Cool evening air whispered through the windows of my studio apartment where I lay one late Spring evening, hinting to me that life was still being lived outside. My arms and legs were cement. I hadn’t moved on the bed since beginning to play Sharon Van Etten’s album “Because I was in Love,” thirty minutes before.
My phone buzzed beside me. My friend was calling to check in.
“How’re ya doin’?” she said.
“My body just feels . . . heavy,” I told her. “I still can’t believe it’s . . . over.” I paused, taking a deep breath.
“I was thinking today, that this is exactly what I was afraid of all along,” I said. “It’s kind of incredible. Exactly what I was afraid of happening, happened. It’s like the worst possible thing I could have experienced.”
“Yeah, wow, I’m just so sorry.” I heard my friend’s deep empathy. She had walked with me in solidarity through the entire insane journey.
“You know though, maybe, having your fears realized is actually the best thing that could have happened to you,” she said, carefully.
While her words were unable to sink in at the time, lately I’ve been reminded of their wisdom.
Those of us lucky enough to have wise female friends should never underestimate the power of their empathy and truth, while walking with us in our deepest grief.
Because there are moments, during which we are being SO brave, and saying such a big YES to life, that our universes collapse, and we can’t see left from right.
This is when we need our wisdom sisters. They light our grief-soaked paths, and remind us how to dance.
“You don’t get to know why it happened. It just did. It just is.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
I have spent much of the past year living in the paradoxical world of wondering how I could fail and suffer so greatly, and also grow and transform so wonderfully from the same choice – by doing what I was most afraid of, and living through the catastrophic consequences.
A few years ago, I dated a man I was good friends with, who happens to be a Roman Catholic priest.
It seemed reasonable at the time. I had known that he was in love with me for me years, and finally, I found the courage to acknowledge my feelings for him.
Prior to telling him, I spent months toiling away at night, writing about our long friendship, trying to figure out what was gnawing at me. I prayed for honesty and courage. Little by little, I revisited the memories of years past when we’d been abroad together. Before he was ordained, we had been together, briefly. But I never thought it would go anywhere, and I wasn’t interested in getting into a relationship complicated by the Church. Though he’d told me he was in love with me, I had brushed it aside, but insisted on remaining friends.
Sorting through the past wasn’t quick or easy, but I was determined to find some truth. I discovered that those weeks we were together abroad I was incredibly alive, so much so I’d blocked it from memory. I was terrified of acknowledging those emotions, of giving myself away to the unknown abyss of love.
I did not want to risk powerlessness. I must have known at the time how hard it would be to, so I’d locked my feelings away.
And finally, after months of writing, the truth came out.
I discovered deeply buried memories of loss and love. I had been afraid to feel, for so many years.
My arms shook and my guts turned to jelly as I imagined telling him. It took me a month of obsessively coming to terms with what I felt. I had no idea how to do it, but I could think of nothing else. I remember that Christmas feeling heartbroken already, because of what I had not yet said. It was the most powerful force I’ve ever felt, and something I absolutely had to listen to. I suppose that is why I hadn’t allowed myself, for so long, to really hear.
I wasn’t used to opening up my most vulnerable little heart to anyone — particularly someone whose life specifically did not have room for me. Yet he was one of my best friends. He had told me for years he loved me. It was as safe and as risky a choice I could make.
I put it off as long as I could. I asked him to visit, to catch up. I wanted to say it in person. But he lived far away and couldn’t get the time away to visit. So one cold January night after a few gin and tonics I called him up. I said, slowly, that I had feelings for him.
He said he was still in love with me. That he was coming to see me. That he’d take a leave of absence from the priesthood so that we could be together.
The beginning was perfect.
He snuck away to be with me for days at a time. We played house. He lived a double life, but for me it was just life. My colleagues met him, we concealed nothing. He offered to say mass in our office.
He introduced me to his family on skype – as his girlfriend. They were nice to me.
We were consumed by our bond, spending hours together cooking and goofing around in my apartment, re-writing our sad past.
“Once you love someone you never stop loving them,” he said. “When you told me you had feelings for me it was like a lightning bolt to my heart.”
For me, it was the first time I’d let someone I cared about and trusted so deeply into my most vulnerable heart. Every moment, every touch, was crazed electric love.
He would stay in my tiny apartment for several days at a time. Part-way through the spring I told some of my family about him. They trusted me, and were kind and understanding.
One weekend, I drove to meet him near where he lived. It was a 16-hour drive round-trip. We stayed in a tiny Air bnb and didn’t leave the house. We were together for 12 hours. He had to leave early to hear confessions, he said.
What I Learned from Dating a Catholic Priest is a submission from a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous.
Image courtesy of Pixabay