What’s Okay

"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, October 2008

I'm trying to think about what went wrong with the conversation, I mean where it went wrong or why I mean I thought it was going to be a good conversation but it wasn't. Sure, there was that moment of release when I suddenly felt calm instead of shaking inside and maybe outside too and freezing, really freezing does emotional release make you freezing no that's nerves. But usually I get sweaty when I'm nervous.

The release only lasted a moment, Derek said catharsis I think that's a good word. I asked him if that's what he was looking for. No. He kept saying this is too much, too much to think about he hadn't expected it but he always says that. That's why I suggested ahead of time that we have a conversation about our relationship, when we were actually getting along and not in a sudden emergency and he would have as much time to think about it ahead of time at me. But then it became an emergency anyway. And I don't know why.

The first thing I said was: you’re the most important person in my life. That was hard to say because I'm not sure whether he wants it that way or whether I want it that way or whether I believe there should be a most important person in my life instead of just people, most important people. But still that's what I feel, which is maybe different than what I want to believe. It's something in my body, like I don't have to work so hard. Something nurturing about our relationship on such a deep level and sure, part of that comes from knowing each other for 16 years, believing in some of the same dreams although maybe that's changing but still there's the history of yearning together. And so I said I feel confident about the longevity of our relationship, I feel safe in so many ways and I trust you on a deep level but still I don't feel secure.

I get so nervous about such tiny things, my whole body clenches I stop breathing I wait till the end of the conversation to say: do you think it would be better to meet at my house, because it's easier to the physically close? I mean because we can sit in my kitchen or on the sofas, but at your house it's me sitting on the chair while you're in bed unless I get in bed with you and that's only comfortable for so long. That was over the phone and he said sure but I was scared I don't like being scared all the time even when I'm not scared maybe I'm scared.

And when we were talking a week or two ago and I was saying that it used to be that direct action activism or my friends were the most important thing in my life, and maybe it would alternate back and forth, but over the last few years I feel like it's been my writing and part of that is because that's where I feel I can be most effective right now but also it’s because of disappointments with activism and friends. And then I thought about you and our friendship and whether you were an exception. And I realize that actually you're the reason that in some ways I've pulled away from my dreams of friendships.

I say: when I first moved back to San Francisco, and you were on all those psych meds and drinking all the time and lying about everything and you couldn't deal with any critique, that's where I got this pattern of thinking about everything for months until I could talk about it without an emotional attachment I mean I could say the same thing I just didn't feel like I was about to die. I mean I did that for five years, and the same thing was true with Jeremy and that was around the same time but that was just nine months. With you it went on longer, and now I do the same thing with everyone and I want to ask you to help me to feel more secure.

As soon as I start talking, I notice that Derek pulls back, inside himself and he gets all tense. I guess I didn't expect that -- I thought we could have this kind of conversation without tension and I say that but he says: those are your issues and you need to deal with them. I say yes, those are my issues but they're about my relationship with you and there are two people in that relationship and I'm trying to involve you in my process instead of figuring everything out in my head, you always say that’s what you want.

Then I say I feel ridiculous about this, because it happened so long ago, but I never really felt angry about it, and that's when Joanne died and I came back to San Francisco and I was staying with you and you were my support system and Alex and I had just started talking again since he didn't talk to me for over a year after we broke up and then we just randomly ran into one another and supposedly it was okay. And the three of us made plans to go to a bonfire in Corona Heights and I had to cancel at the last minute and you two went and I guess you were madly drawn to one another and had to have sex at that moment and then you ended up moving to Oregon together and leaving me and I didn't even want to be in San Francisco. This is where I start crying, but what really makes me sad is that Derek pulls further away, even moving his foot so that it isn't touching mine. What I want him to do when I cry is to hold me, that's always what I want. Instead I get that release but also it’s distance I'm not looking for distance. This is when Derek says catharsis.

I say I'm talking about it now, because I didn't really feel angry at the time except right away -- I decided that I liked seeing you together and then we ended up in a three-way relationship, or not a three-way relationship but I ended up facilitating your relationship like whenever something would go wrong you would both call me. And I know it's been 10 years but I realize that it comes up in weird ways, so when you're talking about another relationship I feel annoyed and dismissive and I don't want to feel that way.

Derek says you need to let that go. I say I'm not interested in letting go, I'm trying to tell you how I'm feeling. Derek says why are you telling me all of this? I say I'm telling you because I don't want to hold these resentments inside and you've asked me to do that but then when I say something you can't deal. I say listen, mostly what I'm talking about is that five-year period when you couldn't deal with any kind of critique and you were always lying about everything and right when I first saw you on the psych meds I said they change your personality, they make you more manic and more depressed, and then when you were drinking you were always lying about everything and I said right away: why are you always lying about everything? But you couldn't deal at all -- you would get enraged and then I would hold it all inside because I didn't want to lose you.

Derek says we've talked about this before and at that time I pulled away from everyone, I mean I thought about killing myself every day and I know I was not present in our relationship and if there's anything I can do to help you feel better just let me know. I say thank you, I can definitely think of some things, but in the past that's something you’ve said you didn't want me to do so I'm trying to give you the opportunity to participate. Derek says why are you trying to make me feel guilty? You should have pulled away; you should have taken care of yourself. I say I'm not trying to make you feel guilty. Derek says I just listened to you for 10 minutes, and we've already talked about these things before, we've had two conversations about the same things. I have too much confrontation going on in my life right now and this is overwhelming.

Now he's angry and trying to hold it in, I'm angry and trying to let it out. I say do you want physical distance from me, I'm asking you because I don't. Derek says yes. I say I just wanted to make that clear, I think we can still have this conversation and hold one another and it doesn't have to be adversarial, but of course I'm going to respect your desire for distance.

I say you're right, we've had two conversations about some of the same things, but three conversations about a five-year period doesn't seem like a lot to me. Derek says maybe you're right, maybe we need to talk more, but I'm not feeling good about this, I'm not feeling good at all. I say I'm not feeling good either. Derek says I think I'm going to leave. I say do you want a hug? Derek says yes. We hug goodbye, and I feel some sort of sad resignation I'm not sure what's next.

I'm thinking about how, when we started talking, Derek said I feel really good about our relationship I feel like something shifted over the last six months and I feel closer to you I don't have much to say I feel really good.

I thought the hard part would be speaking, I thought my fears were irrational and really Derek would be supportive and listen and it would all be fine. He’d listen and then it would be okay. That's all I wanted. I always used to believe that talking made things better I mean that was something I learned with Derek something we learned a long time ago something I still believe. The truth is that Derek usually can't deal, I mean on my birthday all I said was: when you got all grumpy it shut me down. And he said: I wasn't grumpy, maybe I was a little bit annoyed. And I said okay, I couldn't deal when you got annoyed and it shut me down. And Derek said I thought I was doing a good job of not showing it. But never: I'm sorry I shut you down.

He wants me to say what I'm feeling in the moment, but when I say what I'm feeling in the moment he can't deal. Even when I said it annoys me when you look at your cellphone all the time while we’re hanging out, he couldn't even deal with that. And then when I think about something for a while before bringing it up, he can't deal with that either.

But the worst thing he said was you should have pulled away, you should've taken care of yourself. He meant I should have dropped him as a friend, which wasn't what I wanted. If I’d pulled away for five years, we wouldn't still be friends -- there's just no way. I mean it's never happened before. Derek probably wasn't thinking that, but I'm not sure.

Somewhere in the conversation I ask Derek what he wants from our relationship, I mean because it used to be us against the world and then when I first got back to San Francisco he said he didn't want that anymore and so I started thinking about finding different people for different needs, but I wonder about the other model we used to share, the model that you just get more and more vulnerable with someone and then when you're more vulnerable than you ever imagined you just keep revealing more and the relationship gets deeper. That's still my ideal relationship.

Derek says well I definitely don't want us against the world, and I say I don't necessarily want that either, but what about the other part, about vulnerability, because sometimes I think you don't want that either, I mean you definitely didn't want that seven years ago so I'm wondering what you want now. Derek says I don't know, and I say well why don't you think about it and get back to me. That's what I always say when Derek says he hasn't thought about something, or something is too much, but he never gets back to me. We only have these conversations when I initiate them. A year ago, which was our last conversation about the five-year period when Derek was all strung-out, and he asked what he could do to make me feel safer, I said I'd like it if you would check in and ask me how I feel about our relationship, so I don't have to be the one who brings it up all the time. He hasn't asked me once.

I wanted to ask how he sees himself in relationship to the world, because I think we used to see ourselves in similar ways I mean I know that's how we expressed it -- the world was a horrible place and we were looking for people to hold onto, to feel like it was worth it. Worth it to go on, worth it to keep fighting, worth it to keep crafting ourselves into and out of delicate messes, worth it to challenge every aspect of ourselves, worth it to challenge every aspect of the world around us. I still see things in somewhat similar ways, I mean I have less hope for the idea of chosen family that was so important to us then, less hope because the people that were supposedly family have let me down so much and I start to believe what Benjamin said a while back: family is something so awful that it shouldn't be reclaimed.

But I do believe in challenging every aspect of ourselves, every aspect of the world around us, and building some kind of beauty and defiance in the ruins of ourselves and what we are trying to make. Even when I was talking to Derek about anger, I wasn't expressing my anger. I don't know if that's okay. I don't know what's okay.