“I’m not crying because I can’t have you,” he recites, between weathered, tender breaths, “I’m crying because I hurt you.”
His voice, traversing the one hundred and fifty miles between them, crashes in spiraling waves within her, caressing the white dover cliffs of her apprehensions, wearing away the tense, sharp edges that were catching on everything soft.
Tears damned behind sealed eyelids and lips sewn in response, she responds in a silent, unseen nod. A momentary contortion of her brows into a sensitive furrow, inscribes pain in the slight trench forming in between.
She’s neglected her overwhelming feelings since the beginning of this, but as his validation of her self-hood finally comes, it comes like permission…
Permission to be free.
It comes like a river seeking the ocean, it comes like helium escaping the atmosphere, like sunlight on morning grass.
And it comes like fear.
Loosely pressing the phone against her moistened cheeks, she sits alone subtly shaking in the frigid public lounge, where she’d later sing softly to herself for an hour, tracing the swirling patterns intercepted by uniform ridges in the blue carpet and retracing the trepidation of the past few months since the decision. The burning anxiety actually began much further back, interwoven throughout most of their time together – conditioned by his every reaction – she just hadn’t the resolve to examine the web as fully until moments like these.
She always told herself it would get better, to be patient, to be strong.
But sometimes, being strong doesn’t mean enduring
— it means allowing yourself to do something different.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispers, his voice circulating around her, almost resolving the years of pain. The pain was more than his transgressions against her in times of stupor — the pain percolated even more deeply, a result of his inability to recognize his effect on her, to stop the cycle, and to acknowledge her tireless devotion to him. Even now, her loyalty to his well-being prevents her from discussing some things.
– How do you stay strong, she pleads with her swimming, gasping heart, how do you move forward when you know you can’t stay in the only world you’ve allowed yourself to know..? When you know you’re doing the right thing, maybe, but it feels alien..
Moving on: It’s like floating aimlessly in outer-space, and then having the itching urge to disconnect from the heavy oppression of your spacesuit — to cast off the insular home that keeps you from the suffocating, supposed reality of the empty space.
The boding of that urge is intimidating, like the tingling feeling of a slumbering limb; it needs movement, it needs blood to circulate. And yet its very need imposes a simultaneous restraint, an aversion to the inevitability of the movement.
It is a disconcerting endeavor, disengaging from the only one she’d ever confided in.
To reject that which you’ve been conditioned to believe gives you life is like a suicide of sorts… stepping off that familiar cliff like it were the edge of the world.
Even if much of her voice had often felt forgotten or unappreciated, he was her anchor to this world for so long. It was he, whom she devoted her every breath and thought to, helping with all of her being, as though helping him would save her from her own sense of helplessness and somehow give her purpose in the otherwise void.
He didn’t want to end up like his Father, who’s every move was calculating, ever shifting to achieve a goal: a fix. It drove his mother away. Every time he interacted with his Father, he left with less than he had – either in the form of material goods or sobriety. Some weeks they couldn’t afford groceries on behalf of his encounters with his Father.
He didn’t want to end up like his Grandfather.
-She and he crouched in a cold hospital once, sipping coffee and listening by his grandmother’s white, sterile bed. His Grandmother said that when Grandfather drank alcohol, it was like “poison”. It was “poison” to the whole family, she said; and as much as Grandmother loved Grandfather, he eventually hung himself.
He didn’t want to end up that way. And she didn’t want to see that, either.
But her ‘being’ was being drained all the while. The amygdala’s small, modest alarm flashed faithfully, warning her that she’d become emptied, her identity displaced by epinephrine and cortisol, crushed by remaining usefully vulnerable and distressed for so long.
Why not emerge from the suit? She was already suffocating, anyway.
Maybe she’d survive the disengagement; maybe not. But time away brought clarity, and she needed to breathe for the first time.
From the hallway outside of the lounge comes laughter and mirthful voices, permeating through the cracks beneath the door and penetrating her isolation. Her heart races, stirring up whirlwinds in her torso, as for a moment she anticipates the possible approach of the crowd, heading for the lounge — her temporal sanctuary while the world outside ceases to exist in concrete terms. She doesn’t want to snap back to reality just yet – not when she has traveled this far- she needs to make it to the other end of this particular rabbit hole. Every footstep’s vibration outside of that door exacerbates the intensity of the storm within her, and in those moments she forgets not only how to breathe, but that breathing is even a thing.
The door seems to rattle as the careless stampede passes by, and within the span of less than five seconds, she hears them, feels them, fears them, and then sighs as their voices fade away down the hallway. They aren’t coming in; she can stay in her rabbit hole, sustained by her now restored shallow, earthy breaths.
She spent the last eight years trying to help him but failing; holding her own desires in contempt, compelled to shape her world into the consistent rock for his world to stand on. His world operated like clockwork, cycling through excitement, dissipation, fatigue, irritability, departure, use, bi-polarization, pain, estrangement, crisis, seductive promises and revolution, excitement, dissipation, repeat…
She tried not to crumble beneath the weight of that dynamic world, keeping her head down as she worked her days and nights away, living for the sake of others. Keeping her head down when he was drinking… and becoming vulnerably, perilously hopeful when he’d come back to reality, when she could see him in his eyes again, and he’d promise things would change. That he wouldn’t be like his father, or his father before him.
There were transient moments throughout the years when she realized that she was being smothered, dying inside with each compromise, expedited by the hard phases of the cycle, the feeling of betrayal and insignificance when he’d leave if things got even slightly tense, to chase another high – something more valuable and meaningful to him than working through it with her; at least, that’s how it felt in those moments. She could never really tell him how that made her feel, knowing it would just trigger either his desertion or volatility all over again.
Instead, she’d just wait, suffocating, holding her breath through each flip and curve in the roller coaster, waiting for him to return. Waiting for his eyes to shine again. She’d wait, conditioned to rescue him whenever he found trouble. It was in such moments that she wondered if she was even real at all- if he loved her because of her mindheart, or because of how good she was to him.
She was told by others that it was the latter, but she didn’t want to believe them. He told her that he was the only one who could see her, that everyone else was using her, but she didn’t want to believe him, either. Either way, she felt isolated; alone in her troubles, afraid to seek help or advice for fear of intensifying the divide. For fear of forsaking loyalty. And even if she did believe, at times, she would continue to be useful – it was a choice between the pain of being used, and the pain of not helping. And she chose the former.
But one thing she could not bare was being lied to — becoming a slave to untruths, manipulated by a false image of reality..
It was in the moments of heartbreak and pain, that she could see the full circle proof that she was not enough for him and that was caught up in some elaborate trap, a web that might only be fully seen from the outside.
She wasn’t his answer, she couldn’t be — she wasn’t strong enough to be, even if he told her differently, even if he said that she was the only one he would ever love and he was the only one who would love her like he did, every bit of her, every imperfection; even if he assured her that all of her words of wisdom did make a difference eventually; even if he told her she was special to him, she knew she couldn’t save him like this. Her withdrawal was not just for herself, it was for him. For his ability to find himself.
And maybe, just a little bit, for her own freedom, too. She’d never had the chance to find and embrace it, after all.
Sitting in the lounge, it’s clear that in some ways, she has been the spacesuit… enduring reality for the two of them. And she can’t be any longer.
But she needs to deliver him safely to an inhabitable world before she can move on. No matter her own future, she wants to make sure he’ll be okay.
That’s why she waited so long to confront her pain; she ever worried about his emotional state, more than anyone in the world ever had. She hadn’t wanted to hurt him, and she made herself believe she was okay with it all. But now that she has distance, the possibility for independence is real.
His breath echoes in her ears, stirring the whirlwinds in her again; it has now been roughly sixteen seconds since he told her why he was crying.
Finally, he’s not crying over the loss. She remembers their last conversation, when he tried to tell her that no one would love her like he did. But now, he seems to see the pain he’s forced on her through the years, realizing that it was unjustified, something one can not rationalize away nor make excuses for — not this time. It won’t work any more. He can’t make up for it by throwing memories of the good times at her, like they’re some sort of penance. A transactionary mindset.
And it’s because she hasn’t given in. This time she hasn’t been guilted into saying “it’s okay” like in the past, trapping herself within the perpetuity of pain.
It’s not real unless you both are real within it, she reminds herself. And you can’t be real, unless you love yourself. And you can’t love yourself, if you have no motivation to know yourself. It starts within. Only then can there be a mutual sharing of worlds, and subsequent evolution.
As much as she wants to survive, she wants him to survive even more.
So she remains just within reach, like a smooth reassuring prayer rock, something familiar in his dark moments before dawn. She remains on the other end of the line.
But far enough to avoid crumbling.
20 seconds have passed since he told her why he’s crying.
“I promise you, I’m gonna get through this,” he said, “I’ll see you on the other side.”