You are the faintest image on a backdrop of a million people. The man in the corner of the train car with headphones and a green hoodie (I used to wear your green hoodie so often just to breathe your cologne that you hid it from me); the man at the stoplight with spiky hair (you spent more time in the mirror perfecting yours than I ever did mine); the man on the bench in the station playing guitar (you loved that guitar more than you ever loved me). You are everywhere in every piece of everything. And some days I ignore it. But some days I don’t.
You are an ever present tape that plays on repeat inside my head, and I think you always will be. And I’m sad. And I’m sorry. About a lot of things. But not sorry about what you did to me, because that was all you. Rather than sorry, I find that I’m actually angry–and I’m strangely okay with that. I’m angry that you still have this power to put me in a funk, no matter how far or how long apart we are. I’m angry that I let you. I’m angry that I allow you to control me, still, after all this time, from wherever you sleep tonight when I don’t, from whoever you’re with now. I’m angry that you can’t take it back; I’m angry that you don’t want to. I’m angry that I still think about you sometimes, that I can’t forget you. I’m angry. With you.
Marriage doesn’t equal ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved when you forgot our vows to begin with. You had no right of any kind. I never said this to you, but I should have had to–silence is not consent. You had to know this. Your payment? It’s small, too small. Don’t tell me that you’re sorry, do not ever tell me that you’re sorry. Don’t say that you love me. You couldn’t possibly.
Yes, maybe you stripped me of something, but you also gave me something. I am strong, powerful. Connected. Brave. And this, this is what you are up against when you fight inside my head. And it’s time for you to lose.
So get out.
Get out of my head. Get out of the backdrop of my life. Stop talking to me. Stop saying that you love me. Take a second and actually see me. See what you’ve done. And then walk away.
We were a couple built on routine. We would go out to dinner and a movie, but always so punctual that we had a gap between the two. So we’d go to the mall. We’d go to Starbucks. That day, we went to Petland. I’d worked there, once upon a time (before I knew how awful they were about where they got dogs), so I knew that we could always go in and play with puppies. We met one, a husky. He was maybe 12 weeks old or so, a traditional black and white. I offered it a red plastic squeaky toy and it was like YES and exploded with puppy joy from corner to corner of the meeting room.
The ex got down on the floor and the puppy climbed on top of him, mouth open and grabbing anything it could. The ex laughed. I could see he loved the puppy. “We could get him?” I offered. I liked dogs.
“We can’t afford a puppy,” he replied.
The dog peed on the floor in response. I mean, it was true, in retrospect. We had barely been married a year. We were living largely off my salary. He was trying to start an audio business. But I wanted that dog, so much. I wanted someone to pay attention to me, to actual me.
I didn’t know then all that would come in the years after, how we would fight, almost break up, not break up, have sex in front of the living room tv with HGTV on so I could watch as he moved up on top of me, get pregnant. Get NOT pregnant 37 weeks later.
I was afraid to call him and tell him the baby was dead. I thought back through everything the past 37 weeks–the times I forgot my prenatal vitamins, the times I worked maybe a little too long, the times I ate the wrong thing or laid the wrong way in bed. The times we fought. I remembered cleaning out my car, remembered setting up the crib, remembered carrying all of the baby shower gifts up our flight of stairs to the condo by myself. Remembered falling at work. Remembered failing my glucose test. Twice. Everything flooded me, every single decision, good and bad. It had to have been on me, somehow, the terrible thing that happened. It was my body that hadn’t done its job. I know differently, now. I know so little about what happened, but I know I couldn’t have done anything.
Tell me, I wanted to say. Tell me that I am a failure. That I’m not a good Christian, that I’m a terrible wife, that my baggage and my damaged bruised body did this. Tell me that you’re leaving, tell me that you’re not, tell me that we’ll try again, that you’ll be gentler. Tell me that you forgive me. No, don’t tell me. Tell me that it’s my fault. No, don’t tell me. I already know. I know all of these things.
I was in labor, maybe hour nine or ten? It’s Me or the Dog was on tv. It was my favorite back then. I wanted to be a dog trainer even before I knew I did. And I watched the tiny hospital tv, and he watched, and he said “we should have gotten a dog. Even you could take care of a dog.”
Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why, because today, today at least you’re you, and that’s enough.
I don’t remember a time I didn’t construct my identity around something (or someone) else. When I was in high school, I decided food was an optional life choice. I met this teacher, Mrs. L, somehow. We shouldn’t have ever crossed paths; she taught in the special ed wing, and I was on the honors accelerated path. But we met, and I reminded her of her daughter, Amelia.
Fuck, Amelia was pretty. I went with Mrs. L to her house one time during lunch. She’d forgotten a book, a paper, a something that’s inconsequential now. But I stood in her hallway and I looked at her beautiful daughter in photographs, so skinny, her collarbone clearly visible. My collarbone was not THAT visible. She reminded me of that character in Girl, Interrupted, the one who hid the chickens under her bed and screamed that 88 pounds was the perfect weight. I remember thinking, “well, this is what pretty is. I want to be this.” I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud.
Mrs. L cried and told me she didn’t want me to be Amelia. Ever. And after that, she dedicated a lot of time to making sure I wasn’t. She was instrumental in getting me into residential treatment. She even visited me there.
The difference between Amelia and I was that I wanted the help. I don’t think Amelia ever did.
I met my ex when I was 19. He was the first man to ever tell me I was pretty, pretty as I was, without my collarbone bluntly protruding from my skin. I believed him, because I needed to. When the girls around me in high school dated, I sat on the sidelines, watched, never joined in. (Except one notable exception, a blind date doubling with another friend, a dude who owned a parrot that attacked my head). I watched these girls get boyfriends, many of them, dress up, wear makeup, and I didn’t go along. I wanted a guy to notice me. As everyone paired off I thought back to my ideal of pretty, that stick-thin girl, and I just wanted to be noticed not as a little girl grown men on a power trip could literally fuck with, but as a me who had every right to take her own power back and be normal and try dating and maybe make something of herself. I never did, until my ex.
He took me to the baseball diamond, in his car, and he stuck his hand down my pants, on date two. And I knew then–no one else was going to want me; I was too damaged; I was too much of a bruised peach. He was it. He was all I’d ever find.
I was 19 and I gave up trying to find anyone else. I married him. And he told me that I needed him, that I would be nothing without him. I believed him.
I stood in my bathroom at maybe 22, a curling iron in one hand and a makeup wand in the other. He leaned against the doorframe, watching me get ready.
“I kind of want to wear my hair straight today.” I put the curling iron down and went to unplug it.
His hand closed on mine, and not in a friendly loving way. “I like it curly. I like you pretty.” It wasn’t a request. And so I curled my hair while he supervised, so I slapped makeup on my face, so I went to church and I stood behind him and I smiled and I nodded and I played at being his pretty little toy because there was nothing else.
Only there was. I just didn’t see it. It was too hard.
Maybe a year or so after we divorced, I was standing in my new bathroom with my curling iron and a makeup wand and I looked in the mirror and I had the funniest thought–“I don’t think I like curling my hair.” Did I have to curl my hair? Who made it a law? He made it a law, and I followed along. For years, I let myself follow him because it was too hard to figure out who I was on my own. Who I was was complicated. I’d never known her because then I’d have had to admit how I felt towards her. How I hated her.
I’ve been divorced and on my own seven years this September. And I still get things wrong a lot. I’m not always sure how to do the friend thing, how to invite people over, how to present myself, how to interact. I don’t know a lot about going out; I struggle to discuss anything that doesn’t involve a dog. I’ve wasted so much time trying to force my square peg into round holes instead of fitting myself where I go naturally. I’ve tried to be normal, but there is no normal. So I’m out there now. And I screw it up regularly. I try too hard to do the “right” thing, but I’m working on it. I am trying. I am me. And that’s enough.