Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Case of the Matthews

Picture this: empty red wine bottles, chocolate wrappers, balled up tissues, and “It’s Called a Break-Up Because It’s Broken” on the nightstand. This was my bedroom about 2 years ago. It was kinda worse than this video there for a minute. P.S. I laughed like it was my first time seeing this when I uploaded it. 

Well, it looks like we’re taking a turn for really personal town. Buckle up buttercups! 
This wasn’t my first break-up, but it was my first break-up that made me want to jump off a cliff. It led me to say things like “I just don’t know if I’ll ever be happy again”  which my dear friend Kathryn hastily mocked in an Eeyore voice. We laugh about it now. 
If you’ve ever experienced this type of split you know how gut-wrenching it can be.
Why was this particular parting so dreadful, you ask? He was hilarious. I’m talking knee-slappin, spew your morning coffee, ‘please stop, my stomach hurts!’ kind of funny. We laughed until we cried. And we traveled. We traveled all the time. Our first kiss was in the Broad River. He had just rescued me when my kayak tipped over...I had to thank him for his gallant effort somehow. He told me he loved me for the first time on the top of a mountain in the Puerto Rican rain forest. That was 5 months in. 

We were the kind of couple that made everyone gag. By the end, I was gagging too.
 We hardly ever argued. Sounds dreamy, right? Think again. If a couple doesn’t have conflict, then a couple doesn’t communicate. If a couple doesn’t communicate, a couple doesn’t grow. I ended up feeling like he was selfish, but I’ve since realized that he was in a place in life where he had nothing more to give. I broke up with him on a Monday, and haven’t spoken to him since. 
A month or so later, I went on a date with someone new and cried the whole way home. I actually had a nice time, which seemed to make matters worse for some reason. 
The next guy I dated was fit for a straight jacket. I locked myself out of the house when he and I went to lunch one afternoon, so I used the spare key hidden outside to let us back in. Yes, I realize now that I should have changed its hiding spot, but I didn’t know he was crazy enough to use it to enter my home while I was away on a camping trip and leave me a bouquet of flowers the size of China. I know now.
Needless to say that around this time, I was in Cynic-Town, USA--population me. The issue wasn’t the absence of the perfect man, but it was the presence of an unyielding fear that every relationship would eventually disappoint me. No, this wasn’t simply loneliness; I was suffering from a looming sense of let down. The defeat of ending a relationship with someone who I had previously decided was perfect for me was worse than the heartache I felt about no longer having him in my life. And I was afraid that I would continue to live in that feeling. I was afraid that what I was looking for was unattainable (that seems so ridiculous now, but it didn’t at the time). Sidebar: Fear often snowballs, so it’s important to nip that shit in the bud the minute it shows up. 

You see, Matt and I were really good friends, but our relationship was about as deep as a kiddie pool. I was spiritually and emotionally starved while we were together, and I was craving a connection with more substance.
Now, I can tell you right now that I did not expect to meet someone who was capable of satiating such a desire when some girlfriends and I hit up the bars in Athens, Georgia last year. I was chatting with some guys there once before and when they asked me how old I was I replied, “Older than you for sure.” They persisted, and I answered “25.”
“Wow, I hope my girlfriend is as hot as you when she’s your age!” was their response.

Jammin' out to Man in the Mirror in Athens

However, the town is not entirely composed of children, and if you’ve frequented  the home of UGA (I can hear ‘Dawgs’ fans barking in the background) you know that all in all, it’s a fine place.

Matthew was wearing cowboy boots and his hair in a pony tail that night. We talked for a while, and I gave him my number even though he was living in Oxford, Mississippi where he was finishing up his Ph.D in history. That’s about 5 hours from where I live in Atlanta. Why, you ask? Excellent question! My answer is I’m not sure. That is, I’m not sure why I did at the time...too much whiskey, I guess...but I know now that it was because we had a genuine connection, which I’m sure my sub-conscience picked up on when my conscience was pre-occupied with bar tabs and taxi rides. 
I was actually surprised when he asked me to lunch, since I knew he would be headed back to Mississippi soon. I said yes, mostly out of curiosity. 
That lunch date may have been the only 14 hour lunch I’ve ever had. We stayed up until 4am discussing the role of technology in society, how he teaches his ‘New South’ and ‘African American History’ classes and how important it is to name your car (his jeep is Blue Baller and my focus is The Silver Bullet). 

Now, lunch (and dinner and a midnight snack) was one thing, but accepting an invitation to visit him in Mississippi was another. I knew how utterly impractical that would be since I had no intention of embarking on the treacherous journey of a long-distance relationship, so why waste the time? Or more importantly, the emotion? But, Clarksdale, Mississippi, which is considered to be the ‘birthplace of the blues’, had been on my list of desirable destinations for quite some time, and I was dying to go. 
I met him in Oxford, and we drove about an hour and half to Clarksdale where we  checked into the ‘The Shack-Up Inn.’ Now, before you go making all kinds of assumptions about this establishment, allow me to clarify. You literally stay in a shack. The grounds are comprised of a bunch of sharecropper homes and an old cotton mill. The description on the website reads, in large print font, “The Ritz, we ain’t” and goes on to say, “drunken frat boys stay away.”

“Whether you're looking for an overnight stay on your way to Memphis or Chicago or New Orleans or you need to stay longer to conduct historic blues business, and or monkey business, the Shack Up Inn will add a new dimension to your stay in the Delta. As you sit in the rocker on the porch, tipping a cold one while the sun sinks slowly to the horizon, you just might hear Pinetop Perkins radiatin' the 88's over at his shack. Perhaps, if you close your eyes, even Muddy or Robert or Charlie might stop to strum a few chords in the night.”
Fucking awesome. 

We spent that evening basking in live blues music at Morgan Freeman’s bar ‘Ground Zero’ and spent most of the night relaxing on the screened-in porch drinking beer and sharing stories, feelings and ideas. 
The next day, we headed back to Oxford where we toured William Faulkner’s home and poked around Ole Miss. Matthew gave the same tour he gives his students; he walks with the whole class around campus and discusses the monuments and how the nuances of each one symbolically represents some historical issue. I was in nerd heaven. 

Later, we packed a cooler full of beer, hopped in the Blue Baller and headed out to Lake Sardis to watch the sunset. It was glorious. 

Myself at Lake Sardis
In fact, the whole weekend was glorious, and we lived happily ever after...separately.  Which is GREAT. Here’s why: life is about experiences. Life is not about finding a means to an end. 
Matthew is an awesome guy. There is no doubt that we had, and still do have a  connection. Neither of us did anything wrong; we’re simply not right enough for each other to warrant a long-term relationship. BUT, he served a divine purpose in my life. He allowed me to see that men could embody exceptional emotional depth, sensitivity, compassion, and openness while maintaining their masculinity. It may sound ridiculous, but I had convinced myself these aforementioned traits would have to be accompanied by a vagina. 
The experience of being with him for that short time also allowed me to see that beautiful relationships come in all shapes and sizes. A short-lived romance can be just as meaningful as a lifelong one. It’s all about what you experience and learn from it. 
I almost didn’t visit because I knew that we probably wouldn’t date long-term. But I know now that it is important to refrain from compartmentalizing how people should function in your life. We often think that if a relationship isn’t going to last a lifetime it isn’t worth our attention. And while I understand that many people consider marriage as a goal, we you shouldn’t miss out on life in it’s pursuit (I’m not one of them, for the record). When a person walks into our lives, we may not understand their purpose in being there right away, but I can guarantee that they serve one. Much of my learning to open up my heart again and releasing the fear of disappointment was due to knowing Matthew. And now I can honestly say that I look at dating as more of an experience rather than a means to an end. I’m not saying that I don’t want a long-lasting connection; I’m open to it if one comes my way. I’m also not saying that I will date anyone and everyone. I’m just saying that, using my gut feelings as my guide, I’ve learned to enjoy a genuine connection of any kind regardless of it’s length, practicality, or purpose in my life, and this has proved very rewarding. 
Matthew and I had lunch the last week, and I’m pleased to know he feels the same way. 
Special thanks to:
Athens, GA

This book

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