We sat in a restaurant with nothing more than a candle, dessert, and inescapable tension between us. Playing air hockey with our conversation, light and sharp, I watched our dialogue ricochet off the the walls, off the windows, off my chest, off my chest, off my chest, each time falling into my lap. Each time, the scoreboard changing in his favor.
“I’m just not emotionally available right now.”
Weeks later I was still hearing that phrase, trying to wrap my mind around what those two words could possibly mean. Not in relation to us, because that was evident. There was no more us. But emotionally unavailable? That’s Dark.
Perhaps I had been too honest with my words, or too clumsy with my heart (among other things, I spill, drop, and trip over everything within a five foot radius). Perhaps I had been too vulnerable by simply offering to lie next to him and see him for who he was. Perhaps he had been too vulnerable for showing me. Perhaps I had been “TOO Carley,” as if I have dials and knobs and switches to turn down when people start to unzip their suitcases, unpacking and sorting their baggage in front of me.
Eventually, it dawned on me: this had nothing to do with me. Emotional pain, heartache specifically, registers in the brain in the same way physical pain does. Place your hand on a hot stove and get burned, you probably won’t be quick to touch another hot stove. That pain not only burns into our hand, but our memory as well. So we learn to be more careful around stoves, but do we avoid cooking all together?
I get it. I’ve been there. It’s easy to feel fragile when you know you’re precious cargo. And you ARE precious cargo. But please, reader, stranger, friend, if there’s one thing you take away here, let it be this:
Be emotionally available, to all of it.
Be emotionally available to the people who prove themselves brave enough to open their hearts, or minds, or faced up palms across the table to you. That’s the biggest form of bravery there is. There are people out there crazy enough to love us for the terrifying creatures we are, capable of taking torches to the things we are supposed to love the most. When our emotions short circuit, we often burn everything in our paths. It isn’t until we’re staring at the ashes that we see the beauty of what once existed, and the gaping hole of what is missing.
It is the most tragic human condition there is.
Be emotionally available to hurt. To rejection. To failure. To loss. To connection. To growth. To fear. To falling. Be unapologetically open to whatever narrative you’re staring down the barrel of.
It’s SUPPOSED to hurt when you realize the work you’re doing isn’t work you love. There’s no panoramic penthouse apartment in the world that’s big enough to hide you from that monster. It’s the kind of realization that hopefully wakes you the hell up. You can either be open and available to that self reflective crap you’re afraid of, or you can be a shell aimlessly passing through the various stages of life.
It’s SUPPOSED to hurt when you realize that your body’s in Omaha, or Augusta, or Portland, but maybe your mind is in New York City, or your heart is in London, or your soul is in Sydney. The moment you needed to leave was the moment you realized “there were roads willing to take you anywhere you wanted to go.” That was the moment you should have packed your bags, and every day you stay will be another day you wonder why you haven’t gone already.
And it’s SUPPOSED to hurt when you realize you treated your feelings like appliances, and when you couldn’t compartmentalize them, you dismissed them as broken. You’ll pass fragments of her on the street, in the subway, and in that song you always skip through. They’ll slip through the gaps in your fingers that her hands used to fill as you clumsily try to piece them together. You’ll fail. Know that whenever that song comes on, you’ll instantly be wherever you were the first time the two of you heard it. There will be no skip button. The day you met her was the day you stopped thinking about anyone else.
So if anything’s going to take you from 0 to 200 in 3.5 seconds, let it be THOSE things. Fight the urge to abandon them.
Make the call when you need to hear their voice.
Play the song when you’re afraid to remember.
Accept the job you don’t think you’re cut out for.
Send the letter when you still have something to say.
And move when you’re feeling restless.
In the name of bravery, when a moment—because that’s all you’ll get—grabs you, let it. When it pulses through you like static shock, when it reminds you that for an instant you foolishly thought grabbing a metal door handle, or your own heart, couldn’t hurt you, let it shock you. Then, go straight to the doorstep of the girl you can’t stop thinking about, or the friend you lost touch with, or the dream you’ve been meaning to ring. Stop putting it off, because with every passing day, he, she, it only gets further away.
Be emotionally available to the notion that you’re right, it might NOT work out.
But my God, what if it did?