single

Sunday

“I want a baby more than anything in the world. I’ve wanted to be a parent as long as I can remember.” It’s a Sunday night and I don’t want a baby. Cars hum over the pavement and my shoes have a hole in the toe. The glossy black patent leather is gnawed, fraying just to the right of my big toe and colored in with sharpie. Travis is a barrel chested gay man sitting to my left, hands laced over the breadth of his stomach as he narrows his eyes at the night sky. He nods once. “I’m not in a relationship and I don’t see myself being in one, but I know that I want to be a Dad.”

“You’ve got all the time in the world, man,” I reply. My nose wrinkles as I stub out my smoke and it’s sensible to turn the conversation away.

“That’s the only thing that L— and I ever talked about you two dating. If you want kids you have a time clock.”

“Yeah.” It’s not like I can forget. It’s not like every time it gets quiet my age doesn’t settle like afternoon sunshine around my head. I’m not old. I don’t feel old.

“I mean, you’re looking at like five years tops if you want kids. That’s a lot of pressure.”

“Yeah.” I shrug, I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to talk about the fact that I don’t know if I want kids. I don’t know if I’ll ever want kids. I don’t want to talk about the fact that sometimes I’m terrified of the way my brain compartmentalizes so specifically that I worry I’m sociopathic. I never worry about loving the idea of the possible kid I could make from scratch some day, because love comes easily.

I worry about not being present. I worry about resenting them. I worry about rushing into having one because it’s my last chance. I worry about single parenting. I worry about co parenting. I worry that I’ll be just like my dad- or sometimes worse, just like my mom.

I want to build a home and a life for myself and I think that maybe I build walls to keep other people out and the possibility of being a mother locked far far away. I loved my ex husband, but I didn’t want to have children with him.

There are moments in my memory that have this golden topaz colored skip jump photography. They’re round as river rocks and drop to make waves in my present. I remember the way my Dad would pick Gingko leaves, twirling them between his thumb and forefinger like a flapping yellow fan to batter against my nose. I remember the way he smelled like cigarettes and scratchy beard. There’s a specific noise that I can only find in playgrounds, the slow cry of metal on metal from a swing hitting that perfect epogee and apogee of my childhood.

There are trees that I pull myself into because there’s no one to lift me up anymore.

I watched myself hit an age that was unimportant to my Father. I watched my brother hit it. Then my half sister. I watched him go from completely entranced and wondrous of the life he can hold between his palms to the man who missed my birthday at 28… 29… 30… older and older and less and less important. I know the way a basketball court feels empty and waiting to be remembered and how the pause of nothing to talk about sounds over the phone and states in between us. I remember the feel of hugs when I was special and the feel of hugs that happened as I became an adult and no longer deserving of that glowing yellow cake batter idolatry.

I think about my mother and her 16 cats and three dogs holed up in a house that’s dusty with litter and a phone gone quiet. I call, but sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the loneliness she chose, throat sore with swallowed words of: is this what happens when we choose to be alone? Do we just get smaller and quieter, joints aching as we fill our lives with fur and something to feel warm against our skin- something to make us not feel so utterly and completely alone?

Travis is nominally handsome and kind of an asshole. He talks about children and long term with L. He talks about how important family is. I think about how important the people I’ve picked as family are in my life. I think about the breathless wrung out beauty of my best friend as she met her first son. I think about the heavy curtain of privacy we put up between ourselves in a relationship and the people we love. I think about how two women could be so miserable and so silenced. I think about how I feel trapped by tiny chuck taylors in stores or the way a six month old baby looks in the arms of a new twenty something mom. I think about the girl who took fertility drugs so when my ex husband was an idiot who couldn’t operate a condom she could catch him and a child.

I wonder if I could ever do that. I know that I couldn’t.

“I just really want to be a Dad.”

I nod. I’m sitting outside a Starbucks in Tampa on a Sunday night. The air is orange with that buzzing streetlight shine. I’m an endless array of moments of people falling in love that led to me. I’m a perfect storm of paranoia and pride, ego and emotion. I’m thirty five and I have five years.

The world tells me I have five years.

I think about the last five and I wonder how in the hell anyone can ever be sure enough of who they are and what their life is going to be that they can bring a whole life into the world and know that no matter what they’ll be there.

“I think I just want to be me.”

Mulish

I’ve spent the better part of the week being momentarily grumpy over people telling me about me.

You deserve better. You should get a real job. You should go back to school. You should settle down. You deserve a good man. You would be a great mom. You should. You are. You. You. you.

Here’s the thing:

I decide who I am now.

Give it a minute to sink in. I had to. I looked at that statement and balked immediately on the idea of how selfish it is- how self serving. I’ve been told my entire life that relationships are about compromise. Meet them half way. Give of yourself to others. If you love someone, you do what is necessary to make it work. I’ve been working my entire life to be a better person, to be likeable, generous, and humble.

I sat on a couch on Saturday listening to someone earnestly break up with me (my first foray back into the dating world since my divorce). My knees were bent, legs folded under me with bare toes and a raw uncomfortable feeling welling in my chest. I notched my chin onto my palm and watched the shapes his mouth made when he couldn’t look me in the eye. The small divot of fabric over the dip of his collarbones shifted as he wet his lips, punctuating the faltering half prepared emotionally honest statement:

I’m not in a place where I can give you the kind of relationship you deserve.

I must have made some noise of distaste because he paused, brought short by the way my mouth twisted sideways on sour bitten back words. I thought for a moment about the last time someone told me I deserved better. It was a similar moment- sitting quietly curled on a couch as someone walked away.

My ex-husband moved out on Valentine’s day after a month of half heated arguments and new car payments. Everything he deemed worthwhile could be neatly packed into the dove gray Honda Fit.

I was leaning a shoulder against the porch rail; there wasn’t room for me.

He packed his records, his khaki pants, and his inability to compromise away as he told me I deserved a husband who could provide the kind of life that could afford a family. He gave me a hug, fingers digging into the doughy skin over the small of my back before squaring his jaw before driving away – complacent yogurt flavored happiness left me soft and mushy. The dogs were strewn around the living room the way we used to discard clothes. Now, the laundry was started once a day and his shirts never got softener.

J is a kind man, but selfish. L is a sweet earnest boy, but naive.

Neither of them knew me. Neither of them really tried. I was a convenience and an interest to be appreciated, enjoyed, and set aside.

Today I woke up and slipped on my shoes, unreasonably pleased that for the first time in my life my “skinny” jeans are too big. I’m not losing weight for any other reason than I’m happy. I’m not waking up in the morning for any other reason than I look forward to seeing what happens in my day.

I don’t kiss people I don’t want to any more. I don’t sleep with people because “no” seems like such a hard word to say when someone wants something from me. I don’t have to be anything but completely content with the state of my life as is.

I looked up at L, tilting my head and catching a glimpse of the black and white tiled kitchen out of the corner of my eye, only half paying attention to what he said next.

“I don’t see this going anywhere. I can’t be the kind of boyfriend you expect. I can’t be in the kind of relationship you deserve-”

“That’s great, however-” I remember how he looked at me for the first time then when I held up a hand to stop him. He really looked with soft brown eyes and a half scared breath. He saw me, that 35 year old woman who was leaning into the comfort of that brown couch. He saw the way my jaw went tight and I lifted from that core lace inside myself that knows when something is not quite right. I listen to that voice now. I respect it. I want to encourage it because that voice is the basis of my self worth: ignoring it says I can be ignored. I never raised my voice. I didn’t snap. If anything I smiled the words out like a sigh tasting of warm lazy sheet mornings. I spoke from a place of love, because no one loves me more than me. “You don’t know what I deserve. You don’t know what I expect. If this was about me in any way, then this would have been a conversation. This is about you. I’m sorry that I’m taking away your ability to feel like the good guy here, but please, leave me out of your excuses. You already left me out of the decision.”

I shrugged and pulled my sandals back on. I wasn’t going to argue. I can’t fight the way someone feels any more than I can fight the fact that it rains sometimes. I will admit to being annoyed that I’d shaved my legs and that my skin was soft to a touch that wouldn’t come. I was annoyed that something I had been enjoying on a moment by moment basis had been extrapolated out into the future and therefore to a place of uselessness. I was hurt, embarrassed, and horny- never a good combination.

What I wasn’t? Devastated. Overwrought. Depressed. Raging. Thrilled. Broken.

I gave him a hug at the door, his fingers pressing against the back of my neck and the curve of my ribcage before exhaling on his front porch- happiness burns spicy inside me and melts away the grayed layer of soft over my bones. I took a moment to rest my head against my steering wheel and just feel the loss of a small bit of something exciting and simple- the feel of a smile pressed against my temple or the touch of his forehead to the nape of my neck. I breathed in and told myself, the only person who has to live with me on a daily basis, what I deserved:

You deserve to live your life for you.