The 17th wheel

Sometime late in 1998, we were sitting on the bar patio at the restaurant where we all worked.. Many brilliant ideas came to life on that patio, and that night a friend thought we should do something cool together to celebrate the year clicking over from 1999 to 2000. She suggested going on a Caribbean cruise as a group. Of course we were all living on waiting-tables-wages, so it took a while to talk us into it, but eventually we had a large group signed up.

Along with several couples, there were three single guys going - Bill, Scott and myself. We were good friends and planned to share a room on the ship. In the summer of 1999, I met J and Scott met someone as well, so Bill ended up in a room by himself. He was the one single guy along with eight couples on the cruise - the 17th wheel.

We were all great friends, so the trip was a week long party where you mingle among the crowd, spending time with everyone. But of course there were still couples at the end of the day, and I know that Bill felt like the odd man out at times, no matter how much time we spent together as a group.

And it feels a bit like that for me right now. Nearly all my friends are either married or in a relationship. This is true both in Washington and here in California. Now don't get me wrong, this is not a plea to be included more often. Everyone has been very welcoming, inviting me over to dinner or to larger parties (I was invited out tonight in fact). None of my friends have made it an issue or made me feel like a second class citizen for being unattached.

But still, there are couple moments where I am the odd man out. Like last year when we were walking around town under the changing leaves of autumn. A friend said, "let's take pictures for all our Christmas cards!" Of course, I would not be sending out a photo Christmas card, so I just quietly stepped back. Another friend pulled me into a group photo, a sensitive gesture to include me, but at that point it was just awkward.

I am not looking to replace my group of friends, and I still love (love!) spending time with my married peeps, but it would be healthy to expand the circle a bit to include some new, single faces. Not people I am hoping to date necessarily, just people who might share common interests or introduce me to new things. People that might be struggling along a similar path. Other single folks in a married world.

Quote of the day

"You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you're forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality.
~ Fred Brooks


Let me preface this with, I do not begin to say that my experience on 9/11/01 compares in any way to the tragedy that so many people experienced personally. But of course the day touched us all in one way or another. I have written a more detailed recounting of the day elsewhere, but as a small recap for those who don't know the story...

My wife and I were married on 9/9/01. We spent the following morning at a brunch with our family and some of the wedding party. We boarded a red-eye flight on the evening of the 10th/morning of the 11th that would take us to Jamaica for our honeymoon. We made our connection in Dallas/Fort Worth and hopped on the next leg of our journey headed for Miami. We were in the air between Dallas and Miami when the destruction of 9/11 was going on. Once we landed in Miami, no planes would leave the ground for several days. Our honeymoon canceled, and a tropical storm headed toward Florida, we ended up renting a car and driving from Miami back to Seattle, from one corner of the U.S to another.

The world had changed in an instant, and it was a somber drive home. We listened to the radio and read the newspapers as we drove, trying to put together what had happened. Everyone else we loved was thousands of miles away, and the people we saw along the way had the vacant stare of the traumatized. At the time, I joked that if we could survive this drive across the country together, that our marriage would be alright. The beach would have just made us soft. But I wonder what effect that day, and that week, had on the early part of our marriage. As I wrote in the earlier post:
We returned to Jamaica six months later. When we made it to our delayed honeymoon, I was the most depressed/out of sorts I have ever been. I’m not sure what all was weighing on me. 9/11 may have made me look at my life more closely. It may have been the jarring switch from the happiest week in my life to the worst for the country. Maybe it is the clearest manifestation of hatred I have ever seen. I’m not really sure. I haven’t put those feelings entirely behind me
Certainly, no one event took us down, and it was more about internal rather than external events, but it was a rough start to the marriage just the same. There was no honeymoon period, a time of excitement and great hope as we began our new life together. My heart was heavy when it should have been light, and I have no doubt that weighed on our marriage in our first year.

9/11 cut a horrific hole in our country, ramifications of which we are still feeling. I am not so foolish as to say that it was much of a factor in our divorce, but I think it may have been one of the hundreds of bricks in the wall that was built up between us.

How are you doing?

Right after I got sober (the first time), and interviewer asked me if I was happy, and I said, “Among other things.” 
~ From Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
So, am I happy? 'Among other things' is a great answer.

Through reading, writing, counseling, talking with friends and family, and the simple passage of time, things are easier than they were. The load I carry may be a bit lighter these days, or it may just feel that way. Like a backpack that feels heavy when you hoist it on your back, but the weight passes out of your conscious thought as you busily scramble up the hillside. Only when you stop to rest (or someone points it out to you) do you feel that weight again.

The painful thoughts are always there in the background, but they come to the forefront less often. The feelings of loss, regret, guilt and anger can still catch me off guard and even make me weep, but the feeling isn't as overwhelming, and I have been better at accepting (if not embracing) it. There was a time where I felt that my emotions were running the show, but not anymore. However, I am doing my best to let them come out and play, rather than burying them down like I did before.

And of course it isn't all bad, even if most of what I write here is about my struggles. There are many beautiful things in my life, and there always has been. I am surrounded by loving family and friends, and I don't ever take that for granted. Though I am often alone, I know I don't have to be. I have my relative good health, and I enjoy challenging my body to do things that on the surface it would seem it isn't capable of.

But I have been sitting in that neutral zone described in my post on Transitions for some time now. The months I have been down in San Diego have not seemed all that productive on the surface, but I know healing and recovery have been taking place. Even so, the feeling of limbo is starting to get to me. I feel like I need to be moving forward in certain aspects of my life. Maybe this feeling of frustration is a sign of healing, and a signal that it is time to be making the first steps in that direction.

Though I have been moving in a bit of a fog during this neutral time, I will catch myself waking up to moments of clarity. Sometimes it is the brilliance of the ocean or Grand Canyon that brings me around, but I have also caught myself goofily smiling while walking across a parking lot, just taking in the sunshine. These are not moments of epiphany, but moments of presence. Moments of living instead of merely existing.

This day nine years ago was one of the best of my life, and every time it passes by on the calendar it will make me pause. Though the meaning will continue to change with all that has happened since then, the beauty of that day remains.

The struggle continues, as does my desire to delve deeper into things. Though I will never find all the answers, there is still value in the questioning. I continue to learn new things about myself as I tell my story, and I hope you find something useful as well (if only in what not to do).

Staying in contact

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but, far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
~ Benjamin Franklin
It is an odd line we are walking. We haven't seen each other in person in almost a year, and the phone calls and e-mails are pretty infrequent. We really only contact each other when there is a topic that seems legitimate enough to break through that real or imagined barrier that has come between us.

But niether does it feel like we are entirely avoiding each other. We just seem to be keeping our distance as we try to put together a new life. I have no idea what is normal, or if there even is a normal. Even if you parted on friendly terms, how often do you touch base, if at all?

There is no venom when we do speak, just an awkward veil of pain and regret. For my part, I have never said those hurtful jabs that seem so clever and appropriate in the moment, but with time seem petty and hurtful. I have certainly made her aware of how I feel, even if I haven't passed along the descriptive details and metaphorical images. Making someone else hurt doesn't do much to lift you up, and for me it would only drag me down further.

But there are still the other connections that seem to bring our paths together and peel back the sheet we've hidden things beneath. Of course family and friends are the most significant crossroads. The last time I saw her mother, it was this awkward time I was staying at her house with friends for a bike ride. It was only a couple of weeks before J asked for a divorce. I am sure her mother knew what I did not (or did not want to face), and in retrospect it is even more painful than it was at the time.

Her mother accidentally dialed my number a few months ago. She hung up so quickly that the only thing missing was an exclamation of "Shit!" (but she doesn't swear). I don't begrudge her, and it didn't make me mad that she hung up so abruptly upon realizing her mistake. What would we talk about after all? It just made me sad, that this was one more level of discomfort surrounding our split. If her Mom and I committed to an hour over coffee, maybe we could have an honest discussion. But the benal small talk would have been painful for us both. At the same time, I have a feeling that she may check in to read my blogs from time to time. In some way that makes me glad, for at least there remains this tenuous connection that can bypass the awkwardness. It is one-sided and not a real conversation, but it is there, odd as it is.

Then there is the stupidity of Facebook. J and I are still "friends" in that realm, but unintentionally, updates in our own lives can make the other feel like crap. I had "hidden' her updates, because I didn't want to see posts pop up at random moments when I was unprepared to see them. But I didn't "unfriend" her, because I guess I wanted that same tenuous connection that these one-way conversations could provide. I stayed away from her page, but it was still there lurking for good or ill.

But even though her posts remained hidden, there was a recent misunderstanding online. A mutual friend posted something on her wall, and when that feed popped up, it led me to check out her page. What I read sent me into a tailspin as my mind filled in blanks the posts seemed to imply. Rather than stew on it, I reached out to her and spoke to her on the phone. It was an emotional conversation, but we cleared up any confusion the bits and bytes produced. It was one of the rare, unguarded conversations we have had in the past couple of years. Though there were tears on both ends of the line, it felt good to be speaking from the heart once more. Of course when we hung up, it left me feeling ever whistful over what we let die, and not surprisingly, we haven't figured out if we should "unfriend" each other.

We spoke a week later, and unfortunately the uncomfortable, awkward wall was back up, and it lead to a stilted conversation. A friend asked recently if I wanted to see J in person (everything in the past 10 months has been handled by phone or e-mail). I didn't have a confident answer, but with all that it would bring, I think I would still like to see her in person someday soon. I am sure that awkward wall would be there in the beginning, but I would hope that with time over cups of coffee we could let our guard down and really talk.

The money and paperwork issues that still tie us together are beginning to fall away. There will continue to be the random crossing of paths, but soon it will be only be our desire to make it happen that will keep us in contact. I don't know that we will ever have that conversation I imagined a year ago. Most of me believes I will never get the answers I seek, but another part of me wants that unguarded moment in the sun with a friend you haven't seen for years.