I wish I could say I did the right thing, but I did not.
She was married, and even though she and her husband were having serious problems, I should have stayed away.
I was a friend, I was there, I would listen, and she — she was desperate to feel wanted.
I’d be lying if I said I’d never fantasized about her.
I was pretty young, but still, I knew better.
The first time it happened, a part of my brain pretended it wasn’t happening*. It felt like a reflex, like breathing — it’s just what your body does. She and I were there and we were doing things. Things people do.
She felt justified, because he had promised to love her, and then didn’t do it. He broke the vows; that made them void. I, on the other hand, struggled for a way to feel justified in what we were doing, because I was doing something I had long believed to be wrong to do.
In my life, faced with other relationship situations, I have sometimes done the right thing, and on other occasions, the wrong one. In this case, I rationalized that I was a single man and she was a soon-to-be divorced (almost separated) woman, and she was willing and it was consensual and various other phrases that effectively rhyme with YADDA.
Since careful readers may notice I used the phrase “the first time it happened”, there were, as you might guess, other times. By that point, my rationalizing capability had kicked into high gear: we were doing what we were doing because we were in love, I reasoned; yep, that was it.
Except somebody forgot to tell her.
I brought up my theory of how in love we were one day. She broke it off within seconds.
Two weeks later, I swallowed two bottles of sleeping pills. My capacity to rationalize had exploded in on itself.
* Incidentally, the “thing we were doing” was just making out. We never slept together.
For those keeping track of my tangled chronology, this was roughly a year before the events recounted in The Smallest Trace of Necessity, about 18 months prior to my trip to the food bank (That Empty Feeling), and almost three years prior to the date I went on in Sundresses. After my attempted suicide, I had other health issues that knocked me out of work for a long spell.
The girl involved was unconcerned. For years thereafter, she acted around me as though nothing had ever happened; and, from her perspective, she was right.
Since I became rather ill, I consoled myself as best I could by falling in love with nurses for the next couple of years. What woman can resist a sickly man with an IV?
All of them, it turned out; although, in fairness, at least one appeared to be tempted, in a “I’ve dropped all my standards” kind of way.
Looking back, as I have often done in these National Blog Posting Months posts, I see a pattern, but it isn’t anything unusual for a human being — I wanted to love and be loved. However, life is like a series of plays everyone is enacting: they say their lines, and you say yours, and you only gradually figure out that the plays have different endings. You keep looking, though, for someone whose story matches up with yours — preferably, until the end.
Most of my relationships (all of these things happened in my twenties) didn’t amount to much, but the feelings I had about them were everything to me. Because the married secretary down the hall from work was lonely and frustrated, she fooled around with me: I thought it was love, because my feeble heart and mind only had one category for me to file this stuff under. She had a category called “look – let’s just not talk about this, okay?” which I was – at that age – unfamiliar with.
A rational person deals with rejection by saying: “well, I’m in the same situation I was before, so, there’s not really any harm done.”
Just for the record, I know exactly zero rational persons, by that standard.
It wasn’t that I reasoned that my life was no longer worth living because she’d rejected me; in fact, I didn’t reason at all. What I felt, on the other hand, was deep, abiding shame that I had ever thought she would or could love me. I was angry: not at her, but at myself. Of course she didn’t love me, I thought.
As it happens, I was already being treated for depression before all of this started. I had (and have) a notable ability to mask my depression to the casual observer, but, that didn’t make it any less real. What happened with her was just one more step in a spiraling process.
Depression, for me, felt like anger turned inward, anger so deep and wide that it blocked any other feelings from getting either in or out.
I was, effectively, mad at myself for being me.
So as not to leave you wondering: I was prevented from killing myself by a friend (my long-time best friend) who happened by my apartment (he had a key) and who called an ambulance. We hadn’t seen each other in months and I didn’t know he was in town.
In the psychiatric wing, I took the meds prescribed me, went to individual and group therapy sessions, and transferred my erotic fascination from the married secretary at work to, variously, the admissions nurse at the clinic, the pretty social worker with the dark hair, and one of the female orderlies who I knew in younger days as working at a car wash.
My body kept trying to live even after my mind had given up on it.
I wish I could tell readers the day I stopped being depressed and the magic cure that got me over it, but I don’t think there was any such day. Within months of the events recounted above, I started having other health issues that made the depression much, much worse. But, over time, through both treatment and a process something like erosion, the worst parts of my condition gradually wore down (somewhat). We think of erosion as only effecting good things; but, time may wear down bad things, as well, and it seemed to do so for me.
I’m much happier now, but, I’ve come to believe that happiness is a combination of attitude and circumstance. I have, in recent years, enjoyed what might be called either blessedness or good fortune; within the context of my own beliefs about the world, I in no way believe that I created my own happiness. The closest description to how I feel can expressed in one sentence: I’ve been lucky.
The mental health diagnosis I was given at the time (severe bipolar) has never been changed; I am what I was. I know that circumstances in life can and will change, but I do not know in what way they will. As I often say:
The only thing I know
About what I don’t know
Is that I don’t know it.
When I think back now upon that girl (woman) who dallied with me when we were both in our twenties, I see things in a different light. She was every bit as lost as I was: but I saw her as having all the power then.
The other thing I’ve come to realize is that my ability to justify what I have done is quite a bit stronger than my ability to choose wisely. I’m not sure that I am alone in this.
Incidentally, the next time after the above events that I so much as kissed a woman was some years after all of this, and it was under rather outrageous circumstances. But — that story is for tomorrow’s post.
For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.