Charming and I broke up on Saturday. It was his doing this time, a gracious offer to cease our courtship, vacating the position of the one standing between me and my dreams of a family. When he escorted me to my students’ junior prom the night before, I wasn’t expecting the adventure to end in less than twenty-four hours. But it did, inside the house now quiet behind me.
It wasn’t quiet then. Charming wanted to talk about my most recent blog post, the subtle evidence of an ebbing, depressing cloud. I’d concluded only that something needed to change. While I looked inward, so had he, and it pained him to see me struggling and feel, in some part, responsible for my pain. The decibel level rose in accordance with the level of sensitivity in revelations. When Charming admitted he still could not guarantee a shared future with me, I capped out.
After shouting something over my shoulder, I left. I drove off. I sat in a church parking lot because that seems to be what I do when I break up with Charming. I amaze myself sometimes with how badly I cry. I’m talking about that puffy cheeked, red-eyed, snot-logged kind of cry pierced by intermittent bouts of guttural emissions originating from the pit of my stomach where the knot is, the one that forms when your world gets turned upside down.
Breaking up with Charming wasn’t part of the self-improvement strategy I’d been concocting since my writing therapy days before. It seemed somehow fitting that he would find the one variable beyond my control and seize it. Military training aside, his instinct is to be the hero. A selfless hero would put me out of my misery; he’d free me from bondage with men who are never ready for the next step, eliminating himself as a candidate, passing me off to the next available bachelor.
No. I don’t want a tragic hero because I don’t want my life to be a tragedy. I don’t want Charming to sacrifice our potential for future happiness to spare me the emotional turmoil of my current mid-life crisis. I’ll be thirty-four this week. I think I’m officially middle aged. And I also think I’m entitled to my own little crisis. I can be disappointed at where my life finds me now. I can grieve the absence of the dream of a husband and children to share my love with in all the empty minutes. I can lament my persistent belly fat. I can wish things were different.
This is my story, my fairy tale. I’m not Walt Disney. I’m not a princess. I’m not a damsel in distress. I don’t need to be saved or spared or freed. I need to be exactly where I am. In this chapter, Charming isn’t the hero. I feel lonely and withdrawn because I’ve isolated myself. I’ve isolated myself in an act of protection against the potential uprooting that would come if I ended up with Charming.
The break-up lasted an hour or so. I returned home after unsuccessfully trying to clear my head, and we talked. On the kitchen floor. Because it was cold and my head was pounding from crying so hard. He explained he hadn’t planned on breaking up with me, that if it were his choice, he would still want more time. I’ll give it to him.
So do I. I want all the time. To be honest, the rest of time. With Charming. I’m all in. I’ve been all in for a long time. I believe he’s the one. That doesn’t make him the one. In that heartbroken hour, I had to surrender that hope and faith and belief that I’ve been clinging to for the past year and a half. Optimism stripped away, alone in that church parking lot, I saw only a woman who displeased me. His part of my story may end in heartbreak, and I will have been wrong, yes. I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again. I just like the woman in the rear-view mirror better when she’s brimming with hope for a future where her dreams do come true.
Charming’s pace is not the problem, though it presents a problem. The problem is me, or an absence of me and dreams I can choose to pursue now. In the years since my divorce, I’ve reclaimed pieces of myself. The daughter was restored, then the teacher, then the writer. There are whole parts of me still latent. Dry bones come alive.
On Sunday morning, relationship concerns resolved to a comfortable level of uncertainty, we headed to church. Like usual, Charming asked me to pick one of the three we float between on my weekends. I picked Liberty Baptist. I love the worship and the choir, and the eleven o’clock service finds me contented with a little extra sleep. The pastor is friends with my parents’ pastor in New York. I know a handful of people who attend there, but with thousands at each service, I don’t bump into them.
Except this week. I heard someone calling, “Ms. Palma!” and saw one of my young bloggers in the back row of the section where I like to sit. After seeing us exchange greetings, the elderly couple beside her exited the row and told Charming and I to join her. I thanked them for their kindness. I was glowing. I’d forgotten what it was like to attend a church where you actually hugged people! As we exited the sanctuary, I was preparing to tell Charming I had decided to make Liberty my church home when the lady sitting in front of us touched my arm.
“We felt like we had a concert behind us today. I enjoyed your worship. It was a blessing. You have a gift.”
One voice in a sea. That’s the only singing I do these days. Charming doesn’t know me as a singer-songwriter or a worship leader as so many others who are close to me. He’s never seen me perform on stage, not for a recital or concert or musical. Night after night, I’ve looked at my piano, thinking about playing it for months. This weekend, I played it. A melody came. No words. Yet.
I do have a gift, and I should be using it. There’s room for another dream there.
A church family. The thought is encouraging. My student saved me a seat at a special worship service on Sunday night after Charming went back to DC. It was a bit surreal, her voice and mine intermingling in harmony singing worship choruses where we both knew the words. A girl named Melody gave her testimony, and she said the best advice she’d gotten was to position yourself to hear God’s voice, see His face, and experience His grace. That’s what I was doing at this worship service.
As I sat beside my young blogger listening to Melody string together scripture after scripture, I could picture myself writing in the storms of my youth, doing the same thing. I served as a youth pastor for a couple of years in Nashville. I prepared and delivered sermons every week. Charming has never met that version of me either. That’s another part of myself I need to reclaim. I used to be a leader in the church. Picking a church is the first step in rediscovering myself in so many ways.
Dry bones come alive. Charming’s not the hero in this story. He’s my best friend and a faithful companion, but he isn’t responsible for my joy. He’s not my pain-taker or my chain-breaker.
If it takes a season of lack luster existence to usher in the flood of life I’ve yet to even dream for myself, then let it rain. Give me this storm. Let me be broken and humbled. Dry bones come alive. And if we break up again, they’ll be more than an empty church parking lot to comfort my crying bones.