Monday, August 23, 2004

The Way We Were

This blog entry is, in a way, a message to myself a few months from now. I guess they all are, when you really think about it, but this one particularly. I'm at a juncture in my life that is very painful and difficult. As I write this, I am sitting on the couch at my girlfriend's apartment (because she is very private, I won't use her hame in my posts, referring to her instead as M). M is beside me, sleeping on the couch, her feet on my right leg. She looks very serene and beautiful. And in one week she'll be gone.

I've been dating M for a year now, almost exactly, and it has been a fabulous time. One of the best years of my life, I suspect -- that's the kind of thing one usually realizes in hindsight, but I have this suspicion I'll look back on this year very fondly for the rest of my life. M is from Jamaica and has taught me so much about the Caribbean way of life. She is also incredibly smart and capable and rational and low-maintenence. She's everything a guy could hope for in a woman. The problem with our relationship, though, has been that she is a Christian and I'm an atheist, and M has pretty much concluded we aren't compatible on the long term for that reason. Forget the fact that I want to move to and live in Hawai`i for the rest of my life, and she wants to move to and live in Washington D.C., or that I can't have children and she would like one or two. Those problems could theoretically be overcome, especially since we both love (and like!) each other very much. But when it comes to religious issues, it ain't a match.

A month ago or so she got a job offer she couldn't refuse in Washington D.C. to work for the CDC. It's where she's wanted to live, and it's a job she's wanted to do for a long time, now. Before that she was planning to remain in Tallahassee and work with a local non-profit that studies demography (her field). But even if she did, we knew it was going to end soon and she had offered "until the end of the summer" to see if there was a way we could reach a compromise. I had agreed to this knowing even at the time that it only postponed the inevitable. We were doomed. It broke my heart. I wanted to stay together just to have as much time with her as I could possibly wring out of this relationship. That's how wonderful she is.

But now she's moving to D.C. in a few days (Sunday the 31st or so) and this will all come to an end. I hate feeling the clock ticking down like this -- it's funny, but when there's some kind of major end or transition looming on the short-term horizon, those hours start to become palpable. It's like I can sense some kind of cosmic hourglass draining all around me. Even that metaphor doesn't quite capture what I feel right now... maybe it's more like how movie heroes must feel watching the last few seconds on a time bomb ticking off as they frantically look for the green wire. Except with me there's no green wire. I'm watching a countdown and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

There are many reasons why this is for the best, and I try to remind myself of them. For one, we were going to break up anyway, so if she stayed in town this fall the end would arrive but she'd be right here to remind me of what I once had. The temptation on both of our parts to let it continue on would be very strong. Also, and this is the best reason of all, if we didn't break up, I'd head off to the Peace Corps in November or whenever and I'd miss her so much I'd be right back where I was last time and that would not be good. It's hard enough for Volunteers to adjust to life in-country without pining for a girlfriend back home. That very thing screwed me up before. I know the danger of it, and I know it's not something I want to go into service hanging over my head. Nevertheless, it's hard to handle the end of an era -- especially a really good one.

Once she's gone, the ghosts will begin. You know -- the ghosts of people and events that one ties with locations. After she moves, I'll never be able to come to this side of town again because I'll feel haunted by the past. It will be too painful to drive past this apartment, because the memories are just too strong. I'm sure I'm not the only person to feel this way; it's the feeling songwriters refer to when they sing about feeling someone's presence in the park where they used to walk, etc. If I drove past her apartment two weeks from now, I would be able to feel her in it, as if all I had to do was park the car, walk in, and things would be the same as they ever were. But they're not; so, driving by would be like picking open a healing wound.

I think this is a common experience, although I think I'm unusual in my proclivity for it: for example, when I was simply driving past a rest stop on my way back from Orlando a while back, I realized it was the place where my mother and I bought some souvenirs this spring when she came to visit me. Suddenly it was as if I could sense her down there -- like all I had to to was take that off-ramp and I'd find my mom still there, browsing the knick-knack isles. This struck me as very odd -- my mom's not dead, and we only spent like 20 minutes there, so why should I feel so strongly and sentimentally about that place?!?

So anyway, this blog post is really a message for my future self. Somewhere down the road, a few months from now, I'll be at my site, growing more disconnected from this stage of my life and more drawn into life in wherever-it-is, and I'll stumble upon this message in my archives. So, hello, future self. I hope life in the Peace Corps is great and everything we want it to be. I'm jealous of you, by the way -- even though the medical packet it almost done, it's sheer drudgery. You remember, don't you? M is here, beside me, and I'm trying to live in this moment. I love this woman, and she's leaving in just a few days. You have probably dealt with the pain and moved on, but I'm still here trying to deal with it. It's hard. I almost wish I didn't know how much time was left. I'm trying to memorize some of these sights, smells, and these moments, so you'll be able to remember them better. The apartment is a little messy, like always, but it has come to feel like home. The cats are sleeping in the dining room chairs and everything is very quiet. I don't know if you miss this from where you are. It sure feels like I will.

Just remember the good times, I guess. I'll try to make a few more good memories for you in the hours I have left.


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