He was a few weeks shy of 42, I was 31. We’d met briefly for lunch a few weeks back and then dinner a few days later. We’d barely touched, barely talked. Just two people spending time together. I knew more about him than he did me, but it wasn’t intentional. He didn’t seem very interested in what I had to say, but he didn’t ask for much, so there was no misunderstanding.
It wasn’t a relationship, but I wanted it to be. He was smart, patient, easy-going. He liked to challenge himself; he didn’t like to feel limited. He was funny.
“If you need something from me, you have to tell me.” I was floored. I’d meant to stretch subtly because I was bored and the drive was too long, but I ended up holding my hands too close to the radio, and he thought I was changing the station.
“The music is fine.” I pretended to misunderstand.
“If you need something more, you have to tell me. A few years ago, I was in a relationship. Things were going well and we were committed. A couple years in I was offered a job in another city; it was just about four hours away. As I started to pack, things got worse in our relationship. She was hurt and confused that I hadn’t asked her to come with me. I say that to say, if you need something from me, you have to tell me.”
I wanted to understand, but I didn’t. Nothing up to that point indicated that he wanted anything from me. He didn’t listen when I talked. He didn’t laugh when I said something funny. He didn’t ask me how my day was or what I wanted. He said that I texted too much, and that I needed to pick up the phone. When I called, he didn’t answer. He didn’t even call back.
There was no scenario I could have imagined where he might actually have cared for me.
Chicago was beautiful. It made me feel home. There was music everywhere and a certain energy. There were festivals and block parties, live concerts, free food. Movies in the park. Concerts at Millennium. When I worked downtown, I’d walk over and lay in the grass and listen to the music. It was home.
I moved to the city a few weeks shy of my 22nd birthday, but at 31 the thrill was gone. There were too many winters. Too many weddings, too many funerals. Too many blizzards and snowstorms. Too many roommates, jobs, and apartments. Too much of too little for much too long.
When the straw broke, it was personal. I had a bad job with a boss I didn’t respect who had racist and sexist tendencies. He told me that I was robotic, and that I needed to look at him when he talked to me.
And then She came in my office to say that she was taking a break. She’d been self-conscious about her hair, but there was a wig today. And I knew without knowing that the chemo was failing.
And because it was negative 20 degrees outside, and because my mother was more than 1,000 miles away as was all the family I knew, and because my sister was pregnant and I wasn’t there with her, and because She was dying, I closed the door and sat on the office floor and cried. I was past 30, past “new,” past everything, but I just closed the door, curled in a ball, and cried until there was nothing left.
I looked for signs of growth everywhere. Happiness? More faith? Better perspective? Longer hair or nails? I had to get there.
Her death broke me. There was nothing left but winter, and I was falling. Waiting for the cruel cruel eve to end.
You have to decide. You have to decide how much you will take and for how long. You have to decide why.
You have to decide what you want and what you will do to get there. And what you won’t do and why not. You have to decide which moments matter and which people matter (if not all of them). You have to decide what it is you need and if that will make you happy. And if it won’t, you have to decide why not and whether that matters.
You have to decide when you will decide and under what circumstances.
You have to decide.