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Posts tagged ‘addictive relationship’

Bullwhip kelp



I am walking across the beach at low tide thinking about bullwhip kelp [Nereocystis luetkeana] because all around me the stipes that washed up in March and April have dried into strands a fraction the size of the originals. What were turgid, heavy tubes ten, twelve, fourteen feet long — they are reputed to grow as long as 120 feet — are now brittle curls the size of dried willow branches. The bulbs that poke out of the sand look like desiccated heads of garlic.

What’s puzzling me is how my friend manages to get beautifully preserved, sun-bleached specimens that retain their original size and shape. She has several dozen stacked on a large table in her studio overlooking the ocean. They are the color of bone, and from a distance seem to be made of bakelite. You pick one up, and it’s light and not at all fragile, without the smell of ocean you would expect from something that trapped light in sea water.

She showed me how, by puckering the lips and blowing on one end, you make a haunting, hollow trumpeting sound like the call of whales signaling in the vast deep .  Each one sounds a little different, some rougher, some smoother, some with a little more “toot” and some with a little more “tweet”, depending on their length and shape, and the degree of twist and torque in the stipe.

Each Fourth of July, this woman organizes her friends into a bullwhip kelp band and sends them off to march in the town parade, shaking the rattle bulbs filled with rice or beans and blowing the horns, producing the  sounds made by  native Americans living in these coastal inlets before, before the big demographic change — the expropriation by settlers from the east and south and north who had no eye or ear for local ways, but only rushed to replicate, in a new land, the lives they’d left behind.

So walking on the beach I’m wondering how my friend manages to find these beautiful, intact specimens of bullwhip kelp and I realize that I need only consider how she makes her way to the beach, and I’ll have my answer. She lives high above the tumble of rocks and boulders at the base of the mountain that runs into the ocean. There the winter storms pile up logs, stumps, fishing nets, saw horses, buoys, an occasional glass float and giant ribbons of kelp. As I’m thinking all this, I find a perfect long stipe on the boulders, and then look up, and see my friend and her man lying on the beach, blowing into the kelp horns.

We stop to talk. I tell her about my aching bones, my aching gut, my aching heart – the sequelae of my decision to back away from “the relationship.”  No stranger to heartbreak, she listens intently and then rummages around in her scientist head to tell me that when we fall in love our brains kick into the same modality of chemical changes that morphine — or other addictive drugs — induce, and that when we back off from the “love fix,” our bodies go into the same symptoms of withdrawal. I’m not surprised. The Imago therapists with whom my man and I shared every step of our relationship kept talking about the endorphin highs produced during the infatuation phase of courtship and maintained by physical contact (holding hands, embracing, kissing, intercourse). They never talked about the withdrawal effect, though.

The last time I went through this withdrawal I had too many responsibilities to juggle  to afford the luxury of attending to its complex manifestations. I remember  profound humiliation, betrayal, fear, anger, spikes of hostility, shame, regret  all churning in a maelstrom of grief.  In this  roiling current of complex emotions,  memories, glimpses of what was being lost, there was also: my father’s final illness and death… my daughter’s move to college. My uterus went into high gear, breeding fibroids, bleeding, weeping blood every ten days for a week or a fortnight at a stretch, the wrenching cramping below an echo to the heavy dullness in my head. A Gesamtkunstwerk  of pain: heart pain, soul pain, body pain. I doubled up on antidepressants and let the grieving take its subterranean course.

This time it’s different. I have only myself, the dog, and the ocean. And so I can inspect the workings of grief on a cellular level.

The beach, for me, is the proper setting for mourning the death of a future that was projected in the daze of love.

The foreshore teems with the dead: birds, crabs, kelp, seals, sand dollars, trees, fish. And the foreshore teems with the living.I am consoled as long as the waves keep sounding, as the clouds overhead mass and disperse. The sand fleas hop at low tide. The gulls point into the wind.

He writes me, asking : if there’s so much pain in separation, why not fix it? Why not eliminate the cause and simply move myself to be with him, commit to being together.  Because, I tell him:

I will not override the uncertainty. Or sweep my gut instinct under the rug. Or take a leap into an unknown that is even more unknown than the one I inhabit now.

A former student sent me her translation of a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva [Мне нравится, что вы больны не мной] and sparked my curiosity to see what I could do with it. This is  what I came up with.

I like that you, sir,  pine not for me.

I like that I pine not for you.

That the earth’s great globe will never

Glide beneath our feet.

I like that I can tease —

At ease— not mincing words,

Not blushing when sleeves lightly brushing

Send rushing a suffocating wave.

I also like also that to my face

You, sir, casually kiss another,

That you don’t sentence me to hellfire

For kissing, sir, not you.

That you, my sweet, by day, by night, don’t take

My own sweet name in vain —

That never will the strains of  “Hallelujah”

Fade into the tabernacle hush around us.

I thank you, sir, with my hand and heart

For this:  that you, sir – to yourself unknown—

Do love me: for the stillness of my night,

For the rare encounters at sunset hours,

For our non-dalliances by moonlight.

For the sun shining not on our heads, –

For your pining – alas – not for me,

For my pining – alas – not for you.

The day after…


I like my colors vivid, so intensely vivid that I can chew them. I like them saturated, juicy, assertive, bold, unapologetic. Don’t give me the  pastels of the English garden, whose tact I do admire when I see them stepping up or down  chromatic scales with such subtle finesse that the step from eggshell to blush is barely perceptible.

Flashback to the last days of a great romance by way of a non sequitur on the unraveling of love, which takes a long, long time to accomplish. Leap into love, crawl out of it.

Constructing a relationship is like knitting – one loop, one knot at a time, requiring the work of two hands, a single thread. The textile grows. Its texture records  fluctuating tension. Look closely for the felted episodes that tell of  sweat and tears. There are traces of incorporated hair and stray pieces of foreign matter, with knots where a new ball of yarn was added to the old, with variations in color where the dye lot changed, a slipped stitch here and there, a miscalculation marked by a lapse in the pattern, inattention traced in a flaw.

You know it’s time to unravel a relationship when, sitting next to the man you’ve been loving, you feel a great weight bear down on your chest: a weight so heavy, that by comparison to it the lead bib the dental assistant drapes around your neck to snap an x-ray of your teeth — feels like a silk scarf.

I sat for seven hours next to the man I love as we drove across the Pacific Northwest.

I spent most of it fighting an overwhelming urge to sleep.  The moment I got in the car, a deep fatigue stalked me and  I kept sinking into a guilty sleep, suspecting that this was my defense against the truth, and knowing , beneath that suspicion, that this was a stalling tactic to delay having to speak it. I gulped down air. My bones ached. My gut ached. I was incapable of speaking or acting: all will gone.

It’s not supposed to be like this when you are with the man you love. And yet, the longer I kept silent, the less I could breathe. Finally, I got it: unless I put out my truth, neither he nor I could take another step. He needed to know what was in my heart and mind. I needed to break the silence and  risk  losing his love by speaking about my dread. Would he have the courage and the largesse to hear through his own dread?

Breaking up requires tact, generosity, grace, and good manners. Being vicious, digging up the dirt and flinging it at your partner actually makes it easier to say good-by, because in the process of mucking around in the dark, messy underside of the relationship, you focus on what you want to eliminate from your life. That throws up a temporary fog that keeps you from seeing the good you’re losing. It also stirs up anger, and  anger acts as an anesthetic  that numbs the lacerating pain of separation. Once the fog dissipates and the anesthetic wears off — as they  do sooner or later — the desolation is compounded by the sting of  bad conscience, regret at having inflicted even more hurt, and shame at having diminished yourself and banalized the love that had been so precious while it lasted.

I try to keep this in mind as I move through the steps of separation so that in my loneliness I won’t have to carry the burden of bad faith and shame. Words spoken in anger and bitterness have a half-life equal to memory. They are like jellyfish lurking in the sea of consciousness, invisible but with a pernicious way of floating, unbidden, to the surface, to sting again and again, as long as memory endures.

That’s why I pick my way carefully around the anger and bitterness that I’ve collected in the last 71 months, to explain that I dread committing myself to a lifetime of being held  hostage to past missteps  for which I will never be forgiven, as if I had intentionally inflicted pain or slights to self-esteem or given cause for insecurity, distrust, and doubt.

After all, if I can’t have love everlasting, I’ll take self-respect.

The Tug of the Past


When a wave comes  to the shore,  its forward progress is at odds with a contrary pull in the direction from which it came. The wave curls, crests, breaks, and some of its volume slides forward, but the rest draws back. That, I feel, is what’s going on with my effort to break myself free of a relationship that carried me along for nearly six years. I am moving forward into my own life even as a part of my spirit, or élan vital,  is drawn back to the familiar.

I suspect this transition, this hovering in the limen between the inertia of the last six years and the unknown of the future, is, like all liminal zones, unstable, precarious. It reminds me of the time I stopped smoking cigarettes for good. My decision was firm then, supported by the unfortunate wreck of my red 1977 Mazda GLC which was, in turn, the direct consequence of my addiction to nicotine. I was working on the final chapter of my first book collaboration with G. He was doing something upstairs. I was in the basement, at a huge expanse of table with a goose-necked lamp throwing light on my red IBM Selectric

and stacks of books, notes, papers. It was 10 pm and my pack of Vantage cigarettes was empty.

I jumped in the Mazda, drove down to the Greek grocery on NW 23d and back, let myself in through the garage and up the basement door, and got back to work. The next morning, sometime before nine, a hideous racket outside the house woke me up. There was the roar of diesel, clanking, the hiss of releasing brakes, men’s voices. I pulled the pillow around my ears and went back to sleep. Two hours later, when I went out to get into the car and go to work, I was suddenly very confused. Where I had remembered parking the Mazda there was nothing: not even an oil slick. Zilch. No car. Did I own a car? Was there a car in my life? Had it been stolen? Towed? If so, why? Since when was there a ban on parking one’s own car in front of one’s house?

I steamed upstairs and called the police department to report a stolen car. The officer on duty took his time checking (this was back in 1982 or 3, before computers!) and when he came back on the line, told me it was in a tow lot down under the freeway. Towed for being illegally parked. Or improperly parked. Towed by a fire truck and a tow truck, both, from the top of the junk maples growing out of the steep slope above W. B. where it had come to rest after coasting down the hill, sometime after I’d left it, ostensibly parked, in front of the house. Evidently, in my throes of my nicotine craving, I’d neglected to engage the parking brake and bank the wheels, and the GLC took off on its own, with an assist from gravity and the various elemental forces that control the movement of bodies .

That’s when I decided to quit smoking for good. It wasn’t especially difficult to do, given the great expense of that final pack of Vantage cigarettes. What was difficult was the “flashbacks” – the sudden flood of panic and anxiety that seized me when the molecules of nicotine still lingering in my system leached out, the irritating edginess that threw me off balance, the inexplicable crankiness that came upon me out of the blue, without provocation.

This is what I feel after my decision to break with the relationship of six years.  A sudden impulse to pick up the phone and talk, or to write or text. And I have to remind myself, over and over again, that I might slip, like the wave drawn back into the mass of water; or my body craving nicotine — and though I might slip, I must not give up, but stay the course, endure the transition, the backwash of emotions, the pull of habit, nostalgia … call it what you will. And I must remind myself that with each instance of resisting the urge to rejoin the past, I will grow stronger, my footing will be more secure, and I will find my way to the foreshore of my new life.

Beware of greedy and unappreciative takers.