new spring shoots are usually green, but they appear in other bewitching shades: smooth, shining peony fingers the color of fresh blood; stinging nettles as violet and barbed as a bruise; the tender, fleshy pink tendrils of bleeding heart. what thrusts up from the chill, dormant earth is often astonishing and mournfully lovely.

in the background of all my stories right now is a man. a good man, a surprising man, but a perilous one, who earnestly seduced me into an anachronistic romance, begun both too soon and too late. together, we are a tangle of mislabeled and abandoned baggage. it won’t end happily. but foresight isn’t 20/20; that’s the classic trait of hindsight. in this time, ahead of the crash, the thrill of the wild ride feels worth the inevitable wreck at the end.

this isn’t about him.

being alone, that’s ridiculously easy. loneliness is like money: the more you have, the less you need. one morning, you rise from your solitary bed and realize that you wouldn’t want it any other way. you are dazzlingly, euphorically free. that independence is intoxicating. you are completely in charge of your own destiny, your own time, your own heart. you become the most important person in your own life. you lavish all your love and care on yourself. the sex is always satisfying. everything you have and everything you are? they’re just for you.

after a while, though, things start to go awry. with no one to grow for and with, you stop growing. and when you stop growing, you begin to fade. you go through the motions, righteously content, blissfully at peace, but deep down? joyless. you forget the warm, serene comfort of easy companionship. you forget the steady rush of chemicals that love and affection feed your brain. you forget the flutter in your belly, the sizzling shiver of skin on skin. you even forget that you’ve forgotten those things.

the moment when you finally remember is traumatic. memory lays bare all the pretty lies you’ve been living in good faith. loneliness lunges back in, snuffling hungrily for its bloody pound of flesh. you abruptly see how broken you truly are when you genuinely and passionately believed that you were whole. it feels like treachery.

i’m not a person who cries easily anymore. a bad man crushed that out of me long ago, caustically accusing me of using tears to manipulate him, as though he even possessed a conscience that could be manipulated by mere feelings. he betrayed me, shattered me, leaving my heart in sharp angry shards. and a person who reassembles their heart from hard, jagged fragments is not often a gentle and tender thing afterward. even a good person might only do generous things for duty, responsibility, integrity and not real kindness or pleasure. even a previously soft person might stop weeping. at least, i did.

but i wept when this good man said beautiful, simple things that reminded me of what happiness looked like: attention, curiosity, care, shared dreams, and desire. just glimpsing the general shape of happiness again, not feeling it, but surely recognizing it, i was catastrophically unable to keep from grieving it. that moment hurt. it really, physically hurt. i felt the dull concussion of it in my chest like the sound wave of a distant explosion and i broke. for days and days afterward, i would crumple up and weep over and over again as the echoes of that impact reverberated through my heart. months later, i can still feel that hard shock ricocheting softly off my bones, an enduring vibration of sorrow.

i really didn’t understand what had hurt me and why it hurt so badly. no matter how hard i studied all the pieces, i couldn’t solve the puzzle. but, damn. i wanted the sobbing to stop. it had all started with this man and i reasoned that the solution was to cut him out of my life. i walked away.

and leaving worked. i stopped crying. but it was because i couldn’t muster any strong feeling when i felt numb inside. when i felt remorseful. starved. impulsive. unfair. pursued by slavering loneliness. being alone again wasn’t the cure. it was the disease. and so i humbled myself and went back to him.

i suspect it would surprise almost everyone to know that, by nature, i am tender, demonstrative, ardent, optimistic, fervent, and trusting, absolutely made to be in love. before i lived stubbornly, fiercely alone, i loved easily, wildly, and purely, if not always wisely or maturely. i want that ability back, along with all the lost years when i bitterly rejected it, a quarter of a human lifetime. the time is gone; it has all been consumed. time is regrettably flammable that way. i hope that it’s not too late to pull the rest of my time from the fire, knowing that i must accept a few burns in the process.

but mostly? i hope that whatever pushes up from the cold clay of my long-slumbering, winter-heavy heart will emerge arrayed in dazzling and unexpected colors.

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