Thank you. You taught me so much. You taught me that I am on my own.
Each time you reached out, I reached back: my eyes, hands, voice there to answer and embrace you. My words there to comfort you. But when I needed to be held or heard, there was only the sound of my own voice echoing back to me. The sensation of my own arms embracing the emptiness I felt with or without you.
It takes time and patience to learn another person’s virtues. If I was ever guilty of anything, it was being hopeful. Poverty of character is more plentiful than rain. That your word might actually mean something filled me with hope. As time passed, you taught me to expect nothing. That my needs are better left unmet. You taught me that some men are opportunists who will only give the bare minimum. After all, how could I expect you to give me things – answers, compassion, respect – that you couldn’t even give yourself?
You hid behind your silence. I thought being close-mouthed meant you feared vulnerability, but you taught me that silence is really a sin of omission. Because if you never lied out loud, then you couldn’t be accused of lying.
You. You whisked me away to far-off places. You made no promises that you couldn’t keep; I respect that. But then you were afraid to say that we’d made a wrong turn somewhere, that when I crossed the ocean, alone, the only things I would carry with me were memories and the broken pieces of my heart. Your downcast eyes, so dark with fear of the words that I eventually said for you. You gave me a voice, and I thank you.
You said you loved me after just two weeks. You were the first man to say those words to me; how could I know if they were true or false? I was too intoxicated with the shock of them. I stupidly held vigil for your ego. I listened as you droned on each day about your existential burdens, your financial worries, your broken family, your first love, and your fascination with your own creative brilliance. I didn’t know the true meaning of narcissism until I met you, and I didn’t know the damage it did until I left. Everyone tells you love takes sacrifice, but they forget the specifics. I convinced myself that feeling depleted was love, because feeling empty meant that I had given all that I had to give.
Did you ever learn to love anyone as much as you love yourself? Or – less likely – more? I hope so. You taught me that love doesn’t require self-abandonment, and I thank you.
I gave my heart to you. I pledged my life to you.
I fell in love with your kindness and fairness and how you washed my days-old dishes when I was working two jobs and could barely stand at the day’s end. I fell in love with you for all these reasons, but I chose to love you despite the gut feeling that I deserved better than someone who created an alternate life to escape the reality he was so ashamed of living, unaware that I would become an extension of that shame. I chose to love you because I made a promise to choose you each day. We never feared a God we didn’t believe in, but how could you stand before the people you love and make promises you never intended to keep? What is intention, anyway, except an escape from personal responsibility? It’s a salve for our shame.
And what are promises if they are so easily broken? You taught me to desire men who promise, each day, with their actions, not their words, and I thank you.
And you. You made me believe, in the end, that it was my fault. If your mixed signals made me think it was more than it was, it was on me. You couldn’t be held accountable. Forget that you lied when I gave you an out; it would’ve been so easy to walk away then. Forget the daily texts (who cherishes minutiae more than lovers?). Forget how you never seemed to want to leave, or how I was always the first to pull away, afraid of getting too attached. Forget how we giggled and kissed for hours the first time we slept together, lying nose-to-nose like children, entangled and giddy at the perfect impermanence of it all. I could never hate you for not wanting more, but I hate what you did when I finally found the courage to walk away.
You taught me to demand clarity and how to ask for what I want, and I thank you.
Do any of you know what it’s like to be a woman? It’s this: we are the mothers of nightmares. With the bravery you’ll never know, we conjure every terrifying thing you can’t bear to say into existence, because nothing is real until it’s spoken out loud.
We are also the gatekeepers of progress. Nothing perpetuates without us. We give life to all things, men and women. Is it this power that scares you? Or that you spend the rest of your life trying in vain to return to the body that created you? Is that why you fear losing control? Because everything that you are and everything you will be once depended upon a woman?
You pretend to care. You use people in a way I was never able to replicate. How could I? Since childhood I’ve been an empath. It took me a lifetime to learn that I couldn’t feel everyone’s feelings without abandoning my own.
Do you know this word? Empathy?
You taught me that I can survive anything, because I thought the worst thing that could happen was losing you – yet, here I am. Everything you couldn’t be. Beautiful, capable, and happy all by myself.
You taught me not to need men. That I can learn and grow and become anyone or anything I want, without you. You taught me how to be alone so well that sometimes I’m afraid I may never love another man because there’s nothing that I need that I can’t give myself.
Do you know what it’s like? To fear your inability to love?
Is that what made you what you are?