"Here I am with all the pleasures of the first world laid out for me, who am I to break down? Every day I wake up, I choose love, I choose light, and I try, it's so easy just to fall apart…"
Sara and I are having dinner together on The Lake House patio, overlooking Lake Bonavista. I'm stone-cold sober, quiet and contemplative. The leaves on the trees are golden, not quite falling yet, but their colours have changed. There are ducks on the water, squawking loudly, and geese flying overhead. The sunset has never looked so serene. I'm trying to take it all in and stay mindful, but the truth is, I'm both bored and terribly anxious. "I'm leaving in 19 days," I say aloud, as if I've forgotten that Sara is sitting across the small wooden table from me. "It's really happening… everything I've ever wanted to do."
I realize I haven't looked at Sara much while I've been talking to her. I look intently into her eyes as she speaks, in order to gauge the way she's really feeling. Yet when I open my mouth, it's out of desperation but I've given up on eye contact. That is, unless I'm telling her a story. I'm finding myself frustrated tonight because it seems like I'm re-telling stories I've already told. I'm wondering how much attention she was paying to me before, when just a week earlier I was breaking down and she was on the other end of our text exchange, consoling me. "People get too involved in their own lives and don't work on their relationships. Even friendships need to be worked on too." I have to admit I didn't expect this kind of insight from Sara. She isn't stupid. She's just one of my feel-good friends. Sara has remained my feel-good friend even though the nature of our friendship has far deviated from its reckless, drunk beginnings as high-heeled hostesses. One year later, I'm now sober and perpetually single, and she's become a mother. Yet she showed up at my yard sale by her own volition the first day, surprising me - then returned the next day to help out the entire day, baby in tow. Sara is driving me to the airport in nineteen days. After she was the one who reminded me of the importance of self-care - not the lighting candles and eating well kind of self-care, but the less happy and light, more lift-my-own-cold-dead-body-out-of-the-shower-when-it-feels-like-its-over kind - and validated my frustration over the unreliable nature of people, I decided she was the only friend I could still trust in this city to come through for me. Yet it was a good thing I reminded her in the car tonight, because she might have gotten the date wrong. Just like everyone else did two weekends ago when I had to set up for my entire yard sale by myself.
I can't hold it against Sara. We had a good night. But I'm realizing just how different things are now, and how self-isolating, lonely, and alienating the structure of my new life has become. Wearing this costume, and all of these new masks feel foreign to me, because there are no masks. This costume is my skin, my soul. It's puzzling enough trying to get dressed and forgetting that I now have short blonde hair and my complexion is two shades darker. It's why I only ever wear black and white anymore, mostly black. I'm uncomfortable in my own skin. I knew how to wear self-loathing and insecurity. I painted to my lips with lies and rouged my cheeks with my own pain. But security? Feeling confident, and refusing to lie about anything? It's weird that this type of life comes in my size. Beyond appearances, there's my behaviour - no longer loud, obnoxious, attention-seeking, or misbehaved. I take deep breaths when I accidentally trigger myself. I still feel the pressure to speak quickly, yet I know that doing so only exudes insecurity. There are no bottles of wine on the table. Should I ever again - god forbid - end up in a situation like my birthday dinner this year, there is no more finishing the bottle for the sake of finishing it. There most certainly isn't the option to take it home, either. My options now are to walk away. Leave. Or, in the case of tonight, stay. Stay because time spent in good company is special and the time I do have here is limited. Stay because I've been hiding in my house for the last few days feelings less and less like myself, and it's important to get my sunshine hours in, especially right before I move somewhere where it rains nonstop. And stay, because as uncomfortable as it may feel - looking out onto a lake after sunset, two candles blazing on the small wooden table in front of us, and my date being someone I'm not having sex with - everything happens for a reason. I fucking hate that expression with every bone in my body, but tonight I need to say it to myself. Type it out to myself. Repeat it to myself over, and over, and over again. There are reasons the person across the table from me isn't the last person I dated, the last person I loved, or the first person who should have loved me, but didn't. There's a reason female friendship is taking a front-seat space in my life right now, and that's because I need it. Because the wounds in my psyche that I waited to be filled by the women who inflicted them, never were, and I'm healing. I'm filling the spaces not with alcohol, with sex, with work, or with status. All the masks are off. Friendship is the only kind of love that's pure enough to keep things smooth.
So tonight, I stayed. I listened. I really had no reason to leave. The meal looked different: there was no appetizer, no oysters, no champagne. There were two main dishes, a giant cheese platter, and two desserts. I finished my main dish as quickly as I would have downed my first beer during pregame. I waited for Sara to finish her green beans. Then we moved onto cheese and desserts. We were silent by the dessert course, and then Sara started to tell me about her life. So different it sounded now. It was as if we had switched places. Yet somehow we both seemed lost, if not just for the vulnerability of tonight, even though we were moving so quickly toward the things we want. My vision is clear, crystal clear - and then it fades. I wonder if the same thing happens to her too. I ordered two decaf Americanos. No port. No dessert wine. I had ordered a nonalcoholic beer, but it wasn't the same - just empty calories. And by the end of the night, in spite of my glaring impatience, intolerance for bullshit, and reawakened frustrations with the idiosyncrasies of our "friends", I wondered what I used to like so much about doing this. Dressing up. Spending money. Feeling so much more high-and-mighty than the people running around a restaurant to accommodate my strange requests. I guess you always want what you can't have. I can tell you that at least for tonight, in its vulnerability and nostalgia, there was something about the past that I missed. The struggles I had then are the same now, emotionally. The family stuff has gotten worse. I'm not out of the woods yet. The pressure, the stress, it's threatening to break me. And without work, without friends, I don't have an escape from any of it. Thank God for Sara. Thank God for the friends I still have who haven't flaked out. The ones who don't owe me money and don't creep my Facebook every single day without ever checking in to see how I am. The ones who didn't treat me differently or judge me, after anything - paying off my debt, leaving my ex, dating my rebound, traveling alone, quitting alcohol, going pescatarian (again), selling off my life. But I never expected that after all of it, there would be so few of them left. I never thought that in getting stronger I would also become more sensitive. I didn't think that I would cut more and more people out of my life. Not push them. Not fight with them. Just quietly, quickly, cut the strings and let them fall.
I'm on top. I'm finally on the high road and I'm going to stay here. No distractions. No guilt. But I never thought it would feel so lonely. I never thought I would ever feel so misunderstood. In nineteen days, I'm giving myself everything I've ever wanted. Is it worth it? Absolutely. But I never thought that getting what you want would feel so bittersweet.