His face glistened with tears as he looked up at me. I didn’t cry, and was surprised but touched that he had. Behind his impish, lined visage, the clamor of airport noise dragged me back to the present. We hugged one last time. I smiled and turned away.
As I headed for my flight, I thought “It’s not too bad. We’ll have a year apart and then reunite. After all, absence makes the heart beat deeper, doesn’t it?”
We had spent a wonderful two weeks together traveling to Dresden, Nuremberg and finally, Italy. For this last stop, the weather, the food, the villa in a cute little town right on the lake Como, were all perfect. A few friends shared the house with us. R and I even had some of our best sex in a long time. It was a perfect way to part for a year.
The plan was this. He wanted to spend more time in his homeland: get a part time job there for a few months a year, and spend the rest of the year at home with me, where he’d keep his job there part time as well. I’d have a chance to travel to Europe with him when I visited. I wouldn’t have to quit my valuable job here. The time apart would do us good. In our 9 years together, we’d developed a nice balance of time together and time apart. The reunion was always sweet.
When we committed to each other, we used the Jewish metaphor of two trees growing side by side, but not so close as to shade each other. I saw this separation as us growing individually stronger to have a stronger bong together.
So I was all aglow as I returned that September to our house and my life in Ohio. We exchanged almost daily emails reporting details of our days. All continued happily for a few weeks.
For some reason, I began to miss him more than I had expected to. We’d grown close over our 10 years living together, but we always had maintained our own lived. He’d been away weeks at a time and it hadn’t bothered me, so I was a little surprised at my sudden need to see him again. But the yearning was pleasant, especially for someone as independent as I am.
About this time, his emails began to include comments such as “You must be happy to have your time so free now.” and “I’m sure you are making some new friends” and “Now that you’re healthy again, you must be finding lots of new things to do.” I explained that these things were true, but I looked forward to seeing him as soon as possible. We planned for me to visit him over Thanksgiving.
Through October, we continued to update each other regularly. He had met a few new friends with whom he now partied regularly. I didn’t consider this a problem. After all, he would be spending lots of time there yearly and certainly needed friends. But I was beginning to get depressed. I had no idea why, since I’d be seeing him in November.
I clung to every word of his, looking for meaning, support, assurance. He told me he missed me, that he looked forward to seeing me. His job search was not going well but I knew he’d find something, and that he’d probably stay the full year. He even brought up the possibility of returning to Columbus earlier than a year. But I wanted him to succeed. I knew he needed this affirmation of fitting back into his home culture after so many years being in the US.
Things continued like this until my trip to see him over Thanksgiving. If he missed a day of emailing or calling me, I fretted until I heard from him.
Our reunion was satisfying. It was good to see him again in person. But I felt weak and dependent. He kept getting calls from a new friend, whom he said was fragile emotionally and needed lots of support. I asked to meet him, and he demurred. I dropped the subject.
I was tired all the time, which I blamed on jet lag. I felt lackluster, dull, flat. We became quarrelsome. He wanted to see the sights, show me his hometown. I fretted and fussed. But we just kept going. Our conversations were surreal, saying nothing with lots of words. I wanted to stay a few days somewhere, anywhere, to catch up on our physical relationship. We finally ended up at his parents house in a small country town. They were away for awhile, so we had the place to ourselves.
He continued to get numerous calls from his fragile friend, who lived not too far away. I became distraught and very clingy. After a tour of his old bedroom, which I’d never seen before, I felt guilty for not knowing enough about his past, for assuming I was all he needed. I managed to fall asleep in his arms, crying. I can’t recall what I was thinking or why I was crying. I felt I was floating away, and only he could keep me grounded. It was as if I’d left my body, which went on with the usual motions, like a chicken with it’s head cut off. I was empty.
I woke up a few hours later and found him gone. This was at 2 AM in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. When he returned an hour later, he explained that his friend had needed to talk, so he went to visit him. My body cried, my heart filled with dread, with blind emotion. But my mind was blank, no thoughts came. I lived, breathed, ate, talked, but was absent. The next day I traveled to Koln by train. There I immersed my body in the now throbbing culture of German Christmas markets, with their festive music, hot mulled wine and ubiquitous cut trees lit up like beacons of hope throughout the city.
I returned home a few days later. I never did meet his new friend. I continued my downward spiral. My doctor prescribed Xanax for anxiety. I continued to work, but friends asked if I was OK. I cried 3 or 4 hours a day but I had no idea why. I just knew R held the key. I began to doubt my existence. I wondered if I had lived the past ten years, if anything was real. I began to talk of suicide.
I could not see who I was what was happening to me. But I began to see who I wasn’t. I saw all my failures floating around me, surrounding me, cocooning me. I saw all my weaknesses, my insecurities. I saw all the times I had failed be a good lover, all the times I had been selfish, petty, controlling. These failings grew to fill my heart, and told me I had nothing to offer, I was a freak who nobody really needed or wanted. They told me I would never fit in, that anything I did would offend those who cared for me.
I was strangely comforted by these thoughts. I felt safe with them, secure in the negative image of myself, that hollow shadow that stared back at me from the mirror. I kept looking, staring at this image, this haunted ghost of myself. It was all I could see. I became the ghost in the mirror.
R and I still talked on the phone, or rather I wept and he talked. He didn’t say much new, just went in circles about how I should be happy, find new friends, that he cared for me. I don’t remember much. I couldn’t hear him anymore. I was deep in a hole. His voice echoed around me, far away.
I continued to work, somehow. I remember leaving at intermission one night, unable to play, my body barely noticing that I had left. But I came back the next night and continued, somehow, a puppet dangling like a human, moving fingers. I don’t remember much. But I kept thinking about my garage, and how nice it would be to take a nap there, with the car running. How nice it would be to sleep, and refresh my tired soul.
The hole became my house. I saw no way out. The little, singular light at the top was far away, small. There were no ladders, no walls, just darkness.
Christmas Eve came. I played the church gig I’ve done for 15 years. It was a bitter, bitter cold night. The stars were out, quietly glittering, musing their infinite thoughts, not interested in me or interesting to me. Work was over, we were on vacation now, so I wouldn’t have a schedule for a week or so.
After the service, my friend S came up to me and suggested we go have a talk with a counselor at a nearby hospital. I agreed to the short delay in getting home. Home to my garage. My hole. My peace.
I was admitted and stayed there a week. I cried most of the time. Friends came to visit, but I don’t remember much, except getting a stuffed dog from the son of another friend. The other patients were stark reminders of my relative luck. Their suffering was much more tangible than mine. Some were insane, I was only haunted. Slowly, I began to breath my own air again, to speak through my own mouth, to have my own thoughts again. But the ghost wouldn’t leave me alone, it clung to me as I clung to R.
One day I had to participate in art therapy. I resented this insulting and childish task, but it was required. We created a life collage, with photos and text from dozens of various magazines at hand. On one side I pasted words and photos of who I had been, a sad, lonely figure, surrounded by darkness. The other side had optimistic imaged and words. It was a symbol to grant me permission to free the ghost, to turn away.
A week later, R called me and told me he had stopped loving me a few years back. He apologized profusely for not being clear. The mirror smashed into a thousand bits. I was released from the hollow negative image. I forgave him and began to reassemble my life.
Those broken, haunted bits reassemble occasionally when I flounder, when I doubt who I am, and the ghost returns to lure me, but I see the cracks of that shattered memory and recognize the distorted figure reaching out for me. I know who it is not.