I can still remember how you didn’t say anything for a while.
I could tell, without even holding them, that your palms were sweating. I kept looking forward, tapping my fingers against the steering wheel until you finally spoke.
“I don’t want to become one of your life lessons,” you said. “I don’t want you to turn me into that.”
Still, to this day, those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to hear someone tell me. It was hard to hear that request come off the lips of someone who didn’t fit into my life any longer. We didn’t have a future together. We’d already given up and yet we were still meeting in secret places. And we were using one another to avoid reality and the pain that would come with giving up and moving on. There would be loneliness when we let go of one another, we both knew that, and neither of us wanted to face that.
It was the first time I realized that people genuinely want space in our lives.
People genuinely crave simple and true relationships in a world full of overly complicated and very fragile things. They want perfect worlds where everything fits. They want no one to get hurt or scathed. And when the world doesn’t work that way, and the stories don’t unfurl their wings with perfect happy endings, then people get desperate to hold onto things they no longer value like they used to. And they find a way to keep a person tied close. And they check in every once in a while. And they bring that person up in conversations. And they sit hollowed out, with a cup of coffee between their hands, when they have nothing left to share but a sad, little ending with not nearly enough closure.
That. Is. How. Our. World. Works. Today. And I ain’t afraid to say it. I ain’t afraid to admit that a lot of people, including me, walk around fearful and relentless not to let another person slip through their fingers. The world turned out to be harder than we all expected and we’d rather keep close the people that fit our spirits no longer, safe in our sights, than to let them go off and find the healing and freedom they can only get apart from us.
I’ve started calling them the “fishing lines of loneliness.”
The ways we bait one another into communication because we are all so afraid of what would really happen if the screen shut off and we had to face ourselves. Alone. Single. Separate from the wreckage of relationships we should have said goodbye to yesterday.
The fishing lines of loneliness come out on a Thursday night or a late Friday evening when the world gets quiet. You can’t handle scrolling through the Facebook streams any longer and you feel this loneliness in your core that is hard to give words to. It makes you feel unworthy. You feel all alone. You struggle with guilt. You pound your fists against the sides of you and say things like, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you be productive right now? Why aren’t you out enjoying life?” And, just like a little black book you can pull from your side pocket, your iPhone reveals a slew of numbers you can text to make that loneliness disappear for a while.
They’re old flames. They’re friendships that never had any boundaries to them. They’re people you’ve strung along without ever having to define anything. They’re past relationships--broken and battered-- that never needed another stir of the pot.
You send a few texts. And then you wait for the fish to catch on and the conversations to begin.
“Hi! How are you?” “I’m good. How have you been?” “Great! I’ve missed you...”
There’s a tone of sobriety and sadness in the conversations, as if you both know you aren’t going back to where you once were but you are trying to salvage something all the same.
I’ve brought this up to about a dozen women in the last week and every single one has raised up their hands and said, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I know exactly who those people on my list are.”
And no one feels particularly guilty about these fishing lines of loneliness if it makes the hollow feeling inside fade for a bit. And so we carry on conversations we really don’t need, and we hash out memories that don’t have a place in our lives anymore, and we cling to anything that makes us feel special, and wanted, and worthy for the moment, even if it’s two-dimensional and someone else’s feelings get played with for a while. We hurt one another because we know how to. It's not that we ever wanted to, but we certainly know how to.
In a perfect world, we could stay here forever.
Our relationships would never break. We’d always have a sense of home in our hearts. We’d never need to reach inside our pockets to remedy our loneliness with tapping on a screen to someone who fits us no longer.
In a perfect world, we’d never have to question why someone was in our lives, over & over again, until it reached a point of letting them go when we know they don't belong. Not for the sake of being a lesson learned. Or the latest blog material. But mainly because people deserve to be let go when they no longer serve a purpose in our lives. They deserve to know it. They deserve the decent chance to walk away.
We are powerful things and we often don’t give ourselves enough credit for that. We can break a heart, cut a person out, retrace every feeling ever given to someone else with just a few jumbled words. That’s way more weight than we expected to shoulder. Eventually we need to accept that some conversations will never take us anywhere. Some interactions will hinder us more than help us. Some people will keep us rooted in the past so much that we forget we even cared to look to the future. Still, it is so hard to say goodbye because we want to convince ourselves that we can hold onto every human being that we cross paths with. Like it would never hurt us. Like it would never break us to keep all those hearts hostage.
In a perfect world, we could stay here forever.
In a perfect world, you’d be far more to me than a lesson learned. A chapter closed off. A book ending. A number deleted. A beginning rising that doesn’t hold your name in the dedication section. I’m sorry I kept you all this time. Safe in a heart that gripped crumbs for too many years. I’m learning not to tangle you in any longer. Not to weave you into conversations that never were fit for your name.
You and I both know that our wings are waiting in separate corners of this earth.
This is me, giving you the decent chance to walk away.