out, I could easily see us doing this all the time- laughing and drinking and planning vacations and other activities. Towards the end of this beautiful rooftop evening, it occurred to me that his friends had just learned more about me in a two-course meal than he had in a year and a half. I think that was the moment I knew. Why it took this experience and this long, I don’t quite know, but there I was. Suddenly, I became a spectator in my own life and I felt both very inside and quite outside my body at the same time. My heart sank and my energy became dense. Tink rose up and took my hand. On the car ride home I brought it up, what I had noticed, but he deflected. On the walk up to the apartment from the car I had a song from a musical stuck in my head and started to sing a bit of it out loud. “What show is that from?!” I asked him goofily.  “I don’t care”, was his response.  

That was it. I didn’t know why, but at that moment I also didn’t care, I just knew that whatever he had going on that was causing this behavior was not ok with me. We sat down on the couch and an hour-long conversation began. He revealed he had discovered that he didn’t feel the same way as he had before and wanted to just be friends. He admitted that he had started seeing someone else, too, recently. I couldn’t really fault him there, because I had too since we never agreed to be exclusive. But I did ask him why he had behaved this way if he just wanted me to be his friend. If a friend is what you feel this relationship is, then why did he want to date again for nearly a year after our initial try? Why keep in touch daily? Why invite me across the country to live with you for ten days and meet your best friend and enjoy double dates? Why say the things you did and hold my hand and share your bed with me? After all these questions, still, he asked me to please stay through the end of the trip and would I mind if he still slept in the same bed with me? Exhausted, I agreed to let him sleep in the bed just for that night, but agreed to nothing else.

After the worst night of sleep in recent memory, I woke up resolved. I called my Mom and talked to my boss about needing to change some meetings and booked the next direct flight out. On this particular morning there was no cup of coffee waiting for him when he woke, and I informed him when he emerged from the bedroom that I’d be leaving the next day. He said he was sad, but understood. Depleted, I made it through the day, grateful for the back-to-back meetings and phone calls with family and friends to bolster me and keep the hours marching on. After work, I suggested we have a separate evening. He asked for more time together- one last dinner and a walk. We took selfies together. Crazy, I know. I cried. Not for him so much, but for what he represented and the confirmation that no- it’s not quite your time yet. Not this one.  

In the morning I packed, rolling each piece of clothing tight so that it would once again fit into my carry-on. I hugged him goodbye- a week after I had arrived nearly to the hour. The walk down the hallway away from him was long, but with each stride I could feel myself get lighter and my soul say “thank you”.  

*****

In this one week my whole life changed. The space made between us was painful because it meant moving out the hope for this specific outcome I had held on to for so long. I knew I was going back home though, and that re-energized the light inside of me.  Mom had endured a hard week too. When we hugged at the Philadelphia airport that evening, it was a different embrace. We were each holding the other up now. We were grieving, though not entirely sad; so taxed, but nowhere near broken. Ironically, he kept texting me that day I left. Did I land safely? Was the flight ok? How much did he owe me from the trip? WHAT?!  

Mom and I got Wawa sandwiches and went to our favorite place to breathe and process.   

Though I felt an immediate weight lifted, and organically had him out of my mind within hours, it would take me a few days to understand and find the lesson here. It then took me nearly two months to summon what I needed to write this.  

I knew this before, but had just forgotten. Of course, life will keep finding ways to remind you of these important lessons until you finally learn them. I’m hoping that this particular lesson during the pandemic was the last time I’ll need to learn this one. The lesson is simple: to always listen to yourself. Always and in all ways. Your instinct and inner knowing is correct, so no need to try and talk yourself into or out of anything. Fear played a big role here, too, for us both, I realize. What I can name now on the other side of the clearing space is that getting closer to each other flipped on the switch of fear for him. It’s a shame, really. He obviously really wants to be close and honest with someone; to have a partner, a lover, and a real relationship. But the gates start shutting closed as soon as any of those real elements start forming. I wish him the best. I truly do.  

As for me, I’ve been able to spend good time listening to myself again. What I’ve learned is that this period of time is an opportunity for creating space in all is forms; physical, mental, emotional. Your inner knowing will help you if you let it. Keep only what serves you. We are reminded now more than ever, life is too precious to muddy the waters with emotional distraction. 

You should know I have no regrets. This invitation to join him allowed me to gain final closure and give my Mom the space she needed as well. It gave me the opportunity to be in nature, ground myself again and then use that reminder to have the courage to walk away from this man for good. Huge win in my book.  

*****

As I write this, sand joyously between my toes, the sound of water moving gently against rocks that have been there for generations, I watch the birds fly by and am in awe. To feel the setting sun against my skin, and breathe in some clean air, I feel gratitude for health, life, these lessons learned, and for all the good forces at work.  

The pandemic we are in is not just with a medical virus, though it is forcibly taking up space in all our lives. We continue to be in pandemics of the heart and human soul. Too many of us are running away in fear, and our lives are casualty. We can make different choices at any moment, and I believe we must. We know the right answers, the loving answers, the expansive answers within us if we will just create the space to listen, and not keep insisting life re-teach’s us these lessons we know. My little story here is one of challenge and opportunity, and ultimately, healing and hope during this time. 

I have no idea what will happen next, but whatever comes, I know what I’ll do.  

How about you?  

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