30 May 2006

Raven and Emerald

I met her for the first time in high school, in the hallway outside J1 with bright, spring sunlight in the sky – a girl with long, curly black hair and giant green eyes – raven and emerald. I was dating her best friend who had long, curly blonde hair and cornflower blue for eyes – sand and sky. Before I had even heard the brunette's name I said to myself “That’s the girl I want to marry.” And at that moment I became an adulterer.

I say adulterer, but it was never about skin, never about lust. My affair with the brunette was always a matter of the mind. That semantic distinction, the fact that we didn’t kiss, tricked me into thinking that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It allowed me an intellectual sleight-of-hand to keep my sense of morality in check. I wasn’t being unfaithful to anyone – we were “just friends” after all. Nor was I lusting for her in my heart, so I could even sidestep Christ’s pointed words. True enough, the brunette was lovely, but that was never what I was driven by. Regardless of the reason though, I gave her a piece of my heart, a part of myself, the part that housed my hope for the future, and as such, I couldn’t give that part to anybody else. For instance, not to the blonde who I was dating, and who introduced us, a woman who remains perhaps the sweetest, kindest, most gentle hearted women I’ve ever known, and it was to her that I was probably the most cruel in all of this. But my cruelty, my folly, by no means stopped with her.

Our affair started with a few clever remarks. A quick turn of phrase lead to a witty riposte which was met with a combined literary reference / double entendre. “Here’s a smart one.” I thought, which was attractive because I was young enough to think myself smart. She’s a ‘good Catholic girl’, but still somehow worldly, seductive. That too was attractive because we smart people can’t be too constrained by religious shackles, and yet solid character is important – so long as it doesn’t get in the way. Don’t ask, “In the way of what?” because we clever people don’t need to ask such boorish questions, we just know. We wink and nudge and pass knowing grins as if we’re in on the joke when in fact we’re constantly hoping that the other smart people will let slip some telling detail that will finally reveal what it is we’re all actually winking and nudging about. That was also the brunette’s most mighty charm, an ability to make you feel as if she were letting you in on a secret, like she was telling you something, or sharing something that she had never shared with anybody else. Without needing to really say anything tangible, she made me feel like I was special to her.

Without question, that sort of coy, inscrutable posturing was absolutely representative of our entire relationship: mile upon mile, page upon page, year upon year of things that were never said, only implied, and all the insecurity and confusion that kind of thing produces. I, for example, couldn’t risk saying anything that might expose my vulnerability, or my intentions, or anything too personal. That too was part of the game, not just her being suggestive, but my ability to keep pace with my own suggestions.. I wasn’t able or allowed to actually say that I wished there was more to our relationship. Oh, it was acceptable to vaguely talk about romantic possibilities between us, but never to come right out and say it. So we built our friendship on this pattern of not communicating, not saying what was deepest or truest in our hearts, at least not about ourselves or each other. In one way, it created a sort of mystery that added excitement to our relationship. Looking forward to seeing her, I would hope for the off chance that her tongue would be unguarded and she might ‘accidentally’ tell me that she loved me too. I groaned and fretted over whether or not I should contrive to ‘accidentally’ say that sort of thing myself. In time, that escalated to involve alcohol. We would drink and I would look for opportunities to do or say something that I couldn’t bring myself to do or say sober., just to reach out to her in some way. At times, that would lead to a ‘meaningful look’ or some slurred confession of possible interest. But in the morning, it couldn’t stick. I was drunk after all, so clearly nothing I said or did was ‘real’ nor did it need to be dealt with, and so the game continued. I think we even called it that for a while – the game. The regular dance of implication and innuendo, it was like a game of chicken really. Who could get closest to saying “Please, please, please stop this.” without actually saying it, without admitting that the game, in fact, hurt. It’s true that in the beginning it just seemed a matter of bad timing. We were never single at the same time, so we remained friends. But in time, that excuse wore thin and yet we still stayed that step apart.

What was really in my heart all those years, what I was totally unwilling to admit to her or my girlfriends (who were not her) and not even to myself was that I was powerfully hung up on that woman. In one way, to say I was in love with her seems the appropriate description, but in another way it seems inaccurate. So much of her had to be read between the lines that it’s difficult to say what I truly knew and what I only projected. Since the game was built on suggestion instead of communication, it’s impossible to really say or guess how much was real and how much was simply misinterpreted or hoped at. There again is that word – hope. I think that’s the crux of it. For better or for worse, I vested my hope in her, in having her, and that hope saw only what it wanted and little of what it should. The Word says that hope deferred makes a heart bitter and that was very true for me. The longer I went, the more frustrated I became. I hoped – for many years – that she would see through my constant hinting and cut through it all, taking the risk to simply say “Me too.” But in fairness, I was so twisted up in the game that I probably would have played her candor off as just another feint. I certainly know that there were times where I said something or other and thought that I couldn’t have been plainer, only to have my gut-wrenching confession treated like I was obviously joking. Who knows how many times she may have bared her own soul, taken that risk, and I missed it, or laughed, or couldn’t believe what I was hearing...so I didn’t.

One bitter outgrowth of all that is that I was an asshole to the various women I dated in those years. I was the classic “physically present, emotionally absent” man. As I said, the brunette had a part of my heart that I was unable to share with anybody else. Now I don’t mean to say that I was deliberately deceitful, nor consciously unfaithful. My mental sleight-of-hand had fooled me as well. At my clearest moments, I might have recognized that there was something broken in me, but I doubt I could have laid my finger upon it. At least one girlfriend was perceptive enough to know exactly what my problem was, and she pointed it out. “It’s that brunette.” she would say. “No, no, no. It can’t be. We’re just good friends.” These women, at least so far as I know, were at least in earnest about their desire to pursue a relationship, even to consider marriage. But I was unable to do the same in return. I wanted to go there – I really did. There was a big part of me that truly wanted to make a relationship work and I had plenty of “What the hell is wrong with me!” rants.

In truth, I owe each of them an apology. If I had been honest with myself I would have known that I wasn’t able to see that kind of relationship though. I was entering into an agreement that I couldn’t keep and I caused a lot of pain and misery with my double-mindedness. And breakups in those years were bloody, ragged, awful things that dragged on for weeks or months, or even years. Half of me knew it couldn’t work because of the brunette and the other half absolutely resented the fact. I was like my own hung jury, totally unable to decide my own fate, so justice and fairness get trampled under.

If, by chance, any of you read this – I’m truly sorry for the grief I know I caused you, particularly you sand-and-sky. It’s taken me these years, and this distance, and God’s gentle hand to help me understand how badly I mistreated you, each of you. I hope you know that it was never my intention to hurt anybody, but I certainly hurt people all the same. This all comes too late of course, but at least one of you gets to say “I told you so.”... and it would be out of character if you didn’t rub my nose in it...as a sister in Christ of course...

What was happening for all those years, was I was waiting for the brunette. I was waiting for her to make a move that it seems I couldn’t. At the time, I wouldn’t have said “couldn’t.” Instead, I would have said that I wouldn’t, and I’d have said that it was out of respect for the brunette. That to pursue her would have been to impose upon her, and that wouldn’t be fair. But in fact I was just chicken shit. The risk of rejection was profound and each passing year only made it more so. You see, I was also bringing my biggest Question to her - “Do I have what it takes?” In this case, “Do I have what it takes to earn your love?” And what I heard her say was “No. Not quite.” It wasn’t enough that sand-and-sky or girl-in-boots were happy to answer my question in the affirmative because I wasn’t asking them. I shouldn’t have been asking any of them that question, but the fact remains that I was, and the brunette’s answer, or the fear of it anyway, locked me into a loop I couldn’t break out of. A simple ‘No’ would have been easier to deal with. At least then I could move on, but instead it was more like an ‘almost’ which only made me want to bridge that last gap. I paid rapt attention to the things she said about her boyfriends (she too was dating, but not marrying). What was good, what was bad, and I tried very much to mold myself to that expectation, hoping that I could turn an ‘almost’ into a ‘yes.’

I realize that up to now it must seem as if my relationship with the brunette was this tortured thing full of miscommunication and unmet expectations, but that isn’t it at all. Despite this recognition of where things went wrong, that friendship was rich beyond measure. We talked about everything, share big ideas and small details, dream, and ponder, and laugh at most everything, including ourselves. There was a self-consciousness about the warped love/friend thing we had wrought, and it was a frequent topic of discussion – we just didn’t know what to do about it. In many, many ways that friendship was, and remains, unique in my experience. The fact that we weren’t physical meant we engaged in other ways that might otherwise have been neglected. We told stories, we completed one another’s sentences, we had more private jokes than public jokes. Plenty of times we were mistaken for a long-married couple by folks who didn’t know us, and we could sit for hours saying nothing at all without a hint of discomfort. And by herself she was a remarkable woman. Bold in a way that was inspiring, extremely bright with a razor wit, loyal to the point of recklessness and her entire family was a tableau of feminine archetypes, not counting Dad of course. She was a woman of tightly help principles and vivid idealism. So it’s not for nothing that my heart was divided. I remember concluding at one point that if things were to only remain as they were, with never a kiss between us, that would be enough. I felt that I could be content to have this good a person, this good a friend and forego a wife.

But in the end, that was untrue. The root of my consternation was the fact that ‘friends’ seemed short of what we could be. If for some reason a deeper relationship simply weren’t possible, if one of us were married say, I would have been OK with ‘friends.’ But there wasn’t anything like that in the way. I think I also could have done without sex if for some reason that were the price to be together, like I said, it really was never about lust. What was too much for me to bear was the uneasy knowledge that eventually one of us would go away to marry somebody else, that I would lose her not by choice, but by the slow, simple wearing of time.

In those ten years between J1 and GFU, life happened. We trudged through the punishments and disappointments the world offered us, including those we made for ourselves, and this special thing we had, our intimate friendship, seemed more and more precious, more and more fragile. And so it was that our friendship sort of fossilized. It became a thing to put high up on a shelf above the reach of grabbing hands and in time we weren’t really willing to even look too closely at it ourselves for fear of breaking it. It’s hard for me to see how those years changed me since I’m too close to it, but I saw how they seemed to change her. I suspect those perceptions were as much my own, my perspective shifting, as her actually evolving. But I remember realizing that we had moved from optimism, through sarcasm, and into cynicism. Her eyes were no longer emerald, but jade. I was growing in bitterness toward our perceived unwillingness to really talk about the elephant in the room. Oddly enough though, even that seemed somehow to draw us closer in some ways. It was as if we were soldiers who kept surviving battles that we shouldn’t have and even the steel that was settling into our gaze was a thing we shared. Increasingly battered by life, continually rejecting perhaps the one relationship we actually believed in, it was like we congratulated one another, and respected one another for still living, but never really admitting or mourning the loss.

Along the way, I remember a girl I met while in the Navy named Melissa and the Dear John letter she wrote while I was at sea. By the time I was stateside again she was getting married and had invited me to come – I asked the brunette to be my date, like I had to a dozen other weddings. Driving to San Diego I had my one and only proper panic attack. I was driving toward one broken heart with the biggest of all my broken hearts in the seat beside me. The irony of it all was so overwhelming that I started balling hysterically...not a good idea at 70mph. So instead I flipped the car around and tore ass to Palm Springs where I drank a lot of sake. Sitting there next to the brunette, freaking out about Melissa – another botched relationship – there came this crystal vision of the life I was in, and it seemed like some kind of Victorian love tragedy.

No doubt, the brunette had her own Questions. If she were asking me “Am I worth fighting for?” my stupid answer was “Um....I don’t really know how to do that.” She went through a nasty car accident with a drunk driver that nearly took her life and scarred her face. If her question was “Am I lovely?”, I wonder how often she looked in the mirror and answered that question for herself – perhaps unable to hear from me or anybody else that her beauty wasn’t diminished in the least. I know that I was not the only boy to give her a piece of my heart. I know that I’m not the only boy who thought I was special to her. But regardless, and even now, even after the part of the story I haven’t told yet, I still believe that what we had was important to her – different. But that said, this isn’t her story, it’s mine. I couldn’t tell her story if I wanted to, nor would I if I knew every twist and turn. I’m just thinking about the ways in which I failed to understand her and the ways in which I mishandled her heart, and her questions. For all that my devotion to this woman cost me, you would think I would have been more deliberate, when in fact it was probably the relationship in which I was the most reckless. I operated on some foolish notion that it would simply ‘work’ if it were supposed to almost regardless of what I did or did not do. I was always thinking about the brunette, but I rarely considered her – how she felt, how something I did might effect her. For crying out loud, now that I’m talking about it, I’m not even sure that I ever really thought about how I might win her. Instead I just wanted it to snap smoothly into place when all the stars were right – so I see that I was an assshole to her as well...figures.

I should point out, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I did in fact kiss her once. There was a brief moment, about 96 hours, where we tried on the boyfriend/girlfriend clothes. One day I said something like “I can’t do this anymore. I need to know we’re going to at least try and make this work or I need to walk away before I go mad.”, after some thought she gave in. You see, I pushed her. I made her choose between the unthinkable and the unbearable and I regretted it almost immediately – I couldn’t stand the fact that I had forced the issue like that in a season of weakness and I took it back as soon as I could, where things went back to almost normal.

It’s funny though, it was also in that moment when I was most honest with her and myself. It really was driving me absolutely crazy – to not be with someone you love sucks, but to be WITH someone you love and can’t have, that’s torture. So in my fit, what escaped was my true desire, and it scared me. Also I wonder if that moment didn’t reveal her hand as well. After all, she did decide to give it a shot. She could have said “No.” but instead she was willing to take a big personal risk rather than loose me entirely. The shitty thing wasn’t for me to force the issue – the shitty thing was to snatch it back and try to act like it never happened. To treat her risk, a risk she took for my sake, as if it were nothing. God I hate myself sometimes.

Really, I don’t know that things ever quite recovered after that. I’d broken it.

Bly talks about the Golden Haired Woman who haunts the dreams of every man. She’s the archetype of beauty and femininity but only so long as she remains in the distance. Once a man is close to her, once she gives him what he asks of her, she becomes only another girl and the hollow man suddenly finds that the Golden Haired Woman is again to be seen on the horizon. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eldredge talks about Eve in a similar manner. That Eve will paradoxically remain unattainable so long as we seek after her. Instead, we must seek after God and in so doing we find Eve – our Ezer Kenegdo.

In the midst of all this, sometime around 1994, I guess I got religion. My faith in Christ was ignited and the slow process of adjusting to a new reality started. In 1997 I left SoCal for George Fox University. I left behind another muddied, wounded girlfriend. At least with her I think I said something along the lines of “Hey, I’m kinda screwed up in the heart department so, ya know, caveat emptor.” I don’t think she really heard it, or chose not to, but I guess I felt like I had covered my bases. Regardless, when I got my acceptance letter from GFU, and started packing, I heard God say, “You’ll meet your wife there. She’s a redhead.”

For the first year, I didn’t date anybody. Truth is, I was having a lot of second thoughts about girl-in-boots. I was sick to my stomach about how I couldn’t get this girlfriend thing right and I was approaching the point where I just wanted to get off the frakking roller-coaster already. So that year by myself was really good for me. I had a lot of time to think and pray and I was building a life in Oregon that lacked any of the baggage from SoCal – it was a clean start in a lot of ways that I needed. Of course I was keeping one eye out for any redheads and I still had the other eye on the brunette in SanFran. She was dating somebody and it seemed pretty serious, so I’m sure some part of me was trying to get to a safe distance where a wedding announcement wouldn’t kill me.

Then I went to Kenya for a semester.

Kenya is far, far away from everything familiar, and I mean EVERYTHING. It was under African skies, where Scorpio looms over your night and jackals bark where you were used to coyotes, that God started unpacking my baggage. I only realized it years later, but I started a journal on that trip and page after page after excruciating page was about women. About how I saw them, how I saw my past relationships, how I was so deeply confused about what I wanted and what I wanted to want. In those four months my journal probably heard about every female I had known: my mother, my hot 4th grade teacher, the gravel-voiced, sad-eyed actress all the way up to another brunette I met at Daystar. Let’s call her Blue for the sake of clarity.

Blue and the Brunette had the same first name, though neither of them used it. They had the same middle name, they had the same last initial. They had the same kind of eyes (except Blue’s were... well...blue), almost the same hair, and the same size and build. Not only did we have a lot of things in common, we had the SAME things in common as I had with the brunette. Listen to me – not the same kinds of things, the exact same things. As the two of us talked over milky chai it was really quite surreal. The parallel details went on and on and on, and on both sides. For every detail in which Blue was like the brunette, I was like a lifelong friend Blue had back home. We sang the same obscure folks songs, quoted the same silly movies. At times, the details would shuffle a bit, but they were always there. Blue’s older sister wanted to grow up to be a fire engine. The brunette’s younger sister wanted to be a fire engine  – I’m telling you it was absolutely bizarre and we both stared at each other in open-mouthed disbelief. Looking at her was like looking back into the past, to what the brunette was when we met, or what she might still have been if life hadn’t happened. I say that because Blue was about 10 years younger and still innocent in a lot of ways. There were no broken hearts, or drunk drivers, or pregnancy scares in her life.

Meeting Blue – 10,000 miles from home – just about cracked me. It was so very bittersweet. It was almost like a second chance, and yet, there was no chance. Sure, in four months we wouldn’t be 10,000 apart, but we would still be 1,000 miles apart. Plus, she had a boyfriend cum fiancée and she wasn’t damaged goods like I was. I knew that Blue did not honestly represent a potential wife, but she had to represent something. It wasn’t possible that this nearly perfect copy of the woman who haunted my life was here, on the other side of the world, in a tiny University out in the Kenyan bush, by accident. The only thing that quite makes sense to me is that she was an image of something I had just about forgotten – how good and wonderful a person the brunette really was. By that time you see I was disillusioned and part of me was angry with the brunette for not choosing me. Of course it was totally unfair to her, but it was dawning on me how much I had sacrificed on her alter and I had nothing to show for it. The recognition of my own role in that transaction hadn’t yet arrived...

As I journaled page after page, telling my story to myself as God dictated, Blue reminded me of why I had been so smitten by the brunette in the first place. And at the same time, it was made painfully clear how much I needed to let both of them go. Please understand, I couldn’t have formed that last sentence at the time – it’s an idea that’s taken an additional few years to germinate, but I can see now that my time in Kenya was an emotional detox in preparation for meeting Rebekah. That’s where I got all my crying and screaming and mourning out – stuff I’d failed to do before.

Across a dirt road from the University was a sprawl of 10 x 10 plywood rooms called Hostel B. It was a maze of dead-end alleys and random clothes lines where the less affluent students lived while they studied. A few of us Americans, including Blue and I, had made a friend in Hostel B and we often sat in his box making avocado and butter sandwiches. In the last days at Daystar, I was wearing an Indigo Girls concert shirt that the brunette had given to me as a gift a few years before. It seems sort of silly, but that shirt was pretty symbolic to me at the time. You see I was supposed to have been at the concert with her, but I missed her...because of miscommunication...and all I got was this lousy tee-short. You see the joke right? Anyway, Blue and I and Tony and Gump were down in Hostel B killing time when a fire broke out. In the next fifteen minutes, all 60-odd units burn to the ground. I’m kicking down doors looking if anybody is asleep, trying to rescue important belongings from rooms that aren’t totally engulfed in flame and a family history with fire-fighting puts me somehow in a place to help lead the flying squad. 15 minutes and a million things happened, including my Indigo Girls shirt being ruined. Completely saturated in smoke, peppered with pinhole burns from falling embers, and Emily’s face welded into several kaleidoscope blobs...it’s no longer really suitable for the public.

Was that fire auspicious in some way? An omen of what was about to happen? - I don’t know. In fact, the story and its parallels have only just now occurred to me, but it certainly seems prophetic in hindsight.

Two things happened when I returned from Kenya: I moved into an apartment right next to a redhead who I thought was a stoner (that’s my wife, Rebekah, who in fact was not a stoner, but just liked hippie stuff), and my last semester of school started with all the term papers, and thesis writing, and final grades that entails. Of course I also wanted to call my best friend, the Brunette, to regale her with stories of endless wildebeest herds and hoping Massai warriors. If memory serves, that turned out to be easier said than done. It seems that there were multiple failed attempts, probably separated by weeks of busybusybusy but that kind of thing had never been a problem before. Once she moved to the Bay, it was common for us to go for months at a time without speaking and we never lost anything. We just picked up the conversation where it had left off without missing a beat. I can’t say I was planning to tell her about all the things I had been writing about, nor was I planning to mention how I met her younger doppelganger, Blue – even had I wanted to share those things, the Brunette’s deeper connection to all of that had yet to be made clear to me, I was still processing.

When I finally did reach her, I could tell something was wrong. There was a great deal of tension in her voice and she said next to nothing. No “How was your trip?” no “Welcome home” just a few mumbled words through what sounded like clenched teeth. This must be a bad time I thought. Maybe I caught her in the middle of a fight with her boyfriend or something. So I said I’d call again later, and hung up. “I sure hope everything is OK.” was what I said to myself, but didn’t think much more of it. When I called again, I discovered the same tension in her voice as before. But this time I noticed that her “Hello?” seemed normal enough. It was when I said, “Hey, it’s me!” that everything in her voice changed.

That second conversation was only marginally longer than the one before it, but those few words broke my heart.
“I’m so upset with you that I can’t even talk.”
“How dare you?!”
“Don’t call again.”

I was shocked, stunned, wounded, totally confused, and it was probably the heaviest blow to my heart that I’d ever suffered. Filled with joy and excitement and tales to tell from abroad, I found my dearest friend, the person who I cared more for than anybody else on the planet, livid beyond words...and I had absolutely no idea why. That was around six years ago now. I wish I could tell you what her anger was about. I wish I could confess some wicked deed that drove her away from me, but to this day, I still don’t know what upset her. We haven’t spoken to one another since. I tried for a while to reach her through other means, for instance I sent her birthday cards that I I really don’t know if she ever got. I also tried to reach some of the people around her to try and discern what sin I had committed. In all truth I would have confessed and apologized for killing President Kennedy if that would have soothed her ire – but alas, I’m as ignorant today as I was that day. For all I know, she was mad that I hadn’t written more or called sooner.

After some initial scrambling, a vain attempt to fix whatever was broken or atone for any possible insult, I got angry. Angry because I felt that I had been treated unfairly. Angry that she would do such a thing to me after all that we had been through together. Angry that she would throw down one of her best friends without so much as an explanation (which I clearly deserved) or giving me the benefit of the doubt to hear my side of whatever story there might be to tell. In that season of anger, I’m pretty certain I just stewed. I didn’t try to contact her, I didn’t fret over the mystery of what I had done to her. Instead I rehearsed and crafted deeply biting comments and lectures. Preparing a quiver of bolts against the day I saw her again. I practiced my indignation and righteous rage and had long dissertations in my mind on how her anger was always more important to her than her relationships. Oh, I had a lot to say, and I knew her well enough to put those bolt where they would hurt the most. Thank God I never had the opportunity to release that rage or I’d regret it to the end of my days.

But in time, the anger passed too. In time I prayed that she would forgive me for the things I had thought of her, and also for whatever it was that I had done to start thins in the first place, if indeed it was anything deserving so dramatic a response. I also made it a point to give my anger and frustration and accusation over to God – to forgive her for the wrong I perceived, since I couldn’t determine if I deserved her wrath or not. In short, probably a year and a half later, I moved on.

I really never found out what it was that drove her to sever our long and powerful friendship. She’s not an irrational person, so I must assume that she had her reasons. She’s not fickle nor flighty, so I have to assume that they she weighed my error against my friendship and chose one – which is to say I must believe they were good reasons. But all that said, I really only know that she broke fellowship with me without an explanation and as far as I can tell, that was the end of my affair with the Brunette.

With another four years of hindsight I see now that she did me a tremendous favor – she pulled a thorn from my flesh that I was unable or unwilling to pull myself. At the perfect moment – she released me, released me from herself.

I say it was the perfect moment because this was all happening at the same time that I was getting to know and love Rebekah. The first time we were introduced, like I said before, I was certain that she was a pot-head. Her duplex was covered in psychedelic mushrooms and tie-die and smelled of sandalwood and patchouli. Re is very quiet and laid back (read: stoned) and her roommate greeted Jamie and I with a sleepy look and a pan of stereotypical stoner food, “Hey, would you guys like some broooownnnnnies?” she said in her over-calm manner. But as I walked backed to my apartment God said ‘That’s her.” and I knew exactly what He meant. If things had been the same with the Brunette, then things would have been the same with Rebekah – the same as they had been with the other women I dated during my serial monogamy. If things had been the same with the Brunette, I would have been unfaithful to my Redhead. My heart would have remained deeply divided and as one half of me stepped into a relationship with Rebekah, the other half would have dug its heels in and remained behind, trapped in the grasp of a woman half a continent away, waiting for something that was never coming.

The breaking of that bond was incredibly painful, and I resented her the stroke for a while, but I would never have come to where I am today if the Brunette hadn’t cut me off. Instead I would have been single, aging, and bitter, or perhaps married, aging, and bitter. You see, given what I saw as God’s direction I still might have gone and married Rebekah, but I’d be just as double minded as I’d been before only now the stakes would have been higher. By now, the hope I had invested in the Brunette would have been deferred too long and the bitterness that had begun to sprout up those years ago, would be in full bloom, poisoning my marriage. I’ve said before that what I’ve found so striking isn’t that I love Rebekah more and more each day, but that I continually discover new capacity to love that I didn’t know existed. My ‘love tank’ isn’t being filled, it’s growing. I have to credit a large portion of that to the gradual reintegration of the various shards and tailings of my heart. The huge chunk that was missing in all my previous relationships has been recovered and I’m finding rooms and halls in there that have lain unused for long years. I was blind, but now I see. I was lost, but now am found.

While I would honestly thank the Brunette today for saving me, it seems unlikely that saving me was her intention. With all things considered, I think a more likely explanation of everything that happened was the enemy saw an opportunity to destroy me and he took his best shot. With all that I had been going through in Kenya, all the God-driven reflection and revelation, finally meeting my wife and quickly falling toward her - it was a perfect moment to cut me down, perhaps for good. It sounds a little weird to say that the Devil used the Brunette against me, but I do think that’s what happened. If you’re not familiar with all the spiritual warfare I’ve been talking about these last years, don’t read too much into that. I’m not at all suggesting that she was evil or possessed or anything remotely like that, just that the enemy is an opportunist, and a single whispered suggestion can turn a small thing into a world war. If there was one person on this planet who could have slain me with a glance, it was her...and she did.

But what was meant for evil turned out to be for the good. In ways that are almost too much to explain, that death was prerequisite for the life that followed - the life that I have now. A two barreled, full-throated, hair-on-fire life where my whole heart is united and engaged. Not that it looks like something particularly special on the outside, but on the inside, where The Spirit speaks and I weep or laugh or question with boldness and without fear. You know, just now I’m realizing something. I’ve been chewing on this letter for about a year now, piecing it together bit by bit. And I’ve always been thinking of it in terms of how my restored heart made it possible to bond with Rebekah. But I also see how critical it was for me to make my bond with Christ. The overarching theme of the last few years of my life has been this concept of a whole and integrated heart. Raven-and-emerald, it seems I have this also to thank you for. To that end, I can’t discount the very real possibility that this blow wasn’t orchestrated by Satan at all, but by God. Given all that it has accomplished, the timing, and the surrounding circumstances, I can also see it as a kind of surgery, the excision of a tumor. Perhaps in time, the agent responsible will be made clear, but I’m not certain it matters much either way.

You see for all those years I was a kind of ghost – trapped between one world and another. One foot here, the other there, and unwilling or unable to commit to either side. My deep and abiding double-mindedness lead to a profound inability to commit to much of anything, especially a woman. It turns out that Hamlet was right after all – “To be or not to be” really is the question. My indecision, my unmanliness in that regard, not only tortured me, but it caused a lot of misery to the people around me who were counting on me to commit, for my word to mean something, for my “yes” to be a “yes.” I don’t want to take myself too seriously here, or think my actions one way or the other were critical moments in the lives of the women I dated, but at the very least I wronged them to the degree that I said I was them and wasn’t. I failed them insofar as I claimed to be the man in their lives, when in fact I wasn’t. I was, instead, ephemeral, ectoplasmic. Present only in this fragile mortal coil that we all know turns to dust and ashes, just a tissue-paper image of a man. The part of me that is eternal, the part of me that God calls out to offer strength to my mate, was AWOL, trapped inside a kind of stunted, aborted relationship that I couldn’t let go of. So my heart, my soul, spent all those years never living, only waiting, waiting, waiting.

I do need to avoid that peculiar Christian trick of history where we see a thing redeemed, an unexpected blessing coming from dreadful spell, and conclude that it must have all been God’s plan after all. The fact that my marriage to Rebekah is far more than I expected or hoped for, and the fact that the path I just laid out is what lead me to her, cannot absolve me of the fact that I sinned. I can’t look at the chain of women I was intimate with, but never married, and act as if that wasn’t wrong just because I stand here today, restored, forgiven and happy. I can’t hold up my inability to commit to any of them as proof of anything other than my infidelity of the heart. It’s true that you wouldn’t have been able to convince me at the time that my relationship with the Brunette amounted to adultery since we remained platonic, but that’s only because I was lying to myself and doesn’t mitigate the truth of it now. To somehow twist and warp all of this and somehow conclude that I was being saved for Rebekah would be to say that God’s plan included my disobedience, which is utter nonsense. There is an important difference between providence and redemption that we can sometimes skip over when we fear that to recognize our sin would be to cast a shadow on the grace and blessing that we received despite it. To say, “God can make good of all things...” should never be confused with “A Blessing in disguise.” or “God works in mysterious ways.” There are a lot of things in this post that I just as well had not have said, nor shared. There’s a lot here that reflects quite poorly on me and the choices I made. The moral of the story is not that it’s difficult to see through the ordained twists in our paths. The moral is that we regularly make our own paths so crooked that they loop back on themselves, becoming impossibly tangled, and yet God snatches us, as from a fire, for His own glory.

Having come through that now, and having some distance to see the broader strokes, I’m mortified by the fact that I was so unable to see my own story, my own ingrown path. I also rue the thought that at some point in these last years the Brunette might have thought to herself - “Oh no, what have I done?” but never reached out for fear, or pride or apathy. Romantic aspirations aside, she and I were mighty friends, and I miss that relationship...I wonder if she does as well. Even more, I hope she isn’t still nursing her anger, whatever it’s original cause. I know how powerful a poison bitterness and resentment can be, and how healing forgiveness is. I hope that she too found some unlooked for blessing through all of this, even if that’s simply to be rid of me. And really, I don’t mean that that in some self-deprecating, woe-is-me sort of way. I may have been a close friend, but I also know that toward the end I put a great deal of undeserved pressure on her. I held her accountable for my frustration and at times for the collapse of relationships that she had nothing to do with. To that end I’ve asked for, and sought her forgiveness in many ways and many times and I have to console myself that that’s about all I can do in that regard, which in all honesty feels pretty damn unsatisfying.

But perhaps no small part of this letter is my chance to return the favor, to release her. To say publicly that, for my part anyway, there are no hard feelings, no held grudges. I can offer up my own forgiveness for what it’s worth, perhaps unsought and undesired.

Dear, dear friend - I’m very sorry for all the ways I was unfair to you, expecting things from you that I shouldn’t. For my failing to be either a proper friend or lover. For missing your heart for the trees of your intellect. Though I was angry for a time, I recognize that you no doubt did only what you felt right at the time and I can’t hold that against you, nor would I had I the strength. My forgiveness and my good will are here and freely given. Take them or reject them - as you wish.

7 comments:

Kathie said...

Thank you for this sentence: "There is an important difference between providence and redemption that we can sometimes skip over when we fear that to recognize our sin would be to cast a shadow on the grace and blessing that we received despite it."

The word "despite" is probably the biggest hangup in my spiritual growth. I want to own it, but my heart rebels. I know my current process is about coming to rejoice in it. I need to learn to use it often in place of the d-word that seems strongest in my vocab--"deserve". Thanks for putting your story out there--for lots of reasons of course, but I say thanks now for adding to this weird process of mine. And for making me love Rebekah all the more every time you write.

Silverback said...

Wow – I’m kinda surprised anybody was willing to slog through that giant treatise, much less glean some subtle word choice from it. :)
I don’t think I set off on this blog being a confessional, but it’s wound up like that in many ways...funny how things turn out.

Deserve vs. despite – wow, topics don’t get much bigger.

“...it is no longer I who [sin] but Sin that dwells in me!...Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7: 20/24)
How often do we stop here and feel wretched, failing to read through to Paul’s conclusion?
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made free free from the law of sin and death...Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies! Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died and is also risen!”

“Despite” seems better. :)

Michael said...

I, too, made it through. I have to tell you it was quite a shock--I sit down before heading out to peruse the blogs of my pals for a few minutes, and get sucked into a twenty-minute novella.

There are a lot of chewy issues here to gnaw, especially for us men-folk. All I can say at this point is that I feel like putting down my pen when it comes to personal revelation; this was a really fascinating piece and would have been even if I didn't know you (considering I have no idea who any of the players are here save you and Rebekah, it was kind of like that anyway). Like you didn't have enough personal power, you continue to produce engrossing prose.

The other thing this does is make me want to hold a bake sale to come up with that plane ticket in November. Every mention of how your life has become something beyond the ordinary has me champing at the bit to find that as well, to make my journey with Christ something more than it is. Darn Mammon...

Chris said...

I slogged through most of it, skimming a bit I must confess. But sheesh - you come by looking for a quick read and get an engrossing book!

Very good read, and interesting.

I must admit, part of what compelled me to keep reading was a curiousity about who she is. You and I have mostly known each other indirectly, but you dropped enough facts that I think I know this brunette. Pretty sure in fact.

What I can add, I suppose, is that having known her for many years, I get it somewhat.

Thanks for the great post Doc.

matt said...

I came, I slogged, and I posted ;)

Yo-
This was GREAT to read. Sorry it took me so long to get to it.

There are so many things that are great about this, however I will only mention this:
the fact that you have been able to come through all of this with such clarity and accuracy. That's freakin' amazing.

You remember that game of 'I never"? Try this:
I Never got my heart broken by The Brunette

Hands go up. Mine included.

The interesting thing about The Brunette is that she didn't do this on purpose. It's in her DNA. I truly believe that because my experience with The Brunette started in 4th grade. She was my First Friend on the mountain. The seating chart was done alphabetically, by last name...chance? coincidence? Interesting, no doubt. And so it started... And that's why I say that I think it's part of her and not something she chooses. Simply because it was ALWAYS like that for me and her...even at that age. The hinting, but never saying. Only, I didn't possess the self-control that you did so I told her (and showed her....ooops) every chance I got.

Thanks for writing this, because I doubt that all of us who share these similar experiences with you have that same degree of clarity and, by now, have just chocked this up to "what the heck happened"? But through this, I was able to identify certain things which always helps. It's like you shined a spotlight on these common characteristics and experiences and said..this is what that means. So, I'm grateful.

I was going to post an update (of what little I know) but, I figure that's not the point. The point is that it is a barbed and jagged thorn that she pulls out. She's got it all right for that. And so we just pray and pray that she is able to find not only Salvation, but the peace and happiness that we all know she so desperately seeks.

Kristin Bontrager said...

I found this letter/story/entry so captivating and was surprised to find that it tugged at some strings in my own heart that I didn't even know existed...I just finished the read and haven't had time to ascertain just what those 'strings' are, but I'm definitely going to be praying about this.
You are an AMAZING writer. And I found myself noting the irony in one point early on in the story, because I recall vividly watching you and Brunette all those years ago, always thinking to myself, "what's the deal with these two? Are they, or are they not?", only to read that you too were wondering the same at that time. Interesting.
Yet that entangled journey led you to your beautiful wife at the perfect time. Just goes to show that God's will is done regardless of what we do - He will always get us to the point where His will is done.
What a ride this life is, eh?

Anonymous said...

Chris,

I've been lurking around the blogs of the whole gang for a few months now, finding you all through the Bontragers and enjoying the glimpses I've gotten into your various trials and triumphs (Go Kathie!! Your love story has brought tears to my eyes more than once!).

Your page, I've tended to click on briefly and then click away before I've seen too much or gone too far, not able to commit to more than a moment, and perhaps afraid I'd be discovered.

I happened across this post by accident. A few random clicks, and here I was, and recognized myself instantly, of course, and read with ... well, I don't know what emotion, really... the first real, objective story of what happened between us.

This doesn't seem the place to say what I have to say, but then again, I don't know if you get notified about comments, and I don't know if you or anyone else will ever see it anyway. And I don't have your email address-- I took care of that in spectacular fashion back then, that day, when I hung up the phone.

So I'm saying it: you got it all right, and my reasons for doing what I did are all contained in this post. That doesn't mean I should have handled it as I did, but I can honestly say I wasn't capable of anything else at the time, and that wasn't your fault.

For a long, long time, longer than is forgivable, really, looking back now, I didn't know this was part of our friendship. I may have picked up on innuendo, but never suspected it was serious, because you were with Sand-and-Sky (nice moniker, by the way), and she was my best friend, and it wouldn't have occurred to me to pursue or encourage or acknowledge any such element of our relationship.

(back to Sand-and-Sky-- part of me wants to send this post to her, so she can read the kind things you say about her and give her any peace she might still need from this chapter in her life. Another part of me wants her never to see it, never to hear you say that you thought of me while you were with her. This, my friend, is why I could never acknowledge any of it, even after I knew it was there. You knew that, right?)

So that part is absolutely true-- I didn't understand for along, long time what was, all that time, so clear and so painful for you.

And then I did, but only a little, and still it was just like you said-- it paled in comparison to the friendship we had. Our mighty friendship. I love that line, because it was true. It remains one of the most mighty friendships of my life, unique unto itself.

And there were other things, too, things I'm ashamed now to remember, and they involved acknowledging that element just enough-- just enough to join you in... well, in the way you treated some of those other girlfriends (not all, though-- any who might be reading this blog regularly--and by "any," I mean you, who know who you are-- escaped that terrible, two-against-one thing we indulged in, although I doubt you felt so at the time. You were significant to him, and he didn't treat you the same way. He tried, I think, for real, and did the best he could).

Yeah, we were a team, weren't we? We could laugh at those poor other girls who only wanted to love you. We were smarter, we were closer, we were cleverer. We never let them in, all the while never owning up to any reason why we shouldn't.

I think that's why we didn't see the cruelty of it. Don't you? I do believe we wouldn't have been cruel deliberately, even then. We would have been shocked at the accusation, however well-deserved.

My boyfriends always escaped our mockery. I couldn't have dated someone I could mock. Something in this should have taught me what I needed to learn much earlier, but I never learned it. The truth was that far beyond anything else, I just loved being your friend.

Some of this stuff I didn't know, and certainly didn't allow myself to consider your perspective once I made the break. But here, in a nutshell, is what happened when it all ended:

You came to visit me in San Fran with Sand-and-Sky, and you did and said some things to her during that visit, and afterward, which I heard about later, that I suddenly saw what they were-- cruel and manipulative-- and realized that I was and had always been implicated in that cruelty to her. I suddenly saw what my part had been in all of it, and it broke me.

Sand-and-Sky and I had long ago put to rest the tension and competition between us. My true friendship with her was back where it should always have been-- at the front of my heart, protected and protective. What I saw during that visit, and what I heard from her later, made me angry at you and angry at myself for ever having taken part, implicitly or not, in anything that would have wounded her.

I don't even remember now what it was. I just saw my own cruelty revealed, and yours as well, and blamed you for both.

What you didn't know then, and what I couldn't face myself, is probably the thing that made that clarity possible: I was being emotionally abused, profoundly and cruelly and daily, by my boyfriend. We were together for five years, and in that time I went from confident and bold to frightened and meek and miserable. Not to mention 40 pounds overweight.

Let me make a distinction here: I am blaming him for his behavior. You're damn right I am. But I'm not placing all the blame on him for mine. I should have done it differently. I should have remembered you for who you were, and not taken out on you what I couldn't take out on him. At the time, though, all I saw was cruelty, magnified by my own pain, and I took action against it because it was action I felt I could safely take.

I don't offer this as an excuse, just as the truth of what happened. You captured everything else well and fairly-- I did feel at the time that my reasons were good, and I did get it that it was a big thing I was doing. I just wish I'd seen it all sooner, done it all more gently, never fallen victim to someone who made me turn outward or inward what I should have turned on him and erased HIM from my life, forever and done. It could have been a conversation. It could have been growth. Instead, it was destruction.

I'm glad you got something of value from it. I did too, eventually. Recovery from abuse is like that, I guess, however that abuse is inflicted-- on others, on ourselves. Recovery happens exactly when it happens, and not a moment earlier, because it takes so much-- so very much-- to get yourself to the jumping point, and then to will yourself to leap.

I should have said this first, because it's what I was thinking before I started this diatribe: I'm glad you're happy in your life. I can tell that you are. It sounds like you've found an incredible woman, and I saw the gorgeous picture of your adorable son, and I am so very happy for you both.

I would never have purposely kept you from this happiness, and although I suspected at times that I was, I never knew how much. I'm glad I got out of your way. You deserved it to happen in a different fashion, perhaps, but you're right that we might never have figured that out. Really, at the heart of it all, we were just stupid kids who thought that because we had what we had, the rest would all just...work. You captured that perfectly too. We didn't know what we were dealing with. Not ever.

As for me, I've found my happiness too. After the abuser, I took a long time to recover myself, and get back some of what I'd lost. I worked hard to become the person I wanted to be in a relationship-- a person who could be open to love, but never again let someone turn me against myself.

And then I was ready to look for my partner, and I found him not long afterward: my reward. He'd been through similar things, taken similar measures, and was looking for someone on the same terms as I was. We found each other because we were ready to be found, after all that time and pain, and it was worth every effort we'd made.

Mark and I are getting married in October. You'd like him. He's funny and kind and wicked smart. He's perfect for me, just like Rebekah is perfect for you. We did a lot wrong, but we both did this part exactly right.

So there's the explanation you should have had from me years ago. You deserved it long before now. I didn't know, to be honest, that you didn't know. I guess I thought, like I did throughout our long friendship, that what was clear in my head was clear to you. That you knew what I knew. As it turns out, what we didn't know ended up being more important, more vital, and ultimately more damaging.

I didn't know. I should have known. I should have known better. I think we both did the only things we knew to do. In our cleverness, we thought we knew enough. I wish we'd known enough to know what idiots we were, and valued in the right way all the many rich and wonderful things we had to value about each other.

There was a lot of "knowing" mentioned in that last paragraph. a lot of it seems silly now, compared to what we both must know these days about love and commitment and loyalty and friendship. We learned what is most profound and enduring from our partners. But I like to think that we learned some of the rest from each other, and that maybe that was the purpose of those years, after all.

We learned what was possible, even if it wasn't possible between us. And now that we've found it, I hope we can both say thank you, friend, and forgive me, friend, and go on down our separate roads in peace, finally, at last.

Be well, my dear old friend.

the brunette
inconcvbl@hotmail.com