Over the weekend I got into a debate with my mom about why people do stupid things for love. It was centered around Valentine’s Day and veered into Whitney Houston’s death. In that moment with my mom, I realized I was thisclose to being a Whitney not once but twice in my life. It’s a deeply personal set of stories, but here goes.
The first mistake I made was a boy named Nick. He was a model…and he was brilliantly smart. I was young, innocent, impressionable and totally smitten. He was my first everything. First date, first kiss, first time I really really really lied to my parents, first person I had a drink with, first heartbreak and a million other firsts.
I was crazy about him in a way that still perplexes me. And….he was horrible for me. He introduced me to a world of excess and destructive behavior. I overlooked every basic rule I was taught just because I really thought if I loved him hard enough, we would overcome and endure any calamity. Nick and I were miserable apart, but he knew…oddly at such a young age…that we were terrible together. I did too, but I couldn’t admit it. He was selfish. I was selfless. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for him, nothing I couldn’t rationalize away. But, Nick loved me enough to know he didn’t love me enough. It’s a horrible realization, but one that saved my life I’m sure. Turns out? Saved his too.
After a long series of break ups and make ups, the final straw was a trip to NYC to visit Nick. Suffice it to say what should have been a most special night ended abruptly with me turned out to the city streets alone. A girl from a town population 1500 in a fully unfamiliar megacity….no one knew where I was…and a baby at that…. its a miracle I survived the evening. Alone on a curb, I bargained with God. If He would let me get home safe, I’d never put myself in that situation again. It took every ounce of courage and strength I had to pick myself and leave. I never looked back. I never called. I never emailed. I won’t lie – that turned me hard and callus. I was jaded and I know I hurt some people. But I just didn’t care. I thought they were all the same…so hurt or be hurt? I chose hurt. Actually I chose flee without hurt if possible, but sometimes it just isn’t.
Years later, I ran into Nick at a fast food chain over a holiday back home. Crazy right…but yeah, his modeling days were long gone and apparently he has a thing for fried food now. Anyway, when I saw him I felt like a giddy teenager. Then, I immediately felt suffocated and terrified. We wound up talking in a back booth until closing, then we went to his car for more cathartic – re-hashing coulda-woulda-shouldas.
Finally, “that NYC night” came up. Turns out after I left, he felt so bad about hurting me so intensely and missed me with such veracity, that he drove further into his bad behaviors. When that didn’t work, he checked himself into rehab, and vowed the only way he’d ever speak to me again was if fate intervened because that was the nicest thing he could do for me.
And as if it were a movie, I Will Always Love You came on the radio right then. No kidding…. we both held each other and cried because it was so oddly poignant. That was the last time I saw him. I hear he’s married with a kid in the mid-west. A far cry from the city lights and fast times of his youth.
And then… I met Paul.
Paul was, is, the mistake that almost killed me. He was just like Nick – dangerous, handsome, smart, wealthy…. I was entwined in his life before I could think. We were the “it” couple in most circles…but what they didn’t see was what Paul did in private. His crazed temper. The alcohol. The drugs. The cheating. It was Nick2.0 and I was too stupid to realize it.
My addiction with Paul spanned a decade. I call it addiction because I think that’s what it was. I couldn’t get out no matter how I tried. All I could do….all I did…was turn myself off emotionally again because it was all I had left to do. It hurts less if you are numb. Have you heard that song Gravity by Sara Bareilles? If not, listen to it or click here to read the lyrics. The lyrics were exactly me. I lost friends. I lost family. I lost myself.
All the bad things Nick did to me? Paul was worse. Paul didn’t love me enough to KNOW he didn’t love me enough. And my stubborn ass fought for him because I thought love was supposed to be fully unconditional no matter what torture or hell they put you through…that whole for better or worse thing you know? I thought that part of love was pain and suffering. I thought that what I had was normal. I forgave a lot. I dismissed a lot. I did things I shouldn’t have.
Eventually, by God’s grace, the insanity with Paul ended. I’ve never been so simultaneously sad and joyous in my life. The chains were lifted, but the gravitational pull of the relationship still sucked me in like a black hole. In those moments of reflection, I realized that I had escaped again. Barely…..
Had I stayed with Nick or Paul, I would certainly have ended up dead. Be that in spirit, or physically, or both – the momentum was already spinning precariously out of control. And in some ways, I think part of me did die in each relationship. My innocence, my ability to trust, my openness to love and be loved…those died. Can they be revived? I think so. I’m working on it. I don’t know if I will ever full have the wide-eyed, small town, first love innocence again…. but that’s probably a good thing.
In thinking about the untimely death of Whitney Houston, I think how close I was to that path. The world lost Whitney long before her physical body was gone just like the world lost me for a while. I think that like me, she got involved with the wrong guy. I think she wanted to love so much that she would have done anything to keep it, just a little more intensely than I did. I think drugs and alcohol were an easy escape when the pain of the relationship was too much for any soul to brave. It is so much easier to shove emotions and realizations that things are over underneath a rug, especially if the rug is a bottle of Jack….or whatever you poison may be. It’s easier to forgive and dismiss someone’s behavior if it’s under a veil of substances. No matter what he does, if you are turned off emotionally and can attribute it to some substance…. you last another day. I know. I’ve done it. I regret it.
I’m so lucky that I got out at the exact right moments. No matter how much it hurt, life with either of them would have been so much worse. I’m blossoming again. I realize now that love…love is NOT what I thought. Love should be pure. Love doesn’t hurt you physically. Love doesn’t scar you intentionally. Love doesn’t emotionally break you…if it’s actual love. And if it isn’t actual love? Well…. do what you want, I’m not gonna judge…but just acknowledge it for whatever it is. Real love is scary. Real love is blind. Real love melds two souls into one…but that doesn’t mean love should change your innate spiritual and ethical structure.
So my dearest bloggies, no matter who you spend your Valentine’s Day with, please make sure you keep your head. It’s easy to lose track of yourself. Remember how important you are. And if you forget? Ask your mom….or your best friend. They are great for helping you remember. 🙂
Big hugs and Happy Valentine’s Day,