Nick Chmura takes a hard look at past relationships.
By Nick Chmura
On a long enough timeline, nothing lasts. Galaxies, solar systems, stars, planets, continents, countries, dynasties, families, relationships, and you exist for just a fraction of a blip, on a timeline which all signs point to being infinite. The only thing we can count on, all we know, is everything will be gone in the next blip or maybe sooner. Everything in our lives will eventually be lost. Since the only thing we can rely on is loss, we might as well learn how to deal with it, how to move on from things that are no more.
I am a horrible boyfriend. I forget birthdays and look at granola girls in Lululemon yoga pants. I buy the wrong chocolate. I leave the wrong chocolate in my truck and then I eat the wrong chocolate. I don’t want to keep up with the fucking Kardashians and going shopping is worse than going to the dentist.
As bad as I am at boyfriend, I’m worse at being an ex-boyfriend. Sometimes my mind is clear and objective; my brain guides my heart and I end relationships that I know aren’t right. But this clarity is not the norm. Most of the time, I am Noah Calhoun, building houses for women who don’t want them and shooing them away when they finally arrive. I’m not quite sure why I can’t move on from relationships I didn’t do much to keep. I think it’s because every woman I have cared for takes a piece of me and when I least expect it, this piece needs some attention and wants to play. I’ve had to learn to control these feelings so that I’m not eternally stirring the pot.
The thing about moving on for me is I’ve made a life of it.
I’ve said “goodbye forever” more times than I can count.
I’ve lost more than a handful of best friends.
Some people can turn their feelings on and off. When something is over, it’s over and they only have to visit this loss when a certain song comes on or if the feeling stops by needing a friendly cup of sugar. This is not me.
My path has been more like falling up a series of ascending escalators in a struggling department store. I’m strong sometimes, moving upwards and finding clarity in shoeboxes with bargain labels. Some days I even find myself on a floor I’ve never seen before, “Holy shit, they have Afghans here?” But then I feel something, smell something, or hear something and my shoelace gets stuck in a greasy gear. Next thing I know, I’m pulled back down a level. Then thrown down the next. Some days I’m back to breaking down boxes with the stoned night staff in the basement. I haven’t been to the basement in a long time, and I’m starting to forget what the first and second floors have on them. My eyes are on the stuffed animals on floor eight and the tranquil roof top garden.
How did I get out of the basement? The following is how I continue to climb. This is how I move on.
My calves were screaming bloody murder and my socks were Meerkats poking out of worn down Nike Frees. I’m not sure how long I had been running, but when I got home the sun was waking up after a long night out. Those days, when I knew my first real relationship was over, were like washing your hands with sandpaper. My parents were in town, college was ending… but I could not think of anything else. I was awake 24/7, thinking about mistakes I had made and horrible things I had done.
But for those 52 minutes and 33 seconds, I was given a break. My mind was too focused on the pavement, darting over twigs and avoiding snags on broken cement. I feel the same busy-ness with an evening of soccer or an hour of lifting weights.
Get your body busy.
Build, Fix, and Create
It was another valley in a relationship that seemed to be only valleys. My mind was so freaking loud with shouldas, wouldas and couldas. Exercise was helping but she had found her way into those moments of Zen as well. Just how bacteria mutate and make antibiotics ineffective.
I entered a woodshop I used to work at to build a driftwood manger (I love my mother and that’s what she wanted). I wrote out some specs and a supply list and went to work. Like exercise, the creation process busied my mind. It was a cease-fire during a war that would not end. The peace I found was so deep that I’ve been cutting, gluing and macgyvering anything I can since. I just fixed a Swedish gal’s flip flop yesterday and helped a fan oscillate last Thursday.
Dig, Swing, Clean
“I’m digging holes to move on. Every shovel-full waters down one more memory with you.”
I actually told a girl that once, what a romantic. She mentioned body image problems and thought I was calling her a dump truck. I’m not quite sure what I was getting at with that comment but whatever the case, similar to building, digging holes, swinging axes and cleaning dishes is the best medicine for the blues out there. Again, your mind is just busy and your soul can’t do anything but feel good again.
Spend some time on a mindless task and see where it takes you.
Be Patient and Recognize Magic
Everything sucked for a long time. Then I started to do things. And I’d start to have these moments, magical moments. The first one I noticed was on Koh Samui in Thailand. I had walked by thousands of people and been offered an assortment of drugs, snacks and bracelets. Around a bend, I found a long, white, secluded stretch of sand and took my sunglasses off.
I thought to myself, “this is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. I never would have seen it if ‘playing house’ in California have worked.”
I was trespassing on motorbikes in Cambodia through government rice farms when I came across this beautiful brick temple. I smoked a cigarette, which I rarely did, with my clan of bandits and had this magical feeling again.
Wow, “I would never have been here if…”
Your magic moments will come. Have them and appreciate them.
Practice Yoga and Meditation
For a month I took yoga and meditation seriously. Okay, not THAT seriously, but you know… I went.
At the beginning of my meditation training, taxi drivers from Delhi would call and complain about the noise my head was making. Some of those sessions felt like decades, and I can tell you just how many flies made pilgrimage to the relentless sweat that lived on me.
I stayed with it though. My father always encouraged me to never quit anything I started, so five days a week I woke up and got my body to the temple by 6 a.m. My mind arrived right before class started, laces untied and shirt untucked, but he made it.
I slowly got better at yoga and meditation and on rare occasion could quiet my mind for a few moments and touch my forever dirty toes. I grew to love a particular visualization that involved my inner chakras extending infinitely while a massive white lotus floated above me. Once I was here, Ganesha would arrive, with a massive battleaxe. A gentle smile would grow on my face, like I was a freshmen dating the football captain and he had just winked at me. I swear Ganesha was at least eight feet tall and could’ve deadlifted a semi. He had the body of Khal Drogo but you know, with the elephant head. He stood behind me and battled my demons and scared away any bad thoughts that arrived with purpose.
Nowadays, I keep Ganesha with me all the time. I buy him two first class seats when we travel and all the peanuts he can eat. He gives a hell of a back rub and is the best friend I ever had.
Explore Worst-case Scenarios*
Once I’d climbed some pretty massive cliffs and had Ganesha by my side, I was ready to visit some jagged edges I was never able to explore before.
“What if she’s found someone new?”
“What is she loves him?’
“What is she’s forgotten me?”
“What if she regrets it?”
I put some sappy music on my headphones and took a walk with those questions. I thought about what the worst answer might be… then I thought about what the REAL worst answer might be. I didn’t protect myself at all.
What I learned in these deep dark holes was I could live with the answers to these questions, even the worstest ones. At this moment, we truly aren’t right for each other. At this moment she isn’t healthy for me. Look after Nick and let her do what’s best of her; even if what’s best for her is being in the arms of another.
*This is a tough one, so make sure you’re truly ready when you begin. As well, I will always recommend taking Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Bon Iver in moderation.
The first time is the hardest. You’ve never felt this way about someone before, so how is it possible anyone could make you feel this way again? I will let you in on a secret:
No one will ever make you feel this way again.
You will never feel the same love again. But you will find something else; you will find someone else.
“There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
Your next love may lose a few points in cuddling but make them up in Neil Gaiman knowledge. They may not smell like Dove Cool Essentials Women’s deodorant, but you’ll learn to love the new smell. They may not keep the whiskey bottle full, but they’ll keep you warm in a new way.
This isn’t a straight climb. At least for me it never is. You’ll climb and climb and climb and then hear a song or see a photo and drop. I hit every thing on the way down; the branch of doubt, six twigs of loneliness and finally, the leaf pile of fear. You’ll hate yourself for texting them. You’ll hate yourself for calling. You’ll hate yourself for feeling something. This was the part of moving on I was worst at; I’m very hard on myself. I think Anne Lamott articulated what I needed best:
“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong.”
Moving on moves much slower than I’d like it to. This isn’t quick driving cement. This is layers and layers of sediment that settle day after day. Some days the layers cave in. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Start rebuilding again tomorrow. Be kind to yourself. I still can’t listen to the Lumineers or watch movies with Keira Knightley in them, but I can walk and I can talk and I can be present again.
About the author
Nick Chmura. Truth seeker. Feeler of things(not like that). Amateur karaoke artist. Currently cleaning squat toilets in Asia till the money runs out. Twitter @nick_chmura
Photo credit: Nathan Congleton/flickr