What a long, tumultuous year it's been. Full of growth and change, painful and necessary and good.
It's fitting that today, on the last day of the year, I sit down to write this only a few moments after learning my grandfather has passed away. A complicated, larger-than-life sort of man his entire life, he was a maddening mix of loving good and cruel bad. Even when learning he was sick, part of me didn't actually think he'd ever die, only live on infinitely out of spite and sheer stubbornness. My mom, who has been caring for him in the last few weeks, told me that in his illness, the kinder, self-aware grandfather I used to know had resurfaced.
I wouldn't know, though. I wasn't there.
The story of my life in 2014. Travel and journeys, and being so present in the moment for some things, but so very far away for others. I learned of my grandfather's passing while driving home, stuck in the endless crawl of traffic on Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica. It was my sister, Brianna, who called to let me know just moments after it happened. She told me with tears threatening in her voice, but, much like me, she holds it together in tough situations and so they didn't overwhelm. Our youngest sister, Sharlee, always the sensitive one and now pregnant, I'm sure was and is a mess.
So now I sit here, with my fingertips still on my keyboard, staring out the window. I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's a strange feeling, both calm and tangled. My feelings about my grandpa are complicated, to say the least. So I'm doing what I've always done when I need to sort through feelings, both real and false. I'm writing. But it's been a long time since I've written purely for myself and not for my job. Too long.
This year has been full of moments like that, moments where I, usually so in tune with my inner self, have not been sure what I was feeling. When I wasn't even sure there were words for what I was feeling. Though, in retrospect, having lived in Berlin for 9 months, I'm sure there was an unnecessarily long, unpronounceable German word for all of it.
I started the year in Berlin, dodging fireworks being set off in the streets by drunken revelers, so many that the air downtown was thick with smoke and sparks. Freezing my butt off and laughing at my Russian friend, Max, swearing every time a firecracker zoomed past him. I was 5,791 miles away from the life I had been living in Southern California until June of 2013, when I moved to the Berlin-based HQ of Moviepilot to be a senior staff writer and help my good friend and former editor-in-chief train the editorial team. By November of 2013, he was gone and I had replaced him, told I would run the Berlin team through at least the end of 2014.
But things change, and by the end of December, a decision had been made that we needed to move the focus of our operations to Los Angeles much more quickly than anticipated, starting with sending me back to the U.S. to build up a content team there. Within two months, I was on a flight back to my parents' house in Pittsburgh, where had I had left my car and half of my belongings, globe-trotter that I was. My boyfriend of three years, Nick, flew out to meet me and make the long, cross-country drive back to California.
It had been a tough time being apart, hard on us, hard on our relationship. Harder on him than me, as he was going through quite a bit, personally. But then...he had been since we'd been dating. Our entire relationship had been hard. I was hoping that the time apart, which had helped me to grow, had done the same for him, and we'd return to our life together more grateful for and cognizant of what we had. I returned with a renewed resolve to work on our communication, on us, to be better, stronger, more what he needed. In return, I hoped that he had worked on himself, on dealing with the depression and anxiety and other mental health issues that had plagued him most of his life. And for a while, that new-oldness was enough.
But in the end, the center couldn't hold, and at the end of June, we broke up. It was...not easy. Most breakups aren't, but this one wrenched me apart in ways I hadn't even conceived of, let alone was prepared for. You would think that because the relationship had been so tumultuous, so hard, it would be easier to let go. But that's the funny thing about human nature. The more work you put into something, the harder it is to accept when it's over.
I'm not sure you've ever felt what it's like to have the person you love look you in the eyes and say that you, and the two of you, were a mistake. But I have. I heard that, and that all those years shouldn't have happened. That he saw no future for the two of us. There are some words you can't take back, can't unsay, can't unhear. "You were a mistake," is one of them, even spoken in anger, even when later, he said he was just angry at the time and hadn't meant it. Some things you can't get past.
So was hearing him, the man to whom I'd given everything, telling me he sometimes wondered if the reason he wasn't pulling out of his depression was because of me, because our relationship was causing his depression. That I was the reason his clinical depression wasn't getting better. Me.
Some things you can't unhear.
One day soon, I'll write more about that relationship, those years in which I got firsthand experience of the devastation that mental illness and a broken mental health care system wreaks in the small ecosystem of personal relationships.
But for now, I'll just say it ended ugly. The kind of ugly I'd never experienced before, a kind of ugly that found me sitting on the couch the night it happened, almost catatonic with grief and numbness. And the next morning, I got up. I went to work. I plastered a smile on my face. And I did my job, all while on autopilot.
Two weeks later, I had moved into a new apartment in a lovely little Santa Monica neighborhood with one of my best friends and coworkers, Dannie. It was close to the beach, close to work, a new start. I was still sad, but, for the first time in years, I was also angry, too. Truly angry on my behalf, rather than just blaming myself, as I always do. I had great friends, I had an amazing job with a company that was blowing up, I had a loving, supportive family, I lived in a great location, and I was free of a relationship I could finally admit had killed some fundamental part of me, had slowly worn away a vital part of my soul through attrition.
I dated around. I made a point to say "yes" to (almost) everyone who asked. I went on some good dates. I went on some hilariously bad ones, including one where the guy, a truly weird specimen, ditched me halfway through the date in the middle of a Barnes & Noble via text message. I couldn't stop laughing about it, my perverse sense of humor luckily helping me to find the funny in it rather than the offense. There was also the date in which I drove all the way to West Hollywood, only to have him tell me he had another "engagement" in 45 minutes, after which he ignored me for two weeks before randomly reappearing and asking if we could be friends. But that's how so many LA guys roll, I learned. All of them afraid to put themselves out there emotionally, both the good and the bad. When I got that text from him, I felt the urge to reply with, "Honestly, you didn't make enough of an impact to make driving to WeHo for a friendship with you worth it. Let's not kid ourselves." Instead, I chose not to respond at all.
But there were some good dates, and one great one. The great one stuck around, and we're still together 5 months later. He was the first person I reached out to earlier today when I learned of my grandfather, and I consider myself lucky that, though he can't physically be with me tonight due to his work schedule, I still feel more supported and cared for through a few simple words of his than I have in years. And we're taking it slow, so slow in many ways, but I am grateful every day that I feel built up with him instead of torn down, as I was used to feeling. It's a testament to the man he is.
I ran out of steam and was going to come back to this and finish it. But I think I'll leave it here, on a positive note. Because it has been mostly positive, truly. I'm happier inside myself than I've been in years. Work is amazing, and I wake up grateful every day (okay, almost every day) that it rarely ever feels like work. Growth, while painful, is always positive - one hopes, anyway. In my case, it was. While the year ended on a sad, heavy note, the rest of the melody for 2014 was a fanfare with an upward crescendo. And the next post I'd like to write is a hard one, a bitter one. So yes, I think I'll leave this here.