Sunday, June 11, 2017

The first conversation since.

Flora and I broke up about two and a half years ago. From that point moving forward, the frequency of our conversations began to piddle out like a dripping water faucet that was slowly being repaired. After we broke up we spoke maybe for a few minutes every week. Then every month. Then it was three. Then half a year. Two weeks ago, we had our first real conversation in maybe nine months. 

Usually when I would message Flora it would be a simple “Hi.” “How are you doing?” “I’m glad you’re doing well.” And I wouldn’t hear from her again. Sometimes the words were fewer. Sometimes it was a simple “hand-wave” emoji. Most times the messages went unanswered. This time I reached out to her because I was doing something that required me to pray for people who have passed away four years ago or more. When I asked if there was anyone that fit the criteria in her life, she offered the name of her grandmother. I thanked her and pretty much thought that would be the end of it, but this time she asked how I was doing, and when I replied and asked the same of her, she actually answered. 

I stopped looking at Flora's Facebook long ago, partly because I realized that it wasn’t a good thing for me to do, but also because that girl doesn’t put shit on her Facebook. It’s one of the things I really like about her. One thing I did find however, was an album that her band finished on YouTube. It meant a lot to me when I found it, or more like, it meant a lot to me that it probably meant a lot to them. Flora and I were still together when the band first formed; I still remember the auditions her and her twin sister put on at the studio (they were the band's founders and the ones that got the final say). To see them come out with a 6-track EP showed me how far they’ve come, and how much time has passed since then. It made me smile. I never told her about my discovery.

Instead we talked about novelties. She finally got a chance to travel, spent some time in Europe, mainly France and the UK, and she was actually leaving for France again in two days. Somewhat to my surprise, this made me incredibly happy. She’s an adventurer, like me, and she deserved seeing the world more than just about anyone I know. I asked her how well her French was coming along. She replied with three messages that I couldn’t understand. She then wrote that she really wanted to become fluent in French, said the language spoke to her. I told her it did to me as well, though I wanted to learn it for the purposes of traveling to West Africa one day.

“For sure,” she said. “I want to go there too. The luxury of Europe isn’t that fitting for me.” 

“I have a good friend in Togo,” I told her.

“Let’s meet up in West Africa!”

“Okay!”

The old me would have held onto that statement like it actually meant something. I would have read it as a hope, a chance that she still thought about me and wanted something more than an acquaintanceship over the Internet. But this time I felt pretty neutral in her words, like it was fine if it never came true, because most likely it wouldn’t. When I took a few minutes to respond, she said that I didn’t have to talk to her if I had other things to do. I told her I wanted to have a conversation with her, that it was rare to be able to talk with "Flora Star".

“Flora Star” was this inside joke we had when we were dating. Flora used to have this psychotic stalker that one time gifted her fifty 8x11 color prints of a picture of her that he found on Facebook. When she fanned out all the copies, I asked if I could keep one. She shrugged and said, “Sure I guess.” I took out a sharpie and asked her to sign it. She smirked. On it she wrote:

“To my new fan, Nicholas - Flora Star ;-)” 

This is why I loved this girl.

Calling her “Flora Star” made her laugh. She then wrote, “Well maybe it doesn’t have to be that rare!” Another instance where the old me would have held on, but I didn’t this time. We then proceeded to get on about our lives, our plans, our hopes, our dreams. I told her I’ve been staying around helping my family and writing a lot. She told me the band broke up and that she’s starting a solo project. She then apologetically told me that she took three shirts from my apartment after we broke up and used them often. I’ll have to admit, that tidbit made my heart skip a bit faster. Then to my surprise, she went straight into a topic that I thought I would’ve brought up.

“Are you dating anyone?” she asked.

“Hmm…you’re very direct,” I answered. 

“I don’t know any other way to be,” she said in return. “I’m a Sagittarius…the arrow always goes direct.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said smiling behind the screen. “No, I’m not dating anyone. Are you?” A good two minutes passed before she responded. 

“I’m looking to find solitude,” she wrote. “Solitude and fullfilment. Does that make sense?” 

“Yes,” I said. “It is the same thing that I’m doing.”

I don’t know what she was thinking from her side of the screen. I didn’t know why she asked. I didn’t know why she cared. At one point of the conversation, I told her that I was her friend, and that I’d always be her friend. She told me the same. But when I think about it now, Flora is not really my friend, at least not in my current definition of the word. She hasn’t really been around in the capacity of which I hold my friends accountable for. I mean, sure, people have their lives to live and I have plenty of very dear and close friends that I go years not speaking with, but I almost died when we broke up (literally from a staph infection), and she wouldn’t really give me the time of day when that was happening. Yes, I was being the desperate dependent annoying ex-boyfriend who couldn’t handle reality, but I was also in a lot of pain. She’s forgotten my birthday every year since just about the day we met, and has never asked on whim how me and my family are doing. In fact when I think about it more, I’ve initiated every conversation we’ve ever had since our breakup. Again, I’m not trying to make her out to be a bad person, because she’s actually not. She’s actually one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. But she also has shitty communication skills. It’s kind of just the way she is, or more accurately, the time of life that she's currently in. It can also just be the way some PEOPLE are, and that's simply how it is. It should be enough to know that she cares about me in her heart, that she is always wanting the best for my life, even if she never says it to me in words. Sometimes it’s just hard to believe in that on faith alone.

For the first time in all of our interactions since our breakup, I was the one that ended the conversation first. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying our dialogue, it’s more that I felt there was nothing left to say. Plus she was going in and out of the conversation - low battery life and moreso general distractions. Before I’d get annoyed with something like that, take it as some form of disrespect, but this time I just had love for it as a friend. It’s strange, but there were probably more things said in this conversation where I could have fallen back in love with her than anytime in the past, but I let them go this time, that in the end, they probably didn’t mean anything. It was here that I realized that this was the closure I was seeking with Flora. I had done it without even knowing it. Part of me felt healed, but another very real part of me was hurting.

What I've come to realize is that I gave it everything I had with Flora. I went in with reckless abandon because I still believe(d) in this ideal of Love that we have in the world. I pulled out all the stops. All the fears, all the doubts, I went past all of them, for her. I gave her my bestAnd it wasn't enough. 

That has been the hardest thing I've had to understand. Yes, I am now a different person, a much more mature and capable person, and most of this was just timing. But to miss the mark, on something like this, is not an easy thing to accept. At the same time, I know it is something that I need(ed) to do. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A day at the cafe.

I was having coffee today with a good friend and in the middle of our conversation, a guy stumbles over to us and begins talking.

"Hey guys, I'm a Jarhead..." he starts. The rest of it sort of goes into this indecipherable ramble. 

I get it immediately. He's a panhandler and my initial reaction is to put him aside, tell him that my friend and I were in the middle of a very important conversation (we were), and that it needed to be respected. Over the years, I've found the ability to do this, and to a bit of my own chagrin, have taken way too much liberty with it. But something in his eyes stopped me. Something about him made me look for a different way. His words are still making no sense at this point and could have gone on had I let it, so instead I interject:

"What can I do for you brother? What is it that you need?" 

He sort of stops and has a tinge of surprise on his face.

"Some change," he said. "I could really use it."

I nod and dig into my pocket, pull out a dollar. My friend does the same. I place it into his palm and attempt to say something meaningful, but it's really just a bunch of crap. It made so little sense that I can't even recall (or don't want to recall) the words to write them out now. A barista from the counter comes over and begins to usher the guy out.

"C'mon man, you can't come in here. No panhandling." He starts to drag the man away. I catch the last part of what the guy says in protest.

"...I just want to be around them," he pleads. 

Again, had it been a few years ago, that would have been the end of it. Problem solved. I go on about my day, go on about my conversation. Distraction handled. But something about it felt off. I wanted my life to be different. At first, I thought to say to the barista that he wasn't bothering us, but I understood his position too. It's his job to maintain the café, let the patrons enjoy their coffee. I try to think of the next best thing. 

"I'll walk him out," I say. The barista nods and let's go of his arm.

I take the guy out and lean over to him.

"What is it you wanted to say to me?" I asked.

"Okay. I'm not gonna lie to you," he starts. "Because there's no point in lying. Telling one lie just means you gotta cover it up with another." 

I give a small smirk and nod. 

"I just need a beer right now," he says.  

I look back into his eyes again and I'm immediately reminded of this word I learned in Brazil. If you ever visit an indigenous tribe in the Amazon (or at least the same ones I have), you will often hear people call you this word: "Txai". It means something more than "Brother" or "Sister". It means "I am another you. You are another me." This is something they used in the movie Avatar and the meaning is profound. Think about it. If we went about life looking at everyone as another version of us, we wouldn't think of the homeless as degenerate low-lifes who can't get their shit together. We wouldn't think that they're lazy, or 'just not trying hard enough', or that overcoming alcoholism is as easy as simply stopping. We might, instead, think that if just one part of our life was different, we'd be right where they are. Maybe if we were born in a different crib or had something done to us when we were children. Maybe something completely out of our control happened at a time when we were not protected. Sure, everyone does need to be accountable for their choices despite the circumstance, but it might also make the world look a bit different. Instead of castigating or criticizing, maybe we'd try understanding and giving compassion, because giving compassion to others is giving compassion to ourselves. Who knows.  

We both sort of chuckle. I tell him I appreciate his honesty. I reach into my pocket and pull out a $5 bill. I think about all the things I've heard about giving money to panhandlers, drunks especially. It really only enables the problem and can very much make it worse. But there are other things to consider too. The temperature has been in the 30s these past few days in Seattle. It was pouring rain at the time. I figure maybe the liquor would keep him warm. I dunno. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, but it was what I did. 

He smiles and sort of pats me on the back. I try to say something else to him. I want to say something along the lines of, "You can always use it for something better," or "There's always another choice," but I can't get the words out. It's probably because I have no idea what it feels like to be this dude and it would be kind of asshole-pretentious of me to tell him what to do with his life. Instead all I can muster is pounding myself in the chest. He sort of looks at me quizzically. I pound once more.

"Oh, uh, hit myself?" he asks. "Right here?" He hits himself way harder than what made me comfortable. 

I sort of cringe and shake my head, think about how much of an idiot I must have looked like. I don't even really know what I'm trying to say, so I just pound again.

"Oh! The heart!" he laughs. "You're alright man." 

I stand there for a moment as he walks away. A dumb smile comes across my face. The funny thing is that people might read this story and think I did something for the guy, but in reality, he did way more for me. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A new beginning.

I am no longer in love with Flora. You don't know how difficult it was for me to come to that conclusion, let alone post it on the Internet. For those of you familiar with my story, you might know the gravity this statement carries. And if you really know me, you're also probably someone who told me that I was absolutely fucking crazy to stay in it with her for this long, especially since we broke up over two years ago.

See, I am a romantic at heart, and I don't mean that in a positive way. I'm more like a romance fanatic. I love romantic movies. One of my favorite film series is "The Before Trilogy", I hate "Love Actually", but find "Crazy, Stupid, Love" to be one of the most underrated romance films (if not films in general) ever. But at some point I realized that these movies, the ideology they espouse, can be dangerous. They make us think that love is supposed to look a certain way, or that if your encounter with someone vaguely resembles something you've seen in one of these films, it is somehow ordained in the heavens that the two of you are meant to be with one another. It creates this lift in your heart, springs a hope that life can bring something worth living for, but it also begins this unending journey to an unattainable goal. There is nothing noble about unrequited Love. Nothing romantic. Nothing brave. In fact, it is quite stupid.

Flora and I broke up in November of 2014. From that date until now, I have more or less remained faithful to her. I may have lightly dated, but not where it mattered. I didn't sleep with anyone and I damn sure did not love anyone else. The whole time I thought I was doing something grand, something that would prove my worth for her love, something that would eventually pay back in the form of her coming back to me. Instead, nothing happened. I thought about it for a moment, about whether or not I should continue pining over someone that will likely never come back into my life, and suddenly I looked myself in the mirror and thought of a one-word question I should have thought of a long time ago: "Why?"

Since we've broken up, Flora has never called, texted or emailed. She never asks how my father is doing, she never asks how I am doing, and if I didn't send her a "hello" every so often, she wouldn't even know that I'm alive. I sent her a "hand-wave" for Christmas, and she never responded. She saw it, but never thought to write back. Now I just think, "Why would I give my heart to someone who doesn't want it?"

I want to make clear that I am not trying to frame Flora as a "bad" person. I want to make clear that I understand she has zero obligation in caring about me romantically, or even as a friend for that matter. It is her choice, her life, and to this day I still think of her as one of the best people that I've ever met. The only pain I feel is from the expectations I built up from staying faithful to a faded memory.

There was this one time where I asked someone about Love. I said to him:

"Love, is it a fight?

"No," he said to me. "Love is a flower. Never confuse the two."  

I look at that statement now, and our love was indeed a flower, and for these past two years, it was me trying to take care of it alone. It was me giving it water, but there was no sunshine. Everyday I would wake up and try to breathe a nourishing warmth into its bloom, but of course, it didn't work. It withered and its roots eventually rotted. This entire process has been me excavating the remains. Love cannot survive with only one person caring for it. We cannot do this alone. 

It took me a long time to find the courage to write this out, because at times I felt I might have been throwing away our story with too much nonchalance, too much pain, too much bitterness. But it's not that. I've carried my Love for Flora as a sacred talisman, and I've guarded it with my life. She meant the world to me. She was everything. People don't know this, but Flora actually asked me to marry her three times. The first time I said "No", because I said she should think more about how it would change her life. The second time she asked again - in front of her father and her step-mother - and I said the same thing, detailing a bit more about how her civil status would change and how that would affect her financially, i.e. taxes. The third time was when I was back in the US and she asked me over the phone. This time I didn't say "No" immediately.

"Ok. Why do you want to get married?" I asked.

"Nick. I wouldn't consider marriage for just one reason only. It's for your visa, so you can stay here, so we can be together, and well, because I love you," she told me.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "You understand this could make your life more difficult?"

"I understand and I'm sure."

"Okay then," I said with the biggest grin on my face that she couldn't see.

"Damn. That was the hardest marriage proposal in the history of the world!"

We laughed, but what ended up happening was that the exact things I had warned her about scared her off. In order to get married in Brazil, one needs to have a variety of documents including but not limited to: FBI criminal background check, certificate of civil status, contract from a lawyer, notary official to wed, etc., etc. Because much of this stuff took months to process, and I needed to start gathering documents pretty much when I returned because of the expiration date of my visa. I think that spooked her out of it. It felt like pressure to her, and she called it off. That hurt, in a very profound way. I thought Flora was the Love of my Life and I would have given anything in order to marry her. It would have meant everything to me. My greatest triumph. 

But I also look back on that now, and who I was then was kind of scary. To give so much of yourself to someone who is not willing to give back is dangerous. What occurred to me so strongly, when I asked myself "Why?" in the mirror, were a series of questions: "Where is your self-respect? Your self-worth? Where is your self-love?" I realized that over these past two years, I managed to fill the hole in my heart with Love for myself, and now my heart has been returned to me. I am the owner of my heart. I Am The Owner of My Heart. I AM THE OWNER OF MY HEART.

My friend once told me that every boy has a woman in their life that turns them into a man. For my life, Flora is that person. She taught me how to love myself.  

I used to define the quality of my New Years Eve on whether or not I kissed someone at midnight. That one New Years with Flora has so far been my favorite, but I think this one may have topped it. Because this time I found something that was way more valuable than a random kiss from a stranger, or maybe even from Flora herself. This year, I rediscovered my dignity.