I just finished Cold Reign by Faith Hunter, the latest in the Jane Yellowrock series. The plot thickens. Lots going on here, a bit difficult to follow, but excellent nonetheless. In this outing, Jane goes head-to-head with her old beau, Rick. He left her for another woman. In a brutally public way. Sure, he was being magically coerced, but that's no excuse. Even if it is, it didn’t lessen Jane’s humiliation. In this book, Jane examines her heart and realizes she's over Rick. Hooray! But she also understands that while she's moved on with Bruiser, there is a place in her heart where Rick resided. That place is now empty – because each and every person who claims a piece of our hearts makes an impression. Like a meteor hitting the Earth. And while they are in our lives, that crater is filled. And when they leave, either by choice or by death, their custom built home in our chest lays empty forever. I've experienced this with boyfriends, but also with friends and family who stay for a time and then move on, whether by design or mortality’s limits. The effects on the heart are substantial.
Death and its specter are all around me. It's one of the side effects of aging. I’ve understood this intellectually, of course, but the more years we rack up, the less are our odds in outrunning our appointment in Samarra. And even when we do, our friends and family members start to lose their races. The other phenomenon I've noticed as I get older is that I've learned to let go of relationships that don't serve me, including those that have lasted a lifetime. And as each person who once meant so much to me exits my life in one way or another, they leave holes in my heart, empty spaces where there had been love, joy and sometimes pain. I have Swiss cheese in my chest where there used to be American. But Swiss cheese has more flavor and character than American, and that's an important consideration when contemplating the cheese cart they roll around for dessert. Who wants to go through life and end up smooth, bland and almost tasteless? Not me. The holes in my heart are starting to pile up. And perhaps that's how it works: when the empty saces outnumber the solid parts, our time here is up and we move on to the next adventure. But who knows? Not me. What I do know is that the emptiness is painful sometimes. The ache of the void can overwhelm me. But that is the price of a life well loved. Jane is new at the friends and family game, but I've been at it for the entirety of my existence. Thankfully. But the cake always costs the bake. And sometimes it's worth it. Sometimes it's not.
I think most of us are willing to let go of romantic alliances that cease to serve. It often takes longer than it should, but I always pulled the plug in the end. It’s harder with friends and family. Much harder. As I've mentioned before, my brother and I are estranged. It is a painful reality for me. I love my brother. Fiercely. Always. But he's kryptonite to me. Contact with him weakens me. Tragic but true.
And I've recently had to surrender a lifelong friend. It was tough. But I finally realized that every interaction with her upset me. This went on for a long time. I contrasted my feelings when I interacted with her to those of my interactions with others in my inner circle and saw the dichotomy in high relief. Life is too fucking short. So, I stopped calling. As she's one to count who calls who, she stopped calling too. No big altercation. Just the recognition that my life is better without her than with her. But the place she's occupied in my heart for 47 years is empty. It aches.
When a relationship ends, however it ends, I ask myself whether I regret the connection. And I almost never do. Because even when it hurts, the cake has almost always been worth the bake. I've grown and learned and evolved as a result of all the connections I've made. No pain no gain.
Next week is the anniversary of the death of one of my closest friends. It was an odd friendship given the 40-year age difference, but no less authentic for its eccentricity. I mourn my friend deeply, even four years later. I miss him. And I'm profoundly grateful for that particular hole. It's deep. And it hurts. Like surgery without anesthesia. But I'm grateful. That hole represents my love, the experience of friendship so unusual and unexpected that no amount of pain can erase the joy of connecting with such an extraordinary soul.
So, death and all his friends can kiss my ass. I'll take the pain with the gain, as always. Just like Jane. Without Rick, there would be no Bruiser. The holes in our hearts create a roadmap for intimacy. The road less traveled and all of that. There's a reason why that road is less traveled. The potholes are a bitch. But I’ll wear a seatbelt and revel in the bumpy ride.