Love. We all need it to survive. Or do we?
Is it weird that I don’t have a single memory from when I was little of playing Princesses. Not one. And most little girls do. I know, I have nieces. And they just love dressing up and playing make-believe and pretending they’re the pretty princess waiting for her Prince Charming to come riding in and whisk her off to that land of happily-ever-after that the fairy-tales all promise. My oldest niece, when she was like 3-years-old—or thereabouts—she had this little princess getup/dress/costume–whatever you want to call it—and she just had to wear it EVERY day. I swear she wore that thing for months. She took naps in it, would wear it over her normal clothes whenever she’d leave the house, and on the nights that she didn’t fall asleep in it, my mother and grams would sneak into her room and take it—then wash it and put it back in its place before morning came. She loved that dress and her little high heels that she’d prance around in. And she loved telling stories about her life as a princess and how, when she was bigger, she was going to find and marry Prince Charming and they would have the happiest life together. “Forever and ever,” she would say.
I never did that, at least not that I can recall. The same with Barbies. I do recall always playing “house” though, mostly with my cousin Katie. I remember that we used to argue over who’s turn it was to play the Mommy and the names of our “babies” aka dolls. For some reason we both had this crazy obsession with wanting to name our dolls Melanie–though I have absolutely no idea why. But that’s beside the point. I guess the point I want to make, for the purpose of this post anyhow, is that there was never a Prince Charming, or Ken doll in any of those “house” scenarios. Baby Melanie was enough. It’s a strange thing to reflect upon, to know that even then, I had the right idea—that happiness and capability didn’t have to be defined by the presence of the opposite gender. What do you know, even five-year-old me was too smart for her own good. Lucky for me, that hasn’t changed much. 🙂
I’ve always had this fear in the back of my mind, for as long as I can remember, that I’d somehow fuck up any kids that I might have. It’s no one’s fault really. It’s not like I had a horrible childhood or that my own mother was that awful. She just had different priorities, you know? She wasn’t mean or abusive and she always made sure we had what we needed. She loved/loves us…in her own kind of way. She just never really wanted to have kids…she didn’t have that overwhelming maternal instinct that some women do—like my grams who lives and breathes for raising children. And that’s nothing against her or anything, it’s just how she is. She’s always been pretty upfront about that. Do I hate her for putting whatever relationship and guy she was with at the time before us—my siblings and I? Not really. I think I realized fairly early on that she was flawed…and being aware of that at such a young age…it just was what it was, I guess you could say. I didn’t yearn for her love and attention. My grams poured that out in buckets when and if I needed either of those things. It wasn’t until I was in my teens when I started to really feel the effects of her behavior and increasing absences…and even then, it was more frustration than resentment. My brother, when he gets angry, he’ll throw the past in her face and give a whole litany of reasons for how she was/is a horrible excuse for a mother. But that’s the irony of all ironies, considering he’s got three kids himself and he’s not going to be winning any parent-of-the-year awards either any time soon. Personally, I prefer not to bother much with the past. The way I see it is that it happened, it’s over and if there are moments that she wasn’t around for and subsequently missed—well those are mistakes and choices and regrets—should she have any—for her to live with, and not me. That’s not to say that I haven’t been frustrated with her at times, particularly when that behavior began to impact my oldest niece. It was one thing with my siblings and I growing up–we had my grams to fill that void—but it’s different for my niece. My mother and grams both have custody of my niece, but my grams has my two younger nieces to care of and they—especially my niece Emma with her epilepsy and string of other medical and developmental issues—take up a lot of her attention. And my grams, who will be 76 next month, isn’t as active or patient or youthful as she was when we were growing up. That being the case, my mother has doted on my oldest niece since she came to live with us when she was just a month old. It was all about my niece for a long time and then my mother started, well…being my mother again. She’d stay overnight with her boyfriend, spend her weekends at his place. Little by little, my niece had to share that #1 spot with that guy…and he wasn’t a fan of kids being underfoot so more often than not, she’d get pushed aside and left behind, so to speak, by my mother. I never did stand for that, and I’ve been pretty vocal about it over the years—not that it’s made much of a difference. My mother is who she is. To think she’s going to change—whether it’s for us or my niece or anyone else–is just naïve. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is what it is.
To say that my mother’s behavior hasn’t influenced me in any way…that’d be a lie. It has. Of course it has. Even though I’ve never hated or deeply resented her for it, it’s not a behavior or manner that I ever wanted to replicate. In fact, I’ve sworn it my whole life that I wouldn’t be like her…that I wouldn’t be one of those women that needs to have a man in her life to be complete or that would prioritize a man over the ones that really matter and that should come first. I’ve promised myself that so many times that I’ve lost count.
I guess that’s where love comes into play. It mingled with that nagging fear I have to not be her and made everything so wonky. Love itself, it’s a pretty fucking scary thing (excuse my language). It’s heaven and hell…literally. It’s good when it’s good, but when it’s bad…watch the fuck out. Love takes no prisoners. The paths from love to heartbreak are so numerous, but each is littered with corpses. Corpses of those who either fell too hard or didn’t fall hard enough. Corpses of those who got too close and got burned and decided the pain wasn’t worth a replay; of those who traded their souls and self-worth for a chance to just experience the feeling, even just for a little while. I learned that first-hand. And the thought of doing that again…it scares the hell out of me. I was in love once—at least I think it was love—and I’ve got scars to prove it. I crashed and burned. The pain and the heartbreak—it was unimaginable. To be that vulnerable and to literally put your absolute faith in someone—to give a person the power to destroy you in one fell swoop should they decide to, to put your heart in their hands…it’s a rush, the greatest high—or the worst, depending on how you look at it. And sometimes it works out and it’s great…and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s like throwing a dice. You close your eyes and you hope and pray that it lands in a way that’s favorable to you. That’s big. That’s overwhelming.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel that high again—if it’s a rush and a taste that I’ll spend the rest of my life chasing. It’s not that I don’t want that happily-ever-after or fairytale ending. I do want it…if it’s out there. I don’t want to these fears of mine to define me, but in many ways, they already have. I’ve met some pretty great guys in the years since that one all-consuming heartbreak. Amazing, sweet, funny, and damn-near perfect guys. Through no fault of their own, I’ve bolted the moment things started to get anywhere close to being serious. I have one of those great guys in my life right now—for a while now actually. And it’s great. He’s great. The distance isn’t so great—what with my being up here in NY and all. I’m not sure if it’s “serious” …but he’s been more than obvious and even quite vocal about his desire for it to be so. I usually brush it aside or change the subject when it starts to lean a little too far in that “serious” direction. I like him a lot and I know the feeling is mutual. In fact, it didn’t take only a few months in when he said those three words. You know the ones. I, however, have yet to reply in kind. He’s, believe it or not, been really great about it. He hasn’t pressured me into saying it back. I think he can sense that I need more time. Which I do. I mean, the next time I say those words, I want to really mean them. I don’t want to say them just because he has and does. The last time I did it all wrong. I fell so hard, so fast and I let it consume me to the point where I no longer recognized myself or the person I had become. I don’t want to make the same mistakes again. I can’t go through that again. So when I say those words, I have to be ready. Ready to say them back, ready to take that step and make a serious commitment. I don’t mean marriage or anything—I’m not sure if I even want to get married ever—but something serious and real…and heartbreak-proof, if possible. I want to avoid the hurt, as much of it as I can. So I’m being careful…cautious. I’m taking it slow. And he’s actually okay with that, for now at least. Where the future lies for us is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. I’ve tried to picture it, a future with him in it, and it’s not terrible. That’s a sign, right? Progress. That means something. At least, I like to think that it does. We’ll see.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with him, with us…with me. But if I’ve learned nothing in the past 7 years, it’s that I’ll be okay. I’ve had a lot of time for reflection over the years, to figure out who I am and the person that I want to be. 7 years ago, I didn’t know any better. I was young and naïve and I put so much stock in an ideal kind of love that truly was the thing of fairytales. I put all my faith and heart in the hands of a man who was completely undeserving. I gave him all the power and he lorded it over me the entire time we were together—though I didn’t realize that until it was too late. He used my feelings to manipulate and get what he wanted from me, until he had no use for them anymore. It took me a long time to see that relationship for what it was: a teaching moment. I learned a lot from it. I learned to look deeper and not take everything at face value. I learned that monsters come in human form, of all shapes and sizes—even one with twinkling green eyes, smooth lines, whose kiss was like sin in pill-form that could melt you from the inside out. I learned to stand on my own two feet and how to be strong. I learned to expect the worst, so as not to be disappointed too much when people—ultimately—fail or let me down. I learned to be okay and to wipe my own tears. But most important, I learned that I don’t need a man to be happy or successful. Or whole. That having someone is all well and good, but not absolutely necessary. I learned that to really love someone else, I had to first love myself. It’s comforting to know that I’m still capable of loving someone else, if and when I choose it. I learned that love isn’t a given thing, it’s a privilege. You have to be worthy of it, deserving, and all-in for it to have the greatest chance of working out.
Love, it’s a beautiful drug. We don’t need it. We can survive without it. But if we do it right and we’re lucky, we don’t have to.