Dater X: Free Fall

I’ve been thinking a lot about falling, and not just because I’m absurdly accident prone.

For one thing, fall is here and there’s no denying it; it’s dark by 7 p.m. and there are already a surprising number of crackly leaves underfoot in the parks. But I’ve also been thinking about the act of falling: falling down, falling in love, falling for someone, falling from grace. Maybe it’s the English Major in me, but I find it fascinating that we use the same verb for so many different events. And even more fascinating that the basic feeling we’re trying to explain – an actual fall, precipitated by gravity, pulling our body towards the earth from any given distance and sometimes leaving our heart up at the point where we started – is more or less the same. That rush of carbonation through the chest. The panicked tickle in the back of the throat. The feeling that you could laugh and cry and scream at the same time, and each would feel somehow right. Whether falling out of bed or falling for someone new, the word and the sensation are eerily the same.

What’s so different is what happens next.

Fell down and scraped your knee? Clean it; bandage it up; maybe pop a couple of ibuprofen. Fell for someone and got dropped on your ass? That’s tougher. How do you clean and bandage and medicate your heart?

Backing up to the “why”: I finally met up with The Big Easy last week. He felt ready to talk, and having already decided that I wasn’t ready to quit trying, the anticipation of hearing what he had to say was killing me. There were things I hoped he’d say, and things I expected, and they weren’t all that similar, so while I approached our summit with just a tickle of optimism (“Why would he even want to meet up unless there’s still something here??”), I felt fairly sure that, as one commenter so aptly put it, “Oh, honey. He’s already gone.”

And as I expected, but not as I hoped, he was. He more or less blamed me for everything, from struggling to stay friends with El Guapo (who, I hasten to point out, I have not seen even once since I met The Big Easy, per his request) to getting so upset with him when he wasn’t there for me after I lost my pet. Frustrated, I pointed out that I had told him from the outset that being someone’s girlfriend was new to me, and that I had always been the one to suggest that we progress more slowly and to ask that he afford me a little patience. But sitting there looking at him was like watching a door close. He said he had wanted to meet up because all of this had mattered to him. I said that it still matters to me. He said he hoped we would still be friends and that if I ever needed anything, I should call him. I told him what I needed was a little leniency and another chance, which felt an awful, distasteful lot like begging. And then he left, and when he put his hand on my shoulder, it felt like taking a punch. I told him not to touch me, and those were the last words we said to each other in person.

Cue what I’m not proud to describe as a mini tantrum: after a few seconds of sulking, it occurred to me that that was a terrible way to leave things, and I clattered out of the park in my heels and down the street towards the train to try and catch him.  I called (and called) his phone, and he didn’t answer. I sent a series of increasingly pathetic text messages, which I won’t repeat, but the gist was, “Don’t leave me,” something I hate myself a little for saying. Finally, standing outside a subway station with commuters sloshing around me like socks in an overloaded washing machine, all alone again after the most unexpected two months I can recall, I texted him that I loved him and I missed him and I was sorry.  And then I changed his number in my phone, and blocked him across my social media, and hauled myself home to my corner bar, where a friend was behind the stick and took one look at me, then poured out a double vodka on the rocks and said, with a sad smile, “It’s going to be okay.” I haven’t heard from The Big Easy since.

Since then, I’ve been feeling like a pendulum: I heard from The Fireman, a decidedly un-dateable but memorably handsome fellow who occasionally wanders back into my life (and my sheets). The baseball player look-a-like banker, who once sent a black SUV to pick me up for a little Afternoon Delight at his apartment, also reached out, and we’re having drinks this week. I watched a baseball game, the one we had once-upon-a-time planned to attend, with El Guapo.  I even saw Mr. Firework at a mutual friend’s house party, though I was surprised to find that he no longer makes my knees buckle. And I’ve swung like a monkey bars champion from friend to friend, being taken out to dinner, offered a glass of wine on the couch and command of the remote, shopping for clothes to greet the new season, sipping tea and talking through all the reasons that The Big Easy wasn’t right for me.  In these times, I’m okay, if just barely. I feel ready for what’s next.

Other times, mostly when I’m left alone with my thoughts, things are less rosy. Mornings have been the worst, waking up in my bed huddled around an extra pillow that’s no substitute for a warm body and realizing that I don’t even need to get up to feed my pet. My dreams have been vivid and varied; in some, I can actually feel The Big Easy breathing next to me, and waking up alone is all the more painful when I realize he’s not there. In others, I’m being chased through dark streets, and while I can always outrun whatever it is that’s behind me, I find myself doing it by myself, reaching out a hand for help only to have the person I’m asking close their door, or turn out their light, or look away. Missing The Big Easy is compounded by the feeling of falling without a net, on my own again after taking a leap, and wondering if he was right after all – if it really was me, and if it was, how the hell I do better the next time.

Free fall, indeed.  It is fall, and like it or not, I am free.