Every relationship I’ve ever been in grew from a seed of curiosity.
An irresistible, dangerous curiosity that calls you to it like siren song. I think too much and often find myself turning past romantic encounters over and over in my mind. Just as river currents smooth out the rough edges of a rock as it turns it in its midst, it’s as if I think that if I reflect on them enough, perhaps the power of my mind can smooth out the unforgiving, snagging edges of my memories and make them into something neat and digestible. I reflect on them and think and think and then think some more, but I rarely speak about them out loud.
My therapist Jill once told me that healthy doesn’t attract unhealthy, only unhealthy does. “Hurting, broken people attract others just like them,” was the way she put it. I saw in my mind a parade of broken, passionate albeit responsible men I’ve loved throughout my story and wondered what it meant.
In the past few weeks, I’ve started to face this reality with a new willingness to ask the difficult questions about what truth might be tangled up in it. “What does it say about me that these are the kinds of men I continue to attract?” The question lingered around me like a haze. I would whisper it to myself when I was scrubbing grease off my stove, tasting the bitter weight of it on my tongue. I voiced the question over the phone to my cousin Neema this past weekend. He mulled it over for a few seconds before thoughtfully listing off a few possibilities but among them all, there was one name that he returned to again and again. “Rob.”*
It’s not often that my people say the name aloud.
The sound of it is sharp. It has the jagged echoes of a slur and refuses to be palatable when it arrives on the tongue. It’s etched itself into my spirit.
Three years ago, I lay with a man on a pile of worn Russian blankets in panels of sunlight that came through a large loft window. The window was open to the crisp, warming sun of an early New England fall. His strong, snow-colored limbs weaved their length around the curves of my frame and he wondered aloud as the sounds of Cambridge hummed five stories below us, “What were you like before it all?” I had no response. The question turned around and around in my head and I became more aware of the humming voices below and less unaware of the tugging warmth of his fingers moving through my hair. I was filled with nothing but emptiness.
What a question. I tried to imagine the girl who was, holding her up next to the one who is, comparing and contrasting the two. The girl from the past felt distant, like a stranger. Who was she? What was she like? It was an uncomfortable thing to reflect on and at the time, the answer was hard to unearth. I’d shrugged it off like an uncomfortable garment and said whatever I needed to in order to move on from it, “I don’t remember.”
Rob. I think it was hard for me to see her in my mind’s eye because the memory of him is so overpowering, occupying all of the space, creeping into all of the corners until there’s no room left for anything else.
I haven’t touched on him in my work too much, or at least not with specifics. I’ve sometimes asked myself why that might be. Maybe it’s because there seemed to be so many grey areas about what occurred in our relationship that I didn’t want to risk being wrong, destroying someone’s life because I paraded a misunderstanding as cold, hard fact. Maybe it’s because he’s still out there and I’m afraid that putting his name down in writing will call him back to me when I want mountains to stand between us, tall and strong and too dangerous for him to scale.
Finn has been encouraging me to write about it. “Being scared to say his name out loud keeps you imprisoned,” he said, “Screw him. Own your story. Say his name so many times that it ceases to have power over you.” Rob Rob Rob. I recently talked to him about how in Harry Potter people called Voldemort, “He Who Must Not Be Named”; their fear was so paralyzing that they couldn’t say his name. At the beginning, Albus Dumbledore is the only one who can and coincidentally, he’s also the one who doesn’t fear him. “Do you think Dumbledore could say Voldemort’s name because he didn’t fear him, or do you think he didn’t fear him because he was willing to say his name aloud?” I wondered.
“The words we speak have power,” was his reply. He told me that it was the reason why, in his mind, my writing was as much of a spiritual vocation as it was a creative one. “You are much more than ‘artist.’ You are also a healer and wise woman and call-up-higher.” Words have power. We see this principle at play in titles. I didn’t think that I was all of those things yet, but I gave myself permission to rest in sacred potential, praying to grow into them, instead of pushing them away and saying, “I’m not enough.”
Rob Rob Rob.
The power that words have can be seen just as much in what we choose to say as what we carefully avoid saying. As Harry’s courage grows against Voldemort, he too starts to choose truth in his words instead of fear. In the last movie, before his final fight against the darkness, he calls it out by name. Not He Who Must Not Be Named. Not even Voldemort, the name he took on after he acquired power. Instead, Harry challenges the enemy by calling him the name he had when he was a boy: “Tom.” With his choice, he strips the enemy of his immortality and turns him into a man. I plan to start doing the same thing to my own nemesis, one word at a time, with each brave decision I make to not avoid his name.
This past weekend, I hid from the chill of winter’s arrival by curling up underneath the warmth of my favorite throw; it’s all warm yellow and gold threads and makes me feel safe because my friend Nick brought it back for me from an archaeological dig in India. I drank white wine and breathed in the scent of my amber candle and listened to the Ed Sheeran love songs playing on the stereo.
There in that safe place and with a newly heightened awareness of the power of my own words, I thought back on Alexey’s question from three years ago. “What was she like? The woman you were before it all?” Neema is trying to teach me that it’s not healthy for me to dwell constantly on the past so although it’s no longer uncomfortable for me to think on, I also don’t think it’s a question I’m meant to answer. My words are meant for the present.
They’re better suited to speaking truths over and affirming who I am right here and right now, today, as I live in this God-given moment.
Who am I?
I am a dreamer. I am creative. I weave tales in my head and then tell them and I recreate the images I see in my head by taking paint to canvas.
I am extremely passionate and when I love and am loved by someone whose soul is made of the same stuff, the electricity between us can light up a city.
I am strong, stronger than I’ll ever know. I prove this to myself over and over. The intensity of my resilience makes me capable of being someone’s rock and the depth of my Love can make me into his Light because I firmly believe in the words of Abdu’l-Baha when he says, “Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time.”
It can take a lot for someone to dive into my depths. I can be emotional and moody and withdrawn but this is not a bad thing; they’re symptoms of the fact that I am all water, and to be honest, I am happy being an ocean, thank you very much.
I have been called “funny” and “vibrant.” An Irish man with eyes like the sky once told me on a date that I was a “total woman” and he added that he meant it in the best of ways.
I stand up for people and against hatred and I try to be a comforter.
I like pie and red wine and books and art galleries.
I am many things, and I am not defined by him.
I am defined by Me.