I can do this.
Anna wasn't sure the exact mile marker where she had picked up the mantra, but as the knot in her stomach grew, she found that she liked the solace the repetition provided.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
Anna had read a book once on the power of manifesting your reality. Perception is reality, the book intoned. You just had to visualize your desire for it to come true. While the message was meant to be empowering, it was now having nearly the opposite effect on her; if wanting something desperately was the ticket to attaining your heart’s desire, she’d have a lot more tread left on her tires.
Anna wiped a tear from the corner of her eye as she felt herself sinking back into the dejected slump she’d felt entrapped by for the last several months. When she’d received the job offer in Charlotte, her initial reaction was one of relief - finally, she was good enough for the career she’d put on a pedestal for so long. In the three years since she’d walked the stage and received her Bachelor’s Degree, she’d held two jobs. While neither of them were exactly what she wanted, they were both in the right ballpark, and she just needed to get her foot in the door, right?
What she hadn’t expected was the despondent feeling of settling into a role that was easy enough for her to check off all the corporate ‘key performance indicators,’ yet never close enough to what she’d wanted to ever feel connected to what she was doing.
Truth be told, as she found herself picking up the hobby of scrutinizing the requirements sections on job boards, she had started feeling a rather stifling case of imposter syndrome. Maybe she hadn’t been able to start the career she’d been aiming for because she simply wasn’t good enough. Maybe she’d misinterpreted the feedback from peers, professors, and mentors as the gospel, when really they were just kind words borne of obligation.
So when the recruiter had called her with the type of opportunity she’d so been longing for, the fact that her role of a lifetime was in a city she’d never been to had taken the back burner to that immense relief of finally being good enough.
Reese still didn’t know that she had interviewed for the job before she even brought it up to him, but she’d just needed to know it was a real option before bringing up a change that had the capacity to forever change their worlds.
For his part, he’d taken it better than she’d expected. But to be fair, a job where the signing bonus alone was nearly 20% of her salary was a compelling offer to say the least. So, while she hadn’t been surprised that he had seen the benefit of accepting the job, she had been wholly taken aback by his suggestion that they ‘make it work’ long distance.
In all of her scenarios she’d worked through in her head as she stayed awake at night listening to the sound of his breathing next to her, he was right there beside her, packing up the U-Haul and watching the Atlanta skyline fading behind them.
“I’ll just stay living with my parents while I finish at Georgia State,” he’d explained, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
It hadn’t been obvious to her, why somebody who hadn’t even started their first semester of grad school could use it as an excuse to watch their fiance move away without them. But, even as she found herself struggling with his plan, the weight of the ring on her left hand held her back from pushing any further.
“I’ll visit you, you’ll visit me, and there’s always Greenville,” he said so matter-of-factly that she accepted it. After all, she reasoned, she couldn’t very well hold it against him - he hadn’t ever asked her to turn down the job. She didn’t allow herself to think about that part too hard, and she told herself that she probably would have considered it if he’d asked.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, a doubt festered. But she wanted it, and she wanted it all. She wanted the job, she wanted the romance of marrying her high school sweetheart, and when she was honest with herself, she knew she also wanted the move.
At first, she had felt like she was speaking it all into existence. Going back to Georgia initially took on the feeling of a more exotic adventure, she and Reese out in familiar places with familiar faces with her being able to say things like “in Charlotte, it’s ‘uptown,’ not ‘downtown’.” The first time Reese traveled to see her, with all her belongings overflowing from boxes scattered across the apartment, they had set out on a walk to find dinner. Strolling hand in hand on the city sidewalk, they talked about the possibility of a Charlotte wedding, still having no date set, but feeling excited rather than rushed by this.
She remembered feeling so sophisticated, being able to show off living in the middle of the action. When her alarm went off in the mornings, she rarely even pressed the snooze button anymore. Instead, she felt eager to wake right up, playing music as she straightened her hair before joining the throngs of people below on the street, also walking to work with the same metropolitan synchrony.
While she’d been afraid that she had put this new career on too high of a pedestal, she found that it rather far exceeded her expectations. She felt herself finally engaged with her job and her coworkers, falling into a new rhythm of shared projects and cocktail hours.
Unfortunately though, the happier her life became in Charlotte, the more disconsolate she felt on her return trips to Atlanta. She started associating walking through the threshold of Reese’s family home in the suburbs with a feeling of claustrophobia. Her own self doubt started keeping her awake these nights, exacerbating her poor attitude as she grappled with the feeling of being shallow. Who was she to judge Reese for his living situation, when just a few months before she’d never thought twice about it?
They’d gotten engaged young, but she hadn’t felt that way at the time. Seeing Reese get down on one knee at their shared college graduation party, while she hadn’t felt especially surprised, she remembered feeling elated, unreserved. It had seemed inevitable that they’d get engaged after college, almost as though college was the last box they needed to check on their shared high school sweetheart experience before they followed the lead of all their other friends in similar situations. She would never have labeled it was peer pressure. However, every time she sat down for dinner with Reese’s family at the same table she had been dining with them at for years, she started feeling farther and farther removed from the situation, as though she were an actress playing the part of her younger self.
She couldn’t tell if Reese was immune to the tension she felt building, or if they were just following some sort of unspoken precedent not talking about it. Things started changing, and while she couldn’t tell if it was because of the tension or in spite of it, the nightly Facetime calls were slowly being replaced with text message excuses, and the weekly treks back forth from their respective cities turned to meeting in the middle every other week.
They’d visited Greenville once, years earlier. That was the thing about being in a relationship with somebody for nearly a decade - such a long history, so many shared experiences. Their trip years earlier had been to attend a wedding of Anna’s cousin. Anna and Reese had been freshmen in college, elated at the opportunity to cash in on an open bar with bartenders less than vigilant about checking IDs. The memory of walking down the brick sidewalks feeling young, drunk and so in love was still so vivid to her.
As unwilling as she was to dwell on so many pieces of their relationship too long, she couldn’t deny that things were different in Greenville. During their first weekend in the city, they stayed in the same hotel downtown where they’d stayed years earlier. She had enjoyed the sweet sensation of deja vu as they strolled back to their room along the same streets, equally tipsy, but several years wiser. Ever since, they had been staying in various AirBnBs during their Greenville trips. They would wake up in an impeccably decorated apartment filled with a stranger’s belongings, the perfect playground for Anna to pretend as though this was their normal life together.
They fell into a comfortable pattern of these every other weekend trips. On Fridays, she would show up late, usually able to use Reese’s old Dodge Stratus as a beacon that she had arrived in their new home. She would throw open the front door, and there he’d be waiting maybe with take out, perhaps having rented a movie for them to enjoy. On Sundays they would sleep in late and then wake to lazily sip coffee together in a favorite quaint coffee shop.
One weekend in November, nearly six months into their atypical arrangement, they had been in their favorite park downtown, sitting legs dangling on the bridge that provided a picturesque view of a large waterfall they both loved. Anna had been talking at length about work, but she had the distinct feeling that she was witnessing Reese’s eyes glazing over the longer she spoke. Feeling selfish for dominating the conversation, she intentionally volleyed it back to him, showing interest in his schedule for the next semester.
When she learned that Reese was taking a break from grad school, her heart started beating faster. She worked to keep the corners of her mouth from turning up, waiting for him to deliver the good news that he would finally join her in their new home before she broke out into the grin she was holding in. But the news never came.
Anna felt herself being pulled through another transition in their arrangement. Instead of the weeks between their visits carrying with them the air of sweet anticipation, she started feeling them fill with dread. She was barraged constantly with fears and anxieties about their relationship, but she pushed it down, thankfully able to distract herself with her new life, her new job, her new friends.
For the holidays, her first since the move, she put up the tiniest tinsel Christmas tree in her apartment. She baked the same Christmas cookies she made every year, delicately flavored with almond extract, enjoying the rave reviews from her coworkers. As she turned her out of office on her email at work and prepared for her holiday trip back to Atlanta, she felt her eyes brimming with unexpected tears. In that innocuous moment, she realized at once that something needed to change.
Yet, as she immersed herself in the familiar holiday traditions from her past, she knew she couldn’t say anything to Reese. What she couldn’t tell was if her apprehension borne of being afraid he would refuse to move with her, or fear that he wouldn’t. That New Years Eve, she cried as Reese kissed her at the stroke of midnight. Neither of them talked about it, but as the white lines on 85 flew past her on her ride back to Charlotte, she finally felt the resolve that she had for so long been lacking growing more and more firm.
Anna could no longer avoid her feelings. She allowed herself to realize that she had been held up for so long on the question of the physical distance between herself and Reese that she had been blind to the much greater distance they shared. There was a part of her that was holding herself back from fully embracing the exhilaration of her independence in her new city, her new life; it was time for her to finally stand up and stop the prolonged ending of her relationship.
That had been nearly three months ago, and there had been plenty of opportunities since her decision. She continued to grow more and more certain of her decision as she lived what she felt she was now labeling her ‘normal life’ in Charlotte. But there was something about Greenville that weakened her resolve every time. Greenville, agnostic from her struggles in claiming her independence in Charlotte, almost entirely removed from her memories of her past life in Atlanta. And then of course there was Reese, the comfort in letting his presence engulf her and the catharsis of the familiarity.
After her last Greenville trip, Anna had picked up a bottle of cabernet on her way home. She’d dropped her luggage in the doorway and rifled through her junk drawer for a corkscrew. She caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror hanging over her Ikea couch, the red wine staining the sides of her mouth, and was revolted by the crazed expression on her face. She hated that she was at the crossroads of feeling the strongest, and also feeling the weakest she had ever felt in her life. As she allowed herself to fall into the trap of the pity party, she fixated on every detail of her life since she received what she now felt was the fated call from the recruiter nearly a year ago. If she hadn’t gotten the job offer, hadn’t felt the distance, hadn’t allowed herself the space to grow into this older, more sure version of herself, she could right now be back in Georgia. Perhaps she would be planning for a wedding that she suspected would have continued being pushed back farther and farther.
I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.
As Anna continued her mantra, closing the distance between herself and Reese, she realized that she was growing to believe herself. While, in some ways, she was disappointed with herself for the amount of time and space it had taken her to see what she now felt should have been obvious from the beginning, she realized that the opposite side of that same coin could be an indication of her strength. She had started out treating the opportunity to move as something that was happening to her. Now, as she was wrapping up the final piece of the series of the biggest changes in her life, she knew that this was a decision she was making for herself, and a good one at that.
She slowed her car as she spotted that familiar Dodge Stratus in front of the cottage that was her destination. Taking in one final deep breath, aloud now she concluded, “I will do this.”