I was born deaf in one ear. It’s not a terrible thing. It’s great for sleeping - I just roll over on my good ear to block out noise and if I want to ignore someone, I have the perfect alibi. When I was little, I called a spatula ‘a scratchula’, wondered why my Dad wanted ‘female bacon’, and told my Mom “Don’t worry, it’s only maple leaf.” Now, that could be the half deaf thing, or maybe it’s just because that’s what ‘make believe’ sounds like to a little kid.
Not too long ago, I went through a break up. Yes, I know most people have, but honestly, this was different. And not just because it happened to me. My heart was broken. It really was. I remember turning over in bed that night and I literally felt my heart fall in my chest. No amount of Aleve or Gravol could erase the headache or nausea or pain or confusion or sorrow I was feeling.
The man I had fallen in love with, the man who said he loved and cherished me, had abruptly ended our relationship. And now it hurt to breathe. I had to remind myself to inhale and exhale, because that’s all I could do.
A few weeks later while having lunch with my cousin, I saw him crossing the street. I turned my head and kept my eyes on the menu even though he was trying to get my attention.
When I told my Mom what happened, she asked me “Why didn’t you go out and say hi?”
My answer was simple. “Because I don’t want to pretend.”
There are things we fake every day because it’s the right thing to do. We smile at people to be polite. We say “I’m good, how are you?” when we don’t really mean it. We (well, maybe this is more of a me thing) tell ourselves we want to work out when we actually want to go home, sit on the couch, and eat chocolate chip cookie dough.
I’m really good at pretending. I’ve done a lot of it over the years. But there came a point in my life, when pretending started to hurt.
I pretended I was fine when I was married to an alcoholic. In fact, I didn’t even call him an alcoholic, instead I simply said “He drinks too much.” The pretending and the violence continued. I sat in the psychologist’s office saying “It’s okay, I can handle it.” I was told “You’re not supposed to handle it.”
Then one night, after a blur of drunken rage, my husband stood at the counter spreading cheese whiz on his toast like nothing had happened. I remember thinking “If you don’t get out now, this is going to be the rest of your life.” There was no more make believe. I left the next day. Thank you cheese whiz.
I’ve pretended in relationships I didn’t want to be in. Ones I knew weren’t right or good for me. I’ve pretended my life was all right when it wasn’t, told jokes when I wanted to cry, and ate instead of dealing with things. So this time around, no thank you, I don’t have to pretend. And this time, I didn’t.
I didn’t pretend I was fine. I didn’t tell him everything was okay and we were still friends. I cried. A lot. I got angry, I swore. I told him off in my head and out loud in the shower. I made peace with it, I cried again. I let myself feel disappointed - in him, and me. I listened to The Story by Brandi Carlile, and Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri, and Rolling in the Deep by Adele, and wished I could sing. I turned the lights off in my apartment and became a lyrical dancer. And the whole time I missed him even though I didn’t want to, and the whole time I told myself it was okay for me to do all of these things. Because it was.
And the days passed, and I inhaled and exhaled, and it all got a little lighter and a little easier. For real.
Maybe one day I’ll bump into this guy, and mean it when I smile. I’m not there yet, but now that the sadness and anger and hurt have almost faded to nothing more than a sigh, I really want to believe that someday I will be. In my imaginary screenplay, we stand in the shade of a tree to talk, and he listens when I say what I never got to say. It might be an oak tree, or maybe a weeping willow, but there’s one thing my heart already knows for sure - there won’t be a maple leaf in sight.