Ten years ago:
I shouldn't have done what I did.
She drove up to visit me, even through by the time she hopped in the car I was already had concerns. Our conversations were pretty deep, but I wasn't sure that starting things between us would be a good idea. But the part of me that was reaching out for connections with other people was too overpowering, and I told her how to get to me. I cleaned the apartment and waited and smoked and worried and tried to settle myself out.
We went and ate at one of the variety of suburban chain restaurants that are strewn along route 31 north of town. I tried to use words to cover things up while I worked on the puzzle of emotions I had about her actually sitting there across from me. Hell, maybe we were both doing that then, sitting in some green booth under a dimmed light waiting for the check. The details remained in that moment.
Later, back at my house we were having drinks and sitting in the living room. I had some frozen lemonade that I was pulling out of the freezer to mix with vodka. While I was standing at the sink coaxing liquid from the frozen tube she played around with the bits of magnetic poetry that had not yet escaped under the fridge. When I handed her the first concoction, she invited me to read her work, then sitting in a straight line just below the top of the freezer door:
"Why don't you kiss her?"
I didn't like feeling the pressure. I didn't like the seemingly unnatural passive-aggressive performance. But I did want to kiss her and see what that would mean, so I followed her lead. The rest of the night was a flash of thrown blankets and dim lighting; the creation of a little world for us to live in for a little while.
I had subtle regrets in the morning, but nothing that I felt I needed to escape from. I wanted to talk things over when we went for breakfast, but instead the conversation revolved around the topics that had brought us together in the first place. I should have pushed then, and talked about what feelings she was working from. Instead, I let a crucial moment pass. She went home that afternoon, and things seemed to return to normal.
Except the conversations we had after that had a tinge to them that I didn't understand at first. They seemed to be more laden with responsibility. Gone were the flurry of little email notes and phone calls, replaced with arranged meetings, and talk of me coming to visit her. She talked about what her parents would think of me, and when could I get some days off again? I had been through this kind of back door entry to a relationship before, and I felt manipulated and weird. So I reacted the way that I considered reasonable at the time: I completely broke contact. Yeah, I was that asshole.
I didn't connect the dots leading to my particular responsibility for this problem, and instead I felt hurt and confused as to how all of that could have happened to me. I was offended over the seemingly irrationality of the conclusions she was drawing. I didn't understand where she felt she could start demanding things of me. I was actually angry at this poor girl who was caught up in my static.
I'm embarrassed to write all of that, but it is all true. It took me a few months to actually figure all of that out, and even longer to implement the lesson learned. But I did understand in the end.
My sister-in-law needed to have some surgery done at the University of Michigan, and as a part of that she had to go to the hospital in Ann Arbor to have some pre-op tests performed. She asked me if I could come along on the drive, just in case she needed help driving on the way back. I had never been out there before, so I gave myself the day off and went with her.
There is a decade gap between her and I. When she married my brother, I was a thirteen year old kid with a lack of self-awareness and a knack for creating awkward situations. In the years in between we would occasionally run into each other at family holidays or whatever, but we really didn't talk per se. It isn't that either of us felt uncomfortable around each other, rather that there was no place to start really.
The first hour of the drive made that rather plainly clear. We talked about facts of our lives, sometimes talking about them with the other for the first time. I felt like I actually created myself as a person for her instead of being the character that mainly existed as a concept before. It was an interesting experience to go through for the first time. Nowadays I've found myself on the other side of that process, discovering that distant cousins have grown into real people while I wasn't really paying attention.
While she was in the bowels of the hospital getting poked at, I sat in a crowded waiting room trying to entertain myself with a CD player and some shitty daytime television. I began thinking about all of the other times I had been sitting in waiting rooms at hospitals, and made myself a little more anxious than was necessary. I walked out to the smoking area across the street, and sat in the sun and tried to talk myself out of the ridiculous little emotional space I had crawled into. There was nothing to worry about at all, but I was instead biting my nails and waiting for something to happen based purely on a trained emotional reaction.
Instead I looked out at the horizon and saw hilltops for the first time in seven months, and got incredibly homesick instead. Instead of facing down that feeling again, I went back inside, where she was already done and wonder where I had wandered off to for so long. While we drove back, listening to some Deee-Lite album and chatting, I wondered if there actually was a limit to the amount of emotional distress I could pointlessly inflict on myself.
There is nothing quite like breaking into your own apartment, and especially so when your landlord is giving explicit permission to break that window.
My landlord had the building I was living in on the market, as there had been a real-estate agent coming through and showing the place every once in a while. It didn't really bother me at all, as I didn't really own anything of value and there was little I could do to make the house look much crappier than it already was.
But there was a door at the bottom of my staircase that I didn't have a key for. I just kept it unlocked all the time, and locked the door at the top of the stairs. The real estate agent had no idea of this naturally, and locked all of the doors on her way out earlier in the day. I arrived back at my apartment to find I was completely unable get to my front door.
I walked back to my brother's apartment to call the landlord, who showed up a little bit later. He brought with him a whole box full of keys, unsure which key would open the lock. We alternated drawing keys out of this box and taking a crack at the lock, each time hoping we had somehow isolated the correct one. Half an hour later and halfway through this box, he admitted that he wasn't exactly sure that he even had the key to this door.
Sure enough, he didn't have the key. We stood there staring at the door as if our gaze would somehow unlatch the bolt. Finally I shared the idea I had when I first encountered the problem: why don't I just elbow in the window and reach in and unlock the motherfucker already? He had a canvas tarp in the back of his truck, and he held it over the glass while I broke the window. Thirty seconds later, I was in my apartment, getting the broom to sweep up the shards at the bottom of my stairs.
I did wonder why he would own a building and not have the keys to every single door, but I thought calling him out on it might be impolite, considering he now needed to fix the door because of it. I also figured that he was now trying to sell a building with obvious properly damage, so I might just be adding injury. Instead I helped clean up and rolled my eyes as he drove off.
Notes on a life in exile: A retrospective
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