There’s this thing, situation, person, that I never quite let go of. And the funny thing is, I didn’t even realize how much of it I was still holding on to until I went digging through past communications and went on such a wild ride of emotions that I suddenly felt totally out of control.
It begins the way a lot of stories do: with a guy. I’ll call him X. There was a way that we used to communicate that I’d all but forgotten about. I’d forgotten the cadence of his speech, the line breaks in the way he wrote, the chaotic subject changes and vague references that made up who he was. I adopted his style when I talked to him, in a way I’ve never matched anyone’s before or since.
I spent a long, long time being angry and depressed and ashamed. Years of trying to bury all of the emotional turmoil, trying to forget and move on, only to have it come up again at unexpected moments. I hated who I’d been when I was with X; was scared that he’d come back into my life; hated him for what he made me into. I was self-righteous and furious and terrified, and every time the subject came up, I felt anxious and enraged all over again.
Today, I reread some old communications I had with X; I don’t know why. I do this to myself sometimes. Maybe to remind myself of my past mistakes so I don’t repeat them, don’t fall into the same traps.
Looking back through all the things he said at the time, I believe that he was a genuinely unstable person who desperately needed help. I think that all of his issues — and probably a fair number of mine, that I picked up along the way — stemmed from a depression, a self-hatred, a loneliness, a fear. I think he was truly unhappy and needed someone to love, hate, laugh with, lash out at. I think he needed just one person who would be all of that love and hate and joy and rage for him, all at once. Someone who could take the punches, and care about him anyway. Someone whose buried rage and depressed insecurity could match his, step for step.
I think he found that in me.
I was not in a good place emotionally when I met X. I had been involved, for months, with a man who was not allowed to be with me, who was not good for my mental or emotional well-being. I’ll call him P. At the time I would have claimed that I was fine with the status quo, and that everything was just the way I wanted it to stay; at the time, I would have meant it. Looking back, though, I was just trying to convince myself that the way P wanted things was the way I wanted them. That I didn’t want anything more from P even if he had asked me for it.
Truth is, at the end of the day, P was using me, and I was letting him, and I was deeply depressed and insecure and confused about it. I buried it in bravado and detachment, pretended I was in control, pretended none of it mattered. Pretended so much and so often that I really believed it. Fake it until you make it.
X was the first person who both knew about P, and called me out on it. I had all this false bravado about the situation, made jokes about it like it didn’t matter, and X would just look at me and know. He knew I was in love with P, knew I hadn’t figured that out yet, knew I’d never admit it even if I had.
He and I had what is still, to this day, the strangest relationship I’ve ever had with another person. There was this mutual unspoken agreement not to get attached, not to acknowledge feelings, not to discuss anything too deep or too personal. If something painful or emotional came up, we talked about it in a self-deprecating, aloof kind of way; we were really into irony, and the humor in suffering. We told each other about important things and pretended they meant nothing. We mocked each other if one of us got too emotional about something. Feelings were for the weak; we were too strong for that. I think we loved and hated each other in equal measure, underneath it all. Like we were simultaneously concerned about and disgusted by each other.
In rereading our conversations, pages and pages of text, certain lines stand out a lot. Coming from X, the boy who was so detached and cold, some of the phrases made me angry at the time because I thought he was mocking me. If I said something important he’d make fun of me; if he said something important I’d brush it off. Now I wonder if those moments were him searching for a cue, some sign that he could finally be genuine with me. I think maybe he let me lash out at him so that he wouldn’t have to admit he’d said something vulnerable and real. I think he and I spent so much time trying to pretend that we didn’t care about each other that we didn’t know how to emotionally connect by the time we actually wanted to. We got stuck in this emotionless, fearless, loveless trap and we couldn’t get out of it once it snapped shut on us.
And then, much as I’ve blamed him for this over the years, we both spiraled completely out of control.
It’s easier to see it now. Now that it’s been years, now that I have some distance. Easy to see how a depressed, confused, lonely girl would fall into step with a depressed, confused, lonely guy. Easy to see how two people who were starved for attention would act out to catch each other’s eye. How they would bond over their mutual bitterness towards people in general, how they would both go out of their way not to get attached to each other. X and I had both suffered enough by that point; I think we felt safe around each other because we were equally cautious and cynical of the other’s motivations.
By the time we finally had sex, it was just another thing we did. No emotions attached, no kissing or cuddling. We never talked about sex unless we were in the middle of having it. We never touched each other in public. We never held hands, not once, in the entire time I knew him. We never kissed in front of anyone. It was careful, it was cynical, it was calculated.
Not that it stopped us from talking about it. We had intensely passionate, overwhelming, aggressive sex, and we didn’t hide that. We showed off handprints, hickies, bloody claw marks; let people check out the injuries on our shoulders, hips, backs. (Later, when things got worse, I stopped showing people and made every effort in the world to hide the marks, which was precisely the wrong thing to do; it made people suspicious). We made it obvious that we were sleeping together, but gave vague answers about it whenever someone asked directly. We thought it was funny, I guess. Just looking for attention. Looking for a way to prove to each other, to other people, that we were wanted and desired. Looking for a way to prove it to ourselves, by shoving it in everyone else’s face.
I thought I’d buried all my feelings about him. I’ve spent so long being angry at him, being afraid of him, feeling panic setting in when his name is mentioned, that I’d forgotten that I actually did care about him. I strapped down any fond memories of him, such as they were, until they almost didn’t exist anymore. Somehow, reading the words that he had typed all those years ago brought them back out for me to examine. I experienced a rush of overwhelming sadness that I hadn’t been expecting. I don’t know why; if I felt sorry for him, or for myself. Maybe I regret what I did to him, what he did to me; the effect we ultimately had on each other’s lives. Maybe it was the first time I actually looked a the situation and actually took some of the blame. I guess it made me realize that my life wasn’t the only one turned upside down at the catastrophic end of our relationship. I’d known that, in a logical way — but I’d always been so self-righteously angry that I’d never spared a feeling on it before. Maybe I needed distance for that piece.
Hidden in the things he wrote are phrases from movies, references to conversations, links to websites I forgot we used to visit. It was like opening up an old photo album and breathing in old memories you forgot you still had. There were the bad ones, obviously; I’ve lived with those in my head for years now, they’re embedded forever. But there were a surprising number of good ones; moments of understanding, moments where he’d make a reference to something I’d told him in an offhand way. His own way of telling me that what I said mattered, that he was listening, that he knew the things I’d mentioned were a bigger deal than they appeared to be — buried under a facade of total indifference. I didn’t see it at the time. I genuinely believed that he hated me, that sex was just this vengeful hate-fuck and nothing emotional. But maybe he cared. Somehow. In his own way.
That’s not to say anything he did was right. I feel like it’s been long enough, now, that I should work on forgiving him, but I’m still not quite there. I still can’t bring myself to that point. I don’t forgive him. Maybe I never will.
But I can see my side more clearly now. I can see that I also did damage to him. That when our own personal apocalypse arrived, I also handled it very poorly. I went off the deep end, too — just in a different way. We reacted separately, selfishly, refusing to help each other and in some cases making life more difficult for the other, and that is a perfect summation of our relationship.