The Power to Choose

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A Native American Legend

An old man took his grandson to the top of a mountain to look at the valley down below. In a clearing they saw two wolves fighting viciously. The old man pointed to the wolves and told his grandson, “This is what life is like. We constantly have two wolves battling one another. One wolf represents anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego and all the negative emotions that brings us down. The other wolf represents love, compassion, hope, joy, peace, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith and all the emotions that serve us.

The little boy looked at the wolves fighting and turned to his grandfather, “Which is the wolf that wins?”

The old man smiled and said, “The one that you feed.”

I’m such an emotional person. I feel I’m sometimes at the mercy of my feelings. When I’m upset,  I let the bad wolf win; the whole world turns upside down and I feel completely helpless. I let the negative emotions destroy me, instead of letting the positive ones strengthen and uplift me.

I don’t think I can ever completely stop feeling this way. This is how I’m made, who I am, and I have to embrace that. But today the two wolves in the legend fill me with hope. No matter what life throws at me, I have is control over how I react in those vulnerable moments. No matter what, I’ll always have the power to choose.

One Day, One Year

one_dayAnd just like clockwork, Cristern stayed true to his promise: He texted me on the eve of the 1 year anniversary of when we broke up. He was texting to ask if we could meet. Some context: Around this time last year, I had become obsessed with the book and film, One Day. The novel tells the story of two main characters who fall in and out of love throughout the years; through marriage, divorce, children, the two remain friends and stay in touch. And no matter where they were in their respective lives, married, single, on the other side of the world, or right across town, they made a pact that once a year on July 15th, they would somehow get together and meet. September 27th was me and Cristern’s One Day.

The night of my breakup, Cristern made me the very first promise he ever made in our 3.5+ year relationship. He promised that in one year, he would contact me. I believe my reaction to this proposition was, “You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kiddin me. You get romantic on me NOW?’ I asked him what was supposed to happen on this supposed One Day and he said we’d meet and ya know… see how things would go. Bullshit. I wasn’t going to plan my life around a desperation move. This was a ploy so that he could always keep me as an option. Well I certainly refuse to be anyone’s option.

When I received the text, I looked at it for a moment to let it soak in. I was baffled but also not surprised. Baffled, because he still had the audacity to contact me after all the shit he pulled, but also not surprised because he’s been playing the part of a bleeding martyr. To his credit, the text was very nonchalant (or at least trying to be):

“I don’t know if you remember but we wanted to meet up after a year. Well that day is tomorrow. Still wanna meet?”

I have to laugh when I read it. It kinda gives off that hey ya, I’m a cool guy and I totally got this. When in reality, it actually reads more like a coward coming back with his tail between his legs. I felt sorry for him. Clearly, nothing had changed. But I have to give him kudos – how was a text like that supposed to read without sounding too desperate? I don’t even know how I would begin to write something like that. Oh wait, I would NEVER do that because I don’t believe in tethering someone to such a stupid and selfish promise.

When we initially broke up, and then when I got together with David, there was always a part of me that said I would meet up with him. Mostly, just to be kind and get my books back. But then I took a step back and thought long and hard about the real function of that day. That day was for him- not me.  It was a status check to evaluate whether or not I was dateable in his eyes. It was to see if I had changed and had gotten better.

Sorry buddy, I’m still the same- and I kinda like it that way.

I am of course human and do feel bad about not replying. But really, who would I be helping if I did that? He needs to move on and no one can help him on that journey. He has to own it and want it.

I believe in prayer and believe that any good thought is like energy and it can travel anywhere and reach the person you’re praying for. That night before I went to bed, I prayed to him and for him: “I hope you forgive me, like I forgive you.”

There is nothing left to say after that. Maybe one day he’ll understand.

The Art of Letting Go

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In the midst of the silence of every breakup, one person will always find a reason to break that silence. Mine came in the form of a letter. A few days after I had stealthily dropped off Cris’ things in a box in front of his house, I received a letter in the mail. Somehow when I got it, I wasn’t surprised. Putting together that box was hard for me, I could only imagine what it was like for him. I took a moment and a deep breath before opening it.

He began by saying how the sight of his things had greatly affected him, so much so that he wanted to begin communicating again through letters. He of course said that it was up to me whether or not I wanted that to happen. Cris always had a knack for writing letters. Through the course of our relationship, he’d write me these cute love letters, decorated with tickets stubs of movies we’d seen, fortune cookie messages, any little knick-knack that was part of our time together. As our relationship grew harder, the letters became less frequent. I had to beg him to write me more. I should’ve known that we were slowly dying and there was nothing he or I could do about it. And now through this letter, I could see what he was doing. He was trying and my heart ached. Where was this overflow of emotion when we were together?

He went on to describe how he’d imagine looking at my smile, or looking into my eyes, hear my laugh or even daydream about how I’d react to something. He even went so far as to compile a list of songs that were special to him and our relationship and think of a way to give it to me. This was too much. It was an awful thing to read and realize that he was in effect, torturing himself with the memory of me. He bore the tremendous guilt of breaking my heart and he had to live with that. The way he was dealing with it was not healthy and he was clearly not trying to move on at all.

He went on to describe our last night together in vivid detail. How much I cried, the prolonged goodbye, how I grabbed onto his shirt while we hugged as I desperately tried to hang onto his shirt and simultaneously try to let go. He marveled at how hard I was trying to be strong and admitted that whenever he thought of that night, it would always bring him to tears.

I can’t remember much else of the letter, other than the fact that I knew that there was no way I could re-establish contact. The person who wrote the letter was not a healthy individual. If anything, this was a selfish attempt at trying to bring me back into his life, regain control, and perhaps see if there was a chance at rebuilding our relationship.

As I read it, I realized that this was someone who didn’t care for me at all. He knew the letter would hurt me, but he did it anyway and for his own selfish gain.

I took a couple days to reply. The more I thought about it, the more I felt sorry for him. He may have broken up with me the same way John had, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t a stranger to the guilt he was feeling. In the months leading up to our breakup, I knew that our relationship was failing and still I hung on, even though he’d expressed a handful of times that he wanted to let go. I felt the guilt of hanging onto him and shaming someone who clearly didn’t love me.

I searched my heart and although I was hurt, there would always be a part of me that would care for him. I knew that the best thing I could do for him was to free him of that guilt and misery. I replied back to his letter with this simple note:

“Cristern, please stop. It’s not time for us. Your friend, Virginette. P.s. I forgive you.”

A few days later, on April Fool’s Day, I woke up to a bunch of trash on my car. There were candy wrappers all over the hood of my car. The night before I had heard voices outside, but figured it was the neighbors talking. I examined the candy wrappers and realized they were Hi-Chews, his favorite candy.

I remember that day clearly and how angry I was. I knew what he was doing- he was inciting me to react. He was hoping my anger would be so great that I’d break my silence. I was seething with rage and came very close to actually doing that. But if I did that, I knew that he would win. He’d have the satisfaction that a child only knows when they’ve gotten what they’ve wanted after throwing a fit. Did I want a child or a man in my life?

Looking at the trash on my car, I realized that he would never grow up. He couldn’t see that I was trying to help him and he reacted so childishly. That act alone let me know that he wasn’t capable of maturing into the kind of person I’d always hoped he could be. In hindsight, that was always the problem, Cris was just always a child. He had aspirations of making it big but lacked drive to do the hard work. He was always playing.. with his toy trucks, his friends, and ultimately with his life. Was it any wonder why I was so frustrated with him and showed so much resentment? In everything he was doing it was clear that he didn’t want me in his life. Being with me would have to mean getting his act together, and he simply wasn’t ready or willing to do that.

I remember a few weeks before my breakup, I was so desperate to keep my relationship together that I went to visit a family friend who’s a priest. I sat alone in a beautiful church for a long time before I met with him and contemplated how I would keep from crying while I told my story. I told him that every day I had grown so desperate for help, that I would get down on my knees at night and in the morning to plead with God to make my relationship work. I could see pity in his eyes and he asked me to kneel at the pew and tell him what I saw. I told him that I saw the altar and the cross. Then he asked me to stand up and asked me again what I saw. Apart from the altar, I told him that I saw the tabernacle, the statues of the saints, candles, the lectern and flowers all around. He smiled and said that life was exactly like that.

Life’s sorrows can bring us to our knees, so much so that it obscures our view. If we take a moment to stand up, we’re able to see the opportunity and the wonderful gift that God is giving to us in that moment. He gently told me that he hoped things would work out with my boyfriend, but to remember to stand up to see what else God was giving to me. I look back on that time and I realize that God was giving me a chance to see what my life could be like.

Next month will make it a year since my breakup. I think about how far I’d come and all the amazing things that have happened to me since then: the jump in my career, the opportunity to be part of a writer’s conference, a growing and healthy love of self and finally, my new partner in crime- the wonderful man who’s privileged to be in my life now. I know that none of these things wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the courage to let go, let God, and open up to life’s possibilities.

The Great Purge

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I always have a hard time thinking about what to give up for Lent- but given my breakup, it was clear. I had to give up Cristern. I had to give up the hope of reunion and the hope of anything ever happening between us. The one tangible thing I can think of was to finally drop off his things. When I tell people I haven’t done this, they look at me aghast and think –  why didn’t I do this sooner? Fact is, I didn’t have anything of his that was terribly valuable, just some clothes he left at my house. Because they were things of little valuable, I made that my excuse. But in truth, I was scared to do it because it would mean making a monumental step in letting go. And with Easter next weekend, I knew that the time had finally come.

Before packing up his things, I decided to go through my own things and put aside anything that had to do with him. I came across movie stubs, pictures, old ticket stubs and receipts from our trips together. Then I looked in my bookshelf, right behind my bed pillows and found the letters he’d written me. This was the hardest thing to put away. In the last few months of our relationship, these letters kept me afloat. They gave me hope that our love could be like what it was in simpler, more romantic and carefree days. I felt the urge to open them in start reading but I knew that it would tear my heart open and make this process even harder. Cristern was always so dirt broke but these letters were the one thing that he gave me that made me feel so special. He put so much thought into them, and would attach ticket stubs, fortune cookie fortunes, anything kind of knick knack to decorate it. As our relationship wound down, I’d have to beg him to write me letters. I should have known that when the letters were becoming less frequent, it was a sign of his waning love for me. I solemnly put everything into a shoebox and put it out of my room.

A couple days later, I tackled his things.  I took an empty box from work and slowly folded his pajamas and shirts. The very last thing I placed on top was a Sharks sweatshirt that mom got for xmas one year. I have the same sweatshirt. That whole process hurt like hell. The moment I put the lid on the box, I got a text from a guy that I’ve been talking to. He  asked me out on a date. Coincidence?

Yesterday I went out on a coffee date with that guy and had an amazing time. It felt foreign to feel beautiful, attractive and wanted. This person wanted to be in my presence and wanted to get to know me. He was not hurrying to get to anywhere or looking to push me aside for better things. He was content to sit there with me.

Later that night, I knew it was time for me to start a new chapter of my life. I took the box with Cristern’s things and put it in the front seat of my car and drove the oh so familiar route to his house. I methodically took a back route to avoid any sort of uncomfortable run-in.  I pulled up to his place, scoped out the scene and saw that he wasn’t home.  I pulled out a pen and wrote his name on a post-it note and stuck it on the box. It was strange to write his name. I left the engine running and sprinted to the house. I quietly placed the box in the corner of the porch and quickly ran back to my car, my heart racing the whole time.

I think about the frenzy in my body and wonder if it was the same feeling he had when he taped a birthday card on my car window, only a few days after we had broken up. Now that I’m without the weight of his things, do I feel any lighter? Do I feel free to finally move forward? Not yet, but I know I will. I honestly feel like I’m still reeling from taking that painful but necessary trip down memory lane when I had to parse through his things. I knew that I had been avoiding that feeling. This process has forced me to face that pain head-on.

Lent is about doing something that makes you a better person, something that brings you closer to God and the person you’re meant to be, no matter how hard it is. I know that in order for me to move my life forward, I have to let go. God wants that for me. God wants me to be happy. I have to learn to want it for myself.

Coping & Acceptance

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6 months later.. this is my attempt at making peace and finally acknowledging my breakup.

Like all breakups, you already see the relationship slowly unraveling in months, if not years before you have enough courage to let go. In my case, it was years. How do I always get myself into these messes? I always seem to find men who are never in the same place in life as I am. John was all about going next level and making that full leap of commitment.  I was scared and just wasn’t ready to go full bore like that- especially since he was my first  long-term relationship. With Cristern, it was like pulling teeth. We spoke a lot in generality about our future, but never the specifics. When it got down to it, he was just too busy playing and trying to figure out his own life, and there just wasn’t room for me. I kept pushing, and waiting and hoping someday that there’d be room for me. But all that waiting was in vain. In our 3.5 years together, he was still the same person: scraping the bottom of the barrel, just struggling to get by, and going out and not having a care in the world.

Had I changed in that 3.5 years? I came from working for free for an aspiring author, working for free again and commuting to SF for an editorial job, to working a shitty job at retail, to having some semblance of security working in publishing, and finally – having a legitimate career at a startup, where I bust my ass, get to do what I love, and feeling more financially secure than I have ever felt in my life. Was it wrong to want more? No… but my professional circumstances, biological clock, and tenure at that relationship made me feel entitled to want more. That feeling wasn’t wrong. But that was always a point of friction for the two of us. He was just trying to get by, figure stuff out, and here’s me, ready to take it to the next step, and just waiting for him to grow up and catch up.

They say that the heart of a couple’s break up and problems boils down to 1-2 things. They take on various forms but at the heart of it, they’re essentially the same thing. Inevitably you fight about those things and rationalize the mending of it because of two reasons: 1) you’re scared to let go 2) you’re naïve. The crux of our problem was that we were at different places in life and every other problem sprung from that. His want to go out and party w/out me made me insecure – it would make me think, ‘shouldn’t he be trying to find a better job?’ ‘shouldn’t he want to invite me to go out with him?’. That insecurity got out of control and pushed him away because he thought that I was made of stronger stuff. The insecure girlfriend sitting at home waiting for her boyfriend to call was not the same independent, ‘I don’t need a man’ chick that he was so attracted to 3.5 years prior. He did not sign up for this. So he began to even question who I really was. And doing that, it made me question and really doubt myself.

There is nothing worse than losing yourself and doubting who you are; especially when that doubt springs from someone who you had always believed loved you unconditionally as you were, better or worse. I think about my natural disposition and will admit that I’ve always been a sucker for love. I’ve always bent over backwards at the thought of being with a man. And when I’m with one, I give wholeheartedly and dangerously. The independent chick spurts happen as a result of single life. I’m literally forced to accept and be in love with myself- and that is a sad fact. I’ve never been really happy with myself and that is something I’ve long struggled with – and it really has nothing to do with a man. I am a consummate perfectionist and perpetually hard on myself. I never let myself enjoy anything because I feel guilty for feeling good – that I’m so severely lacking that I don’t deserve to feel good about anything. Where does this come from?

I love my parents but part of it as a function of how I was raised. Everyone was always watching, judging, and you had to be perfect because our family was the best. You fall short and it is unacceptable. Throw in being a woman in this botox and boob job age, oldest child syndrome, and Catholic guilt and you got a hot mess. The other part of it is that it’s only been in recent months that I’ve started to work through who I am and be accepting of who I am and to realize there’s beauty in that. I have to be ok with me before anyone else can be ok with me.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I’m miss independent chick or dependent wannabe girlfriend. I’m me. And the one for me will love me no mater what labels i put on myself. I am Virg. Neurotic at times, a scathing perfectionist, all-together too hard on myself, but… The people i care about- they always come first. Even before you think you’ll need help, i’m already one step ahead thinking about what i can do. And most of all, i’m loyal. I will love you, I will love you, I will love you. Someone out there will want that. Someone out there will need that. For someone out there, that will be more than enough.

Men who don’t want that aren’t for me. They don’t deserve me.