Billiard balls on pool table. Perfect composition of pool balls

My eyes fly open, like they do almost every night now. I think about looking at the phone to see what time it is. Sometimes it’s easier not to know so I don’t calculate how many hours it is until I have to wake up. Against my better judgment, I press the button and the screen lights tup o show it’s 12:07 a.m. Also, not a single call, text message, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter alert, which is technically okay because it’s a work night, but I try not to take this as a larger sign about the state of my social life or how funny I am. I adjust onto my back and take a deep breath. I really thought tonight would be the night I stayed asleep. But I only lasted two hours, even though going to bed I was absolutely dead on my feet. Even the dog is passed out at the foot of the bed, and she always wakes up when I do.

I roll over onto my side and tuck my hands into a prayer position against my face. I’ve been here before. With my body so, so exhausted, but my brain so very, very wide awake. Even though I’ve learned that nothing obsessed over in the middle of the night is ever as important in the morning. I have years of practice in talking myself down. I know anxiety changes nothing. The best you can do is trust that what felt right at the time was. What is meant to be will be. I know all this, and yet I’m still awake at midnight when I shouldn’t be.

From this contemplative and trying-not-to-panic position, a thought pops into my head. “I want my life hand-delivered to me in a perfect package. Tied with a perfect little bow. All of the time.”

I sit up. “That’s the problem,” I say to myself. “That’s it, right there.” I want everything gorgeous and tidy and easy. But who doesn’t? That is not unique. It’s also completely unrealistic. Everyone wants things handed to them. So what? I think the problem is — I feel like I especially do. When things don’t go my way the first time, or when I can’t see the path ahead clearly, or – let’s be real – when people and situations don’t just instantly bend to my will, I start to obsess. Overthink. Overanalyze. I don’t need any help from anyone or anything to go crazy. I drive myself insane.

Which is ridiculous, because I’ve been very lucky. When I look back, my life has more or less followed the exact path I planned. My life’s to-do list: do good in school, get into a good college, move to New York, get a job, find good friends, find a boyfriend, find a cute apartment, get a kick-ass dog, get married, have kids, be fabulous forever — so far, that has more or less worked out for me. Each item neatly checked off in due time with only one year of a Lexapro prescription needed to survive the worst of it.

But then I decided to jump off this tidy little path right between “kick ass dog” and “get married.” For the first time, and on arguably the biggest step, I faltered and fell.

To deal, I first spent the last several months of 2012 getting very drunk. A lot. And then I spent one month coming to terms with what deviating from this path meant while getting drunk a little less. And then I got really drunk again for another two weeks. And 2013 was underway for real and I decided I should probably get my act together. So now I’m sober most nights again but with plenty of time to think. Which is dangerous. Because what I’m thinking is that I want the next chapter of my life to begin right away! With little to no effort on my part! Because you know, that’s just how life is going to work. Skip the painful pieces and go right into the next wonderful thing. And that’s why I’m wide-awake in the middle of most nights. Because it’s finally time to deal with my feelings and I’m having trouble doing that. I’m constantly thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

Even now, it’s hard to articulate. I wanted to get married. Until I didn’t. I wanted it and then, by some gorgeous miracle, some absolutely nonsensical aligning of stars and cosmos, there turned out to be someone in this world who deemed me worth spending the rest of his life with.

What an amazing, amazing thing.

But then, from a place I didn’t even know existed, something just started telling me this was wrong. This…voice. Out of nowhere, it just started yelling at the top of its lungs.

At first, I had no idea what to do. Was it cold feet? Doesn’t everyone have those? Should I even pay any attention to this voice?

But it didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse. It persisted and persisted. It persisted until I felt like I was being eaten alive. Eventually, slowly, and more than a little tearfully, I listened. And then I had to use what this voice was telling me to seriously wound another person who did not see it coming. Who tried to do right by me. Who gave me what I wanted. And in return? I hurt him. In a way that can never be undone. In a way that broke him and broke me in way that can’t be fixed. And that shatters my heart into a million jagged little pieces. But I’ve never felt such utter relief and extreme guilt in the space of the same heartbeat. I’ve never been more sorry for doing something I know in my heart was right. I’ve also never been more scared.

So now, at an age when so many people I know are wives and moms and/or taking the final steps in those directions, I’m back at step one. Back at step zero, actually. I am 32 years old and lonely for the first time in my life.

And yet, when I can tear my brain away from these simple facts, which if I’m being honest, is not easy to do and happens far less than I’d like, I find I am becoming strangely okay with loneliness. It’s like a second shadow. I’m messing up in its presence. It makes me nervous. I’m doing things that are out of character. Things that are a little crazy. But when I look at myself in the mirror I see a different person. I am confident. Smarter. Stronger. Learning. Which is odd, because I’m the type of person who really needs other people. I have a huge family. I always have roommates. I have an acquaintance and friend list seven miles long. To be alone for more than 24 hours at a time, before this, was frightening to me.

But learning to be lonely has been one of the weirdest, most beautiful things to come out of this nightmare. I rode out a hurricane and a blizzard solo with only bottles of wine and a Netflix account for company (getting drunk still helps. I know it’s not the best but it works. And for now I’m sticking with the girl that brought me.) The old me would have cried for days or freaked out like the one time I found myself stuck in the city for a Fourth of July and no one else was really around. I was beside myself. However, this new Lia? Lia-party of one? Dare I say it – she was okay. Not great. But okay. (Also, I discovered Downton Abbey which I think helped tremendously.)

Instead, the things that do hurt are not what I expected.

To know that there is someone out there who rightfully curses your name sucks. To understand why they feel that way sucks more. To feel totally free in one moment and depressed in the next is an emotional roller coaster I wouldn’t wish on too many people. (I’m a Scorpio. I’d wish it on some.) To feel exhilarated by the idea of having no rudder to steer you and yet, thinking you’d do anything to have a rudder again is confusing. It’s the mood swings that are most crushing. I can’t predict how I’ll feel from one moment to the next. I think this is what people mean when they say they are “coming to terms.” There are a lot of terms. More terms every day. But I’m meeting them. Thinking them through. Letting them toss me around. Trying to toss what I can back.

I lay down and put my head on the pillow again.

Before I drift off, I suddenly visualize my situation. I feel like a ball on a pool table. First, I was racked up. Starting from the same place as everyone else. Nice and tight amongst my peers. Eventually, one by one, people broke off and found their pockets. The cue ball hit me a few times, too, and I got closer and closer to my own pocket on the table, which was perfect. Just like it’s supposed to be. And I waited there for a while; waiting for that last hit to send me to the same place everyone else was going.

But then, somewhere in the universe, there must have been a mishit because this other ball just came careening into me. And I never saw it coming! I always see things coming. And now I’m off the path and nowhere near the pocket anymore. In fact, I’m now on that weird part of the pool table where whatever, or whomever, determines our fate needs a bridge and one leg physically up on the table to even reach me. But how? Best case scenario, I’m not left for dead here. The bridge works and I get back on the path. That’s the hope.

But – and here, also, is why I’m awake – what if the hit misses? And I wind up in an even more awkward position than I was before? What if that happens and fate just kind of throws up it’s hands, looks around the table, sees another ball in perfect position and pays attention to that one for a long time instead? There’s no telling when I’ll be close to the pocket again! I may never be close to the pocket again.

And that’s what scares the living shit out of me. Being the last ball on the pool table that nothing can hit. I blink a few times and feel my chest tighten.

But then out of nowhere, I think back on a conversation I recently had with my mom. She is the smartest woman alive.

It was actually my decision not to go to the pocket. Mine alone. No one made me do it. Yes, something knocked into me, and I didn’t expect that, but that hit only opened my eyes to something I was feeling but not actually allowing myself to acknowledge. So as a result, yes, I am lonely and yes, I am acting weird. But I’m also being stretched in a direction that is good. That is healthy. The truth is, I don’t actually feel bad most days; just really, really uncertain. And feeling uncertain is not the worst thing you can feel. When you really think about it, I am the fate I’m so afraid of.

And what’s worse? A life you simply didn’t plan for or a life you don’t actually want?

Maybe I will meet someone, sure, but there is a very equal chance that maybe I won’t. Either way, I will be fine. She is right. I am always fine. Look at all those check marks! Eventually, I am always fine.

Satisfied for now, I close my eyes. The dog sighs in her sleep, moves up the bed and actually manages to work herself perfectly into little spoon position. I throw my arm over her.

I am the fate, I repeat to myself. I am my own goddamn bridge.