Crashing and Cleansing
So, over the weekend I told the new guy I was dating my secret.
He had asked me to go with him to a wedding, and I accepted the invitation, even though it meant staying overnight. Driving north to the wedding with him was fun, listening to music and laughing at his stories, even though the whole time there was a cloud over my happiness- the noxious cloud of dread where my fear and shame were hiding. The voice in my head that told me this too would be over before it began.
I went back and forth in my head all weekend, wrestling with the decision about whether or not to tell him. We knew a lot of the same people and were in the same business. Maybe I couldn't trust him with the naming of my secret. What if he told someone? What about my professional reputation? How could I risk it? Maybe he wasn't up to the gravitas of this burden. Maybe I should just let this go and stop seeing him.
I decided to stuff it back. Keep my mouth shut. Save it for another future time.
But on Sunday morning I caught a glimpse of his morning face, the one that few see, the one we wake up with before our dissemble ourselves for the world and suit up our armor. I saw his vulnerable face, and decided it was okay to show him mine.
After breakfast I patted the bed and invited him to sit down. I took a deep breath, "Last January," I began, " I tested positive for the herpes virus. After my marriage I began seeing someone. And I was cavalier. I didn't use protection. t thought, I'm older now, I can't get pregnant. And strangely, I didn't even consider an STD. That was outside my range of experience and the people I knew. I never had one, neither had any of my friends. Or lovers for that matter, I assumed. But I was wrong. This guy had one and never told me. STD's were for other people, I thought. Until it happened to me."
I told him about the outbreak that happened when I moved into a my own home, just me and my daughters and how difficult and stressful that was. And then when my father began his transition out of the world, the disease caught me at my weakest moment and my inner pain became manifest in the most sacred part of my body. I told him about my struggle after the diagnosis and how I tried to look for the gift in this disease. Imagined that I hadn't listened when God had tapped me on the shoulder with a lesson about creating stronger boundaries and protecting myself. So the universe created a tangible boundary I was now forced to pay attention to.
He listened and asked some questions. "Herpes" he said. He named it. Rolled it around his tongue. Then he said, "Guess that means we'll have to be careful, right?" He seemed non plussed.
"Wait, what?" I said as I was about to launch into risks, statistics, probabilities, "That's all?" It was as if he had taken my secret- looked at it then put it in a box and placed it on the shelf. Put it it's rightful place as an annoyance and something that had to be dealt with occasionally. An inconvenience. Suddenly that noxious cloud I had been carrying above me rolled back just a little. Wait - what about the shame, and the fear of it? What about the piece that made me unlovable? "Everyone has their baggage." He said, and rolled off the bed.
What? That was it? I wanted to talk more. I wanted to pour out how this had shaken me to my core.That this was the one disease in our talk show - confessional, twerking world that still held unbearable shame and stigma. Had consumed days with thinking and worrying. Had intruded into my well being, How I had gotten divorced 3 years before because I wanted a better life- one that held love and great sex and deep intimacy and outrageous happiness. And I took a chance that those things were possible, that life could be better. But then I came crashing down to earth in a fireball of "told you so."
That my now my deepest fear was that this insidious visitor that had attached itself to me but had nothing to do with me - with who I was at the core of my being - could keep me from love.
But maybe that was an illusion. Maybe the men who disappeared because they were scared or didn't like condoms had done me a favor. Maybe it was possible that a mature man could accept a woman as she was - with all her imperfections. Might even love her for them. That God really had created boundaries that kept out the weak hearted, unevolved or immature - and would leave only those who really cared about the essential me.
He went to take a shower and I crawled into bed and wept. Wept with emotional exhaustion. With relief. With a respite for now. Who knows what would happen in the future? But for right now my fear of the future had diminished. Had been put on the shelf - on it's rightful place where just maybe it belonged all along. And I began to think that maybe I hadn't really crashed and burned after all. That what looked like crashing was really the cleansing that allows you to rise again and again from the ashes - the fires of existence that happen when you live and love with reckless and hungry abandon - only to find yourself back at the sacred temple of your own essential self -battered, blistered, imperfect. Better for the journey. And undeniably worthy of love.
- Beth Miller