Seeing his name in my inbox took my breath away. No, I thought. Is it really him? What we’d had, all that time ago – four years ago? five? – was deep and real and intense and I walked away from it. There hasn’t been much talking to him since. And then there his name was, on my Gmail, and I thought, nah… Really?
I walked away from him to fly to Italy.
I walked away from him because technically he didn’t ask me to stay.
I would’ve walked away anyhow.
I did it in the same way that I’ve done many times since (and before), because I’m always leaving. I really only ever try when there’s already an exit strategy in place.
That’s not easy to admit.
When I had my heart broken last summer, a friend made me list, out loud, unblinkingly, every man I have ever said no to. I cringed and told her stories of bad behaviour and good-behaviour-mis-interpreted and the times – more times than I let myself remember – where I’d gone first. Cut loose before the other. Run away, in most cases. Some might call it leading on. Cock teasing. Manic pixie dream girl syndrome… until it wasn’t. That was humbling – to say out loud the times I’ve said no over being told no. Because, well, I talk about my heart getting crumpled (OH GOD, do I!) – but seldom do I talk about about crumpling the hearts of others.
The truth can be inconvenient, and I am, like so many writers humans before me, an unreliable and vain narrator. I don’t like to remember when I have hurt people. There are more times than I care to recount wherein I have shown less than my best side to somebody – a fella – who professed to care about me.
I don’t know why I’m up at 3 a.m. writing this, he said. And then, That’s a lie. I know exactly why.
I knew why, too.
It’s nice – being told you’re still thought of. That you meant something. That it meant something. I sat quietly for a moment after I’d read (and re-read… and read one more time) his words. I’d known that he was watching out for me. I know that about a few ghosts, actually. There are a handful of men from my past who crop up periodically – some to make sure that I’m still comfortingly single, and others who say “I spent some time on your blog today…” Most of them think I’m talking about them in my work. It makes me think that wow. If they see themselves in a story not about them, how many times am I repeating my very same pattern, guy after guy, misdeed after misdeed?
That’s where his email left me. With a reminder that with him, I wasn’t my kindest. My most honest. That I’ve got some bad, nasty habits.
I think it’s because the night before I had been with a man – a nice man. The kind of man who calls you darling in a French accent and asks to take you places. To waterfalls, to bed again, to lunch. And I knew, I knew all along, mostly, that I’d turn left instead of right with him, too. Because when you know you know – or, rather, when you don’t know. I lament how I am single – often, repeatedly, online and off – and yet, the men. They try. It’s me who doesn’t want it. Because I can’t play pretend. I’m just not built that way. I recently had my birth chart read, and he said, Oh yes. You’re a woman of extremes, aren’t you? You’re all in or broke? I’d laughed and said, oh yes. I’m extreme alright. 200% that’s me. The guy reading my chart said, see? Even your language is extreme. Nothing about you knows moderation.
I don’t mean to hurt anybody when I dare myself to hope for a moment that they might be the one. It’s no secret that that’s what I’m looking for. But it feels naughty of me, somehow, to keep trying fellas on for size, going from one to other and saying, you? Is it you? and then deciding that it is not, after all.
I want to paint you, the French man said, in my bed, my sweat on his body. And I thought to myself, no. No, you cannot paint me, You cannot paint me because it’s not you, either.