#16) The Rollercoaster
The second story in a series on devastating heartbreak
I want to tell you that I am the heroine of my story. That after I wrote Four Sundays and put words down on a page, I started my healing process and moved away from Tara. Unfortunately for me, I did not. Remembering and reliving the experience today is still gut wrenching. I want to shake the me of a decade ago and say, Make a run for it! But the me of then wouldn’t have listened: I had to live through the heartache, and the rollercoaster ride of love, which was just beginning.
We’re going to start this week’s story at the end: the idea that finally allowed me to set my heart free. I hope by sharing my journey of getting to the other side, it might empower and comfort others that this is possible. At the same time, I want to acknowledge for those of us who have suffered devastating heartbreak, that it’s not so easy to just move away, especially if feelings are reciprocated. The heart can be a very powerful force in making us do things that in retrospect seem intellectually inadvisable, or in my case, just plain stupid! That is the head-heart paradigm I battled in these stories, and still battle.
The notion that finally allowed me to set my heart free was that the woman who could be my life partner would be strong enough to leave. It really was that simple. It was about Tara, but it also was conversely about what I needed in a relationship: someone who would show up! On the fourth Sunday, Tara told me, I’ll put you on a pedestal, and anyone who tries to come at you will have to get through me! I wanted to believe her. Those words were incredibly powerful for me, and what I had been dreaming of, but were they reality? The fact that Tara knew she was half-living her life, unhappily married, and gay, yet couldn’t gather the strength to live as her authentic self, should have given me pause that she could deliver. Show me, don’t tell me.
Let’s put some perspective too on the time frame in which this was happening. When I came out two decades ago, I was working on Wall Street, where being openly LGBTQ was a fireable offense, grounds for losing custody in divorce, and being denied adoption. There was no such thing as same sex benefits at work or gay marriage, or even the basic things like being recognized as a significant other in a medical emergency. There was real risk, and potential costs for LGBTQ people living authentically. By the time I met Tara a decade later, the country had evolved significantly: gay marriage was legal, same sex benefits were widely available, and the stigma on LGBTQ parents being inferior had been disproven and dismissed. It was still a splash when prominent women came out as gay, as an increasing number were publicly doing, but unlike the decade prior, they were celebrated rather than isolated.
From the start, there were warning signs with Tara. Ample, bright, flashing warning signs that I refused to heed, because I was so blinded by my desire and the feeling of inevitability. In story #14 about dating younger women, I described how the premature death of a colleague caused me to re-examine my life, and that I initially reached out to Kristy about the possibility of exploring a serious relationship. Kristy was seeing someone, but then, just two days later, Tara came into my life. I felt as if I had manifested her!
My therapist strongly disagreed. We had worked together for more than a decade, and as my first therapist, she had helped me enormously in understanding myself and recognizing what mattered. In all those years, even in the toughest of times, she had never explicitly advised me. One session, in the early weeks after meeting Tara, she asked me for permission to step out of her typical role as therapist, to give me advice. She paused, and admonished, Tara is a bad idea! Even if she leaves, which I doubt she will, she will blow up your life! So I was warned, and it shook and shocked me—but I just couldn’t do it. Two things I have learned about myself: I am a natural optimist who sees the potential in others, and I am tenacious AF in fighting for things I care about. Positive attributes in mentoring and activism, while more often than not setbacks in the area of love.
The months after I wrote Four Sundays were crushing for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about Tara. I had trouble sleeping and concentrating. Each time I drove by places we had been together, my heart hurt—at times, I would break into tears. I held on firmly to the idea and promise of an us. I passed the deli parking lot where we clandestinely met for a quick kiss one night after she commuted home. She was in a dress and black fishnet stockings and had pleaded with me to touch her. I said, not until you leave! Was that a mistake? If I had made love to her, as she begged me repeatedly to do, would she have left him? I reread our slew of emails, questioning, If I had handled this or that differently, could she have gone through with it? I blamed myself for her inability to leave.
For months I didn’t see Tara—not in person, not even on social media. Then it was the fall, and back to school and community events, and our paths crossed again. Unfortunately for me, she looked fantastic! I could tell she had gone to extra lengths to look her best: she came straight from work in a fashionable red dress—her color—with a stylish scarf and high heels. I was wearing jeans and a new leather jacket I had bought for a trip the following weekend to meet a woman I had fantasized about dating.
It was my friend Becky’s idea. Becky has her own PR company, and knew of Tara professionally. She was my one friend who picked up on our social media interaction, and one day messaged, What’s up with you and Tara? I had plans to visit Becky on the Jersey Shore that summer, and we had a fun girls night out at a casino. I treasure my many friends, and like shoes in the closet, have different types for different occasions, and Becky was just the right one for my heartache. She consoled me over beers and tears, then pulled out a list that she and her gay male PR partner had compiled of lesbian public figure prospects. It was an incredibly sweet sentiment! We went through them, one by one: No, she’s not my type. No, not her either. No, she’s definitely straight, lol! Wait, I’m pretty sure she’s already married!
At some point many beers later, Becky turned to me and said, if you could date any woman who would it be? I knew the answer right away! I had the biggest crush on an African American television personality—she was smart, witty, interesting, and gorgeous. So there we sat at the bar, and Becky helped me compose the perfect email to this crush, asking her out. The next morning we laughed about it. I felt embarrassed thinking it was junior high school level fun, but sure I would I never hear back. Lo and behold, the next night, the fantasy woman showed up in my inbox: Hello Amy, Thank you for your invitation. I’d be happy to meet for dinner. I was so surprised, I froze where I stood for minutes staring at the phone, somewhere between shock and nausea from the excitement!
Fantasy woman turned out to also be an incredibly genuine and lovely person. My 94 year-old dad’s health had taken a turn for the worse, and my siblings and I were having biweekly calls. I mentioned this to her in passing, and minutes before my next sibling call, which was right before she was about to go on-air, she texted, Thinking about you. Hope the call goes okay. She also had an ailing parent, so we commiserated and comforted each other. Between our family issues, back to school, work travel and crazy schedules, we finally put a weekend on the books for me to take the train down and get together a couple of months later. Being honest, I was unavailable—really, both of us were. I wanted to date, thinking I could just move on, but it was a lie. My heart was still completely tied up in the hope of Tara. Yet here was the juxtaposition of a fantasy woman who had character and showed up, alongside the fantasy of Tara who never did.
After Tara and I saw each other at the community meeting, the emails back and forth resumed. I started it days later, emailing, It was tough seeing you. She responded right away that all she could think about since, was how worried she was that she shouldn’t have smiled at me, Yuck. Sorry. I had imagined after she ended it she had worked on her marriage and lived happily ever after, but in our exchanges the truth came out. She was miserable, had taken herself off social media, avoided anywhere she might see me, even wore a hat when she went out of the house to hide just in case. She said she wondered, What would Amy do? in situations at work and at home, where she was trying to assert herself more.
The next day on a plane ride out West, she sent a list of things she wanted me to know. One stood out: 5) You: you are connected to me, inside of me, in a way I can't explain. You always will be. That become a code for her to express affection in our emails: #5. She called me the next night from her hotel room after my kids were asleep. She wanted the best for me and my fantasy woman, I’m sure your celebrity girlfriend has great hair! Then bemoaning things at home: her situation had not changed.
I held on to hope for the smallest of reasons. In the coming weeks, she shared that her 20th anniversary was coming, and she hadn’t moved forward on planning anything to celebrate, much to her husband’s dismay. She noted last Sunday’s Times had an article arguing that marriages shouldn’t last for more than 20 years—weird coincidence, right? Then she switched back to her parents’ divorce, claiming the split was responsible for screwing up her brother: How could I do that to my boys? Up and down, up and down, You are a catalyst. You are a gift to me. I offered a suggestion of a highly recommended therapist near her office, and a message board called Lavender Visions for women on similar journeys.
A few weeks later we ran into each other in town. She looked distraught: clearly she had been crying, and she had a giant stye in her eye. It reminded me of stories I had read on the Lavender Visions message board about women having physical manifestations of their inner turmoil. Tara messaged me later, saying she was embarrassed about how she looked, I'm either a complete idiot or a responsible loyal loving person, it really depends on the day. I should have run in the other direction, but instead I ran straight toward her, wanting to help. My pattern—and a toxic one! I emailed, Did you make a therapist appointment? She replied, Wanted to, but had client dinners. You are always right when it comes to me.
She also admitted, I don’t see a path to a different outcome. I tried to pull myself out. I emailed that this was taking a toll on me now, and I needed to move on. She said she understood, I couldn’t stand if I was hurting your health! You look so skinny—I am worried about you! I don’t want to admit this, but I can see now how even if these thoughts were true, she was manipulating me, perhaps unwittingly, and I was falling for it. I settled for crumbs: #5 instead of I love you, superficial concern in email with no corresponding action. A part of me held on to hope, and the inevitability. When she offered, I’d love to see you to talk and not to email. Actually eat a meal together. I’m embarrassed to admit, I jumped at the chance.
We arranged to have lunch near her office—her suggestion, to stay hidden. I was nervous and anxious, and half expected her to have another panic attack that morning and cancel. She messaged that her assistant had reserved a quiet table, and said she planned to get there early. As I was heading in, she expressed her version of care, messaging, Please be careful driving! I had no idea what to expect, and worked hard to go into our meeting with no expectations. I even questioned going, but a part of me still held on to the hope that she could pull it off, and I desperately wanted to see her. Ugh!
I walked into the French bistro, and despite the holiday season buzz, she was seated at a table with privacy. On the outside I was playing it cool, but when I saw Tara, I felt both exhilarated and petrified. Her face lit up upon seeing me, and she put down a half-empty glass of white wine. She stood, and as we embraced I could feel my heart racing. We let go and she held onto my arms, staring into my eyes with a teary smile, and whispered, Hi!, then hugged me again, holding on tightly. We ordered, and after the waiter left, her eyes welled up with tears, and she confided, I’ve been drinking way too much. The holidays? She told me how stressed out she was at work, and how unhappy things were at home—there was no escape. Then she cried. She regretted hurting me so much, the one good thing in her life, other than her kids. She confided that several times she had waited in places I might be, hoping to run into me, I’m terrible at communicating by email, but I think about you all the time! She ordered another glass of wine.
I was torn, and torn apart. This was not at all what I had expected! I offered my support, Can’t you get your husband to go back to work and take some pressure off of you? Despite all she had put me through, I cared so deeply about her. Her pain and tears crushed me. I hated seeing her so upset, and reverted to my familiar role of wanting to find solutions to help her change her life and guide her toward happiness. She wiped back tears, and told me, You are my superhero.
After we paid the check, we both went to the bathroom. All the holiday revelers had cleared out—hours had somehow passed in what felt like minutes, and the restaurant was now almost empty. Tara had messaged her assistant during lunch, and told her to cancel her 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. meetings. She asked if she could kiss me. I was still taking in all that had just happened between us, but was composed enough to know that felt like a really bad idea. Our real first kiss, if we were to have one, should be something special and memorable for us both. Outside the restaurant, we embraced for a good long time, and I asked, are you okay? Despite all that had transpired, I drove home with sadness for her hurt, and hopefulness that I would be that superhero to save her.
The next morning, I woke to an email. You amaze me. We are very connected. I am going to make a plan this weekend, thanks to you. I will figure out the finding someone to talk to. Days later, #5 had switched to I love you, and she shared that she had asked her work coach to be her therapist, and had her first two hour appointment. I am really trying to accept who I am and who I want to be. I have been denying my feelings for you for eight months. I think it was making me literally crazy. As the rollercoaster lurched up the steep incline, we agreed to get together in two weeks for my birthday, this time in Westchester.
Straight to Gay is Amy Siskind’s passion project to tell the stories of LGBTQ women, and create community. Please consider supporting the project by becoming a subscriber.