What happened when I stopped fighting the tiger and let love in at long last.
By Thomas Matlack — Written on Mar 22, 2023
Photo: Courtesy of the author.
December 28, 2022, was Elena’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. I went to run the Harvard Stadium that morning with my sons, Cole and Seamus, and to a noon meeting to share my experience, strength and hope as it was also my 26th sober anniversary. Then Elena suggested spontaneously that we go see “The Life of Pi” at the American Repertoire Theater.
It’s a story about a teenage boy, Pi, lost at sea in a boat with a fearsome Bengal tiger who has also found refuge aboard the lifeboat. The central tension of the story is Pi and the tiger learning to trust each other to survive.
The tigers come at night
For as long as I can remember, I have had a recurring nightmare about tigers on a leash. I am desperately holding on for fear that they will sprint into my house and savage my family. I began talking about it to my therapist six years ago — before, during, and after a major mental health crash. In my nightmares, I could never let go of the leash out of terror.
The acting in the play was amazing. But the puppets and puppeteers were even more amazing. Like the Lion King only way better. The ART is such a small theater that we were right up close watching the tiger in the boat while a turtle swam by, and a school of fish flashed blue in the water. I stared at this beauty in movement and color and was mesmerized.
As I sat next to this gorgeous, warm-hearted woman who had put up with my sh*t, my keeping just a tiny bit of my emotional distance, for 20 years, something tiny — and huge — shifted.
With voices soft as thunder
Watching this magnificent tiger fighting with Pi and ultimately both Pi and the tiger learning to trust each other, I finally realized I too could let my tigers off the leash. That in fact, as in the story, my Pi and my tiger were one and the same. I had been fighting myself the whole time.
Holding Elena’s hand, I realized that I need not protect my heart anymore. I could trust her completely. I didn’t need to run from intimacy anymore.
The dream shifts and feels like home
We went to dinner after the theater at our favorite Italian restaurant, Sorellina, and sat at the bar. The bartender gave us extra special service and an anniversary dessert. My parents picked up the tab all the way from Maine.
We laughed and hugged. The bartender took a picture in which we are both glowing. I felt like I was home. I could, finally, receive all the love she had been trying to give me all along. And love her back with my whole heart.
More for You:
Zodiac Signs That Are Terrible At Relationships (And Why)20 Little Things Women Do That Guys *Secretly* LoveWhat The ‘Ideal’ Female Body Looks Like Around The World5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day
Tom Matlack has been depressed, a drunk, anorexic…and yet at 58 he has never been happier. He adores his wife and three kids. His mission is to help men. He writes daily at Substack.