A few days passed since my exodus and yet I hadn’t heard from him at all. It was the biggest break we had to date in terms of communication. Eventually I called him but he didn’t pick up and didn’t call me back. I called again, nothing. I left a couple of concerned voice mails. Nothing. It was all around confounding. I didn’t know what to think. I’d never been an alarmist but I started to worry for him, as he was now marooned up in that house quite alone, not counting the wine. I texted him a few times too requesting a confirmation of life, still there was no reply. Finally, right when I was ready to drive over to check on him, he shot me back a short text, casually letting me know that he was fine, but busy. This was followed by another period of radio silence. I remember feeling very confused and anxious and finally penning a heartfelt message which questioned the state of our relationship, while reminding him of my friendship and love. He did respond then, denying the validity of my concerns and reassuring me that nothing in fact had changed between us. That exchange I, for some reason, remember in its entirety. He insisted that our friendship, despite evidence to the contrary, had undergone no change at all and that I was still “singularly unique and special” to him. This was, as i had shortly learned, a flat out lie, as he was in fact done with me for good, but putting me out of my misery would have required too great a generosity on his part, it was no 4$ latte or DVD after all. To be clear, the crux of my injury wasn’t that he had a sudden change of heart, demoralizing as this was, the real hurt emanated from his not caring or respecting me enough to simply take my call and tell me something-anything real. If he had, I would undoubtedly still have been hurt, but I would also walk away with as high an opinion of him as ever and a mind to healing.
No measure of wariness towards J could have prepared me for this turn of events. I was, in all honesty, soul-crushed and for a long time thereafter truly, deeply sad. If his disappearance from my world seems innocuous as far as transgressions go, let me assure you it was not; it was acutely, painfully felt. Sure, dropping the proverbial curtain and exiting stage left is every person’s prerogative, but sneaking out under cover of night is not. To this day abandonment ranks on my list of painful experiences as one of the worst and most contemptible. I hate to be dramatic, but I think he could have just as well punched me in the stomach. It felt in every way like a violence and a theft. Had he indicated his intentions to disengage, extended any, and I do mean any, courtesy explanation aimed towards closure, or even just a stock Good Bye, I would have been able to process it differently. It was his silence, evasion and complete lack of basic human regard for me that shocked my system, and although it mostly bruised my heart, it was also a blow to my pride and my self-esteem. (Admittedly, the latter was struck the least)
It boggles my mind even now that this seemingly earnest, tender hearted boy (..or man I guess) with his love of dogs and his rare gift for words could be so inexplicably thoughtless (cruel). Though obviously, I misunderstood completely the degree of his attachment and care for me, what surprised me most was how sorely I misjudged his character. He was in regards to me indecent, an utter failure. At the time I would have bet my arm that underneath the charm and the words, there was a conscientious person of substance and heart. I would have lost that bet (and the arm) as words proved to be ALL he was.
Before now I never talked about any of this, because, in part, I was ashamed of having let myself fall into it as I did. After all I was and always will be the only one responsible for my own feelings, the fact that I got hurt was, as they say, on me. Victim girl or Foolish girl were not monikers I cared to take up and “vulnerable” is perhaps a word I detest most and in general, god forbid it be spoken in reference to me. Pride and unresolved confusion further conflated into a kind of secretiveness. On some level too, I think I hoped that the story still had a chance of finding a better conclusion, so I kept it tucked away in a cognitive limbo. That’s the trouble with hope, enduring as it is, it doesn’t fall within the purview of good judgment or reason.
A few years later, with hope finally abandoned, I wrote J an email outlining how I felt. It was a way of self-generating the closure he couldn’t give me. I wanted it to be finite, so I asked that he not respond, even if by some chance he felt inclined to do so. I don’t remember what exactly was in it, I imagine it was some version of all this, and I don’t know that he read it, but if he did, he heeded my request obliging me with his continued silence.
The overall experience marked me indelibly, but it did not change or callus me. In all fairness the universe did make ample karmic recompense to me shortly thereafter, turning Lonely girl into a decidedly Lucky girl (so lucky). I am still genuinely concerned for J’s happiness and still only wish him the best. I think I’ll never stop rooting for him, and that is something I don’t dislike about myself. The most significant thing I carried out from it all, besides a purple heart bruise, was a lesson in accountability. From that point forward I was always painstakingly careful not to lead anyone on whom I did not intend to keep.
Tears rose up inside me like a panic. Multiplying and overtaking. My chest constricted, as if something got a hold of me and squeezed, hard, nails digging into ribs. I could no longer run, within seconds I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe. My heart hurt in every way it could. Sobbing uncontrollably, I folded over in the middle of the sidewalk and leaned on my knees, trying to catch a breath. Tears came pouring out across my downturned face in streams, as if I was made of them, as if they were all there was. And for a moment I let myself drown in my unhappiness. There was nothing left, there was only the pain of losing someone who is as much a part of you, as your limbs, your organs, your skin. Who is in every memory, in every reality, and in none of the future. That was just the first wave of misery that would overtake me in the years to follow. It was neither the heaviest nor the most lasting. That’s the thing about Grief, it is a monster who comes for tea and stays for the cake, then it drops by, whenever, for a pound of flesh. You can run from it, hide from it, but it’s got a lojack on you, it always knows where you are, it watches you while you sleep, it is the price you pay for love.
A few minutes passed with me bent over in the street like a folded chair, then, finally, the thing wrapped tightly around my throat eased its grip, and I could breathe again. Having recovered enough to straighten up, I dragged a sleeve across my wet face. There were plenty of people on the street, walking along like nothing was happening to me. A little girl ran past me waving her arms, her concerned mother trotted twenty feet behind her screaming out cautionary words. When the little girl ran into a band of pigeons they obligingly flew up, then settled down again only a few feet away. Life went on, I thought. Although my world was mangled. Although I felt like there would never be another day without crying or bleeding or searching for air. My world was just one little world amongst billions of worlds, consisting of little girls, concerned mothers, loitering pigeons, and all manner of things, each with its own joys and woes. I straightened myself out and started walking, along with all the other people on the street, trying to weave myself into the fabric of their communal humanity. If I could be absorbed by it along with my pain, then maybe I wouldn’t have to carry it all on my own.
I did not loose anyone on 9/11, but I have lost someone, grief is as different for everyone as it is the same for all. I hope everyone suffering remembers that they are not alone.