December 15, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Hopeless Romantic

I have a lot of love songs on my playlist.  I am the first to admit that I am a hopeless romantic.  Maybe I'm unrealistic and that is why I haven't found what I'm looking for...yet.  I haven't given up, but I can see how so many people do give up.  But I am eternally hopeful.  Maybe that should make me a hopeful romantic?  I know, I know, it's called "hopeless" because we are hopelessly romantic, we who will never give up. 

I had a love affair years ago that left me in shambles.  My heart was broken into a million tiny pieces. We had been together for three years.  Max and I had plans of getting married.  It was Valentine's Day that I sensed it was souring for him.  I was more in love than ever.  I had bought him a watch for Valentine's Day.  I had it inscribed on the back: Never forget that I love you.  Perhaps it was my subconscious choosing the words for the engraving.  My conscious self was unaware.  But when I saw his face as he opened the box, I knew.  I knew.  My heart sunk.  It could have been an anvil off a cliff.  I don't remember what he got me, but I know whatever it was, it wasn't nearly as grand.  Probably a card, maybe a heart-shaped box of candy.  I doubt there were flowers.  I don't recall him ever giving me flowers.

He was cold and uncomfortable for the rest of the weekend.  There were hints of another girl, but my heart silenced my mind.  Years later, I described that love as epic.  But we were young, what did we know?  Epic.

After that Valentine's weekend, he avoided me completely for about two weeks.  I finally got him to answer one of my calls during the dark, early hours of a Sunday morning.  I begged him to tell me. It wasn't fair to let me dangle.  I needed to know.  So he said  "I don't think I love you anymore."   Well, afterall, I did ask.  I did beg to hear it.  But it didn't soften the blow at all.  They were harsher words than I was expecting.  I simply was not prepared for it.

That was years ago, we all have stories like that, don't we?  But for me, it was a little different.  I completely shut out men.  I used to attract them like butterflies.  However, after that happened, I cloaked myself in this invisibility shield.  It really was magical.  Men did not approach me at all.  The poor few who did, I couldn't relate anymore.  I couldn't get this guy out of my heart.  I was hopelessly, ridiculously in love with him, constantly dreaming of him coming back someday.  I waited and waited.  Silence.

My dad fell ill with cancer about two years later.  He died.  Then within a year, I started taking care of my mother, who had Parkinson's Disease.  Life swept me up, against my will, into the rapids, as I think it probably does to everyone at some point.  It just happened to me in my early 20s, maybe earlier than most.  Mom died two days before my 27th birthday.  I think she knew it was coming.  She had been ill in the hospital for over a week with pneumonia the month before.  I had brought her home to my apartment.  She was weak.  She bought my birthday gift nearly a month early: a robe that I had wanted.  She ordered it for me.  I still have the robe.  She collapsed on a Sunday morning.  I had made croissants for breakfast.  She said to me "I'm just so tired." and she collapsed and wasn't breathing.  I called the paramedics, they revived her, but she was gone, even though she was breathing (with help from a machine).  My brothers and I made the decision to remove life support after 48 hours of trying and hoping and praying that the medicine would work, reverse any damage.  But no, nothing could be done.   So I spent some time in the hospital room with her alone before we let her go.  I took her hand and I memorized how it felt in mine.  I took her hand, and I lay my head on her chest, like when I was little, and I stroked my hair with her hand, so that I could memorize that too.  She used to stroke my hair when I was upset.  Two days before my birthday.  I knew from when my dad died, that funerals were usually two days after passing, which meant it would've been on my birthday.  I asked my brothers if we could have it the day after, so I didn't have to have that memory.  So that is what we did.

I asked myself "What would Mom want me to do on my birthday this year?"  I figured her answer would be "Go see that new Meg Ryan movie that you want to see: French Kiss".  So I went to the movies by myself that day.  I had stopped at the gas station, and May is Mother's Day month and the cashier said something, maybe they had free carnations for mothers or something.  She smiled and said happily "Here, take one to your mom for Mother's Day!"  I didn't say anything. I just smiled and accepted, pretending it was all ok.  How could she know?  She couldn't.  Best to pretend all is ok.  As much as I love France, and as much as I love Meg Ryan, I don't think I've seen that movie since that day in the theatre.

I had pushed everyone away when I was caring for Mom and I was still so angry at Dad for dying.  Believe me, I would not have been good company.  Mom still had her house, but I wanted to keep my apartment, which is why I had her move in with me so I could care for her.  I went out to the house to get the mail and guess what was there?  A letter.  From the guy.  Yes, from that guy.  Max.  He was now ready to settle down, told me he figured I was probably married with kids by then, but he wanted to see me.  He had sent it two weeks before my mom died.  I read it. I reread it. Again and again.  Seriously?  NOW?  I was so bitter and angry at everything in life, I couldn't accept it.  Remember the invisibility shield?  It didn't allow love in, but it didn't allow love out either.  It was like a tarp over soil, the sun could no longer reach what it needs to reach to make it grow.  I finally called him.  I was so angry.  It didn't go well.  I was not the same girl.  That was pretty much it.  We ran into each other at the gym a couple of times, at the grocery store too.  I was still so hurt, I didn't speak to him.  He would make eye contact, smile, wait for me to approach him.  No, I could not.  Pretend you don't see me.  I am invisible.  I don't exist. 

I have since built my life back up.  I've reached out, made new friends.  I've dated.  I've had a few boyfriends.  I've had a lot of first dates.  Many more dates here in San Francisco than in the Midwest, where I am from.  Then I met a new friend, Dean.  He is married with a family.  I let my guard down, after all, he's married and we are only friends.  That was not me rationalizing, I truly believed that.  Then he told me about a month into it that he was falling in love.  I had started to fall in love too, but didn't realize it until he told me how he felt.  I really think that is the only way I was able to melt that damned shield.  My heart tricked me into it.  But don't worry.  He is married, so needless to say, nothing happened.  That was the end of that.  No more friendship (can't really continue a friendship when there is actually more than that).  I do miss him, but I don't know if I miss the friendship or what was blossoming.  In any case, he is taken. The end.

I am still hopeful to find love.  I am still hopeful to have a family of my own.  The sun is shining again, no more shield, butterflies are fluttering about again.  I was out in the city the other evening.  I saw men leaving work and on their way home, and I found myself wondering which man might be single and open to romance.  Somehow, I think there are more than a few and I still have a chance.  Life hasn't passed me by.  It was just detoured for a bit.  Someday I hope to have a romantic, true-love-filled Valentine's Day.   ...and with flowers for once, please.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.


  1. Are we skipping ahead to Valentines Day?

  2. Lori it is beautiful and so interesting to read. I know you will find what you are looking for. You deserve it in so many ways.

  3. What an amazing story. It was heartbreaking yet empowering! We all have heartbreak, I suppose it's just a ritual of life, but how we deal with those ups and downs is what defines who we really are! I cheered when I read you gave Max the well-deserved brush off!
    Stay true to the "hopeless" romantic that you are, because you deserve and WILL have what you want!!

  4. Gail and Angela, thank you for the glowing words! :)