I wrote this draft more than three years ago, in the fall of 2016. I didn’t have the courage to post it. I’m publishing it now, exactly as I wrote it because it has a happy — a very happy — ending. And because I love you.
I was poking around in Facebook and found the draft post below. My first impulse was to delete it, but then I was struck by how different my life is now.
Let me begin at the end.
On September 14, 2017, I met my beloved, Michele Taipale. It was a MeetMindful date. I wasn’t very mindful, but she gave me a second date anyway.
This poster is on the inside of our front door.
I’m the luckiest man in the world. I learned to dance and give up the games. Now I dance every day with my beloved. She wrote about it: Do you dance or play games?
I’ll have more to write later. I’m sharing this now in the hopes that it might remind someone who is going through a dark passage that there is hope. More than hope — love — waiting for you to find it. It’s everywhere.
Look for it.
If love is grace, then pray.
in September, 2016
The past two years I’ve been on a tumultuous journey, from halfhearted to brokenhearted to openhearted to wholehearted, with a few lessons learned. As my birthday approaches, I take this opportunity to record my reflections. This is a long post and a very personal one. Don’t read it.
Be true to your teeth and they’ll never be false to you.
It’s never too early to start saving for retirement.
Never take love for granted.
A little over a month ago, doctors snaked catheters through my femoral veins and my jugular vein and zapped my heart. The procedure, called an ablation, was designed to remedy my atrial fibrillation, an electrical malfunction that caused my heart to unexpectedly lurch and rattle in my chest. It’s a crazy roller coaster feeling when it happens, a bit like a drunken intruder banging pots and pans on my ribs. I had been dealing with it on my own for nearly eight years, fending it off with acupuncture and Chinese herbs and supplements and the avoidance of stimulants like alcohol and coffee, and last fall I started losing the battle. I used to have four or five episodes a year; this year, I was having them almost every week, sometimes two or three days in a row. Hence, the ablation.
A few weeks ago, in the middle of dinner with a Tinder date — just after explaining that, after a breakup, it’s not the heart that breaks, it’s the ego — my heart lurches and races in my chest like a jackhammer. I feel faint. I try to continue, but finally have to confess that I am about to pass out. I steady myself and we Google the nearest emergency room. I drive myself there.
When they hook me up to the EKG, my heart is thumping about 200 beats per minute. It’s so fast they can’t tell what kind of rhythm it’s in. To diagnose the problem, they have to stop my heart and take a reading as it starts up again. They warn me that when my heart stops, I may have a feeling of “impending doom.”
They tilt the gurney down (so the blood rushes to my head and I won’t lose consciousness) and inject adenosine into my IV.
The jackhammer pounds away, then . . . nothing.
If you’ve ever been in a glider . . . a plane tows you up into the sky and you can hear the roar of the propeller, then . . . you’re cut loose and you’re floating, surrounded by sudden silence. When my heart stops, the hush is uncanny. Something is eerily wrong.
The body is not this soundless. It’s like being dead and alive at the same time.
Finally . . . I take a breath.
The jackhammer resumes.
Only a few seconds have passed, but it feels like an eternity. They read the tape. Can’t tell anything. They have to do it again, longer this time.
There is nothing quite like lying on a gurney in a sterile emergency room, staring up at the brilliant lights, surrounded by nurses and a doctor with a quizzical look on his face issuing tentative orders to stop your heart, to make you reflect on your life . . .
You put your right foot in. You put your right foot out. — Larry LaPrise (or maybe Jimmy Kennedy)
I’ve lived most of my life with one foot in and one foot out. I’ve never felt like I belonged here. I’ve always felt like an alien, like some wayward ET from Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky, or beyond.
Once, while having my Tarot cards read, I was asked to pull a card to represent my Shadow. It was a new deck, the Aleister Crowley Thoth deck, and there was an extra blank card in the box that somehow made it into the shuffle. I pulled the blank card.
“Oh,” she said, “You don’t think you have a Shadow.”
Around 30, I decided it was time to have a Shadow, to incarnate, to show up. I got married. To the wrong woman for the wrong reason at the wrong time. It lasted a couple of years.
I was married again, this time to the right person for the right reason at the right time. We had a good run, together almost 20 years, married 14. For much of the time, I was happy. For most of the time, I was content. We spent ten years living on a golf course. I can’t remember anything of any significance happening in that time. One day I woke up with the Talking Heads bouncing around in my head:
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
How did I get here?
I met her on OkCupid. In my profile, I offered to exchange a Tarot reading for a cooking lesson. She had just returned from Florida, where a friend’s mother had gifted her with a handful of homegrown key limes. She offered to come over and teach me how to make key lime pie.
It was the best first date of my life.
Within a few months, we were looking for a place to live together. We found a loft in Emeryville and settled in. Life was good. I was the happiest I have ever been in my life.
Hell is not punishment. It’s training. — Shunryū Suzuki
Love is grace, I think.
If you lose your job, you can always find a way to make money. If you’re evicted, you can always find a place to live (though it’s tough in the Bay Area). If you’re sick, there’s always something you can do (if the doctors are at their wit's end, there’s always acupuncture).
But love is grace. There’s nothing you can do to make it happen. It’s not a numbers game. It’s a gift.
It was the kind of relationship that should have happened when I was twenty. I’d be over it by now. I’d know that I had my life ahead of me and would love again, find someone again.
I couldn’t let go.
It’s a lonely job, but somebody has to do it . . .
I went into a deep depression. When I wasn’t working, I obsessed over the stock market. Over the years, I’d made and lost a lot of money. Now, I day-traded like a crack addict and squandered a small fortune. It was a form of self-flagellation, or self-mutilation, like cutting, a fucked up way of punishing myself for being so incredibly stupid. The pain made me feel better because, somehow, I deserved it.
Finally, I had punished myself enough.
I counted all the ways I fucked up. I needed more than six hands (there were 33 altogether). I turned them into reminders. I wrote them down, so I wouldn’t forget them if I got another chance. Here are just a few. May they serve you well.
Love yourself first. You’ll only be able to love her as much as you love yourself.
Don’t ever think you’re better than her. You’re not.
Love her wholeheartedly. That is, love all of her heart — not just the tender, beautiful parts, but the hurting, raw, scared, painful, empty, broken, jagged parts — with as much of your heart as you can. She’s showing you her dark side because she loves you. Man up and show her you love all of her.
If she’s mad at you, it’s because she doesn’t feel loved. Don’t be mad. Be loving.
Don’t project. Make a list of everything she does that bothers you. Then look at how you’re doing the same things.
Tell the whole truth all the time as soon as possible. Don’t withhold anything.
Don’t make up any stories. Just ask her and get the facts. Deal with what’s real.
Ask for what you want. Whatever apparent evidence you have to the contrary, she’s not a fucking mind reader.
Don’t be an asshole. Don’t stonewall.
Make friends of your own. No one can provide all of the stimulation, intimacy, and support you need.
Balance lust with copious amounts of tenderness. Create close physical affection, tenderness, and intimacy every day.
Say, I love you, every day. Even when you don’t especially feel like it. Especially when you don’t especially feel like it. It will still be true. And saying it will remind you.
Make sure you have lots of fun together. Regularly. Don’t be so serious. In fact, if things are starting to feel serious, be sure to take some time to play. It will remind you of how good things can be.
Don’t expect her to make you happy. And don’t feel it’s your responsibility to make her happy. Be happy. Then be happy together. There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
I’ve looked at this relationship from every angle and I can explain what happened with a dozen different, elaborate, and contradictory theories. Everything I say is a story. It’s a mystery. I’ll never understand it.
I can’t say anything true about it. Just this: I loved her more than I could let either of us know. The thing I wanted most in my life was also the thing I feared the most: to love someone with my whole heart.
What did you think it was that needed to be loved? — Thaddeus Golas
I’m looking . . .
I worked hard on forgiving myself. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t recognize my life. Somehow I had managed to create the exact opposite of everything I told myself I wanted. I was alone and lonely, I had lost a lot of money, I didn’t have a place that felt like home, my heart was rattling the cage at random, and my work seemed to be in jeopardy.
Somehow, I made some friends. I made friends even though I couldn’t hide my pain. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life.
I was adopted by a menagerie of young people, old souls in young bodies, big-hearted and kind, wise beyond their years.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. — Rumi
A couple of months before my ablation, I met a woman at a Sacred Kitchen Salon. She made me a bracelet. What word did I want on it?
I knew that my life was out of my control. There was nothing I could do about my ablation, I would be putting my life into someone else’s hands. I thought about Surrender or faith. Trust seemed more appropriate.
My heart doesn’t feel like mine. It’s my Siamese Twin. An interloper, a rebel, has taken up residence in my chest. It has a temper. It’s prone to tantrums. It betrays me. It has a lot of work to do to earn my trust again.
If love is grace, I think, then pray.
May all beings be safe. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be happy. May all beings be loved. May all beings live with ease.
I’m a dead man walking. I’m not attached to any of it. I’ve got a bum ticker and my clock can stop any second. I can go at any time. That is just as true for you as it is for me. There’s no point in any of us holding anything back.
I’m still afraid, but there’s one thing I’m not afraid of anymore: I’m not afraid to say, I love you.
I love you.
If you’re reading this, I love you. If you’re not, I love you.
If you know someone who’s looking for a guy with a slightly worn, patchwork heart, be an angel and slip them my digits.
I’m weary now, but wiser. I’ve learned a few things. I wish I knew them sooner, but you don’t know something until you know it. If I had it to do over, I’d tell my younger self three things:
Take good care of your teeth and they’ll never be false to you.* It’s never too early to start saving for retirement. And, most important of all, never take love for granted.
It’s almost my birthday. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number. I’ll be 60. Don’t tell anybody.
Gamble everything for love. If you are a true human being. If not, leave this gathering. Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty. — Rumi
* Thank you, Dr. Toomajanian, my childhood dentist. I should have listened to you.