by Michael King
Sometimes the story we tell the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.
I read this quote today in Scary Close, a book lent by a friend. I’m only three chapters in, so I’ll resist expanding much on its content for now, but I’ll say that it is already opening doors and windows within me.
After reading this quote, I felt worried I share only the highlights of my life. Only the moments of strength, bits of wisdom and clarity, and that I resist lifting up my pain. Perhaps my best stories are locked away, kept carefully hidden so that I might be worthy of love.
So here’s something honest. Here’s something I wrote on a hard morning, through a wall of tears, as I tried to make sense of the mess.
Somebody asks how the two of you are, and they ask with sadness. You answer optimistically, but their expression doesn’t change, as though you’re an unwitting character walking into a trap on some TV show they’re watching. You brush the thought away, but it won’t leave you completely, resting instead like a beetle in your abdomen. It eats at you, this beetle, as you try to appear strong.
Finally, you tell him about it, this feeling. A Facebook message. You ask him if there’s something to worry about. He responds weakly, “I think we’re ok.” Your head is two spirits at war: the optimist, begging you to accept this and move on with your night, and the protector, twisting your neck to again review the words: I think we’re ok. Well, that’s reassuring.
He says he can call in twenty minutes. You’re tired and scared, but this makes you feel better. You can talk through it; you’ve always been able to talk through it. You wait twenty minutes, then ask if he’s close. He says yes, so you sit up in bed so as to stay awake. Fifteen minutes more, and he’s ready. Your cell phones cross signals a few times, but soon you hear his voice.
You ask about his night, and he tells you matter-of-factly that he came from dinner at a co-worker’s apartment. It is 12:40 A.M. Then, clinically and as if on cue, he asks about your day. You tell him, casually and like everything is normal, about training and move-in and margaritas. You ease into the idea that you just need reassurance he’s still interested.
He pauses. He gives a long and winding answer about having given thought to his relationships. He indicates marriage is the end goal of dating. You think this means you and he are on the same page, but you will later know that he means to say you are not. I’ll warn you: This realization will sting. He says all this and nothing.
Your words are your means of rearranging the world, of repairing the difficulties. In times like these, however, this finds you speaking endlessly in an attempt to patch the truth into something manageable. You’re rambling, you realize, and you ask if he’s still interested.
It is then that he tells you he is worried that you deserve someone who’s there for you more, which you well know is ‘The-Person-Who-Needs-the-Relationship-Less’ for “I don’t want this anymore.” There is a long pause.
“I just want to clarify what you’re saying.” A long, seemingly infinite pause. “Do you want to break up?”
The silence that follows is eternal. It stretches beneath your feet like the burgeoning mouth of a volcano, whose magma is darkness and questions and the absence of time. ‘Well,’ you think, ‘nothing good can follow a silence this long.’
“…I think so,” he says, his voice soft. The words send a sweeping numbness across your body, your limbs suddenly heavy and unable to move. You stammer a bit in your head, but your mouth isn’t moving. Finally you manage to say ‘Okay.’
You try, again, with your words. I will spoil it for you: They won’t make everything better. You tell him what you always imagined you’d say if it didn’t work: That the journey was worth it, that he is beautiful and deserves love, that you appreciate the honesty and will be okay. Eventually, the two of you taper off. You’re tired of his sadness, you realize, and you want to go. You say bye, and he says something like ‘have a good night,’ and you can’t even bring yourself to respond to that. You press the button. You end the call.
You text a few friends. One calls, listens. Several send support. You lie down to rest, and your head has no such intentions. Soon, you’re at your mirror taking down photo strips, postcards, the fortune that says ‘someone will bring sunshine into your life.’ You take down his painting from the night of the boxed wine, you toss his toothbrush. As you do all this, you replay all of it –– your time together –– and the most recent weeks bring you signs this was coming.
As you step into the bathroom, a friend texts you words of support. She ends by telling you that you are beautiful, and –– like a slap –– the thought runs through your head: “Then why doesn’t he love me?” At this, you buckle, arms and forehead pressed into the wall, and tears spilling hot from your eyes. As it turns out, you are not the pillar of strength and emotion management you were just imagining. You are, by mandate of the great equalizer known as love, a heartbroken and hurting mess.
You retreat to blankets and pillows, but your pain follows you. You cry again, realizing all you have just lost. Morning texts and weekend adventures. Kissing his forehead in the mornings, feeling his hands stabilize you through the difficulties of life. You replay the conversations. You write, again trying to make sense of your feelings through words. You cry. At around 4:30, you manage to sleep.
In the morning, when you awaken, it’s there with you. He’s really gone, probably having slept lighter for having told you. You watch the sunrise, apathetic to your loss, and you write again. You begin to write anew.