points in between

Point D: Monday, February 19th, 2019 

I'd just finished a 62-hour week. I was exhausted but triumphant. Sixty-two hours of (mostly) successful work, in my new position. Two years ago I didn't know I was capable of the things I apparently am. I can manage people, and their various workplace neuroses and needs. I can manage a store, its product and cash flow. I can manage the dozen little fires that spring up a week, in a restaurant--the dozen little time-sensitive crises of last-minute call-outs, broken grills, misplaced orders. And much more importantly, I can apparently manage my own historically volatile emotions in such situations. I can check and then moderate the anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration that naturally surface when things don't go as they should; when others don't do their part. I can be chill, and just do what needs to be done.

Anyway: exhausted but triumphant.

He asked whether I had plans for the night, immediately adding that he understood if I was too wiped to hang out. Actually, I said, I very much want to do something. I very much want to go out and be alive and social and remember that work is just one part of me. My friend Costa had suggested dinner at the Pacific Dining Car. I told Timo to come join us.

I will, he said. That sounds wonderful. I just have to wait until my groceries get delivered.

I'll never forgot this bit. The stupid groceries. He texted repeatedly over the next hour and a half, with increasing self-annoyance. So mad at myself. I'm sorry, baby. I could already be there with you guys, if I wasn't a lazy ass who has to have groceries delivered. 

As my friend and I feasted on prime rib and Bordeaux, I kept telling Timo not to stress. That we'd be there, drinking still, whenever he made it. He was so wound up about having to wait, about not being with us already. And when he came, he was all smiles. Hugs for both of us, kisses for me. His hand immediately found my leg under the table. Laughing and joking through the cocktails he ordered. Good humor and affection as usual, as always was with him. I was relaxed and content.

Point E: Thursday, February 21st, 2019

I'm on a late morning Amtrak to San Diego, to spend the day with my best friend. The Pacific Surfliner hugs the coast, reminding me of all the pretty beach cities less than an hour and $30 away from my living room. It's not so bad, this life I've knocked together. My sweet little apartment. My job, demanding but rewarding and often, dare I say it, quite fun. My friends, who have rallied around me in this moment, their indignation and shock soothing to my fractured heart.

As we speed southward along the Pacific, I go over conversations I've had in the last three days. The initial one with Timo, all stumbling confusion, suffocating panic, agonizing questions, unclear answers. The subsequent ones with my friends, where, as surprised as me, they hypothesized as best they could.

"It sounds like depression."

"It clearly has nothing to do with you."

"He sounds really lost."

"I don't think he has any idea what he wants."

I turn over these thoughts, one by one, willing myself to accept them.

A tone sounds from the intercom: an address to passengers. "Gooooood morning, folks. This is Amtrack 2023 from Los Angeles to San Diego and points in between. Please have your tickets on hand as we come by."

Points in between. The words stick in my head. That's what I will call it, I think. When I'm ready. When I have time to sit down and attempt to tell this story. Where it started, where it ended, where it's going. Points in between - that's all life is, anyway. Points significant and less so. Points you remember and points you hope to forget.

Points you can look forward to, when the one you're at is just about as unbearable as can be.

Point C: Friday, February 15h, 2019

I'm coming off the subway, heading into work early because one of my servers has called out sick last minute. I'm tired. I'm annoyed. I'm rehearsing a discussion in my head, explaining to this employee calmly that in the future, half an hour is not enough notice when he is the only person opening the restaurant. That unless he's on his damn death bed, I need him to drag his ass to work and wait the thirty minutes it'll take me to get ready, get there, and send him home. The store can't not open, just because someone has a cold.

As I step off the escalator onto the upper level of the station, a man lurking in the space between the stairs and a support column says something to me. A Hey baby of sorts. The sort of bullshit I usually ignore. Only today something in me twinges sharply, and I don't ignore it. I glare at him as I pass and say evenly "Stay the fuck away from me." He says something else, something threatening, puffing up in a "What you gonna do" posture.

And rather than walk away, as any sensible person would do, I decide that right here and right now is where I draw the line. I plant my feet and look him dead in the eye. "Stay. The fuck. Away. From me." I make each syllable count, loaded with the assurance that I am unafraid of him.

He takes a step forward, inches from me now, and raises his arms at his side. Calls me a bitch. Asks what my fucking problem is.

And that's it. I've been triggered. He's no longer a stranger. He's now every man who has every physically or emotionally abused me. My brother. My last boss. The psycho I dated in Arizona. All of them, rolled into one repulsive bully.

I spit in his face.

The first hit he lands makes my left ear ring. Later I'll be itching my inner ear and feel the scab; at the time I won't realize he's drawn blood. Another hit, and I find my voice. He's cursing at me, laughing as he pushes me back. I don't remember what I'm yelling back, but I'm pushing too. He's small. I ask him how long he's going to jail for. "You see the cameras? You see all these fucking cameras?" I don't recognize myself: not my voice, not my fury, not the unconscious rage with which I'm fighting back.

It's over pretty quickly. I'm on the ground, pulling out my phone, fumbling for the video function, screaming for help as he strolls off unhurried.

All the usual shit after that. No one stops him. He walks straight past two Metro security guards whom I beseech for help. They offer none. Time slows down. The adrenaline levels out in my bloodstream and I collapse on the ground, sobbing, in shock. A woman approaches, hands me her business card. "I saw it. I can be a witness if you need me." Then she boards her train and goes about her day.

The security guards help me find cops. They take a statement.  I know it's a waste of time. This is now just a thing that happened to me, and it's my choice to either stay angry or let it go.

Point F: Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

"Hey, can you come here for a second?" One of my employees invites me around the corner from the kitchen, into his workspace. I'm anticipating some kind of serious exchange, some problem to be solved, some fresh headache. But he just looks with a funny little smile at a small white gift bag on the wooden block. My heart leaps into my throat. It isn't my birthday. There is no ostensible reason for this.

"We just wanted to get you something to let you know how much we appreciate you," he says.

I try to joke through the moment, lest I cry. "What is this nonsense?" I pick up the bag, smiling, shaking my head. "What did you do?" Some chocolates. A boxed spa gift certificate. And a card that my three closest, most supportive and most reliable employees have signed. I read it on the spot, silently, my heart thumping hard.

Ellie - thank you for being such a dedicated, hardworking, and amazing boss. You are truly extraordinary. Love, F

Ellie, it has been such a pleasure working with you. I hope you feel supported and loved because you truly are an amazing person. Thanks for being such an awesome kick ass boss. Love, K

Ellie - I told Erin that she was the best boss I've ever had. I lied. Hope you know how much all of us adore you and respect you. Enjoy the little pick-me-up and keep being the badass you are. - C 

I can't really talk. I just shake my head more. I find each of them and hug them. All I can muster is a simple, sincere "thank you" lest I completely lose it. And just like that, years of insecurity--walled like cement around the belief of my inadequacy--crumble.

I actually matter to people. I am actually worthy. I am doing something right.

Their words rush in to fill, just a little bit, the ripped-out hole in my heart where another thing was, just a few days before. I am loved, still, by some.

Point A: Saturday, July 21st, 2018 

We had plans. Dinner out. But Timo has asked me to come over to his house instead. Said something about wanting to stay in. No problem. I'm game to watch a movie, order some takeout.

When I arrive, he's sober-faced and quiet. I grow nervous. Ask what's up, whether everything is okay. He asks me to sit on his couch. Starts crying. I assume I'm being broken up with, and feel the blood in my veins turn icy.

But no. This isn't that. This is the polar opposite of that. This is him asking for more. There's a speech about how little time we have together, because of our schedules. And then Timo, overcome with emotion, is asking me to come to Germany and meet his family. "I need them to understand why I'm not coming home." It dawns on me what he's saying. And in fact he then spells it out: he wants to move in with me, but he hasn't yet told his family how serious he is about me, and he knows they're going to take it hard. So he wants them to meet me so they understand why we want to be together.

I'm deeply happy, deeply moved by his invitation. It's what I want, too.

Point H: Thursday, July 25th 2019

I'm on a flight to Seattle, a city I've never been to, in a state I've never been to. I've come for a two-day music festival. Two days not of just some music I like, mixed in with other music I can tolerate. Two days of all music I absolutely love. I've booked myself the most deluxe on-site glamping tent money can buy. For once I am not staying in a hotel, sheltered and socially sequestered. This time I'm leaving my comfort zone. I'm open to anything. I decided to give myself this experience five months ago, on a day in late February, when I realized it would be the perfect celebratory milestone. Five months, I'd thought. That should be enough time. Five months of hard work to cleanse my soul. Five months of rededicating myself to me, and all the things that make me me.

All I know is I'm somewhere totally new but also completely familiar. Tens of thousands of others feeling the same things, moved in the same ways. I've taken myself out for an adventure, and there's no way it won't be amazing.

Point B: Thursday, January 21st

The paper I am signing has my name, my boss's name, the date, and a list of my new responsibilities. I barely glance at it. This has been a long time coming, months in fact, and there isn't any anxiety left. There is excitement, sure. I am getting a significant raise and, with that, the opportunity to start reshaping my life in better ways. But I've long been doing almost everything on this job description. If you'd told me even just a year ago I would have said No way. Not possible. Way too much responsibility and stress for me. Next to no experience with these things. No formal training. And yet, as my boss's boss said to my old boss: "She's the one. It's just a matter of figuring out the right number."

So we figured out the number. And suddenly I am a boss in my own right. Can you believe it? Can you even fucking believe it? A full time (plus) job, for your blogmistress, who, only a few short years ago, spent her days ambling around taking selfies with her dog.

It only took her half her life to grow up. But grow up she has.

Point D: Monday, February 19th, 2019 

We said goodbye to Costa and took an Uber back to my place. I don't remember him being especially cuddly in the car, but I don't remember him being distant, either. I do remember him griping about a scooter someone had lazily shoved off in front of my apartment. But then we walked up the stairs and through the foyer as usual.

I don't remember if he had his hand on the back of my neck, as was our usual thing. All the promise that familiar touch held, as we moved together towards my quiet, private space.

I only remember the look on his face. I only remember how flat and cold it was, when I turned to say something, slipping off my coat. There was clearly something wrong. My heart already pounding, I asked what it was.

"Ellie I'm breaking up with you." The words crushed together so that it actually sounded like one. My first thought, absurdly, was that I had taken LSD and forgotten, and this was simply a very bad trip. But that split second was a luxury compared to the next one, where I felt my heart hit the floor and shatter into a million pieces.

So now to try and explain what I still don't understand. Does it matter? I guess you're owed something, for following along this drawn-out drama so far. In a nutshell: he's unhappy at his job. He's here in the US on a work visa. The clock is ticking. Doesn't feel ready to move in with me (though I told him I'd happily wait until we were both ready for that, because I'm not even ready myself). Also: he misses home, might just go back to Germany. Etc. I asked everything I could. I said everything I could. But he shut down pretty quickly and I realized all that matters is that he was leaving my life.

It was over in five, maybe six minutes. He stood up and asked for his key back. Took his copy of my key off his own keyring and set it down with a little click on my desk.  Let himself out.

And that was it.

We had one subsequent conversation. I left nothing on the table. I told him that he was the love of my life and that somewhere in the future was a line where if he reappeared (again) to (again) ask to be let back in, that I would have to say "No, I can't, I'm sorry, I've moved on." But that as far as I could tell that point was a long way off. I offered him time and space to figure out what he wants. I thought I heard pain and conflict in his voice, but I don't know. All I can do is let him go and focus on my own goals now. Work at being a better, stronger me.

Point G: Now

And that's where I'm at. Spending time with friends. Working, working, working. Learning to focus on long-term happiness. Trying to find the dark humor in yet another loss. They are all almost two exactly years apart. Mom. Dad. Brother. Chaucer. Timo. Trying to remember that others have it worse. Listening to friends who tell me not only can I handle it, but I am handling it, so.

I have more time now. Maybe I'll be here more often. This definitely feels good and right. When in doubt, return to the things you love.