They say the Catacombs of Paris is the most frightening place on the planet. It holds the skeletal remains of more than 6 million Parisians. It was created in an old quarry on the outskirts of the city when the Cemetery of the Innocents, the Parisian burial site for more than ten centuries, became an infectious danger to the population in the 18th century. It took 2 years from 1786 to 1788, to excavate the remains of ten centuries of burials and transfer them to the newly created Catacombs. So, there, in neat piles far beneath the surface of the earth, more than 6 million skeletons represent 6 million lives – all real people. Some had long lives while others died in infancy. Some led healthy and happy lives while others were full of woe, drama, and sickness. Some were happy and some were not. Some were good and some were evil. Some contributed to the society in which they lived and some took from it and transgressed against it. Some are missed and some are not. Truly the place is a spectacle for the curious, a dreaded place for the fearful, and a final resting place for many.
It occurred to me that we all have Relationship Catacombs with the same characteristics! For me, my Relationship Catacombs may be the most frightening place on the planet. That place where we bury past relationships of all kinds…romantic, friendship, family. The good ones and the bad ones. Every skeleton in our Relationship Catacombs had a life at some point. Likewise, we are skeletons in the Relationship Catacombs of others. Unlike the physical skeletons in Catacombs of Paris, our relational skeletons rest in many piles in many catacombs belonging to all that have known and loved us.
Dare we enter the dark chambers of our romantic Relationship Catacombs and really take a look at the faces of the skeletons? What would they say if they could talk? (By the way, I hope my skeletons reading this do not choose to speak ill of me but sadly I know that some may…oh well). As I descend the stairs into my own catacombs, I recognize some faces.
There is the high school boy whose name and jersey number I spelled on my wall with large bubble letters cut from Sports magazines. As with most everything I had in those days: straight A’s, cheerleading, big hair, there was no containing my enthusiasm and obsession over him. I wrote him notes, wrote about him in my diary, obsessively talked about him to my friends and cried into my pillow if he slighted me even the least little bit. I just knew that I would love him forever! Then, in the 11th grade, I met a frat boy. The demise was quick and a skeleton was added to my tiny catacombs as the name on my wall was changed and the jersey number was replaced by Greek letters. Because my heart had never been broken (notwithstanding the gallons of tears cried over perceived transgressions I can’t even remember), it had no caution and pursued this new love with the obsessive intensity that can only exist in the heart of a 17 year old girl. We dated but he didn’t return the intensity and (you know it) “true love” that I felt. I confess that I probably chased him right off the cliff of a pink heart to his death but probably would have suffocated his Greekness if he hadn’t jumped. When I finally got to the same University that he attended, I saw him once or twice but he was already dead and placed in my catacombs. He looked different and it was then I realized that I don’t like recycled skeletons.
Let’s keep exploring. I see a few skeletons I hardly remember or remember with an indifference or platonic fondness at best. A few good people who just couldn’t exist in my eco love system and became part of the catacombs in a most peaceful manner. Oh, there is the boy I loved as I neared my graduation from college but I was too full of myself to listen to anything he needed to say. I left him for dead and couldn’t recessitate when I came to my senses. It was just too late. Is that a hint of sadness in his face or simply a reflection of my sadness in his remains? I know that he went on to marry, have a family and I heard he is living his happily ever after and will hopefully never be placed into another catacomb. I am truly happy for him.
Oh, I see my ex husband in the pile of bones but I lived that misery, boredom and unhappiness for way too many years and don’t want to revisit that demise. Let’s move on, shall we?
Oh!, there is the skeleton of someone I loved with such an open and tender heart. My entire world was pink swirling hearts and dreams of happily ever after with an obsessive “walk through coals”, “nothing can stop us”, “can’t wait to be with you”, “conquer the world” love. You know that one, right? I see a look of sadness and bittersweet apology on that skull’s face. I don’t find it very attractive anymore and actually feel badly for this poor damaged skeleton. He professed that he loved me with all his heart and soul but sadly, it’s chest cavity is just so much smaller than most, and as it were, his heart just wasn’t big enough for me. I knew it and he knew it too. It should have been a peaceful death but in a rage of disappointment and hurt, I managed to drive a dagger through the small hardened heart. I can’t help but think that the punishment for my crime of passion was to have my own heart shrink a bit and have it wrapped and entombed within my living and breathing chest. It is hard to realize that someone I loved just didn’t love me enough. Period. Nonetheless, I was glad to lose a little of my emotionalism and tender hearted nature as I went on to live my life and meet other people who have added something to both my life AND my catacombs.
Let’s keep going. Oh!, I remember that one with the swiveling neck, small cerebral cavity, and moving jaws. That skeleton is probably in the catacombs of many. He cannot survive real relationships for very long. He talks a good story, but is constantly on the prowl and just wasn’t smart enough to fool me for very long. His death was quick and not of much consequence to me or anyone else. Liars and cheats are rarely missed.
Oh! There is the one with the large chest cavity for his big heart and generous spirit. I couldn’t love him like he needed and wanted and starvation placed him into my catacombs. I was sad and disappointed with myself but I know that he deserved a better existence. I hope he found it.
There are a few clenching cash in their skeletal fingers and hopefully they found a heart and happiness that could be bought. In my world, they drowned in their misconception of me. My love currency is serenity, adoration, companionship, passion, and trust and for those, not cash, will I gladly trade my heart.
Look! There are a few skeletons holding balls and video games! There died trying to reach my heart via my children as wise men know this is a good path to a woman’s heart. Some had sincere intentions and good hearts while others were playing chess and my children were the pawns. Some hold Captain America’s dream shield defending them against children they never wanted but it was no match for a mother’s love and sadly some men were left behind.
Among these skeletons, some were frozen by my cold heart, others just never quite reached it or never penetrated the the protective walls. A few bruised it a little and caused some pain when they died. Some were brief “meet and greets” and some lasted a bit longer. Some died painful deaths at my hands while others actually chose to end their lives in my world. Some remain friends in spirit and some are just “somebodies that I used to know”. Most were never physical as I live a non promiscuous existence but they held possibility of romantic passion else they never would have been here. I suppose it is all part of living and finding love.
The catacombs and the skeletal remains of our failed relationships are indeed frightening! They force us to look at ourselves, our patterns, and our impact on the lives of others. I realized that I am also a skeleton in a few catacombs. Am I the same in each? Or do my skeletal remains have different characteristics and causes of death in each one? Am I a fond memory for those catacomb owners? I can only hope that I have been more positive than negative and have not contributed to hardened and entombed hearts.
I know that for most of us, underneath the protective wrappings and walls, there still beats a heart with an obsessive passion, hopes for enduring romance and love, and dreams of happily ever after. Dare we express these things? Dare we give someone the power to put us among their skeletons at some point? It takes so much courage to put yourself out there, dream of happiness and take the path that could lead there. It is so hard to face possible relational death and put your own heart at risk. It certainly is NOT for the weak of heart but it IS for the hungry heart. The heart that still believes in happily ever after. (and no, this is not about marriage but more about long lasting serenity and unconditional love). The catacombs are frightening and we all have them. I see the missteps and patterns and never want to add to the burials. Now that I’ve been there, it really doesn’t have to be frightening or sad but rather a chance to return to the living possibilities in my life. Yes, I dream big happy dreams.
I’m not sure how to end these musings but as I’ve put words on paper, I have been repeatedly taken back to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses. Here is but a few lines but I do love the entire poem. Please send a copy with me when I am placed in the catacomb!
“I will drink life to the lees:
all times I have enjoyed greatly,
have suffered greatly, both with those
that loved me, and alone…..
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates…..
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world.”
Continuing to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield…..Girl Goes On!