Joy: “I met someone else.”
I read and re-read the words plastered across my mobile. We weren’t in the middle of a conversation. We hadn’t even talked in weeks, yet I wasn’t surprised by this message’s arrival.
These were serious words. Not only because of their meaning but because of the “rules” we had established. I had instructed her not to tell me when she was dating someone, unless it became serious.
I sat down and read the words again. Did she expect a response?
“Congratulations. I guess I’m supposed to say I’m happy for you. Good luck.”
My chest hurt and my head grew light. My eyes welled but pride prohibited tears from escaping. Some might refer to this as the physical manifestation of heartbreak. I don’t know why.
Joy and I had been officially “broken up” for over a year, maybe 18 months. Damn. Had she been gone that long? Regardless, I had just visited her a month earlier, again. But, this meeting was awkward. I knew she wanted to tell me something but despite all the glossy conversations we had, the true meaning of our impromptu meet-up was never mentioned. Still, there it lurked with us through all our BS talks, feigned smiles and forced laughs. It was an ever present and unwelcomed stranger.
Even as we left her bedroom for the last time, we could see the finality of it all faintly reflected in each other’s eyes, yet neither of us had the courage to bring it up. Now, a month later, there it was in a text message. I didn’t blame her for not calling. Why blindly force our way through another awkward conversation.
She met someone else?
Months would pass before Joy reached out to me again. A simple greeting in the morning at first. I’d respond and there would be more silence. More months passed and simple greetings became daylong text conversations. Eventually she worked up the nerve to call. What started as broken conversations dominated by awkward silences soon became laughter-filled discourse; however, pretend as we might, we weren’t friends.
I could never just be her friend. I’d always love her and she knew it. It’s why she always reached out to me, while I sat bitter and silent on my end. Waiting but not expecting to hear from her again. I never ignored her but I couldn’t bring myself to contact her first. She had, after all, chosen him over me. I respected her decision, but I didn’t have to like it.
Joy: “He hit me.”
I read and re-read the words plastered across my mobile. “Leave him,” I replied. Joy rewarded my unsolicited advice with months of silence.
When she finally called again, she pretended as if the conversation that never was had never happened. I ignored it too. I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Besides, a part of me was upset that this was the man she not only left me for but also chose to remain with. She could have me back if she wanted and she knew it. But, she didn’t want it to be that simple. She wanted me to beg and plead for her to come back. She wanted me to fight for her, save her, and make her be with me – like those dominant male characters in the movies. It wasn’t going to happen.
This was real life. She made a decision and I was going to let her live with it, like a grown up. I didn’t want to tell her what to do. I wanted to be her man, not her father. It was clear we had different expectations of my role.
Eventually her month long absences stretched into years. During one particularly long break, I met another woman. My heart, embittered and battered, was not ready for love, but I was content. I figured Joy had finally moved on with her life as I was attempting to do with my own, until I received a random phone call from a familiar long distance area code.
Joy: “We broke up.”
I didn’t know how to take this new information. A part of me was infuriated by the fact that she felt she could call out the blue and deliver this news. Pulling me back into a life I was trying, albeit in vain, to move on from. Then I wondered if I had passively never changed my number in the hopes that I would one day receive this very phone call. I could never know for sure. I convinced myself that I simply never got around to it, but I had lied to myself on her behalf on more occasions than I cared to remember.
She told me that the abuse had escalated. Reaching a climax on the night he put her head through a mirror and tried to drown her in a tub. I was disgusted. With him for putting his hands on her. With her for remaining with him. And with myself for failing her.
I thought about the life I had lived in Joy’s absence while we spoke and eventually my frustration got the better of me. Our briefly pleasant conversation quickly escalated into accusations and name calling. I wondered consciously and verbally why she left and stayed with a man who verbally and physically abused her when she knew she had another man in her life who loved her and who she claimed she loved back. She accused me of letting it happen, in my failing to rescue her, I was an accomplice in her plight. Our indictments of one another fully vetted, silence fell between us.
I broke that silence. “I met someone else.”
If she was hurt, she hid it well. She told me she needed positive people in her life and hoped I could be one of them. I told her I wanted to be but I couldn’t. It took too much energy trying to be her failed prince – and I would never stop loving her. It would be unfair to the woman I was with now. Joy didn’t protest. Instead, she hastily ended the conversation and I never heard from her again.
A part of me wanted to tear through heaven and hell to reach her. I told myself that eventually I’d call but I could never think of the right words to say. Maybe I didn’t want to. I slowly accepted that although she was the woman I wanted, she was not the woman I needed. Joy was my heroin and I her cocaine. Two addicts, addicted to misery but longing for happiness. In the end, I never called but I never changed my number either…
Later, I asked a friend who had witnessed our ordeal for his advice. He objectively reminded me that we brought out the best in one another and the worst, but in the later part of our relationship, the worst surfaced more than the best. Then he told me something that brought me peace:
You can’t always save the damsel.
Have you ever tried to save “the damsel” or did some “prince” try to save you? Did you or they succeed? Have you ever remained emotionally/physically involved in a relationship that you knew was destined for failure? In the end, do you feel you stayed too long or left too early? Do you regret your decision? With the clarity of hindsight, would you make the same decision(s)?
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