Crooked Love, Table Sets, and Phantom Limbs

That was the night I held my heels and headed barefoot down Ponce de Leon Boulevard. That was before the Market had been built, and I’d parked in a liquor store lot, back when the boulevard wasn’t a place people drove an hour to see, and I shouldn’t have been alone but I’d left the party early. I remember the boot on my car, and crying and calling my dad, and him. I remember calling him.

He was ready to come to my rescue, and I just shook my head in an empty parking lot, closing my eyes and swallowing hard.

Because just a few nights before, he and I had been standing alone at the end of his driveway, with two years and crooked love backing us into a corner.

We stood there at the end of his driveway, him leaning against the opened driver’s side door of my car, me standing cross armed and bracing myself. I had asked him what we were doing and what it was he wanted. Because we’d been here before with each other, before the accident and before the funeral. Before I had tried so hard to be her for him. Then, there I stood in front of him, some version I had broken myself into, asking him if he wanted me. He gave me a long list of compliments that night—told me I was gorgeous, beautiful, that he loved my laugh and I was adorable, and smart, fun—but I wasn’t the girl I had been before, so he wasn’t sure what he wanted.

And I’m not sure what’s worse: to have someone not want you or to have someone not want you nor the person you tore yourself apart to be for them. To have someone not choose you or to have someone not know if you’re worth choosing.

Still, halfway home from the city, I was changing my mind and asking him to meet me. I didn’t know it would be the last night I would be with him. I couldn’t have known that the last thing I would say to him then would be, “I love you.”

But that’s how stories like that end— you tell him you love him and he laughs, touches your face, kisses you, and slides out of your front seat to drive away.

That’s why when my friend called me a few months ago to ask me what I would have done differently with hindsight on my side, I said— “I should have walked away the second someone gave me a list of why he would want to choose me, but couldn’t.”

I don’t think she liked my answer. At the end of the day, I think my answer will never be enough. Because we’re all looking for a 12 step program. A map. Someone else to give the responsibility to so we don’t have to be held accountable for the way our own lives turn out. We want it all laid out for us because if we’re left to make the decision for ourselves, we’ll keep showing up to a table that someone forgot to set a place for us at.

We show up at the table, and we brush off the awkward silence; we try and ignore the way our elbows keep knocking because there’s not enough room for us; we say “it’s fine,” when there’s not enough food prepared because we weren’t ever expected to show up. But we keep showing up.

It reminds me of phantom limb syndrome. Amputee patients are diagnosed with phantom limb syndrome after experiencing horrific pain in a limb that isn’t even there anymore; it’s when the body refuses to let go or accept that there’s nothing there, and the pain is very real in the mind of the patient.

I wonder if that’s why it’s so hard for us to let go of something or someone God has intentionally chosen to cut out of our lives. We still feel what used to be there, can’t believe that it’s really gone. So we try to make it fit in spite of its rough and torn, dead edges.

I do that. I’ve done that my whole life. I pull people close like limbs, and even when they have to go I try to keep everything together even though the function doesn’t work the same.

I don’t let God take things from me, even when they don’t work the right way anymore. I wake up and get angry with Him for cutting off a limb and ignore when He says, “That thing was dead. The only way to save you both was to get rid of it. It’s better this way.”

We show up to the table there isn’t a place for us at, and we refuse to accept the loss even when we wake up to it every day.

But we don’t have to keep showing up to the table.

My friend reached out to me again the other day, asking the same questions as if I’d have better answers.

All I could say was that—there’s a better table that’s been set, and there’s a spot just for you. Not an afterthought rush to pull up a chair and throw together what’s leftover, but a place of plenty where we walk in to a room that’s better because we are there.

God never wanted you to keep running back to something He purposefully chose to remove from your life. So it’s gonna hurt until you admit that it’s already gone—until you admit that there’s no more room at your table so you can go on to live in excess.

You can set a different table.

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