I SLEPT WITH MY EX.
By Girtrude Belle
During the festive, drunken, happy holidays, I got together with my ex. “My ex” is not really accurate. For one thing, he is everyone’s ex to some degree or another. For another, we were never official. I wasn’t trophy girlfriend material, not for him anyway and so I was his “lover.” Official enough to get dragged through the mud by an entire posse for “stealing” him from his “actual” girlfriend, official enough to spend hours, weeks, months, years talking to him daily. But certainly not official enough to be anything but used in this manner. I’m not here to cast blame.
I believe we create our own realities and I created this one, by being willfully blind, willfully addicted to the heroin-like highs and crashes that he gave to me.
And he gave them in spades. He’d provide a permanent razor-thin illusion of bliss that can cut you if you so much as breathe. Or think. Or even just exist, really. It will cut you.
I thought it was because he was Special. Because we “had a connection.” Because when we slept together we slept with our faces stuck against one another all night, breathing into each other’s mouths. Which brings me to my actual point. When we slept together this Christmas–a few years after we had last done anything of the kind–we slept like that again, mouth to mouth. Breath to breath. Our bodies floating in the soft ether of cognac. Our hands on each other’s faces, our legs intertwined in a celestial, buttery, drunken double helix of utter comfort.
Morning was just as lovely and spent in a delicate hangover that lent me an easy nonchalance. Everything was enveloped in a mind-numbing softness through which I could experience only very basic feelings like primal love and laziness and the stretching of my muscles. It was a pleasant state where your feet tingle enjoyably from just touching the ground and you aren’t sure whether it’s the hangover or him or your being fabulous or what. I told him that’s all he gets, smiled, and fancied myself cured.
But then the next day came. And the self-satisfied placidity gave way to an all-too-familiar dull ache. This time around it lacked most of the accoutrements of utter despair and self-delusion (yay me) and mostly consisted of a single thought – “but we slept breath to breath.” I don’t know why this thought, but it kept circling in my brain like a parasite and trying (successfully) to convince me that this meant something. Specifically that it meant we’re somehow idiotically, mysteriously “connected,” that what I feel for him I don’t get with the others. That I only sleep this way with him and that’s proof. It’s proof, it’s definitive goddamned proof. That I love him. That I love only him. That everything else is a cheap substitute. That I may have embarked on a journey of self-improvement and enlightened discovery and it may have gotten me to the point of not wanting to be with him but it didn’t cure me of the disease. That I’d forever be in a sort of AA, this many days sober, but still an alcoholic at heart. Still always susceptible to falling off the wagon as soon as he breathed into my nose all night and his electrical lips brushed my face as he turned. And most importantly – that this happens with no one else. That particular point was for obvious reasons the most upsetting and I therefore took it to be “proof.”
Which was why I was so surprised this weekend when, in bed with a beautiful very young man with whom I’d spent the past couple of days having an extraordinary amount of fun, I caught myself having a familiar pang of longing for the ex (we’ll call him that). Along with it came on autopilot the parasitic thought about how we slept nose-to-nose, face-to-face. And the inner mental “proof” about how I don’t do this with…and then I checked. There we were, me and this lovely, impressive boy, more full of life, character, distinction and substance than several men twice his age, sleeping face against face. What shocked me was that I hadn’t even noticed. The parasitic thought in my brain was so busy lamenting the familiar that it didn’t even notice that its mantra was a flat-out lie, a random obsessive semi-truth repeated in circles, obscuring reality. And reality was that I don’t only sleep this way with him. I may not sleep this way with just anyone, but it wasn’t unique. Reality was that I was lying in bed with my eyes closed and telling myself damaging lies.
When I opened my eyes and looked, it was more than just physical. Suddenly my gaze was far above the boy, far above the bed. Suddenly I was able to look at myself at an emotional distance and to see the forest for the trees. So much of what we think is real is nothing but our mind playing tricks on us. Tricks that are born of a complex network of insecurities, unfulfilled needs and various chemical processes (hello cognac). If this is so, I thought, then the real trick is to work on the machine itself not the symptoms, on finding healthy ways to fulfill our needs and resolve our insecurities, as opposed to on cultivating and (falsely) overanalyzing old fruitless attachments. And so a journey of self-discovery is precisely the place from which to proceed. And it’s a much more interesting place, truly vast in its possibilities. What a joyful realization that was.
This morning my cat came to me. She is a new cat, Alice, who has been with me a few months now. My beloved grey tabby, Murry, died last summer and I still miss him every day. Every time I come across his photos in my archives my heart aches. You see Murry loved me. He really did. We were attached to one another…. And so cute little Alice climbed atop my blanket as she does in the mornings, I gave her a squeeze and thought to myself “oh sweet girl, but you aren’t Murry…you don’t look at me with those eyes, full of trust, full of attachment, full of knowing.”
Then I remembered how that trust was built – over a decade. How Murry used to be pretty annoying in the beginning and demand attention in obnoxious oafish ways. How he bit me once when I accidentally startled him (I still have two tiny little tooth scars on my hand even though I remember it wasn’t a strong bite). How he fell ill and lay on my bathroom floor, legs stretched while I nursed him back to health and how our relationship changed afterwards. How no matter what I did to him – even horrible things like baths, and no matter how much he hated them, he’d never even think of nipping at me. How we had to move out of our place together a few times. How I’d give him away to friends for weeks and months at a time and how he stopped getting mad at me when I’d come to get him and was happy instead. How we traveled for work together on the Amtrak to Boston – with Murry as fugitive/contraband. How I left to Paris for 3 months and how he wouldn’t leave my side after my return, hugging me with both paws like a human. How I carefully mixed his heart medication in his food every day so he wouldn’t taste it.
And then I thought – of course! Of course, dear Alice, you aren’t Murry. For one, you are Alice and I should get to know you – you! For another, well, we just met. We haven’t been through a lot together. Yet. Every relationship is different. Every friendship is different. Every day of your life contains different experiences. You can either lament the familiar and the loss of the richness you created by investing time and emotion and experience, or you can be grateful for it and realize that while you are alive that this is exactly what you need to be doing every day. Building more relationships, creating more adventures, enjoying more experiences and seeing what unfolds. Looking ahead and enjoying the present instead of looking back. Being grateful for every moment and its unique character. And for every character and its unique moment in your life. For that is the only way to stop crawling and start flying.
By Girtrude Belle
Read more of Girtrude’s stories here.