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February 6, 2006

Upon Self Esteem

Jennifer and I are on the phone, discussing our mojo.

"Am I getting my mojo back?" I pondered it. As much pondering of mojo as one can do on the evening bus, surrounded by people. "Well. Today after my morning meeting, I was walking back to the building and I crossed Flower Street. This guy was walking toward me, in the crosswalk, he was tall and a suit-and-tie guy, but anyway, he checked me out. Smiled. Said hello. And then I said hello back. That counts, right?"

Because in the past so many months, since Mr. Ex announced over spaghetti that he was moving out, pass the parmesean cheese, I have buried and mourned my mojo, tipped a forty out for my homie. Gone, but not forgotten. Crossed Flower Street once a week, eyes on the ground, made no eye contact.

Every night, alone, and it's nothing to complain about, at the time being alone was a full-time job (why didn't you leave sooner I don't even know you, who are you? who did I love?) every night curled up on the sofa. During the hot months, last spring and summer, nights alone reduced to silence or sometimes you cry or do nothing, tucked into a patio chair all night long, nothing visible in the dark but the lit end of a smoke, one glass of wine in my hand, but before long it's 1 a.m. and no way are you sleeping tonight. Might as well bring the bottle outside.

Being alone was a full-time job.

Nothing shakes you to the core, makes you feel more bereft of self-esteem than having the one who said "I do" leave you. There's no good way to phrase it, there's no way to make it softer. You can blame it on the other person, or on the situation, but deep inside you're shaken and you break, or you wonder why you haven't broken, disintigrated into formless shape, even smoking becomes exhausting.

The one who doesn't rush out to fill the empty spot in the bed becomes quieter maybe, deflated, the slow and gradual sanding down of your self-esteem (a quality I didn't have in spades even before the split). It would have been easy enough to take another road (he did) and buy new clothes, smile brightly, go out with new people. You can brush your hair and put on a pair of high heels and sit on a barstool at Cozy's while your friends play pool and you accept free drinks from strangers. But I stayed home. Just the difference in our bones, the way we live through the end of a thing. For me: nights without sleeping, months of never closingmy eyes sinking into a bed feeling safe or warm or even tethered to this world, chain-smoking, writing it all down. Inside me everything was ugly.

Confidence has always been tied to my successes, so a failure of such magnitude surely must mean I am worthless? Unloved. Unwanted. Ugly. (Nothing makes you feel uglier than "goodbye.") So you do what you have to, work these things out, wrap your mind around them. It takes its slow sweet time coming around.

"He smiled and said hello and you said hi back, that's good progress!" said Jennifer.

"Yeah. It is? Before ... I would have avoided eyes. Looking down. But what a waste, right? Seventeen months of looking down? What a waste of time..."

And it is a waste of time. Unless... unless you count all the time you sat on that patio, alone, and thought about even the smallest detail, remembered the day you walked down the aisle, the day you signed the divorce papers, and every single day in between. Eventually you find a place to rest, it's not the place you may have envisioned for yourself when you were nineteen, or twenty-three, but it's all yours, and that's something. And one day you look up, instead of looking down, and someone smiles at you.

Success is not always about achievement. Sometimes it's about endurance.

Beyond hello, I'm still not ready, but I know my mojo is in there, inside me, the things I blocked out are seeping in through the cracks of my finely constructed life raft, my future is an unwritten book: the way it feels to have someone whisper in your ear, the night you stand at the sink in your sock feet and you're washing a dish when he hugs you from behind so unexpected, the warm perfectly content feeling you get when he takes your hand in his and holds it, or the very first time you kiss (always the best).

It's in there. Somewhere.

Posted by laurie at February 6, 2006 6:26 PM