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I. One of the things I cherish most in intimate relationships is the way things feel when we’re ‘around’ one another without necessarily engaging one another. You know what I mean? Is there peace between us when I am doodling and you’re reading? Do I feel safe if I want to break the silence? Can I reach out and touch you? Can you reach out and touch me? Can we drift apart and then come back together with ease?
One of my ex boyfriends called this ‘the voice in the other room’ in a poem he wrote for me recently. This idea of me presented in this poem is very close to what I know to be true. I am everything expressed within it, and more that he never got to discover.
II. Here is the poem.
There’s a back alley I visit,
A place with the scent of leather corset
Laced black boots, straps that bind
A turn in the sheets signifying
Depth to bone and toothmark alike.
But she’s the summer asphalt,
Reflected heat and want of light
A honed edge, cutting
But not something that speaks of trends
She’s the knife that pares the apple
Below the skin, draws out the seed
Brings the truth of it up
Through capillary action
To head and present plane.
This place I go is portal
It’s not now or here
It’s not a clock face I read
I find no hinge or heft
But yet everything that could be
A time here
A time there
She’s always away
She’s always with me
That voice in the adjoining room
Over the shoulder and more than arm’s length
I don’t turn around to see.
III. The thing I love about this poem is how well known I feel when I read it. The thing that saddens me to my core when I read it is that I *did not know how he saw me until 16 years after we separated*. I didn’t know how he felt about me. He was not effusive *at all*, and I was very insecure. There were a lot of reasons for this, but mostly it had to do with the way he kept me at a constant, tension inducing distance. I was the voice in the other room *for him*. He was not that voice for me.
Still, this poem proves to me that he saw me. He saw my paradoxes and the cracks in my armour, the light within me, and the darkness, too. He *valued* my ‘to the bone’ honesty. He valued my presence.
I didn’t know.
IV. I have always had a deep, tragic attraction to what they call ‘attachment avoidant’ men, so I have spent most of my adult life craving a sense of certainty, a sense of *mattering*, that was never actually on offer. Most of the relationships I’ve been in have had a certain ‘trauma bond’ flavour that did not allow for real, mature love to grow beyond the initial attraction. This has resulted in relationships in which I got a few months, maybe, of something good, and then years of trying to fix what I was all too painfully aware was broken.
V. Until now.
VI. I do not love half way. I am a ‘love as a verb’ human, and I think that might be why no one ever really gets over me.
I don’t ever really get over my loves, either. I let them shapeshift, let them mellow. They go from songs I play on repeat to songs I hear now and then, and love no less, but do not seek out anymore, because, look, those songs make me *fucking cry*.
Most of them are about how much I wished I’d mattered enough for commitment to be a thing I could count on, could rest in, even in the storms, even when I go dark or scared. Even when I can’t really see you for the past that rises up like a spectre and obscures my vision of who you really are.
VII. Still, I have been the voice in many rooms without ever having one of my own. I have always longed for that for myself, that certain, steady sense of ‘yes, you are my person, and yes, I can break the silence, and no, you will not recoil, and yes, I can be playful with you, and also serious with you, and yes, I can be my whole self with you – the bone deep truth, the sex kitten, barefoot in the kitchen making you a sammich, hands on hips demanding your respect, and no, you will not keep me at a distance, and no, you will not be ambivalent with me, and no you will not think about leaving me for years before you finally do it, only to regret it later because all that time you spent thinking about leaving me, you could have spent fixing whatever was broken between us…
VIII. I don’t think this post has a real point. I’m just thinking out loud in the afterglow of having had that voice in the other room all weekend, and in this unexpected, newly found certainty that this voice *just is* for me, and always will be, even if I bruise him with my (inevitable) mistrust and my terror. Even then.
IX. It takes a strong man to commit to a woman who has been through what I’ve been through because he is often going to come up against some awful thing someone else did to me. I will bruise you. If I’m afraid, I will be more thorn than rose. I am a fucking force of nature when I’m afraid, because, listen – I have had to be. My whole life. I have had to be the thing that rises up in protest against being violated – physically, emotionally, covertly – being hit, being taken, like an object that existed solely to be taken. I have spent decades pouring love into black holes, into voids that took everything I offered, and offered very little in return.
Just enough to hook me at first, and then just enough to keep me until my despair became untenable.
X. The way to avoid the dark turns I take, though, is to provide me with a sense of safety and certainty, to do whatever you can to soothe me, to reassure me, to stand up to me when I’m out of my fucking mind with calm assertions about what is *actually true*. To show up. To ensure I know how much I matter.
I take work.
I’m worth it.
I’m beginning to think he thinks so, too.