“So how has your week been?” Josh asked as he let me in through his lobby door and I situated myself in his big comfy chair. The chair always reminded me of that talking chair from “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” and when I mentioned that to Josh during our first appointment he had given me an appreciative chuckle which spoke volumes. “Of course I’m probably not the first person to tell him that, how stupid of me. I wonder what he is going to think of me now that I’ve made that lame joke, oh my god I’m so nervous, stop picking at the arm of the chair Lisa, how long has it been since I said something? Is he looking at me funny? He’s kind of cute. Oh my god Lisa, really cliché developing a crush on your new therapist about a millisecond into your first visit…” “Okay I guess, nothing too new.” I said while scootching my backside back on the big chair and grabbing the throw pillow to hold in front of me. Josh, patiently waiting for me to get settled, took a moment to pull a pad of paper out of the magazine rack next to the armchair he was sitting in across from me.
“Did you do the homework I gave you?” he asked with an expectant tilt of his head and one raised eyebrow? “He knows damn well I didn’t do his stupid homework so why would he be so patronizing as to ask me?” “Well, not exactly” I said hedging for a moment and beginning to fiddle with the nubs of wear on the big blue arm of the chair. “Well okay no I didn’t but I thought about it” I said quickly on the heels of my first statement, leaning forward and placing an earnest look on my face.
“So do you want to start there then today?” asked Josh with that annoyingly knowing smile on his face. “That’s IT I’m never coming back here again, this condescending asshole I can’t believe he even has patients left the way he acts!” “Uh sure we can start wherever you want to start I guess” I said defensively not meeting his eyes. “But I renew my original objection to this particular exercise because I don’t … well damn it I just don’t want to.”
“Okay we can certainly talk through it again. It sounds like you’ve put some thought into this so let’s hear your arguments against it again and maybe you can change my mind. I’m nothing if not flexible” Josh stated while putting his notepad and pen aside and leaning back in the seat with his hands folded in his lap. “Oh great here we go that’s the ‘listening to the crazy girl’ pose. That’s it I’m done with this therapy shit it’s a waste of time.” “Well okay I have actually thought about it a lot this week” I lied. I stopped talking and closed my eyes for a minute willing the sting of tears in the back of my eyes to recede before they found their way down my cheeks. Of course, as usual I immediately lost that battle. I hate this about myself but I cry at everything. I cry when I see people in love, when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’m embarrassed … it’s so annoying! When Sam and I first met he told me they were endearing but eventually they wore on him and he would just make this choking sound in the back of his throat whenever he would see me dabbing at my eyes.
Two tears rolled down my right cheek in quick succession and I swiped at them frustratingly while Josh reached over and handed me the box of tissues he kept on the glass coffee table between us. “Asshole, if I wanted a tissue I’m perfectly capable of reaching the eighteen inches in front of me to get one.”
“So Lisa, let’s hear what you have to say.” Josh said gently after I had dabbed at my eyes and taken a shaky breath. “Okay give me a minute” I said in a quiet little girl voice while I dug my chin into my breastbone and balled the tissue into a tight angry ball in my fist.
I let the tears go and let them wash over me, dampening my collar and stealing my words. I knew myself well enough, as did Josh by this point, to know that I wasn’t going to be able to talk until I got this under control. “I’m s-s-ssorry Josh, I don’t know I thought I was past this” I stuttered while taking deep breaths trying to stop the sobs. “It’s okay take a moment” Josh said a little less gently but not unkindly. “He’s such a nice guy, why am I such a jerk?”
I relaxed into it now and let the tears and sobs wrack my body, feeling the rawness in my throat and the tingle in my sinuses. I tasted the saltiness of my tears and grabbed a handful of tissues to stem the flow, blowing my nose unceremoniously “Lord Lisa you have to get ahold of yourself, you’re really making yourself look like a lunatic here” I buried my face in the handful of sodden tissues and let myself go, remembering.
We met at the park. My friend Corrine sardonically called it a “meet cute” but I hated that and so did Sam. Of course, Sam hated Corrie too but that really isn’t germane to the story … or … maybe it is… I will have to file that to take out later and examine it. I was walking, or trying to run actually but only managing to walk fast. It was a beautiful day and I had gotten up that morning and looked at my chunky self in the full length mirror wearing a schlubby t-shirt and cut off sweats and decided I was going to start jogging at the park every Saturday. I immediately pictured myself running with perfectly coiffed hair and an adorable outfit on with my ear buds in smiling at other like-minded healthy people as I dove into my dirty clothes hamper to find something to wear. I had finally scared up a decent pair of shorts and a t-shirt my sister had given me from the Komen Walk she had gone on (I over slept) the weekend before and, pulling on my tennis shoes and a ball cap I headed out. To drive. To the park. Two blocks from my apartment. Not the most auspicious beginning I know but at least I was getting out there right?
Anyway, as I was walking/running/walking through the park I passed a guy bent over a bench with one foot propped up tying his shoe. It was a very nice view, he had a butt and legs like the guys who had played soccer in high school. I kept watching as I walked by and suddenly a lot of things seemed to happen all at once. I turned back to look where I was going and spotted a guy with his finger marking his place in a book wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and cowboy boots (of all things) watching me and laughing outright, out loud. In that very same second I felt my shin hit something and as if in slow motion watched myself trip and tumble right over the front of a double stroller full of babies and baby stuff while the mother yelped and tried to keep me upright. “Stupid people just park their shit anywhere and talk to their neighbors as if they were the only people on the planet. Uh excuse me but there are people trying to exercise here lady so could you move your ass and your Volkswagen sized stroller out-of-the-way or whatever?”
Needless to say the one hundred and five-pound lady who had (Lord knows how) popped out two behemoth baby twin boys no more than six months before couldn’t catch me and we ended up both tumbling to the blacktop, arms around each other in a ridiculous embrace. We both hit pretty hard but she popped back up and checked her babies while the laughing cowboy boot guy helped me up from my less than flattering position (picture gynecological visit) from the ground. “I’m so sorry” I said to the pretty young mommy as the man pulled me to my feet while simultaneously flashing the cowboy boot guy a dirty look because he was still laughing! “What a douchebag” I thought while glancing at his ring finger. “Oh my God Lisa why do you do that?”
The mother was very nice and accepted my apology while also apologizing herself for being in the way which she really wasn’t but it was nice of her to try to make me feel better. I said as much as I limped over to an empty bench to check the damage. I had a nice scrape on my knee and one on my elbow but other than the sting of gravel and a little blood I was going to be okay. Cowboy boots grabbed his bag and came to sit next to me, introducing himself as he pulled out a red bandana (Really?) and dabbed at my knee with it trying to brush the gravel away gently. “Hi, I’m Sam, are you okay to walk?” he asked quietly in a very nice tenor voice while he worked. “Uh yeah I’m okay and I’m Lisa, thanks but stop I’m okay just stop.” I muttered while half-heartedly trying to push his hands away. “Seriously stop I’m fine.” I said a little stronger while shifting my weight on my butt so my knee was out of his immediate reach. I put it up on the bench and studied it to gather my dignity a bit while he sat on the bench at my back waiting. Once I realized he wasn’t going to leave me alone I turned around and watched him as he rolled the bandana up neatly and pushed it down into the front pocket of his backpack.
“You were laughing at me” I said resentfully with a question in my voice. “Yeah actually Lisa I was” he replied “you were funny. I’ve never seen a woman so outwardly admiring a man’s but-TOCKS like that before” he said with a genuine southern accent but clearly emulating Forrest Gump for the comedic win. “You’re from Texas!” I said accusingly while fighting back a smile myself. “Yes ma’am I am and why do you make that sound as though I’ve just told you I’m a former convict?” he said in a curious drawl. “Oh my god look at you, you’re like a walking billboard. You’re sitting in the middle of a park in Missouri in cowboy boots and you actually had a bandana in your pocket and not ironically. Are you an actual cowboy? No don’t tell me I can’t stand it, you are aren’t you? You’re a freaking cowboy!?” I stammered with a full smile now making an appearance despite my dishevelment and discomfort (my knee was really starting to hurt).
I looked up at Josh, tears still glimmering in my eyes but able to talk now. “Josh I don’t have a good argument, I just can’t. I want to I do but I can’t. He hurt me and I’m angry and sad and lonely and I miss him and I want to tell him how pissed off I am but I can’t because I can’t talk to him and that pisses me off more. I want to Josh I swear I do but I can’t, I can’t forgive him for leaving.”
Josh sat there quietly waiting for me to elaborate and I submitted to the sobs again. Remembering.
He was a cowboy. I know that’s crazy right? An actual cowboy. Alright so he didn’t call himself that necessarily but his family all worked with cows. They did everything that had to do with cows, the kind that people eat but Sam didn’t really like to talk about his family much so I didn’t push. On our first date we went to see a performance by a “Shakespeare in the Park” group doing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I think I might have fallen in love with Sam that night the first time I heard his loud ringing laugh echoing in the evening air and bouncing back to us from the surrounding hills. I love live theater but the only thing I can remember from that night was Sam’s full throated laugh, his pure enjoyment in the performance, the white gleam of his teeth against his tan skin when he smiled at me, the pulse in his throat as he watched intently and the glow of his eyes in the torchlight as he grasped my hand to help me up the hill to my car after it was over. We stood, self-consciously watching the passerby walking back to their cars dragging blankets and stadium chairs and coolers, while trying to discern what the other might be thinking. We spoke at some length about the performance and chuckled at our favorite scenes as we valiantly attempted to draw the night out, to delay the inevitable parting of ways. Finally, after most of the cars had left the parking lot and we had run out of things to say Sam had lifted his hand and gently tucked a stray hair from my messy ponytail behind my ear. I leaned into his hand in response and he leaned forward to kiss me good night. A soft quick dry kiss that left me wanting more. I met his brown eyes and saw a pureness there that should have surprised me but didn’t.
He was the real thing, a guy with depth and emotion and an innate kindness that was palpable and I craved it, like seriously responded to it like a plant to water.
We began dating exclusively right away. I loved everything about him. His manners were impeccable, his manner of dress was very Texan sans hat and I loved it. He didn’t care that my uniform was jeans and a t shirt nearly every day. He didn’t care that I made my living as a manager of the Deli Department at a small grocery store. He was the least pretentious person I had ever known and he made me want to be a better person.
Three months to the day we met we were walking through the park on a quiet evening, after having stopped for the last snow cones of the season, as summer became fall all around us. He took my hand and tucked it into his arm, as he was wont to do (and I adored it) and said softly with an emotion laden voice, “I love you Lisa”. I closed my eyes, leaning into his strong arm and placing my other hand on his bicep through happy tears said “I love you too Sam”. It was beautiful and perfect – and I was a goner.
“Lisa” said Josh, “do you want to talk through this today do you think?” he asked not unkindly. “Yes … no yeah I do I want to.” I stammered pushing forward in the chair and placing my feet firmly on the floor. “Josh I’m still so angry but I don’t have an outlet. I don’t know what to do with all of this emotion. I just keep it bottled up and then suddenly it’s not anymore and it all comes pouring out like a seventh grade Science Fair volcano. It has been months and I can’t stop, I can’t move on.” I told him as I had so many times over the last eight sessions. “Lisa, we’ve talked about this right? Forgiveness is the way, right? You have to forgive Sam and yourself before you can move on. You were going to make an argument against my homework assignment, can we touch on that before our session ends?”
I looked at my watch, “Dammit” I thought “I wasted another session with self-pity and tears and reverie, how am I going to get over this if I don’t utilize this time more wisely?” “Okay Josh you and I both know I don’t have a sound argument against it but I can’t. I can’t let it go. I want to forgive him but I can’t. I’m not even angry any more not really. I’m kind of numb and that’s not a bad feeling really, it gets me through the day, at least until it doesn’t. I don’t cry at work now which is a good sign.” I said weakly.
“Sure that’s a great sign Lisa” Josh said with encouragement in his voice. “But” “Jesus Josh really? Can’t you just leave it there? Why do you have to pick everything I say apart? Oh … yeah I guess that’s kind of your job isn’t it?” Josh continued “you have a lot of stuff in that head of yours don’t you? You came to me to help you deal with that stuff. You’re not here because your relationship with Sam ended, well you are but that’s just a symptom right? You need to learn how to deal with adversity. You want to learn how to deal with rejection and the frustration of life and you want to learn how to forgive. When is the last time you went over the list of steps of forgiveness I gave you?”
“Look Josh I’m not going to lie to you about this, I read them the day you gave them to me and then put the paper in my desk. If you asked me what one of the steps was right now I’d be hard-pressed. I know this isn’t going to work unless I’m willing to put in the effort. Please don’t give up on me. I need help getting there.” I said plaintively as Josh glanced at his watch.
“Okay Lisa here’s where we will end it today; you head home and pull out that sheet of paper. Read those steps one at a time and practice applying them to any situation in your life that you feel might require some forgiveness. It doesn’t have to be about Sam or anyone else in particular but anything at all. See if you can do that every day for a week huh? We can talk through this again next week if you’re ready. I know you feel like you aren’t ready but I think you need to rip that band aid off and let the wound heal. I think you know that too Lisa and you’re smart enough and sufficiently self-aware to recognize that you’re stuck in this bad headspace until you find a way to push past it. Can we do that?”
“Yeah, sure” I said non-plussed at the long impassioned speech but grateful that Josh cared enough to push back and not let me off easily. “I’m going to do that Josh, as soon as I get home.” I said as I stood and put the pillow back on the chair, smoothing non-existent wrinkles and grabbing my backpack. “See you next week same time same place” I stated with a weak smile as he shook my hand and walked me out through the back door that lead to the small parking lot.
Six months into our relationship Sam moved into my place. It was really kind of organic actually. I lived closer to where we both worked, he was a paid intern at a small print shop and was training to take over the printer when the owner’s son got married and moved with his wife to Seattle where her family was. He loved my neighborhood and, like everyone else in the world, the neighborhood fell in love with him. Sam was old world in a lot of ways, a gentleman and a gentle man. Those are two very distinctively different things and I had never considered that until I met him. He absolutely doted on children and animals and would stop and speak to everyone. The children in my small neighborhood were drawn to him like moths to a flame and he would become a ten year old boy whenever he saw a dog on the street. We had only been dating for about two months when we were walking home from the local grocery store and I realized how many of the people I had seen for the three years I had lived there were greeting him by name, and he was greeting them back. I didn’t know a single one of them! He made me humble. He made me want to be a better person.
We had been living together for almost five months when I noticed a small shift in our dynamic. It was probably gradual and I should have noticed it much earlier than I had but I was kind of lazy emotionally and I was just kind of basking in the glow of Sam. He was attentive and neat and the best roommate which was a good thing because we were living in a cracker jack box on the bottom floor of a four family flat. The pipes knocked and the heat was a big gas furnace that was broken more than it functioned and the air conditioning consisted of a geriatric silver box I had bought at a garage sale and carted home in a wagon borrowed from my nephew.
The first time I think I noticed anything was amiss was when I burned my eggs. I’m a terrible cook but not for lack of trying I’m just so inattentive and easily distracted. I realized the eggs were burning so I threw them in the garbage disposal, put the ruined pan in a pan of water to soak and went to work. That night Sam kind of lost it. He yelled at me for wasting food and for not paying attention and a bunch of other non-related things that really had nothing to do with burnt eggs and of course I cried and apologized resentfully and promised to do better and he went to bed. I tried to snuggle against his hard back that night in bed but I felt him stiffen and give a small shudder. “He’ll get over it” I thought to myself as I rolled over to face the door and went to sleep.
“He’ll get over it”
Looking back on it I think I might have said that to myself a lot. The thing is though it was all little stuff. When I yelled at this little boy who lived in the flat next door for banging on his bike too early on a Sunday morning and Sam took me to task. “Lisa, Michael is just trying to fix his bike!” he yelled as he pulled on his boots and went out to help him. “Lisa, can you please remember to lock the top lock when you leave the apartment in the morning?” he asked me for the millionth time, “you know that Desiree and Mrs. Copeland from down the street have both had break ins in the last few months.” He finished as he stormed out the door.
Look, I’m a mess but the thing is I’ve always been a mess. Honestly. As long as I can remember I’ve been a little slovenly, a little absent minded, sometimes emotionally bereft and it is what it is right? If he loves me he takes me for who and what I am right? Why should I have to change to meet anyone else’s needs? Why can’t it just be the way it was that night when we said we loved each other? Why is it now when I look into his eyes he just looks tired? Wait, when was the last time I heard him laugh? When was the last time I ran my finger over that pulse on his throat? When is the last time he teased me about my horrendous singing voice? Wait. What’s happening?
Looking back I know it wasn’t sudden but I wasn’t really paying attention. I know that sounds so stupid but I really wasn’t. I took him for granted I know that now. I took what he gave me willingly and openly and I just soaked it in like a thick towel. I let him love me, take care of me, be there for me. I opened myself up and I let the sunshine and warmth that was Sam pour into me and I let it warm me and surround me. He was this dream guy, everyone, even crabby ass Mrs. Copeland who hated everyone, would just melt when Sam would greet her with his deep throated voice and that accent. “Howdy ma’am” he would say as we walked past her sitting on the stoop in her ridiculous housecoat with that stupid little yapping dog hiding behind her ankle. Well at least until he heard Sam and then he’d come skulking out and roll onto his back like a bitch waiting for Sam to give him his customary belly rub. God everyone loved this guy and it was annoying.
No. It wasn’t. It was lovely and endearing and beautiful and joyous and life affirming and I was fucking jealous. I resented him and them for it. I took what he gave me and gave him nothing back but grief and greedily allowed him to be the emotional support in our relationship. I was such an asshole.
But still. He left me. We went to dinner at his friend Marcia’s place and we played Tripoli and had a really nice time and when we got home he sat down in the living room with a beer and stared at the blank television for a really long time. I went into the bedroom to change the sheets, a Sunday night ritual he had started, and he came in to help me without saying a word. When the bed was made I rolled onto it and patted the bed next to me with a salacious grin on my face. He just stood there at the end of the bed and looked at me with sadness in his eyes and walked from the room. I rolled off the bed and hustled into the living room and watched as he pulled some boxes from the coat closet by the front door. “I have to go Lisa.” He said quietly with his back to me and the room. “I can’t do this any longer, I love you but I don’t love us and I don’t want to keep fighting for us when you don’t seem to want to make an effort.”
I walked back into the bedroom and closed the door behind me. “He’ll get over it” I said to myself as I went to sleep. The next morning, he was gone. He hadn’t gotten over it. He left.
For weeks after I would leave him messages he wouldn’t return. I would drop by the print shop and the owner Mr. Cleary would tell me he was just too busy to talk right now, to call him later. I even tried talking to Marcia and her friend Lynn but they just looked sympathetic and said they hadn’t heard from him. I finally gave up. It has been more than four months now and other than a check for half the rent and utilities I haven’t heard from him at all.
Josh wants me to forgive him. Here’s the thing though. How? How do I forgive someone for breaking my heart? How do I forgive someone for letting me believe that there was love ever after? How? What the hell was I supposed to do with all of this anger and sadness? How could anyone expect me to forgive the unforgiveable?
So here’s the thing. It’s not Sam who needs forgiveness. Sam was not the problem. My real question, my real problem here is not Sam. My problem is that Josh is asking me to forgive Sam when he didn’t do anything wrong. He says that forgiving Sam for leaving is the first step in the road to recovery. How can I make myself forgive him when really what I need is forgiveness from Sam. I want to tell him I’m sorry but every time I try, every time I dial his number I hang up because I can’t. I can’t bring myself to apologize to him because I don’t know how. How do I tell him how I feel. “Sam I’m sorry for not being the person you needed me to be. I’m sorry for not making an effort. I’m sorry for not taking your feelings seriously.” I can’t … I want to truly I do but … I can’t. I can’t let him break my heart again because I know what will happen. He will forgive me. He will tell me he understands and he will let me off the hook. He will look at me with those deep brown eyes of his and he will smile his sad little smile and he will say “Hey Lisa, it’s okay.”
It’s not though. It’s not okay. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I don’t get to be let off the hook. I deserve this pain and I deserve to be alone. He tried to make a life with me and I took him and it for granted. I let him take care of me emotionally and physically and I did not reciprocate. I’m pretty sure I won’t ever go back to Josh again. I’m sad because I lost Sam but that’s my fault and I don’t deserve to get over it. I’ll wear the pain and loneliness like a hair shirt. I’ll go about my day and I will live my life but I won’t forgive Sam because he deserves better. I won’t let him forgive me and I won’t forgive myself. My world is better for having known him and worse for having lost him. I wish him the best, well most of the time. Occasionally I wish bad things would happen to him but that’s pretty normal right? Maybe someday I will be able to tell him I’m sorry and ask for his forgiveness. Someday I will find a way to forgive myself but not today.