As an infant, I was once addicted to a discontinued pacifier. My parents tried to replace it with new brands, but I’d just spit them out. “So what did you do?” I asked upon the retelling of my addiction to plastic.
“We purchased every last one, and once they were gone, we just let you cry. Eventually you gave up.”
I’d like to say I learned my lesson then. I’d like to say that’s as close as I ever came to a security blanket, but please, this is me. Instead, I reserved a serial string of monogamous relationships to shut me up. Obviously, my parents didn’t discover the “boyfriend” brand name in pacifiers.
So I moved on from pacifiers to train sets. I liked trains because I saw how much my father liked them, and I wanted to be like him. I liked the first car, a black one, its whistle; it emitted smoke. I liked the lights and the way the wheels moved, connected with straight steel bars. I’d lie on the floor, leaning on my elbows and watch the train move along its circular tracks.
All my relationships have been passenger cars of a train, each one linked to the next, full of doors and windows, opening and closing. I could easily move between each car, knowing I could always reopen closed doors. I didn’t last very long in the space between cars; I was safer inside. And that’s what relationships with men have always been, safe. You’re supposed to outgrow trains and security pacifiers, but we don’t all grow up; we sublimate.
There’s still something comforting about trains, moving through towns, sitting alone, passing empty baseball fields, schools, and towns with red libraries near firehouse stations. Through gray branches and pine there are homes, windows, and quiet lives full of homework and dinners. They have crossword puzzles on bedside tables, bathrobes, and dog bowls. Mantles flanked with photos of missing teeth, graduation tassels, and the deceased. There are plants and wood logs, magnets on refrigerator doors, laundry still warm in the dryer. I can’t get away from imaging my home and the voices that will one day fill it as I open the door.
Hearing, “I’m confused, and I need to get away for a while. I need time.” was like telling me you wanted me to give blood and watch while it slipped into a big burgundy donation bag. I turned into a weeping child, screaming, and pleading, “please, no, anything but that. Don’t let it come to that.” Then I heard myself, and said, “Fine.” Everyone knows when someone says FINE they don’t mean it. How are you? Fine. Yeah, okay, right. Fine. Go. Leave. See. If. I. Care. Then the guilt slipped in like tax. He’d see how sad I was, feel guilty, and say he’d try to work it out with me. And he’d stay. He wasn’t off the market yet… it was always, “to be continued.”
He stayed because he wasn’t strong enough to disappoint me; he knew I was a good person. I took care of him when he was sick and fixed him chocolate pudding. I even purchased his cans of tuna, despite my abhorring tuna fish like you read about. He didn’t want to cause me pain. So he stayed for the wrong reasons. He stayed because it was easier than leaving. And I let him stay because I’d lived a lifetime at the same address: the corner of manipulation and guilt. It was time to box things up and move. To find a new home, with warm laundry, bathrobes, and dog bowls.
I haven’t been on a train or sucked anything plastic in months. But I’m still looking out from windows hoping to find home.