A few blocks from my house, surrounded by a stonewall is an enormous Texas cemetery. A quarter of the land is a confederate graveyard, populated with hundreds of white, unmarked, stone tablets. The rest of the graveyard lies prominent Texans, whose headstones claim the same amount of land as a dozen confederate soldiers. At the head of a giant unmarked red granite tombstone, I stand, reflecting. Across the tombstone, words slowly etch themselves in front of me, "Can we just be friends?"
Two months before, I had met a woman at a salsa event. From behind our face masks, our eyes lingered together. Dinner followed, and soon we were dancing in public squares without a care in the world.
But in her life, our romance was contrasted with heavy responsibilities. At 28 years old, she parented many family members, alone, and soon two of the members would be admitted into the hospital. During the day she burdened the real-world challenges. At night we got lost in each other's stories and vulnerable truths.
And so I hoped we could make it through these challenges.
After sleepless nights by the hospital bedside, she was tired. "I'm not emotionally available right now," she said, "but I don't want to lose you." The words that followed haunted me, "I want you in my life as a friend."
I had a decision. Do I say goodbye and move on even though I'm madly in love with her? Or do I support her as a friend even though I'm madly in love with her? I arrived at the cemetery, reflecting on this decision.
I reread the question on the granite tombstone. Between me and the tombstone, the thick graveyard grass begins to quake, until a slab, a grave 6 feet by 3 collapsed inwards, revealing a rectangular pit. I lean over. Darkness descends as far as I can see.
To my left, she appears, looking into its depths. Wind blows through her hair as if she was standing on the ledge of a bridge. "You don't want to do this," I plead. She puts her arms out at her sides and starts falling forward into the never-ending pit.
What do I do!? If I grab her, stay by her side, we both fall to our demise and enter the next life. If I don't grab her, if I say goodbye, this life becomes a place I don't want to live.
Instinctually I wrap my arms around her and shut my eyes tightly.
And so I hope.
I open my eyes, and I am back in my apartment, lying in my bed underneath a weighted blanket, arms crossed on my chest like an Egyptian mummy. It is day 1 of being her friend.
Over the next three weeks, I feel so much emotion and have so much to say, with only one person who could truly relate and understand. Yet constantly, I keep that struggle in, I try to be strong for her, to not add more stress to her life. Instead, I would text her supportive messages, like "Have a great day :D :D".
And so I hope.
But during these three weeks, our relationship went numb. Whereas before texts, even if delayed, always showed care and warmth and engagement, an effort to reconnect, now they feel superficial. "I'm glad you had a great Friday," she says. But my Friday was filled with pain.
Feeling angry and sad, I want to share that with her, and I ask, "hey tomorrow can we talk?" The afternoon passes, no response. Late at night, in my bed, I check my phone, no response. Waking up at 4am, no response. The next morning, no response.
I'm tumbling through the dark pit, but now it's different. I'm alone.
I try everything to move on, to have the courage to take back my life. How can I process these pent-up emotions towards a ghost? I attend 7am yoga. I meditate. I walk down the boardwalk in Austin where the sun shines and the people socialize and the puppies beg to play. Yet my mind goes on. And on. And on. And on.
In the afternoon I find myself walking down a noisy road. People don't walk down this road. There are no shops and the sidewalks are dirty. I only walk down it in order to get somewhere. And the last time, I remember, was when I went to the cemetery. That's where my ghost lives! That's where I can talk to her.
And so I hope.
Standing on the thick grass in front of the red granite tombstone, I reread the question, "Can we just be friends?" I no longer know the answer. All I know is this isn't working. I forgot how to show her love and she forgot how to accept it. All I am doing is hurting her and myself. And the only loving act left is to climb back to the surface. To climb out of the pit, back to the present moment and enjoy the sunshine overhead.
Below land, while tumbling through the air, through the darkness, I throw my hand into the passing soil like a pick-ax, and I hold on as the soil crumbles and cracks until I jerk to a stop. Above land, I take out a knife and begin engraving the granite tombstone. I swing the pick-ax, I etch a word. With each word etched, I climb closer to the sunlight.
Until my fingertips claw the surface, feeling the lush grass above. I pause and look at the tombstone. I look at my response. It feels right.
Etched in stone reads — Although I love and care for you, this relationship has changed into something I don't want.I wanted to support you as a friend, but my love blinded me from doing that. Eventually I found myself no longer knowing how to show you my love without it bothering you. And with that it is time to bury this stage of the relationship.Goodbye. If you are ever emotionally available, tell me and if I am also available, I'll respond.
And so I hope.
Dear reader, thank you for reading.
"Hope is the last to die." - Russian Proverb
But I learned hope isn't the problem. Rather hope becomes a problem when you are unable to bury something as you transition into a new stage of the relationship. It's gripping on.
We can find healthy hope by taking time to let go and to bury parts of our lives. That doesn't mean making them disappear. That doesn't mean never seeing them again. No one knows what the universe will bring.
It's a healthy letting go.
And so I hope.
22 Nov 2021