“No, no, I can’t do cards. I’ll pay you later, but I can’t do cards,” Cindy said. I was packing up the last of my instruments, all smiles and goodwill floating through the small cafe in Utica, New York.
“Just hit us back whenever,” I told her, “the CD is yours.”
“Yeah, you see, I just dug myself out of serious credit card debt,” she explained to me. “It took me three years– I’ve had absolutely no life.”
“Congratulations,” I said, “that sounds hard.”
“Yeah, see, I got myself into this mess. I got cancer, you know. Thought I was going to die. Spent all kinds of money thinking, I don’t know, someone else is going to pay for it. Maybe him–” she nods over to who I assume is her partner. “–so I just keep spending. I wracked up $10,000 on one credit card alone, just spending it on vet bills and things for my hundred dogs.”
“That’s crazy!” I conceded, not sure if I meant the $10,000 or the hundred dogs.
“Yeah, see I went nuts. You think you’re gonna die and you got nuts. So I dug myself a hole.” And then, with the long pause and knowing look of a good punchline delivery, Cindy looked me in the eye–
“…but then, I lived.”
My Someone and I have been lately rattling around in our own brains trying to singularly create the best song ever written. Even though we’ve built our little band and our little lives over the course of five years together, lately we spend our time nosing around our own journal pages, jotting down secret entries and zipping up our secret thoughts from our mouths so that somehow we can carve out creative independence. The process has been exhausting. We come to the dinner table and the stage and the morning walks in Vermont or New York or Pennsylvania frustrated and gaping, but still unwilling to concede to the other’s help. Not really. We put on the reuse of asking for each other’s opinion, but the process itself has been divided. And we are suffering for it.
I have this theory that we are in the process of spying on our Alone Selves. Since we moved into our little 16′ home on wheels more than a year ago, we can easily tally the hours we have spent apart. It’s less than 20. Our new strategy is based on the old fear: the fear of losing. The fear of being lost. The fear of alone-ness. Whereas before we fought the fear by togetherness, squeezing out those bits of words and thoughts with trust and vulnerability, now we fight it with projection and speculation. We fight it with resignation of the inevitable. One of these days, one of us will lose the other to the Ground or the Nothing or the Eternal.
How do we cope with this sadness? We live as though we have already lost. We prove to ourselves that we can successfully write a song alone. We tear at the fickle curtain between having it all and losing everything by releasing less of ourselves to the other. Keeping fewer limbs out in the way of getting hurt. I keep some things just for me. He keeps some things just for him. To store away for our Future Selves– markers and spaces that we were always able to live and write and eat alone. And all the while we are coping with the loss of our future, we are losing, losing, losing our present.
We are wracking up a debt so big, and hoping the other will clean it up when we are gone. We are fighting how big our love can grow.
“Aaron’s out of town,” Bryan said, “which means that I am baking chocolate chip cookies.” And then, as if caught in a lie, he corrected himself, “Even if Aaron was here, I would still be baking chocolate chip cookies. But, you know, it’s different.”
As I slowly unraveled my anxiety to him over the next hour, I pictured Bryan moving around his kitchen, a slow meditation of baking soda and chocolate chips and flour. It is different, baking still and quiet with a long distance friend on the line and no one coming through the door to smell what you have cooking up. It is the same movement, the same recipe as when you have an adoring and salivating mouth waiting in the next room to take a bite. But, you know, it’s different. Should Aaron suddenly appear home on a surprise flight, those warm gooey meditations would be shared and appreciated and loved. Bryan is faithful to the ritual. But Bryan knows how to make room when room is needing to be made. And Bryan will wipe down the counters and load the dishwasher regardless of Aaron coming home in minutes or days. Bryan’s Alone Self doesn’t sneak in to change what Bryan’s Loving Self does. Bryan’s Future Self look just like his Present Self.
Two nights ago before sleep after a long day of fighting writing and embracing rest, I turned to my Someone.
“What if we wrote songs together?” I said, as if it had never occurred to me before. As if we hadn’t written every note of our lives in a tangled, wonderful weave.
“What a great idea!” he said, as if he, too, had never thought of it.
And in this way, we are chipping away at that image of our Future Selves, paying down its debt. Sleeping and waking and still unsure of how to fight the fear, other than to leave less room between us for it to settle in.