Bittersweet Bravery and the Ballad of a Broken Heart

Your very soul stirs the shift of a season...
And in the winter of your absence...
I find a comfort in the summer of your memory.

Bittersweet

/ˌbɪtəˈswiːt/

Adorned with the quality of awakening a sensation of pleasure, tinged with traces of longing and heartache. The description given to that indescribable mix of emotion that preludes the dichotomous state of heart.

He stepped out of his car in a sizzling vibrancy. The very air was permeated by his presence, and it felt almost electric. A high voltage of anticipation coursed through my frame. His intensity was tangible, even in the dark. The sun had long since set behind the high hill in the distance, and thus was lent a mystery to the way the night draped itself over our awaited encounter.

As he closed the gap of the few feet that lay between us – which but a moment ago still felt like a thousand leagues to gather myself in a single functioning piece – my ribcage nearly bent with the rapid pounding of my heart.

Get it together man! It’s just a date… Adjust your petals, and stop blushing. You’re not a damn rose…

But a rose by any other name could be as red… And as he offered a hand in greeting, I organically leaned forward instead to draw him into an embrace. Well done Wallflower… way to start it off on a good whiff of your savvy!

I could not help myself though. I was immediately drawn to him, and somehow I did not mind any awkward first impression at all… But he gave a playful smirk, a deep chuckle and then was more than willing to return the gesture.

… a moth drawn to the flame…. and I hoped that, whatever the consequence, I was not about to burn…

He took a few steps into the alleyway leading to my front door as I closed the gate behind us. In that momentary solace where I had my back turned to slide the bolt back into place, I caught my breath and turned down the heat a bit to help me get through this not-so impromptu date. As a wallflower, my sensitivity to minute detail was functioning at an optimal level tonight, and boy… my feelers were just picking up all kind of wavelengths from this guy that I had not anticipated. He was on a completely different frequency than I was ready for, and his radioactive presence was unraveling the DNA of any cool composure I had hoped to maintain during the evening.

In the stairway light that illuminated the climb up to my first-floor apartment, I must have seemed all a fluster with a freshly formed flush and audible palpitations. Because clearly the episode earlier was not to be an isolated event! My feet felt like lead as I dragged them up step by step in the small perpetual ascent to what would truly be our first face-to-face encounter. The landing brought us to the kitchen, and as he stepped around the counter to stand on the side facing the living room, he turned and we locked gazes for the first time that evening.

He was casually clad in a windbreaker, a pair of blue jeans and a NYC baseball cap that shaded a playfully knitted brow and dark mischievous eyes; and with his slightly crooked smile that was a one-way ticket to my wildest fantasies, I knew I was in trouble. F*ck… this was going to be hard… He was all at once the man I would introduce to my father and the man I wanted my father never to find out about! A chivalrous bad-boy, with ambition and courtesy, who speeded across the spectrum of stereotypes and enigmas within the realm of dating types. It made me dizy and made any coherence to my free flow and façade evaporate in the heat of his wisecracks and warm eyes. I think I was so deep in the seductions of his sorcery that any resistance was futile from the get-go. And we had not even sparked up a flow of convo yet.

Now for a wallflower like myself, dating pretty much comprised of a careful and patient observational game. One develops a sharpened eye for bodily cues, the shape of social exchange and that overall intuitive feel of the other’s presence – rich sources of information that undergo any number of layers of processing. Paradoxically, your date is not an objectification of your interest, but yet they are an anomaly that is novel, different, and ready for exploration. So, metaphorical notebook in hand, one steadily soaks up the complexity of their character and prods their personality, testing how well it meshes with your own. And if by some divine providence or stroke of luck you come across a handsome, tall drink of water… you may want a refill of their company very soon. But being introspective, high-reactive, sensitive and perceptive, your multidimensional spirit becomes selective in matchmaking. You are open-minded to the nuances, yet at the same time you have a fine-tuned set of filters in place to simplify the great volley of observational input. Pretty empirical for a common game of courtship, right? Well, for a wallflower, the quest for love can be an over-stimulating odyssey, so having some way to map the matrix is pretty handy.

It was not about to work on this guy though… He was entirely non-reducible to a set of simple descriptive mental shortcuts. The great irony was that he was a pretty straightforward kind of shooter stitched together from an open-hearted and direct demeanour. And his judgment was undeviating and honest. Simplicity was certainly an architect to his pedigree. Yet, I had hardly met a man who filled me with a more complicated kind of reaction. And damn, I was so shy when he glanced my way… In his way…

I was possibly his opposite in nearly every aspect, but that merely bred a magnetic attraction that was steadily growing unchecked and much faster than my proud pondering self could keep pace with. I was certainly fast becoming a moth drawn to the flame of his wildfire suave; and I hoped that, whatever the consequence, I was not about to burn…

A defence was but the delay of an assault…

But I had taken a keen sense of foresight for such predicaments early on. I had a nice little DMC and sit-down with the Universe, and set the record straight as only a gay man could. She was not about to make my love life a divine comedy! That was simply not the constructive approach with me. She had to understand that the Karmic bus was going to require a renewal of her driver’s licence before she came speeding through my parade!

But I think my well-positioned pleas and plans got lost somewhere in that little spaced-out encounter with this guy. The tell-tale signs were rapidly becoming red flags waving frantically and it brought my soaring ideals in for an emergency landing. So I had to fall back on that beautiful prehistoric programming that imbued us with a deeply innate ability to navigate human courtship: instinct.

Little did I know that was like bringing fire near gasoline…

I had this little habit of downplaying emotional intensity with a little bit of humour (well… a lot, actually). I was a little queer (pun unintended), weird, imaginative… living it up in my inner world. I could throw a quip, even a little bit of playful banter. It just helped to steer the situation a bit and keep things lighthearted and amicable, while not displacing the topic.

The tables turned however, when the metre of his jokes seemed to match my own, and we realised that we had met an interesting predicament where we played set match on the sarcasm scale of our deflections, serves, and verbal volleys. It was like an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force, and the titanic clash left us with long silences which teased at our composed temperaments. The tension was tangible, and it oscillated between the small gap that separated us on the bamboo-framed two-seater that was digging into our backs through the cushions (he was too much of a gentleman to ever attempt to address that uncomfort).

God he was handsome… he drove me crazy, he drove me wild… and I wonder if he ever really knew that I had already succumbed to the siege of his smoulder.

Hours had passed in which we had carefully trodden this situation. Refined and reserved: that was my way of approach, but for all that was good and sacred… I wished so desperately for a misstep or a Freudian slip that would give away my patient game. And that got me thinking… why was I playing a game? Why was I so intensely focused on this process of self-monitoring?

A defence was but the delay of an assault, and I was clearly feeling heavily bombarded by this situation. I was myself, and yet, so unlike what I felt I wanted to be – around him. Some deep part of me yearned for him to see that the blossom was not the bud – that this wallflower was already blooming in the shadow of my own hesitations. He was living proof that chivalry was not dead, and yet he was an unapologetic bastard at heart (God I loved it!). A diamond in the rough for sure, but a priceless rarity amidst the mining ground of male eligibles. He was not about to overstep in any way, but the gleam in his eye spoke of a playful side that could take you for quite the spin on the playground. But did he even comprehend the precise allure of his personality? His charisma was a flame that licked at my defences and melted my cool exterior like so much ice. And perhaps, just perhaps, I was trying to futilely postpone his near effortless victory.

Your pattern will be broken…

Another awkward moment seeped it’s way into the exchanges. Nearly every story ended with a deep moment of contemplation, a placid pause or an amiable look that left us both grappling for words. My mind raced desperately to look for another hot topic to play with, but he looked at me again and snatched my mind in another direction with that cheeky smile in his eyes. “Hey, what’s up?”, he teased (not for the first time). God this self-restraint was unbearable! And all at once the elastic tension that had stretched past its cue for the night forced some action, and finally snapped. I gave a final quiet laugh, amused by my out-of-character bravado which was making me turn toward him, and then lean over…

And somewhere during the evening, navigating past the thorny silences and the ridiculous amount of terrifying attraction, a kiss was planted that would grow to encumber any other hindrance to the inevitable affinity of our desiring spirits. My hard-earned strategems were undone. My petals were pried open. In all the ways of a wallflower, no hidden wisdom prepared you…

It did not prepare you for that realisation… that:

Among an infinite set of impossibilities, you will meet a soul – a being who will unravel the cosmic stitching within the fabric of your life. Your pattern will be broken. It will quake you to the core and force you from the toppling walls of your inner fortress. It will force you right into the arms of the most familiar stranger…

…and oh the force behind that collision. For it sent us both toppling backward and blind into the unknown ether of our unconscious wishes. “The heart wants what it wants” they say.

We drowned despite the warning…

And when his kisses spoke of a requited desire to be closer, to feel more connected, and to break the barriers, I could not help but feel a surge of joy as our bodies talked with a similar cellular diction that made every nerve ending spark with excitement.

But a veil hung over the already rosy hue of the scene that had begun playing in all its intensity, and further obscured the logic that remained to keep those same hearts intact. It loomed at the back of our minds even as we allowed ourselves the sweet surrender to feelings we had long since forgotten. Beyond this moment of chaotic perfection – beyond this new impenetrable space created with one another – awaited an inevitable parting. It was this moment that was about the only thing we had foreseen before the dice were cast. Yet, we took the impulsive plunge into the depths of each other’s eyes. We drowned despite the warning…

He was not from here. This town was no longer his home. Long ago, he had sought out his adventure in the great wide somewhere. And we knew, that a goodbye was an imminent reality that neither of us could truly change. We knew we were lost amidst the oceanic vastness of this encounter, and if anything…we circumnavigated the Bermuda triangle of our denial in a desperate hope to be lost in that moment forever.

We were caught in the throes of a bittersweet impasse.

How exactly do you resist the call of passion, when it is crisp, clarion and clear. We sheathe our souls under layers of refinement, ego deceptions and self-doubt to ultimately restrain us from our natural affinities. So often, we miss the call of passion. We miss the chance to become ridiculously infatuated with all it’s beautiful and disastrous consequences. Consequence is, after all, a harsh, yet nurturing teacher; a teacher that imparts its lesson to a degree measurable to the act that preceded it.

We knew all to well the shape of the consequence that lay before us – me and him – yet the result was not one of immeasurable heartache. It was a parting made bitter by the very injustice of having to say farewell; but a parting tinged with the sweet knowledge that such a stir of emotion is, in fact, possible – even if rare. It imbues your outlook with hope. It is restorative to the cynic disbelief in an emotive magic. And it reawakens the romantic that you had long thought to be exiled from your forced maturity – a maturity validated among a generation that relentlessly strives to rationalise all affective repertoire.

We were caught in the throes of a bittersweet impasse that required of us to face the music; yet, the melody of this ballad was not about to end in the happy sentimentality of giving in to the truth. And the truth was evident in our electric proximity; in the many whispers exchanged within our bated breaths. I had once said, in another writing of mine, that the truth permits growth sooner than does misdirection. But to say we were in love… Now that was a truth that neither of us wanted to admit for fear of the hardship it would afford us. Whatever the lesson was, whatever the insight from this experience would be, neither of us wanted to deal with the hurt in reaching that epiphany.

But as love rewrites the self-imposed conduct and personal rules we set to ourselves, so does it rewrite the caution we would take in trying not to crack our own castles of glass.

This heart is a fractured melody... 
And in the soft chimes of the gleam
That played on the prismatic edges of every crack
Was the reshaped yearnings of a forlorn feeling.
And as I teased at the old stir of memories, I picked up broken shards that had once been
My impregnable castle of glass...
That has so easily succumbed to the siege
of your eyes.

“What did you do to me?”, he asked tenderly, echoing the thought that had crossed my mind so many times since that evening. The words had left his lips in a heavy sigh, reverberating with the deep tragedy of an attraction that would be tensed over miles in but the count of a few days. And as the weeks had passed, that moment had become a a crystalline memory that captured the tremors those words had sent into the small pocket of air that seperated us when we were together.

In the test of bravery those idle hours afforded – knowing that it would soon be time to say goodbye – I did not regret the dutiful response to my heart. The experience of love is not regrettable. The heartwrenching hurt of the farewell to the object of that love, is not regrettable. Our time invested in love, is not regrettable. What is regrettable, is the minutes wasted in giving stock to the suppression of love when our time to experience it is so finite to begin with.

Especially when the lesson from that love, is that you are not a bud to be plucked when you have not been permitted the time to bloom. And as a wallflower, you want to bloom unabashed amid the field of your lush vibrancy. You want to absorb the natural freedom emanating from your will, and then bask in the light of another who permits you the security and acceptance to express that energy. Love is a prototype to the tending we feel we deserve, lessened only by the perceptions of what we have been made to think we deserve.

And for a brief moment, he made me feel like I was the only one that ever mattered…

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

Lao Tzu

So what lessons are left to us in this near irreparable state of heart? Perhaps this: beware not the battle to be bested. Bitter may be the bravery in overcoming a broken heart, but sweet is the ballad that sings of its memory. Love in all its consequence allows us a divine brush against the best versions of ourselves.

Therefore, resist not the pull of your heart, as the tide does not resist the pull of the moon. Your attraction is a natural alignment of your celestial energy. Be one with the flow of your experience, and surrender to the lessons of limerence.

Love and light fellow bloomers.

The Hemlock Cup of Expectations

Expectation

/ɛkspɛkˈteɪʃ(ə)n/

A contract mentally written in the ink of the beliefs, suppositions or conjectures harboured by a person, the premise of which is crafted from the intuitive dispositions and life experiences of the individual. A strong projection that may be directed at oneself or another, enrolled across the spectrum of appearing just and fair. It is dependent on perception and attribution. It may be bane, boundary or beneficence.

It’s important to meet people where they are, not where we want them to be. There is a tendency, in many, to re-characterize people’s experiences without being asked. You tell them you are feeling badly, they tell you all the reasons you should feel good. You tell them you are challenged by your circumstances, they tell you what they think you can do to make things easier. You tell them that you have a plan to do something, they offer up another plan for you. There is a place for these offerings – particularly when requested – but often times they just make things worse. In fact, we are more likely to arrive at the next best place on our journeys when someone actually attunes to where we are at, without making any effort to improve upon or re-frame it. We don’t need to be saved- we need to be seen. That’s the healing, right there. I hear you, I see you, I honor your choices, goes a long, long way…

Jeff Brown

I was in an autumn of my life…

… a life in the colour of a shifted season. A season regaled by the blur of falling leaves, and the stolen crowns of tree groves… all thrown stark against the depth of an endless bitter blue.

And after a gruelling day that had shaken any attempts at better analogies, I found myself behind the wheel of my car… sparking life to the engine with a slight of hand. The silence was louder than that familiar hum, and my limbs conjured forth its last bit of energy to nimbly bat the gear shift in a familiar fashion within its socket. With idle mind, and eyes that had lost their summer, muscle memory brought me to the threshold of my own front door… eventually.

I knew back then, that I was committing the greatest injustice that a wallflower could upon themself. I was disappearing so far back into that wall, that I merely became woven into the pattern and the backdrop of a story I never thought I would be part of. I was not tangibly blooming where my beauty would be noticed. But blossoms know they fare poorly against the chill… and when their lives are in another season, they know they need to withdraw. Close the bud.

But I remember sitting there, burdened with a lethargy that weighed me heavily into the fabric of my seat. I knew my mind was an arid landscape unable to bear any frugal thought. And God, my eyes… Those eyes that I had allowed so few people to really look into; those eyes that held such magic in reserve to be cast on the new memories that I thought I would make; those eyes that had counted stars and stirred the cosmos because my dreams weaved between constellations …

… those eyes that were now dying celestial bodies. The magic in those eyes was all but gone now. But no one had yet seen. How could I allow it? And in that space of grey oblivion, that scene that felt devoid of colour, there was some reckoning of peace. It was unfathomable; but, it was real. And there was nothing but that moment – that moment when expectations lose their power.

I never allowed that specific autumn to become a winter. My emotions had fallen like a myriad of leaves, each colour distinct and yet… so indifferent… from the others. Yet, those colours were the soft and warm hues of the last drop of afternoon sun. There was still light. The chill never really did set in. Not wholly…

Because I did not expect of myself to allow that to happen…

As a wallflower, the power of experience is bound to the intensity of the emotions it affords us. Without it, the true value is lost upon us. So what we expect are emotions that throw us into the void of ignorance, only to spew us out with blossoming philosophies to reshape worlds – inner worlds – of which we are master architects. But to allow such beauty, we cannot permit ourselves to be lost among the nuances of such feelings for too long. So we draw boundaries, we set limits, and we create clear expectations of ourselves. But are often lost as to the words with which to describe them. But expectations are not merely an inner construction. They are held by other people.

When he fell out of love (because only that emotion ever truly births the stars in our eyes, or dim them in its absence) my autumn set in. And the very boles of my values were shaken by the cosmic affront…

So yes… This is about a man…

Why was this? Well, it was another expectation. But this expectation looked different. It took the guise of a belief… a belief that love was this altruistic striving, this incorruptible dream. This feeling that once found, it could clear the endless uncertainty that we so desperately seek to shed through our lives. So, imagine if that expectation were to be broken….

It did break. For me it fragmented into countless shards, which imploded and scattered across the ethereal planes of every hope and fear I ever held on the feeling. This was all, a game of expectations…

Let me allow you another look at the nature of Jeff’s words shared at the start. What he was saying, in essence, is that our frame of perception conveys an expectation that is impressed upon another – one which is often unwelcome. When our views are shared at the right time, such opinions/statements/beliefs may plant the right seed that can be fostered into meaningful growth. But when this view is shared in an untimely way, incongruent with the person’s readiness and orientation to life, then we are being unfair. And we may be preventing the growth of another.

Let’s root out the word once more: expectations. It may be a beneficial driving force when one regards it as a belief on the coveted outcome of a directed effort. It may be a boundary to protect against the undesired behaviour of another. Or, it may be a bane when muddled with a lack of clarity, communication, honesty and even… insecurity. Expectations are the building blocks to the many forts that represent our relationships. It may build, strenghen, maintain; yet, it may also weaken, or destroy. It is a double edged blade that requires a master swordsman. And it is near impossible to handle in the face of the beast of unpredictability, such as love. But darling, that certainly never doomed us from trying.

We tried. Me and him. But he did not share his expectations. The ones he really had. So he set others; ones that did not attune to the person I was. And ones that lamely substituted those he should have made known. He could not set the right kind of expectations. And so, in response, neither could I. Because I did not even know what to expect from myself. We were lost amid the vicious cycle of overcomplicated caveats and unjust assumptions. It was all based on reaction and impulse. It made the rosebed of romance thorny with the lack of half-grown honesty it was being nurtured with.

The line was drawn. I needed to communicate more, and with the necessary thrift and immediacy when I was presented with a conflict. I needed to pluck myself from my garden of inner thoughts, reservations and reflection and plant myself squarely in his line of sight with emotions bare and exposed. I needed to show a greater vulnerability, and harden against his extroverted siege of words that energised his assault. I needed to root myself in firmer, simpler, and clearer beliefs that bound themselves to the normative reality. I needed to catch the breeze that was this false sense of positivity and optimism that agile mind shifts and denial affords one. I needed to feel better now and not when I was ready. I needed to not be in my head so much (because he did not know how to get in). I needed to know myself better, and gain confidence in who I was.

There it was… His contradiction was the clearest sign of a lack of truth… but he could not unring the bell. I was alert. And I knew something else was at play. But with all that warning, I simply found out too late.

But this is not a story about him. Not wholly. This was me, a blossom in the face of adversity. This was about me, trying to redefine the nature of expectations by attempting to create my own.

So we are back at the moment of my silent reprieve from a burdening day. I sat there and I was not thriving. I was flooded first with the freedom permitted by the very lack of expectations that being heartbroken affords you. There was only this feeling first, uncomplicated and yet powerful. It was dealing me a suckerpunch, but there was a hard and needed healing in that surrender. Secondly, the K. I. S. S. principle was wondrously at play. The situation was simple: I was the one that was dumped (lets drop the poetry, because the main premise is the same). I could not save something that he regarded as lost. I could not decide on some of the emotions that I was intended to naturally feel. What I could do, was decide how to react and move forward. What I could do, was take accountability for the thing I could mark with influence: myself. What I could do was expect myself to bloom… again.

But only in the truths to which I felt a resonance to. The harm in his expectations were the fact that they poisoned, instead of having remedied. But his words were being bartered in a golden chalice, instead of a clear crystal cup. And inside was swirling (though perhaps unintended) deceptions. I was being confronted with issues that were not part of the problem. I was being confronted with variations of his truth, informed by his frustrations. He was pushing the whole principle of reality, when he was not sharing the reality of the problem. And he was expecting me to open the doors to my Narnia, and get back to his world riddled with war. Because he could not get in where the magic was. And only later, when fire and brimstone was rained on his toxic extrovert ideal – the moment he pushed me too far – was the moment when the real expectations came a little too late.

And yet, I was perhaps not the scapegoat, but by no means the innocent on trial. The more he was projecting these perceptions of my secluded mind, the more I was drawing a veil over every thought and emotion that fit the crime. Self-fulfilling prophecy or perhaps projected reality…

Our personalities were never compatible. But that truth was hidden behind so many variations of perceptions of the truth (to which I was also contributor), that we were withholding each other from life journeys we had both respected.

I learned key lessons then. One among them was that the ‘quiet revolution’ is not a war we wage by never speaking our mind. It is a display to the power inherent in silence of which the essence is to avoid conflict, not to stir it because we are incapable of accommodating a louder world. We are wallflowers, and thus we must learn enough from our observations to be able to adapt to a degree after all. But in the second place, your personality is not a commodity to be traded in compromise. That expectation is altogether selfish, and cruel, and best countered by assuming a peace with such violence and setting an expectation of a different sort. Darling, these are called boundaries. And you best f*cking defend these with your last breath! Vocal sports is a practiced game and it has its champions. But silence is an inborn talent that knows no equal! (Insert Simon and Garfunkel here, and let us relaunch this debate some time).

My petals took on a different colour after that day. Self-talks are beautiful little gardening tools to repot our roots within a more congruent mindset.

Attunement is a skill the wallflower cultivates and makes part of their daily practice. How? Because we observe; because we reflect; and because we then feel what parts of ourselves need expression. We know what to expect of ourselves, but we cannot always rely that the expectations of another will allign. And this is Jeff’ s concluding remark:

We don’t need to be saved- we need to be seen. That’s the healing, right there. I hear you, I see you, I honor your choices, goes a long, long way…”

So to all those wallflowers out there, or to those that tend to them:

Avoid the self-administered bane that is expectations out of touch with your own fragrance. And then, deny the drink from the hemlock cup filled with the unjust expectations offered by another (avoid offering it to another yourself) . For if your opinions are not being watered for growth, your particular season of spring is being shown dishonour.

Love and Light fellow Bloomers! “I hear you, I see you, I honour you…”