About the time Rango moved into the house with us, I started to realize that I was having a hard time with his past.
Due to the constraints of time and distance and the necessary logistics for the boys, he and I never spent a night in his apartment. He insists that the apartment was never more than a landing pad and that it never felt like home. While I do believe home for him became wherever I was within days of our meeting, part of me still feels like I never got the opportunity to... I don't know... mark that territory...?
It sounds stupid, I know. I feels stupid. Every time some ex comes up, I cringe.
I know part of my insecurity comes from my maladaptive attachment style, which was established in my childhood and then reinforced over and over and over (and over and over and over) in my adult dating life, especially in the two-and-a-half years after DH and I split. I'm a fragile cat, without a doubt, but so is Rango. Generally we are very careful and patient with one another's emotions, lovingly treading across the scarred battlefield of the other's heart.
But really, I have no idea why the hell I am so freaked out when some former relationship of his is mentioned. Because I took the brutally-open-and-honest approach while I was dating, Rango learned probably far more about me in those first days than maybe he wanted, especially my history with the fragile cats.
When you're divorced, or maybe it just happens at this age when you have a good deal of life experience, first date conversation inevitably turns to prior relationships. Were you married? Do you have kids? Why did you break up? First dates are basically an interview, after all—a chance to see if their fuckeduppedness will play well with your fuckeduppedness.
So he knew very quickly that I was living in the same house I'd lived in with my ex-husband. He knew my most painful ex lived just a few miles away and semi-regularly sees me in passing. He knew I'd had a very active dating and social life on the weekends before DH moved out of state and dropped regular contact with the boys.
Hell, I wrote a book about some of it.
In the semi-autobiographical Persona Non Grata, Tierney talks about how she has a hard time hearing about her husband, Sam's, relationship with his long-ago ex-girlfriend:
"I worried for years that you had loved her more than you loved me," I admitted one night. I couldn't look at him when I said it. I kept my gaze trained on the darkness in the woods behind our house.
"Why? Why would you even think that? Didn't I tell you every day that I loved you? Couldn't you just believe that?"
"I believed you. I still do. But, Sam, you were so broken when you guys split. I kept waiting for you to come home and tell me that she'd called, that she wanted you back. I used to dream about it all the time."
I really didn't know that DH loved me more than he'd loved her until the day Max was born, more than seven years into our marriage.
And I know that love should never feel like a competition, but my head is sometimes a mess, and I sometimes feel like I am constantly at battle with the ghosts of the past. I am forever struggling to overcome my screwed up perceptions of how I think other people see me. Often this drives me to be bigger and better and faster and more. I feel like there is so much inherently wrong with me and about me, and that if I can perfect as many small things as possible then the huge amount of bad is still outweighed by lots of little good.
No one is harder on me than I am on myself.
I few weeks ago, I told Rango, "I won't feel secure until I've been with you longer than you've been with [your ex-wife]."
"But you already have."
I looked at him, puzzled. "You do remember that you were married for five years, don't you?"
"Yeah, but our relationship was over long before we even got married," he replied. "Emotionally, we were together for a week-and-a-half."
A few days later, we took our first trip together. Without the boys, we went to Texas for his sister's wedding, which also gave me the opportunity to meet and spend time with his family. We had a lovely couple of days in San Antonio, walking around Riverwalk and later dancing at the wedding, followed by a day in Houston.
DH and I had flown into San Antonio once, gone immediately to buy a car, and then drove straight home to Alabama. We passed through a section of Houston on the way. My 2012 trip to Austin by myself was my only real trip to Texas.
Rango spent his teen years in Texas, especially in and around Houston. He lived in various places before moving to Atlanta (to be with [his ex-wife]), but he still thinks of Texas as home. (Well, maybe until he met me.)
Although I'd never been to San Antonio, I set part of Persona Non Grata there. Tierney's life blows up (the climax without a climax) at the Marriott Riverwalk. I spent some time researching and wrote about what I'd never actually seen:
I walked out from the hotel and turned onto the wide walkways along the river. I knew there was a coffee shop nearby. I ordered a frittata and took my coffee to a small table. I ate slowly, trying to abate the nagging headache.
I was tired but didn't want to hole up in my hotel room. I spent a couple of hours exploring San Antonio. I walked over little bridges and through lushly landscaped mini-parks. I was impressed by the mix of modern and traditional, of historical and new.
I found a shady spot outside a coffee shop, sitting under a bright yellow umbrella. It was still early, but the River Walk was bustling already with people ready for the new day. I sketched the profile of a young woman sitting on a park bench, reading a book. The face of the sleeping baby, parked in his stroller at his parents' table next to mine.
Rango and I stayed at another Marriott a few blocks away. On Saturday morning, he happily walked with me to find the spot I'd written. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant that was included in an earlier draft of PNG. (It was eventually cut and re-written because the scene was lifeless.) And while he knew this was a fictionalized account, that I'd never been to these places, he also knew we were living a moment from the fictionalized account of the events that triggered the metamorphosis that led, in part, to my divorce.
Never did he complain. Never did he express a jealous thought. Not once did he have to choke back an angry lump and leave the room to catch his breath and regain control.
But driving to Houston the next day, picked up by his best friend, some comment was made about an ex they shared. (Who am I to judge someone for dating their best friend's ex?) Sitting in the back seat of the car, I bristled at the mention, knowing full well that she was long, long before me, that the relationship was short-lived and didn't work for a reason, that he loves me more.
Days later, as we were talking about traveling again soon—something DH and I never did together—I told him I would never go to Sweden with him, because he went there to see a now-ex.
"But it's a beautiful country," he argued. "You would love to see it."
I'm sure I would, but I was never willing to go to New Orleans with DH (in theory, because we didn't travel together or take vacations) because India had lived there in her childhood and later gone on vacation there with DH.
I've talked before about how I am a hoarder of memories. Because I remember virtually everything, I hold onto a lot of shit on my big, broken brain. Combine that with my intense sentimentality, and my head is an emotional minefield that I can barely traverse—how the hell is anyone else supposed to get through?
What I realized is that I am more than willing to give Rango the chance to replace some of those memories. Sometimes, he does it and doesn't even know it. Maybe we're having an incredibly wonderful moment and a song comes on that would have previously tied me up in knots, a reminder of a past moment. While there are still songs I just can't bear to hear anymore, there are a few that are now associated with Rango. Maybe it's a trip to a place I've been before or only dreamt about with someone else.
His heart replaced theirs in that memory space.
His cautions that there are formative memories that cannot be replaced. Of course. No matter what he or I do, there's no possible way to replace everything, and I wouldn't want either of us to do that. What happened before is what has led us to here, to the place where our paths converged. It's all about the journey and not the destination.
Yes, I know that I am letting my own insecurities and fears get in my way. I loathe that I think and feel this way. I am repulsed by the dark, tangled emotions that swirl around inside me, ensnaring my thoughts and hijacking what should be a calm, normal moment.
The only way I know to fight the dark is with light. When I don't feel like my own, internal light is strong enough to illuminate the path, I turn into the disco ball, spinning and reflecting a broken, scattered mosaic of brilliance that can be as annoyingly blinding as it is charming in its kinetic chaos.
Through it all, Rango says he is more than happy to be in my shadow, to let me spin in the spotlight while he supports me. I want him to be where he is happy and comfortable. I don't want to ever lose him to the darkness that I refuse to face and enter.
But I really have no idea how to counter the jealousy. I don't know how to not feel like it's a competition, even though it's one I know I'd have won months ago. I don't have a clue how not to snarl back at any of his memories that I'm afraid are snarling at me.