break-ups I should have hooked up with the Maytag Man Norwegian Bachelor Farmers as steamrollers

Nothing Can to Nothing Fall (Part II of III)


Continuing where the last post left off:

Essential to my ultimate disintegration was the beauty of our beginning. For the next few months, I drove to his house—nearly two hours away—at least once a week. He made me feel doted upon, as though I was the final piece to his life’s puzzle. Simultaneous to our starting up, he was planning the huge life change of leaving his longtime job at an engineering firm; he and his best friend were planning to poach a major client, move to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and open their own firm. Early on, he pointed out teaching possibilities in the UP that I could explore, suggested that I might consider a move, too.

Between “smitten” and “maybe you could move to the UP, too” I was besotted—so infatuated with the vision of a social, outdoorsy future of parenting that I overlooked conspicuous deficiencies. I accelerated my efforts to become unquestionably the “right person.” I wore Patagonia. I tossed out ironies. I picked blackberries and morel mushrooms and contributed them to his kitchen. I showed up, week after week, to help prepare his house for sale. I painted stucco for hours and, ironically, ruined expensive Patagonia shorts in the process.

He never visited my town, never saw my house, never met any of my friends that weren’t mutually his.

Each week, I would offer up when I could visit, outlining the projects I could tackle. My desire to be a helpmeet to him distracted me from noticing that–whereas he’d once asked me where he could take me out for my birthday, once reached for me with eagerness, once bought me copies of his favorite books—he now simply said yes, I could come. Yes, I could paint the upstairs bedroom while he was at work. Yes, I could make a triple layer cake for his birthday party. Yes, I could provide a feminine presence that caused his friends and colleagues to put their heads together and clack that The Bachelor had someone. Interestingly, no one ever asked him what was going on between us; they came and asked me. My answer consisted of a shrug and a vague rambling answer about his needing to get through the move to the UP before either of us could be sure of anything.

In the moment, I felt glad that I was able to speak for him because that meant I was part of an Us.

In retrospect, I can see that I was surfing on a crest of bewilderment, ready to accept any excuse for the lack of clarity between us if it meant I got to be with him.

And I was with him. However, he wasn’t with me. At some nebulous point in that stretch of months, he was done.

Because I had fallen in love with something as substantial as a moonbeam, I neglected a cold reality. The traditional practice of Norwegian Bachelor Farmers is to carry on steadily and deal with life situations through quiet compliance. Even when the humane thing to do is utter a few necessary words, the NBF isn’t compelled to step up, cannot force himself to violate the comfort of passivity.

Although it feels safe to the NBF to put his head down and tuck his arms close to his sides, such a posture of tameness can destroy those around him—can dismantle those putting out the energy to keep their chins up and extend their hands outside their personal space.

As the months carried on, I did cop to the one-sidedness of our relationship. One time, I hung up the phone after talking to him and thought, “Okay, this doesn’t feel right. Even though I’m petrified to face it head on, as that could mean the end of this thing, which then would deposit my lonely self back onto the pavement around the ponds, getting chased by geese as I listen to Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors on tape, I’m ready to ask him what’s going on.” Inhaling a dramatic breath, I picked up the receiver and, with cold and shaking fingers, dialed his number again. Even though I’d just talked to him, and even though I knew he was home, it rang and rang and rang and rang and rang, endlessly.

By the next morning, my resolve was lost.

Something was starting to shift in me, though, starting to wake up to his absence. Because I was stubbornly blind in matters of the heart, the shift only began with an act of nature: my town was struck by a group of tornadoes one summer afternoon. Nothing in my life will ever again feel as starkly terrifying as being alone in my basement, crouched behind the washing machine on the grimy cement floor, pleading to a potentially-nonexistent God for safe passage, while all the world outside turned ominously yellow, hundred-mile-an-hour winds thrashed electrical wires loose, and the sound of a freight train bore down on my house. Alone, I screamed and screamed, hugging the washing machine, hoping it wouldn’t be lifted, only to land on top of me. Because if it did, who would know? Who would find me? Who would save me?

Someone who was loved would not have to ask such questions. Someone who was reasonable would have realized that if she was going to die, she was going to die, and even being loved wouldn’t change that.

Feeling neither loved nor reasonable, I emerged from the basement twenty minutes later, more grateful to a washing machine than I knew I could be. The town was devastated, with more than 250 trees down across major roads; there was no electricity restored for 4 days. I rapidly discovered orienteering by headlamp and candle after dark only feels “fun” and “like a lark” when in the company of others. In a house alone, the darkness flowed directly from my heart. My mechanically-challenged self also couldn’t figure out how to open the garage since the garage door opener was powered by electricity, and simply tugging on the door budged nothing. For the first three days after the storm, I walked and biked everywhere. Eventually, I waited outside until a stranger passed by, and, feeling rather like Blanche DuBois, asked him how to disconnect the opener and pull the door up manually.

A week after the well-publicized decimation of my town, all services restored, I still hadn’t heard from my—what to call him, wondered the woman who likes to sculpt snowmen out of air—boyfriend. Eventually, I called him, assuring him somewhat sarcastically that I was fine. Sarcasm, of course, is a sublimation of graver feelings.

Yet. I am nothing, if not loyal to moonbeams.

For the thing between us to be over, he needed to participate in the separation; without his acknowledgement that it was over, I would never be certain that anything had existed in the first place.

Respite from the haze came when I took another trip to Ireland that summer. I was gone for six weeks, and further regret came after I neutralized several opportunities involving lads with lilting brogues, uncertain as to whether I needed to honor the relationship back home or not.

Upon my return home, the issue came to a head. Two of the friends from the “cabin weekend” crew were having a commitment ceremony; because I was relatively new in their lives, yet they liked me, they assumed that the best approach was to invite The Bachelor and that I would be his date. So I waited. As the days passed, other Cabin Crew friends called to see if he’d asked me. Finally well and sick of not knowing what my own life even was anymore, I strapped on my Big Girl Belt—which was heavier than anticipated—and I called him and asked what was going on, straight out.

Catching him unawares was an efficient technique, as he had no dodge prepared. His answer was a clean, “No, I wasn’t going to ask you.” From there, he admitted, using the worst of clichés (“It’s not you; it’s me”), that our connection was quite over for him. We actually talked, and although I sobbed through much of it, at least when I hung up, I knew something.

A “moral of the story” tale would end here with personal growth, a shoring up of spirits, and some healthy moving on.

Morals are too pat for real life.

(Part III forthcoming)

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