Now, just to catch you all up, I’m going to insert a little additional context to this storytelling.
First of all, I’m going backwards in time here. I’m telling the story chronologically.
I came to China for the first time in the late spring of 2007 and stayed for 3 months. During that time, I noticed but didn’t get to know “Dimple Boy” (aka: Guo Jian). I wrote about that experience in Cougars & Goatees.
The second time I came to China was in the fall of 2007. I simply couldn’t stay away. I wrote about the draw to return in Magnets. It was during this second trip that I spontaneously ran into Guo Jian (fate?) and then began to get to know him. Our friendship shifted into a romantic connection after a whole month of not even knowing whether or not the guy was gay or straight! I wrote about that in Training Woes.
Now, what was going on for me back home in Canada?
As many of you know, I was in a long-term relationship with my now ex-partner, Lyndell. She and I were band mates for over twelve years and partners for over nine years by that time. We had an open relationship. In that framework, we were not exclusive to one another but our lines of communication were always open about it, (hence the expression “open relationship”).
The open relationship, however, had taken a sharp turn in 2005 when Lyndell fell in love with someone else. It took on new dimensions then, for me at least, because I hadn’t ever expected one of us to fall in love with anyone else. In fact, I hadn’t even realized that it was an option! Sometimes we assume the “rules” of a situation and then those assumptions slap us in the face. What’s more, I had only myself to blame for my own ignorance about the person I was in love with. It was a shocking realization. For our whole relationship, I had corralled my heart into a one-person pasture but felt a distinct division between love and affection, sex, experimentation, etc. I had never imagined that she wasn’t in the same place, heart-wise.
In her defense, her open heart to others was inspiring and progressive, and beyond my abilities, that’s for sure. She also repeatedly assured me that she still loved me too. I wanted to both learn from her and celebrate her new love, but I also had to get through the desperation and panic that befell me. So, when she fell in love with someone else in 2005, I almost died of heartbreak. At least, that’s how it felt. It was a hard year–harder than any other. I was depressed, lost, scared, felt betrayed, and don’t forget envious.
The envy was the strange part. I could see her come alive as a result of this other woman in her life and I felt like I was dying. I wanted some of that! And, I wished I could have given it to her myself, of course. I was envious of both my partner and this other woman.
I was a mess.
About a year afterwards, and a lot of therapy, sleeplessness and tears later, I decided to do something for myself that had to do with my own heart’s longings. After all, this seemed to be the point: that my heart hadn’t been given enough space to roam in. I knew that a huge longing had always been sitting there, in the depths of my heart, in the form of: CHINA. This dream to go to China had been with me long before my relationship had started and it was a very personal dream. In the wake of such heartbreak, I also needed a space in which to heal–a space that was all mine. I chose Beijing for that. And it was truly the salve that I had hoped for.
After that first trip, I came back renewed and hopeful. I arrived in Canada believing that I could get through anything. Now that I had China, at least. China was like a saviour, a medicine, a holy land. It seemed to buoy me up after more than a year of sinking. What’s more, the comparative liberation that I felt there was enough to help me start a form of recovery from the many years of overworking. There was also my reintroduction to the language I love (Mandarin), which helped to refuel my brain with a new challenge to aspire to: fluency.
All in all, the summer of 2007 was the strongest that I’d felt in a long time.
One of my friends that summer (who can see me rather well at the best and the worst of times) remarked that she wondered if I hadn’t left part of myself there. I asked her what she meant and she said that it seemed like I had only one foot in Canada after I came back that first time, while the other was still planted firmly on Chinese soil. I was taken aback by the comment, to be honest, and also quietly wondered if she was right. I knew that I was being pulled to go back, but wasn’t I back in Canada with a renewed commitment to my relationship, my career, my already chosen paths?
But around about then, I also started to plan my return. There was a gap in my late fall schedule and I anxiously pulled together enough money for a plane ticket….
That second trip to China was a two-month trip.
There I was in China again in my second week in late October, nestled in my cheap rented room studying Chinese and trying to figure out what I was doing back there, when Lyndell reconnected with her lover once again and I fell apart. I was in the land of strength and recovery, or so I thought, but I was beyond broken by this news. They were heading on a romantic week together in the same location where they had fallen in love over two years earlier and I was an absolute mess about it. Here I had thought I was so much better, so much more evolved than I had been, and instead I collapsed into a breakdown on the other side of the world.
I didn’t leave my room except to use the bathroom for over four days. I sobbed and wrote and then phoned friends back home for support because I felt reality slipping away from me. A deep, dark grief poured out of me that leached my life energy and scalded my hope.
It was then that I realized that China was not going to save me from myself.
I had already re-met Guo Jian by this time in that bar that I described in Magnets.
On the fifth day post meltdown, I accepted his invitation to have tea together. I took a look at my drawn face and swollen eyes in the mirror before I got dressed and bravely left my apartment on shaky legs. He greeted me with a smile that was full of life and I grabbed onto it like a life preserver. His ensuing friendship that month coaxed me out of the darkness, but he didn’t know that. It wasn’t about him. It had nothing to do with him. I know, in the end, that it was me who mustered the strength to pull myself together.
Now I know that he was courting me, of course.
What I didn’t know then was that part of my healing was about loosening the gates on my own heart’s pasture. I honestly didn’t realize that I was falling for him until I had fallen… After all, he was a man!
On the plane heading home to Canada in December, I wrote: “Maybe I’ve stumbled upon the only way to get through my heartache? Maybe now I can relate to her?”
Empathy doesn’t always turn the key to those gates, however. Heart pastures need tending and every farmer does it differently.
It was a cold, cold winter in Canada.