I had just pulled myself free from the thorns of a failed relationship when they snared me again. I was a sophomore in college, still naïve to how seriously dating could sting until it hit me across the face a few times, then once more for good measure. I spent the first year at university in a long distance relationship against which I had been warned; my friends hated him from the start, but I couldn’t get over that I had a real boyfriend, something (someone) I had dreamed up my whole adolescent life. It was a luxury I doubted I’d ever have when I was that age.
The melodramatic story ends with a slippery slope of doubt, distance and drama. We broke up because it was too difficult, or at least, that was what he said. It just couldn’t work, no matter how much love “we” thought there was still lingering.
It wasn’t until half a year later that I received a cryptic e-mail:
U no a cheated rite
It took me the better part of a week to figure out what that even meant grammatically, let alone that it was supposed to be upsetting. An anonymous source proceeded to inform me that my boyfriend had, in fact, cheated on me with the anon’s friend during our time dating and, to add a few dashes of salt to the wound, the sender wanted me to talk her friend out of it. To give her advice.
When I expressed my disbelief that I could do anything, the mysterious source referred me directly to her, the other woman, a complete stranger who, ironically, I had wondered about months and months earlier after seeing her and my ex together in a few pictures. Turns out, sometimes it pays to be paranoid.
Completely bemused but ever the bleeding heart, I started talking to this girl. She was older by three or four years and had known that my boyfriend of the time was dating someone else when they began their whatever-it-was. “It was just physical,” she said, “so I didn’t think it would affect you.”
Did she really think that, I wondered? Enough to shake off any guilt she might have? But I kept it up for some reason, determined (behind all the bitterness and angst) to make some kind of light out of a muddy situation. The girl apologized, stressing that she was sorry for hurting me and sorry for getting into contact with me and sorry because she was still with him after seeing what an abysmal human being he was to others.
I couldn’t believe that anyone could be so desperate as to ask “the girlfriend” for advice. Some of my friends were convinced she was out to hurt me. I was definitely still vulnerable, doe-eyed and barely into the fall of my second year. Without knowing why, I continued speaking to this girl, trying to make sense of her problems, problems that had once been mine. I recoiled when she let slip that he had cheated with a handful of other girls, not just herself. He had cheated on her with one of her friends. The cycle had spiraled downward and downward and I, a tiny part of it, couldn’t see the bottom.
We’re the same, I thought, because through the self-righteous anger I could see another version of myself who could easily pass over the idea of a girlfriend if she weren’t ever present. Because I could understand loneliness and falling under the charm of someone who only had charm and nothing beneath it.
After a long time, too long, our conversations faded away. I don’t think she was ever able to break away from him no matter what I said and no matter how bad she claimed things were. Whether or not she was playing me or honestly needed help is still hazy, but I learned about myself and about how I experience deep, desperate loss.
I didn’t spit into the spiraling void. I reached a hand in to pull someone out, for better or worse.
Maybe it’s for the worse.