One morning this past winter, I was sitting and imagining myself describing to someone what had gone wrong with John and I. Naturally, my story I started with how I remembered telling everyone what it was that attracted me to him and made me understand him in ways others couldn’t. The John I saw and fell in love with was the same as me: An Empire Builder.
I would say that he sees a bigger vision and the groundwork that is necessary to put it together. See, some people in life don’t want to build empires but only live in houses someone else has constructed for them. Therefore, they lack the skills, faculty and even desire to recognize the trenches for foundations, the borders of the kingdom and how all the vast pieces come together. They only see the ugly, chaotic and unromantic mess that defines the beginning of all construction projects.
However, I was different.
I also saw the intention. And I lusted for the work involved.
I embraced the ideals, and we began to shape a kingdom together as one. I too was an Empire Builder who finally found her soul-mate. And it was, as I always said, he and I against the world.
When telling people about our grand plans, I would frequently be greeted with “Wow. That sounds exhausting.” To which I’d reply – “Sure. But it’s who we are, and we know that’s not a life for everyone.”
Then, during that winter morning, as I’m telling this to the person in my head, I have an illuminating moment. It was more like a movie appeared in my head, and I suddenly realized with great sadness that yes, John and I were the same. But not in the way I always believed before.
Because the truth was the picture in my head now wasn't the John and I plastered all over Facebook and Instagram. It was he and I as children - kids, playing together with our vibrant imaginations as well as our naive delusions.
That’s when the movie started running in my mind of a “Little Amee” and “Little John.” Both of us on our hands and knees in the sandbox, playing and laughing side by side, digging holes, making piles and pretending we were the King and Queen of this kingdom we were building. Happy together and our faces, words, and movements were those you would expect of young children immersed in fantasy. Two little best friends.
During the course of time since I have become more awakened by my experiences and have found a new truth about myself, I find that sometimes a new awareness brings instant tears to my eyes and overwhelming regret. So imagine how terribly sad I felt to realize that John and I were doomed from the beginning?
How much grief did I begin to feel for these two little kids living in their own world for so long? Unaware that just outside the edges of the sandbox was ‘real life’ and in many ways, they weren’t ready for it yet?
Real life is where John & I thought we were adults because our ages told us so. But real life is also where nothing we were building was real or sustainable. We weren’t using legitimate tools of the trade to build our empire – metaphorical concrete and rebar for foundations. Sturdy bricks and timber for walls and framing.
Instead, we were using sticks and sand we had laying around us. And as we struggled, because inevitably, those fail against the weather and stress of life and the environment, we just kept trying to build and build again. And children don’t plan – they don’t know how. They simply tear it down when it doesn’t work and just start over again.
And if kids don’t agree with one another – and they never had parents to help them learn the right behavior or model it for them - they kick down the other one’s sand castle, take their toys and go home. And we had been doing this with each other for the last 2 years.
In fact, not ever recognizing I was still a little girl inside my head at times is why I never found the true sustaining success I felt I was “ordained” to have. It’s why I kept coming back to a place were I was forced to figure out how to get back up on my feet, again.
Because the difference between those who build vast empires that last and those who don’t won’t be about privilege or a secure childhood with great parents.
It comes down to one simple fact: is this person really an adult or simply a pained, impulsive child in an adult body?
Are they playing with toys or building with tools?
Are they the master of their emotions or being controlled by them?
I wish I could say that as soon as I had this realization, it was easy to move on. But the truth was, I came back to the movie of the sandbox over and over again, watching Little Amee and Little John playing together and just cried and cried.
For days, I didn’t know how to let the vision go and walk away. I just simply felt so terrible for these two kids and the challenging future I knew they had ahead of them. I wanted to save them. Both of them. And so it was hard for me to leave them alone.
At some point, the movie changed and I wasn't on my hands and knees in the sandbox, I was viewing them as a parent now. I knew these two kids needed someone to watch over them. Because childhood is fucking perilous and someone finally needed to give a shit about them. So, I remained vigilant, at the edge of the sandbox, and just kept watching.
But I knew they couldn’t play together forever like this and I struggled to get their attention, knowing at some point, if I couldn't break them from their game before nightfall, I would have to take Little Amee with me and leave Little John behind.
And I didn't want to yet. I didn’t want to leave him alone with no one to watch over him.
See, in the sandbox that was our actual world, there was no mystery that by the end of 2014 and into 2015 life was getting stressful. Over the course of the three to four years since I’d moved to Snohomish to live with him, I adopted most of his causes as my own from racing to weddings to even, occasionally, drinking Jagermeister. These causes also included helping him achieve his dream of owning the farm down the road he’d had his eye on for years when it became available in the spring of 2013.
After a year of creating business plans and peddling it to investors, banks and anyone I could find to loan us the money, when we’d successfully pulled off the financing, I thought he’d thank me for it. But instead, after the papers were signed in December of 2014, he grew distant. I have my suspicions for why but this is not the place for that nor my right to say.
But it was February of 2015 when it took a turn for the worse. And the culprit was money. It always is in relationships where business is mixed in.
Over the next 6-9 months, the tension would be high and we went from being partners to more of an uneasy alliance. I had said many times that standing on my principles would be putting our personal relationship at risk. And I was right.
But what was happening on the business front wasn’t separate from our personal life – it was just a different version of the same thing.
By the late summer of 2015, I could see it was getting worse and I asked him to go to counseling together. In fact, I interviewed several therapists on my own to find someone that I thought he’d feel comfortable with.
He said no. He said I was the one with the problems and I should go on my own.
But I had swore to him and myself years earlier that this go-around was forever for me. And unlike the last time, when I raced off when life got tough – this time I leaned in. Hard.
But I was hurt. I was hurt that he was pulling away from me. I was hurt that he started getting more controlling by the day and cutting me out everywhere.
It started to look like that sandbox and when he started grabbing his toys, I started grabbing mine and sand was flying everywhere. Which just made him worse. It made me worse too.
I was frustrated. Resentful. Angry. Crushed. Defiant. But also still remained steadfastly loyal and compassionate and wanting to keep trying to make it work.
My heart was broke. My will inflamed while I worked for him and against him. I loved him. I hated him. And every time I reached out to someone else - to vent, to cry, to ask for them to help me reach him - he took them all as acts of betrayals. And it pushed him further away.
And so of all the things, which hurt the worst – I felt like he abandoned me. No more happy hours together. No more hanging out with friends. More and more nights he never came home for dinner. And he’d never call me to tell me. But worse, he ignored my texts and phone calls for hours and hours.
He went from being my best friend to someone who despised being around me. It tortured me.
Sure, I could just go out on my own and do my own thing. But emotionally and completely unaware to me at the time – every time he didn’t come home, I was slowly being drawn back into my past where I had been told to stay home and take care of things or just wait while everyone else went out to party & have fun. In fact, a large excruciating part of my child & teen life was being left at home on my own or to take care of my little brothers, while being too young or powerless to do anything about it.
So there I was, subconsciously locked in my house, crying by the window at the head of our bed, waiting for headlights and the familiar sound of his truck coming down the road. Waiting for him to return. Just like I did when I was a girl. Because it was the only way I knew how to deal with this.
And then, I'd try to get his attention and plead my case. Try to make him see it from my perspective.
I tried everything in my power to hold it all together. And he gave equal thrust pushing it away.
Yet despite what I say here, and regardless of what you think you know from what you’ve seen or read on social media about him, me or us, you won’t actually know the truth of what happened to us.
That’s because there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Trapped painfully somewhere between his feelings and mine over what really happened.
Hidden somewhere in the dissonance between his view of himself and my view of me.
Concealed somewhere in his history about us he's urged into his memories and mine.
But I can tell you one undeniable truth: Our relationship didn’t die by the sword in one fearsome swing of the blade.
It died a death by a thousand cuts. Small, multiplying, tiny nicks and pierces.
The one million times we laughed together and loved together didn’t matter anymore.
The one million times we toasted our victories. The one million passionate and tender kisses. The one million moments we wrapped each other up in our arms for comfort. The one million nights reaching over and grabbing the other's hand to hold it while sleeping...
One million hellos. One million good-byes.
One million was not enough.
Because it was the one thousand times we couldn’t understand each other.
One thousand times we only wanted to believe we were right and that the other was wrong.
One thousand times we let the other suffer and did not come to them and say “I know this is hard right now, but I still love you. And we’ll make it.”
One thousand times someone reached out to make sure the other one was there for them and didn’t get a reply back. To a text. A phone call. A touch.
Before we knew it, we had both been bled dry by all of it and were left anemic and low, so that when the time came, there wasn't an ounce left to give.
In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book “The Little Prince” there is a passage that that struck me and made me think of John and I and our lack of endurance.
“Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course, you’ll hurt me. Of course, we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence means accepting the risk of absence.”
It’s an obvious sentiment to have about relationships, and it’s true. And I wished it had applied to us. I wish he could have seen it as much as I did. However, it will never be that easy when your armor is already damaged, or your foundation is uncertain because you have little capacity to weather stress. Your sand castles will wash away in the rain.
Healthy adults can endure inevitable pain from relationships. But children – they can’t. They only know rejection and self-preservation. And when an adult has a marred emotional history, they are, at times, very much like a child.
Sadly, this chapter does not have a happy ending. Because it seems we're all out of victories, he and I. We will not be King and Queen of this world together.
From the side of the sandbox, I tried to get his attention one last time. I urged him, just once more, to come with me and be willing to see the world from my point of view - not because my view is the right one but to widen his view more. To trust me.
So I sent an email – several actually in a week - pushing him to consider joint counseling again, as a condition of remaining business partners. I hoped that it would help us find a healthy way to at least work together and, yes, perhaps mend us enough to honor and restore our friendship.
And with one more deliberate stroke of the blade, another small cut was made when he said "No."
That’s when I knew it was time to stop leaning, stand up tall and just walk away.