An Open Letter To My Toxic Ex: I Finally Have My Voice Back

Hi X,

I’m back and I have a voice. I’m not talking about the Ariel, shower-singing, dulcet voice you fell in love with when you were 15.

I’m talking about a voice that you haven’t heard yet. It’s been growing in the earth for years now. It is rich. It is sharp as a blue steel blade. It hums in the night wind, but you can’t catch it.

I like to think that part of this voice comes from decades and centuries of women’s voices, the voices that have been gathering in the dirt since the beginning of—this.

When I open my mouth, you don’t just hear me. You hear the stories of the rest of us.

But let me take some time to re-introduce myself. I know my voice is fierce and can be startling at the beginning. I’m getting used to it, too. When it first emerged, I had to walk into the woods and scream and scream. It was that big.

(And it’s growing.)


We had seven years together. In dog years, that’s pretty much a year. Dogs live mighty, loyal lives, however. When we were together, I didn’t feel mighty. You weren’t loyal.

Think about those afternoons, drenched in sunlight.

We’d meet at fancy hotels and tangle the bedsheets and drink wine right out of the bottle. You liked spending money in this way. You liked listening to me in the bedsheets. You liked ordering the most expensive thing on the menu, and doing it while wearing jeans.

Think about the time apart and the train rides and the plane tickets and the furtive meetings. Think about how you smelled always of that hand soap, the cheapest, which I now will always associate with you.

Think about the texts and the careful delays between messages. Remember the hot, breathless nights in August and the sterile sun of January.

I feel like every time we met, time rushed to contain everything we had experienced apart. Our meetings held peaks, like the most agonizing mountain ranges. I’d leave you feeling spent and hungry.

I wonder what you remember the most. I’m just creating images. It’s what I do—I’m a writer. I throw vowels and letters around on the page and hope to create a feeling, a something, an environment, a mood.

I like to think that you remember me for more than a body in a bed, for more than someone who was once the good girl, a very smart girl, the one everyone else ignored. I like to think that you remember me as more than what you called me when I left.

I once liked the idea of you thinking about me at all. 

I’ve given you enough thought these many years, however. Now it’s your turn.

I don’t hope to plague you with thoughts of me. But I do want to occupy your brain. I want you to find out those most vulnerable memories that you hold of me and miss them. I want you to know what it’s like to be controlled by something you can’t control, if only for a little bit.

I am stronger than you know.

You once told me I was timid. You once told me I was naturally afraid of things I didn’t know about. You held the dreams I had in your palms and frowned at them.

Once, on a beach vacation, we went snorkeling. The waves were high and I was cautious of leaping in. You waited in the waves and screamed at me to jump. When I did, the boulders cut my knees.

In the car, after, you didn’t speak to me for hours. You pummeled the car seat with your fists instead.

Once, I believed you. I told myself I would never be timid. I would own the earth beneath my feet.

Now, I know that I was always stronger than you, and stronger than you believed. I think you liked the idea of me being vulnerable so you could be the one who looked stronger. You liked to play the Savior.

Remember that voice I mentioned at the beginning? Its register is rage. It is stronger than bones. If used properly, it can carve rock. I am not so easily moved anymore.

I once let you bruise my wrists and beat me to the ground. You kept me from calling for help by pinning me down on the bed. You told me, you yelled into my ear, that you weren’t trying to hurt me—you were just trying to hold me.

I let you do all of this. I never told the neighbors. (Did they wonder?)

But you cannot pin me down anymore. I’ve got wings, and I’ve got fists, too.

I am a morning person.

Countless times you’d sleep until noon or later. I’d wake at seven, stare at the popcorn ceiling in our apartment, and long for breakfast, for coffee, for a run.

I watched you sleep, spread out like a starfish, mouth slack. You slept messily and hot. I’d attempt to kiss you and you would press your lips tight.

I don’t know why I lingered until noon with you. Maybe I was waiting for you to actually say you loved me. Maybe I was hoping that when you woke, you would apologize or be tender or smooth my hair away from my ear.

You never did these things. And I am a morning person.

I take those mornings back.

I use them every day now. I revel in them.

I wake at five or six and trace the pink in the sky when it appears, even in winter. I light a candle. I wander the kitchen naked.

I won’t tell you any more of what I do in the mornings because you don’t deserve that.

Just know that when you sleep, I am always awake. I am breathing.

I keep on moving, moving.

I am so far from where I was when I left you.

I’m like a pair of Invisalign braces, the kind I never had as a kid because they were too expensive: I’m doing all the work of straightening and beautifying and you don’t even know it.

But getting them on in the first place hurt. My teeth aren’t used to that kind of pain. I normally cut them on grander things, like a really good book and authentic Muenster cheese.

When I bit into you, let’s just say I lost a fair bit of enamel. I wish I didn’t have to at the time. But at the time, I didn’t even know what I was losing.

I have gained that enamel back in spades. I flash a smile that is brilliant and uncontained.

I am doing so much that I wasn’t able to do when I was with you. I have learned that you were the dam to a potent, deep, intuitive river that now is able to flood and tumble and race.

I am painting. I am writing. I have built my own community. I am loved. I am spiritual—I search out the light of the moon and honor it. I never wear lingerie because I don’t need to be dressed and undressed to be glorious.

Gone are the days when I walk halfway across the city to get special fishnet tights you would tear and forget about the next morning.

I have given up what I thought was a dream but was really a life lived by your own pathetic standards.

I have become who I have always been: unfettered. And I will keep moving into what is bright and possible.

I will fight to keep other women safe.

If I have anything to thank you for, it is the vision you inspired. I now see how abuse and toxicity are not rare, horrid things shoved in closets. More women than I know can relate to my story.

More women than I know have also been bruised, and battered, and shattered. They have been told, too, that they are crazy, and too emotional, and too timid, and too desperate. They have been boxed in, too, and programmed to believe in the value of their treatment.

You’ve shown me my tribe.

I will fight for these women with tooth and nail, with voice and drum. I will give everything for them. I will keep them safe from those who will try to steal their light.

You tried to steal mine. I stole it back.

I wish you well.

I’m back and I have a voice.

This voice is resonant, and its colors come, in part, from my time with you. I will speak for myself and I will speak for all women. But I want you to know that I will not speak to harm, destroy, or belittle.

That’s not my game. And it never will be.

I speak with grace and love. I speak with power and integrity.

For this reason, please know that I wish you well.

I do not care to know where you are or what you are doing, how you are loving or what you are thinking. But I do hope that your path can take you to a brighter, lighter place, where you won’t have to use lies as false stepping-stones to your own self-love.

I hope you, too, can become your best self. But I won’t help you do that. I’m too busy, you see, being loud. I am too busy seeking out new threads of my own, inimitable ferocity.

Close your eyes and open your ears. If you listen hard enough, you’ll hear me.


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