TMJ

the before of another long December

There was a boy. Sorry to start off so cliche. But during my first year of college, even though I had a boyfriend at home, there was a boy in my class.

He was just like all the other boys in my class, and completely unlike them, as they all are.

This boy had something I was drawn to that went beyond appearance. I felt an animalistic pull toward him and I could not explain why.

That was the year my jaw started to hurt.

We never spoke. Not really. We would say hello if the occasion came up. We were polite. We may have opened doors for each other, eaten food in the caf at the same time at different tables.

And I was a good girl. I was such a good girl. First year of college, only the second time away from home, my boyfriend miles away living with his parents and not able to see who I was talking to and when.

I didn’t flirt. I stayed with my girlfriends on pub nights. I went home to spend time with the boy I was committed to almost every weekend. Well, when he came to pick me up, which turned out to be every weekend.

Despite that, this pull continued. I looked at him whenever I walked into a room that he was already in. I always knew where he was in proximity to me in each class.

The pain in my jaw got worse and worse. It became a constant in my life. Some days it was so breathtakingly strong, I thought the dentist would have to eventually pin my mouth shut after surgery to treat TMJ.

It kind of scared me, feeling a hunger that intense. I’d never been that overwhelmed by a draw to a boy before. It left me dizzy at first. Until I got used to it.

I made sure we were never alone in a classroom together working late on projects. Just in case that animal feeling consumed me and I turned into someone I didn’t recognize, someone who would give into a moment of passion and cheat.

During one of those weekends home, I went to see a dental surgeon. I became convinced that the unbearable pain was coming from shifting, almost erupting wisdom teeth.

The surgeon looked in my mouth. He took a series of x-rays. He told me that none of my wisdom teeth were impacted. He said my molars were tucked nicely in my gums, not even close to the surface. He threw his hands up in the air when I asked him why my jaw hurt so much.

I was weary. I was desperate. I hadn’t remembered ever experiencing a pain that intense, consistent and intrusive before. It stirred up an anxiety that I couldn’t recognize.

I asked the surgeon if he thought pulling all my wisdom teeth would do anything to fix the pain.

He told me, again, that my teeth weren’t the cause.

Pain makes people a bit crazy sometimes, when it’s bad enough.

I insisted that he rip all of my teeth out, just in case it helped.

He shrugged, but agreed. It was my mouth. The appointment was set for spring break.

Back at school, the pain made me feel sullen.

I did not notice that the pain eased when I was in class. I was able to focus on my profs’ lectures and on the assignments.

There was no discernible pattern to this pain. Not one that I could understand. It was brutal. Relentless. No matter how often it would temporarily ease, it always came back, sometimes more fierce than ever.

I continued to stay in groups, leaving no possibility of giving into this ever-present draw to the boy in my program.

There was a feeling of dread deep, deep beneath the overwhelming draw. Somehow, I knew that giving in would lead to something bad, but I didn’t know what. It was the not knowing what that kept me on the road of making good choices.

That feeling like a threat deep inside me. A threat that one wrong move could change my entire life in a horrible way. But how, I didn’t know.

Spring break came and I got my wisdom teeth pulled. I spent a weekend on my boyfriend’s parents’ couch, trying to eat enough soup to keep the Tylenol 3 from making me sick, though I wasn’t hungry.

When the fog of anaesthesia and pain killers and weakness subsided two days later, to my intense disappointment, I realized that the pain in my jaw was still present.

It devastated me. I felt resigned to being in pain for my entire life.

After that, somehow, part of me found a tiny, one-time, no strings attached slip more acceptable.

In the way that a betrothed twists a last fling into something that would be helpful to keeping the coming marriage from exploding like a boiled over pot and then falling apart.

Something in me knew without a doubt that I was going to be kissing one boy for the rest of my life.

And that made things real.

There I was, first year of college, not really experiencing my first year of college.

I began to feel a little ripped off. I began to worry that I would look back on my life and regret not allowing myself one tiny moment of human connection with a boy who I was clearly drawn to in a way that I had never felt before.

What kind of person laments a life having never, not once, given in to passion? What kind of life was I living?

That thought worked its way to the surface of my brain and blossomed like a sunflower.

When I checked in on that thought, and the feelings that went with it, the flower would look up at the sun I brought to it.

And then I heard there was a party on the last weekend of school, that he would be there.

How perfect. It seemed fated. I have a weakness, a soft place in my guarded heart, for fated happenings.

Things were set. Of course, at any point I could have decided I wouldn’t go. But I chose to go. I wanted to go. I was suddenly so fucking sick of being proper, even though I never attended any tea parties.

By the end of that year, I had gained weight. I was rounder, but the pull still existed. Somehow, my jaw pain eased ever so slightly. It pulled back a bit. Sometimes.

At the party, I drank too much. I was nervous. Things I didn’t know about this man were revealed to me.

In that space, he was more open about his desire for me. He didn’t hold back. But I was nervous. I had misunderstood.

It startled me to discover that he wanted to have sex.

I’m sure that sounds odd. What 20 year old female who felt an intense pull toward a 20 year male wouldn’t know that?

But I didn’t see it. My belief in the illicitness of a passionate kiss overrode anything that may have been out there.

And because I didn’t see it, I didn’t believe it was his intention.

Face to face, though, it was clear. I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified. Believing I had opened a box that couldn’t be closed, a path I didn’t want to walk, I began to think about all possible exit strategies.

I confessed to having a boyfriend, thinking this would cool things down. Nope.

The intense pull was relentless. I broke away from it, but it was still there. And I didn’t know what to do.

Still, there was a nagging at me that this would be my last chance ever to kiss a boy for the first time.

We kissed. And then I ran away. I slipped into the crowd and hailed a cab.

I never saw him again.

Years later, when my boyfriend and I were sharing our second apartment in a new town, I had dreams that he had cheated.

I was devastated. I felt angry, but more humiliated than anything. And I needed to know the truth.

When I asked him, he denied it. Never, he said. He had never done anything with anyone else, even while I was away.

I started to feel a terrible guilt deep in my belly. It started to spread. I wasn’t sure that I could handle it.

I confessed to kissing a boy in college. He forced me to tell him every detail. But I know he still didn’t believe me.

Then he told me he had cheated. He didn’t want to give any details. I was just sad. We talked about it for a week.

Part of me resigned to a life like that. One where my boyfriend would cheat and I would never leave.

I didn’t believe that anyone else would ever love me. I felt like I was too fat, too ugly, too dorky to ever be loved by anyone. Else.

Because my boyfriend loved me. He must have. Why else would he be with me?

And we lived happily ever after. Except not really.

On my death bed, I won’t be able to say that I wasn’t adventurous enough. Or desired. Or chosen. Because there was that one time in college. And I didn’t run. Not right away.

The Time Traveller’s Future Husband

lost years

I haven’t slept that well in weeks, no, months. Years maybe.

Do you remember the first time I said I love you when I wasn’t sleeping? We were in bed snuggling. I was afraid I wouldn’t get another chance to tell you.

After I left my old neighbourhood, I was overconfident. Like, I can’t explain it. My mind was a little idk lost in a fantasy.

I was so sure that I had found my soulmate and that nothing could get in the way of us being together.

I actually told my sister that love would just fall out of the sky. And the joke at the time was that I really thought it was true. That I believed in magic and I was going to be able to bring magic to everyone I love.

When I’m in love, I’m a little wild.

So, for three summers, I spent each spare moment at the beach. Why? Fucked if I know. Not on a conscious level.

But somewhere deep inside I knew that I would find love at the beach. Even though I had a feeling that my true love wasn’t from here.

The biggest problem I could imagine was figuring out what beach. There are three public beaches in town that I can get to on public transit.

I would meditate on a rock with the word love etched into it by the water I could walk to, lay on the dock at the beach where people weigh their catch once a year, and feed the geese near a beach which isn’t really a beach by the dump.

I tried everywhere I could get to. And you never came for me. You didn’t come to find me. We didn’t run into each other and pretend it wasn’t something we’d both dreamed of and known was going to happen.

When I saw that moment, I saw it happening in my new neighbourhood. The physical place I now call home.

In the mean time, I kept taking weekend trips to my old neighbourhood. But I was afraid to go back to certain places. In case I would run into someone and see that my prayers for him had come true. And I would know for sure that any pull back there was an exercise in karma resolution. In the way I’ve experienced it in the past. But also, I worried that he would be mean to me in a way that he never had been.

By the third summer, I was a little depressed. The only thing that got me out of the house some days was the belief that I would find love at the beach.

I thought my future husband was going to meet me here. At the beach.

See, when I left, I thought my future husband knew where I lived. Because I couldn’t see who my future husband was and I didn’t give him my forwarding address.

Fast forward to this year.

My friend Mel is one of the most openhearted, loving, giving, honest people I’ve known.

I told her about you. Yes, you.

And do you know what she said with her eyes after I showed her a photo of you?

She thought, oh God, he’s so out of your league.

And I thought, I know, but I love him.

Because she loves me, she never said I couldn’t do it. She thought, okay, how can we make this work?

One day, if my heart is right this time, you’ll meet her.

That’s when I knew without a doubt it was you. You. The man who I saw as way out of my league. The man I believed wouldn’t care if I had to go.

It was really difficult for me to wrap my mind around.

But there’s been a lot going on. So, I forgive myself. I needed to forgive myself. And there was never anything to forgive you for. Even if you feel there was. You did nothing wrong. You did everything right.

I was scared. If you had done anything different, I would have just run sooner. I’d never met anyone with a brain like yours and a heart like mine. I didn’t feel ready when I saw you. Your face killed me in a good way.

And I wanted to follow my heart. I just couldn’t hear her very well back then. Plus, she tumbles ahead to the end of the story without paying attention to details, like budgets and what steps we need to take to get there.

I’ve accomplished getting fat and growing a beard.

You’re the one. You’re the one who lit my dreams.

I travelled back from the future to tell you that you need to quit smoking.

Because that was a dream, right? Not a vision of something that has happened.

Do you know how impossible it is to fly when the place where our wings come from is filled with sorrow?

I want to make you smile. I want to make you laugh.

I want to take care of your heart the way I wasn’t able to before. No excuses. I fucked up. I hope you’ll forgive me.

I love you.

Didn’t I promise not to call you my future husband when we first met?

You’re the man who trusted me to come back. Do you know how important that is to my heart?

I don’t want to stop telling this story.

final tourmaline closure song

false intimacy

May brought early warm days that year. The sun was more beautiful after the long, harsh winter.

August’s dreams had told her for months that something big needed to change.

She was falling into a depression so deep and desperate that she was not only binge watching YouTube videos, but she started to write letters to her favorites through Facebook.

She told strangers intimate details of her life, her failing relationship. People with whom she felt a connection but knew logically they could not feel a connection in return.

It was the beginning of a journey, this sharing with real people, that lead to a series of waterfalls of hell.

She hated every waterfall. She gasped for breath when her head surfaced. She stuttered and shook long enough to become stronger, only to be sent down another waterfall of hell.

August had written a blog a few years earlier about some odd physical health problems of hers, but the experience was different somehow.

That May, believing none of her letters had been answered, she took matters into her own hands.

She left.

But something was still wrong. The place she found shelter in wasn’t right and this brought a whole sub-series of waterfalls of hell.

While she was dealing with the loss of her relationship and the humiliation that came with the awareness she hadn’t been worth fighting for in any way, she met someone online.

She convinced herself it was just one person. She couldn’t handle having so many people surround her at once.

August has a fear of circles.

She couldn’t see their faces. Not their real faces.

She believed that the photos were real. Because she was new to the community. Nobody had told her the rules.

One man she had spoken with for a little bit had been cruel and she didn’t know why.

One day, after getting angry and sad and overwhelmed and fed up with the way some of the people were making fun of her for no reason she could understand, and other things in her life, she saw her first face.

She recognized this man. She immediately associated him with someone she had been talking to.

Immediately after his face came another face. One she recognized from another place. He looked disappointed. She didn’t know why.

She got very angry. She called the first man names. She called the second man names. They never spoke again.

But August felt that something was left unresolved.

It took her several years tied up in false beliefs before she could fully let go and move on.

She thought she was in love with him.

There was something in the jumble of people and words and lies that felt different. It was a light brighter than any she had experienced not coming from an actual angel.

This light was healing. Physically and emotionally. It was a spiritual experience.

She believed that this light could only occur once, in one person, and she thought she knew who it was.

To have that light shine on her after the crazy hell she had come from was like being trapped in an industrial fire believing you were going to die in the back of a warehouse on the top floor, and then hearing a crash and seeing lights coming through the smoke. It was like having a firefighter find you and pull you over his shoulder and walk you out of the building, away from the danger.

And then it was like watching that firefighter walk away without even checking to make sure the medics knew you needed oxygen.

August believed that light was one of the faces. She had been sent a note lamenting the choice to have a spokesperson. But was not expected to reply.

Just an FYI.

That light somehow changed her life, but whoever was involved in shining it left her alone to pick through the mountains of bleached skulls in the charnel grounds.

It wasn’t a fucking rescue mission.

Even years later, August held a false hope that the man she believed had shone the light onto her in the first moments of aware terror was in love with her.

She believed he would choose to be with her after the passing of some event she wasn’t given the privilege of knowing about.

So she waited.

And she waited.

As she waited, people who knew she had left a door half open walked right the fuck in to do everything they could imagine to rip her life apart.

Guess who those people were. Guess how they knew her.

But none of it mattered because she believed that the mythical creature True Love, embodied by this man, was always just around the next corner.

She was able to withstand each fucking waterfall of hell until she could no longer believe there were any corners left to look around.

August gave up waiting because nothing ever happened.

And then she put her imprinted neurons into a Yatzee cup, shook the fuck out of them, and put them back into her brain one by one.

Somehow her brain started working again.

After her own foggy experience where she may have sent something divine to a person whose face she never saw, August could see that maybe whatever happened long ago wasn’t even intentional.