A few days ago, I woke up at 3 am and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I had unintentionally boarded the train of thought, which meandered its way to an old uncomfortable memory of getting dumped.
Not recently. Vince and I are doing great which made it all the more annoying that I found myself revisiting a past painful relationship.
So I did what most people do when the internal chatter won’t shut up, I left. Covers off, coffee on. If I need more sleep I’ll nap later.
I cuddled up under an electric blanket in a room we call “the Tree House.” It’s on the third level and has windows on three sides, so during the day, it’s surrounded by treetops. At 3 am though, I saw the moon the stars, and city lights down in the distance.
Recently, I’ve been starting some mornings by listening to a poem (or two) by David Whyte in Sam Harris’s Waking Up app. This particular morning, I scrolled through the list of titles and saw one called Unrequited Love. Well, fine. I hit play.
When the poem was finished, I sat in the silence. His words were much more generous than I felt.
I felt tight. Mad. Like something was choking me. Normally, these are the kind of sensations I try to avoid because they are uncomfortable as hell, but it is my practice, as often as I remember, to open to discomfort. So i relaxed into the sensations, and let them speak. They said,
“I hardened, when you left me.”
I picked up a pen, and began to write. Below is the poem that followed, both written and read. It’s a vulnerable share for me, but I wanted to offer it for two reasons.
The first is solidarity. I realized while writing that I can’t be the only one who resents lingering pain from a past relationship. I can’t be the only one telling myself, “I should be over this by now!”
The second reason is to share this process of writing from discomfort. I can’t tell you how many blog posts or comics I have drawn that have started in this exact way, by leaning into a feeling rather than away, and discovering that feeling has something to say. Actually I can sort of tell you how many: Most of them.
Opening up, feeling, and listening is a way to be with discomfort that I’ve found not only healing, but revealing. I often discover myself this way. Not the magnificent self I often wish I were, but the normal human self I really am.
I hardened when you left me.
Something broke inside.
Even now, when I think of you,
I feel a hand around my throat, gripping.
It still strangles the anguish of that final rejection.
Nearly a decade has passed since then.
I’ve moved on in so many ways,
The most important of which has been
Finding a love
Deeper, wider, and infinitely more true
Than the glimmering mirage I saw in you.
For one thing, he likes me.
So what was it then, that held us together?
Why did you let me follow you around for so long,
Always at arm’s length?
I’m sure the more important question is,
‘What kept me returning to unrequited love?’
But that’s not what interests me.
I know all too well my own capacity for self-defeat
What I can’t understand is who I was to you.
Or why you kept this piece of trash
So long after its usefulness, for that’s how I felt.
After all this time, I’m surprised to find,
I still hate you.
More accurately, I hate how I feel when I think of you:
Small, clingy, pathetic.
I had given you my best, I thought.
And you confirmed my deepest fear:
In the end, I am
You come to mind rarely now
But when you do,
I harden all over again.
The grip tightens.
The mysteries persist.
Why did you let me in where you didn’t want me to be?
When will the final healing come, and how?
Who are you, anyway, stranger?
Who were you back then?
The only thing clear to me now is
I was so blinded by devotion,
I’m sure I never really knew.
by leah pearlman