I love Florida. Those who have known me for awhile may be surprised to see me write those words. I use to vilify this state any chance I could get. It wasn’t that hard. There are a lot of unattractive qualities about Florida. It will go from 100 degrees to torrential downpour most days. Maintaining a hairstyle is rather difficult when you live in a sauna. Beyond the sunshine state I learned that are we often referred to as “the kill-zone” adding new meaning to our “where America goes to die” motto. Simmer down Casey and George, you’re embarrassing me in front of my new friends. There are however a lot of redeeming qualities about Florida and I had to get away for a while to see that. As I write I am on a vacation from Denver visiting my ass backwards state for a few weeks. As cheesy as this is about to sound, this place feels like a hug; a humid sweaty hug but a hug none the less. It’s filled with love, warmth and familiarity. Two years ago it felt more like being smothered. So two years ago I left, thinking that I could leave all my problems and bad habits behind too.
I had the very youthful notion when I left Orlando for Denver that simply moving geographical locations was what would make me happy. That Florida was the reason why I was unhappy. When I arrived to Denver and made fast friends, I thought I was right. I was swept up in the shine of a new city, new experiences and new types of people. I was blissfully happy if only for a short period of time and I look back fondly on that period. Especially since the next year and half would be defined by a series of amazing and foolish choices. Choices that revealed hard truths I could no longer ignore about myself. The last year and half has been a necessary but rather painful period of growth. A sweet period of mourning for the old me followed by a clumsy welcome to the person I’m meant to become.
I remember when things with my best friend in Denver started to go south. It was about 6 months after I had arrived and it wasn’t a specific event but more a creeping uneasy feeling. She was really the only person I was close to in Denver and the thought of being alone in a new city scared the shit out of me. This fear has ultimately overtaken many periods throughout my life. I am well-versed in the ways of keeping people in my life who don’t belong there. See: my wrist tattoo. I truly loved her though and we were pretty much inseparable. I’ve had some of the crazier and more fun experiences in my life by her side. As seasons change so do personalities though. I grew and learned a lot from my job and I found myself seeking out different kinds of people in my life. I started to feel like I didn’t know how to be the friend she wanted me to be anymore either. It put a strain on our friendship but dammit if we weren’t going to try to make each other fit. Until it got ugly. That crazy ex-girlfriend type of ugly. Shit talking isn’t really the point of this post so I’ll leave out the unnecessary details.
So in October of 2013 I found myself without the best friend I had for nearly 5 years. Despite how bitter the friendship had become this was an awful feeling. I needed to be alone and sort through my personal life in a way that made sense for me. Pick myself up and learn how to start bringing the right people in my life. I had a clean slate and a new city to do just that. So of course my next step was to do what felt natural to me. Jump head first into a romantic relationship to distract myself from the loss of my best friend.
For the not so first time I found myself in a whirlwind of unbridled emotions with a guy who was glaringly wrong for me. I don’t normally fall in love easily but timing proved her usual bitchiness. He was exactly what I didn’t need at a time where vulnerability had weakened my knees just enough to cave. He was so in love with me. Sacrificing realistic expectations he put me on a pedestal early on. God it was fucking perfect. How seamlessly my lost eyes aligned with the stars in his. I loved how he looked at me and everything he saw in me. I loved his friends and how easily they accepted me. I loved him. I started building a future on our commonalities and idealistic goals. We were going to volunteer overseas together. We were going to move into a house together. He told me multiple times he was going to marry me. I had every intention of meeting those goals and took logical steps to make them happen because that’s who I am. He made promises he didn’t fully understand and lived up to his talk rarely because that’s who he was then. We worked from two entirely different value systems and approached conflict in different ways. This obvious truth lead to our inevitably demise but we had to drag all of it out for eight months first. Again, well-versed in the art of trying to make broken things work. I would blame everything from various girls in his life to not spending enough time together. I could blame externally all I wanted but really, I was just toxically unhappy. Whatever identity I had before getting into the relationship had now become fully submersed in his life. I barely recognized myself anymore. I had bent and twisted to fit his world and he was too lost in life to understand. I tried to live up to that pedestal he placed me on. Of course I am far from perfect and that bubble burst, loudly.
I made an unfortunate and idiotic decision that at the time I believed threatened many years of hard work. I wanted someone to lean on and I needed a friend. My best friend was gone and despite a few work friends, I spent most of my time with him. Naturally I leaned on him but he backed away from me. I started to feel that familiar nagging feeling that screamed you need to leave. However, I had found myself in a situation where I would rather be miserable than alone. Even worse, I was completely enamored in our potential to be great. So I leaned on him more and became frustrated when he wasn’t there for me like I thought he should be. I still convinced myself that if I worked hard enough at it, we would come back stronger from it all. That potential would never come to fruition. After eight short but intense months, he ended it.
In a Facebook message.
Outwardly I kept my cool. I was at a Sunday brunch and the black twisted madness I felt after looking down to see that message didn’t really go with my pink dress. Facebook? That’s what I get? You took up almost a year of my life. I worked my ass off to try and make us work. I planned life events and decisions around you. A few cowardly keystrokes are all I fucking get? The rhetoric swirled through my head as I sat quietly downing my champagne with a splash of OJ. I mean, I wasn’t all that surprised it was ending. I just thought it would end a little more dignified. I messaged him for my apartment keys back but what I really wanted was my time back. The energy I expended into him that could have gone somewhere else. It didn’t take long to realize who had truly wasted all that time though.
Any breakup cliché you could think of I took part in. This includes eating enough ice cream to have made myself temporarily lactose intolerant. I tried sending my two cents to him to make myself feel better. It didn’t work. He sent me his own hate filled letter with my name artistically embossed with cursive font on the front. I still don’t get that. The contents were ugly and undermined any of who I was as a person. I fell into a spiraling pity party for all of an hour convinced that those words actually defined me. Then, I smacked myself. Literally. Right in the face. I may have lost parts of myself in our relationship but I knew I wasn’t this. That paper was lined with a 2D black and white picture of a 3 dimensional and colorful person. I read it one last time, laughed and watched the words burn. I began to feel lucky that it was only 9 months going up in smoke with it. He paid me a beautifully warped favor. I’m willing to accept that right now I’m painting a 2D picture of a complex and ultimately good person. It wasn’t all bad which is what made leaving so hard. I’m a firm believer in that some people bring out the worst in each other. With my identity so fractured at the beginning of our relationship I let myself become defined by the bad qualities he brought out in me. I decided to let that person go and start a clean slate again. The journey I should have embarked on when my best friend and I parted ways.
A month later he would message me apologizing for the way it all went down. I didn’t feel that I told you so feeling I thought I would though. I didn’t need him to validate my worth anymore. I felt hauntingly alone with no one to immediately call to my side to make me feel less than that. But I felt ok with it. Like all those affirmations I see about loving yourself before anyone else can love you made sense now. Beyond simply understanding what the words meant but really feeling it internally. That realization was perhaps the most empowering thing that had coursed through me in a long time. Some people hold you down with a weight like an anchor and surround you with negative perceptions of yourself. You will literally drown in those perceptions and fail to see you can swim above them. I am no longer defined by the titles of the not good enough best friend or scapegoat for another’s flaws. I’m up at the surface with a long way to swim but on my terms. It’s crazy to me that it took so long to see I like it better this way.
So, I sit here in Florida feeling ultra-reflective and so amazingly lucky. I have two places I can honestly call home for starkly different reasons. Florida: the comforting mom who teaches the art of compassion. Colorado: the tough father who teaches the art of struggle. Maybe those choices both amazing and foolish fell no sooner or later than they were meant to. I guess I’ll only continue to find out.