This is a story in three parts. The first part is here. The second is here. The entire backstory of this saga is here.
This is the finale.
I want to disappear.
I know this before I even make it back across town. Before I realize I’ve cried so hard that my eyes are nearly swollen shut. Before I wake up with a start, having literally cried myself to sleep behind the wheel. He knows it too. It’s why he messages me somewhere around 4am when I’ve finally made it back to my aunt’s safely and I’m up pacing the floor in the last shreds of moonlight
You ok? You can come back. You can have the bed if you want to. I won’t bother you. I just wanted to see more of you before you left.
I don’t think either of us could handle that.
Worth a shot.
Are you ok?
Yeah. I’m ok.
I fall asleep, fast and hard, burrowed under the covers, as if the insulation will block out how I know I’ll feel in the morning.
So did you use the Men in Black flashy thing on yourself last night to forget everything?
His lighthearted message greets me when I open my eyes. I smile despite myself, rolling my eyes. He probably doesn’t remember, but he asked me the same thing the morning after he first told me he loved me. I hate myself for remembering.
All of it.
We talk at intervals all day, treading lightly, laughing, steering clear of emotional landmines. There are more than a few times during the day that he implies he wants to see me again. Each time I laugh off the implication simmering under his invitations, certain that no good can come of it. I hide behind my schedule full of more friends and family I have to fit into this short, seldom trip home, but more importantly hoping to get as far away from who I was last night that I never have to feel that way again.
And then my mama is hit by a drunk driver.
I tell him about it, in a rush of messages, spilling all my worry and shock and tension through fingers flying across the keyboard of my phone. There, in the secret confines of the tiny message box, I am unhinged, as I can’t be out in the world while I’m trying to be stoic and manage the fall out.
Duck, are you ok? Let me know what I can do.
I can feel myself unraveling a little bit at his use of my old nickname. And his concern. And really, that is the root of why I’ve been falling apart a piece at a time since I saw him sitting at that damn bar; I’d prepared myself for his aloofness. His flirting. His charm. But never his contrition. His concern. His own heartbreak. Despite all the long conversations we’ve had over these last few months, IM’ing into the wee hours, talking about the trivial and tremendous, I’d shrugged off everything he said he felt except sorry. I didn’t listen. Couldn’t listen. Couldn’t bear to hear any of it. So it never occurred to me to prepare for what would happen if I looked at his face and realized what he’s been telling me all along; that he still loves me.
I need time. And space.
And so, I say nothing.
Days later, when I am back home and settled, having had hours on the road to myself alone with my thoughts, and days to turn my world right side up again, I send him a tentative BBM. It doesn’t go through, but I think nothing of it.
Until I see my phone again hours later, and it still hasn’t. I shrug it off, too consumed with the accident and moving and work and living to give it much thought, but deep down I know;
He’s gone again.
A month passes. Half of another, greeted with radio silence. I would like to be the type of person whose first thought is that something awful has happened. But I’m too old, my eyes too open for that.
And so I do a little digging. Ask a few seemingly innocuous questions of a few mutual acquaintances. Poke around online.
And just like that, it’s all laid out before me, mountains and molehills of evidence that much of what was passed between us was a lie, either of omission or outright, intentional misleading. Chief among them, the longtime girlfriend he’d had during all of our well-into the night phone conversations, the one I’d specifically asked if he had, because I didn’t want those types of problems. The one he was living with, had recently moved to a new apartment with.
You know, the apartment that, just a month before, he’d stood outside of kissing me. Begging me to come inside to.
Mostly, I feel angry. Angry at the unnecessary lies. Angry at myself for putting myself in this situation. Angry at him for unknowingly making me a cheater, a role he knows I would never play. I feel awful, so incredibly guilty, and I hope to God that she never finds out. Not because I feel I have anything to hide, but because I know what it’s like to have to get over this man, and I hope she doesn’t have to do it, or is at least much better at it than I was.
I sit with that feeling for a few days, simultaneously stewing in my own white hot fury, and feeling disappointed in myself. For not being heartless. For wanting so badly to have some sort of resolution to this whole sorted mess that I would put myself in emotional danger this way. I feel more stupid than I have ever felt in my whole life. I have been such a fool over him.
But then for no reason at all, standing in public and texting and smiling with someone else, it settles over me, soft and easy like a sigh. Underneath all the anger and disappointment, the guilt and the shame, the one thing I’ve always felt, but illogically didn’t want to admit, lest it dull the masochistic ache of the pain.
I feel intensely grateful.
Grateful that I’d been kept from telling him I thought we could at least be friends, as I’d reached out to say after seeing him again. Grateful that I’ve grown from being broken by pain, through feeling nothing, and then finally to a place of feeling honestly and authentically, if not always openly, but not being bowed. Gratitude fills me up, radiating out of my skin. Gratitude for never making it to that wedding in Puerto Rico or the kids we’d already named, and that I wasn’t finding out who he really was inside the confines of a marriage and parenthood. I feel grateful that, no matter what I believed way back when I couldn’t get out of bed in the weeks after he left, that I have found love, beautiful, bountiful, in my friends, in my lovers, for myself. Grateful that, as usual, the universe had helped me step over another pitfall that would have taken too much to crawl back out of.
More than I have to give
More than he deserves to lay claim to.
My eyes fill with tears as I turn them towards the sky and say the only words that I, in my overly eloquent, articulated life, can seem muster, “Thank you.”
And I am healed.
Far too many years later, far too tears and bruises and heartbreaks and disappointments and fears later.
But healed nonetheless.