I've been gut-sick for three days. Three days is two days too many for me to pretend it's anything other than what it really is. So I won't.
When a thing ends, even when it ends well, ends right, it is still more than a little sad. Knowing all along that it would end and that there would be no hard feelings, no acrimony, no doors slamming or desperate, angry phone calls somehow offers less consolation than it should.
Let me tell you a few more things about this girl Milly. First and foremost, she is happiest when in motion: she travels, she runs, she works like a mule that has been granted the precious gift of opposable thumbs. I'm not suggesting she's unique in this way -- there are plenty of people in the world who are energized by being active. The point is that she falls firmly into that category, and one quality most of that ilk share is the urge to prolong their capacity to engage in such pursuits by maintaining something I'll simply call good health. Don't get me wrong, she'll dabble in the occasional self-destructive binge, smoking a few too many cigarettes, downing a few too many cocktails and so on, but on balance . . . well, on balance, she seeks balance. And regardless of whether or not that is necessarily for everyone, it is nonetheless admirable -- not because it's the right way for a person to live her life, but because Milly understand it's the right way for her to live hers. She also possesses the kind of integrity that allows her to walk away from something she otherwise loves but that doesn't fit the larger picture, rather than muddling through indefinitely in the no-man's land between trying to force the situation to change to suit, and compromising her principles.
One remarkably consistent trait of contentious relationships, to my mind, at least, is the ongoing struggle to reshape the person we claim to love above all others into somebody other than who he or she actually is. It's a remarkable phenomenon, don't you think? We fall in love with a person, we consider that person to be more important than everyone else in the world, and still we can't just be happy with who he or she is -- we still have to fuck with it. You're too this, not enough that, you smother me, you don't pay enough attention to me, your feet smell, you don't like my friends, all your friends suck . . . and on and on and on. The part that baffles me most about this is not that people do it, it's that they too often don't seem to recognize that's what they're doing. I'm not suggesting I have an answer to any of this, won't even pretend to offer advice. I just know it's out there, see it every day, and point it out only as stark contrast to this thing that was Milly and me.
I'm the guy to whom friends and random acquaintances quite regularly offer unsolicited observations about my lifestyle. I smoke like Bogart, drink like a Scot and eat whatever the hell I like. The only exercise I get, other than walking around town (because I don't own a car), is in bed. And I currently live in a windowless cave with no shower. There is, admittedly, room for criticism. But here's the thing about criticism that too few critics appreciate: go fuck yourself. By which, of course, I mean feel free to offer me your thoughts and suggestions, but don't ever assume your sense of the right way to do things entitles you to tell me the right way for ME to do things. I'm not your kid and I'm not your fix-it project. I'm a person who is entirely comfortable living with the consequences of my own choices. Even when one of those consequences includes losing Milly.
Which brings me to why I'm not the least bit bitter about this ending: Milly has never once tried to push or steer or coerce me into being someone other than who I am. She's never tried to get me to skip the next cigarette, eat a salad, leave the bar early, or change my ways in any fashion. The delightful irony of that approach is that, in the seven and a half months I spent with her, she got me to look at some of the world differently -- not by insisting, but simply by showing it to me and letting me draw my own conclusions. That's the right kind of person to have in your life, whether as a friend or as something more.
And we are friends and always will be. But she knew the something more was never going to pan out the way she wants her something more to go. And she had the guts to say it to me, with no mollycoddling, no guile, no bullshit. If I didn't love her before, I would certainly love her for that.
But I am gut-sick still, I'm sad for myself because I don't get to be that guy. It's the kind of sad for which there is no immediate cure: there is no replacement part like another girl, or string of girls, no magic elixir like two days of solid drinking, no soothing release like an hour in a therapist's office or an afternoon talking it out with your best friend. It mellows in time, then goes away, if not entirely, then enough. And someday soon I'll be sitting on a bar stool beside Milly, we'll eat BLTs with extra-crispy bacon (mine with extra mayonnaise, because I really do thumb my nose at the army of tantalizing raiders determined to destroy my body), sipping mudslides and making each other laugh. I look forward to that day. Today, though, I'm sad as shit, with apologies to no one.