Today is my 40th birthday. Francesca is having a small dinner party for me. We have been together two years. This morning, I have a session with my psychologist. Third appointment. Earlier this summer, Francesca issued a sort of ultimatum, “Jeff, I love you, but so often you seem remote. Merely observing, rather than being present to me. A big obstacle to our future. Where are you?”

I had heard similar comments in previous failed relationships. I was not going to lose Francesca. She gave me the name of a psychologist her friend recommended. I was reluctant but made the appointment to visit with him. Surprisingly, I felt comfortable talking with him. A father figure? My “homework” assignment, ‘Write a dossier about your life. Anything that comes to mind.’

Not easy, but surprisingly, I have pages of notes to show him. Homework Assignment—I was the only child in my family. I overheard once, that a baby girl died a few years before my birth. Mother and Father—never Mom and Dad—didn’t ever bring it up. I was fearful to ask. They were devoted to each other, best friends. Often, I felt like the “extra.” Loving to me, when they remembered they had a son.

“Jeff, your grades are good. Keep it up, Son.” Then Father would go back to sipping a cocktail with Mother. His arm around her.

In high school, I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house. A vibrant fun-loving place. They often included me in family parties. It became clear to me what was lacking in my own family. Yet, I still felt a bit like an outsider. Often went home with a heaviness.

My first girlfriend in high school had just lost her mother to cancer. She cried a lot and leaned on me for support. I felt inadequate to help her. We parted after only a few months.

In college, I pledged a fraternity, at my father’s insistence, “Son, you have a full ride with your scholarship; let me pay the frat costs.” Fortunately, it was not a drunken bunch of rich kids, and I liked the camaraderie. My roommate, a psych major, once asked me, “Do you want to talk about anything? You seem distant all the time.”

I joked, “Am I your class project?” The constant feeling of merely being an observer apparently was quite obvious. I tried harder to shake that feeling, for a while. Went to parties. Played poker with a few classmates. Then I slipped back. It was easier, I guess, to be alone.

Home for summer break, I decided to have a serious talk with my parents. Nervous, but it was time, if I wanted to ever figure out things. It was not to be. My mother was in a fatal car crash, driving home from work. The police report said she died on impact. The other driver was arrested for DUI.

The summer was full of grief. Weeks after the funeral, Father continued to eat alone in his study. At night, I could hear him pacing the bedroom floor. No conversation between us. Once, he said to me, “My life is falling apart. I cannot carry on without her. I’m sorry.” On occasion, he would watch a football game with me. Often with his eyes closed. The room heavy with sadness. Our grief silent.

When I was preparing to return to the university, he handed me a check for $1000; “Use it for whatever you need.”

I asked, “Would you like to go shopping with me?” He shook his head.

Junior year, I met a strikingly beautiful woman. After a few study sessions, we began dating. Looking back, I remember feeling (almost) lighthearted with her. I loved her. Shared a great deal of my life with her. She listened.

Just before graduation, she dumped me, “I’ve been offered a great position at a publishing company in England. Didn’t want to tell you until it was definite. It’s better if we end this, Jeff.” To say I was stunned by her abruptness is an understatement. It was over.

In the same week, Father sent a letter with a hefty check, ‘Dear Son, I never thought I would love again, so it’s been a happy surprise for me to meet Rita. She and I are to be married. Can you believe it?! I so wish you could come to our wedding, but we just realized it is graduation day for you. I want you to meet Rita, and her lovely daughter very soon. Regards, Father.’

I told no one of the latest rejection from my father. Graduation Day was bleak. The next day, I left for a new job one thousand miles away. A few months into my job, a coworker invited me have dinner with her. We clicked, and became a couple. The year together ended when she told me that my inability to open up became too much for her. By design, I had shared almost nothing of my past. I had anticipated this break up.

Today, I vow to myself and to Francesca that things will change. I am ready to do whatever it takes to create a new and joyous life. Too weary of being on the outside looking in.

Rosanne Trost is a retired oncology nurse. She resides in Houston, Texas. Since retirement, she has developed a passion for creative writing. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals, including Commuter Lit, Months to Years, Blink Ink and Ravens Perch.