#17) A Cold December
The third story in a series on heartbreak
I think you all know what was coming next, and it didn’t take long. Within a week Tara was back to doubt, and after her initial appointment with her work coach as a therapist, she dropped the ball on scheduling more. My friend Carly has a saying: “Begin as you plan to go on,” which is another version of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.“ These are truisms that I needed to embrace in the world of love— head and heart—but I was only able to do it in the former.
This is not to say that people who do real therapy can’t change course. Absolutely they can, which is why I pushed so hard to have Tara do the work with a therapist that would allow her to see and act on what was so obviously in front of us both. To free her to live as her authentic self! But, she couldn’t follow through, despite the physical manifestations and alcohol issues resulting from her inner struggle. Her body was screaming out her truth, but she continued to sublimate it. Her inability to follow through was a telltale of who she was, not my fantasy version of who she could be, and it was also a harbinger that we were about to repeat the same patterns, again and again and again
Then the deception: her leaving out details about things involving her husband, and me catching her in fibs and calling her out on it. Her following the familiar pattern of I’m letting you down, and I knew I couldn’t do it. I told her I needed to walk away, I couldn’t get back on the rollercoaster. But weeks later, on my birthday, even though I was surrounded by friends and my children, I missed her. Birthdays were so important to her, not necessarily so for me, and she had made such a big deal about wanting to see me on mine. I regretted canceling in anger, and asked if I could see her later that night. She was home sick in bed (more physical manifestations?), couldn’t get up, and had already missed two days of work. She added that she had a birthday note and trinket she had already bought. We agreed to get together when she was taking time off from work around the holidays.
I hated the sneaking around. I didn’t want to meet again in the city, so she suggested an afternoon the week before Christmas when her husband had to run an errand. We had a two and a half hour window, so I suggested going out to lunch locally. She demurred, I’d much prefer some privacy, so we agreed to order in lunch and meet in my home. Once that was decided, the flirting and expectations began, with Tara messaging, We might need to sit in two separate rooms…And the ground rules are?? We mutually decided it was wise to avoid the bedroom—maybe even the den and living room should be out of bounds—then settled on staying in the kitchen, with Tara adding, I'll stand on the other side of the counter! I flirted back, Whatever you're imagining, I can assure you it will be much better. We both wondered how we would be able to fall asleep the night before.
This was to be our one, and only, time having any physical intimacy. Ahead of the day, I was already in my head, questioning what this would mean. Should I finally sleep with her? With the great sex I knew we would have, would she finally be able to leave? Or should I stay with the original ground-rules of no physical contact, not even so much as a passionate kiss, until she left her marriage? All of this seemed like a lose-lose situation, and I wondered if I could even enjoy the sex, let alone kissing, with all the ups and downs. I was also, in retrospect, giving myself these magical powers that my actions would be determinant. I had not yet fully accepted that only Tara could rescue Tara.
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When the day came, I woke up excited, but apprehensive that Tara would get cold feet and cancel, or something else would go wrong. For once, it did not. I busied myself in the morning to make the time pass until noon. Tara emailed, On my way! See you at 11:45. I called in an order for lunch, and asked her to pick it up on the way. Okay, but I am too nervous to eat! Even though I lived on a dead end, with almost no traffic, I agreed to put my car in the street so she could come in through the garage—again more hiding—which made me feel anxious and uncomfortable.
Then she was here. In my house! The two of us alone! As planned, we started in the kitchen. With all that had gone on before, her standing there with me had a surreal quality, Am I dreaming this? A fantasy? I had on boots with one inch heels, and she was in sneakers rather than high heels, so as we embraced, I was much taller than her. We kissed, and kissed, and felt each other’s bodies over our tops. Whatever expectations I had of how it would feel for our first real experience of intimacy, it was so, so much better! For this brief moment, for this one time, two women who were so enamored with each other shared something transcendent. With such a deep connection, I felt as if we were one—she completed me, and I was lost in her touch, her lips, her eyes. At one point I asked, Should I take off my heels?, and she sighed, No, I like having you taller, then kissed me again.
I’m not sure how long this first kiss lasted: five minutes? Fifteen? Thirty? At some point my stomach growled and I suggested we eat lunch. She was too nervous for food. I took a few bites and walked over her way. Tara was now up on the kitchen counter, and as I moved in front of her, she wrapped her legs around my back. She looked down at me, into my eyes, stroking my hair and whispering, I love you Amy. I said I love you too, Tara, and we kissed. She slid forward toward me, wrapping her legs more tightly around me, while I caressed her back, down to the outside of her legs.
We joked that we weren’t sure how we got there, but we made it up to the hallway on the second floor. My mind was blank, but I think I had offered to give her a tour, and we got lost in conversation. She shared her list of concerns about getting divorced and the impact on the kids, and queried, What would happen at work? At least that part I could talk her through, and she admitted a senior woman at her company was married to a woman, and had a son, I don't want you to think that I am incredibly naïve…maybe a little! We bantered that we would be a much hotter couple!
I looked at my watch, and school pick up was half an hour away! Our short window of time was about to close. Without saying a word, we took each other’s hands, and walked into my bedroom. We knew our time was limited—maybe fifteen minutes—but we wanted to have this time here, together. For the first time we kissed while lying down together, our bodies pressed so closely together, I could feel every inch of her. I was wild with desire for her, but held back, and let her take the lead. We kissed, she moved on top of me, pulled up my shirt, and felt my abs, then breasts, You are spectacular! I looked into her eyes, and let out a moan—G-D, did I want her! We moved together, and then overcome with desire, I moved on top of her, then had to stop myself—back into my head, pulling back from my inner desire to just devour her in passion! I noticed our time was up. We dressed, and as we were walking out, I said, Wait one sec, and picked up a heart shaped rock I had found on the beach from my desk, and handed it to her. I want you to have a piece of my heart with you. We kissed goodbye and walked to our cars. I messaged after school pick-up, Making sure you are okay. Was it what you expected? Tara responded, Oh my. Incredible. Like home.
We messaged back and forth that night, with Tara saying she was forming a plan for her escape. She said she was sending me her first-quarter schedule, If you are ok with this, I'd like you to know where I am. Can we plan a weekend together? I was overjoyed, and felt, at last, a sense of hopefulness. But when I woke the next morning, for no particular reason, I felt anxious and a sense of despair, perhaps foreboding? When I went to pick up coffee after school drop-off, I thought I saw Tara. Was that you? She said, Yes, I didn’t see you with the rain. She was planning to go to the mall to do final holiday shopping, but asked, could we see other for even 5 mins?
Fifteen minutes later, she was at my front door: Maybe she really will leave this time. She was in jeans and a sweater, looking relaxed, and well, happy. This time she seemed confident and at ease being in my home. We laid on a couch, side by side, facing each other, and I asked if she was okay, and her answer surprised, and maybe scared me a little: she said, I feel like I am home. It hit me! I realized part of my morning anxiety was that this could actually be happening: What would that mean for me and my life? Did I really want to put my kids through it too?
We laid together, holding each other, looking into each other’s eyes and talking. We shared our desires, our fears. She revealed that she’d had a girlfriend in college—ironically, I didn’t know a single out gay woman in my circles in college, and we were around the same age. Tara claimed she had forgotten about it until our time in bed the day before—a fact that struck me as odd, but in the blinding light of hope and love, she could have told me two plus two equals three and I would have believed her. She admitted the relationship had been serious, but she wanted to have children, and didn’t think that was possible with a woman. Plus her family and the Catholic religion weighed heavily: what would they think, and could she live with not being accepted? I assured her things were different now. I shared my fears as well, that she would break my heart.
We noticed time had flown by, and she needed to go shopping and I had lunch with friends. We said goodbye in my kitchen. She was back up on the counter, legs and arms wrapped around me, and we were kissing. It felt comfortable and perfect. She stopped, looked around, and mused, We’ll be throwing some fantastic dinner parties! I wanted to believe. Being here together, and talking so openly, and sharing so much of ourselves over those hours gave me a sense of comfort. False comfort.
At the same time, my 94 year-old dad‘s condition continued to deteriorate. My kids and I had seen him for Thanksgiving, and even then, he couldn’t handle much time with company. In the weeks after, we had tried to continue our then-ritual Sunday night Skype calls: the kids and I would share what we were up to, and dress up Arleen, the dog, in costumes, which before he had so enjoyed, always laughing hysterically. This time, his aide tried to set up our call, but he was not engaged or present. I fretted for what was coming next.
My father was my biggest champion. He had always bragged to his friends about my career on Wall Street, but he loved The New Agenda and my public speaking even more. Whenever I had a television appearance, my friend Becky, from last week’s story, who did PR for our organization would message me, What did Bernie think? He never missed me on-air, and was my staunch defender when people talked over me on panels, telling me I should move my seat, or not appear with them anymore. He was delighted that I was writing a book about being a woman on Wall Street, and said he was so looking forward to seeing my name in print before he died. I had already started meeting with agents toward that end.
We had a couple of days around Christmas to get away in the midst of my daughter’s varsity basketball season. My brother, who was visiting my dad from the West Coast, warned me things were not going well, Dad has asked about Hospice and leaving us. He said dad could only take short visits. Before we left, I told Tara about our trip. She said, Sorry about your dad, then launched into a long email about how she had family stuff, 24/7 around Christmas, including hosting 26 people at her house for Christmas Day.
The kids and I drove up to Boston a couple of days before Christmas. When I got to the hotel room I messaged Tara, looking for a scrap of something, needing to feel she was there for me. She responded, Is it ok if I tell you that I feel a little sad? and lamented, I think the holidays are "big" and also about traditions, then added, baking Christmas cookies, but feeling guilty this will be the last one like this for my kids. I didn’t know what to say. Here I was at such a big moment of need, and she was nowhere! I knew that what was about to come the next day when we drove to visit my dad would be so hard.
When we got there I could see that my dad was hanging on by a thread. I told the kids to say goodbye. I knew this was the last time we would see him. He was there, but barely there. I sat with him long enough to tell him I loved him, and it was okay to leave us and go and be with mom—she was waiting for him to get there. I consoled my kids, cried myself, then before we got on the road, checked my phone one last time, hoping to hear from Tara.
But there was nothing. I sent an email checking in. She responded, So sorry, but rushing around and shopping for a few things and cooking for the big crew about to come. I was so upset with her, and told her to send back my heart. Days later, when I got back to Westchester, I went to get the mail and found a blank envelope with nothing on it but my address. Tara had sent back my heart rock, without a note, let alone a return address.
My dad’s death broke my heart. I was 47 years-old, and for the first time, an orphan in this world. After he died, I lost the will for writing, shelved the book idea, and focused on my kids and advocacy work. I didn’t hear from Tara for days, until she offered to come sit shiva. I told her not to come, even though I desperately wanted her there to emotionally hold me and comfort me—which I fantasized somehow she was capable of doing. I was heartbroken that she had abandoned me the days before. I also worried that I would be the center of attention for so many of my friends who knew me so well, and they would be able to see immediately that she was something other than a friend.
She was upset that I didn’t want her there, not because of how it impacted me, but because it felt like a rejection of her. I didn’t hear from her for weeks. I wrote an angry email a month later, to which she apologized and asked for my forgiveness, which she didn’t expect me to give, perhaps ever. Of course I did, because I loved her and I had a big gaping hole in my heart now that I was looking to fill, but things were never the same after that for me. Our communication changed, and I truly began the process of moving away from Tara, although it was not for years more that I would finally put the idea of her away for good.
We will have one more story in this series about heartbreak, and that will describe getting to the other side, with my heart intact. I will admit that writing and reliving these stories has been an unhappy labor, and I am constantly reminding myself to be kind to myself. I’m embarrassed that I let it get to this, and expected and accepted so little from a potential partner! What does that say of me? I had to live through it, and learn from it, which I did and have.
In the end, it was not about who Tara could be, but rather who she chose to be. Processing it was not so much about letting her go, as coming to the realization that she was never really there. The exercise that would finally set my heart free was building a bridge, brick by brick, from what I felt about her, to what I knew to be true about her, in order to cultivate acceptance. This was my grieving process, and I made myself go through it, not around it, which we will discuss in the final story of this series.