As my head pounded, I found myself starting to wish I had a partner. Someone who lived with me. Someone who would be in the apartment during the evenings and overnight. Someone who knew how to comfort me even when I didn’t have words.
I didn’t have any words.
Talking made my head hurt. My doctor was very clear that anything I did to “flare” the symptoms of the concussion would make the concussion worse and would lengthen my recovery. I had already made that error, big time—refusing to admit that the dog who jumped on my head Saturday afternoon as I swam in Turtle Pond had actually given me a concussion, I worked all day Sunday and even had an early morning meeting on Monday. When I walked into my office at 10 a.m., my coworkers sent me directly to Health Service.
I couldn’t help but wonder: If I had a partner, someone who saw me in person on Sunday, would I have gone to the doctor sooner? Would I have been convinced to stop working? Could I have done it?
I kept repeating to myself over and over, to interrupt the onslaught of “what-if” scenarios: “But that’s not what happened. This is what happened.”
For a week-and-a-half, I didn’t do anything. I sat on the couch, or I slept. I would barely let anyone talk to me. It hurt so much. I felt so bad.
And if I had been someone’s partner, and I had just checked out on them, so completely, just like that?
Given the ways in which my own actions—working all day Sunday—ended up making the concussion a lot worse, I was also relieved that I didn’t have a partner. I wasn’t accountable for having had that kind of an impact on someone else’s life.
In my shock, through the fog, I was determined to find deeper meaning. I thought a lot about interdependence. About what we ask of other people when we give ourselves to them. About what it means to eagerly weave ourselves into the fabric of someone else’s life.
I was very aware of the ways in which my best friends were not only stepping up big time to be with me and make sure I had support and company, but also how they had to go about their own stressful, complicated lives without me there to be with them: text messages, Google chats, visits, constant companionship in small and big ways. I could tell them that I was aware of this impact, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t do anything to make myself more present than I actually was. And I was barely present.
I thought about how my determination to stay on a certain timeline in my dissertation progress contributed to my stubbornness as I worked all day Sunday, which basically turned what might have been a mild concussion into a severe experience.
I’ve struggled a lot, in many of my past romantic connections, to navigate the tension of investing in myself professionally and investing in my relationship. Perhaps that’s because my college boyfriend was actively angry with me for taking on so many extra-curricular activities, because I couldn’t just spend my evenings lounging around with him. Why did I need to be a peer health educator, and also train to offer HIV counseling? (It’s not like I was building a career in sexual health or anything like that.) His anger was one of many signs that he was not a person I could be with much longer.
Being female also makes it difficult for me to navigate work and partnership. Blah blah blah people write about this all the time. But, I mean, I actually get confused in the middle of the conflict about which pieces are coming as patriarchal messages telling me to be more domestic, more nurturing, etc., and which pieces are coming as capitalistic messages telling me to be more productive, more competitive, etc. And which pieces are coming from me? Where do I get to say I have this kind of drive for working, and this kind of desire for partnership, and I want to integrate them in these kinds of ways?
What I kept thinking about as I sat on the couch nursing my pounding head is that pushing myself to work more had literally made me unable to be present as a person for any of the people with whom I’m closely connected. I chose work over myself; I chose work over my need to rest; I paid more attention to my timeline than to my bodily signals of pain. That’s an experience I’m still trying to understand, and I want to take that struggle with me into my next partnership, whatever that may mean.
I thought my Yom Kippur post would be a letter to Matt (we ended our five-year relationship this December), with an apology and a request for forgiveness. Something to tie together the traditions of the new year with the weight of the past year, and all the changes that have been coursing through our lives. I have already said “I’m sorry” so many times, for so many things, probably not at all the right times, and probably for not all the right things. Today, instead of saying I’m sorry, I’m saying this: I’m learning. I’m learning to understand what happens when I encourage someone to love me. I’m learning to take responsibility for entering someone else’s world and becoming a source of support. I’m learning to integrate all the things I want for myself in life with all the ways in which I want to share life with those I love. I don’t know. I don’t know yet. I want to learn, and I’m learning.
For what it’s worth.