(everything italicized are lines taken from poetry by Warsan Shire, aka the incredible British-Somali poet whose spoken word was used by Beyonce in her Lemonade visual album)
I couldn’t love you, you were a small war.
I lay in bed, at 2 AM, looking up at the hotel room ceiling, trying to cry silently so he couldn’t hear me. The silence screamed at me like a gaping mouth with rotting teeth after swallowing so much pride. We had gotten into a fight earlier that evening, and he had rolled his eyes at me while I sobbed at the wheel of my car. He asked if I wanted to go back to the hotel, or go hang out with a bunch of his friends. I didn’t know any of them, and my makeup was smudged with tears. Yet I said we could go hang out with his friends. Meanwhile, my heart screamed “Go back to the hotel and break up with him. You deserve so much better.”
But being in an ambivalent, lonely relationship headed towards a brick wall seemed better than being alone. I thought it was what I deserved. So I stayed silent.
No, he loves me he just makes me cry a lot.
I look at couples who have clean answers, who come to clean conclusions. I envy them. I envy the gentle nature of their uncoiling. I envy people who can be friends after. I envy people who can wish their exes a happy birthday, Christmas, wedding anniversary.
I have no answers. I’ve made peace with the fact that I will never get answers, or an apology. Breakups can be a thunderstorm of pain with one party left outside to dodge the lightning.
The result of all this?
It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m stronger. Happier. Healthier.
But I know I can’t ever let him back in. Under any circumstance. The karmic consequence of treating someone like shit is a steel curtain.
I tried to change. Closed my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier, less awake.
Right after it happened I constantly blamed myself. I said I was too fat, too weird, too loud, too much. Literally sat on the lap of my best friend and was rocked like a small child. I cleaned my whole house and posted perfectly curated photos on Instagram because even though I’m just a messy person by nature, I thought if I were more put together, if I were something different than what I was, it would make him stay. Shaved parts of my head and bleached it, because I wanted to, but also because I knew it would make men afraid of me. I hated men for months. I became a misanthropic misandrist in my grief.
I could feel my uterus cracking and drying up. The sight of my nephews would send me into floods of tears, remembering his remarks condemning my desire to be a parent. Those remarks hit me in the space in my heart I was saving for our children. (Let it be said for the record that I have officially stopped giving a shit about a timeline, or a biological clock, or about finding a husband. I’d rather, like, rule the world and kill the patriarchy. That takes up a lot of my day.)
I told my therapist I worried I was crazy. She said to me that was a gendered response to a breakup. She was right. As women, our grief is diagnosed, disposable. If we’re sad, or angry, we’re dismissed as hysterical, lunatics. Now I’d rather look crazy. And I was so sick of feeling too much, of having so much grief, of being so angry.
His eyes were the same colour as the sea in a postcard someone sends you when they love you, but not enough to stay.
Because of the lack of answers I still held out hope and watched all of my worst fears get confirmed. I had been blaming myself for months when it finally clicked that none of it had anything to do with me. And suddenly, a lot of the anger fell away.
Looking at photos of him now is like looking at a relative your family cut off. You know them. You hope they’re doing well. You can remember with exacting, painful detail the times they made you laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed. You still bring them up sometimes in stories because they’re in some of your better memories. But it’s followed by the cold, pragmatic reminder of the times you were crying at 2AM in a hotel room. You can’t let them back in. They’ll steal from you, lie to you, burn down your house. I can meet photos of him now with an eyeroll and a shrug, where they were once met with howls of pain retched up from my gut. I’ve cried a lot of tears to feel nothing. I worked my ass off so I could get to nothing. Nothing was an impossible place a year ago.
You think I’ll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I’ll swallow you whole.
But this month brings up a lot of anger. Anger about the things I wish I had done differently. And all of those things lead to me breaking things off much earlier. That relationship was slowly killing my spirit and I did nothing because to end it would mean I had failed. Please. If anything I’ve used it as rocket fuel.
I wish it weren’t normal. I wish this kind of grief didn’t exist. I wish people were able to just TALK to each other about their problems, but I guess that’s what makes everyone painfully, disgustingly, gorgeously human.
I’d like to offer you one tip on how to avoid shattering someone’s heart in this particular way.
Don’t assume, ask. Be kind. Tell the truth. Don’t say anything you can’t stand behind fully. Have integrity. Tell people how you feel.
I don’t care if you don’t want to see them cry. They will cry with or without you, and they’re probably doing a lot of crying you don’t know about. Get over yourself for the sake of the people you claim to love bone-deep. Go deeper. Go until you reach the gutsy parts of you. I’ll wait.
If you don’t see yourself marrying them, tell them. If you don’t feel that they’d make a good parent, tell them. If you don’t feel the same way that you did, tell them. If you love them, but you aren’t in love with them, tell them. If their mental illness is becoming too much for you to deal with, tell them. If you don’t want to fuck them anymore, tell them. If you want to fuck someone else, tell them. if you find yourself being mean to them because you’re trying to let them go, tell them. If you don’t see your relationship working out after a break to reassess, tell them.
If they cry, shake, panic, get triggered, curse you out, you are just going to have to deal with it. Deal with their fallout, their rage, their grief. I won’t say “man up” or “woman up”, but I will tell you to be an adult. Tell them, because they have given you their heart and you now hold it in the palm of your hand. You have a choice. You always have a choice. Handle it gently or risk what happens when you get that blood on your fingers.
If you don’t handle it gently, they will hate you. It doesn’t matter if you still want to be a part of their life. They will cut you out of that life you once shared like a tumor. That anger will subside a little in time, but it might never fully go away, almost like white noise on a radio station you once loved. Rage can be helpful.
Be honest at hello. Be honest at goodbye. It will help them remember that you loved them in the first place.
I am at fault here too, of course. There are a LOT of things I could have done differently. Things I did wrong. I could have spoken up, for one. As a feminist I HATE how silent I was. I should have said so much. There were times when we would be sitting together quietly and my brain felt like it was going to explode with everything I wanted to say. But I felt so trapped, my voice – the thing I value the most about myself – felt stuck in my throat. I was cowed into silence. I couldn’t be honest, either. If I were to do it over again I would have said so much. I truly regret that. I didn’t know how to love someone better.
Perhaps that’s how it was with you.
You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, someone not everyone knows how to love.
Our last conversation was filled with my apologies. But I forgot to say thank you.
Thank you all of the beautiful things you did. Despite everything, there were some moments of sheer breathtaking wonder in the love we had. Thank you for holding my hand, for making me laugh, and for being my anchor before I was dragged down by the weight.
I told you once I believed, with all of my heart, that everything happens for a reason. That there’s got to be some kind of grand design. You looked at me, patted me on the head, and said, “Well, Ally, that’s just a naive way to look at the world.”
That isn’t naivete, that is hope. I know better. I choose better.
I deserve better.
If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.
PS. “You own everything that has happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they would have treated you better.” – Ann Lamott.