It’s funny how it always starts with Facebook. It’s really just another sign that I should delete it.
Once again I was innocently perusing my Facebook newsfeed, trying to kill time and avoid my work when I scrolled right up to it. Amidst cat videos and social justice posts, there it was, another picture of him and his new girlfriend. I use the term “new” as a euphemism for my own sake; they’ve been together for a while now, probably just about as long as we were together before the break up. I’ve known about her, speculated about her, but to me she’s new, because she’s the new me. I realize I probably sound offputtingly bitter and psychotic over this. But it’s justified, I promise. I won’t get into specifics; not today anyway, it’s a long and complicated story. It needs to be told, but not right now.
Long story short he and I fell in love, deeply in love. It was one of those loves that matured and moved past infatuation and through all of the stages that psychologists have devised to explain this crazy phenomenon. It was an intense love, so written for the screen you won’t believe me when I actually tell you about it. And it ended as abruptly as it began. He fell out of love, and I still haven’t.
I’ve tried to move on. In fact I am so intent on moving on that I don’t just do it mentally, I do it physically. I move from city to city in the hopes that each new urban landscape will offer respite from him. I’ve moved from Austin to New York to Austin back again each time leaving my city feeling sick of it and ready for a new place that isn’t imbued with memories of him. This time I’ve gone so far as to move to a new continent, to Paris.
You see, Paris was my latest fresh start. I was ecstatic to move here. Here I would speak better French. Here I would write better stories. Here I would make more vivid memories. Here I would get the hell away from him.
But today seeing those pictures it didn’t feel like I’ve gotten away from him at all. I felt like I’d been suffocated. Like I was lying on the floor and someone was placing rocks on my chest, starting with little tiny pebbles, then brick sized stones, until I had huge boulders stacked up on top of me pinning me down leaving me with no energy to cry and no air left to muster even a pitiful sigh of resignation. It felt like all I could do was look painfully at the picture before me and hate myself. I didn’t feel in control at all.
That’s the thing; we believe that by changing something about our hair, our style, our favorite restaurants, our zipcode, that by changing our circumstances we are in control and we can escape our problems and ourselves. But after moving from city to city in the hope of leaving him behind somewhere with my forgotten sock under the bed I’ve realized that no matter how much we think we control our lives, our problems have a mind of their own.
I’ve realized that moving to a new location with no lingering ghosts definitely helps us forget. But this escape is momentary, because in the end, people mark us more than places. In Paris I don’t have to walk through the park where we liked to go on walks after dinner. But I do walk outside on a sunny day and find myself thinking, “I bet he would have enjoyed feeling this sun on his skin.” The truth is people have a way of impacting us that is almost frightening. What am I saying? It is frightening. People have so many tools to build neural pathways in your brain that always-lead back to them. With their bodies alone, people have 5 different means to produce millions of ways to become a part of you. Their touch, their voice, their smell, the music they listened to, these little snippets of the people that you meet and that you care about become little snippets of you. You can run from city to city but you can’t run away from you.
As humans, we feel this torturous need to have control of our lives. We feel that we can actually do things that will create outcomes, favorable or otherwise. This is true in some cases. But in the sense of escaping our problems, of escaping those very things that become ingrained in us, of escaping ourselves we are completely impotent. We can’t escape ourselves because we are feelings and experiences wrapped in skin and bones that can only really be escaped once we die. We are permanent and portable spaces and moving to a new location does not disintegrate our space. So what can we do? I’m not sure anyone knows.
I’m tired of trying to escape, because I never will. Fate is a curious thing, and it’s something I believe in. So fate will decide what will happen to me. Then I can decide what I’ll make out of what I’ve been dealt. I’ve decided I can’t move away and forget. Because no city no matter how big and how beautiful will ever really offer an out. So instead, I’m trying to appreciate the city around me. I’m trying to appreciate the people on the street, the quiet flow of the Seine, the charming old buildings. I’m trying to appreciate Paris just like I will try to appreciate New York when I move back. Of course, he still pops into my mind. My greatest problem is always there, and I don’t exactly know when he will disappear. But I’ve accepted this, and I’ve made my peace with it. Having accepted the futility of getting rid of my problems diminishes their ache and instead allows me to appreciate my city as for itself and not as place to escape myself.
*Title taken from Giovanni’s Room by: James Baldwin