July 06, 2012

schroedinger's mixtape

I woke up, some nights, (while we were still together and/or more than I care to admit to,) remembering one particular night spent curled up in some bed, ours on a strictly temporary basis: tangled a little more complexly than spoons,  I had one hand on his chest and associated arm pulling him close, feeling the gentle and ongoing staccato thump of his heart as I drifted off. Feeling like some endlessly lucky bastard, I'd surveyed the gentle curves of his sleeping shoulders, satisfied (at that point, temporally,) that this was in fact the reality I'd become accustomed to, then let his heartbeat lull me back to sleep, until I woke, breathing him in, a little unsure of what side of dream I was on, again.

It was an enormously unlikely thing, at the outset, and so for the first little while I had to be reminded to holster my bafflement: that an unnecessary conference trip, a low-drag postmodern epistolary courtship conducted 140 characters at a time, and the fascinating interlock of our personalities and fields of nerdery would lead to all manner of gently romantic nonsense—like the above—seemed beyond mere numbers, as if some whole new field of physics needed to be created to adequately describe the surreal and increasing unlikelihood of our boyfriend-dom and its continuance.  I'd learn eventually that there was a look I'd adopt when struck by the above, wide-eyed with wonder and a little pained with uncertainty; and that it ended up serving as his cue to reinforce what normalcy the situation merited or occasionally create some sort of distraction (the nature of which is best left alone, here) to retrieve me from whatever headspace I'd entered while conflating understanding the rarity of a thing with the act of simply enjoying it.
When things came to a close, it felt a bit like the compound improbability of our continued entanglement caught up with us; in some effort to smooth over whatever space-time disturbance we'd wrought, we found ourselves moving through mirror-world reenactments of our first days together: Toronto swapped for Vancouver, weariness for joy, what I'd thought to be the alteration of our orbits that brought us together revealed as nothing more than a blissful tangent; even our first and last kisses saw one of us standing watching the other walk to a train, riding a metal-and-glass tube on to the rest of our lives. Having recognized the end before being able to admit it to myself, I spent the trip from his door to mine balancing standard travel anxiety (coloured person problems!) against heartache foreshocks, jolted anew by multivariate and inescapable reminders of the man I'd spent a week visiting, who'd just left me feeling underfoot and then resented. It took a train, a bus, a plane, and an automobile to get me home, unhappiness rumbling all the while and mounting through weeks of uncertainty and radio silence. Discontent simmered while the rest of my life demanded attention and continued to do so until, finally, I received an email in reply to my thousand-word airing of woes, seven days after I'd called to make sure it was a reasonable thing, five after I'd sent it off and three after I'd decided we were over regardless of what the email contained—his silences had said more already than his words possibly could, and as much as I hoped it was otherwise, it was time to let go.

I hadn't really thought about it, and if pressed, I would've assumed some relatively graceful denouement: the slow fade of rose-tinted glasses to hindsight's clarity, lessons learned, reinforcement of self in the way of re-knitted bones, but, you know, with hearts. I was wrong about this, with only naivete to blame/credit for the enormity of my misunderstanding; what I'd thought—if I'd done this before, maybe—would be a smooth falling action turned out to be some dense and awful jumble of sine waves: jagged peaks, all-too-brief crests, and implacable valleys. I came to understand (like any complex wave) this one was composed of several others; if psychic Fourier transforms existed, I'd have seen the threads that threatened my own unraveling: the inversion of my original bafflement, some sense of betrayal, pretty straightforward anger (at him, but also at myself,) some level of regret at the things I didn't say, the replay of my shining and awful moment of comprehension (that night on his couch, watching him sleep in the next room, knowing and refusing to know where things went from there,) encroaching loneliness, and the whole assortment of things pop culture told me I was supposed to feel, according to who took the initiative (arguable, really—he checked out, but I had to start all the unpleasant conversations, or so my ego likes to think.)

I read, a lot, as a coping mechanism; devouring novels I'd enjoyed before and had worn in, mentally (in the way of an object that knows your shape, like Homer's apocryphal butt grooves) meant that I wasn't plumbing half-remembered conversation and archival ex-boyfriend texts in futile searches, nor did it allow me to imagine complex and unlikely scenarios involving reunion, absolution, roles reversed; some action of mine leading to his spiral of despair. Fully recognizing the futility of imagining all the things that could have gone right, if only some unknowable condition had been satisfied, I did it anyway, then shook my head (as if such thoughts could be dislodged,) and reached for another book.

Reading involved headphones (obviously) and with them, the readiness to skip a track should opening bars necessitate it; both lyrical content and temporal association seemed poised to reopen volumes of thought best left shut, though not without a note to return (being wholly, sadly aware of what happens when I leave this sort of thing to simmer/fester, depending.) A playlist built itself, slowly; equal parts soundtrack, barely-disguised things I wanted to say, and unrefined heartbreak, skewed slightly towards songs indicating both sadness and acceptance, with a marginal amount of hope for the future. It made sense, given aforementioned mirror-world reenactments, to put it out in the world in the same place I'd put all the other mixes, though this one was more for me than him—at this point, we were past words and I wasn't sure if I wanted to exchange more, given all the good the others had done. I leant on tracks missing things (lyrics from a Do Make Say Think track, a rhythm section in a Twilight Sad cover, any sort of pretence from The Wrens,) and waffled a bunch, careful of the semiotic minefield that was track selection and wanting to project (but not too much) a place of tentatively being okay with things being over (slash intermittently displeased) and not some sort of weird state of elemental wanting for things that had exited the realm of possibility, no matter how many quantum systems were collapsed (a thing I liked to think of having left behind in the air over the prairies.)

It went up, life went on, and I found myself explaining it at a party; being rendered crestfallen by a passing compliment merited fairly substantial exposition, where friends go, and in talking about the causality of a mix tape, the thoughts that had been bouncing around my head came spilling out, in the way of things that weren't really considered until they were said (and having been said, could only stay that way.) Yes, I thought he'd been awful to his loved ones (like that time I met his parents,) the only time we'd ever had an argument was when I needed him to be more patient and less impulsive (while I shot a wedding and he wanted to make out,) and certainly the things I'd been concerned about and had noted mentally to discuss when we lived in the same city (our shorthand for serious business,) were in fact the same things that brought about the end. Having done a year of long distance at that point, I wasn't enthused about another (at a minimum, given our school/life frameworks,) and while his previously proposed idea to live together for a summer seemed idyllic, it was more full of perils than I was ready to face.

That's not to say it was all bad; like any human endeavour, it bore peaks and troughs, and I loved him in the manner of first boyfriends: foolishly, without reservation, and so completely as to have been upended by his sudden absence. It took one man, six cities, an avalanche of text in a variety of mediums and a fair bit of improbability for me to fall in love, and as much as I hurt at the end, I wouldn't trade it for the world (insert Shakespeare here.) Ultimately, I admitted, in our last voice conversation (a drunk dial, during Bad Decisions Night,) that I'd probably have some sort of soft spot for him, and should he find himself in some sort of jam in which I could be of assistance, that he could call. He didn't reciprocate, and instead decided to tell me that he'd moved from doubting to decided while high on cactus on Family Day (which had fallen in the middle of my trip for our anniversary,) and while I went in search of another beer with which to continue bad decision-making, a number of things fell into relief, and the notion of breakup-as-bullet-dodged took root.

It bears mentioning, at this point, that I don't dream of him any longer, and haven't since our last conversation. Talking it out with a friend who knows us both (after I returned and before we actually broke up,) it was pointed out to me that one of us had no capability to reflect and be emotionally self-aware while the other did it constantly (as if running emotiond, for my UNIX nerds,) and that there was the central chasm to be bridged; I'd come further than halfway, but I couldn't make him reach out (though now I wonder if this was even possible.) Painful as it was to let go, holding on to someone who didn't want to be there would have been worse—I'd already made all my bad decisions in one night, after all, and was reduced to making sensible decisions (at least temporarily.) 

Months later, I still wonder sometimes about what happened in his head to take us from a place of "generally working, despite geography" to "full-stop-I-don't-love-this-man," but I've come to understand (finally, yes,) that I won't get that without his relating it to me, rendering it functionally unknowable. His lack of comprehension regarding inner states was something he'd been apologetic (though not contrite) about in his last email to me, and every friend of his I'd run in to post-breakup (on multiple occasions; big cities are small places, some times,) had said much the same: he'd never had a handle on his inner states, and our relationship was regarded as some possible sea change until its ending, which while unsurprising in its manner was surprising for even having existed. I have no idea what to make of this, though it does recontextualize the "he's dating you?" looks I got early on, when meeting his friends, from what I thought was a body mismatch thing (the ex is an urban cyclist/effortlessly skinny person, I am none of the above,) to more of a "he's dating anybody?" sort of thing rooted in being aware of someone else's lack of self awareness, for which there must be some sort of compact German word (and which I recognize as small comfort but will take, regardless.) That his realization only came to him via recreational psychedelics (and not via any sort of internal means, as near as I've been told,) is one of those things I worried about until it sunk in that he wasn't mine to worry about, any longer, and all I can do is sigh, shake my head, and hope that he found out some things about himself, and some things to make life easier for future loves.

I learned some things from him: I'm worth loving; a beard is a good idea; sometimes life will upend you and that's okay; every decision doesn't have to be a good one; understanding a risk doesn't preclude taking it; talking with strangers isn't the end of the world; things are ridiculous and so they may as well be embraced.
I learned some things because of him, too: my instincts are good ones; to talk about the things that are problems you when they are bothersome; life will sneak in via blind spots, and all you can do is roll with it; I have surrounded myself with a cadre of people who've kept me going through all sorts of bullshit and will continue to do so; things work until they don't, and it's nobody's fault, sometimes.

From here, though, there's one more story to be told (the one about meeting his parents,) and then I'm ready to close this chapter: I loved a man (my first), it didn't work, my heart was broken, and while I couldn't put it back together in exactly the same way, it became clear, over time, that this wasn't a bad thing.