I got engaged when I was 22, but I never married. There’s a wedding dress in my closet that’s been tried on at least a dozen times but has never been worn. I had an engagement ring with a diamond on it, but I sold it five years ago for grocery money.
I spent much of my twenties with someone who said I was he love of his life and everything he’d ever wanted in a woman, but it seemed that he was determined to destroy me. Every bit of trust I had, all the love and patience and understanding I had in me, were used and wasted on him. He would reel me in gently and spit me out violently, over and over. And I stayed, and I followed him, and I put up with because I thought that’s what love was.
Until one morning I just couldn’t anymore. I woke up and I was done. There wasn’t a question, I had absolutely no doubt, and I have never missed him. The fact that we remained “friends” for three and a half years after I ended our romantic relationship speaks to the fact that I am a loyal and giving person, but our friendship died the same way our relationship did– suddenly and absolutely. We haven’t communicated since Christmas 2011, and since I’ve been back in Portland I’ve run into a couple of his friends but never him, thank god. I think I saw him at a bus stop one day; it would be hard to mistake that sour expression for anyone else.
I went to therapy today, and it stirred things up. So I’m here now in my bedroom remembering the time he got drunk and tried to push me down the stairs. The day he spat in my face as I drove us home from couples therapy. Or the time he broke the bookshelf he’d bought me the week before and some of the things that were sitting on it. The day he mocked me while I was crying. The New Years Eve when he screamed at me that I was a whore, had always been a whore, would always be a whore, and no one would ever love me if they knew who I really was.
Here’s an email exchange from a few months after we broke up:
I received full funding for this term – over six thousand dollars. Next term they are offering me over nine thousand, some if it being grant money that I won’t have to pay back. Next year I’ll start receiving money from the most recent GI Bill – I’m eligible for seventy percent, as it turns out.
I move into my new studio apartment downtown tomorrow evening. [My band] will be releasing its first album next month, and we’ll begin playing shows. My [job] is still solid.
My fucking troubles are over, dude.
[I immediately respond]
Hoo Fucking Ray, dood. Congratulations. I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well! Continue to be well.
[MINUTES after receiving my email]
Since you’re obviously around, I want to take this time to provide myself with a sense of closure.
Reading your blog over the last few months, I’ve been both horrified by what I’ve read, and also relieved – my every suspicion about your character has been confirmed, and my every reason for leaving you has been justified. It’s sad that you can’t amount to much more than that for which you’ve settled, and I hope you can gain some sense of identity and self-esteem one day through less destructive means.
I still do not want you to approach me if we happen to come across each other in public – it’s not acceptable in the least. Consider me gone forever, because I don’t think that we’ll ever be so much as friends.
I wish you the best.
So then I said:
Yes. Everything has been confirmed. Don’t you feel ever-so-fucking-proud of yourself?
Except, darling, here’s the thing. I’m not cheating on anyone, just like I never cheated on you—but you did cheat on me. I’m not lying to anyone, not like you lied to me, on numerous occasions. I’m remembering what it feels like to actually LIKE myself, something I’d managed to forget while I was with you.
Am I having sex? Yes I am. Am I committed to one person? No, I am not. Maybe I’m not living by the rules you’d like, but I’m doing okay. And no one has called me a whore since the last time you did.
In other words, honey, fuck you. And by the way, I BROKE UP WITH YOU. You didn’t leave me… you moved out and still tried to control every aspect of my life. You harassed me for months, which only stopped when I got a phone number that I made damned sure you didn’t have. You need to get over yourself. You need to get over me. Believe whatever you want about me.
You don’t deserve to be a part of my life. Here’s your goddamned closure.
Twenty-three days after sending that message saying “Consider me gone forever, because I don’t think that we’ll ever be so much as friends,” he wrote back
I’ve been seeing somebody for a little while now, and it’s going very well. As a result, my bitterness toward you has subsided significantly. I don’t know if I’m comfortable with us talking in person yet, but I hope that we can do that some day. I also hope that everything is going well for you, and that you’re getting what you need and want from life – you deserve at least that much.
Because he’s motherfucking insane.
And he did this over and over during the eight and a half years I knew him, while we were together and after we broke up. And I put up with it. I kept putting up with it. For years.
Abuse changes you. It makes you not trust other people, but it does something much more insidious– it makes you distrust yourself. And that’s fucking brutal.
The emotional and psychological scars of having been in a relationship with an abuser for much of my twenties, well, they’re hard to shrug off. The abuse fed into my long-held suspicion that I’m damaged, that I’ll never be good enough, that my love isn’t worth shit to anyone. Every relationship I’ve had since has been informed by that abuse. Every time I meet someone I care about, I start to panic about how and when they’ll let me down and how bad the damage will be this time.
The first three or four months I spent with Michael were like a fairy tale. The next four years were hell. I stayed with him in California when I could have left him easily, I stayed at my mom’s house when he locked me out of the apartment, and then I moved to Portland with him, I stood by him when he cheated on me, I took him back each of the literally hundreds of times he told me I sickened him and he didn’t ever want to see me again. I never betrayed him, I never snuck around or called him ugly or told him he should be ashamed of who he was. I tried to give him all the love he hadn’t had as a child. I tried to heal him with my own shattered heart. It didn’t work, of course.
And then I realized that the reason he didn’t really have anyone else is because he is a destructive, cruel, shitty, terrible, unkind, abusive, self-indulgent person with no sense of personal responsibility. He shut out his whole family and changed his phone number so they couldn’t find him. He alienated his friends and mine. He took a starry-eyed 22-year-old who was crazy about him and would have done anything for him, and he turned me into a shell.
I learned, I grew, I changed. I am better off now than I was then. But the scars from that relationship have never healed, may never fully heal. I spent four years of my life in love with someone who tried to kill the best parts of me, and almost succeeded. I spent eight and a half years trying to be the mother, sister, and counselor that he never had or was too proud to seek out. I am astonished that I didn’t run away from him sooner. And if I see him on the street, I can’t promise I won’t scream, or hit, or cry. I hope I’ll have the strength to just turn and walk away. He doesn’t deserve anything more from me. Not even my rage.