A word about getting back together with your ex

So here’s some gossip-worthy news, if you haven’t put two and two together yet: Taylor and I (yes, the boyfriend I was with for just shy of four years, then broke up with, then spent six months learning who I was without) are back together.

I’ll start by saying that I hate that terminology – the way you might characterize a sitcom romance. “They’re back together” like it’s just another ordinary day at the park, like it’s equally as temporary of a situation as the one that preceded it. “Back together” the same way that some wayward friend is “back in rehab” or “back to old habits.” More, even, than its temporal qualities – I hate that it implies regression. Why not “forward together” or “beginning anew”?

I’ll stop there – but suffice it to say that this hasn’t felt much like being “back” to anything.

It started in May. I was hesitant, the way that only a broken heart can be. Pessimistic and cynical, I treated the whole thing like a bubble about to pop. “This is nice,” I thought. “This will be nice for awhile. And when it all comes crashing down, well – at least I’ll know that I’ve gotten through it before, so I can do it again.” I traipsed through this new affair like a minefield. Sooner or later (and that inevitability weighed on me at every turn) this would have to end, and end badly.

In the meantime, though, I accepted love back into my life the way a recovering addict might entertain the idea of just one more heady dose of the good stuff: Yes, I’ll regret this later. I’ll be worse off afterward than I was before. But right now, right at this moment – isn’t it nice? Isn’t this delirious ecstasy absolutely, incontrovertibly worth it?

Because it was. It was better than I even let myself admit.

I feel I can best describe this sensation by likening it to an unfortunate stereotypically female trait of mine. Growing up, my mom always used the same car mechanic: a shop owned by a friendly pair of guys who were, coincidentally, both named Dave. My mom always took her car in to the Daves, and – when I got old enough – referred me to them as well.

Being only 16 at the time, and a typical girl when it came to cars, their garage was like the Starship Enterprise to me. How was it, that when I described a problem to them (with all the eloquent precision of: “Um… it goes ‘ee-err-ee-err’ when I first start it”), they were able to hoist my car up toward the rafters, dive elbows-deep into its greasy underbelly, make a few tweaks here and there and just fix it? The interworkings of my Toyota were as unfamiliar to me as the infinitesimal anatomy of a human brain cell, or the exorbitant vastness of the universe. I would stare at them, astonished, as they wiped their hands with a blue rag and told me I was all set.

It had all the makings of sorcery.

Which is why to this day, I still imagine auto shops to be a magical place where you bring broken things of all shapes and sizes to be tweaked, tinkered with, and tuned up – then returned to you in their best possible form. Things that otherwise would be doomed to remain unfixed forever can surely be mended at the hands of an adept mechanic.

This is what it felt like to be back in my relationship. Like I hadn’t actually ever left it – just placed it in the capable hands of some wizard at a relationship-fixing garage for awhile, letting the Daves do their work. And unbeknownst to me, my love life was undergoing heavy diagnostics. The engine was being polished, oil changed, brake pads replaced.

And when it was returned to me, it was like my beat-up old jalopy was back in the brightly-lit showroom of the dealership all those years ago. Its freshly-waxed paint gleamed and winked at me almost smugly – like, “What? You didn’t think I was still capable of this?”

It was, truly, even better than new, because it still bore all my favorite memories – the drive-ins, the road trips, the mistakes made and lessons learned. Everything we’d been through together had made it stronger, and the time apart made it invincible.

And it wasn’t the Daves I had to thank for this, of course; it was Taylor himself. He’d lifted the hood of that old clunker and brought out the toolbox – tuning and tightening what had become loose over the years, giving some much-needed TLC to parts that had rusted over from neglect.

At the risk of deviating too far from the metaphor (off the comfortable path of analogy and into the perilous jungle of factual testimony), Taylor had undergone a transformation and reinvested in ways I hadn’t thought possible… and without my involvement, no less.

Needless to say, coming back was like returning home and falling in love with a whole new person all at the same time.

Likewise, I’d gone through something of a personal upheaval myself. Small and lost in a new city, alone for the first time in my life, I’d faced truths about myself I can’t say I would have unearthed in a hundred years otherwise. I’d filled my life with enriching new experiences, animated new characters, and desires I hadn’t dared to voice before (like “I think I’d like to learn to play the guitar”). Questions about love, God, writing, life, and the human experience littered my journals in disorganized but impassioned scribbles. I was forced to face the question, with increasing urgency: “Who are you, Susie?” (The answer to which, you’d have to agree, would undoubtedly inform the success of any future relationship – romantic or otherwise.)

We were being simultaneously tweaked and tuned up, he and I –  and when we climbed back into that car, the engine purred.

I knew how this sounded. I’d been on the receiving end of this conversation before, and I knew what it was like. Sure things are better now, of course they are. It’s completely logical to think that people change, and two tumultuous souls can just split up for six months and come back to the world’s best relationship. Things are perfect, life is great, nothing could ever go wrong… call me when you wake up.

It was, frankly, too good to be true. Anyone listening would be doing so with jaded ears. Hell, if I were my own friend, I would be listening with jaded ears.

My friends were there, after all. They saw the hurt. They’ve heard these claims before. Like the addict trying to convince the world that after dozens and dozens of false alarms she is finally off the stuff for good (“really, this time, you guys!”) – the world shakes its head sadly, pats her on the knee and says sadly, “Sure, honey.” I heard my own initial skepticism echoed in my friends’ voices, and I didn’t blame them one bit.

But can you blame me, then, for being timid about sharing the news? I tiptoed around this conversation with my friends and family with such delicacy that it was months before the majority of them even knew. We gallivanted around Portland like convicted criminals, wearing hoods and sunglasses and peeking around corners for anyone who might recognize us. I waited until the last possible second to admit to myself – and, shortly thereafter, the world – that this could maybe possibly actually be real.

I made my final announcement in (characteristically) the most immature way possible – by posting a photo on social media with no explanation whatsoever, other than the hashtag “#bringontheinquisition.” Comments and texts flooded, and I answered their probing curiosities with as much grace as I could muster. I was honest when I conceded “You’re right, it is crazy. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe this is all a glorious hallucination, and I will wake up any minute.”

But it’s been five months now, and I haven’t woken up yet. Things are more wonderful than they ever have been, and I’ve stopped expecting the bubble to pop.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no delusions of perfection. I know that – like anything worth having in this life – love takes work. My love will not always be this glimmering display of glossy paint and a purring engine. It will take periodic check-ups and oil changes. The tires may need to be replaced.

But maybe the difference is in the acknowledgement that one broken carburetor isn’t enough to trash the whole car. Maybe it’s understanding that it takes two to tango, you get out what you put in, and the machine is only as valuable as the work you invest into it. Maybe it’s the recognition that it’s evolved from a junker to a rolls-royce… and that’s something worth protecting.

But in any case, this is me telling the world that – yes…

Taylor and I are back together.

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