A few hours later it occurs to me that although my eyes have stopped leaking, my head still hurts. In fact, every day in recent memory my head has felt too heavy to carry with a nagging pain radiating at the base where it is precariously perched on my neck. I wonder what it feels like to not have some form of headache because I cannot remember.
I've considered keeping a headache diary to track them. But then they go away and I feel great and I forget what it feels like to have my eyes shut on their own to block out the light.
I have never had a hang-over but in my imagination this is how it must feel and I wonder why someone would do that to themselves on purpose. I want to crawl back into bed and never come out.
All day long I wanted to get home. I pushed through the tediously long 2 hour conference call. I completed the final edits on my brief (that everyone said was excellent!) and sent it off to local counsel for filing. I closed my office door and ate my salad and enjoyed the caffeine relief of a Diet Dr. Pepper while purusing various blogs where everyone seems to be making a good day two effort for nabloblahblahblahmo (seriously, I just can't remember the squished together pseudo-acronym thing and I can't be bothered to look it up right now). Full of caffeine I was able to ignore the dull throb at the back of my head and I cleaned my office. I mean cleaned it like it has not been cleaned in nearly a year. I cleared nearly 20 files out of my cabinet and asked my secretary to ship them off to records and I cleared the piles on my desk and the piles upon piles upon piles on the shelf in front of my window where everything gets tossed and buried and lost and forgotten. I made new folders and got back on the organization train. The four plants lined up against the window looked so much happier once I could see them and they all perked up a bit as I gave them their Friday afternoon drink.
I managed to stay at work until 630 when I once again felt the tightening in my shoulders and the tension pulsing in my temples. Earlier in the year I had this really great habit of going to yoga every Friday night. It accomplished several things - 1) it gave me a reason to leave work by 6 pm on Fridays; 2) it gave me something to do on Friday night; 3) it helped me coax my body into some semblence of its former self; 4) it felt AMAZING; and 5) after a long and stressful sleep-deprived work week and 90 minutes of forcing my body beyond its limits, lying flat on my back on my yoga mat with sweat dripping down my forehead, eyes closed at the end of the session - I felt cleansed and invigorated. Oh, and I loved getting a bean & cheese burrito with brown rice on a wheat tortilla from Burrito Box afterwards. But then summer came and people wanted to meet for dinner and I left town a lot and . . . I fell out of the habit. And now I'm afraid to go back. Even when I have no excuse for not going other than feeling like a beginner all over again.
So tonight I didn't go to yoga. Instead, I walked home in the crisp cool air marveling at all the people out wandering around and wondered where they were all going. I knew I should do laundry but I was so tired. Instead, I opened up my red Netflix envelope, discovered a baked sweet potato in my fridge (left over from Sunday) and ate it on my couch, watching a movie, wishing I could motivate and not feel embarrassed and go back to yoga.
About thirty minutes into my movie, my phone rang. No name. The area code was familiar but I ignored it, not wanting to deal with anyone random - my tired brain refused to be locked into an unwanted phone call. But I couldn't resist listening to the message, just in case it was someone I wanted to hear from:
Hey A, it's AT, what's up? Just calling to see how things are going. Been a
while since I talked to ya. I'm leaving for Iraq in a couple of weeks so I just
want to get in touch with people cause I'll be over there until next summer . . .
I paused my movie and stared at my phone. He did this earlier this year - just called me out of the blue. That time it was with the promise of a reunion - a visit to New York with fun times had by all. Between February and the end of March (the promised visit) we talked on the phone and emailed and rejuvinated the friendship but I knew I was not getting back on that rollercoaster. And I didn't. I was guarded and did my best to pin him down so I didn't have false expectations. I thought I was prepared.
What I couldn't bring myself to write months ago was what happened when he arrived. He blew me off. He built it all up and absolutely and completely blew me off. I didn't even have a chance to board the roller coaster. I talked him into seeing me and hanging out with me after my Friday yoga class for a couple of hours. I was with a friend (I did not want to be just waiting around for him) and decked myself out and dragged him and his friend to this club I had read about. We talked and caught up but something was off. We weren't clicking. He kept telling me how tired he was. There were these two other people who didn't know each other, didn't know anyone we were talking about and it just wasn't the same.
Standing on the grimy sidewalk outside this dirty little club in that vague area of town I can't bring myself to call Chelsea because it feels more Penn Station-ish and not really hip enough for a neighborhood name, I distinctly and vividly remember standing under those metal scaffolding things that clutter sidewalks all over the City with a mountain of garbage on the curb to my right and the dark club entrance to my left guarded by an immobile statue of a man. A lot of gray and concrete. Keeping an eye out for an empty cab I gave him a quick hug and was proud of myself for not being sucked into the vortex of his energy and strong tall build and always teasing blue eyes. He promised to call the next day. I teased him about calling early and he said it would probably be closer to noon. And I turned and walked in the opposite direction to get an uptown cab. I did not feel emotionally vulnerable. I did not have renewed feelings for him. Just the fun of seeing an old friend.
For some reason I remember this (possibly) homeless man who insisted on hailing me a cab when I reached the avenue heading uptown. This had never happened to me before or since. He also insisted on giving me a rose. I gave him a dollar. I didn't know what else to do.
The next morning I was not anxious. I slept in, I cleaned the house, went to the gym and waited without waiting. But I was waiting. I was waiting because he told me to wait. He told me he would call. He created this expectation. As the hours dragged on and I ran out of non-waiting tasks, I kept replaying the closing scene from the night before in an attempt to see how I might have misunderstood.
I couldn't call him. He was visiting from Japan - no cell phone. I had his friend's cell phone number which is how we connected the night before. I called it once but didn't leave a message. It felt awkward. I felt like a clingy wannabe friend. The night before when he had called me on his friend's phone three or four times throughout the day to string me along as back up, to ensure I would be waiting. Like I used to wait on that roller coaster. I waited at the bottom anticipating the thrill of climbing to the top. I basked in the sun as I waited at the top not completely remembering what the bottom of the drop felt like or thinking it would be different this time because the plunge was always thrilling.
This was different. The crush was long gone. Years ago we moved past the confusing emotions and into friendship. I was convinced I was no longer waiting to get hurt.
I was wrong. But the hurt was different.
He never called Saturday. Or Sunday. Or Monday. Or all the next week.
This time mourning not a broken heart, but the loss of a friendship. It cast a long, dark shadow across all our shared adventures and my memories felt tainted and somehow farcical. We sort of broke up once when we were never officially together but then he came back and we continued our friendship. But this made me doubt all those good things.
I couldn't wait any longer so I left my apartment. I just grabbed my bag and left. I thought I was wandering aimlessly but I knew I couldn't shop, I wasn't hungry and I just couldn't be around people.
So I went to my office and worked. That was when I realized I am a work-a-holic. Some people drink their sorrows away. I drowned my sorrows by surrounding myself with stacks of files and papers and billed away, blocking out the humiliation of being caught waiting.
After the sorrow came anger.
I deemed him toxic and vowed to never talk to him again. I would ignore his phone calls. Ignore his emails. Ignore him completely and just cut him out of my life. I do not need people who hurt me anywhere near my life.
Firm in my resolve I was worried he might never call to test me. But he did. He called several times over the next month. The messages stopped after the first or second call and then the calls stopped. I don't know if he ever realized I was shutting him out or if I was just difficult to reach.
Then, without warning, I get tonight's message with the "I'm leaving for Iraq in a couple of weeks" part thrown in there. He joined the Air Force in 2002. We were watching the war unfold on my television screen that April and he told me he was finally going to tell me about his vague career shift he had been alluding to for months but warned me that I needed to "respect his decision." Then, as bombs were going off in Iraq he said he was joining the armed forces. Just like that.
This was after he knew I was moving, after he bailed out of our long-planned trip, after months and months of roller-coastering. It was in our enjoy-my-last-month-in-New-York phase. I have the utmost respect for the military but I have no experience or exposure to it other than the last few years with AT. It was surprising but I was supportive.
Of course my first fear when he said he was joining was that he would be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan or North Korea. But then (after boot camp and training) he ended up in Japan. Safe Japan.
I broke my solemn vow to cut him off and called. How could I not? Did he know that was the only way I would call him back? Did he recognize how poorly he treated me last spring? Did he even realize I had cut him out? Deemed him toxic? Did he realize? Did he care? Well, he is the one who called me.
I called him back without considering it. I had to call, he is going to Iraq. I tried to joke with him that maybe he could fix the mess but that did not go over well and I thought it would be in bad taste for me to criticize so I just asked questions and somehow we filled 28 minutes without saying very much.
I have a hard time giving people up. Even people who are not good for me. If I connect, I hold on and will fight to resolve if at all possible. I have salvaged some beloved friendships that way but there are those I have lost. I am sometimes too quick to forgive and dive in for more hurt. Maybe I should not have called him back but all I could think of when I heard Iraq is that I can't shut him off and then years later hear about some tragedy in Iraq and realize I had ignored his reconciliation phone call (even if he didn't realize that is what it was). I don't usually think that way but we are still at war. A long, drawn-out, never-ending, diretionless war where people keep dying even though we supposedly "won" years ago. A war where even officers who work at desks and negotiate contracts could be in danger. A war where people justify the "relatively low loss of life" compared with other wars. How could I ignore that call?
As awkward as it was and as much as a part of me wanted to lecture him about all the times he has been an ass to me. I forgave him and let it go. He has been running away from his life for years, this is just one more deeper escape for him. I say escape because this isn't something that was thrust on him. He volunteered. He made the decision to be packed up and shipped to Iraq.
I cannot articulate any of this well because it is so fresh and messy but somehow emotionless despite all the jumbled thoughts in my once-again throbbing head. This will just have to be one of those raw, stream of consciousness, unedited posts that can be ignored as my substitute for therapy and not actually representative of how things will feel once time settles it all into place and I have the clarity of distance to really view this in context.