False Starts

False Starts

Sometimes when I look in a mirror I see someone who is eighty pounds thinner and built like Dwayne Johnson. I like to romanticize my life, my stories, picturing myself as an artist creating a beautiful painting, or an author penning a best-selling novel. However, the reality is that much of my life up to this point has been more like Jon Drummond, and I am not referring to his accomplishments and what he is famous for but more his infamy – the laying down on the track in protest against his ‘false start’ type of thing.

The months wore on in this coastal city…blah, blah, blah, had two roommates, renting a house, a hang out place, yadda, yadda, yadda, working in a restaurant, and the story went on. The only thing going for me was that I was now engaged, which in the moment made my life look even more pathetic. I did not have my shit together. I hated being apart from her. I hated the drama of my roommates. I hated my coworkers and after a couple of months I hated my boss, which made things really awkward for me.

The owner of the restaurant had just recently given me more administrative duties of which one of them was to do the payroll. During the course of doing the payroll I saw that he was paying himself a very large monthly wage, which made sense since he was the owner. I then noticed that his wife was also making a very large wage, which he justified, indicating that she does marketing work, blah, blah, blah. But then when I saw that both his children were also on payroll, making more money each month then I could dream of for myself at the time – and they were only 8 and 10 years old – well I wanted to know exactly what the yadda, yadda, yadda was all about.

The explanation became quite pointed and during that conversation I also brought up some scheduling irregularities and non-compliance to existing labour laws. The end of the conversation ended with a directive from him to continue to schedule in that way and stop asking questions about what is happening with payroll or else I would no longer have a job. I opted to no longer have a job.

Truth be told though I had already resolved to leave. After all, this was just like every other scenario that had been playing out in my life for the last several years. I was tired of all of these false starts. I wanted to get into the race, maybe even win one or two. I wanted to get somewhere. My reasoning at the time was that I was young enough that I could quit and head back to the valley city, focus on getting married, and then together we could literally pick a place to move to and start fresh – just the both of us. It sounded romantic enough with just enough of a promise of freedom from the false starts that I made it a reality by leaving this restaurant management job at the coast, packing up my belongings, and moving back in with my parents.

It was magical being back in this valley city, once again reunited with my fiancee. The first few months that went by I was unemployed. I would wait for her to get off of work so we could talk about when to get married and what that might look like, along with dreaming about where we would go to start our lives.  But, like most fantasies, there is an end and after having my fiancee pay yet another one of my bills, I woke up one morning realizing that I was going to get married and I had no way of supporting us.

Given that this was a very small city, employment options were quite limited so I put my resume out to every place that was hiring, in hopes to find something so I could begin to contribute to our future. To my frustration, a local fast food restaurant called me up for an interview. If I knew one thing – it was that I did not want to work in the restaurants any longer. However, I did not want to come off as a bum and a deadbeat so I went to the interview.

At the interview I was aware that the position was between me and one other person. During the interview I told the manager that if they needed me to come in, I did not have transportation and therefore it would take me at least an hour to walk there as I lived on the other side of the city. I went on to complain about a few other issues and in the end I told them that they would be better off going with the other candidate.

Not surprisingly, they did.

A week later, they called me up. The other guy didn’t work out and now they were offering me the job.

I reluctantly took the position.

I started the next day as a cook in this finger-licking good fast food restaurant. Within a month, corporate had been informed of me and my restaurant management qualifications, and approached me about becoming a restaurant manager in another city. This was the start of a potential career – working for corporate was a lot different then working for a solitary greedy restaurant owner. And it was a way to provide for my bride to be. The catch? The move would be soon. Very soon.

My fiancee and I talked about this sudden turn of events and we made the decision to abandon the wedding plans and elope instead. We shared the news with both of our parents – both of which also eloped and we were given their support. I contacted head office and accepted their offer, conditional on allowing my fiancee and myself two weeks to elope, squeeze in a honeymoon, and then move, relocating to this new city.

They accepted.

No more false starts. I was in the race.

The Trap of What You Know

The Trap of What You Know

As the months wore on in this valley city I found myself falling back into the familiar. I was living with two roommates, the three of us were renting a house, which quickly became the place for the youth to hang out at once again. I returned to work at the same restaurant who’s owner had phoned down to the coastal city and provided a great reference prior to me ending up in the psych ward.

I grew restless as a young adult might, longing to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I knew two things only. One was I wanted to be with my girlfriend for my entire life and two was I didn’t want to have to depend on restaurant work to provide for us.

So I made a decision. I would leave this valley city once again and set out back to the coast to try and attend a different post-secondary education. This time it was a Christian college, as I had convinced myself that I should become a pastor.

In all fairness I didn’t do all the convincing myself. My girlfriend and I were the newest couple in the youth group and we soon took on a leadership role. That leadership role turned into the church wanting me to serve as an intern youth pastor. I was in this role for a few months until one day, after being particularly stressed by the work of the ministry, I read in 1 Timothy how a new believer should not be put into a place of leadership. I was struggling at the time and saw this as a good enough reason to step down from leadership and focus on learning more about God.

Shortly after I attended a meeting where the elders and the pastors were gathered. At this meeting I tendered my resignation, citing that passage, and explained my desire to seek more learning before I take on such a leadership role again. To my surprise the senior pastor refused my resignation. I told them that they had no choice but to accept my resignation. They told me that I had no choice but to continue with my internship. Unfortunately, it came to a head and I ended up having to leave the church completely, walking away from what was my close community, having had them walk through so much with me already.

I headed back down to the coast to the college, hoping to begin a four-year degree. My girlfriend stayed behind but sent a care package in the mail to meet me there.

As it turned out I was only in college long enough to receive the care package. My loan once again had been denied. In a place of familiarity, I found myself homeless, unemployed, and without any clear direction. Having run out of options, I went back to that restaurant, in that same coastal city, and had a conversation with the new owner. He hired me on the spot. I then found an apartment close to work and settled back into the restaurant industry, back in management.

I was determined to try and get myself established so I could extend an invitation for marriage, trying to figure out a way and a life that would work for the both of us. And so I pressed on. I was starting from scratch so that meant a mattress on the floor with one sheet and a blanket. I had dried soup noodle packages in my cupboard along with a few boxes of kraft dinner. In my fridge I had a container of mayo, a container of mustard, and in my freezer I had mechanically separated, pressed, breaded chicken cutlets. I can remember this so clearly because this was literally everything I had in my apartment for the several months that I lived there. When my girlfriend came down to visit, this was all I had to offer her, apart from one comic book to read while I was at work. Fortunately, by that time I had a family member donate their couch to me and I had bought myself an ivy to have something to talk to when my girlfriend wasn’t around.

Such was my routine. I would wake early and head off to work, returning after twelve hours to rest for awhile before doing it all over again. The arrangement I had with the owner was that I only got paid straight time, no overtime, but I appreciated the hours and the experience. This went on for months until the issue of a hundred dollar bill came up. After closing the restaurant one evening I found this money under a table. I presented it to the owner who explained that it would go in his safe for the next couple of weeks in order to provide the owner an opportunity to claim it. After two weeks would go by he agreed that it would be given to me.

Two weeks went by and when I brought up the hundred dollars he coldly told me that he was not going to return it. That it was now his. To me, that hundred dollars represented almost two days worth of work. He owned two restaurants and was working on opening a third one. That hundred dollars crushed me and I immediately began looking for another job.

Shortly after I found another restaurant management job in a neighboring city. I left this restaurant and left my apartment to move to the neighboring city. In this new place I ended up finding two roommates and together we rented the top level of a large home. Another city, another restaurant job, another attempt to start over and convince my girlfriend that I could provide for us.

Things were going well in this new place and after a few months had gone by, during a visit from my girlfriend, I planned a romantic evening with the intent to propose to her at the end of the evening. We went to the movie theater as I had picked out a romantic movie to watch. It was sold out so instead we ended up watching “Speed”, starring Keanu Reeves. Not the most romantic way to set the stage before asking the question but I pressed on.

Later that night, on bended knee, on the balcony of the house I shared with two others, I pulled out my piece of paper and read it to her, shaking as I read.  I hadn’t secured our future and I was still stuck in the restaurant business, but I was growing tired and lonely of being apart from her any longer. To my joy she said yes. This path was unfamiliar, unknown, and scary, but what I did know was that I loved her and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

Something happened that night when she said yes. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. Possibilities that did not exist before or perhaps that I was too scared to dream of. She said yes. She was willing to join hers to mine and together we would make our own adventure. It was not what I knew, and I was beginning to learn how important that was for the success of our marriage.

 

 

Safe. Vulnerable. Intimate.

Safe. Vulnerable. Intimate.

This is the formula for love. For sexual intimacy enjoyed in its fullness. Sex is just something people do. But sexual intimacy, adding a richness, an intensity, a fullness to the experience – that comes out of this formula. And perhaps formula makes the whole thing to sterilized, to scientific. Organic is a better word. The natural processes resulting out of a place of mutual safety, fostering mutual vulnerability, where then both parties can begin to explore intimacy, expressing itself in physical love-making that draws out the best in each other, an intensity expressed only through climax.

I have had invitations for sex since grade nine and my first girlfriend. We fooled around, driven more by curiosity then anything as she was my first kiss and my adolescent self wanted to know more about what was going on – apart from the giant diagram of a penis played for my co-ed sex-education class. That relationship came to a place, as you recall, to where she had kidnapped me, telling me that I was going home with her that night. I declined. Not because I didn’t want sex, my body would easily betray me in that department, but because it didn’t feel right emotionally. I didn’t feel safe.

Then there was the girl who in the end wanted me only to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. The invitation was there when I was trying to show off to my brother and asked for her shirt, to which she was more than willing to comply, with me in the room, but I declined, standing outside the closed room waiting for the shirt. It was both an immature and mature thing to do. I wasn’t ready. Again the contradiction raged within me.

The next real opportunity that came up to have sex was with my girlfriend whom I hooked up with on the same day as becoming a Christian. I pursued her physically, wanting to consummate our relationship, and she did as well, but her past trauma, made any amount of intimacy difficult – if not impossible – and in the end our times of cuddling only resulted in her suddenly freaking out and beating me up. I realize that those times of being beat up were more than likely a result of a retraumatization of her own sexual abuse history but I can say that now, having completed a Master’s degree in Counselling, but back then I was really confused as to what was going on – and in particular, what it was that I did in order to elicit such a violent response.

This, then, put a damper on my desire to be physical, to seek out intercourse. With my next girlfriend, she would talk a lot about us making love but it was always cryptically in the context of us getting married, adamant that we remain sex-free during our courtship. The irony was, of course, that both of those last two girlfriends left me to go have sex with some other guy. Go figure.

And so I found myself in this new relationship and my attraction to her was so much more than physical – so much so that I felt overwhelmed by it all. I connected to her emotionally, which was intense in of itself, considering I had been so disconnected to my emotional self for so long, I often found myself overwhelmed with all that I was feeling. I connected to her spiritually, with some of my fondest early dating memories coming out of praying with her, reading Scripture with her, singing worship songs with her. We would spend hours talking, dreaming, sharing past stories, hopes, future plans, exploring who each other was.

Oh yes, then there was the kissing. To hear her breathing next to me. To feel her hands on me. To gently taste her lips. Oh yes, there most definitely was attraction. But I had no experience in what to do next and I was scared. I longed to be with her and as she granted me permission to explore her body with my hands I responded slowly, unsure of what to do, not wanting to dishonor her, desiring to show her my love for her. Somewhere in that exploratory time I realized that if what I needed for love was to feel safe then perhaps my partner needed that as well.

So I approached her always with the desire to keep her safe. I would kiss her only when she would grant me permission to do so. I would embrace her when she indicated that she desired to be embraced. Such was our dance. I was learning how to dance and neither of us were leading. We were learning together, careful not to step on each other’s feet, attentive to the needs of the other. And so we explored. Carefully, wonderfully, sensually, safely, explored.

In these increasing places of safety created and explored through our intimacy we began to introduce a deeper level of vulnerability. On my part, I would share with her how I was feeling, what I was thinking, as we would embrace, when we would share intimacy with one another. My words, tentative, unsure, revealing my inadequacies, my fears, my silliness, left out there in a place of risk, shared with my lover, for her to care for – to do with as she pleased. And she responded, and our dance would pause as necessary to explore how each other was doing, caring for each other in a growing way with every step we were taking.

It is of no surprise then when that moment came and I gave her my virginity. It was the last thing I had that I could offer her. A place of ultimate vulnerability, birthed out of place of safety, and fostered in a bed of intimacy. And it was beautiful. This dance with this woman was all I longed for, all I ever needed. I could picture myself dancing with her for the rest of my life. Almost twenty-five years have passed us by now and the dance continues, the tentativeness, the tenderness, the safety leading to vulnerability leading to a place of incredible intimacy.

The dance of love.

Fragility

Fragility

I stand, cautiously, in the stillness of the night, surrounded by my demons and protected by my angels, a silent battle unfolding like a beautiful ballet, the dancers moving around me, hypnotic, serene, yet so violent.

My heart shudders and my chest heaves as it catches its breath. I am without voice once again, lacking language for my anguish, for this surging emotion yearning to break free from its prison.

My past lines up to mock me, to grab at my ankles and to reach for my shoulders. I open my mouth to shout in protest but nothing comes out. I turn my face heavenward in desperation I look for His grace and mercy once again, for I need Him, now, more than ever.

It is in this incredibly lonely place that I have found Him, broken and battered I lay on the ground, rocking myself back and forth and I found Him. He heard my unspoken language and He ministered to me with His angels. I found Him.

It is like her touch. Her fingers through my hair, on my face. Her lips pressed against mine.

She found me.

I found her.

Our bodies share that fragile language with one another. My words choked up in my throat, unable to express what I mean; I don’t know what I mean but her presence so temporal – not enough time to construct words, to learn the language of my emotional self.

Ah, this journey would take years, but her patience would be rewarded. In the meantime we would fill the hours with our talk. We would share and dream and remember together. Our stories would be laid bare to one another and we would be curious.

Yes, curious. The gentle love language of listening. To be curious. To care in our communication. To offer a bit of our selves in an effort to tend to the fragility of the moment. To listen. To hear. To love. Yes, to love.

I am invited to participate with this ballet, reaching out to my love as she reaches out to me, swirling, dancing, prancing around the stage with only Him as our audience.

Safe. Vulnerable. Intimate.

My language, broken, fragmented, lost, and forgotten, yet the remnants of pain remained. And I am scared.

But He comes and picks me up. And I take my place on the stage once again and my love emerges from the shadows and we dance. Yes, we dance.

Her hair, caught up in the wind, blowing around playfully. Her eyes, piercing me, inviting me, caressing me. Her touch, so soft, so gentle, so fragile.

And we dance.

The Invention of The Kiss

The Invention of The Kiss

“Since the invention of the kiss there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.”
The Princess Bride (1987) – Grandpa (Peter Falk)”

Our romance was awkward at first. I very much felt like I was starting over, everything happening for the first time. I wanted to break the cycle of insanity in how to be a boyfriend and so I entered this new relationship selfishly. I wanted to be with her so I pursued her. I wanted to talk with her so I called her. But I was awkward. I was broken, a mess, trying desperately to figure out the bigger questions in life and how I fit into it all – if I mattered and if I cared about if I mattered. I did not know yet the language for my emotional experiences, so my default was a hurtful silence. She would touch some wounded part of me and I would wince and pull away, desperate not to, but I knew know other way but to retreat, to cut-off, longing to delete in order to feel the relief from the pain – to disconnect, to fragment.

Consequently my rhythm in the relationship was akin to stepping on my dancing partner’s toes – an awkward movement there, resulting in miscommunication and a need to figure out what is supposed to be happening here in this moment. She would reach for my hand and I would pull away, uncertain how to handle the moment, uncertain with myself, my emotions, scared to feel, scared to embrace, for I could see the pain, the loss, the trauma, right there in the shadows, and I didn’t know how to deal with those things yet.

Our first kiss was a tentative and exploratory idea between two conversationalists, who were figuring out this relationship identity we had put on. It was in my room one afternoon and we were singing worship songs with one another. At the end of one song she reached over and kissed me with the explanation that we were to “Greet one another with a holy kiss”. But it was an exploratory kiss, looking to see if there was something more than our desire for holiness hidden behind our awkward embraces. I kissed her back. Our first kiss. But not one of the five kisses. That would come later.

With every conversation and every moment that we would spend with one another we were growing closer together. When we could we would meet in the early morning to attend a morning prayer time at our church. We would meet for afternoon or evening walks, spending a lot of time walking along the rivers that meandered through this valley city, sitting on the benches in the community parks, and enjoying the night sky on the mountains that surrounded this valley. Then we would go back to our rooms and phone one another, talking into the early hours of the morning.

There was something very different about my connection with her then there was with any other girlfriend I had. When I would look at her, time would slow down and I would see her smiling, dancing, laughing, all in slow motion in front of me. My brain became a video recorder, capturing each moment in fine detail so I could replay it over and over again later, when we were apart. Her hair would toss in the wind, sun-rays weaving their way through her long brown strands, and just they way the sun would radiate through her hair – that very scene – that very moment in time – I would capture in my imagination and would play it again later with a long soulful sigh, akin to an actor overplaying a love scene in which a beautiful woman has caught his attention and she blew him a kiss from afar – that type of sigh.

Then there was her kiss. I had shared that my first kiss was with my teddy bear, which turned out to be a better kisser than what I had with my first girlfriend. The kisses since then were not much better. They were too wet, too sloppy, too dry, too tense, too something. Kissing was not something I looked forward to in any of my past relationships – it was simply something that needed to be done for the sake of the relationship. But with her – it was different. Very different. I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to taste her lips, to draw her in, to nibble and to brush lightly with my tongue, to tease and to entice, twirling, swirling, and with deep embraces where our lips – our mouths – would be locked into a moment that needed its own space, its own time to finish that which it had started – an incredible moment of intimacy between two lovers with something to tell each other with an intensity and urgency second to none.

As she talked to me through her touch I wanted to return the favor. I lacked the ability with spoken words to tell her how or what I was feeling. Verbally I was broken and disconnected to my emotional self, still trying to put the pieces together, but non-verbally I was a master linguist yearning for an audience, having been practicing alone for years and now that I had my audience I wanted to make sure I delivered my lines with perfection as to captivate and enthrall.

She is a few inches shorter than me. I am six feet and she is around five feet five inches. Her head can nuzzle into my neck as we stand next to one another. When we kiss standing up I bring my kiss to her from above with my head tilted slightly to one side and down, like an expert pilot coming in for a landing. But this also means that my size envelopes her, drawing her into myself, creating what we affectionately refer to as a ‘full body kiss’.

I take my long arms and reach around her back, perhaps with one hand resting open faced at the base of her neck and my other hand resting open faced at the base of her back, just slightly at the top of her buttocks. With a gentle firmness I leverage both of my arms and hands to pull her completely into myself as our lips lock. As we continue our long embrace, my one hand slides up her neck to the back of her head, playing with her hair but keeping her head supported as I communicate passionately through my lips what it is that my body wants to tell her. My other hand swoops across her backside, sliding up and down her back and onto her buttocks, keeping a firmness along the journey as to not let my lover go before the kiss is done.

This kiss, one of the five, came out of a desire to tell her how much I loved her but not able to find the spoken words yet to do the job well. This kiss, a response to her kiss, her invitation through her touch to share a story with one another with our bodies, an unspoken love language shared between two lovers, safe, secure, and incredibly intimate. I responded and I had a lot to say and still do to this day.

Our kisses, this full body kiss, would be mutually shared in some of our familiar places around this valley city. However, early in our relationship, one particular backdrop made emphasizing my point easier. It was located at one end of a foot bridge that spanned the river, joining two parks together. We would slide down the embankment to the water’s edge and right by the bridge column on the bank. Here, I would press her body up against the bank, with my body pressed up against her, and we would kiss, sharing the moments with the rushing water of the river by our feet, the birds chirping above as they hid in the trees, and away from the prying eyes of other pedestrians walking by.

Nature was redeemed. Love kindled. Language and emotional experiences explored. Passion unleashed.

Chapter One of My Love Story

Chapter One of My Love Story

Her name is so very important that I make sure it rolls off my lips every single day when I tell her how much I love her. She really was different from all the rest as cheesy as that may sound. Her beauty caught me off guard – those eyes, incredible, rich, deep, intoxicating. Her hair that I longed to have surround me, envelope me, embrace me. Her touch, communicating so very much through her hands – our bodies talking to each other without ever an audible word being spoken. I have enjoyed her as my partner over these last twenty some years, a loving embrace, a long midnight dance under the full moon, wishing the morning will never come.

My story up to this point included some chance encounters with her as she was on the fringes of the circles I walked in. We shared some of the same friends, which is how our paths would cross, but it would be fleeting at best, intriguing, and deeply interesting. Initially, she was the other youth who was baptized on that same Sunday morning. I never did get to see her be baptized as I was off drying and changing before receiving the rebuke from my grandmother for things spoken publicly.

When I was going out with the girl who I followed down to university she was dating my girlfriend’s younger brother. Upon occasion I would come across her walking down the street, her head looking at her feet as she walked, her long brown hair falling to each side, caught up in the breeze. We would pause and talk with one another as acquaintances might do, sharing pleasantries for a few minutes before continuing on our way.

When I came back to this valley city from the coast after my suicide attempt I had another chance encounter with her when I stopped by a friend’s house. She was friend’s with my friend’s younger sister. It was at this encounter that she caught my eye. I was intrigued with her and I wanted to know more about her but it was fleeting in the moment and I was caught up with another girlfriend full of drama and despair.

So, now, at the end of winter, with another failed relationship under my belt, and me seeking refuge in the mountains surrounding this valley city, contemplating my monk-ability, the last person on my mind was her – well any one really. I couldn’t stand the idea of my heart being broken once again and had resolved that the only way to prevent that from happening was to make sure it never loved again. This is akin to not feeling, which if you have ever tried it is actually quite a difficult thing to do.

We began to talk with one another, over the phone. This happened rather innocently, and as she was such a great conversationalist, and my heart longed to be listened to, I relished the opportunities to talk with her. They were brief conversations at first but as our love story has unfolded over these last couple of decades I have grown to a place where I long for her company, to sit with her and watch the hours pass us by as we enjoy conversation and the delicate dance of the spoken language that sweeps us off of our feet and takes us to faraway places, shared experiences between two lovers.

Our innocent encounters lead to an invitation from me to her one Sunday afternoon in early spring. A few youth had come over to my place after church and we were hanging out for the afternoon. I called her up, hoping she could come over as I had been quite enjoying her company already. She responded with a yes. As the afternoon wore on the group of us were talking with one another and I found myself sitting on the floor in front of her, both her legs at my side with my head leaned back into her.

She began to very gently and tentatively take her hands and stroke my hair. Cautiously, carefully, playfully she allowed her fingers to traverse my scalp, teasing the hair with her fingers, like two lovers chasing each other through a flowering meadow. Her fingers moved to longer strokes, and my body began to relax, melting into her even more, uncaring of my environment but caught up with the intensity of what was happening between us. She could tell that I was enjoying her touch but she wasn’t done telling me her story with her hands so they ventured out even further, reaching around to my brow, my cheekbones, and down around the base of my neck, finishing up along the sides of my jaw, just short of my lips.

This intense touch, this essay of love, went on for three hours that Sunday afternoon. As I write about it now, over twenty years later, almost a quarter century to be exact, there are tingles that go up my spine as my body recalls the intensity of that encounter, remembering every unspoken word my lover shared with me that sunny afternoon. We were not a couple – at least not at that point – but she had something to say to me and I was listening. I wanted to listen. I was drawn to her. I wanted to be near enough to hear her breathe, to smell her hair, to touch her incredibly soft skin. I wanted our breathes to be in sync with one another, resting in each other’s embrace.

My monk-ness was being challenged and I was okay with that for my heart was reminding me that it longed to be loved and to love. I was made for companionship and although I was a broken vessel, messy, bruised, and battered, she was okay with it all.

“You can talk with someone for years, everyday, and still, it won’t mean as much as what you can have when you sit in front of someone, not saying a word, yet you feel that person with your heart, you feel like you have known the person for forever…. connections are made with the heart, not the tongue.”
C. JoyBell C.

The Definition of Insanity

The Definition of Insanity

It was as if nothing had ever happened. This was probably for the best, I suppose, but it sure left me feeling empty inside. I wanted to talk about my experiences, my fears, and my brokenness that was still ever present, but life moved me along. This community had a sense of pulling you back into itself, resetting the clock as it was, with an invitation to sit back like some old episode of the Twilight Zone, and pretend that nothing ever happened. You had tried to break free but in the end you came back so relax and allow yourself to be assimilated.

You know, that level of creepy.

Over the years that I was in this city this very scenario became the joke. They may try to leave but very few succeed. And worse, if they come back after trying to leave, they will never leave again. Seriously, this was part of the identity of this valley city. The only benefit to me in the moment was that similar to my emotional and mental exercise of wiping the slate clean every time my family suddenly uprooted itself and moved on to the next community – it had now happened for me. The strange part was that although I had only left this city a few months earlier, I was now back in the city with circumstances reset to a year and a half earlier.

It was as if my relationship with that girl who would come over to my apartment with the youth group never happened. In the moment that was strangely therapeutic for me. It fed that part of me that liked to delete things, to disconnect from things, to fragment away from what was actually happening. And so, although I was still broken inside, still hurting, and desperately trying to make sense of things, still longing to talk about my journey, the allure of simply forgetting it all was just too much to resist.

So I did.

Or, so I thought.

The problem is that as George Santayana has said, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Like the others, her name isn’t important but the story is. It was shortly after I had arrived back ‘home’ and had that Sunday morning experience that her and I became a couple. It started with her asking me to help her with some tutoring. This was only the vehicle in which to flirt and ultimately I had only helped her a couple of times with her math before we ended up being the youth group’s newest couple.

Our relationship sped forth at an alarming rate. Very quickly I had met her family. I ended up traveling to the neighboring province with her and her family to celebrate the New Year and her birthday. By the time January had rolled around we had become quite a serious item, although I felt like I was stumbling along trying to keep up.

Case in point. I dropped her off at her home one afternoon. As I was walking back to my vehicle she suddenly burst from her house, raced down the stairs and over to my vehicle where she began to tell me that she loves me over and over again. The words spilled out of her mouth with much enthusiasm and conviction. I was caught off guard and not knowing what to do in the moment, I returned the favor by telling her that I loved her too. I didn’t know if I did or not but what the hell, this was the ride I was on.

However, that interaction radically changed our relationship. I guess, as it ought to, if both participants had their crap together, this would be a wonderful next step in their relationship but neither of us had our crap together as it turned out.

Those three words changed our relationship in the sense that now the first month of the year hadn’t even come to an end, our relationship barely having begun, and we were now talking marriage. Oddly, both of our parents were very into this idea. On her side I was the most sane guy to have come into her life in a long time so that made them happy. With my parents I have no idea what the hell was going on there, only that my mom was so excited, she promised my bride to be the family china as our wedding gift.

When I did eventually get married, to another woman a few years later, the family china was not just off the table – it had been either sold or disposed of, taking the explanation of why my mom was so enthusiastic about this girl with it.

Not much time passed from the promise of the china, when one Sunday I was with the rest of the youth group at a local restaurant where we would go after church. I was to meet my girlfriend there. She never showed up. Instead she had driven by, the passenger in some other guy’s vehicle. As I sat there in this restaurant the situation was clear. I had been fucked over once again by my girlfriend. The title was the same but their names kept changing.

I caught up to her a bit later after she had hooked up with that other guy. She explained to me that she couldn’t be with me. I was too nice I think she said or some other bullshit like that. Either way, I was unceremoniously dumped and she hopped back into the car of her new partner, driving off.

This was a familiar place to be. Broken. Alone. Confused. A mess. With the hug still fresh in my mind I found solace in my faith, although tentatively. I retreated to the mountains that surrounded this valley and shouted out toward the heavens with my emotional brokenness. I found comfort up in those mountains, just me and my God, holding me and being okay with my mess. I liked it a lot.

So much so that I was now contemplating becoming a monk.