Dave is Afraid

Being the Thanksgiving holiday, people were off work, mostly, mostly with their families. Being an important week for consumerism too, I worked odd hours—I was up at 6:00 am for the go-ahead to send digital traffic in APAC, on again at 6:00 pm for EMEA, and again at 1:00 am for AMR, when calamity struck in Chile and we were kept on until 7:00 am. I indulged in a lengthy snooze that day, staying in bed until well into the afternoon. Reveling in the luxury of an extended Friday slumber was delightful, yet just as easy as I disrupted my routine, it felt I’d upended the rhythm of my world. My mind was fragile, seemed on edge, like the littlest thing could push it into a flip. This was in no small part because, in between the EMEA greenlight and the calamity, I chose to watch “Beau Was Afraid”, doubtlessly the worst, most mind-bending movie a person in a sensitive state could’ve chosen. What appeared in the trailer to be rich in style and artistic storytelling—a tale of a very lost soul named Beau Wasserman as the trailer put it—wound up being far far weirder and far longer than expected. The oneiric logic in the trailer seemed to be inline with my current state, but like a dream on the sillier side, this movie was very hard to follow and seemed to be intentionally toying with my sanity (or lack thereof). The characters acted completely nonsensically as they all teamed up to mercilessly torture and torment Beau. He was stabbed again and again by a naked man, after being hit by a woman in a truck. The woman kindly brought Beau to her family home and her husband, who was a surgeon, tended to his injuries, but the married couple kept finding excuses not to take Beau to his mother’s funeral (a chandelier fell on her head…something he learned just before being run over and stabbed) and their lunatic daughter horrifically bullied poor Beau over her parent’s decision to put him in her room to recover. She poked fun at the death of his mother and threatened to scream and call him a pervert if he didn’t smoke weed and fling paint over the things in her dead brother’s room. When Beau finally jumped out a window to escape into the woods, the family responded by sending a war-torn ex-soldier, who they had for some ridiculous reason been fostering, to hunt him down. It only got weirder from there. The storyline and decisions made by characters were completely bonkers. After sitting through three-hours of plotless lunacy, I took to the internet for an explanation, a larger theme to tie it together, but the director refused to give one. His stance was that the bizarre odyssey didn’t need to be explained and actually took umbrage over the fact that viewers hadn’t noticed the easter eggs he supposedly buried throughout the film. Articles meant to offer an explanation all seemed to have something in the title in parentheses like (what the hell is going on?). The best I could find called it a demented, funhouse mirror version of the hero’s journey. I can say with full confidence it was the single most harmful movie for me at this moment in my life. Three hours of knotted gobbledygook, preceded by what settled into a full night shift! Fuck me! Did I mention my fiance just left me? The person I was to share my life with had a change of heart. Decided hers was too precious. That it was no longer a fair exchange, a worthy exchange. This thing wasn’t reconcilable. Would never be harmonious enough. It wasn't for a lack of love so much as her emotional reserves had been tapped out. There was no longer capacity to patiently wait for a connection to rekindle or for me to rediscover the man I was in the beginning. Perhaps, as she saw it, she’d miss-judged my character. When pressed by our couples therapist on her appetite for the uphill climb we faced, Vanessa deemed it more valuable to devote that energy towards her own needs, which, throughout her life, she felt had always come last. And with that possibly hurried decision, the therapy concluded and the decoupling began.  

Once we began therapy, my focus shifted from winning our ongoing conflict, and assigning blame, to a desire to repair the relationship and accepting it. I decided it best to leave it that way after she left. Since separating, I’d been haunted by a relentless replaying of my sins. When our relationship first began, Vanessa often broke into squat exercises any time we found ourselves idling. Her youthful exuberance ignited as she descended, bending at the knees and hips as if settling into an imaginary chair. And her smile just widened as she pushed through her heels to return to the starting position. The routine captured my heart, it was one of those things early on that had me falling for her. And despite my affection for it, one day I poked fun at her and ruined it forever. She never smiled her biggest smile and squatted in place again. I couldn’t go on considering myself a virtuous person knowing all the ways I dimmed her light. A scorecard of my grievances had also already been tallied in a relationship rife with clashes, and that had only gotten me here. 

Guided by a friend’s advice to simply ‘keep doing the next right thing’ (seemingly all his advice came from Disney’s Frozen sequel), it was clear to me I had to embrace culpability. All the feelings from over the years I’d argued, championed against, marginalized, annihilated—I gave her validation for all of them on her way out. It was the least I could do, really. I tearfully composed five unabridged pages, expressing my heartfelt apology for letting her and our pets down, fully acknowledging my part in the dissolution of our family. In the same breath, so to speak, I conveyed gratitude for all she had done for me. For really loving me and getting to know me better than anyone ever had. I kept reminding myself I could only control my own actions and in that vein it seemed almost necessary to atone. I continued to take responsibility even when people on my side defended me. The approach seemed more constructive than allowing a narrative to be spun that she was bad to me, or for me. Before meeting her, I was, in essence, a miscreant. Though appearing solid on the surface, anyone who lifted the floorboards found a nasty horde of pests and mildew underneath. I had to learn to shave on her face and she let me. There was no way this relationship could be framed as “bad” for me. It was almost selfish in a way, writing that letter. It was my final piece of agency and delivering it gave me a sense of freedom. Should I shoulder the blame and embrace full accountability, she may have still been faced with the choice of staying or going, grappling with the weight of potential regret. I, on the other hand, was out of moves and decisions to wrestle. Whether the contents of those pages made an impact remained where it belonged, beyond my knowledge. My only, singular recourse after the letter was to do better next time, with or without her. Anything else was out of my hands.

A week after our split, without work to occupy my time, and a sense my mind was swapped with the MCU of a Furby toy, I mechanically blinked and navigated my daily tasks, my lack of people only growing more profound. Over the course of our four-year relationship, I’d alienated myself from friends and with so many visiting loved ones, as I’d mentioned, I spent much of the week alone…occasionally jumping on virtual work calls, occasionally speaking to friends over the phone or engaging in text conversations (as it were, mostly about the things people were purchasing). Being alone, and sad, music was a consistent backdrop, a soundtrack, to my week as I traversed what had become the dreamlike landscape of my new life in my home which would soon be half (more like three-quarters) empty.

Previously, I’d loved my moments alone at home. I considered it time to write and read, listen to music and drink coffee. I’d allow the the sun to shine down on my face, and on the dog and cat that would sunbathe faithfully at my side, the slender tendrils of our yard’s many vine-like trees would sashay in the soothing breeze, and much higher up the palm trees always swayed calmly. Now, the isolation underscored my breakup and the many mistakes that caused it—retreating inward, closing myself off, not making room for the relationship or giving myself to love, failing to let affection penetrate my defensive shell. Hereafter, there was a new life in which no one would come bursting through the door (Vanessa always came in especially hot, her force was never in question) and the household would never again be our shared space. Thus, I could fully extend my knees and roll and flounder as I pleased in our bed, but what I really longed for was her company, her warm body next to me. All the things I’d failed to do previously, like connecting over dinner, I wanted to do so badly. The night before she left, I laid in bed as she packed her suitcase in the other room under the glow of the harsh light I’d often complained about during our relationship. I sat up to shut the door when it hit me that soon the light shining in my eyes would be out for good, that she would be gone, the house would be empty. I put my face in my hands and cried. How I would have killed to keep that light on. Now, I was alone. Now, I moved about the apartment whimsically in solitude…gone was all the life that once bristled and the future it promised. No partner. No lover. There were still books and music. The trees still swayed. The animals still sunbathed with me. Yet, I couldn’t engage with any of it. I stood in place in the backyard clutching my coffee mug, listening to chamber music and the gravel crunching beneath my slippers like a woozy, disconnected cretin. A total reject. While I stood, the chorus began to sing over the low strings and a bee hovered directly in front of my face, floating for several beats as if paused, and darted off after what seemed a significant time. Was that weird? That was weird, right? Was it beautiful? Was the bee high on fertilizer? I stood in a daze.

Stepping out to walk the dog, I popped a Gabapentin, forcing on a beanie and a happy face. The sun gods rewarded us with the most perfect, oblique light—their divine embrace precluding it from overwhelming or fading—that draped the park with gilded satin in the seam of warmth's intensity and the cool’s touch. I was taking on the world alone. Without emotional support. No amity, sense of belonging, common goals. There was no feedback or validation, no one with which to share my thoughts or feelings. And yet in the absence of that enduring shared journey, a sense of purpose still lingered—a feeling that I had, perhaps, become more capable—that my every decision and action no longer hinged on the need to please her or sidestep her contempt (things I almost always fumbled anyway). Music played in my ears and everything seemed a bit blurred (a side effect of the Gaba), the air was charged with inspiration and imagination, each corner turned revealing a new spectacle, a fresh manifestation of this new, surreal and solitary headspace. I took out an earbud to adjust it just in time to hear a man dressed in all black with an eyebrow ring declare with a delicate lisp that he was willing to make changes, but that they must be for him. Had I been a DJ, it would have become my hook, just before I dropped the beat. I felt connected to the three surging peaks of the fountain, the sloshing of the swan-shaped paddle boats, faces that passed and lily pads that drifted elegantly atop the water’s gentle ripples. A connection that broke as I tried to balance the dog’s urge to stop for every smell and the stroll’s need to stroll on. When I looked up, I saw only couples at the park—couples on a jog, couples holding hands, couples sharing an embrace on their picnic blankets. They were everywhere! A phenomenon not just bound to the park by the way…all week long on social media and in group texts, the people were lauding their successful households, deepening my own profound sense of personal failure. I shouldn’t say everywhere. Since I was paying attention more often, there was  a near equal amount of heartbreak. A girl at the coffee shop the other night was talking to her friend about a recent breakup, her grounds eerily similar to that of my former lover’s. “You’re a great person, you're just not my person,” she said, rehashing her parting words. Even at that very moment, I was entrenched in a Spotify “basic breakup music” vortex—expressing simple themes of emotional pain, loss, and heartbreak—triggered by my impromptu choice to listen to Miley Cyrus’ “Without You”, that in a way almost exonerated me—their struggles so closely mirroring the fractures that tore us apart. “You remind me everyday…I’m not enough, but I still stay,” crooned Noah Cyrus, Miley’s less notable sister. As this walk and the walks and days and illusory feels that followed waged on, and the music played, and the strangers and friends either loved or ended love, I began to find strength deep-down within myself.  Strength I didn’t realize I had. Pushing me forward. Reminding me I was perhaps not hopeless. Eventually, changing to songs that I loved, that had previously been there for me, it became possible, in my mind, to make the shifts needed to come out on the other side a better man with a better life. Jonathan Meiburg reminded me that I too “have had enough, wasting my body, my life.” That I too would “come away, come away from the shallows!” My fears were eased by Jordan Lee, as he admonished that, “we were born to be this way. We were made to be afraid.” And oh, was I afraid of so many things—namely a life and a future without her, but also that I’d made loving me too difficult for anyone to uphold. That could I find someone else, they wouldn’t be as good (good: moral—giving—kind—pleasant—optimistic), (good: elicits feelings of ease and innate comfort), (good: conducive to my emotional and personal development), (good: beloved by my family and friends). And yet, it felt I was beginning to overcome some of the smaller fears. I decided I wouldn’t allow myself to be left in an empty apartment. I would determine what was fair and ample time to give her to change her mind, and then I would begin attending flea markets and ordering my own things. I wouldn’t allow myself to wait for her to come take the kitchen table and table settings…to wrap the dishes and glassware in newspaper, pack them away and empty the silverware drawers. I planned to copy her methods of organization and reimplement them before Ken, the man we hired to merge our households into this one, was hired to move her back out of it. The next girl would marvel at the Marie Kondo-esque structure and arrangement of my drawers and storage spaces! At least that’s what I told myself as I looked around our home and cried.

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