On Being a Woman Who Was Left: Cultivating Love in the Hollowed Out Spaces of My Heart

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Several years ago my five year old cousin walked into the living room and asked me why I was crying. I sat on the brown faded couch trying to wipe up my tears.
“I broke up with my boyfriend and cousin is a little sad,” I answered.
“Why did you break up?”
“Because he was dumb.”
“Like, he thought two plus two equals three?”
I laughed, “Yes baby. That is exactly it. He was horrible at math.”
“Next time a boy likes you just punch him really hard in the nose. Then he won’t like you no more. Problem solved,” she said matter of factly and shrugged her shoulders.
Sage dating advice from a five year old. Punch them in the nose.
I have definitely wanted to punch people in the nose but I am at a space now that I see each encounter with love and heartbreak as a pruning and refining process. Each time I learn more about how to give and receive love. I learn more about loving myself. The poet inside of me swoons at this idea. It means that my future husband is out there learning how to give and receive love. We are simply learning our lessons until it is time for our paths to intertwine and then run parallel to each other. I love this notion but the lessons along the way haven’t always made me swoon.

*
I don’t often talk about my first heart break. It is as if summoning the event of being broken gives the individual a residual power over me, but I am a woman with her power reclaimed. I had even written a poem that started with the lines, “I hope you search for yourself in the lines of my book and see that I have erased you. That my sun did not rise and fall with your coming and going”.
I wanted erasure. My words (or absence of words) was the only way I knew how to achieve it. I could create a world where he never existed.
My hesitancy to write about it arose from not wanting to admit how much it hurt to be left. The story holds a different weight if you are the one doing the leaving. I could tell that story. I have told the story of leaving. Leaving is a liberation. To be left conjures the nights I wept in the bed alone for the months moving forward. To be left is to find a t-shirt that he had forgotten and drop it as if 100% cotton burned my skin. To be left is to pick the t-shirt off the floor and smell it in a horribly cliché fashion regardless of my internal resistance to do so. To be left is to yearn for the body that left the t-shirt behind.
Me and the t-shirt decided to start a club for the forgotten things the man had left behind. A club of which I would be the president. The t-shirt disappeared in the abyss of laundry shortly thereafter and never returned. I was left by both the man and his t-shirt. I was in a club of forgotten things of which I was the sole member.
To be left means I find the Saint Christopher necklace that I bought him for safe passage tucked away in the back of the closet. He wore the necklace every single day. To be left means knowing that he left me when he left the necklace, weeks before the leaving happened. To be left is to understand that Saint Christopher granted him his passage away from me.
To be left is a tell all wail.
To be left is a living memory of loss.
To be left is an action translated to the feeling: I am not good enough.
To be left is a feeling that shapeshifts into the question: why not me?
My silence surrounding being left was a testament to my unspoken forming belief that perhaps I was not a loveable woman. Maybe I was not good enough. There was a possibility that I was not worthy. Afterall, I was a woman who could be left.
I was utterly embarrassed of these feelings and what I thought they said about me. I dared not utter them aloud until I could disprove them with my own belief in my worthiness. Instead I set out to minimize the relationship in an effort to protect my ego.
It meant nothing. He never did anything right. I was about to leave him. He was a man-child. I hope you look for yourself in the lines of my book and see that I have erased you.

*
He was the first person I ever introduced my son to. The first person that I lived with. The first person I had ever allowed to get close to me after years of running away from vulnerability. I loved him but I especially loved him because he loved me as I was. I fumbled awkwardly over my truths in confessional conversations when I told him things that I had never told a man before. An Auntie once said to me that I would find a man to love and would have to tell him all the horrible things I’ve done and the chances were that he would no longer love me. She did this in a murky mixed up last effort to get me to behave and change my wild ways but I took it as an unchangeable truth. I was just a girl standing in front of a boy spilling out all her truths asking to be seen. Asking that maybe he didn’t change his mind about me once he knew me. Asking maybe that he still would love me after learning all about me. He saw me and did not look away. He saw me and he had loved me.
We would lay together in the dark and whisper about our future children and grandchildren. Would they be chubby babies? Would they have his sharp Cree nose? My lips? We would be an old Mossum and Kohkum with brown babies that had endless rolls of delightful fat with thick dark hair and it would be glorious. I had wanted the future we imagined together. I invested myself wholly in this future.
One day we were driving and my mind that refuses to wander within it’s set perimeters began examining historical representations of love in my life.
“Did you grow up witnessing a truly healthy love? Like a love that was balanced and where each person did their best and they were happily in love?” I asked him.
It didn’t take long for him to flip through the catalogue of love stories he grew up witnessing.
“Nope. I never saw it.”
“Would you say that we don’t know how to do this than?”
“How to what?”
“How to love…” I replied in a low tone, too afraid that it was the truth.
He gave me the look he often gave me when I was too much in my head or just all together too much for him. The look of an exasperated brown man that craved simplicity. He wanted me uncomplicated. I was trying to understand my complications to become free of them. I have always felt pressured to be a simplified version of self that I have never been able to offer up. I am an Indigenous woman who was born into complicated circumstances just by being what I am. My being healthy, strong, whole and connected to my culture speaks to the fact that I have survived that which wanted to destroy me. Complication is a simplification of what is truly happening in these contexts when I am becoming whole or am moved to action to protect and fulfill my obligations to the people, land, and water. Complication is a dismissal of the strength and heart it takes to repeatedly undo colonial harm. To say I am complicated is to be blind to context. I come from a people that were not supposed to survive let alone, learn how to love each other again. There is luxury afforded to those who choose to remain blind to the historical landscape that molds our environment. My eyelids were peeled back and I had no choice but to look. I had to find the truth or die. I am in a state of seeing and cannot move backwards. I can see the fierce love and beauty that emanates from the women and men who inhabit bodies the world has tried to enslave, control, manipulate or eradicate. When we are in a state of seeing and remembering, the world says we are too much. I am a woman who has always been too much.
“Why do you always do this?” he asked.
“Do what?”
“Try to social work yourself. Like you always got to figure out where things started or blame it on something else.”
“I’m not trying to blame anything on anyone else. I just don’t understand myself and why I do things. I’m trying to understand myself.”
“Well you need to stop doing it and just learn how to be.”
Another exasperated brown man look.
I am an Indigenous woman who believes her purpose is healing. Healing is the only true and worthy legacy I can leave behind. I have no interest in remaining a network of unchecked impulses and reactions. I didn’t have the words then. I only wanted to be uncomplicated enough to be loved. I tried to be something else for him. I stopped letting my mouth talk about where my mind and heart had wandered. I attempted to present simplicity during the day while digging up gravesites in the evenings under full moons over cups of tea. I worked on healing myself in secret. I learned about policies, intersectional feminism, indigenous ways of being and knowing, and intergenerational trauma in school. I left what I learned in another place in order to be loved.
The dual life I was living did not last long. The simplicity and complication bled into each other. I did not trust him to make decisions that would make me feel safe. I faked my trust. He continued to make decisions that did not make me feel safe. I said mean things. He said mean things. I could not escape the idea that we did not know how to love. We were products of our past smashing into each other trying to play house like plastic dolls in the hands of a four-year-old. We made a mess in adult bodies. It was not long until I found myself alone in a home too big to hold dreams for one.
I can vividly remember crying a week after the relationship ended. I collapsed on the bathroom floor with a wet face and wept. I laid on the blue tile and let my cries echo off it. Partway through the breakdown my tears changed intent and I cried with an overwhelming gratefulness.
I was able to feel heartbreak. I had trusted. I had loved. Being left did not kill me. I could feel rejection and be present. I was feeling all the feels and I did not want to get tequila drunk or bury my head in a mountain of cocaine. I was living my life emotionally intact. I was grateful.
Sounds kind of crazy right?
To be grateful for the hollowing that is heartbreak.

*
I had spent years running from vulnerability to avoid the feeling of being left. Previously I struggled deeply with external rejection because I relied so much on others acceptance to feed my sense of self. My childhood sexual abuse and subsequent rapes ensured that I had no measure of self-worth. I was a traumatized octopus woman with her tentacles out trying to gather enough affection and affirmation to feel loved. Yet during that era I never allowed anyone close enough to me to see me or hurt me. He was the first one who had saw me and he left me.
I did not revert to the octopus woman. I did not relapse. I was alive. I was okay. I was capable of having normal human emotions. I could see them and see myself and not flinch.
As a recovering alcoholic addict the heartbreak became an important emotional pain marker for me. For example, women that have went through child-birth often compare their future pain experiences based on the birthing process. Child birth is a twenty on a scale of one to ten and all things in life are held to measure against it. Emotional pain thereafter was compared to my first heartbreak.
I told myself when presented with feelings of hurt and sadness later on that I can make it through this because I have lived through those feelings. Sober. This life that I have lived that has been rife with grief, sexual violence, and despair has given me the gift of endurance and sight.
When I ache with an unnamed grief that echoes through my organs I know it is momentary.
When I am overwhelmed with everything that is on my task list I know that I will find peace again.
When I feel broken by circumstance or event, I know that I will be made whole again.
I have learned to cultivate a love and respect from myself from these hollowed-out spaces. The caverns create an echo that reverberate and heal myself from within as long as I submit myself to its process.

*

I was left, but I am a woman who has found herself. It took me years to be able to write about it and be so rooted in a deep love and respect for myself that I can explore these spaces and not set up a camp and live there. I am free. I am me. I am love.

You are too babe.

You are too.

 

In Spirit,

 

Helen K

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