“It’s just a dog.”
I have considered that line more that I care to admit. When I began writing about loss and the ways in which dogs show us trust and connection, I felt almost guilty giving so much weight to my relationship with a dog.
After all, it’s just a dog.
Though fido is closer to family these days, downplaying the human relationship with animals has a lengthy history. Keeping animals out of our closest circle makes it easier to use them for sport or entertainment, or to place them in the category of property, not family. Diminishing the relationship can also make it seem easier to accept the finite life of a pet.
Beyond animals, relationships of all types can be reduced to an afterthought.
“It’s just another day.”
“It’s just a pipe dream.”
“It’s just a job.”
“It’s just an ex.”
When we say, “just a [ ],” we diminish the relationship and remove its power to affect us. Keeping our past lives, our current frustrations, and our dreams for the future at a distance also helps keep such thoughts from impacting and shaping our lives.
With technology, our ability to diminish relationships is now even easier. We’re able to block out the bad.
I’m a fan of the mute button, especially after a series of unexpected texts from a number I hadn’t seen it in nearly 10 years, though I recognized it immediately. It was my ex-husband’s.
I panicked. I handed my phone to a friend, asking for help. Without question, she turned on iPhone’s handy “Block this Caller” feature.
“There,” she says. “Taken care of.”
This wasn’t the first time I’ve turned over my phone. Like an addict finally admitting defeat, I’ve asked for help to block people from my life. An ex boyfriend’s streaming assaults on Facebook…BLOCKED. The man I ended things with on poor terms…DELETED. I’ve had friends dig deep into the bowels of my phone, pulling out missed calls and text threads, removing any recognizable bit of that person from my digital life so I can avoid the temptation of reaching out to them.
Too bad you can’t do that with brains.
Even though my ex-husband was successfully blocked, he was still in my head, as loud and as vivid as the day he left. What, though, did I expect, when I decided to use the Internet as my publisher? He’s summarized in my latest writing as “the alcoholic I married and divorced.”
I’d be pissed, too.
Actually, every relationship I acknowledged in a recent piece about detoxing from dating was summarized in one line or less. In glorifying my sabbatical from men, I diminished each of them to a few words.
The writer in me wants to defend my statements, to let the reader know this was intentional. It was written specifically to take the focus away from men and place it on my process and what I learned.
The human in me wants to say that it’s unfair to treat people who greatly impacted my life in this way. Each one of those men evolved my heart.
The “high school boyfriend I bailed out of jail” was the first boyfriend I truly loved. He remains one of my longest relationships and the first person I tried to date long-distance, making it quite obvious that I was terrible at being far away from someone I loved so much. We learned about heartwreck together, and I measured every relationship after him against the love I felt I lost.
I remember nearly every moment with the “Texas punk rock vegetarian who had a girlfriend,” especially the guilt that kept me awake in the early mornings. Keeping that relationship going for as long as I did was a blind and dishonorable way for me to live, and a choice I am not proud of.
The “cover band rocker I took to small claims court” taught me about forgiveness. I found my strength after he left, and I found enough documentation to prove he owed me a good deal of money. I thought getting that verdict was the most rewarding part of our time together, but forgiving him was even more powerful.
The “Jack Mormon” gave me more love than I felt I deserved. After my dog was struck and killed by a car, he read me “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” and held me while I cried myself to sleep. He tried to carry all my heartbreak, and I didn’t allow it. I became that pair of ragged claws T.S. Eliot described, “scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” I locked him out. I locked everyone out after that.
“The crier” taught me about the cruelty I contain. “The older man” taught me about energy and how it’s possible to move an entire room with it. The “ski-bum heartbreaker with the broken legs” taught me about total, utter, wild love and my tendencies to be overwhelming IN. The “grass-is-always-greener-architect” helped me heal after being very broken. He taught me how to end a relationship with kindness. When I finally called it, I did so knowing I wanted to still see him and hug him and tell him about my life. That was the first time I considered not burning the whole fucking thing down.
And the “overzealous writer,” well, I’ve been that person too. In the last message I received from him, I did not acknowledge his pain. I only felt my own, and I just deleted him.
Digital life continues on after being blocked. What happens on the other lines is something we may never know, and if we shut it out, we certainly won’t be able to understand how we behave in the process. But we also have the right to block people who choose to use technology to harass us. I’m not interested in being a punching bag for someone’s unprocessed emotions.
It’s more difficult to block pain. It’s not just a dog. It’s not just an ex. These are parts of our lives, for better or worse, which live within the folds of memory and affect who we are right now.
I’ve tried a lot of mute buttons. The acute and immediate nature of our digital lives does fade with distance. There’s nothing, though, that can quiet the memories of lost love. By turning my exes into my own punching bag, I just created more pain.
My new rule for texting exes: If you can’t say something nice…don’t commit it to the electronic sea.
Writing about them? Well…the poet Anne Sexton said it best.
“A woman who writes feels too much,
those trances and portents!
As if cycles and children and islands
weren’t enough; as if mourners and gossips
and vegetables were never enough.
She thinks she can warn the stars.
A writer is essentially a spy.
Dear love, I am that girl.”