Over the weekend I was in Barnes & Noble with my other half, sipping a chai latte and browsing at a table of paperbacks. Out of no where, he casually asked "You might know this since you're a medical person: Is herpes simplex the same as herpes herpes?" My eyes snapped up and scanned his face as I attempted to respond slowly and calmly "Why in the heck are you asking me that?" It turns out he's reading a book about memory (Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer) and had read the story of a man who suffered severe memory loss due to brain lesions which were a result of herpes simplex. We stood there in the aisle having a discussion about human herpes, cat herpes and viruses in general. At least you can't say we're not an interesting couple, right? "I just don't want to get a cold sore that eats all of my memories", he explained. I vowed to look it up when we got home.
After I had gone off on my own to search for the works of Rumi, I was struck by how much emotion I'd felt reflexively in a split second. Obviously I don't have herpes, nor have I ever had a partner who revealed that he did. I honestly didn't truly believe my boyfriend was about to confess to being unfaithful and contracting an STD. What's fascinating to me is that my mind went crazy in those few seconds between the question and the explanation. It wasn't even enough time to have a complete thought but I had a quick flash of a genuine feeling: was my whole life about to change right there in the non-fiction section? I know there's a lot more at work here than I will ever fully understand but I find it interesting that I can have such a response to something before I even have time to think about it.
I've certainly received my fair share of surprises when it comes to romantic relationships: In high school I was dumped via a note slipped into my locker on Valentine's Day. I've been on at least two dates using match.com to which I arrived and discovered the guy's profile photo was five years old. I've come home from work to discover the guy I was dating had used my computer to send dirty messages to another girl online. And of course, I married someone who later admitted "I shouldn't have married you." Is it all of these memories (plus more, unfortunately) that combine inside my brain and create what I imagine to be a cartoon robot with flailing arms calling out "DANGER! DANGER!" at the mention of the word herpes?
One of my personal goals over the last couple years has been to become a less reactive person. I know I've made a great deal of progress but I've still got a ways to go. I guess it's just human nature for that internal alarm to go off, to signal it's time to protect oneself. I don't know if there's a way to get around it, at least for me. Maybe a good rule to follow would be: if you're going to ask your partner a random question about an STD, consider giving your explanation first!
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Last week I traveled to North Carolina for the first time since leaving there in 2007 (with Ritz in the passenger seat as my loyal co-pilot). The trip seemed like a great idea when we booked it in August. One of my boyfriend's relatives was getting married in a town a few hours away from the one I had last lived in, so it seemed foolish to travel all that way and not visit my friends who were nearby. What I hadn't anticipated was the amount of dread I felt in the week before the trip, when it occurred to me that I had left North Carolina at my personal rock bottom. The thought of returning and dealing with the memories, made me queasy. I'm a different person than I was when I left. "But aren't you proud of that?" my boyfriend asked when I shared my anxiety with him. "Don't you want to show off how much you've changed?" Sure I'm proud, (although I didn't feel a need to show off) but that didn't make the thought of facing my past any easier.
When I saw my closest friends last week, I gave each woman a lengthy embrace. I could practically visualize the time melting away, along with all my distress. It felt so good to be in the company of each of them. I'll admit I wasn't on the best of terms with them all when I moved away, something I feel a lot of sorrow about, but we had reconnected through FaceBook and I was genuinely glad to spend time with them.
As we traveled around North Carolina and visited with my friends, I was reminded of my past life there in a way I hadn't been in years. I thought of my ex-husband, of our failed marriage, of the beautiful house we had owned, of Ritz and the comfort he had brought me as I moved and left those things behind. I was hoping to return home with a sense that I had come full circle, that I had gone back to face my demons. But instead of feeling separate from the woman I was, I feel more connected to her. I see that even though I'm different in many ways, I'm still the same at my core. I still feel a strong connection to the people I knew there and the different places I lived. It's all a part of me. Looking at those words typed out, it sounds a bit cliche but I can't think of a better way to say it. I feel Ritz's absence a bit stronger today than I have in a while. I'm glad our anniversary came so close to my trip to where we moved from. It reminds me of how far I've come in the past eight years and how far I will probably go in the next eight.