New Mexican - Julianne DeMartino
I can’t believe I’m starting this on New Year’s Day. It was either this or changing my diet, so this writing project won faster than I could say intermittent fasting. Suddenly I find myself a resident of New Mexico. No longer a visitor, I know some of the best restaurants in Santa Fe. These local scammers claim to be healers, the small and sad Tinder dating pool, and that living on the city's outskirts makes for a more peaceful and yet somewhat lonely quality of life. But the views. The views are indescribable. O’Keefe had the right idea and a keen eye for beauty beyond words.
When I think about Woodstock or see a movie in Manhattan, I feel a sudden ping of remembrance. It’s how I feel about every failed relationship I’ve ever had. When I’m with them, I feel suffocated. When I finally get the space I think I need, I fall to pieces when I come across one of their old shirts, falling to the floor to cry and glorify them into the perfect creatures they are certainly not nor were they when we were together, but then again neither was I.
I’ve bounced around a few towns since settling in Los Alamos, the small sleepy town with a sizeable hyper-focused government lab that I can see from my living room window. Although I feel slightly frightened to drink the water, and the town has not one restaurant or café, it does have a dark appeal I have yet to put my finger on.
For the first time in my life, I can say that being alone, living alone, figuring out house repairs on my own, putting together fucking furniture on my own, drinking alone, eating alone, talking to myself because I am alone, has never felt more natural or easy. There was a time in my life when the solitude would be utterly unbearable. I would have cried nonstop, called exes, and hoped for a man to show up so I could feel whole (for as long as it lasted). I don’t feel that way, and I can’t determine the exact formula that led me to this place. I only know I’m here, and yes, there are moments of weakness, but they literally are moments. Thank you for your time, self-reflection, or furnishing my new house for me and not to please a man, and the small discoveries New Mexico has provided me with thus far.
New Mexico is no joke. New Mexico is the Hispanic cousin to NYC, and it wears a t-shirt that says: I don’t owe you shit. When I learned to master driving in NYC, I felt nothing could hold me back. Knowing the streets and avenues, sharping the skill of cutting someone off with the right amount of space and sass was a sexy thing. However, when I arrived in New Mexico, I felt like Liz Gilbert in the back of the cab when she got to India in Eat, Pray, Love. Except I was the driver, and I wasn’t on my way to an ashram. I was on the way to my Airbnb.
Am I happy? I don’t know yet. I do know I’m no longer sad in every moment of every day like I was when I left New York in August. When I tell people I’ve met how I came to New Mexico, they all tell me how unique the story is, how brave I am, but I don’t feel I’m brave at all. I wonder whether they are just saying it because it’s what you are supposed to speak to someone who tells you they got dumped, sold all their belongings, and drove across the country crying all the way. I didn’t know why I needed to come to New Mexico, but I knew it was where I HAD to go without any doubt in my mind and heart. There was no other way. I was afraid and nervous to leave Woodstock. It was my home and had been for the last six years. I’d had failed relationships, made and lost friends, known all the hiking trails, and right before leaving, had the chance of embarking on a short fling with a man I’d loved for six years from a distance. Once he and I decided to go our separate ways, his being Barcelona and mine New Mexico, I felt the universe was aligned correctly for this journey, no matter the underline fear or anxieties I might be grappling with.
Anyway – here I am. Content to be alone, not feeling lonely, and embracing my solitude.
The moment Keith and I ended our relationship, I felt as if I was dreaming. I chose to be with a man 20 years older than me, who traveled the world performing music with his wife (they just hadn’t seemed to find the time to get the paperwork filed, one of many lazy traits the both of them possessed) and who from time to time seemed to drift away into some unforeseen depression. He would medicate himself with vodka and weed each night, and as time went on, we began to drift away from each other like two glaziers who’d succumb to the warming of the atmosphere. The sense of grief and loss I felt daily was beginning to feel unbearable. In all my other relationships, and there were many, I didn’t care as much when I knew things were coming to a close. I felt a sense of excitement, knowing my creativity would be heightened by the loss, and I would be able to get back to the sense of self I’d lost because I played a role I didn’t want to be cast in. I nurtured, cleaned, cooked, anticipated the needs of my partners, tried to make myself available sexually so that my partner became turned off for never being given a chance to miss or want me. These are the characteristics my mother took on in her marriage to my father, and I assumed I should as well.
The problem with Keith was me. I loved him. I thought he was the beginning of happiness and the end of wondering if I would ever have the life I wanted and deserved. He had a big family, and with Keith came holidays, weekends of them all visiting, and together Keith and I would cook and provide a house full of comforts, alcohol, and ultimately memories. There was laughter when these events took place, but there was also underline anxiety we both felt. Keith was unwanted by his mother, who became pregnant at 16. He learned to become invisible and to never make waves for fear he would make his mother upset. This historical coping mechanism radiated into every part of his life and was only exacerbated as he grew into an adult.
Keith had been married three times, and failed short-term relationships filled the gaps between marriages. It concerned me, but my desire to build a lasting relationship trumped the concerns. I saw in Keith a means to an end in so many ways. He’d never leave, I told myself. He told me he loved me within a few weeks of dating, another flag I pretended was standard. He asked me to move in within four weeks, a sign I chose to view as a man wanting me more than any other man had wished to me before. I felt important and loved for the first time in years or perhaps ever. The feeling of being on solid ground was foreign to me, and I never wanted it to end. Sometimes I would stop and think about what might happen if I lost Keith. I quickly brushed it from my mind because I couldn’t handle picturing what I knew would be. I’d slip into a deep depression, lose my bearings and, after so much disappointment in my life over the years, not recover or ever be the same. To avoid this possibility, I accommodated Keith in every way I could.
Your no-so-ex-wife wants to come to dinner with us? Wants to be with our family on Thanksgiving because she’s really only your friend and was during your whole marriage, so it shouldn’t be a big deal? Okay, I can handle that. You will be going on a month-long tour with her, and I shouldn’t feel insecure about this? Okay, I will try to be strong for you. You drink and get high and don’t come to bed anymore? Okay, I understand it’s hard for you to go to bed so early, and it has nothing to do with me. I can support this. You like to be in the kitchen too and decide what we eat for dinner every night, and even when I come up with a dinner plan, you change it because you don’t feel like eating what I suggest? Okay, I guess it’s helpful that you are the one to pick the menu since I have been writing so much anyway. You feel bad that I wake up from your snoring? Okay, I guess I can sleep in the guest bedroom to make you feel less guilty about waking me up rather than you going to a doctor or making lifestyle changes to address the seriousness of snoring and sleep apnea at the age of 56.
Months of living together turned into a year. I began looking for other ways to fulfill my time to ease off of Keith because I relied on the attention and love I felt, in the beginning, to make me feel whole. That love was never coming back, but I was in pure and complete denial. I believed that if I tried harder, pushed, and allowed him to get what he needed with every turn; he would come back to me. He never did. He only drifted further away from me, and my pain grew vaster. My mental health suffered, and I would go from high to low with the drop of a hat. Although my feelings were valid, the answer was simple. Walk away. I didn’t.
I loved Keith, and I didn’t want to lose him. My writing was the only outlet in which all the pain and confusion I felt could take on a life of its own. It not only saved my life; it changed my life. I am a writer, and if it had not been for the difficulties in my relationship, I would have never discovered this part of myself. I’d like to say that I have no animosity towards Keith because of this discovery, but that isn’t the case. I still miss him after almost a year of being apart. I dream about cooking together, about being in the same bed, and many other highly vivid scenarios in which I wake up with tears running down my face.
After having time to reflect on how destroyed I was by this particular loss, I believe that the breakup is the equivalent of having a loved one die when you have not grieved hundreds of prior deaths. They say that if you do not grieve properly when you endure the subsequent loss, the deaths are compounded upon each other, and the sense of grief is double. This is true for all the breakups I’ve experienced. It doesn’t start with the loss of first love; it began when I was 15 years old and lost both of my parents. It might be easier if they had died, but that wasn’t the case.
“What’s your name” Keith asked as he leaned against the wall on an outside porch connected to the local music venue in the center of town. The colony was one of the first places I went to when I arrived in Woodstock. My father and I went to the venue to watch open mic night. I remember I had a tea, not wanting to drink in front of him even though I was 30 years old. It was the second time I needed to come live with him due to life circumstances. This time around it was a breakup where I found myself without a home and in the midst of a depressive period. I was never sure how long they would last and all I could do was wait for something better to come along to plunge me from the bottom of the river, where I’d pop up like a leaf that was tuck under a rock and when it happened I floated down the river, happy to be out from under the rock and feeling the current as it plunged me downstream towards my next relationship.
“I’m Julianne” I replied lighting the cigarette I held at my lips. Smoking was one of the habits I took on periodically. This time I was hoping the nicotine might push me into a state of heightened motivation, but so far it hadn’t been working.
“Do you live in town?” he asked behind mysteries eyes. As he took a drag of his cigarette I noticed he was significantly older than me but somehow smoking gave him a James Dean quality I found sexy. He wore a leather jacket, tight blue jeans and adidas sneakers that gave him a youthful tendency. I couldn’t put my finger on how I felt about this stranger, but it was a somewhere between skeptical and intrigue.
“I live right outside of town with – well I was living with someone, but he moved out a few weeks ago” I said looking off into the distance.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’m Keith” he said putting out his hand.
We shook hands for a prolonged period and eventually he let go but he didn’t take his gaze off of me. “Do you like to cook?” he asked through another drag.
What a random thing to ask, I thought.
“Yes, I do very much. I’m Italian” I replied taking my gaze off of him. The ebb of my flow had returned suddenly, and I felt a twinge of sadness in my gut. I began to remember my failed relationship, the money I didn’t have, and the pressure Carl was putting on me to move out of our home so he could move back in. It was a dramatic end to a not so magical relationship we tried to make work for three years. I was in a fucked up spot and that was what I should be focused on I told myself.
“Do you make your sauce from scratch” he asked, pulling me out of the trance I was in.
“What? Oh yes, but its gravy” I confidently replied.
“What do you like to do for fun?”
“I don’t know. I guess see live music like the show inside”
“I’m a musician. Have you ever heard of the Lindsey Webster Band”?
“No, I haven’t.”
“Well, maybe we could go for a walk sometime”
“How about tomorrow?” I found myself saying. I had no idea where it came from, but it came out.
We exchanged numbers and I went back inside to the date I was on with someone I’d know from town. A real hippie with plans for the world to decrease social injustice and to promote all flower beds being turned into sustainable food rather than pathetic daisies which don’t serve the greater good. He wasn’t for me but for the night he was keeping me company.
The next day Keith and I walked around Cooper Lake with his Dog Shiva. Within a less than a month I moved in with him.
There are always signs. In this case, there were copious amounts of signs I chose to ignore for the benefit of my selfish need to feel comfort. I knew if I moved in with Keith my money would be my own, he would be gone most of the time on gigs, and I would return to the sense of comfort I’d only had one other time in my life; my marriage. Even in my mid-thirties I found it overwhelming to handle a full time job, pay for my living expenses, and do what everyone around me seemed to do with such ease and grace – at least on the outside.
The first sign was perhaps the night I met Keith at a local bar and his “musical partner” was there. We weren’t spending a lot of time together (it was about three days in) and I distinctly remember him looking up at her as she stood over our table. The glanced at her like a doting beau in a 1920’s silent movie. No words were needed – he adored her. He asked if she would be going to the restaurant and it was clearly implied they would be going together. I felt a sizzle of embarrassment I couldn’t quite recognize. I excused myself and told Keith I would see him around. I honestly thought that night would be the last time I spoke to him. The distance between Keith and Lindsey’s age was so apparent when I watched them exchange glances. I wondered if other people would feel the sense of disgust I felt when they looked at Keith and I, should we end up together.
Of course, the next day I received a text from Keith asking me to go on another walk, this time in a park he frequented with Shiva. I would later come to learn this was the spot he and Lindsey went for years with their dogs. It was a special place to them, and I still cannot understand why he needed to recreate the life he had with her…with me. Obviously it was the foundation to our failure, but at the time I only had about three or four edge pieces of the puzzle complete and boy was it a large puzzle.
Julianne DeMartino is a writer from Woodstock, NY. She has traveled throughout the US over the last year, observing, reflecting, and truly living.