This past weekend, my family and I joyfully celebrated my sister’s college graduation. (Please refer to previous post as to how incredibly awesome she is.) During the ceremony in which she received her nurses’ pin, there was a slideshow of pictures. Sister picked the accompanying songs (proud of her for excellent musical taste), the second of which was Florence + The Machine’s Dog Days are Over. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
My tumultuous relationship with this song goes back to its cover on Fox’s Glee in the fall of 2010. If you aren’t familiar with it, please take a moment to watch it here:
I saw it performed and absolutely fell in love. I loved how Glee interpreted it; I loved its message; I loved what it meant to me.
When I first heard that song, I was happily engaged. Blissfully anticipating the beginning of a fulfilling and satisfying life. We had so many dreams. A wedding. A home together. More children. We had hopes of getting pregnant immediately. Hopes we were so committed to that while furniture shopping we considered kitchen tables and sofas based on their suitability for a family of 5 (him, me, Eva, and the twins). We even had names picked out. He had promised to find a way for me to be a stay-at-home mom. We both wanted to travel. He offered me everything I’d ever dreamed of. Basically.
But I think what I wanted from him–the part of our relationship I craved–was his ability to erase my shame as a single mother.
I didn’t consciously think about it that way. “Yeah, let’s get married so I can be a real mom,” was not how that happened. In fact, I’ve only really just started processing how my insecurity affected our relationship and how many red flags I glossed over. There weren’t many, but there were enough that I should have taken things slower. But with him, I felt whole. Not just whole, but also legitimized. His presence gave me credibility. “That’s right, there is a ring on this left hand, you can’t judge me–so there!” I could walk in anywhere with him and Eva and know that we looked “normal” together. Do you know what an absolutely stunning relief that was? To be released from all that nasty shame?
It was intense. And the freedom was so great, I found myself dancing constantly. I danced at home, in the car, and even in my workplace. Not just a little white girl head-bobbing, but full on booty-shaking, head-banging, jumping around kind of dancing.
My dog days were at an end. I remember baking Christmas cookies, with the song on repeat in the background, wistfully dreaming about all the holidays we would celebrate together, the family we were going to grow, and the love we were going to share.
When I found out that my dreams were all based on a lie, that burden of pain reappeared on my shoulders and its impact was a hundred times heavier than before. I imagine it much like Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill the first time; reaching the top, feeling elated that his sentence served–his punishment at an end–only to see it roll right down to the bottom and know with utter certainty that reaching the top again would be much, much more difficult.
In the aftermath of our break-up, in my grief and shock, I immersed myself in denial. To have fully faced that reality would have been the emotional equivalent of ripping all 20 fingernails and toenails past the quick–I would have been raw and exposed. Hours after giving him back my engagement ring, I met a co-worker at the mall and helped him pick out a Christmas gift for his girlfriend. I remember smiling the whole time and didn’t speak of what had happened. I worked that night without breaking down. I know I emailed a few friends and simply said, “I am no longer engaged” with a small please-don’t-ask-me-about-it clause. I deactivated my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I dropped off the face of the earth as much as I could. I may be remembering the details incorrectly, but I definitely told my parents to not bring it up to me and for us to pretend like it never happened.
So for a long time, I pretended like it never happened.
To an extent.
I walked out in the middle of a church service about marriage. For months afterwards, I cried every time I heard a baby cry in my restaurant. Sometimes I would be so overwhelmed, my chest would feel so tight, I thought I would stop breathing.
Grief observed is a terribly difficult thing. Grief ignored is silently devastating.
I have no idea how long it will take me to move past this. It’s been nearly 18 months and the grief stays with me. I cried on Friday listening to that song. It’s beautiful and moving and I know that if I made myself listen to it enough, I could repossess it emotionally. I have repossessed boots, earrings, scarves, and other gifts that came from him, I’m sure I could get that song to a safe place. But I think I would rather leave it and instead walk forward with Shake It Out.
After I heard it the first time, I posted this to my Facebook:
Dear Florence + The Machine,
Last December, I danced around my house to “Dog Days Are Over” almost every day until That Day. And for the past 11 months, even the first 2 chords could bring tears to my eyes.
This December, you gave me “Shake it Out.” And you’re right; it’s time for the demon to come off my back.
Breaking off an engagement was a bitch. And it still hurts. But a year of grief is enough. It’s time to bury my regrets.
We just came full circle.
If that’s not a powerful song, I don’t know what is. It’s been nearly 6 months since I wrote that post and I don’t know that I have truly buried anything. Maybe the regret? I don’t know that I could have done anything differently. It’s not like thinking about it changes what happened. Maybe my vision is a little less colored by it? I don’t know. But it’s a part of my story, a part of who I am.
She’s so right; you can’t dance with burdens weighing you down. You can’t allow the demons to paralyze and define your existence. But neither can you erase the memory. And honestly, I wouldn’t erase it even if that was an option. (I have other memories much higher on the delete list.) The truth is that what happened with him is just a piece in a much larger section of my puzzle.
Maybe right now I am learning to dance with my demons. Learning to accept the awful truths and move forward in spite of them. I have started dancing with Eva again, because her joy is my best joy, but I haven’t quite been able to shake it out all over the house yet.
In time, right?
Yes. In time.