You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.
– James Baldwin.

Is this what happens after the tender eardrum bursts? Is this what it is to bear the thick scars, to become deaf, to grow hard?

The third man in less than a year has chastised me for lacking empathy. The third man in less than a year has used the word “selfish” to describe what he sees. It seems this should sting, but oddly, it falls away. The swelling sensation in my chest for my son has to indicate some capacity for care, right? The dedication to Bug is so instinctive and self-sacrificing that this thing love, while perhaps not my dominant chord, is a riff repeated throughout the improvised song of me.

Perhaps the other exes will be nodding their heads as they read this. You said it, brother. That exhalation of relief at being rid of such a cold and steely thing. This is confusing, though. I have also been told I love a little like scalding, a little recklessly. Sometimes, when I get a verse of you stuck in my head, it is hard to shake it free.

A brief and totally unscientific survey of the years preceding the marriage indicates a pattern of ducking out from under the proffered embrace. I fling myself back into the path of my own cyclone, grab hold, and ride. Yes, even if it bucks and hurtles me away from the you whose train just carried me where I claimed I wanted to be.

Alas, this string of men may be right. Should I be peeling back prickled rind of their criticism? It would be nice to make a course correction if it is called for. It’s just that I find myself a tad too unconcerned with this interpretation. Selflessness may be overrated. (Spoken like a truly spoiled brat).

Early experiences with the blues teach a girl a few things. Like, take charge of your own joy. Don’t wait for someone to re-write the song in a major key. Go the way your blood beats. It was never Tee’s job to make me happy, and one of the things he told me recently is that a few years into our relationship, he stopped trying to put a smile on my face.

Sad, but you know what? Good for him.

The desire to be a generous mother and wife eclipsed my capacity for blazing my own trail. We try so hard, the driven among the women, to be soft and giving while the unwritten strains of our own magnum opus threaten to burst the seams. I am sure I am not alone in having tried to quell the jostling desire for a more symphonic score, to draw the string around the neck of the sack and press it down in the river of some man’s cadence until it stopped squirming, until it just floated away on his meandering current.

It does not work (unless it does, and which is worse?)

Certainly, I love to love. Also, though, I have learned to return to the dance, my sweat, the craft. Ink, work, questions, earth. It is unfair to rely on him to conjure the beauty. I have learned how to work the magic with my own hands. This has a price, of course. Not needing him might (oh, irony!) leave him hungry. No wonder I begin to look ugly when, upon hearing the growl in his belly, I toss him the bones. He is no fool. He sees me heap my son’s plate with an extra helping, then retreat behind my velvet curtain and feed in rapturous solitude on the meatiest bits myself.

Please allow me to veer to the side here and indulge in a little contextual inquiry. How is it that we are already a few bites into the 21st century, and a woman who unapologetically carves out time to tune her own strings has to ask herself if she is a loving enough creature? When I rise before the sun to dance or run or write, I know I am leaving that man to his own dreams. He wants me to stay. I get it. I have been the one left before, and it chills a little, right at the moment when the most delicious thing would be to slide up into a tangle of limbs. Girls who become women have to swallow the hardest lesson: the thirst accompanying the beloved’s receding back is what finally makes you decide to stop grumbling at the barren sky. Pick up your own instrument. Pluck out your rough tune. Turn your voice to the horizon and call the rain.

She wakes up when she realizes she no longer aches for company. She has, without knowing how it happened, stumbled upon a few marvelous secrets.

One: it is really a treat to work hard and succeed at something that matters in the world, and the more you do it, the more you want to do it.
Two: that thing you enjoy? It turns out to be just as fun when you do it alone, in the company of strangers or friends, or alongside a lover. It really doesn’t matter. Just doing it makes you smile down in your belly, and that is the truest source of your generosity.
Three: loneliness is the low-hanging fruit. Joy is just a little higher up. Take your pick. Both are within reach.

For me, the greatest surges of love occur when watching a companion out there, bringing his hands down across the taut skin of the world and banging things into place. Seeing him play and build, move and shake? That’s what sets this lady to shivering, not his proximity. Or, at least not only that. I, too, crave the comfort of the hearth, and it is so very nice to spin a cocoon of whispers and flesh, to fit inside someone’s breath.

Please consider this: I am as warm blooded as the rest.

When I turn away, I am not running away. It is not a cold thing. The door is open wide, and I am still offering up whatever scoop of love I have to give. It overflows, and I will gladly glop the best of it all over you once we have both worked up a hunger in our separate pursuits.

It is a gift to wind through the fine lines of the staff with a companion, feeling the buzz of resonance when hitting the notes together. I am not so self-contained as to welcome the prospect of a lifetime of playing one-handed. Being able to cherish and care for a companion, to practice love, not just as a three-chord ditty but as a collection of movements, is a breathtaking blessing. I hope I am fortunate enough to have a chance to attend to a partner’s place in things, and to help him open his voice to his true lyric.

If I am free to practice mine alone, I will leave him to his. My arms will stretch wider, my mouth will lift higher, and I will be able to hear the many layers of him. All I need is a few measures to compose myself.

Growing up ain’t easy. We resist it until we surrender, and then we pull our fingers from our ears and hear, at last, how clear the sound of our own pulse, how perfectly timed the beat of our veins to that of our feet. Finally, we do not concern ourselves with finding someone to fill the gap. We write the bridge in where it belongs, and then cross it to meet our companion, weaving together our whole and separate songs.

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