Featured image by Alex Cruz
There are days I sit up in bed in the small hours of the morning and comb through the 2018 section of my phone photos. It was something unconscious, something I do when I’m restless. Tap on your face to enlarge it on my screen and look at your face mid-belly-laugh about a joke I made about Spongebob–a photo I’d taken a few days before you said you loved me. Your teeth, a slash of white across your face in the dark of your room, unruly curls falling over your forehead, your eyes and nose crinkling in joy, the neckline of your work clothes–I’ve mapped your expression more times than I can count in the almost two years of your silence.
Your joy is heartwarming still for a few seconds, like a powerful punch of alcohol warming from the chest, days spent laughing and crying with you, willing your body beside me, chewing the insides of my cheek because I have no words to say how badly I want you to kiss me. It’s delightful for a handful of precious minutes before I feel your absence–keen and self-splitting as always, like a fall from a great high–and you are gone from me again.
You left me blue and bruised, battered inside, shaking uncontrollably late at night from the sharp teeth of your fury. “Abuse,” my doctor told me as I choked down another pill to help me sleep through the night, “that’s what he did to you.” I even fought back at first, my palms pushed into my eye sockets, before pushing back onto my scalp, hair falling out. “No, he loved me.” “Loved.”
I remember how it felt like I was slipping off my skin, raw and muscle-slick, bare in the worst ways. Every tendon and sinew exposed, nerve endings fraying as I gouged myself open for your consumption. You were always wanting. I had wilted to your want. An ocean of me burst, tears spilling, and even then you didn’t stop, not until you told me about the other woman. With her in tow, you had disappeared from me and lived. I felt I had died.
I put a passcode on my phone, an album of you still teeming with photos and videos, screenshots, meaningless references. I met more failed relationships, my phone adding different faces to join yours, buried under mundanity and day-to-day photos, selfies, food pictures. But they were never curated, not like what I did for you. I would revisit it when I felt lonely and needed to hear your voice, but it was like feeding a dark inside of me. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but even logic crumbled when I encountered your euphoria, the way your laugh split your face. I would only try to feel the good, the early days, and not the end. But the end always rolled in furiously, a dark reminder of what you did to me. Sometimes I split you into two people in my head, the early you and then the blur of alcohol and raw-throated screaming that came after.
I’d been religious in the past, but I’d never prayed harder than the two-year-long stretch of hurt that came after you left me. I nursed myself like I was an infant, overly-careful, always afraid. I wasn’t ashamed to admit I wanted to be loved, but it was too much to admit that I still wanted you to be the one to do it. I’d sent every god prayers, some whispered, some through gritted teeth, and didn’t know what I was praying for. I just wanted to stop shaking. I prayed until my knuckles turned white and until tears pricked my eyes. I prayed so it didn’t feel like your eyes were crawling over my skin. I prayed so I wouldn’t be afraid when another man said he loved me.
I distanced myself from it all and faked it to make through a majority of my days. It wasn’t until the latter months of the year came by and your memory loomed over me, a dark shadow cast over my face, your memory deafening and oppressive over again. The gentle voice of my doctor lulled me as she handed me a tissue. “The anniversary effect can often be just as painful as the original experience.” I sobbed in her office for hours and she let me, a tenderness I had missed. I spent Christmas crying when I could break away from the crowd. I curled up inside on New Year’s Eve, drunk, shaking. My doctor let me take a little more of my anti-anxiety pills. My hair fell out.
Days after that grew easier. I split my experience of you less and less, reminding myself that yes, there was good. And then you were terrible. And that was the same person. It grew simpler the more I repeated that to myself.
“You don’t have to forgive him,” Doc would tell me. “It’s not something that’s required of you. And anyone who tells you it is, they’re wrong. No one expects you to. It’s not your responsibility to forgive,” she would reassure me. “But if you do, you first have to accept that what he did to you was wrong.”
A philosopher I love discusses forgiveness as paradoxical, that you must unbind the actor from their act in order for it to occur. But you encounter someone through their acts, know them through their actions. So it’s almost impossible to forgive because you then unbind that difficult experience from the person who did it, and you encountered them through those actions and it left an impact. You separate them, splice them, the actor and the thing they did, and forgive–how can there be an act with no actor? Which is why he sees forgiveness as divine and why he says that only the most unforgivable acts can be forgiven. It’s just a theory that this philosopher forwarded, but I latch on to it with all my might.
Two years ago, you left me in a heap on the ground, haunted, cheeks gaunt. Two days ago, I erased the last of you on my phone, scrubbing it free through a mist of tears. I woke up in the small of the morning, the smallest tendrils of sun eating the night, and swept everything I had of you. I feel no anger. I feel no resentment. I feel only light. I have no hatred for you, but I feel no need to love you anymore. My heart stopped thundering. My eyes stopped tearing. And the tremors in my hands are gone. This time, I finally walk away.
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