The cold breeze cuts my skin as I walk slowly down the street, stopping every now and then to breathe in the night’s still, melancholic air. It stings my nostrils and chills my lungs, but I hold it in for a few seconds before letting it out. The cold felt good against my chest, numbing and calming.
I reached the end of the street and entered a dingy bar that serves cheap vodka and run-of-the-mill nachos. Shabby as the place is, it’s our favorite spot in the neighborhood. The bartender knows us and serves our regular orders even without asking us. Tonight, he gives me a smile and a wink as I slide into a booth at the farthest corner of the bar. He didn’t start mixing drinks yet, like he usually does the moment he sees us step inside. He’s probably waiting for you.
But you won’t be here, not tonight. You probably won’t be again. Our last fight felt like the final nail in the coffin.
The bartender places a glass of vodka on the table and gives me a sympathetic smile, like he knows what’s going on in my mind. A glass for the lonely lady.
It actually feels good to be alone, away from the toxicity that was you. But then —
“One for me too, buddy.”
I don’t need to look up to know who it was. You’re here. And I’d bet all my cards I know what you want.
The bartender leaves. You take the empty seat and casually reach out for my hand like we didn’t just have an explosive fight last night, or a couple of nights before that, and the night before that night, and so on. We fight, we make up, and then a day later, we fight again. It’s a vicious cycle — and it’s never going to get better, no matter how much we try.
I withdraw my hand; your touch would only melt my resolve to escape from you. I know you’d ask me to stay, give what we have — had — one more try. We’ve been playing this game for years now. I know you a little too well.
Familiarity’s the culprit. We know each other inside and out, the bad and the ugly and the terrible — and this familiarity is already too much for our hearts to handle most of the time. Familiarity tore us apart, drove us farther from each other rather than keep us together.
“Why are you here?” I have to ask, though I already knew the answer.
“I’ve missed you.”
Your words sting. They sound empty.
“All that fighting. Those breakups and makeups and all that. Why do we keep doing this? What’s the point?”
“The sex, maybe.” You pause and swirl your drink, all the while not taking your eyes off me. “And love. Love has to be there somewhere — the referee in our fights, the heat in our sheets, the warmth in our friendship — it’s the glue that keeps us together. You know that.”
You empty your glass and set it aside, looked at me intently. Your eyes flicker. I could tell it’s taking every ounce of your strength to set aside your pride as well.
“We just have to keep trying.”
“How many times have we tried… and failed?” I have to give you a reality check. Clichés won’t get us anywhere.
You wrap both your hands around mine and hold on tightly. As if your life depends on it.
“We have to keep trying. Because we both know that we love each other. Yes, it’s a cliché, but I see no other reason for still wanting to be together even after all the heartaches, even after seeing the bad and the ugly sides of ourselves. See, love is the burning flame as much as it is the cold ember. It’s what remains after everything’s been said and done and felt.” You stop, as if you’re carefully constructing your next phrase in your mind. Something to win me over, again. Your eyes shine brightly.
“It’s what we have. Love.”
My eyes start to burn and itch and sting. I swallow hard and take a deep breath to keep the tears at bay.
Pretty words. Lovely to hear, comforting to feel. Coming from the person I’ve loved and hated and loved again all these years. How beautiful it would be to just fall back into your arms and continue what we have like nothing’s horribly wrong in our relationship.
Not this time, though. Your clichés, beautiful words, melting stare, and warm touch are not enough to make me forget your curses, your lies, our shouting matches, our fight last night, and all our fights before that. The pain from it all now burns brighter than our love. The toxicity has taken its toll. We can’t keep ourselves trapped in this cycle forever. One of us needs to have the courage to wake up and walk away. For the final time.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I whisper. Tears start to form in the corners of my eyes. “The damage is already beyond repair. We have to end this to save ourselves.”
I take a deep, shaky breath and blink back tears.
Without another word, without waiting for you to say anything, without looking into your eyes, I gather my things and go out into the night. I walk and walk until I reach the end of the street. I have to keep walking as far away from you as possible.
I breathe in the night’s air. It felt a lot warmer in my chest.
For the first time in a long time, I feel free.