And Words Are All I Have

Soulmates aren't the ones who make you happiest, no.
They're instead the ones who make you feel the most.
Burning edges and scars and stars.
Old pangs, captivation and beauty.
Strain and shadows and worry and yearning.
Sweetness and madness and dreamlike surrender.
They hurl you into the abyss.
They taste like hope.

Victoria Erickson
heart traced on window

The Summer I Learned the Most

Poetry is my church. I go to it for redemption, for answers and for comfort. I'm
not an abstract thinker. The poems I write and the ones I most enjoy chronicle ordinary life and tell everyday stories.

I feel passionately that a poem, any poem, should earn its keep. How?

First, I want to be moved by a poem. To be reading it and feel there is nowhere else I want to be, nothing else I’d rather be doing.

I want to be reminded of something I’ve forgotten. I want to feel I’ve heightened my awareness somehow. I want to stir inside a little. I want to feel smarter, wiser. I heard somewhere that a good poem should deliver to the reader a magical moment of understanding; it is perfectly said.

I want to be told something by a poem. Something, almost anything. It may describe a particular slant of light at a window late in the day, the way the poet see the belly of the moon at night before she falls asleep, or the imagined history of an abandoned toy discovered in a playground.

It might be about love, any and all kinds of love, even if it is bad love. Or especially because it is bad love--such a common heartbreaking thing.

I’ve long written about my relationships in my poems, the good and the less so. I doubt if writing ever helped ease the deep ache of a break up but it proved temporary transit through what can feel like inconsolable pain. Side note: I am fortunate not to have been born in a country I read about once where no sad songs were permitted to be sung aloud because making the king feel blue was outlawed.

Below I share my poem “Catch Up,” but first, let me fill you in on the candid, undeniably humiliating, back story…

Picture me, in my early 20’s, out for a drink with friends in a downtown bistro. We were standing waiting for a table when it happened. I was scanning the room. It sounds trite now but I swear it is true – our eyes met. And yes it was a crowded room. Never happened to me before or since.

He was tall, rangy, wonderfully funny, confident and gorgeous. A potent, merciless combo. (Think Anthony Perkins with a soupcon of Dermot Mulroney.)

As it turned out, I was about to launch upon the most confusing, bewildering, ecstatic liaison of my life. Paul was his name, and he swept me off my stilettos in short order.

Ever had a Paul in your life? You never forget them. Mine managed to shave my IQ in half and decimate my powers of concentration. So this is what it feels like, I told myself as I swooned, pushing aside my inner voice, all my better instincts. and every single warning sign.

I spent our first few months together trying to convince myself I was good enough for him while trying to catch my breath. Every time he stood me up or acted callously I managed to find ways to forgive him. I was a total doormat and I was crazy about him.

sunset girl

What I now refer to as my Paul Period is why I am never quick to judge anyone’s love life. I know what an utter fool I made of myself with him. When I think now of how I let my self-respect dwindle to a paltry pile of rubble, I shudder and cringe, both.

How did it end? Soul-crushingly, of course. He simply stopped calling. I ended up phoning him late one night in desperation only to hear a woman’s voice answer his phone. Who is this? she asked, sounding highly suspicious. Just by the way she spoke those three words I knew Paul and I were through.

It is such a tired cliché, I know, but it stopped my heart. It did. And it took about a year for it to start beating again in regular rhythm. I wondered if I’d ever trust or love again. But heal I eventually did and went on to healthier relationships. Oh, I still made mistakes, but never the same ones I made with Paul. I trusted that love would one day be all it can and should be.

I thank the man now for the glorious moments that summer when I felt my feet never touched the ground. Everyone should know that feeling once; I do hope you have. No one should experience the other part though, the post mortem misery, when nothing dulls the ache of being left behind.

In a crash course, and alas, I mean crash, without ever knowing it, Paul taught me to never again think of a man as a cure, to never stifle my voice, to define clearly what I need and expect. And to never again toss aside my particular magic for anyone. My mother once told me after spending an afternoon with us that I wasn't myself when I was around Paul. "You're just not my Tricia," she told me. "Lassie, you're quiet!" I sloughed it off, a trifle annoyed with her, but it was simply because in my heart of hearts I knew she was right. You were, Mom.

It was my summer of learning. I just wish the lessons weren't all quite so hard won.

Here then I give you “Catch Up” in memory of Paul, who I assume is still very much alive and embarking on his third marriage.

Catch Up

Everybody loves a train at a distance.
Explains you and me perfectly.
The champion of the dine and dash,
calling for the cheque too soon.
methodically, diabolically, you kept me
off balance.
Plans were vague coming from you, up for sudden
inexplicable change.
There was always someone on hold,
someone in your lobby,
drumming their fingers.
Even when alone
we were never, quite
Off kilter, off guard,
I grew expert in the art of rationalization,
the game of catch-up.
It seemed you were always rounding
a corner in the distance
the moment I caught sight of you,
the belt of your flawlessly tailored trench coat
flapping behind you
as you ran.

from The High Road by Edna O'Brien.

As with many a thing, we had embarked on it lightly, but it caught fire, escalated, went too far, to the marrow, rekindled hopes, sparked desires, hurting even as it satiated, creating fresh hungers and fresh fears. Its end dribbled on, an end that consumed my years like a terrible wasting sickness, so that I often wished to be quite old, thinking by then it would have faded completely without a trace.

Some moments, I wished that it had never happened because the incision was too much. Then again I wished for vengeance, retribution, which I gave vent to
only in dreams.

At other moments, I would have given anything to have my youth back again, for a year, a month, a week, an instant. I would forget him a little each day and of course, in forgetting him, kill that part of myself that for all its pain is the most sacred.

I carry you with me into the world,
into the smell of rain
& the words that dance between people
& for me, it will always be this way,
walking in the light,
remembering being alive together

~Brian Andreas

I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.
pencil drawing red heart
tricia handwritten signature

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The Music of Leaving - Tricia McCallum

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