Delving into the intricacies of one’s relationships, spirituality, and personal interpretations of the world can be complicated territory as a writer and someone who blogs. I’ve often struggled with how to use my blog to interpret and delicately communicate these issues to my audience without sharing too much of myself or appearing to be gossipy. I believe that our relationships past and present are crucial components in making us the people we are, and I’d like to talk about mine in greater depth. But it’s a struggle that often ends in me writing about the schedules and events of my life over the feelings and emotions that color my personal perspective. I hate that. I think that privatizing and shielding our experiences and reactions – the joys, sorrows, and lessons – is denying ourselves. Not everyone agrees with me that our feelings and experiences deserve so much time and space. But, if I am honest with myself, I truly believe that our feelings, joys, and struggles are what makes life the adventure it is, and I want to document that.
Life has been tumultuous of late. Rare is the moment of calm in my current storm. Between home renovations in Denver, having family in town for weeks, traveling to visit other family, interviewing at a blistering pace across the west, moving cross-country without knowing whether it’s temporary or permanent, and beginning to consider longer term plans for home ownership, etc. – there has been a lot to think about!
So, we’ve been busy.
Add to this the unexpected and extremely unlikely scenario of running into my estranged ex-boyfriend and his wife few weeks ago at a hot springs in Montana (where I was interviewing for a job) and a whole extraneous existential element is thrown into the fray. I haven’t really talked about this since it happened, because the whole thing broadsided me so completely. But, I guess I feel far enough away from it now that I can address my feelings about the exchange. Plus, it feels inauthentic not to discuss the incident since this blog is devoted to examining life and love through my own personal lens.
I was with my friend Meg in the hot springs on a Sunday night. We’d been lounging for a few hours after an afternoon of backcountry skiing. We were preparing to leave when I looked up and saw my ex and his wife walk in. I knew that during the weekend I was in Bozeman I risked running into them, but by the time Sunday night rolled around, I felt confident that the chances of a run-in before my early Monday flight had narrowed to nearly non-existent. The hot spring was small, so once in the pool they were mere feet away from me. But, it was dark so assuming they hadn’t noticed me, I continued to soak while I strategized with Meg as to how best to approach the situation over the last of our beers. I was pretty shaken up by seeing them for a few reasons. First, I hadn’t spoken to my ex in about 2 years at his urging, with the exception of a brief interaction just days before my wedding where he reached out to me with a long email. I, therefore, knew that though we hadn’t spoken in a long time, he still cared about my, missed me, and wished there was a way we could still share in each other’s lives some way. Then, there was his wife, who in her last exchange with me had promised that if I ever saw them again, the situation would not be pretty. So, I was at once terrified and confused and felt as though the universe had definitely thrown me a curve ball.
But, curve ball as it was, the universe had placed me in the same hot spring as them. And, I felt compelled to acknowledge it. Not to her, but to him. To just make my existence in that space known. After all, if I was going to have my stomach drop and my heart racing, he should share in my terror too. Why should I suffer alone? Rick and I had developed a bit of a strategy for me, in case I did run into them: acknowledge the situation, say I couldn’t really talk, but say hello, and make my exit. So, when I saw him get out of the pool to buy a beer, I exited the pool, walked over to him and said his name. He looked sidelong at me (through an enormous beard), recognized me, and then his face grayed with a wave of what appeared to be terror. He looked down, his eyes darting back over me again and again. I said, “I really can’t talk to you, and I know you can’t talk to me. But, I saw you walk in and thought I’d say hello to you before I left. I’m just heading out now.” He looked into his beer and mumbled that he couldn’t talk to me. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw his wife quickly approaching, nostrils flared. Seeing his fear and her obvious defensiveness, and feeling like a criminal for that measly conversation, I turned and walked into the dressing room. From there, I heard Meg jovially say to them, “Bozeman’s a small town, eh?” as she walked in to join me. And though I was still shaken up, her lightheartedness reassured me that the awkwardness of the exchange was, after all, short-lived.
It’s hard to talk about the situation that exists there. Nobody is thrilled with the outcome. He was my best friend and my partner for many years. I still deeply respect him and care about his well-being. I know he feels similarly. I don’t hate him or have lingering negative feelings toward him. But, we don’t speak anymore. It was not my choice. He said it was what was needed for him to move forward. Though, it probably is for the best.
Right before my wedding he reached out to me. I was very touched by what he had to say. It appeared to have been a long time in the making – as such things tend to be, I suppose. But, I was bothered by his timing. It felt malicious to contact me and disrupt my happiness just a few days before my wedding. I called him, and told him that. I told him we had to maintain our non-communication for the sake of our own sanity and our partner’s. Then I put it out of my mind and went on with my life for a few months. It’s hard to lose a kindred soul, but it is harder to attempt to maintain an extremely complicated friendship.
When I ran into them in the hot spring and had the world’s most weird exchange, it stirred up old feelings about the how and why the situation came to be. It seemed such an unlikely scenario that after years of deliberately not talking and being on different continents that there in the hot spring we were standing just a few feet apart. To me, the fact of our meeting seemed meaningful in some way, and I did and do continue to wonder what that meaning might be.
Though it ended horribly, that relationship catalyzed such immense pain, growth, and change in my life that I feel it deserves a lot of credit for making me who I am today. In many ways it taught me how to be a better partner – because I did a lot wrong the first time around. It eventually led me to better understanding and compassion for others, better delineation of my goals and life plans. It helped me to become a stronger, healthier, wiser, and more loving person. Its demise also catalyzed many discussions and learnings that helped Rick and I grow closer and learn to be open and honest in our relationship together. It helped me understand and to fully be present in our relationship. I think I never would have been ready for Rick had I not been through what I went through with my first serious relationship. So, obviously, the run in in the hot spring touched some nerves for me. In my inspiration to share the feelings that came out of this run in, I am guided by a beautiful quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
Later in the week following the hot springs incident, my mom asked me to clean out my boxes from the basement as I prepared to move west. In doing so I unearthed about 30 letters from the same guy. In the letters, as compared to our encounter in the hot springs, he was anything but terrified of me. The contrast was startling.
As I re-read some of those letters, I couldn’t help but think about the several happy years together, followed by several years of turmoil and drama while attempting to remain a part of each other’s lives. Our interaction at the hot spring – benign as a passing conversation – was all that remained of my first love and one of my best friends. All that could survive the fallout. It was a poignant reminder of the ephemeral nature of our lives and relationships. It forced me to confront the impermanence of even those bonds that seem to be the most lasting in the moment.
Sure, I guess we all know that life is short, nothing is constant, change is inevitable. We are meant to be present and enjoy the journey. And, certainly, I do agree with that. But, I think it is human to long for something that defies that entropic nature of life – something eternal and unchanging. It made me a bit sad that our brief exchange was all that was left of a bond that had felt so strong at one time. It reminded me of his words in the letter he had written to me just before my wedding – “I have only the sweaters and boxes and letters to show that you are even real.” And it is true. There is nothing more. And that eats at me in more of an esoteric fashion than a personal one – why do our connections fade away? What is the purpose of our suffering in life?
Yoga, through hinduism, tells us that the reason for this experience of life is that the universal spirit, or supreme being, seeks embodiment for pure entertainment. Shiva danced the world into creation, and in doing so created the mayas, or veils, within which we perceive reality. To have the omniscient, and omnipotent power of the supreme consciousness masked behind these veils of chronological time, embodiment, and attachment hides the transcendent nature of ourselves. The universal spirit seeks entertainment in experiencing life behind these veils, so we live with the understanding that time constantly progresses forward, our bodies define our beings, and that our feelings and attachments delineate real barriers and challenges in our life. But, the masks, the chronology, the bodies that contain us are illusory. To pierce the veil of these mayas is to recognize our true universal and eternal nature.
I try to remember this as I struggle with these sorts of day-to-day challenges life presents, where you’re confronted with real hurt and lingering sadness that seems hard to shake. I try to recall this when I get a bit down about lost friendships and the fleetingness of life. I try to reason that my attachments and perceptions are illusory. Or, as my friend Katie once said “This shit ain’t real.”
Perhaps this confrontation with my past was simply a challenge to my understanding of the way the world operates. It was perhaps a test of how much I have internalized the learnings I’ve gathered over the past few years about life, love, compassion, and detachment. Perhaps, it was there to confront whether I really accept life as an adventure of spirit.
But, here I am, mayas notwithstanding, a spirit making its way through this journey, and riding the waves as they come. That incident presented me with some important questions to answer for myself. But, when I look around me at Rick and the life we’re building, I know I’m on the right path. I smile and feel grateful for the road that brought me here, challenges included.