There’s nothing left
for us here
And we won’t waste
— Streisand & Summer
So…I saw my ex.
To clarify, I only saw him; I didn’t engage (because: DO NOT engage). I’m fairly certain he didn’t see me. To be even clearer, it wasn’t just an ex. It was The Ex.
The Ex blew into my life like a cyclone, and blew out just as swiftly, leaving it—and me—a complete wreck (as cyclones do). I eventually had to cut off all contact with The Ex (including a unexpected recent block on social media), since he couldn’t fathom that I might not want to keep him in my life, despite the obvious and excruciating pain I was in. The Ex left a devastation it took almost two years to recover from—most of which, I spent wondering if I ever would. (Spoiler: I did.)
Most of us have encountered someone who has had both a dizzying and devastating affect on our lives; some of us have had that affect on others. I have unfortunately been in both positions; so perhaps my experience with The Ex was karmic, simply an inevitable occurrence in adulthood, or both.
But none of that is the point, at present. The point is that I saw my ex—The Ex—and I am…fine.
I know this because the sighting happened almost two weeks ago, right before I left New York for the holidays. Yes, that means that I’ve been holding out on you, choosing instead to “bah-humbug” you this Christmas with my deepest insecurities about my ability to properly “adult”.
(Yeah, I know: not my finest hour, but my anxiety had escalated to full-blown writer’s block. So, for my sake and yours, I needed to get that post off my chest—because that’s what I do here. Just so we’re clear: though I try to keep up appearances, my 40s aren’t on perpetual fleek. Not even close. So, there’s that.)
But try not to dwell on that part—the part where I held out on you—and focus with me on the “fine”. Let’s gaze at it lovingly, stroke it, maybe even roll around in it a bit, because it’s been an increasingly fleeting feeling these past few weeks. Upon seeing The Ex, my immediate concern was that I’d be catapulted straight into the emotional abyss I’d been teetering on for the past few weeks. But for once, I’m beginning to suspect that he (ironically) may have come to the rescue; a bolt out of the blue to shake me back into the here and now, rather than the what was and what will be.
Better late than never, I guess.
Scenario: I was speed-strutting my customary mile-long route from home to the subways at Barclay’s Center (because FitBit and I have a minimum 10K step-a-day contract). While paused at a corner, I happened to glance across the street. There he was, directly opposite: same distinctive hair, same scruff on his chin, same tall and wiry frame. Even his “fitted” was the same; I always hated that cap, and the way it sat stupidly—yet cockily—upon his big head.
Four years had passed, and he looked exactly the same…but for the small child he was attending to.
Thankfully, the child was not a shock to me, as I’d long since been made aware that he’d become a father soon after we’d parted (Thanks, Social Media!) Indeed, I’d imagined encountering him—with child, and possibly partner—on the street many times over the years. You know, just to keep my guard up. Of course, I didn’t necessarily expect it to be in my neighborhood, but…it’s (purportedly) a free country, I guess.
I’m sure the kid was cute. I doubt The Ex—a self-proclaimed aesthete—would settle for anything less. Truth is, I wouldn’t know, because the light changed, and I walked on.
Much to my surprise, I managed to do so entirely unencumbered. The ground didn’t open up beneath my feet. Dark clouds didn’t menacingly roll in, and lightning didn’t strike me down on the spot. More significantly, I didn’t feel any of the crippling grief and humiliation I’d once associated with The Ex: the grief I fully expected to crush me at any moment as an involuntary—but inevitable—response.
Instead, the moment was shockingly—disappointingly—anti-climactic. My temperature didn’t change; neither did my pace, as I walked on to my destination. Indeed, The Ex was just another father with another kid on another street corner in my neighborhood; a neighborhood full of fathers with children on street corners.
It was, for all intents and purposes…a non-event. This is actually the most thought I’ve given it since.
So, why should that disappoint me? Because for all the love, the longing, the power I’d invested in the memory of this man, and the rise and sudden wreckage of our relationship, all I was left with was a sobering conviction that I’d wasted a tremendous amount of time mourning what I’d perceived as my loss; a portion of my young life I’d never reclaim.
And more, I realized I’d unconsciously committed to the idea that I’d never fully be over The Ex. I’d simply assumed that he would henceforth be my new barometer—for both pleasure and pain. The Ex would be my new “normal”. Everyone who came after would undoubtedly be compared with him—the one that got away (or ran away, as the case may be).
After all, the relationship had been so shattering that I couldn’t help but be irreparably damaged, right? The best I could hope for would be to gather up what was left of my shattered self, and hand the remnants to some poor sucker who would somehow consider them enough to work with. At the very least, having been broken, I might be too numb to feel the pain of being broken again.
That was my plan. I’m pretty sure it’s the plan that’s kept me from making any concrete plans since. You know, like “adulting” (couldn’t help myself).
Clearly, I was pretty invested in that plan—and that pain—since part of the reason I’ve held out on writing about this experience is that I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, for some dormant wave of emotion to drown me in an all-too-familiar misery…
But to my amazement—and no small amount of delight—what I feel isn’t misery, or grief, or even numbness. Today, in the final hours of this final day of the fourth year since we said our final goodbye, I find that I feel for The Ex exactly what I’ve long suspected he feels for me:
I feel nothing (shout-out to “A Chorus Line”). All anxiety about adulthood aside, I am fine…and (finally) ready to walk on.
This time, I’ll be taking my power with me.