WHAT IF THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT WILL EVER GET?

 


WHAT IF THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT WILL EVER GET: SETTLING AND YOU!

What more can I give you to make this thing grow?

Don’t turn your back now, I’m talking to you.

— PATTI SMITH, “PISSING IN A RIVER”


“I’m so excited for you to meet these guys,” Everett said while changing his sweater and my staring at him and thinking how truly fucking beautiful he was, but never saying it because you can’t let them know they are everything to you. That is how they leave.


At his birthday party a few weeks back, one of These Guys made a joke about his weight and how he was scrawny and had no muscle and turned to me and said, “You need to feed this guy better,” simultaneously body-shaming him and turning me into a fifties housewife who was a lazy bitch. Everett laughed and I got protective-bulldog angry and said, “He’s fucking perfect. There’s nothing wrong with him,” and his friend said, “Okay, okay, damn. Calm down,” and I seethed. Because I really did think he was perfect and I hated his frat-guy friends who made him feel like shit, like it was a punch line, and how polite and repressed he was about all of it.


We walked to Night of Joy from my house, and when we got there, the guys were at a table by the front. I wished I were at home watching TV.


At one point, the subject of The Onion came up. Everett hadn’t written for SNL in years and I was writing for The Onion all the time. One of the guys turned to Everett and said, “So, do you know anyone over at The Onion? Are they going to move to another city or what?” and then turned to me and said, “You know, a lot of girls would be really jealous of you and would love to be in your position. Everett’s in law school AND he writes for Saturday Night Live.” “Wrote for. Past tense,” I thought, bitter about the implication that I wasn’t good enough and should thank my lucky stars I had such a Good Guy, as though I was nothing and no one, just a dumb girl who probably didn’t even appreciate their friend who was a god blah blah blah whatever. Everett replied nervously with, “Well, I actually haven’t been writing for SNL much lately, but Lane writes for The Onion. She would know if they’re moving.” I immediately realized he’d been telling his friends he still wrote for SNL, that he could do it all, that he hadn’t given up his dream of being a writer at all—no, no, of course not. He was just adding “lawyer” to his fully manageable plate.


They heard his redirect, looked at me, and decided, “Eh, fuck that,” and turned to him again to ask him if The Onion was moving, a guy who clearly knew more than I did about MY JOB THAT I HAD AND HE DIDN’T. When we parted ways and he went home with the guys, I said nothing.


Later that night, I called him. I told him how shitty it felt and how, um, kind of sexist his friends were for assuming he knew more than I did, presumably because he was a man, even after he’d admitted he had no clue what was going on there. I tried to explain to him how much this was definitely A Thing—and he got so angry and started yelling. I can see now he was yelling at me because I had caught him in a lie.


Once again, I’d gotten to the root of all the reasons we never quite worked: because I was doing everything he wished he could do and he hated me for it. And on some level, I knew that and continuously made myself smaller and quieter and prettier, yes dear, to please him. Just as my mother had done with my father. And when I didn’t do that, when I spoke up, spoke out, got louder, achieved more, he would then make me smaller and quieter again by not acknowledging any of it and reminding me that I was nothing and he loved me so much.


He ranted and yelled about how he “believed women shouldn’t pay for their own rape kits” and how he would “vote against it every time,” using this bizarre non sequitur as evidence he wasn’t sexist, which I never said he was, and only said his friends seemed to be in that instance. I begged him to stop yelling at me and told him if he was going to keep doing it, I would have to get off the phone, trying to handle him with love and respect because I don’t believe in blindly hanging up on people you love, even when you should. He did not do the same. He yelled as much as he wanted to and hung up on me as soon as he got the last word. And I was done. This was it. I felt like I had met the monster my mom warned me was inside even the best of men.


The next day he texted me like nothing had happened. I told him I was not ready to talk. He didn’t listen and called me. I said I did not want to talk yet. He yelled at me again. I said this is why I didn’t want to talk yet and hung up and cried.


I’ve always wished that people who had hurt me would magically text me: “Hey, I noticed you were upset, and instead of assuming it was nothing, I took the initiative to reexamine my behavior and realize I was being a jerk. Because I did this, I’m sparing you the emotional labor of explaining to me how I hurt you. Here are action steps for how I’ll make it right.” But so far it’s been just me and a five-hour conversation I have to initiate, on top of being hurt, and it makes you want to never date again.


He texted me and called me and begged to come over, but I was done. I told myself he never really cared about me and now at least I knew it. I was truly convinced, via my PTSD-brain, which was wired and ready to perceive violence and danger in any form, that his yelling at me was evidence he’d kill me if he could and I had to get to safety. He told me, “Please let me come over so you can look at me and I can look at you and you can see that I care about you.” Looking back, I wish I had. Kind of. But I didn’t.


I wrote him a furious letter calling him out for all of it, just scathing and angry, making everything black-and-white in my mind, a skill I’d learned in order to keep myself safe. “Safe, Unsafe, there is no third option, Lane, run!”


He wrote me back telling me these last five months had been the best of his life and that I meant the world to him and that he knew he was a good boyfriend to me. I angrily wrote back, chastising him for patting himself on the back for how great he was to me.


I thought he would fight for me. I thought he would see through the pain I was in, and he would know that I’d seen us getting married and never thought we’d truly end, that he’d come to my door with flowers and an apology that let me know he truly heard me and things would be different. But he didn’t.


That night I grabbed my ukulele and hit record on my phone, and wrote a song—“But Not Forgotten”—that would later be on my band’s first album. The original improvised version was about eleven minutes long and full of crying. It was everything I’d wanted to say to him but couldn’t. The final version on the album is barely, if at all, altered, save for the deletion of, like, six minutes of crying. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and said it. And in the years to come, and sometimes even now, I would cry every single time I played it at a show.


We met one last time at a Starbucks in the city and I told him I wanted to get back together. He sighed and told me that was what he wanted to hear more than anything in the world, but he didn’t think it was a good idea. He told me he didn’t think he was good enough for me. He told me he wasn’t a violent man and that he never yelled and couldn’t believe or forgive himself for yelling at me. He admitted that law school had made him cruel and ill tempered and inattentive to things he should’ve noticed, should’ve given me, should’ve been present for. And maybe after law school was done . . .


And with those words, I held on forever.


We kept talking every day and I transformed fully into a 1940s army wife, desperately, patiently waiting for his tour of duty to be over so we could be together. He would still send me songs and still called me by the pet names he’d given me. He’d tell me about law school and say things like, “Laney! Class was so great today. One of the teachers is an environmental lawyer and told me that once law school was over he had a pretty manageable nine-to-five schedule and could actually see his family!!!” I heard this and thought, “He wants me to know that if I just wait a few years we can have a family. So I will.” And so I did. I waited and wrote song after song about him, cried and cried, isolated myself, and posted YouTube videos of cover songs meant for him. I lived for him for years, and just barely. And mostly through my music.


I wrote an upbeat but frantic It Was Romance song called “Come Home” about how brutal being apart from him in this uncertain, paralyzing way was. The song includes lines in which I reference barely being able to function without someone, all with a catchy pop-rock beat you can really groove to!!! I wrote a song called “Cold War,” in which the first line is “There’s blood in my teeth again, there’s blood on the floor again.” Truly, so many songs about Everett were heavy with blood references. In happier moments, I wrote “Philadelphia,” a nod to sixties pop, about calling Everett and his picking up on the first ring—“I wanted to tell you everything, but it was too sad.” The whole song is my singing about how if he got picked up at a practice in Philadelphia, I would’ve followed him there and left everything behind. I’d already mentally left everything in my life; why not just pack up and go? Healthy decisions left and right!


Both “Chances” and “But Not Forgotten” end with references to what I’d wanted most from Everett, for him to come running back to me, flowers in hand, just like in the movies. Those have always been the scenes that killed me most, the ones where someone has hurt someone or let someone down, but then, just in the nick of time, there’s a knock at the door and an acknowledgment of everything that the person has done wrong, and everything you needed and will now get: a kiss and a chance—nay, a promise—of a future.


I started losing a lot of weight and was eating only one salad a day, with sundried tomatoes, olives, red peppers, salt and pepper, and avocado. That’s all. This was the only salad I ate for months, maybe even the whole year. It took a while for me to realize it, but the last night we’d had together, truly had together before the stupid drinks/hang with his friends, we’d watched movies and made a salad together with sundried tomatoes, olives, red peppers, salt and pepper, and avocado. And my brain so desperately wanted to get back to the last night I’d ever have with him that it tried to pause time by wanting nothing but that salad for a year. Subconsciously, I thought that maybe if I ate it enough, it would rewind time, and he would be holding me again and we would be fine.


I lived in this middle place with him, with us talking all the time and then not at all, and when he would disappear, I’d dive deep into websites for people dating or married to lawyers. I’d post all over message boards about our situation, praying that I was just one of these lawyer’s wives who just had to be patient and put her life on hold and wait until he was ready. The message-board users mostly disagreed, though. “I don’t know. I’m in third year too, and I don’t see my girlfriend much, but I can’t imagine life without her. We just make it work.” And again I felt broken, not worth it, a benchwarmer who might never be sent back out to play again but who had nowhere else to go.


In those years, I truly don’t remember anything but crying and writing songs about him and waiting for him to choose me. This makes me very, very angry and sad.


We’d see each other here and there for coffee and he’d act like we were old friends and I lived in Holland now or some shit, acknowledging none of the difficult parts of this, or what this was exactly. We’d meet up at the diner by my house, or go see the new Werner Herzog movie together and get an awkward cup of tea after. We’d act like we were still dating, but when I’d try to push past whatever curtains seemed to be in front of who we really were, and what was really happening, he would shut down and pull away. I’d cry and ask how this was so easy for him, how he could act so casual. And he told me robotically, “It is hard for me. But I just have to put it on a very high shelf because I have to get through the day and get through work.” That high shelf was not reachable for me, but he was taller than me, so maybe that was why.


We’d always expressed ourselves in such radically different ways and I just trusted that he was mine and always would be, and that all of the spaces we occupied in between were his needing time, his getting through law school, and my putting my whole life and, inadvertently, my career on hold to wait for him like a war bride.


I got hired to be a comedy editor around this time, freelance, like so many websites loved to do it. (“Hey, can you manage eighteen websites and work twenty hours a day for a shitty freelance rate, no benefits, and a huge-ass taxation at the end, even though this is one thousand percent a full-time executive position? Thanks!!!”) But it was better than the (maybe) $500 a month I was making working for multiple sites. I took it. I worked in the West Village, just blocks away from one of the practices he was working at, and a quick train ride from another. I walked by the one near work every day on my break, hoping I’d see him—essentially stalking someone I was technically absolutely still dating. We’d never ended it, simply hit the pause button, then the start button, then pause. So I kept showing up, via email, via text, via phone calls, via walking by his workplace, hoping it was time.


One day I even went to the grocery store and bought him a bunch of food and brought it to his office and left it for him at the reception desk with a note attached. He got it and said thank you so much and told me about his day and I just really loved him. We kept on doing this “kind of dating” for two years, despite my noticing, “You say you have no time, and if you did, you’d spend it with me, but the internet exists and I see you doing things without me, so why won’t you just keep me or let me go?” Two years. It was beyond cruel, and I can see that only now. Throughout that time we didn’t kiss, we didn’t hold hands, we just existed in between, with him acting like everything was as it always was, and me playing along and crying the whole way home.


I felt like it was a puzzle I had to constantly solve. I couldn’t leave, because he was still talking to me like a girlfriend, was writing to me semi-regularly, and we saw each other semi-regularly. Going on the second year of this fucking bullshit, I emailed him and told him, “I can’t keep doing this. Either just be with me, or let me go. Please.” And he replied with a bunch of circular nonsense about how being with me was the most incredible time period in his life and he was sure life would never get better than what we had, and then said words that rang in my ear like a high-pitched noise that hurts your ears forever. “You continue to be the most ever-looming presence in my life, and I can only hope you’ll stay that way.” WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK DOES THAT MEAN, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE??? So I wrote back, and I was angry, livid. And I yelled at him. And I regretted it at the time, thought it was too mean. Now I kind of don’t. You can’t tell someone they’re all you think about and want, while they wait in a convent for you to actually be with them in any real way, and try to wrap up that box of bullshit in some mildly well put nonsense.


Looking back, I see that all of this was so textbook tied to my family dynamics that it makes perfect sense I couldn’t let it go, for different reasons each time. I couldn’t let it go the first time because it was a secure attachment, something I deeply wanted. And once it was fractured and broken, I wanted it even more. Because then, finally, it was familiar. The more he was able to provide better love and caretaking than I’d had in my childhood, the more frightened I became, and the more he subtly put me down and the less he understood why I was scared, the more I thought, “Ah yes, I need more than this. And I know how to operate in a place where I need so much more than I am getting.”


So we settled into a place where he came and went, and I waited on the front steps for him to come back again, desperate to do more for him, care more for him, whatever it took to get him to stay. Forget that from the beginning he was ready and willing to stay forever, I couldn’t understand that. Someone who just knew he wanted you, forever and always, and was ready and willing to give you what you needed? No, no, let’s make this look like something I recognize. Let’s ruin everything.


A year later, after a meditation retreat that left me feeling blissed out and forgiving, I emailed him saying that I forgave him. In a lot of ways, though, I do not.


I have spent the years since romanticizing him for the most superficial reasons possible, going back and forth between blaming myself for letting such a “great guy” go, and hating him for being so careless with someone who once meant so much to him. One flaw in my makeup, perhaps—though I don’t really see it as one—is that once you’ve meant something to me, you’re in my heart forever. Even if we dated for only a few months, if those months forged a deep closeness, however fleeting, even if you eviscerated me in the end, I would still pick up the phone if you needed me. Because we meant something to each other once. And it confuses me and breaks my heart that no one else seems to think like that. If I have ever loved someone on any level, in a way I always will. And I expect, perhaps naively, that those people will always care about me. I have absolutely thought, during my lowest points, about my exes who were everything to me and wondered if reaching out to them would help, looking for the cure in the cause of the disease.






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