Note: This was written in 2014. In the context of the changes that followed my move to San Francisco, it’s poignant how very much this was on my mind.
Goodbyes have been on my mind a lot lately. Certainly, I’ve said them a lot.
For those in my life with any degree of immediacy, the reason is pretty well known: I’m moving to Silicon Valley. My partner has been hired by a giant. When the Valley calls a techie from the Midwest, it’s THE call up to the majors. I had asked once about a dream job we are not people of dream homes and dream lovers, but ones of dream jobs – and the answer: “Valley Giant.” Not too long after, the Valley Giant called. It was part of a long, strange trip that began when we moved into our current dwelling that looks like it will continue once we hit the west coast. My feelings are complicated, sopping wet with ego confusion, hurt pride, frustration with the situations at hand, and love for along with pride in my sweetie.
I’ve uprooted myself twice in my life already, and both times were incredibly hard, and the first one would have been impossible if I’d let myself know how I felt about it while it was happening.
The most recent uprooting was in 2002, when I divorced my first husband and moved to Minneapolis. In some ways it was much more gentle than the one that brought me to Minnesota: I had friends in Mankato who acted like real friends. They packed up my house when they recognized for me that the emotional strain of placating my ex got to be too much. They helped me move. My ex and I tried to be amicable, in part because we were both in denial about how very much we needed to split up. The same mysterious spirit that had moved me to wander as far from my family’s reach as I could get was moving me away from my ex as far as it could persuade me to go. There was even a small farewell/congratulations party at the wine café before I started my new job and new life in the apartment I couldn’t really afford but still look back on fondly.
By that time I already understood Minnesota treated all its outsiders like cattle thieves, and I was unsurprised that in the first year or so, new friends were not immediate, and few friends proved real friends in the long run. That is Minnesota, and that will always be Minnesota.
The farewell I received was loving, and when friends moved on they paused to tell me about it as it happened. By then it was easier – email and chat programs were ubiquitous; it was even a solid part of my social life, both with people I met in person that lived nearby and with those that lived farther away. My time on messenger services was roughly equivalent to what most women spent on the phone in prior years. I often am unsure about closeness; frequency of contact and initiation thereof are to this day the only real factors I have to go on.
There weren’t a lot of other dates before I met my partner – the as-yet unnamed specter of social anxiety caused me all sorts of weird misery, from tolerating people that didn’t deserve tolerance to trying to engage with people that I knew would reject me. I often wonder how my love life would be without that particular problem, but ultimately, like my fat, it has not limited opportunity so much as it has filtered out the bad choices for me…most of the time.
There were friends kept from my Mankato days, though divorce, consciously or unconsciously, caused some distancing. There were friends made as I became more involved with activities outside my very small core of immediate acquaintances.
It took a long time and there was a lot of hardship along the way but I did build a life in Minneapolis, one made easier when my partner and I decided to combine our living situation. I had married too young to have any real salad days as most single people knew them, so the years of tight finances prior to moving in with my current love were those days for me. My financial decisions were terrible and like most divorced women obtaining the divorce was bad for me financially. Still, I got a few years to live on my own, to learn how to hear my own voice (which was harder to do than I thought), and to only answer to myself. I cherish the experience, though when it ended, I was sick with something I still have, life was unstable, and I didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye to myself and that period of my life in a way I would have liked.
The last goodbye I had was relatively quick, pulling the band-aid off on a bad marriage. At the time I still felt the need to try to look good to society so I kept babbling some shit about working it out with my ex someday. I’m over that now. Pleasing society is a zero sum game, and the people that think poorly of me don’t think that way because of my behavior.
The first uprooting not fueled by a graduation, however, was different. It sticks with me to this day. Had I had a genuinely healthy upbringing, I never would have been there with those people in the first place. I’d have gone to school somewhere that actually suited my talents, that supported me, and the good parents I never had would have done what they could to help me towards independence.
Instead of that idealized past, I landed in rural Wisconsin with no car, complete with an unrecognized social anxiety disorder that was to bloom like mushrooms on a wet patch into PTSD as I managed to decrease but not eliminate my family’s control over my life. I of course had trouble making friends. My neurons were wired wrong, and I was told to admit it meant admitting craziness – and losing all social validity.
My newspaper editor persuaded me to skip freshman orientation – the time when most freshman meet their first friends – to help rearrange a newspaper office. Because of my conditioning it didn’t occur to me to say no to this request. If I had been normal –if normal is even the right word – I probably could still have recovered from that particular gaffe. But I wasn’t normal. I kind of knew I wasn’t normal, even though my not-normal wasn’t named to me until I was well into my mid-30s. I was introverted, and struggled to approach people. So when people approached me, they faced lively, intense force – to the point where it only a few noticed that I almost never initiated.
This intense force at approach and constant quiet elsewhere confused people as I was quite outspoken in class – the terror of failing a participation grade was enough to prompt my tongue to movement – but when it came to approaching people outside of class, to have a friendly conversation, my mind would go completely blank. I could think of NOTHING TO SAY to someone I wanted to engage in conversation. I couldn’t even muster a question about “what are you doing this weekend?”
It got so bad I sometimes scribbled some ideas in the back of notebooks to help with those awkward moments. I even wrote down opening lines before I made phone calls, and I always erred on the business-like over the personal. Sometimes, someone would approach me outside of class. It was usually either out of kindness, someone who recognized my problem when I didn’t myself, and then the pity flavored the friendship in an uncomfortable way. Or it was someone who was as desperate as I was, but who made me feel uncomfortable, even burdened. To my frequent sense of overbearing guilt, I was often bored by these people but felt horrible at the thought of saying no to spending time with them – for myself and for them.
It wasn’t long before an observant, exploitative young man trapped me in a relationship and my isolation began in earnest. His attempt to make me into a beaten-down, soul-dead thing really should have worked, given my lack of real support. But it didn’t, even after he tried to discover and take advantage of every negative opinion I had about myself, and any one he could curry in those around me. Looking back, that was where the mysterious spirit really appeared in my life. Something gave me enough sass to see through his shit, even if I didn’t quite have enough power or support to disengage. I was the only friend I knew for sure I had – and when it matters, I am fucking loyal.
In the mix of this was a young man that took an intellectual interest in me. To this day I am unsure about what prompted that interest. From what he said to me, I loaned him a pencil during placement testing and for whatever reason that made an impression. The only thing I really remember about that day was my mother insisting I eat frozen custard instead of studying for placement exams, combined with social and test anxiety, and some guy – apparently this kid, from later conversation – saying he never took the SAT, which inspired an irrational dislike in me. Oh Christ, one of those, I remember thinking. “Athletic scholarship?” I said aloud.
He was in two of my classes our first semester, and through some weird twist of fate he lived in the dorm room directly below mine. I did have a crush in him in that desperate-for-a-boyfriend way (or desperate for the social status safety of a boyfriend, really) that I had at that time, but when he introduced me to his sex-friend and frequently mentioned his girlfriend I pushed that hope aside – and it was likely what was best for us both.
I did want to get to know him better, but when I tried to speak in a personal way, no words would come out, or I would say something weird and aggressive that shoved him away, scrabbling and failing to put forth my questions free of judgment. This was contrasted with our during-class discussions, where my persona was almost exactly the opposite of my true interior.
In class I was spirited, funny, pugnacious – and he loved it. When, after a day when our argument was particularly disruptive to the class, the professor suggested we go on a date and talk things out. I suppressed an eye roll, presuming clueless adult didn’t know enough to see real hostility. I don’t think this young man wanted to take me out on a date but he didn’t find the idea as objectionable as I did – and I was, at that point, very used to people making it clear that the idea of spending any time with me, especially a date, was very objectionable. I thought I was rejecting myself for him.
Somehow, he was always nearby the entire time I went to that school. He just kept showing up, long after most people gave up on talking to me. Every time I brushed him off, assumed he was an idiot, he just came right back. He didn’t do anything sexual, he never made a romantic overture, he was honest about every woman he hooked up with, and was quite vocal when he fell in love with his girlfriend.
When I was vehemently disparaging about sports – he was a football player – and the Greek system- he joined a fraternity our second semester – he acknowledged my feelings, explained his…and continued our friendship.
One day after I had solidified things with the abusive boyfriend, I surprised myself by turning to him and inviting him to study. I did this even after I told myself it would probably be a de facto tutoring session since something something dumb/lazy jocks. He surprised me by saying yes. He surprised me more by showing up at my room and actually knowing the material. My ex left when he appeared at my door, ostentatiously kissing me goodbye. “That’s your boyfriend?” he asked.
When things went far enough south with the boyfriend that I recognized the icky feeling I had had about the guy came from truth, and this friend finally got me to give him a straight answer about what was going on, my boyfriend somehow lost the ability to await me in my dorm. My friend used his considerable social influence to protect me. As far as I could tell, he did this for no other reason than that he believed it to be the right thing to do.
During that second semester we only had one class together; he borrowed my notes during his Hell Week and we did study together or at least side by side into the wee hours during midterms. I went to his initiation party and he and his brothers were shocked – one of them, fueled by drunkenness, literally ran around the party yelling “Diana showed up!” When I hugged each of his brothers and congratulated them, I told them “Some things are more important than my opinions.” I meant it. I disagreed with the fraternity life – but I could see that my friend and his pledge class got something out of it, and it mattered to them, and I was okay with accepting that even if I didn’t understand it. This friendship, and actually knowing this person, changed my mind about who frat boys could be, even as today I struggle with who the younger generation are choosing to be.
By that time we had become real friends, and while he likely doesn’t remember, my world filled with stories of him as an instigator. He had given me my first illicit drink – by accident, thinking I was joking about my “no drinking, no smoking,” and later, on purpose. I tried to only come visit when he explicitly asked me to. I kept to that rule the entire time I attended that school. The second semester of our freshman year, he called me almost every night, somehow always timed to be right after I had taken my before bed shower. I would come down, my hair still wet, and we would talk about high concept nothing. I suspect those calls were placed when they were because his roommate at the time enjoyed women with wet hair, even if one of the women was me. I suspect it was also a way of making sure I was away when the creepy boyfriend found excuses to drop by – in many ways it was more about protecting a woman than it was about spending time with me.
Just knowing this young man was the most enriching part of my experience at that college.
There were days where he was the most empathetic and tolerant guy I knew, and other days where I would throw my hands up and yell “You’re fucking Zorg!” as Aquarian abstraction and obscure political views burst out of him, well thought out but impossible for me to connect with.
The last night of freshman semester I didn’t know if I’d be coming back – money was tight, my family was weird and silent, avoiding conversations about several promises concerning my education that they had roundly broken or were adamantly denying they had made. My mother had become steadily more vituperative and bitter every time I saw her; I didn’t want to give her excuses to deny me further education, especially not the excuse of a hangover. She had predicted that I would “go wild” and while I hadn’t, to her mind anything I did that involved interacting with other class members merited slut-shaming. When he asked if I’d go to that last frat party, and I declined, explaining about my mother picking me up the next day, he just smiled.
At one in the morning, he was knocking at my door, begging me to come down the hall. So I went – and there was a room party filled with people from the freshman class. I actually felt comfortable, and was joking and flirting with him when a guy that had taken to throwing beer on me at parties interrupted us. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” he demanded. My friend, by that time, had a girlfriend but apparently my boyfriend was an issue.
“Yeah, I have a boyfriend, technically,” I answered.
“So what, are you a slut?” My brain blanked out.
I started retreating into myself, the first retraction before leaving the party, when my friend bellowed, “Will you let her relax?”
The hostess, who had no qualms about cheating snapped in, “What are you, the boyfriend police?”
My attacker faltered. He had not expected this turn of events – he did have a weird fixation on me, and was often very nice to me in class only to come very close to assault if I let him anywhere near me outside of class.
My friend turned to me and said, “If you want him to leave, I’ll kick him out of here.” The hostess seconded this notion, asking me to make the call.
I thought about it, and if I’d asked him to be removed, I have no doubt it would have happened. But I decided it was better to make an ally than exacerbate an enemy, so I said he could stay.
Shortly before the party was broken up by an over-vigilant and bitter hall director, my friend persuaded me to tell him my childhood nickname. He climbed up my outstretched legs when I refused and said “C’mon, I’m your friend.”
I knew what he was doing, and he knew I was vulnerable to him. I also told him. I actually wished he had called me by that name, something specific and private for him and me. But he never did. He stuck with Di, or Diana when he was mad at me or talking about me as an academic.
When the party broke up, someone with serious beer breath demanded a kiss, he got one on the cheek, someone yelled “I love you” down the hall at me and while I think it was him and certainly wish it was, I am unsure of my own memory after this long. I also recall assuming that whoever it was had beer goggles and would not want a kiss or anything else from me while sober.
The ex-boyfriend thought he’d set things up so I’d pine over him that summer. His plan failed. I was relieved to be free of him, and recovered fast, having a summer full of friends, playgrounds, shitty jobs, and random make-out sessions.
Almost every day, I thought about my friend, and how he opened me up to fun. I tried to make a courtesy breakup call to my ex and his mother – herself quite awful – insisted he wasn’t home. They weren’t important to me. I also called my friend, because I really wanted to know how he was doing. He sounded puzzled when he answered the phone, causing my stomach to make an unhappy drop, but he was nice enough when we spoke. He was really enjoying his time with his girlfriend and family. I had just gotten a job offer at the horrific newspaper customer service job, and I was considering it – it meant I might stay in Indiana and never go back to Wisconsin.
Right after this, my mother worked herself up to fever pitch in the controlling and invasive department, which included her finding an excuse to delay taking me back right on move in day. Rumors sped. So when I came back, most people were surprised to see me, and my friend was at football practice, unavailable to help me unload my mother’s car. I told his roommate not to tell him I’d stopped by – that I would surprise him later.
I remember brushing my grown-out hair and putting on lipstick. I put on a funeral home T-shirt I’d been given the year before, assuming it would evoke a smartass remark from him. I figured I’d see pictures of his summer and his girlfriend.
I knocked on his door and he opened it – and froze. I was standing their with a half-smile, expecting him to read my T-shirt and mock me for it. Instead, he looked in my eyes for a moment, and without smiling, pulled me into his arms.
Our bodies fit really well together, I remember thinking, followed by Lay off the romance novels. This is your friend. If he wanted you like that, he’d do a lot more than this.
We just kept hugging, not letting go of each other.
Some girl in the room behind us yelled “Get a room.”
I yelled back, “We’re in a room!” and felt him laugh, surprised by me saying such a thing. It was something I absolutely would not have said to anyone the year before.
It was just one girl jeering at us – most people just looked and went “Uh…what?” since no one saw any reason for her rage at me.
He asked me how my summer was, and I told him it had been wonderful. He told me he’d fallen in love and found god. I wasn’t surprised – he’s been heading that way after some weird hypnotic experience the previous spring. I felt a dip of disappointment I shoved aside and said, “I’m happy for you.”
The second year was different from my first. I spoke to him with ease, without thought. I spoke to several people with ease, especially the men in that corner of my dorm. Women were still more difficult for me then – there was a constant underlying fear of attack, made worse by the newspaper editor who actually did attack from time to time, usually with late-night phone calls where she raged about any petty insult she could concoct. I showed up at frat parties, especially those thrown by his organization. He still asked me to stop by and hang out. We studied. He got a bit vicious about a crush I had on one of our professors, and I snapped, “You’re lucky I love you!” He made an unpleasant face at that, and it was clear he was biting his tongue. I took that to mean I should never go there again – like most men, he didn’t ever want to hurt a woman’s feelings, but he’d tell me to fuck off if the situation was warranted.
Even though we were comfortable, even though we almost always wound up laughing together, some part of me always wondered how close we really were. I knew I had to take a lower priority – he was in Love, big love, life-changing love. Sometimes he would make a face when I talked about my love life, partly because the ex-boyfriend was still on campus, and still vying for my attention, even getting his new girlfriend in on the action. He got angry once when my anxiety over a new boyfriend’s upcoming visit left me in tears. He told me everything would be just fine – and he was wrong. Mostly he wanted me to stop crying. So I stopped telling him about my love life, except when he specifically asked. When he did ask, I left most of the details out.
I desperately wanted to ask him how he felt about me, or about what we were, and I didn’t. The thought made me so anxious my brain would shut down.I did what I did with my love life: I took those needs to give to the people that I cared about less than the one I cared about the most. And it was OK, because the guys I did this with either got it, or just didn’t think about it, accepting what I had in the blind entitlement of men who don’t think of women as people.
I fooled around with a couple guys, and when I got to the second semester of sophomore year I realized a few things. First, that I had to get as far away from my family as I could or I would have a career dead and loveless future filled with unwanted children, and the path of least resistance was Minnesota. Second, that my romantic feelings for my friend had caused me to fall into a caretaker role that was starting to make me hate myself, especially since there was no one on campus that wanted to date me and therefore distract me, and third, for the first time we had no classes together. While realizing I was in love with this friend was a fairly bleak moment, I admire how my brain went to an avoidance-and-dealing plan with immediacy.
I simply stifled my urge to get him out of bed on time for class, taking myself to breakfast and turning all my anxiety energy towards getting myself into a college that I could afford, since the school in Wisconsin had added to the pile by deciding I was more trouble than I was worth and cutting my financial aid to nothing.
It didn’t occur to me in all this that my friend would notice my absence – I assumed he was too busy to care – or that he might, in turn, have doubts about my real feelings about and for him.
I had no inkling he had doubts about me, too.
I had assumed he knew my opinion had changed about fraternities, that my concerns and energy were far, far away from the stupid teapot dust-ups of our college. I thought he understood that my friends were actually far more important to me than some stupid newspaper gig, but then, I had so few friends and I never felt safe enough to be open about who I did hold dear.
Then his fraternity got in serious trouble as a byproduct of some rivalry with another Greek organization. Things did not go well, disciplinary hearings were invoked, and the motivations of the fraternity that turned them in for a rule violation they often violated themselves never did become entirely clear. This friend of mine was a really laid-back guy – even when he took down the slut shamer at the freshman end of year party, he did it from a place of powerful calm.
One evening I was hanging out with my friend’s roommates when he appeared with his hand wrapped in a bandage.
I was all pissed off about this fraternity suspension stuff that I put my fist through a wall.
I found that disturbing, but said nothing. I’d just been reading some peer education about warning signs and violence in men, and it flipped more of an alarm than he deserved. After he left, one of his roommates commented to me: He put his fist through the wall because he was mad about you leaving.
I’d just red a Cosmo article mentioning something about red flags when guys did that.
A girl on my floor the next morning said something similar to me the next day.
I scoffed both times. He had a girlfriend that he was in love with. He wasn’t putting his fist through walls over me. He was him. If he punched a wall every time a friend left that school he’d be without knuckles. The fraternity was about to lose its charter as the situation unfolded and got worse – now that was some wall punching bullshit.
The campus newspaper wanted to cover this story, but no one else on staff could get anything beyond “no comment.” I insisted vehemently on a conflict of interest, one overrun with “it’s a small campus,” and, despite my best to fight it, wound up assigned the story.
On the way to my friend’s room, I ran over every way I could phrase the interview request to get a “no comment.” I did not want to do this story, I didn’t want to feed the beast, and above all, I didn’t want to hurt him. I remember thinking “Please don’t be home, please don’t be open,” as I walked down the hall past his room, but sure enough, he was there, right by the door, saying hello an waving me in.
I asked. I even think I started with “It’s OK to refuse.” At that point, I wanted to be alone with a glass of cold whiskey and my Doc Johnson vibrator.
I was utterly unprepared for his response. For the rage. For the yelling. For the accusations that I was only his friend because I had know this story was coming. For the sudden, terrifying feeling that this person I loved so much didn’t know me at all.
I can’t even remember everything said, I just remember looking in those wounded brown eyes and feeling the depth of pain at the very idea of him believing those horrible things saying “No!” Him looking in my eyes, seeing something, and relenting. I remember in the middle of his tirade thinking, Oh God, it will kill me to lose you so much sooner.
I went upstairs shaken, and my roommate found me crying. I vaguely remember her saying “I’m going down there,” when I told her what happened. I told her to leave it alone, it was fine.
I can’t remember how the next part happened – a phone call? At the time? I just remember agreeing to meet him at his room, that we would talk, that yes, it was for the story. I hoped it might be a talk about our relationship, too – something I wanted, even though my social anxiety left me without the basic mammalian skills required for it.
I spent the afternoon putting myself as professionally as I was capable. I did wear jeans – just cleaned – and a sweater. I think I even put on some lipstick. I wrote extensive question notes. I cultivated as much distance as I could, because suddenly I had to deal with credibility as a reporter, and credibility as his friend.
When I arrived, he had cleared the room of the usual group of guys always hanging around, and he had pulled up a chair by his desk. It was a familiar position. I had spent hours in just that spot, in just that chair, chatting with him and his roommates, drinking, watching Lois and Clark (only when I requested it) and helping the guys spot the fake breasts on aerobic programs.
He pulled out a glass and some whiskey from the refrigerator. Evidently I had left the whiskey behind after a party months before, and he simply kept it in the fridge in anticipation of one of my visits. I had probably indicated a ceding of ownership to his roommate; I am not clear on why this rule of transfer had been refused. I certainly drank enough of their liquor.
He had just poured me a drink when his fraternity president showed up. It had to have been planned. I can’t imagine that it wasn’t. The president had always been polite and friendly to me, and I was always surprised by that. The pres looked at our glasses and said, “Am I interrupting something?” I played along with the setup, dismissing the idea and hoping my friend knew what to say.
The short story – I got my interview from my friend and his fraternity president together.
I’m not sure what led to it but we wound up over at the president’s apartment, located right behind our dorm. We played Asshole, and I lost – so I had to drink an entire pitcher of beer.
My friend had seen me drunk in other situations, and on more than one occasion got on me for trying to beg off of drinking. This time, he had an odd look on his face as I explained truthfully that if I lost a second round I’d like to beg off drinking the pitcher because, with some recent weight loss, I was having a hard time gauging how well I handled my liquor. He was ready to let me away without drinking the first pitcher. I knew I was in some kind of test, so I insisted on drinking it for honor’s sake.
Then, tired and deciding if I hadn’t won their trust with the truth I wasn’t going to win it, I decided to go back to my room and sleep off the beer.
I had walked home drunk and alone after midnight in the dead cold of winter all the way across campus more times than I could count. My friend had never been particularly concerned for me. This time, he insisted on walking me back to my room.
This isn’t necessary, I said. I don’t remember why, I just wanted to shake him off. The head of security isn’t going to see me – our dorm is just across the parking lot.
It was a very small parking lot.
The year before, I had gotten drunk by accident after downing a cup of some concoction he himself had handed me, not realizing I had thought he was joking about all the alcohol he had put in. It was the first time I had ever been drunk. At that time, after he realized I was drunk he had left me to stumble from the dining hall, to my overnight shift on the newspaper, to my dorm room (where the magnetic key proved a challenge), and then on to my room. He skipped the classes we had together the next day, either from his own hangover or to avoid my wrath.
18 months later, he wasn’t willing to let me walk 100 feet by myself. It made me wonder who he knew that had been roofied. In hindsight, I wonder if that was what really happened with his fraternity. Not their fault, but on their watch and thus under their realm of responsibility.
The sexual assault rate on that campus was abysmal. The investigative journalism I had done into it the year before had made that clear. It was why administration wanted me to leave.
I knew this, but I didn’t ask. There was nothing to fear with him, although the outburst with the punched wall hadn’t left my mind. What happened with me that night was the sort of thing used an excuse to call rape a “grey area.”
My room was empty. I don’t know where my roommate was. I told him to go, I’d be fine. I half kicked a shoe off and gave up. Instead of leaving, he leaned down and removed my shoes, got me under my covers on my bed and kissed me on the forehead. I gave up and just let him do it. Part of me wanted to say something, anything. Something needed to be said between us. But I was drunk and he was acting like it was a thing in a way he never had before. I didn’t know what to do with this, and as much as I wanted to blurt out “I love you,” was actually drunk enough that I couldn’t trust it any more than he would…even if that really was how I felt sober.
I went to sleep after he left, and then woke up an hour later, still drunk. I tried to call him and he was nowhere to be found so I wandered over to his neighbor across the hall. We had been messing around for awhile – to this day I am unclear on my motivations for doing what I did where he was concerned and for the most part chalking them up to deep flattery that someone that attractive considered me in a sexual light at all, and simple touch starvation. I knocked on his door, announced I was drunk, and minutes later I was having the roughest and most ecstatic sex I ever had in my life – I certainly haven’t done something like that since, and if I hadn’t had a pitcher of beer I don’t think I would have done it at all.
Of course, the next day, with my entire upper body bruised and bitten, I had an outdoor lab and it was eighty degrees outside. I could not find any cover up and in my desperation I even asked my friend if his girlfriend had left any. If I hadn’t been hung over the look of horror on his face would have been priceless. As it was I found myself reassuring him that no, I had not been raped on his watch, and to stop him from going on some panicked interrogation of my ex, I told him who it was. He didn’t look at me. He just looked to the side, away from me, and said “Interesting.” We didn’t really talk again until the bruises cleared up.
I think there was another attempt to talk to me but it went sideways, like it was some sort of mentalist game. Deep down I think it was his way of avoiding his anxiety and uncertainty with me. I kept expecting him to take me aside and say more, to say whatever it was he was really going to say when we had sat down in his room and he had poured me cold whiskey, just the way I liked it. Just the way he had noticed I liked it.
The day before I left for good, he had me come down to play poker with him and the guys. I lost, probably. I finally knocked off early – my mother was going to be there early in the morning and I had one last final. I wasn’t going to be given an extra day or two to party like everyone else, or like the year before. I hugged him last. He leaned his forehead to mine, and said “I hate that you have to leave.” It was followed by some promise to bring his buddies up to visit, one I chalked up to promises that would go drunken and unfulfilled. I wanted to say Don’t hate this, please try to be happy for me. Please try to understand why I’m doing this, why I have to, why I wouldn’t ever leave you if there was a better way.. Instead, I said “I would LOVE that,” so at least, this way, he would hear the word love from me, even if I never actually said the words “I love you” like I wanted to. I didn’t know if it would be welcome from me, and I didn’t want to ruin my welcome with him, the one he had given me so generously even though I did not deserve it.
It wasn’t the goodbye he deserved. He deserved so much more from me. But my social anxiety just wouldn’t let me risk showing him everything that was going on with me; one annoyed look would have shut me down anyway. When I think about that time in my life, I wasn’t saying goodbye to the school. I had my experiences there, but the school wasn’t what mattered – he did. He had told me once, our freshman year, that he was planning on transferring to another school in pursuit of his dreams. I remember thinking, unbidden, I can’t imagine this school without you. At the time, I told him I planned on seeing this school and its writing program through to the bitter end.
We both ended on far opposite ends from our life plans.
When I think about that time in my life, there were people I liked – but he was the one I loved. He was the one I gave a damn about leaving. But I didn’t tell him for fear of killing our friendship…although not telling him may well be what did.
Now, I’m facing a move that is just as emotional. The person I love most in the world is coming with me this time – a luxury I have not enjoyed in my previous uprootings. Hell, he’s leading the way. I’m a bit jealous and insecure about the support system he has out there. But I am going to be starting life in Silicon Valley – the land of cutthroat youth – as an officially middle aged woman, who is aware she has social anxiety and PTSD. I had those conditions the other times I moved, too, I just didn’t know what they were. I know I’m not crazy or sick – both of these “illnesses” are your mind’s sane pullback to really crazy shit.
Things are different in other ways now, too: I know how to pick female friends that I feel safe with. At this point in my life, I almost have more female friends than male friends. Making male friends is harder for me now, not because I don’t want to have them, but often because men feel a social obligation not to connect on a friendship only level with married women. This makes me sad, sometimes, but personal morality is complicated this way.
I have also made friendship work – including occasionally having to slough off bad or abusive friends – in the one state in this union where making friends is damned near impossible. And I am going to be leaving behind some of the finest people I could ever have the pleasure of knowing, and praying every day to find my soul family in California. My social anxiety has already jumped on its deep fears: what if people reject me because I’m fat (it’s an idiot filter, Di); what if people don’t like me because I’m not their trad, what if people just feel sorry for me and befriend me in the insulting way?
I don’t know if I’ll ever have a friend like him again. Probably not. It takes a unique person to take the treatment and projections I dished out, dig his heels in, and say “We are going to be friends, woman!”
They say you only regret the risks you don’t take. Now, there are plenty of things I actually did that I really do regret. But he is the one thing I didn’t do/say that I regret. But I can’t imagine he’s unhappy. He always had the astonishing ability to be happy most of the time. I learned a lot from that outlook.
So yes, I am preparing to say goodbye to Minnesota. I don’t know if “no regrets” is the right word. And this is going to take one hell of a lot of mental preparation. But I want to acknowledge that 1)I’m genuinely scared about it and 2)it won’t be like last time or the time before. This will be the first time I haven’t done this alone – and that in itself is a new adventure for me.