The Middle of the Story


He called me last Thursday, and I answered to the echo of, "here we go again."

By Sunday we were back in his room with his cat watching his TV inching closer to his heart—

I didn't want it.

By that night I was running out, running home, thinking never again, never again. Thinking, why—why do I always come back?

"You need a fresh start." I wrote that in my journal Sunday night. Two words to mull around, to wash my guilt in, to hang up on a clothespin airing into my bedroom at night.

We usually think of fresh starts as solid things. They come on New Year's Eve, at the start of a new school year, when you start a new job, when you go through a breakup. You wash your hands clean of the thing that was holding you back, the habits you started to see as unhealthy. You are detoxed. You are fresh. You are ready to make your life over again like Cinderella trading in her bare feet for glass slippers. It's a glorified moment. It's an optimism people bathe themselves in once or twice a year.

But we don't usually talk about the moment when you start to backtrack on that new beginning. When old habits or old people or old thoughts start to creep back in. When you skip a day of exercise that turns into a week; when you turn on the TV when you get home from work instead of picking up your notebook and pen; when you stop meal prepping because your week is too busy for whole foods; when your hands get dirty in the mess of life and you forget that you had turned a new page and embarked on your fresh start as someone more disciplined. Happier. Better.

But it always happens.

When we broke up I said I was ready for a fresh start. I was going to get back into running and yoga, I was going to go out with my friends every weekend, I was going to read more books and write more words. I was going to read the news. I was going to read the Bible. I was going to be better, and he was still going to be my friend but he wasn't going to hold a piece of my life or my schedule or my future.

And we talked irregularly and then we talked once a week and then we were talking almost daily. And then he called me last Thursday. And invited me to his house on Sunday. And I came home and wrote down the words "fresh start."

I'm always talking about starts when I'm smack dab in the middle of a story.

I wasn't going to see him anymore, but then I did. And then we broke up and got back together a few more times. Maybe last Sunday was the last—I hope last Sunday was the last—but leaving people behind doesn't mean we have to start new chapters in our stories.

We've been in the middle of our lives since we learned to read the word "middle." We can pretend that fresh starts are what we need whenever life gets hard, but we all know that when you start something there are going to be pauses and stops, highs and lows, a middle and an end.

Every time I say never again is not an ending. It doesn't mean that the next day I'm starting over from Day 1. Because yes, I saw him again, and no, I don't want to make a habit of it.

But leaving was easier this time.

I'm in the middle of this story that looks like changing key habits in my life, and I'm getting better at it. Day 1 tempts us with shiny fresh starts, but getting past Day 121 is where you look back and see real progress, real life, start to unfold.