For a long time, I tried to pretend Andi didn’t exist. How could I go on living knowing there was this perfect person out there for me, but we couldn’t be together? As best as I could manage it, she had to disappear.
This was self-preservation. As resolute as my actions have been on the surface, denial still swam in the depths. As much as loneliness, denial goaded me to find another woman - more specifically, another relationship - to read desire into every waitress’ flirting, to pine like I haven’t pined since middle school, to make mere mortals into Anastasias and Cleopatras.
It can’t be luck alone that Becky was waiting behind Cleopatra. There have been times over these last three months that I’ve felt mad, when my skin has crawled and my thoughts have been like flakes in a shaken snow globe when Becky and I couldn’t be together. Being with her barely helped. Scant minutes, hours, days; however long we had, it was never enough.
I still can’t get enough but the craze that comes with newness has subsided. The love remains, but what’s replaced the madness is a deep affection like nothing I’ve felt. Friends want to know if it’s like it was with Andi. The simple, confounding answer is: yes and no.
Settling into a new relationship has given me the comfort to look back a lot lately.
Andi and I didn’t come together well. She fought hard to win me, then grew ambivalent when I quit the (admittedly awful) relationship I was in to be with her. We lived together in Syracuse after seven months. We fought, including one memorable night when her screams and fists flurried around me and I slapped her, once, in a moment I’ll take to my grave. The fact that I pulled the slap and Andi doesn't even remember it make it easier to take.
She treated me terribly for a time, culminating in a couple horrific weeks in Miami when she told me she had never loved me, and never would.
I asked if she was testing me. She told me no, but with tears in her eyes. I told her not to test me too hard, because I could fail. She broke down sobbing and admitted she didn’t know how to be with a good man. I held her, and things got better.
We moved back and forth between Syracuse and Virginia. She was diagnosed with IGA Nephropathy, an incurable kidney disease. She broke her neck in a car accident in Buffalo, a C2 fracture, what they call a Hangman’s Fracture. When she got out of the halo, we decided to open our relationship to outside dating. This lasted years. We moved to Miami and closed our relationship again. She had a kidney transplant. We got married. She confessed she’d been seeing a man for some months. I said it was a symptom of a problem with our relationship and not the problem itself. I cut back my hours at work. She rejected the transplant. Things got better. She started dialysis. I told her not to put her life on hold waiting tables, waiting for another kidney. She went back to school. She got her degree. She told me not to put my life on hold, waiting for her to get a kidney. I spit out the bitter medicine of my own advice and went back to school. I didn’t get a degree but I learned what I wanted to do with my life. She had a horrific first year in the classroom. She let me take a large pay cut moving from salaried to hourly to have more time to write. Our summers off were the stuff of romance novels. We fought over reality as our relationship matured. We stopped needing to share one mind to be happy. Things were great. I fractured my pelvis, sacrum, and ribs in a car accident. Instead of saying hurtful things, I spoke to the destructive emotions beneath. I learned to put a name to my fears and concerns to diffuse them. She got more schooling and became an Itinerant Vision Teacher. Things became amazing.
How much of what went wrong last year had to do with mishandling the infidelity ten years ago? I gave her a pass, told her it was my fault for being a workaholic. It’s true you can’t have much of a marriage with one of you working seventy to eighty hours a week, but she could have just have easily said that to me instead of fitting me with horns.
My grandfather used to beat my grandmother. My father promised himself he would never. He kept his promise and became passive-aggressive instead. How did I lose everything my junior high therapist taught me about breaking this legacy? I forgot I could get angry and the world wouldn’t fall apart. I couldn’t rail, I couldn’t tell her how badly she’d hurt me. I got the details thinking they would help (they didn’t; at all), glossed over the hurt, and jumped right into rebuilding.
I told people the separation would be easier if there had been a precipitating event (“What happened?” was the question; “Beats me,” was my answer). I thought our relationship had a shelf-life, that it had fallen apart so quickly because it was a living thing, and living things die. It turns out my precipitating event happened a decade before. Last year, I saw all the signs. We talked everything to death. I suppose I could have done more, although I can’t imagine what. Some grand, romantic gesture.
She wanted ultimatums. She wanted me to impose limits on her behavior. I knew doing that would be the death of us. It’s easy to ignore your conscience when it comes in the form of a spouse wagging a disapproving finger. I wanted her to realize for herself all she was turning her back on.
Don’t test too hard, I warned Andi all those years ago. I might fail.
My own words, my bitter medicine. In my refusal to act as her parent instead of her lover, I was finally testing her back.
It didn’t turn out like I had hoped. But I suppose it turned out as it had to.