By: Frances Molina
At one time, I would have splintered myself into a million tiny pieces just to make you stay. I would have offered you the smallest part of me that you could swallow.
But now - I don’t want to make myself any smaller to make you keep me, to make you love me and stay. I won’t shrink myself. I won’t add more of me to the guilt you have to carry.
My last breakup lasted seven months. I could only compare it to losing a limb in agonizing slow motion, piece by piece. First the skin, lifted with perfect care. Then the muscle and the viscera and the veins, stripped away like the bark of a tree. And then, a final mercy - the quick and brutal snap of the bone.
It was not supposed to go this way. It was supposed to be finished in November when he showed up on a Sunday afternoon and told me he was leaving. Or maybe in March, when I stumbled my way into his apartment, drunk and belligerent, and pulled the truth of his regret out of him by the roots. In April, when he wrestled me to the floor of my kitchen after a night of jealous petulance, when I cried like a child in his lap and he asked me to be his wife.
But old habits die hard and he was the oldest habit, the most terrible itch. During those weird months of misery, I used to play this game with myself. How many drinks before you call him? How many until you get behind the wheel and drive to his apartment? And if you drive past his apartment and his car is there, you have to knock on his door. If not, keep driving. Out of pity or maybe out of selfishness, he would let me into his apartment when I lost the game I played with myself. And when I called, when it pleased him, he would come to me. During those seven months, I felt animal, my body somehow separated from my mind; my body which craved him and my mind which recognized that the comfort I longed for was no longer in his arms.
When it was really, (no, really this time), all over, I accepted the fact that I might not see him again. And then, with some difficulty, I cautiously accepted the fact that I might not want to see him again. A foreign and impossible concept for me. I am like St. Jude’s reckless little sister, the most selfish martyr, the patron saint of getting oneself in too deep. And our relationship was a lost cause if I ever saw one.
I hate giving up on anything. I have a vicious tenacity in my blood, passed down from generations of survivors. Letting him go felt a lot like giving up or worse, admitting I was wrong. It took me months to hear the people telling me that I was not weak for saving myself. It took me months to realize that walking into a building on the verge of collapse, hoping that I might have the strength to hold everything together, is not brave or miraculous. It’s just stupid.
When it was over, I fell into limbo, suspended between the familiar chaos of our relationship and the vast, Otherness of a life that did not include him. Graduation happened, because what is emotional trauma without a major life event. With nothing and everything to do, I was either going to shake myself out of my bad ritual or I was going to continue making a fool of myself in front of a man who did not want me. My pride, already wounded, insisted on the former.
I prepared myself for what I believed was the inevitable – a reiteration of last January, the first time we had “separated,” when I decided to drive myself merrily off the rails. Back then, I spent my time drinking (a lot), getting fucked and listening to Solange’s A Seat at the Table on repeat. But I didn’t do that. The melancholy that had chilled my blood, that kept me rooted in the past, began to melt. This time around, I wasn’t sad - I was angry, furious with hurt.
So instead, I tried to be kinder to myself if only to spite him. He could take credit for my pain but I would be damned if I allowed him to take credit for my progress, for my secret joys and triumphs, my small pleasures, all the bright and brilliant moments I could enjoy without him.
So after graduation, after a series of half-hearted love affairs, after I saw him one last time on the dancefloor of my favorite bar (he made all the appropriate small-talk and I sipped my vodka sour and looked everywhere but at him)- I got better. Slowly. And I’ll admit on difficult days, when the sun was white hot and I knew in some other universe I was still by his side, riding with the windows down; or when I was exhausted and wounded from a difficult night at work, crying in the Whataburger drive thru line and wanting for a shoulder to cry on – it was hard to keep myself together.
But I still fucking did it. I gripped the steering wheel as I drove past his street, holding tight until I felt the sting of my nails in my palms. I took myself home and I cooked for myself. I found other people to call when I got lonely or horny or just fucking bored. I was moving “forward," moving “on”. There was no part of me still holding onto him, no more temptation to ruin myself in the name of what we had. I didn’t forget the warm smell of his hair or the way his kiss felt like a hit of opium – I just started to remember myself. What I looked like dancing on my own, how I felt at the start of each day knowing it belonged to me, what it was to be my own best friend and the love of my life.
Before things became ugly and broken and bitter, my partner took care of me in a way that was completely divorced from the codependence that had dominated my past relationships. His love was so incredibly validating, not because being loved by him made me more special – but because his love reflected my brilliance back to me. He made it easier for me to love myself, empowered me to take care of myself. He convinced me, even at my lowest, that my life was fucking worth it.
It is so easy to take shelter in another person; to let them fill up all the empty, hollow parts of yourself with their love, to revel in the illusion of wholeness. And I will admit that all I want to do when I feel tired or weak is fall into another person if only it would relieve me – for a night, for a week, for a month - of the weight of myself on my shoulders.
But for now, with the world spinning so fast around me, around all of us, I’ll find some other way.