Missed Connections

I believe a teenage girl lives inside all of us. Someone waiting to be chosen. Longing for recognition. Longing to be loved and cherished and admired. And seen. Anxiously waiting for this to happen and waiting, on baited breath, for validation. Even if we don’t want to admit it, a teenage girl is there, at the core.

I’m young. I’m fortunate enough to say that I have achieved professional recognition. I’m a leader in my field, a master of my craft. I love my career, and I’ve received a wealth of recognition just from following my dreams.

Then there’s the place where the rational and the teenage brains meet: love. I’ve been rejected a fair amount by people in my life: men, women, friends, lovers, family, mentors, foes. I’ve been abused and damaged. I still hurt. Mostly, I hurt by those I believed from whom I should have received unconditional love, as well as by those whom I’ve loved unconditionally but lost tragically. Both forms of rejection continue to be unexpected, long after the blow was dealt.

Recently, I’ve been seeing someone romantically. It’s been some time since I’ve dated, since I’ve softened my heart enough to get shy around someone. It’s a difficult exercise for me, but with this person, I want to keep doing it. Every time I ask for what I want, I am rewarded by being pulled in, by his turning toward me. At this point, when he turns toward, I want to leap into his arms. I’m beyond smitten and am falling. Deeply. And I don’t want to stop. Some days I think I should, when my doubts and self-criticism creeps in, but most of the time, stopping this inertia is farthest from my mind.

We met in an odd way; on an online app where you match with one another within certain proximity. Yes, I’m talking about your run of the mill dating app where you swipe in a hot or not scenario, but both of us have no purchased features, so we need to be within proximity, age range, and also like one another’s faces and profiles. I’ve never matched with anyone on this app, and I’ve been fine with that. I was not seeking a partner.

This seems like a mundane way to meet these days, so why are the circumstances odd? My proximity setting was within a 1-mile radius and the only time he was in that radius was for the hour or two he was at a meal with friends. Otherwise, he lives 300+ miles away from me. And yet, we connected. The chemistry was immediate and electric, in every way imaginable. So much so that he attempted to reject me early on, only to reconsider. Things, feelings, were moving too quickly for the circumstances.

And yet, this has progressed. We’re in constant contact, at least daily (if not multiple times daily), despite not getting a lot of face time with one another. Our friendship and connection has deepened just through texting, calls, and FaceTime, and we make time to connect. I have noticed, at times, that he doesn’t share everything with me yet, nor do I, and while that bothers me a tad, I understand it. The anxiety isn’t there like it has been in the past with other potential partners. Perhaps it’s because I have matured and perhaps it’s because I notice the effort–to be honest, it’s probably both things, but I can’t be sure.

This gets me to thinking about connections. Those I’ve had in the past, those with whom I’ve had a stronger bonds and still have fizzled. What makes these things different?

I used to believe that the connection was everything. In 2010, I met, what I have called, the “great love of my life”. We met, quite serendipitously, in an airplane. It was the perfect “meet cute”, the perfect beginning to a romantic comedy. I wasn’t supposed to be on that plane and actually had switched seats only to stumble upon the person I spent years with sitting next to me. We both believed we were going to spend our lives together. Until, one day, years into the relationship and after much talk of marriage, he realized he wasn’t able to stay committed. I, loving and respecting him, understood, and let him go. My heart was broken into pieces, pieces I believed to be irreparable. This was my great love after all!

In the nearly four years without him, in the relationships I have had with others since him, and, most importantly, in the relationship I’ve had with myself since our parting, I have learned the best lesson:

Relationships are only part connection. They are built and sustained on action. Not only is there a space component to them, there’s a time component as well. If both parties aren’t ready, aren’t in the same time in their lives, no connection, no matter how strong, will keep them together.

No connection is ever really missed, just out of place.

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My body, the battlefield

In 2005, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While the treatment was difficult and the time was trying for both me and my then-husband (and our families & friends), the scars and the side effects were all internal. To the naked eye, one would have thought I was fine–that I never had cancer. That I had it all together. To the naked eye, most would have thought my marriage was fine and that we had just weathered a storm. Perhaps a hurricane. While I had lost my ability to bear children and I suffered from an immense amount of scar tissue buildup inside my most precious female organs, I simply looked like a woman who had gained a bit of weight. While I suffered from crippling depression and anxiety, most people thought it was just a side effect from my troubling past, from previously existing traumas.

I carried around the semblance of normalcy until 2015, when I was again diagnosed with cervical cancer. This time, though, I was not as lucky as before. I needed more treatment, invasive and exhausting treatment, that caused visible symptoms. I lost 40 pounds. I lost my hair, everywhere. I gained a skin condition that permanently discolored my body. I lost a labia, and then a surgeon crafted a new one. Medication provided after treatment ended bloated me, giving me a “muffin top”. Vaginal reconstruction weakened my core. My teeth eroded from chemotherapy. My groin dotted with tattoos I needed for radiation.

My body, and my relationship with it, has changed in so many ways. Some days, I look in the mirror and remember that woman I once was, seeing her in my eyes or in my crooked smile. Others, I try to think that this moment, where my body feels and looks weathered, is when I am bursting from my cocoon. Messy but necessary to get to my final destination–a butterfly. But most of the time, I sit with angst, in despair about what others think when they see me. About what I think when I see me. To what expectations people compare the reality in front of them. Many days, I just see the cancer, even after it’s moved on to ravage someone else. My body, the battlefield.

I have a sordid history with my vagina. Much of my past trauma comes from unwanted sexual advances, assaults, and the aftermath those experiences caused. I have been trying to determine what a healthy relationship would look like with that part of my body for as long as I can remember–I never did have a healthy sexual experience before having unhealthy ones. I have sought the assistance of counselors, trauma therapists, sex therapists, and body workers to help connect me with The Sacred Feminine. I work to connect to Her on a regular basis.

But things just aren’t that easy.

In some ways, I find my post-cancer approach to my body to be more respectful than it once was. In college and after my divorce, I often gave my body freely to anyone willing to give theirs to me, without giving a second thought to who should have rite to entry. I did so soberly and consensually. Even after sexual assaults in adulthood, I attempted to “stay normal” by continuing this practice, like nothing had happened. Like it didn’t matter that I had been violated. If I just kept up appearances, then maybe, just maybe, those violations would matter less. Now, after undergoing vaginal and labial reconstruction, I am more careful about to whom I grant entry. It’s not that I don’t condone these practices–they’re great!–but I was never doing them for the right reasons. I was never a free spirit. I wanted control over the past–and I never gained it. Now, I am discerning. I respect this body that weathered the storms life threw its way. I expect that people touching or enjoying it also respect it. Because it IS The Sacred Feminine. And it is mine. I have a lot less sex (with others), but the quality is much higher. And, most of the time, I don’t shrink with shame afterwards.

Some days, especially when the body shame and self-doubt creeps in, when I’m meeting someone new from whom I’d like physical adoration, I gaze longingly over my shoulder. I compare myself to the “cool girls” and free spirits, and I wonder why I have become the prude. But it only takes a moment for me to run my fingers along the scars lining my edges to remember that, in place of someone trendy, stands a warrior for truth. Stands a woman reclaiming her leg hair and body hair. Learning to receive pleasure from herself, to give clear boundaries to others. Stands the captain of her destiny and a dreamer of dreams.

A survivor stands where a girl once did.

Wondering

I spent all evening

With someone

Who reminded me of you.

First, the face, the hair, the height

then, the accent, the snarky comments

the playful, professional flirting.

It was like looking at you,

hearing you,

Watching you hear me.

I wonder,

Without all the red tape,

What could it all have been?

I remember the night we finally kissed.

Electric, heart-pounding

Unexpected.

I thought you were a cocky suit

With a fancy title and a fancy job

And raging insecurity.

I was right.

The night you came over

You melted in my arms,

Took off the armor,

And cried in my room.

In that moment, I loved you.

Not the tough exterior, the pomp,

But the jelly inside.

The kind, doubtful, sad soul

With the sad eyes.

I saw those same sad eyes tonight

And I loved them just the same.

If we’d met in another place,

At another time,

Would you still be curled up

Talking about fantasy novels

About administrative law

In my room,

Your head on my chest?

Would you be grieving with me?

Could I have made those sad eyes smile?

I spent all evening

With a man who looked like you,

Felt like you,

And, beside him, someone who knows you.

Find your way.

Take off the suit.

Remove your armor.

I’ve seen you without,

beautiful, vulnerable, deeply personal.

You matter.

Matter more.

Never Say Never

I remember now the moment I fell in love with you. 

It was faster than I anticipated, 

occurring through my fear and pain.

I had a panic attack, and you,

You sat down in front of me, 

Your hands on the sides of my face,

Demanding my eye contact,

Teaching me to follow your breaths.

“Slow inhale, and hold.

Exhale. Let the tears come. Let the pain in.

Calm down those nerves, my darling.

Breathe in. Expand your container.

Breathe out. Empty it all.

I’m here, you’re held.

Never alone again.

Breathe in, composure.

Breathe out. There’s a smile!

See. You’re okay.”

With that, love. 

Expansive, all consuming, 

Forehead touching,

Transformational love. 

With those breaths, I fell farther

Down the rabbit hole that is your heart.

Never alone again.

And I believed you.

Every time you said it, I did.

Until the very end. 

Until the day you left,

When you looked back, saying,

“Never say never.”

No matter how far you are, 

I still feel those hands,

Soft and strong, 

calming my nerves. 

When I need a friend.

I still smile when I think of yours.

“There it is!” You’d declare.

They are the moments where I continue

To fall in love with you

Even still.

Graveside

19 years ago today, I watched dirt pile over my best friend’s casket. I watched as what was left of her was lowered into the ground, inch by inch, the physical space between us mounting. I loved her, I did. 

Since that time, I’ve visited her grave often. I talk to her. I smile at her. I cry with her. I’ve moved away and still I sit with her when I’m home. Sometimes, people ask me if I still have friends or family in my hometown, and I want to say that’s she’s there. I want to raise her from the dead, keep her going. 

Last year, for the first time, I heard her whispering to me. I felt her presence. I experienced the games she still played on me. Now, you may not believe any of these experiences, you may think that dead is dead, but I know it in my core. I know she’s always around, wreaking havoc. Kokopelli girl. 

Today, as I was sitting in the sun at her grave, and I saw 2 blue dragonflies fly around us, finally landing on her headstone. Dragonflies are the sign of my spirit animal, my patronus. They mean I’m on the right track, where I need to be. That I’m doing the right thing. I had my angel sitting on the headstone at the same time, and I felt watched, guarded, protected, loved. I looked at her headstone and said, “i release you.” And she was no longer lingering, but the love and protection were still there. Peaceful girl. 

And always, I carry her heart. I carry it in my heart.

Translucent

You left nearly an hour ago

But I can still smell you 

On these sheets I’ve climbed into

Wishing you hadn’t gone.

You impress me

Always

And before, you’ve held back

But this time was different

You looked at me

This time

Like you wanted to see me.

There was no film or filter.

It was easier than I even wanted

Let alone expected

Easier to be held

By your radiance.

Can we start over?

Can we make this the first night,

Our first date,

The first time we made love,

The first time in discovery?

I long for more of this,

Of you,

Unencumbered, 

Unfiltered,

Unmarried.

You’ve got all of you to give now,

And tonight,

You gave it to me, for the first time.

I’ve never felt so whole.

So seen. So completely seen.

Your gaze into my eyes,

Your hand on the small of my back,

Your knee pressing against mine,

Your tenderness on my lips,

Your hand inside my hand,

Your skin against my tongue,

Against my skin,

Enveloping me in knowing.

Vulnerable yet safe.

Seen and yet 

Longing for your eyes to keep seeing.