Today I’m thinking about how it felt to wake up next to you. I’m thinking about how we made our own home and how you felt like family. I’m thinking about how worried you would get when I was sick and how my pain seemed to be your pain whenever I was sad. I’m thinking about how it felt to go through every single day with the knowledge that someone somewhere was madly in love with me and wanted to be with me every second of their waking lives. I remember joy and contentment and coming home from work to find dinner ready and a Merle Haggard song blasting through the speakers. The way you kissed me, the way you touched me, the way my skin turned to fire when your lips brushed my neck and shoulders. I remember your arms around me and I remember feeling like nothing in the world could hurt me.
I remember when you called me disgusting. I remember all the nights you slept on the couch because of something I’d said or done. I could never understand your temper. I could never understand why you wanted to make me cry. Did it hurt you at all to see someone you love break down completely? Or did it make you feel like you’d won? I remember how you’d spoon me while I hiccuped with sobs, making halfhearted apologies and smoothing my hair. How you would break me down and then eagerly pick up the pieces. The floor of our tiny apartment was covered in eggshells. “This is your fault,” you’d insist. “If you’d never cheated then we’d never fight.” I remember deciding you were right. I remember deciding that I was lucky you had stayed with me — that your anger was my well-deserved cross to bear.
I remember the night of our one-year anniversary. The tiny Greek restaurant with the wine corks covering the sidewalk outside. How I said something that made you angry and how you had to step outside to cool down with a cigarette. How when you came back, you told me you were going to pay for the dinner and leave me there alone. How I begged you not to while candlelight danced on your face and violin music played quietly in the background. The hush of the restaurant, yelling at each other under our breath, tears threatening to break through while I trembled and pleaded. I remember your reluctant sigh, you sitting back down across from me and taking a deep gulp of your wine. How our eyes locked, how I felt like I’d been gutted, how we made love that night like we had every night before.
I remember when you made crab cakes on my 22nd birthday. I remember how you scoured thrift shops looking for the perfect flatware, the perfect glasses, the perfect serving trays because I had been so nervous about having people over for a party and you wanted to ease my anxiety. I remember the 9-bottle bar you prepared for guests. I remember meeting your eyes while you made someone a cocktail and the way you mouthed “I love you.” I remember crawling into bed with you after everyone else left and how we just kissed and kissed and kissed until we fell asleep. I remember how our bedroom window was open, how I woke up in the middle of the night and felt cold, how moving myself against your sleeping body warmed me right to my heart.
I remember the way you would talk about my friends. How I couldn’t tell you anything about their lives because you would be so quick to judge. I remember how you told me I was a bad person for associating with bad people. I remember you insisting over and over that they were terrible and never being able to understand your reasons. I remember the way you would shut me out whenever I went to spend time with them. How I had to close my world up just to keep our home peaceful. I remember you insisting that they were poisoning me against you, that they were trying to get you out of my life. I remember my own brief instance of clarity when I thought “that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.”
I remember when I told you about the man who had hit me. I remember how angry it made you. “How could you have ever let someone hurt you like that?” you asked, cupping my face in your hands. I remember meeting your eyes and saying nothing. I let you kiss me and pull me into a tight embrace. I remember feeling weak. I remember wondering why I was letting you hurt me, too.
Today I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I’m thinking about how quick you were to say something cutting, your cruel laugh, and the anger that conquered you when you drank too much. I remember how you would mock me. I remember how fervently I thought you loved me and how I used that to justify your shameless emotional abuse. Today I thought about you and today I put to words that none of what you said or did was okay. Today I’m reminding myself that I’m lovable and that all the rest of the women in this world are lovable and that if someone ever makes us feel like anything less than a human being, it is time to cut them out of our lives. I’m thinking about you today. I’m remembering how good it felt to be loved, but how much better it feels to be free.