“You really shouldn’t smoke.”
“What are you, my mother or something?”
Thus began the journey with the Big Love of my life.
It was a long time ago. We were 17 when we first met. About a decade older when we conceded to distance and obligation. But maybe like all Big things, that relationship set a pattern for later things, like how I would love and be loved, how the story of my intimate life would play itself out, over and over again, the characters different but the conflicts and endings the same. It has taken a world of digging to understand myself in all of it, to get to the reasons of My Sacred Story. In the meantime, in between experience and examination, in between battle and pause, I have…hardened. Not intentionally. But necessarily. To survive. Alone is authentic. But it is not easy. And Hope doesn’t die a quiet death.
We’ve been in touch sometimes, BL and I. Over the decades. He checks in. We catch up. Always respectful. Sometimes nostalgic. We both know that life can change in an instant, and we come from that shared place of understanding. About three years ago, though, he did the thing he does. The thing that sheds light on the tragedy of my Sacred Story. You see, he said something that troubled me, I expressed it to him, and he responded with silence.
And that is how it goes. My Sacred Story. Over and over. A silencing of need. So ingrained the shushing voices, I couldn’t tell you if they were mine or someone else’s. So thorough my Mastery, I couldn’t locate a single need if you gave me a map and a lantern and pointed at the breadcrumbs to the Past, where they all exist freely, openly, without fear of abandonment.
He isn’t the only one. And it didn’t begin with him. But he is the first one to give the Story a solid shape. And as luck would have it, he is one of the last ones to leave me with words unsaid. And these days, the Unsaid is unbearable. Because I am grieving again. Another sudden loss.
I am on my knees with this one. My usual pillars – gratitude, hope, faith in the Unknown Plan – a pathetic pile of pickup sticks.
Believe me. I don’t want to write him. I struggle with other ways to release the words. Do I journal? Pray? Sit in my car and yell, again, at Whatever is in charge of this Fucking Mess and beg for mercy? None of it seems to satisfy. This particular Need. This press against my chest. And so, after years of telling myself that it’s “not worth it,” or that I “don’t want to give him the satisfaction,” a dim light flickers.
“Not worth it…” Isn’t that a shushing? Another Master’s trick?
And so I sit. And I dig for the words. Not for a journal. Not for an unsent letter. For him. I don’t hold our youth against us. I just want to say the thing that matters. The thing between us. And when I find them, define them, leave no room for doubt or confusion, I press Send on the email message, without worry or hope. I say the Unsaid.
“Your silence, your disappearing acts when things get hard, they hurt like hell. I don’t expect anything to change. I just need for you to know that.”
And expect exactly nothing. Because that is my Sacred Story.
But then, miraculously, he writes back. And explains his silences. And acknowledges their harm. And we begin to tread into something new.
Can we text, he wonders? A more immediate connection? And with the question, his number and an offer to think about it. I give it time. And then, a few weeks later, I count the seven-hour difference between us and press the Send button again. Soon, I see the magic bubbles across my gadget screen. He is typing. And for the next couple of hours, we are with each other. Our first real-time interchange in decades.
We take it slow. First the weather, then friends, then health, then work. We ask, we answer, we quietly honor the fragility of the moment. I am finely tuned into my heart, listening for the sound of distress…or joy…or longing…anything I need to know. It is quiet.
Until I decide to use his name. I pause. The personal nickname too much yet. The formal too hardened. I am frozen.
I land safely – or so I think – on the nickname other friends used and barrel onward, hoping he doesn’t notice. But.
“You’ve never called me that.”
Shit. “No. It was ‘Nicky,’” I write. And I hold my breath. And hide a little more. “Some folks made fun of that. Everyone had an opinion, I guess.”
“Ah. It never bothered me. It actually soothed me. And you would be the only one to call me that.”
“Well, then,” I type, “Nicky it is.”
We check in, make sure that we’re both ok, give the new thing a thumbs up, and hope for a next time.
I put my phone down and turn to the door to my back patio. Past the window, a thinning layer of snow. I still grieve. But on this late winter day, a sign of a thaw.