I had an epic meltdown last night. Over shoes.
Since I’m planning to move in May, I’ve started sorting through my things. I have lived here for six years — my longest time at one address since I left my parents’ home at age 18 — and while I do semi-regular purges, I also tend to accumulate stuff. I love thrifting, and when your favorite local thrift store supports your favorite local nonprofit, it’s too easy to justify purchases. So it’s an understatement to say I have a few things to sift through.
I’d already decimated my wardrobe, so I decided to tackle my shoes. Which I keep in colorful boxes on bookcases in the living room. Sure, the overall effect is a tad chaotic, but since I’ve never entertained much — and have had exactly two people over since the advent of COVID-19 — it doesn’t matter.
So this is where I’m going to sound pathetic. I have all these lovely shoes that I thrifted, thinking someday I would have dates to wear them on. (Most of my friends are in relationships, and I guess they prefer to chill with their female friends and save dressing up for their men, because even before COVID-19 we almost never did things that entailed flamboyant shoes.) I told myself that in making these purchases, I was manifesting the life I want, refusing to settle for the life I have. Yeah, I’m stuck in a small town with limited opportunities and a population that seems split between bitter academics (present company included) and townies who still think COVID-19 is a hoax. But I thought I’d connect with someone at some point: The park ranger from the moonlit canoe trip that turned unexpectedly romantic. The guy at the gym. The neighbors who came outside to smoke weed and play guitar every time I took a night swim. The guy whose dog I petted at the farmer’s market. The handful of men on dating apps who sounded like decent, interesting human beings. I thought there was someone out there for me and I thought at some point I’d go out with him. And get to dazzle him with, or at least have an excuse to wear, my fun shoes.
But that’s never happened.
Two different people in my life who don’t even know each other told me, totally independently, that 2020 was going to be my year. They felt like God was telling them. They were excited. I was too doubtful to be excited, but I wanted to believe, and I even, briefly, felt hopeful.
Now, of course, 2020 doesn’t seem like anyone’s year. It sure as hell hasn’t been mine, although there are a lot of people a lot worse off than I am.
I’m starting to think it’s kinder not to hope. Not to tell myself maybe this is the last Friday night I’ll spend alone sorting through shoes. Not to let myself believe any year is going to be my year. That there’s anything in my future except more drudgery at jobs that feel meaningless and don’t pay enough and shut down more possibilities than they create; more looking for reasons to be grateful even when that requires a microscope; more watching other people find their soulmates and get married and have kids and earn promotions while I stay in the same place locked into the same rut with a paycheck that gets a little smaller every year; more days of coming home to an empty house and going to sleep alone and waking up alone and counting off the interminable hours alone. I feel like fucking Eleanor Rigby.
My mom thinks I’m not going to meet anyone while I’m trapped in this town, but once I get out of here and we have a COVID-19 vaccine, there might be opportunities. Her oft-repeated advice is to “go where people are,” although neither she nor I has any idea where that mystical place might be.
In the meantime, I can’t even find anyone to go to an outdoor soccer game with me. I can count on the fingers of one hand the people I’ve seen socially in the seven weeks I’ve been back from Colorado. And I know everyone’s tired of listening to me whine about being single and lonely and unfulfilled. I’m tired of it too. But I have to live with it. Other people can ignore my texts and calls. I can’t shut off my brain. I can’t will myself to stop hurting.
I’m fully aware that loneliness, wanting to meet someone, and hating to be single are more of those unspeakable truths. Men get to be totally desperate and crazy in the pursuit of love (far worse than any woman I’ve ever known), but if you’re female, you can’t say you want a relationship without being labeled desperate and pathetic and needy. Well, fuck it. I’m not desperate enough to settle, but I’m over being alone. And since there aren’t any prospects to be chased away at this point, I might as well admit it.
After the shoe sorting — after tossing all those perilously-high-heeled hopes and dreams into a box — I curled up in the fetal position and wept so hard I felt like my ribs would shatter.
People keep talking to me about surrendering to God. About accepting God’s will, even though it isn’t what I want. About admitting that God knows what I need better than I do. About telling God I’m okay with being single right now if that’s what God has planned for me.
But that sounds, has always sounded, like such a joyless, grim existence. Feeling grateful for crumbs. Enduring loveless, abandoned, forgotten, helpless, drab days at the whim of a dour, impatient, unforgiving deity.
I know exactly where these ideas of God came from, who planted them so deeply in the marrow of my being that nothing and no one can contradict them. But knowing doesn’t change the visceral belief that I am damned, doomed, cursed. Unloved and unlovable.
COVID-19 isolation has given me far too much time inside my head, but I don’t know how to escape it. I keep spiraling down into a black hole. I return to the ugly knowledge that my entire church community didn’t love me; they weren’t willing to work with me to resolve the situation so I could stay, and when it came time to make a choice, they almost unanimously did not choose me. They told me, by their silence, that I did not matter. My feelings did not matter to the park ranger, who invited me to watch a meteor shower with him, then cancelled at the last minute and never called again. My humiliation did not matter to the guy at the gym, who turned out to have a girlfriend he told everyone else about but never mentioned to me. My vulnerability didn’t matter to the man from my writer’s group, who pretended to be my friend and then used everything I told him to try to manipulate me into an affair. My time doesn’t matter to the students who don’t bother showing up for class but then expect me to spend hours e-mailing them to recap what they missed. My (and my colleagues’) energy and efforts and morale don’t matter to my employer. In the face of so much negation, so many efforts to erase my worth, it’s often a bigger fight than I can win to keep believing that I matter to God, that God loves me even when it feels like barely anyone else cares.
I’ve prayed and sat in silence when I have no more words. I haven’t yet found the place where I have no more tears. I’m angry that I had to come back here from Colorado, where I am loved, where my presence mattered and I was needed, where my family was usually around and solitude occurred in beautiful settings where I could write for hours on end. Being back here has been as difficult and bleak and brutal as I expected it would be. I wanted to believe there was a reason I had to come back, some redemptive purpose that waited. Driving through Oklahoma, I felt the green hills surround me like embracing arms. I hoped I was coming back to…something worth coming back to.
But right now there’s just a pile of empty, unworn shoes waiting to return to the thrift store.