I could no longer rely on genuine emotion to generate facial expressions, and when you
have to spend every social interaction consciously manipulating your face into
shapes that are only approximately the right ones, alienating people is inevitable.
Because of exactly too many of the experience described above I generally find a way to eschew social interactions that require any form of genuine positive emotion displayed on my behalf. It's really best for everyone. But it was Mr. Postman's birthday, and I love Mr. Postman. He's the husband of the girl I spent my first magic summer with, swimming endless hours in The Padre's pool, cruising around my small home town in her mama's Astro, listening to mix tapes of Weezer and The Weakerthans, sewing, painting and thrifting with the occasional round of laser tag. Her baby and I share a middle name, and this is not happenstance. Furthermore, for a reason inexplicable to me, people are always bailing on them. I couldn't flake on Mr. and Mrs. Postman. I just couldn't.
And still, the morning of the party I woke up already inventing ways I could excuse myself from this terribly intimidating thing of going out to enjoy myself with people I love. "Maybe I could offer to watch her kids for her. That would still be nice and I wouldn't necessarily have to do any smiling... or I could just tell her I'm having a panic attack, which really isn't far from the truth. Alright. I'll simply explain that the idea of meeting a few friends for dinner and drinks is the most fear inducing concept known to my brain right now. She'll understand that. No problem. Where's my phone. I'll send her a text..."
But a text had already come. "Lady Lame Pants just canceled on us. Looks like it'll just be us 5." It's just like Lady Lame Pants to take my out off the table. Okay. I'll do it, I thought. I'll do it for Mr. Postman.
I spent my getting ready time practicing my faces that I thought might be expected of me and doing the usual cavity search of my brain for anything I might say about myself other than, "I'm a divorced cat lady, nice to meet you." I finished tying my bandana, Rosie the Riveter style, and buttoned up the new blue polkadot shirt. Red lipstick. Last bobby pins. Deep breath. Practice smile. Well, the eyes are still stuck in sad land, but I've made a valiant effort. And out the door I went.
The night progressed pleasantly. The practiced smiles seemed to be enough to squeak through the dinner conversation, and I lasted a full six minutes before letting some comment about my divorce slip out; possibly a new personal best. I wouldn't call it fun... what I was doing... but it was admittedly much less terrifying than I'd imagined going out into the world of the living would be.
With dinner done we headed over to a trendy Barcade down the street. Now, a word about bars. Admittedly I am currently in the worst place to defend myself from titles like "stick in the mud", but the truth is, I haven't really been interested in hitting a bar since I was about 21 and one day old. The thrill of surrounding myself with inebriated individuals was short lived, but tonight was Mr. Postman's birthday, so with that same sticky smile I diligently took my Shirley Temple to a Pac Man machine. The first few rounds I spent the minutes pondering the existential crisis of a society deriving joy from a deranged yellow dot chomping at other less deranged looking, smaller dots, then ultimately (in my case rather quickly) being overtaken by cartoon ghosts and dying a pseudo death, all in an attempt to get your money. Other people seemed happy though, so I mirrored that whenever it seemed like someone in our group was watching. But then something started to happen. Mr. and Mrs. Postman were playing a round of Dance Dance revolution and there was something so endearing about the way they were jumping and spinning in unison with such focus. It made me smile. A real live, from the inside smile.
Photo attribution here.
When the barcade had served its purpose we hit the street once more to take our chances with another bar. Russian roulette lead us to a magical land where the people were smiling, the bar top was an aquarium, and the entertainment was several gentlemen in heels higher than Bob Marley and enough glitter to outfit an entire cheer squad. Yes, we'd stumbled (some of the group more literally than others) into my very first gay bar with a drag show.
Now, a small confession here. The first boy I ever fell in love with is queerer than a two dollar bill (and still my favorite), and both he and The Mr. grow a beard in three days that could punch your dad's best beard in the face. The Mr. also rides a Harley almost exclusively. I guess you could describe my ideal man as kind of a metrosexual lumberjack, and lately I've been severely lacking in the metrosexual (or just plain homosexual) companionship department. Imagine my delight, then, as the following conversation unfolded.
Sitting at the bar, inconspicuously sipping at my water, a tall, slender man approached me, and in a tone not unlike Jack from Will and Grace said, "So, my friend over there (who was bearded, for the record) and I are gay, and we just wanted to tell you, you are FABULOUS. We love you. We love your hair, we love your outfit, we love your lipstick. We think you are beautiful! Your whole look! You are like something off the silver screen, a 40s Starlette! We just can't get enough of you, and we thought you should know."
Now, spending time with such beautiful people as Mr. and Mrs. Postman and company, watching a fully grown black man shake his money maker in a hot pink mini and enjoying the magical experience of tropical fish swimming beneath my fingertips were all elements pushing me closer and closer to an authentic experience of happiness, but this sassy, happy, lisping doll of a man loving me up like he'd just rediscovered his favorite teddy bear was what finally put me over the edge. An authentic smile bubbled up from the belly of my sorrow and unforgivingly slapped itself across my face, bringing with it several traces of the girl I once was. The girl that laughs and smiles, sometimes for no reason, and gets out of bed in the morning without having to slay the demons of panic and despair on her way to the shower. The girl that gets pleasure out of the way sunlight looks as it filters through leaves in the afternoon, and repeating the word "elongated" in her mind over and over when she's otherwise unoccupied. The girl who can be happy.
Photo attribution here.
I made a kind of involuntary squeal noise of joy and hugged this man I'd never met. He gave me the biggest, fattest kiss, right in my ear, and disappeared into the night, leaving me glowing with a full heart, good company and the slightest recollection of what it's like to be me.
I'm happy to say, this magical moment seems to have cracked open my crusty exterior just enough to let in some sunshine and boost me up to a place where I feel fairly prepared to get my "six months divorced" gold star and enter a new phase of healing where things are a fair bit lighter, freer, less tormented and (dare I say it?) hopeful. Now, I'm not recommending you find yourself a gay bar and wait for someone not attracted to you to hit on you, but in this documenting of my journey through the unknowable path of Mormon divorce recovery I will venture to suggest that moments of healing may come in unexpected packages, at moments you don't feel ready for them, while you're doing what you do out of love.