I was 16, insecure, and grew up without a father. I craved male validation like a drug and was chasing a love I had never received.
You were twice my age and, in my eyes at the time, you were a good father to your daughter. I worshipped you for that.
More importantly, you were the first man to tell me you loved me. You were the first man to hold me as I cried. You were the first man I could rely on. In moments when I was falling apart, you were there to put me back together.
In the beginning, you presented me with so many beautiful dreams. You promised me you’d love me forever. You painted pictures in my mind of us getting married and having kids. You claimed you couldn’t wait to give me the happy life I deserved. You swore you were going to save me from the burdens I was facing at home. You built me up to believe I was special. You opened up just enough to make me feel like I knew you. You assured me that you had never felt this way about anyone before. You could talk to me about your depression and anxiety because I understood. You were safe to be yourself with me and I made you happy. I was young and I believed every word you said. I was convinced you and I were forever. I didn’t know that forever couldn’t be promised. I wasn’t old enough to realize those dreams weren’t possible.
So I gave every piece of myself that I had. I gave you my body, I gave you my money, and I gave you my heart. I never denied a request from you. My love for you consumed my entire being. I did everything you ever asked of me, determined to never lose you, all the while losing myself.
One day, out of the blue, the calls and texts became less frequent, and I was plagued with worry that I wasn’t enough anymore, or that I was too much. You’d disappear without notice, then come back soon enough to convince me you still loved me, complete with the perfect excuse. I continued to give, bargaining with my body to earn a response, because I learned that always worked.
Eventually I found undeniable evidence that you were cheating on me and everything made complete sense and none at all. I finally figured out where my money was going and why you’d disappear at night. Messages to her saying you loved her moments after you had been in bed with me made me feel worthless. Somehow, even though you were in the wrong, you blamed me. You tried to convince me it wasn’t true and told me I was crazy. I had suspected this before, and you had lied your way through it. You had a knack for making me feel insane for even accusing you of such a thing. How dare I question your love for me when you had risked everything for me?
I wanted so badly to believe you really loved me, and I couldn’t open my eyes long enough to see who you really were. I kept my eyes closed, replaying all the memories of the times I felt loved. All the times you rubbed my back promising me everything would be okay as I sobbed, the times you kissed my hand as you told me how much you loved me, the times your face lit up with a smile when you saw me, telling me I was beautiful. Blissful times spent at the beach or laughing over coffee. Memories of the long letters you’d write me in the middle of the night, love songs sent through Spotify, and the surprise cards you’d send in the mail made it impossible for me to believe you didn’t love me.
I wish it ended there, but I put up with empty promises for another year before I reached the final straw. I pleaded with you to set me free, to admit you didn’t love me anymore. I begged you to be honest, promising no backlash from my end. You wouldn’t. You swore you still wanted me. I wasn’t strong enough to let go. Letting go meant it was all for nothing. Letting go meant admitting you weren’t the man I thought you were. Letting go meant I had given myself to someone who didn’t deserve me. It took me way too long to leave, but I did. It was one of the hardest but best things I ever did.
To this day, I find it hard to fathom that the person I fell in love with ever existed. It’s hard to accept that someone we saw so much light in turned out to be filled with so much darkness. Even though I wasn’t completely innocent — I said and did irrational things from a place of hurt — I wasn’t old enough to know better. I wish at 32, you had known better.
For the longest time I thought you broke me. I felt haunted, as if I would never escape the feeling that I had been taken advantage of. Nights spent replaying the whole timeline of our relationship, analyzing your words, trying to decipher between what was true and what wasn’t. Nights spent crying until I couldn’t breathe, feeling like I was going to erupt, yet hollow at the same time. I could spend my whole life trying to understand what you did. I could spend my energy hating you, plotting how to receive justice for you manipulating someone half your age.
I could waste my energy drowning myself in the past, yet that doesn’t change what happened and that won’t set me free. My freedom is in forgiveness. Forgiving you, not because you deserve it, but because I do. I believe those who hurt others have a pain they haven’t faced. I choose to believe not all those who hurt, hurt intentionally. Freedom is in forgiving myself, because I was young and I couldn’t have possibly known what love wasn’t, when I never knew what it was.
My freedom is knowing that I have faced my pain. I have let the pain engulf me, seep into my soul, and provide me with strength. I have rebuilt myself from scratch, and I get to live my life knowing that I am full of love. I love fiercely, and I have a heart that can withstand anything. You almost broke me, but I broke free.