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Far Better Things

2014 August 28

better things


There are some days when I’m walking down the street and I wonder whether people can tell that I’m a walking wound. Of course, I’m more than that, but can they see? Can a stranger on the train or sitting in the park or at the grocery store see that my heart is still tender, that it’s raw and bleeding? Can a friend?

Thankfully, those days are happening less and less. But they still happen, because wounds take time to heal, even when you take care of them the best ways you know how.

But six months ago, when I’d first moved to Boston and I was still feeling my way blindly through every day, I think I was mostly wound, even though I tried to prove otherwise. And it was that wound that wrote a letter to my favorite advice columnist, Ask Polly. I’ve read her weekly column for a long time, and her words, always cutting and honest and funny and poignant, resonated with me, no matter what the issue she was addressing. I wanted to know what she would think of my situation. I wanted to know what a stranger would say. I wanted someone to make me feel better, to make me feel less alone and flailing and confused. So I wrote her a letter.

And she answered. Today. In her last column at the Awl before she goes on to New York Magazine (in fact, she’s already started–her column there today was also fantastic).

Reading my letter, six months later, was almost as much of a shock as seeing it published. I am not cured. I am still looking for balance, but that balance is not only between anger and sadness. I still have questions that will never be answered and that leaves a gaping hole in me. There is still a part of me that gnaws, the part that shoulders the blame, but I know it’s nothing more than a demon. Mostly.

But if I wrote a letter to Polly today, it would be a very different letter. I’m not sure it would involve Joe at all. Of course, everything does, still, at some level, but it’s not everything.

The whole truth is not the letter, or Polly’s response. She gives some good advice, but a few paragraphs from me couldn’t possibly sum up the whole situation. She’s never met me, and she’s never met Joe. She doesn’t know the particulars, the countless tiny things that added up to the now. Because no one does.

I’m still processing seeing my words on the screen, without warning. I’m still trying to remember the place I was in when I wrote the letter, trying to think about what I was looking for. I’m wondering if he will read it, I’m worrying that he will read it, I’m wanting him to read it. Because when someone you loved the only way you knew how, and then some, cuts you out of their lives completely, there is no response but becoming a wound. But time and friends and family and love and generosity and wisdom and acceptance and words all have healing power, and together, they can start to heal that wound, and I’m so fortunate to have an abundance of all of those things in my life.

There are some parts of Polly’s response I don’t believe are true. There are some things in my own letter I no longer believe are true. But there are true things in both. The most important takeaways, though, for me, are that I am more person than wound. I am stronger and more assured and more hopeful and less scared than I was when I wrote that letter. And in six more months, I will be even better.

I struggled with whether to “go public” with my letter and Polly’s response. But, in the end, I believe that we learn from our mistakes, and my mistakes, as well as my achievements, are all a part of my experience. And I need to write about my experiences in order to fully process them. So I’m owning this experience, claiming this wound. I was there; that happened to me. But I’m not there anymore. I’ve moved on. And there are far better things ahead than those I’ve left behind. (Except Chief–he’ll always be the best.)

I’ll let Polly sum it up:

This tragic turn in your life gouged a big scratch across you. Own that scratch, the anger and the sadness there. Tell the truth about what it did to you. Because it was a gift, this premature exit from a fantasy world. It was your passage to a better life, lived among real people with heart and substance, where tarnished things are good enough, where you are good enough. You are good enough. You are good enough, right now. You are good enough. You are.

9 Responses Post a comment
  1. Nancy permalink
    August 28, 2014

    Yowzers – that’s one hell of an advice column! I’m not sure what to think except that a letter like that takes a while to process. But, I do like the part about the pewter cup because we’re all “a little tarnished, a little scratched” and that really is what makes us interesting and unique and can guide our lives in ways that are fundamentally more meaningful than they would be otherwise.

    Also – you are very brave for sharing with us.

  2. Wendy permalink
    August 28, 2014

    Watching you bravely facing down so much pain is so fucking inspirational.

  3. August 28, 2014

    Jill, I think I say this every time you write about this process, but you’re writing through your pain is some of the best stuff on the internet. I’m so very sorry that you’re experiencing this, but you’re articulating all the different facets of it with such honesty, artistry, and grace. Your writing is real and it’s courageous, and I just want to thank you for sharing it with us.

    • August 28, 2014

      Also, importantly, I am so very happy that reading your words from six months ago brings home that, slowly, you are healing. xo

  4. August 28, 2014

    Thank you for sharing this. “More person than wound”- that’s a lovely way of phrasing it and I’m glad to hear it. Best wishes for your continued healing.

  5. Amy permalink
    August 28, 2014

    Wow. Your letter, her response–all of it is powerful. I can only imagine the processing you’re going through right now, especially since it was published without warning. But you were honest and thoughtful and graceful about your feelings, so even though having it “out there in the world” may be scary, you have nothing to regret.

    Side note: the comment section is one of the most civil and supportive I’ve ever seen.

  6. Kerry permalink
    August 28, 2014

    This: “A fantasy can seem shiny and special from a distance, but when you get closer and closer it tends to shrivel up and die.”

    I’m so glad to be actual, not fantasy, friends with you! Even if it is from a distance most of the time. Big hugs.

  7. Dawn permalink
    August 30, 2014

    “The other side of reality will eventually soothe you: You are still the same appealing, lovable woman you were before this happened. You are no less lovable than you ever were.”

    Amen to that. You are no less amazing but far braver and stronger than before, because of this. I agree with Nancy – a letter like this is a lot to process, but it’s so important that you put if out there at the time, that you are reflecting on it now, and that you find more and more solace in the prospect of “far better things” to come.


  8. Lauren S permalink
    September 11, 2014

    Hell fucking yes. Battered but moving towards the things that serve you.

    There’s a quote from Rumi that I love: A wound is the place where the light enters you.

    Sending you strength on this journey. Thank you so much for sharing.

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