My mother always told me when I came out of the womb I tried to emerge upside down and ass-end first. Posterior, facing the wrong way up and Frank breech, like a folding chair or a backwards diver in pike position dropping out of the safe water and into the high, bright world. Once they finally got me turned around, as with many newborns, the force of birth pulled on my malleable infant skull and elongated it until I came out “a little conehead,” as my mother liked to tease. At the crown of my head is a little triangular fontanelle, my “soft-spot” never quite rounded out and as a result, there’s a dent there.
No one’s ever noticed it, before him.
He made a gentle study of it, meditatively running his index and middle finger over, in and around the cleft as I laid against him. Like investigating a scar left on a planet from a meteor. I mused that we should name it after a concavity on Jupiter. He insisted we keep it nameless. It is my secret lacuna. My miniature volcano.
It was difficult to get close to him at first. These tender exchanges were few and moments of vulnerability even more rare. I began to wonder how he felt, to doubt myself, question the sentiments exchanged, and the direction of the relationship, especially when he seemed to be so cagey, taking time away without communicating at all. The classic, “he’s not into you,” signs were there, and equally, the fearful pulse of desperately wanting to connect was emanating from me, pushing him in the opposite direction. He seemed moody and mercurial and I was highly charged and emotional—our weather systems were clashing. The diaphanous fabric of our romance was pulling apart.
We met one night after work, intending to have one of those “talks” that all couples dread. It was clear that we both had the idea, the intention of breaking things off but trying to do it with some semblance of class or to reach the infamous psychological “closure.” We took a long walk around the neighborhood as we had often done. Dusk was setting in and the twilight sky gave a soft, rosy and amber weight to every exchange of words. I tried to argue, he tried to deflect. We tried to cover all the ways in which there was a “no match” or an ill fit. His friend convinced him it had to be done and my own circle of concerned counseled me that this sort of thing should be easy and fun and since it hadn’t been lately, it should be ended.
We paused past our usual set of neighborhood gardens, both instinctively took seats at opposing stone benches where I teared up, knowing what sad declarations and necessary kindnesses had to be said. He hugged me in half-comfort and we tried to agree we would remain friends, somehow, impossibly. He walked me to my door and before I trudged up the stone steps of my porch, he held me close, and his hands wandered up through my hair to the hollow in my head. I shuddered and sobbed at the sweet reminder. We separated and looked at each other in silent apology, I kissed his forehead and went into the house, heartbroken.
It was all so unfinished, incomplete, stunted, so very wrong feeling. But he sent a text mere hours later claiming that it was hard for him too. All I could do was thank him for at least delivering the most gentle, most adult break-up ever. A bit of back and forth and then we offered up the idea of spending one more night together. Was it a good idea, a bad idea? Before we could think more about it, he invited me over for a late dinner. “I’m making tacos, do you want to come over, and do you have any cheese or sour cream?”
So, let me tell you how to break up properly. You state you need to talk about things. Instead of sitting at a table or in car and making a hideously public or tragically common private scene, you take a long walk where you go over why things are tense and difficult. You thank each other for the good memories and growth. You state your regrets, yet promise to remain in touch, if it makes sense. And you touch each other tenderly, make deep eye contact, and part ways.
Then, you apologize by text with gentle negotiations, remark that the decision might have sucked. Make dinner together and share a beer. Stay the night coiled and spooned together like a pile of kittens. Wake up, eat an amazing breakfast that he prepares and brings to you in bed. Observe that there are several strange and spiritual beliefs you didn’t know, wrongly assumed, and simply hadn’t discovered about each other. Share some of your favorite books, childhood injuries, and life’s aspirations. Make love with reckless abandon and explore each other anew. Then shower together and go for an amazing hike up a monolith and declare the whole previous breakup, null and void.
Our amazing hike was on a warm Saturday in July at Beacon Rock, known as Che-che-op-tin, “the navel of the world,” by the Cascade Indians. A place of fire and rebirth, a column, a core, a whittled rock where a volcano once stood. A shoreline watchtower and a sacred place. It was as perfect a place as any to reforge what had been undone. (A little bit of history, for the interested).
We ascended quietly at times, stopping at others to take pictures of each other in the sun, the landscape, and our shadows. We talked about the missteps that had led us to our fake-out breakup the night before, about our ideas of partnership and the base of friendship, about labels and healthy attachment.
“Isn’t this better?” He asked. “Spending our morning and our day like this?”
“Yes of course,” I breathed, “this is way more relaxed.”
“And just think,” he said, “yesterday, we were in a relationship.”
The point was well taken and all the way to heart. Stop asking. Stop worrying. Stop categorizing. Just BE in these moments. For however short or long. It was like a pressure valve had been released. A do-over had been issued. It wasn’t a stay of execution, it was a full resuscitation. I laughed with a sudden and profound understanding at the gravity of what he just said and in essence, what he had done.
He had broken my heart, just to see if I could take it.
We stopped at the midpoint on the way up as a family of six came through the narrow switchback. We could hear the father of the family cautioning his four children to stay away from the edges, to stop swinging on the guardrails, to stop running.
We smiled at him and his wife as they passed.
“It’s a strange place to stop,” he remarked at us.
“Not really,” my hiking partner said, looking at me directly, “she lives at the top and I live at the bottom and once a week we meet in the middle.” Without missing a beat, in a wink-nod tone he confided, “Today she promised to take me to the top.”
The older man laughed at the unintended sly and sexy innuendo, clearly envisioning me topping my hiking partner later at the top of Beacon Rock in some kinky ritual. He looked at his wife who smirked.
At the summit, there was an odd little couple with a set of tripods and some antiquated camera equipment, photographing the bird’s eye view. Next to them, a couple of young men with an iPhone and a Gripping Tripod with flexible, bendable, wrappable octopus legs were quickly securing their modern-day camera around the metal banister.
“Whoa, what’s that?” the old man asked, which launched the group into an old vs new discussion on photography and technology.
Meanwhile, at the ground level, we sat down with our water bottle and a pile of almonds, admiring not only the beautiful scenery, but watching the brave and bold little chipmunks skitter about, coming closer to our pile of food, performing little circus acts for our favor. Soon we had everyone else’s attention who turned their cameras down towards the ground to capture a picture of the chipmunks.
We collected our things to head back down and on the descent, passed the family from earlier.
“Well,” the father of six smiled, “how was it?”
“It was everything we thought it could be,” I said emphatically and smiled.
“Good, good.” he laughed.
Later in the week, we took one of our night hikes up Mount Tabor. We paused on a wooden bench overlooking the city. We talked about how our friends were taking the news of our false alarm. The echo of our near-miss hung between us and a sweet affirmation arrived to take its place.
“I wanted the last breakup you have to be the best breakup ever,” he told me. “I couldn’t have done it better if I tried.”
“Well then I guess you’d better not try it again, because you’ll never top it.” I smiled, adopting a tone of mock threat.
He stood with an invitation of an outstretched hand, “to the top?” he asked. My heart swelled and we headed up to yet another, new height.
David and I continue to take long, meandering walks where we talk about our hopes for ourselves and for each other. We admire the gardens, take pictures of beautiful architecture, and stop to pet passerby cats. We opened a few wounds and windows into our past having the mandatory “where have you been?” talk, describing what went wrong before each other, the pitfalls, and places in failed relationships where we never intend to revisit. I’ve never seen these discussions as combing over the battlefield of exes. I think they are just assurances of old battle scars we promise to avoid, the list of deal-breakers and behaviors we won’t endure. We are learning to live in both the sun and the shadow of the other, there is blossoming and pruning, there is dark and light, there is the age old concept of yin and yang. We pushed through the hard parts of personal growth and continue to grow as individuals and as a couple.
I have felt like I’ve always been clear about what I want, my intentions, how I will still, against all terrible odds and after emotional disappointment, even divorce—heal, move forward and try again, with the same (perhaps) naivete and ardent fervor as the last go. Sometimes I forget that I can be intense and immediate; that I demand to go deep at first blush when I should really temper that urge and let things unravel slowly. I need to remember to tone and soften, take it down a notch, dull it some from the full bandwidth, full spectrum version of me. My friend Chelsea is fond of telling me I am a lot to handle in a small body, she likes to play devil’s advocate and keep me real and humble when on those few occasions over the past decade and a bit beyond, she has seen me under that crazy, hopeful lovespell. She keeps my expectations of love earthbound, which I suppose I need sometimes.
Love and intimacy is a fluid dance between achieving balance with the beloved and self-preservation. It is the parable of Schopenhauer’s Porcupines:
“A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter’s day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out, lose the advantage of commingling, and begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of each other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing.”
Separating so there is something to talk about, time for each other to think and to dream and to breathe fresh ideas and new life into a partnership is essential to love’s survival. Coming back to each other offers fresh realizations and and reforges the bond.
While berry-picking on Sauvie Island, David and I walked along in the sun, kicking up dust and he remarked, “The more time you spend with someone, the more like them you become. You breathe in their skin, little particles of them, until in some small way, they literally become part of you, chemically, biologically. If you spend too much time away, you become less close, less a part of each other.” I wanted to gather him to me, incorporate him completely, devour him utterly for speaking so eloquently about balance at that moment, as in many similar magical moments. It has occurred to us that it’s not the immediacy, the fiery “yes” certainty of “the one.” It’s not the single spark or chemistry that ignites, that fire burns away and eventually fades. It’s the friction, the rekindling, the culmination of moments and all the parts or the person revealed and illuminated like night stars.
David has written to me, “You’re like a billion sparks!”
And . . .
“You are cute and amazing, you are a good friend, and I like you very much. I’m glad I stuck with you. I have been heavily rewarded since.”
So is he and so have I.
Beacon Rock is a beautiful basalt stone from which the softer outsides were whittled down and washed away during the ice age by the powerful, transformational tears of the Missoula Floods. During the year, all manner of flowers push their way through and blossom from the divots and crevices. We spoke our truths at the throat of an ancient volcano, this solidified lava core of a larger volcanic cone.
Like my own birth and beginning, in some ways, we approached the our love affair a little backwards; instead of blindly charging into the fun and illusion and passion that precedes the inevitable realities and disappointments of wading into the muck of really knowing someone, we front-loaded the dark, scary places first and got to know each other at our less than best.
My little conehead had finally been softened to a better understanding of compromise, of letting go and allowing there to be a safe, secure, almost buddha-like non-attachment to the beloved. It was the best breakup, ever and it was healed by meeting in the middle and climbing together to the top of an 858-foot tall stone.
And now, for some orchestral, cowboy psychedelia, and a perfect song for slow dancing.
Or, as I like to think of it . . . our song.
Your Sweet Love by Lee Hazlewood