Tethered

Stuck in the lull of time between the end of Christmas and the beginning of another new year, I pieced together a puzzle I found in a Little Free Library. I was leaning over the kitchen counter, making sense of the heaps of like-colored shapes I sorted when I got a text from my mom.  

“Hey… He called this morning. He’s out east now. He asked me to pass on his number.”  

I could tell by the way she texted “Hey….” that she spent the day deliberating over her responsibility as messenger. “Hey….” was unlike her. “Hey…” came with hesitation, caution, and rightfully so. The last time I said his name I was giving her explicit instructions: “Mom, he’s going to be at the funeral. You have to come with me and make sure I’m not alone with him.” It wasn't that I was afraid of him. I was afraid of love, I was afraid of letting myself be happy.  

~ 

I remember the moment, every moment, I saw him in the church – sitting in the pews up a head and to the left of me; seeing him walk ahead of me as we all stepped slowly out of the nave and into the foyer.              

I can still see him standing there in his brown suit.              
I can still feel the feeling of meeting his green eyes, again             
I remember walking up to him 
kissing him on his right cheek.             
I said “goodbye”              
I walked away.             
“Where is she? Do you know?”              
he asked my mom, but she wouldn’t tell him. 
She didn't understand but she did as I asked.              
He knew what I was trying to do             
it broke his heart, 
again. 

That was 13 years ago.  

We hadn’t talked since then. 

I looked at my husband. We were fighting regularly by then, every other day it seemed. "I don’t love you", I heard myself say one day but not out loud. I wasn’t sad about it, I was tired – tired of fighting, tired of feeling disliked, tired from trying.  My marriage wasn’t going to work for the same reason his didn’t – we weren’t married to each other.  

I responded to her text as casually as I could, “Oh, nice, thank you.”

~ 

I’m not surprised he got a hold of me when he did. I tried finding him 6 months earlier. I created a social media account and found his profile, the one he created to find me. There he was, his smile, his green eyes. I sent him a casual message, knowing full well there was nothing casual about us. I tried to be friendly, knowing full well we were more than friends. 

“Wow, what a crazy year… pandemic… wondering about everyone l love…. How are you?”  

What are you doing? You’re married.  

I deleted the message. 

Soon after, he started visiting me in my dreams and each time I woke, I desperately tried to return to sleep, to where he was. I looked for portals and mirrors I could walk through, secret bookcases that would lead me through a tunnel and back to my dreams, back to him. I lay there, unwilling to open my eyes, trying hard to slip back into the dream. Waking up in my marriage felt lonely and suddenly heartbreaking. I missed him.  

He must have felt me dreaming about him. He must have heard me.  
“My love, are you coming to get me?”  
"Of course", he must have said.  

I’ve been to beautiful places in my dreams, places I’m sure must exist. I’ve lived lifetimes behind these eyelids. I used to fill dream journals, kept by my bed. I’ve consistently been an active and vivid dreamer until the day he called my mom - I stopped dreaming that day. It’s the oddest thing.  

I’ve thought about it and my theory is this: I believe my dream’s purpose was realized. I called for him and he found me, he always finds me - I love that about him. And now that I’m back in his arms, I have ever so slowly, ever so faintly, started to dream again, barely. It’s the oddest thing.  

~ 

We met at a Halloween party, 30 years ago. I’ll never forget the moment our eyes met, it was the moment I felt the tether in my heart fasten to his. He was dressed as Slash from Guns n’ Roses. He had on a cut off jean jacket, his muscles, and a black fuzzy wig. I found a marker and holding his right bicep with my left hand, I drew a G n’ R tattoo on his skin. I ran home and grabbed my guitar strap, “for your costume”, I told him. I wanted him to have something of mine. 

I was young when we met, nearly 17. A few years had passed since I lay frozen in a cabin on a bed that wasn't mine, paralyzed in fear because a man I didn’t know, a man much older than I, was trying to put his penis inside of me. I remember asking if he had a condom because I was worried about “safe sex”.  

I never told anyone about what happened. 

~ 

We loved each other instantly, equally, immensely. I felt at home with him, like myself again. I wanted to be with him but that feeling made me want to run in the opposite direction. I was afraid he’d see the parts of me I kept hidden.  

We dated. He did all the right things (he always does). He waited for me to kiss the first kiss. He took me to the opera, to dinner in a fancy restaurant neither of us fit in. He bought me roses. He wrote me love poems, brought me lunch. He rushed over with his new favourite song. He was kind and he was patient but I didn’t know what to do with love, so I broke up with him. I was scared of myself more than anything, scared I'd have to face the trauma I didn't know how to process. I told him I was moving to Vancouver even though I never did. He knew I didn’t want to leave him, but he also knew I wasn’t going to come out from the wall I hid behind. He knew he had to let me go. He also trusted that I’d come back, so with tears in his eyes, he put his broken heart in my hands and trusted that I’d return it to him whole one day. While he waited, he had a symbol, lines thick with meaning, tattooed on his leg - "it's us", he showed me years later.  

I fled with his heart to the Yukon, to Jasper, back to Edmonton, out to Montreal, down to California, across the sea to Johannesburg, to Oregon. I lived here, I lived there. I moved in and out of jobs, lives, relationships, and communities, yet in between the flights and road trips, bus rides, and backpacks, we always managed to find each other. We found each other on a friend’s couch where he held me tight until morning, until I said I had to go. We found each other in a town that wasn’t our own, holding eyes because we couldn’t hold each other. We found each other in relationships, fighting the rules that kept us apart. We found each other and if we could, we’d spend the day together, walking through the park holding hands, later my head on his chest, under a tree, cloud gazing… But then it became hard to find each other, for him to find me. I moved to a new country, I got married, I changed my last name.   

“Hey…” I could tell my mom wasn’t sure if she should send the text.  “It’s up to her what she wants to do with it”, she told him.  “I understand” he said, “just promise me she’ll get the message.” 

~ 

I waited as my husband and I fought our way into another new year. I waited until after my mom’s birthday and through the news of my uncle’s death, the news of my friend's cat dying. I waited as long as I could (6 days) before texting him because I knew what texting him meant. We would be together. We were always together, even when we were apart. This time was different though, this time I was ready to be loved; I was ready to be happy.  

It was a Monday morning. I introduced myself as “Mrs…”. We made plans to call each other the next day.  “You sound exactly the same”, was the first thing he said.  

The sound of his voice brought me back into his arms, to the way I used to tuck my head under his chin.  His words scooped me up, wrapping me in the tender love letters that fuel his romantic poetic heart. I listened as his words walked me through the woods. I forgot what it felt like to be seen, to be heard and understood, adored. He knows me in a way no one does. He knows how to love me the way I need to be loved, he always has  ~ that realization stopped me in my tracks. In a moment of clarity, with tears streaming down may face, I knew in that instance, I would never be happy with anyone but him. It had taken me well into my 40s and hours after repeatedly making the long and shaky walk to the therapist’s office, bawling the whole way, to learn about the girl who wanted to be happy. Once the therapist helped me peel back the layers I’d been hiding behind, I had a hard time recognizing the sad person I used to be, the sad girl my husband married.  

~ 

I was in the States. He was in Canada. I was married. He has two daughters. The pandemic forced my employer to lay me off from the library I’d worked at for the past 7 years and I was about to start a new job. I didn’t know how but I knew I would do whatever it took to be with him. I knew, with everything in my body, that we needed to be together, again, for real this time and for the rest of our lives.  

That was Tuesday.  

By the end of the week, I faced some hard truths and told my husband.  

I started sleeping on the couch and by the end of the month, I packed my belongings and moved into a furnished apartment. I started a 4-month COVID-support contract job and during that time, my love and I loved each other through the screens on our phones. We spoke for hours and hours, filling in gaps we missed during our 13 years apart, bonding over the similar paths our lives took. There were a lot of parallel lines - we both pursued philosophy degrees, we both fled to the mountains and rode horses, we both sang songs and played our guitars, we both worked with kids. We must have brushed past each other at some point. I remember looking for him in places I thought he’d be. It seems he was there too, looking for me. 

When my contract ended, one of my friends helped me load my boxes onto a truck. I said goodbye to my home of nearly 8 years. I said goodbye to friends – humans, plants, and animals. I said goodbye to my husband.  

I took the necessary steps required to move across the border during a pandemic. 

After spending 14 days in quarantine, I reconnected with my family and spent time with my friends. Two months later (and 7 months since my mom texted me “Hey…”), I flew out east to be with him, bringing just a few bags until we figured out how to merge our lives together in a pandemic, 13 years after we last saw each other at the funeral.  

~ 

The tether that kept our hearts tied to one another is still there. It’s faded by the sun, worn by the time that kept us apart, but it’s there, it’s always been there and it gets stronger every day. The emotional baggage I used to keep zipped shut and packed by the door, (ready to flee the second I didn't now how to feel), keeps getting lighter and lighter.  

His love keeps me close to myself, close to home. His love makes me feel safe because he teaches me to trust, not just in him but in the world. I'm an intense person to be with. I am extremely intuitive and sensitive to the world around me. I feel and think in big and heavy ways that don't always fit into the conversation but because he is like I, we know how to talk to one another. Being loved by him is truly the most beautiful and wonderful experience I've ever known. I'm not going to lie, my emotions still scare me when they feel overwhelming, foreign, but they don’t scare him (I’ve even learnt how to communicate some of them). His love shows me that I am not my wounds but when they crack open (as they tend to do) thinking of him reminds me to breathe.  

When those hard feelings surface and I feel like running away, the way I used to, I grab hold of the tether between us with everything I’ve got. I hold on tight, like a mountain climber to a rope, holding the side of a mountain closer because I know he’s there, gripping the other end even tighter, holding me up mid-air, guiding me back home to where our love lives.  

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