Anyone who knows me – hell, probably anyone who’s met me – knows I am bad at asking for help. Not just bad at it, really… like, allergic to it. I’m the person who juggles 50 pounds of groceries and the house keys rather than asking someone to carry a bag or two. I’m the girl who drives herself home with a broken ankle rather than call a friend to come pick her up. (Yeah, that happened.)
I’ve just got this weird sort of stubbornly self-destructive independent streak. In a dude they might call it cowboy pride or something. And it’s super bad when it comes to money.
Just the thought of asking someone in my life for money is enough to put me on high-anxiety mode. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. While my parents never really taught me how to budget or plan finances, they were good at telling me what we could or could not afford. I started to feel ashamed to ask for anything non-essential, and pretty soon I just stopped asking for anything. I started working at 15 so I could pay my own way. If I was going to waste money, at least it would be my own.
It got harder as I went through college. My dad got laid off from the company where he’d been a top performer since before I was born. My parents couldn’t send me to a university like they’d planned. The company stocks they were going to use all plummeted in value just before the layoff – that nest egg was essentially gone overnight. I worked to pay my way through community college, and they struggled to help me pay my tuition.
They also took over running a local business -one that was well liked and pretty popular. It seemed like a safe bet. The previous owners, though, had no idea what they were doing. They falsified the financial statements they showed to my parents. The stores were circling the drain when my parents bought them. My family worked their asses off for years just trying to get them to turn a profit. Of course, being the oldest and out of the house, that meant I was on my own financially.
Fast forward to today. I haven’t asked my family for money probably in the better part of a decade. I can’t even imagine starting that conversation. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve been struggling. Between the hassle it took to get into my new place after leaving my husband (the week I’d planned to stay at a friends house turned into a month) and a change in pay schedule at work, I have been emotionally and financially exhausted.
I mentioned to my husband that I may have to quit therapy for a while. It was down to either that or not eating for a couple weeks, since rent and deposit on the new place cleaned me out. My therapist is an incredibly kind woman who takes barter as well as cash – I’ve paid for therapy in pickles and hand-knit scarves before – but I have enough of a struggle just dealing with that bit of generosity. I’d honestly rather just pay the lady. Plus, I can’t pay my student loan or rent in pickles, so there’s only so far that can carry me anyway.
Well. I found out earlier this week that my husband went and did something amazing. He sent a quiet message to as many of my friends as he could reach, explaining my situation, and asking for donations. He told them not to say anything to me, that this was without my knowledge and that I would probably kill him if I found out.
I won’t put any numbers down here, but I now have enough to pay for a month of therapy in advance and still buy bus fare this week. I’ll be able to make it to next payday without overdrawing my account or maxing out the meager bit of credit I have left on my credit card. And I can eat.
This is what true love looks like. It’s not necessarily romance. It’s not flowers and chocolates and wine.
My husband – the husband I left, the husband whose heart I broke – was willing to find me the help I couldn’t bring myself to ask for. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank him enough. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank my friends enough. I don’t even know who pitched in, or how much – and honestly, I don’t want to. It’s all I can do to just accept this gift gracefully and humbly say thanks.
I can still feel your hands on my skin.
The electric crackle through my core
leaves a distraction like the scent of ozone
after lightning strikes twice.
I can hear your voice
like a bell that’s already been rung.
The note lingers in the air.
I don’t know where I’m headed.
I’m the captain of a ship with no mast.
My sails are filled with dreams,
but there’s nothing to hold them up
and I know there’s a storm brewing.
I can taste the rain
in the ai
and on your tongue.
The warning bell is ringing.
There are clouds on the horizon.
This may be the hurricane
that sweeps me away.
This could be the shipwreck
that lands me in a New World.
So bring on your lightning, your electric hands.
I’ll navigate the cliffs, drenched
in a monsoon of kisses.
Sound the bell until my bones start ringing.
I’ll sail into the black clouds, singing.
I want you.
This wanting is an ember
I grip between my thighs,
a slow heat, creeping
sneaking upward, gripping my lungs, my heart
until I cannot breathe and so
It is a quiet current
beneath the surface of a deep river
carrying strange secrets
inviting me to dip my fingers
beneath the surface.
Inviting me to drown.
This wanting is
a dark and wondrous thunderhead
building tall and silent, embracing the dry hills.
Waiting for a lightning strike,
the first drop of rain,
like kisses on my skin.
It has been decades since my last confession.
I am afraid to hold you close,
afraid I’ll fan the coals
and burn us both to the ground.
I dare not speak
for fear the gates will break
and you and I will be swept away
on that mighty river.
I watch the horizon with worried eyes,
waiting for the forest fire.
Waiting for the flood.
In my hands, my blood composes songs of you
until my fingertips want to cry.
The melody is so perfect
because it is unsung.
It rushes through my core,
whispering your name.
I want you.
This one is for the lovers.
This is for chocolates on the pillow
and roses on the sheets.
This is for lovers of my lovers
and the lovers of me.
This one is for the forests.
This is for mist in the branches
and rain on the leaves.
This is for sunshine on my lovers
and the sunshine on me.
This one is for the streets.
This is for avenues where we arrive,
and roads where we leave.
This is a city for my lovers
and a city for me.
My heart sings for my lovers.
It sings moss on cobbled sidewalks
and the rainclouds match the beat.
This is a song for my lovers’ hearts
who sing back to me.
I plant gardens for my lovers.
I grow romance in the springtime
and in autumn, gather seeds.
This is a place for my lovers’ hearts
to grow wild and free.
I’ll make beds for my lovers.
We’ll burrow under afghans
and kiss under sheets.
I am dreaming with my lovers
and they’re dreaming with me.
So, the other night I went out on my first-ever official date with a woman.
And it was different. In a very nice and refreshing way. It was much more relaxed and groovy than many of the dates I’d been on with men – no nervous back-of-the-mind commentary on a constant loop of “Oh my god what if he kisses me? What if he doesn’t? Am I pretty enough? Am I being too loud? Am I eating too much? Am I not eating enough? What does he expect tonight? Is he going to ask for sex right away? Will he stop seeing me if I say no?”
Get this: we talked. Like friends do. We got to know each other. Shared stories. Laughed, a lot.
It was awesome.
And because there were no scripts to follow, there was no fear of overstepping one’s imaginary bounds – of somehow ruining the evening by not living up to expectations. I didn’t have to worry about fitting myself into a role within the date: it was all about What Do We Want To Do Next? Where Do We Want To Go? OMG Did I Tell you About That One Time When I XYZ? It was like a night out on the town with a new best friend. Only difference being, I got to hold her hand now and then; and occasionally my brain would interrupt the conversation with a quiet Hey, Wouldn’t It Be Fun To Kiss That Girl? (Shut up, brain, I’m trying to listen. Take your fantasies and go play in the other room.)
How is it that I’m only learning what a good date is supposed to look like three years after getting married? Who is supposed to be teaching this stuff? Because seriously – someone is dropping the ball here. How much heartache would I have saved if I’d really figured out how to get to know a dude as a friend before jumping into boyfriend-girlfriend mode? Or even after that? Hell, I’ve moved in with at least one guy before figuring out whether or not we were actually friends. (He was manipulative and controlling, so short answer: no, we weren’t.) I’d had the “first comes love, then comes marriage” narrative drilled into my head so hard, I never really stopped to think rationally about how to approach relationships. I was just looking for someone, anyone, to love me. And with the cultural ruts worn so deeply into our gender identities, it’s really easy to trip and fall into a relationship almost by accident.
She and I get to create our very own, special kind of relationship from scratch. It’s sort of terrifying. After all, that means I am actually responsible for thinking through my actions and reactions; no knee-jerk gender roles to fall back on. For the first time, when I’m out with her, I am realizing what it means to be at least partly responsible for someone’s safety and well-being. Since there’s no social script for us, it means I have to do things like say, “Hey, I’d really like to kiss you goodnight, but I think it would be better if we waited. Is that cool with you?” and hope she doesn’t think I’m a total dork for asking. It means being conscious of my emotional baggage, and remembering that it’s mine to manage, not hers. It means asking ourselves questions like: Who takes the lead? Who makes the first move? What responsibilities do we have to each other? To the others in our lives? To ourselves?
But it’s freeing, too – for the first time ever, I don’t have this weight of expectation pressing down on me. I can trust she’s not just there to get laid. I can trust that she actually likes me for who I am. That I’m not just a pretty face, or another notch on the bedpost, or a trophy or an arm decoration. The fear is gone, in a way it never has been in the early stages of any of my other relationships. I’m allowed to just be myself – she likes me that way. And I get to delight in this kindred spirit I’ve found, to discover her and learn about her. We’ll get around to the physical stuff, I’m sure. There’s undeniably an attraction there – my heart gets all fizzy when I think of her and my brain has been sent on time-out for inappropriate interruptions on more than one occasion. But the impetus for sex-right-now-to-seal-the-deal just isn’t there. There’s no “This is what we’re supposed to do next, this is what we have to do next.” There’s no pressure.
We’re enjoying the experimentation, the newness of it. We’re reveling in the Choose Your Own Adventure style of romance. (If you kiss the girl, turn to page 4. If you announce your intention to kiss her at a later date, then run away in a whirl of giddy anticipation, turn to page 13.)
Taking it slow is awesome. Why have I never done it this way before?
It is the heart of winter.
The snow is falling but the grass is green.
My heart has been ailing.
I have come down with a bad case of the aches.
I am afraid to show her this congestion.
Afraid to be seen in this state,
coughing up my insecurities, sniffling,
afraid I’ll sneeze and spray her with something disgusting.
My hair is a bird’s nest, untameable.
My voice is hesitant and rusty.
I am weak. I am recovering.
I sip her poetry, her letters, like a tonic.
They are Alka-Seltzer fizzing in my chest.
I can see sunshine when I close my eyes.
My breath comes easier now.
Climb out of bed, heart. It’s a new day.
You can hear the birds in the backyard singing.
The sun’s peering in the window
and she’s smiling at you.
Throw back the covers, heart.
You are not too sick to go outside
and a little fresh air would do you good.
The snow is falling, but the grass is green.
The world is cold, but the birds still sing.