Dear Reader: For the remainder of 2021, to continue celebrating the release of my first book Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts, I will be posting a monthly bonus chapter. While these stories didn’t make the final cut, they were still important moments in my life and in my black belt journey. Enjoy!
[Note: This event would have occurred between chapters 29 “Sucker Punched” and 30 “Aftermath,” late April 2015.]
I’d like to say when I slammed down the lid of my laptop after Ricardo told me he wanted to “go our separate ways” over Skype, that was the last time I’d ever speak to him. Unfortunately, the detangling of our relationship took some time.
What made things difficult was about a week after our break-up, Ricardo called and texted frequently, insisting that the exchange was “only a fight” and to give us another chance. I desperately needed to break free from his control and manipulation. I knew I could never move to DC to be with him. Our relationship was dead and starting to stink from rot. I needed another person’s objective perspective.
At the end of April , I traveled to my company’s Dallas location to teach a workshop for a leadership cohort. It was trying and tiring, as workshops always are, and the irony of teaching a class called “Courageous Conversations” when I was so incompetent at having them wasn’t lost on me. I skipped the second role play exercise in the workshop because I just wanted it to be over. After I helped my coworker set up for his workshop that followed mine, I met my cousin Stephanie for lunch at a nearby Panera.
Stephanie looked great as always—she wore a slim maroon top and denim skirt, and her dark-skinned, dark-haired baby Remy was slung over one hip. I noticed how she went out of her way to be kind and friendly to every single person she encountered. So much like her mother, my father’s late sister, to make everyone’s day brighter. After she got Remy settled into a highchair we tucked into our lentil, quinoa, and egg bowls plus the requisite hunks of soft Panera bread.
“So, how’s the relationship?” she asked.
We spent the next hour and a half dissecting the situation. Much like my conversations with my work friend Madeline, it was a refreshing break from typical girl talk, which always seemed hopeful to the point of delusion. Hope was lost for this relationship. It was time to pick up the pieces and move on.
“You are so much stronger than you were two years ago,” Stephanie remarked, spooning some lentils and broth onto her bread before biting off a piece. The night after my first date with Ricardo in spring of 2013, I’d visited Stephanie at her house after a museum event in Dallas. We ate pizza and talked about the terrible blow up with Salad Guy [see Chapter One of my memoir]. I was a wreck, deep in self-flagellating mode for what I supposedly did wrong and unsure and anxious about Ricardo. My sense of self was entirely wrapped up in Salad Guy’s thumbs up or thumbs down, and it seemed I was following the same pattern of approval-seeking with Ricardo. Two years later, I still needed her help.
“What about Ricardo is hard to let go?” Stephanie asked after she finished her bite of food.
“Hmm…. that’s a good question,” I said, wiping my mouth with a napkin and gazing at the ceiling. Images and sensations flashed across my mind—the cry of delight when I gave him a yoga mat as a present after an especially rough day, the solid feel of his muscular back under a T-shirt against the flat of my palm, the inside jokes, the affection, the familiarity.
“It’s hard to cut ties and let go. We have a history; we share stories. It wasn’t all bad. I miss him.”
“I’m afraid if you move up to DC to be with him you’d lose a part of who you are,” she said, reaching for her keys that Remy had decided to stop chewing and instead throw on the floor. “I know how much you love Fort Worth and where you live. I read all your blog posts. You’ve become so much more confident. You seem so happy here.”
An old woman in a navy dress walked by our table and stopped to coo and gush over Remy. I watched in quiet amusement. I never could gush over babies like that. I can’t even gush over a kitten like that, and I like kittens a lot more than I like babies. The old woman clasped Remy’s tiny chubby baby hands in her wrinkled (but beautifully manicured—we were in Dallas) fingers.
“She has rings like Grandma!” Stephanie said, quickly turning to me with wide and twinkling brown eyes.
“We’re cousins,” she explained to her daughter’s new fan. “Our Grandma wears rings like that on every finger.” I wondered if this woman had grandchildren and if she was this loving with them. I wondered if they knew how loving and sweet she was to complete strangers. After the woman left, we continued our conversation.
“Do you want kids? I could tell you haven’t for a while now. It’s okay if you don’t,” Stephanie said, making a quick peek-a-boo game with Remy out of the discarded wrapper from the toffee cookie we shared. I sighed with relief and told her about the strange pressure for a baby from Ricardo, a pressure that seemed to increase and become more irrational and irrefutable with time. Stephanie staunchly warned me that kids will turn your life upside down. I told her the philosophy I’d learned from my parents and our grandparents—you love your kids, but your spouse comes first. You start and end your relationship with them. It shouldn’t be contingent on whether you decide to breed or not.
Remy screeched with delight and banged the high chair tray. I suddenly felt a rush of sympathy for people I would see out in restaurants or coffee shops with noisy kids. They were very likely trying to carry on the same type of in-depth adult conversation we were having. Stephanie glanced at Remy to make sure she was fine and kept talking.
“My husband’s friend just got married. This was kind of funny—he said that when you get married your selfishness aligns.” She lined up her fingers, making a gate out of her hands. “Everyone’s selfish. I am too. But when you get married you figure out how to compromise.”
“I guess neither of us wanted to compromise. I thought Ricardo was the love of my life,” I said sadly. “Maybe he’s a love but not the great love.” We began tidying up our dishes and gathering our purses.
“If it means anything I don’t think you should go,” she repeated quickly, leaning over her bowl and looking me dead in the eye. We said our love you’s and good-byes and left. I drove home amused but not surprised at what a good coach she was. She has a lot of friends, so I figured she’s well versed in these types of conversations.
I thought about the situation I was in. Grumpily I entertained the thought of having a black heart and a black mind. Screw everyone and everything. I could just disappear.
But then a thought occurred to me.
I’m undergoing a major shift. I don’t need anything. I don’t need anyone. I am shedding false armor. I am giving up addictions to people, alcohol, food, racing emotions: all things that carry the expectation of making me feel better when that’s not their purpose at all. I was a little scared that I now must endure everything sober, but that meant I get to be the real me. I remembered reading an online comment from someone who had a huge epiphany that she was enough. She didn’t want anything; she didn’t need anything. She was enough. It knocked her out for a few days because it was such a paradigm shift.
I think I’m on the verge of a breakthrough.
I am enough.
When I got home, I sent Ricardo an email saying there was no chance of reconciliation and to make plans to move the remainder of his things out of my home.
It was over, and I was ready for a new beginning.