I walked all over the airport that morning, broken and insignificant. I sat at the bar and downed two double gin and tonics. I reapplied my red lipstick looking into my compact mirror. I smiled at the handsome man across the bar from me. He raised his glass and winked.
I looked so goddamn beautiful.
Inside, I felt a certain kind of death.
I took the fifth Klonopin since the night he looked at me and told me he did not feel a thing for me. It had been eight sleepless ones.
40,000 feet above the ground and, still, I was engulfed by him.
I wasn’t looking at Pet Semetary on the screen in front of me, or out the window to my right at all the clouds and roads like veins leading back to my agonizing heart. I was fucking trapped; desperate to claw my way out the nightmarish cage that is this kind of ache. I wasn’t putting miles between him and me, but trying to squeeze my way out from between his ribs, wondering how I’d make it through the sinew unbruised, knowing damn well that no amount of wishing him away would change the fact that I felt his.
In my haze, I counted every reason there was to hate him, and when I was done I was left with a clearer understanding of why I had fallen so hard for him. I could not find a single thing to despise about him.
I couldn’t even hate him for fucking me after everything was said and done. In fact, I loved him more for it, even without being certain whether it was an act of selfishness or tenderness on his part. It didn’t matter. That was just the thing – anything I needed, he gave.
I know why I did it – I was sick with love, unable to restrain myself. I do not know how to withhold love when I feel it. I did it, and nothing about it hurt except knowing it would be the last time. I did it, and I would do it all over again. God, I don’t believe in you, but fucking help me, I’d put my mouth all over him and let him put his hands anywhere he wanted to if he ever wanted to touch me again.
But his hands. Hands I fell in love with. Big palms. Thick fingers. Strong grip. Gentle touch. Those hands are only something I’ll ever belong to in feverish dreams. The kind you wake up from with your heart thumping its way further up your throat until you spit it out, leaving you feeling only dead and numb. The kind that end and make you feel like you’re welcoming the end of the world. The kind that make you wish you never had to greet the sun.
I’ll never again watch those hands scooping out the insides of a pomegranate, chopping up vegetables, making me breakfast, or pouring me a drink. I loved even the sight of them washing dishes and drying them at the kitchen sink. I became mesmerized learning the precise way they’d fold sweatpants, t-shirts, gym shorts, and briefs, all the while thinking, When it’s time, I want to fold the way he likes, so I must watch carefully. I wanted to do and learn so many things for him, like become proficient in a third language, so I could tell him how much I wanted his hands on me in his native tongue. I was obsessed with his hands. I grew to love the way they’d move when he’d talk and how they’d hold his coffee mug. I’ll watch television alone from now on with the phantom pain of their weight on my legs. I’ll feel cold every time I think about the way I felt when he’d run them over my skin. How they made me feel alive again. How I’ll never again feel that warmth. And when I think about that last night they held me and wiped tears from my face, I’ll be consumed with grief.
That’s what I was doing on that plane.
It’s what I had been doing since the night he ended things between us. I was mourning. I was in such a state of despair that my body could not react to the sorrow. I could not cry. I felt numb. I was completely empty.
I wanted to leave that night. I wanted to go home and digest what had just happened. The man I had fallen for so deeply had looked into my eyes and told me he didn’t feel that way for me. I wanted to fall apart in the comfort of my own privacy.
“Stay,” he said to me, “this is still a safe space for you.”
“I need to be alone. I just want to go home and hide under my blankets,” I argued weakly.
“So stay and get under my covers with me,” he countered.
“Okay,” I whispered.
I was defenseless.
The truth is, his comfort was exactly what I needed. He had become that person for me.
He held me all through the night, and he did not let go of me.
How had I gotten here? How had I for even one second believed he felt even a scraping of what I felt for him? How had I been so mistaken?
It was there, I could have sworn. I know it was. Had my intuition led me astray? Had we gotten to a certain point and he emotionally distanced and shut himself down?
That night was the first time he told me about the time he had been hurt in love. How he hadn’t been able to feel that way again since. Five years, and I don’t think he’s over it, nor do I think he’s even aware. How weak of men, to be let down once and to struggle to emotionally connect again. He let me develop these strong feelings for him, and then he just completely closed himself off, refusing to let me in any further.
Or maybe it’s a lot more simple than that. After all, when someone tells you how they feel, you don’t just listen, you have to believe. He looked at me and saw none of the things I saw in him. He couldn’t want me the way I wanted him.
The truth is just a lot more painful for me to accept as fact.
He walked me to my car that morning, like he had so many times before. I felt weak and defeated, thinking about how such an ordinary little thing had become a habit I would miss. I felt a knife twisting in my gut, thinking about how it would be the last time. I drove home shakily, making a list of all the other lasts we had had and when. I had to pull over twice.
I didn’t go to work that day. The rest of the week was a haze. Somewhere between all the bottles of wine, the cocktails, the mouths I didn’t want to be kissing, and the depression that had arrived over a month before he even dumped me, I booked a flight to get the hell out of town. It was all too much at once.
I was headed to Colorado for a transcontinental week-long bender. I had stalled a move I had planned there for months because I wanted to see where things went with him. Now that I knew, I was shattered.
When I got back home from Denver, I put a Frida Kahlo backpack he’d given me days before ending things in a giant bag, along with a dress of mine he liked, and a cardigan and a fleece of his. The cardigan he had sprayed his cologne on and given me for comfort. The fleece he had sent me home in the morning after wrecking me.
“It’s too cold, you can’t go outside just wearing that,” he had said.
I was trying so hard to hate him, then, but how could I when he was so thoughtful.
For weeks, I’ve been trying to feel hate for him, but I am incapable.
I miss him. There have been so many times I’ve had to pry my own fingers from my phone to tell him this. There have been so many things I’ve wanted to share with him. There have been so many ways in which I’ve needed him. There are so many links I’ve wanted to copy and paste. I broke down when I saw Rage Against The Machine announce their 2020 tour. I had to fight back tears when White Oak Music Hall announced the Deftones were playing there this fall.
I keep having to fight myself against reaching out to him. I cannot let go, and I cannot get over him, without giving myself that space.
While it’s true that I cannot feel hate in my heart for him, I still feel angry.
Sometimes I want to text him things like: You act like a good guy because it makes you feel good to be the good guy, but you’re not that good of a guy.
Do I mean it? I don’t think so.
He lifted me up when I needed it. He gave me comfort when I was in pain. He encouraged me when I doubted myself. He pushed me to repair relationships with people important to me. He was a positive influence in my life. And every time I opened up, the way I had never felt comfortable doing with anyone else, everything I laid bare and exposed for him was met with compassion and understanding.
He cared for me, and I felt the weight of that.
But then, I think about the night I found a case of disposable contacts in his wastebasket when he didn’t wear any, and long dark strands of hair I tried to dismiss as coming from my head for days.
He slept with someone else while we were still dating, and I forgave him. For weeks, he had been sleeping with someone else. While I was in my own bed thanking the universe for bringing someone as beautiful and caring as him into my life, he was in his bed with someone else shattering my heart without my knowledge. He said it didn’t mean anything, that it was just casual, that they could never text or speak again, and it wouldn’t matter. But it meant something to me.
I woke up in his bed on a Thursday, after a night of what I felt was some of the best sex we’d had. He fucked her on a Friday. He let me sleep in his bed again without washing his sheets that Saturday. And I forgave him, without hearing any regrets or apologies.
After having compromised so much of myself in the past for men, after swearing I never would again, I forgave him. After all the damage, abuse, and trauma I had suffered at the hands of men worse than him, I forgave him because I so desperately had faith in him; because I unequivocally believed he was a good man. I forgave him – and this is how I know I’m better off. I would have forgiven him a million more times. If he and I were together, I would let that man bleed me dry; my love and forgiveness for him would have been endless.
I wanted it to work out, even after this.
Maybe I should see it as a bullet dodged. Maybe I should see it as a swing and miss. Maybe I need to let myself feel the pain and start reframing it inside my head. Maybe I need to look at this as finally having learned that I am not my trauma. I was able to get close to someone again. I felt deeply for someone again, and it didn’t work out because it was one-sided, but I was still able to feel.
He was patient and kind, and I deserve those things, no matter what. But I also deserve a lot more than he would have been able to give me.
Just because he kissed me on the forehead, rubbed my back, and held me, doesn’t mean he’s otherworldly. Just because we fucked the way so few know how, and just because we came to become intimate with the taste of each other’s cum and spit, doesn’t mean that we were it. I knew him. I wanted him. I felt a connection with him. It wasn’t there for him. He was not the one for me, and it’s not the end of the world.
When I meet that person, it will be something different entirely. They will not be able to look past me. They won’t miss me. I will be undeniable. I will not slip from their fingers. They will be aware and I won’t feel hurt or afraid.
I felt that fear with him, and I think it’s because somewhere deep inside of me, I knew. He was so dreamy, but he was always going to break my heart.
He looks like a movie, but this isn’t a movie, and it isn’t a book, and it isn’t a dream, and it isn’t a song. This is reality; the one he’s chosen.
I tossed and turned all night in his bed bartering with time to let me stay in that one – in the one in which he still wrapped his arms around me through the night. I felt my insides splay out across his mattress, my heart roll out of my chest to underneath his bed and shatter, knowing it would be the last time. I think I left some pieces of it behind when I did my best to pick myself up and gather my things that morning. I used that purple toothbrush he had set out for me months prior, knowing he’d toss it out into the garbage bin that evening, and I knew the shards were there. I wonder how long they’ll remain in a pile collecting dust. Maybe he’ll vacuum them or sweep them up. The fact is that they’re gone.
He can have them. I’ve come to learn that the metaphorical heart is something that can scar, and bleed, and tear; that it can be cut up into pieces, but it always, undoubtedly, regenerates itself.
I fell hard for the man, but that’s all he is, is just a man.
I learned a long time ago not to pray to, or kneel for false gods. Isn’t that what we let them become when we’re infected with love? But I know better now. The only altar I worship at these days has a painting of my face above all the flickering candles. The shadows dance across the walls and over all my features, and I am reminded of my beauty; how part of that is that I no longer know how to allow another person to make me break or make me shrink.
It hurts. But that is all this is, is hurt. I can live with it until it leaves; wait for it to move out like a pesky roommate who leaves their dirty dishes in the sink.
For now, I’ll write the poetry burning at my fingertips, kiss the men and women I have to kiss, and play the music I need to, in order to heal.
If I’m being honest, I can’t listen to anything these days without being reminded of him.
We both loved so many of the same bands and artists. We both were intimately familiar with worlds of the same songs. Even our sex playlist overlapped. He also showed me new music I could not help but fall in love with.
There are so many things he has ruined for me. So many things that hold a different taste on my tongue after him.
I will not let love be one of them.
On our third date, he took me to see The National – one of my favorite bands. After making it home, still reeling from the show, we were showing each other some of our favorite lines in songs.
He pulled up a video of an acoustic version of Florence’s “Patricia.”
It’s such a wonderful thing to love, sang Florence.
“It’s such a simple, but wonderful line. It’s the truest thing. It is so beautiful to love. There’s nothing more beautiful than that,” he said.
That was it. That was the moment I knew he was either going to make me very happy or break my heart one day. I did not know it then, but if I could rewind time and pick a place where I’d walk away from it all, it would be then. That was the moment I fell in love with him.
There were universes of his left to be discovered and encyclopedias still waiting to be read, but I saw him, then.
I felt him.
It’s true, Stefan, you were right, I want to say to him, now.
It is such a beautiful thing to love.
It hurts like hell tonight, but he reminded me what it feels like to be beautiful.
After everything I’ve been robbed of, after all the ways I counted myself to be irreparably damaged, after years of standing guard at the gates of the fortress I built around myself, I was able to feel again.
I opened up.
I wanted to build someone a home with my bare hands inside of my heart. My muscles ached with the want. My fingers yearned for the splinters. I wanted to let my fist fall down to the left side of my chest and tell him, “You’re safe from everything in here.”
I loved. I loved him. I loved him very much.
I loved him, and it was real because it had everything to do with who he was and nothing at all with how he made me feel.
I fell in love with him, and this was my beauty and strength – not his.