That Time You Could’ve Been a Mother

You can’t leave someone who was never there to begin with, and you can’t end something that never began. You can only put him out of mind, forget the potential you clung to every time you read between the lines. And even if you ever got the chance to tell him, I just wanted to feel like I deserved love, too, understand that he didn’t care then and he never will now.

It’s not that you heard or saw only what you wanted. You made excuses for him until your few remaining friends couldn’t do the same for you, and throughout it all maintained awareness that you used any thread of conversation to justify his continued presence in your life. Now you understand that your love for him was deep and unearned and irrational and undeserved. Now you see that you didn’t let facts sway you when he said he needed you in his life, that he was afraid things would change between you both if you found someone who wanted you as much as you wanted him. You realize the folly in what you told yourself when you needed comfort: he will never come around, because you never fit his reduction, some man’s interpretation, of what it means to be a living, breathing woman. Your patience was pathetic.

It’s possible you’d still be waiting. But before he gave you a straight answer, the object of your unwanted love gave you the potential to bring a life into this world and the single choice to snuff it out. When the time came to make a decision, you imagined a life you never wanted. You could be six months pregnant, ready to stake a claim in your family’s legacy of single motherhood. As the months passed, you dragged your fingers against your empty stomach, wondering if he would have surprised you. But that’s a stupid thought, and sometimes you can be such a stupid girl.

You’re much less idiotic when you imagine the conversations you could’ve had with him. You were right when you decided you didn’t need another “worst outcome” to file away, not when this time was already far too close to your rock bottom.

This trauma behind you, now you don’t hope to be loved as much as you loved him. That is an age that’s come to pass. Rather, your hope is to one day overcome this cynicism, to break down the walls erected by pain and disappointment and violations of your trust, so that one day you can love like that again. It’s no sort of life, you realize, when you see an enemy in the people you kiss, a potential traitor in every lover you take to bed.

So focused on what he took, you didn’t understand that people also leave parts of themselves behind. So when you think you owe nothing to anyone, not even human decency, remember that this is his legacy. Don’t go claiming it as yours, regardless of all those choices you didn’t want to make.

Morning Bandit

You borrowed my backpack
Fit for a child, bought for school
My signature hidden in
Polka dots

My past in a pocket, magazines
From my ex’s mother you said
You’d recycle

And when you left that morning
My coffee mug resting in
Your hand

I knew you would steal
So much more
And leave much less behind

Love: Pain You Choose to Endure

I’ve had people claim they need me. More than once, whether repeated by the same individual or proposed by someone new. Over time, I realize that I’m a sucker for dramatic proclamations, all these facsimiles of love born from convenience and not the heart. Perhaps some part of me purposefully brings men into my life who are confused about their own desires. I need two hands to count the number of times I’ve been told they don’t normally open up, how surprised they are to have told me some secret of theirs. What I don’t need is a single limb to count how many have reciprocated the closeness I felt in hearing their stories, in seeing them vulnerable. I’m just a vector, it turns out. And for what precisely, I don’t know. I’ve just come to see myself as a halfway house, a place to rest as they search for themselves among whatever wreckage they’ve brought into their lives.

Once they put themselves together, they’ll move on. The art of letting go before they fall away is something I will never learn. And I will lose my footing, and I will break in places both known and unknown to me each time. Because love, at least for me, is nothing more than pain.

Dating

“I lead with it,” I said to Brian, my latest therapist. He was older than me, but I still thought of him as young: he only had a few inches on me, sometimes wore a bow tie, and met his wife on JDate. “When we get together the first time, I tell them I’m in recovery from Bulimia Nervosa. I’ll mention that I go to therapy or that I’m on medication for clinical depression.”

I had come to know Brian well enough to discover some of his tells. Whenever I said something that he found troubling, he’d purse his lips, creating what I came to call the “puffy duck face.” Usually I distracted myself from the difficulty of discussing my eating disorder frankly by focusing on his expression. This time, however, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see him respond this way to my outlook on dating.

“You have to open up over time,” Brian said. “When you unload like that, you know what the guy is thinking? He’s wondering what else is waiting for him, should you continue to spend time together. I would recommend taking it slow…”

“I don’t care,” I interrupted. “Well, I don’t know. It’s not that, exactly. I just figure that this gives anyone who may get close to me a heads up. Like, they get the choice immediately to deal with my shit, or they can decide it’s a lot and leave. I don’t want to get rejected down the line for being honest.”

“They may leave you anyway,” Brian said.

“I know.” As much as I didn’t want to admit it, most of the people I dated – casually or with more serious interest – would be happy to obtain the perks of a mutually beneficial arrangement, but also categorize me as unfit for a genuine relationship.

I was the fun girl. And I’d be kept at a distance, at least until they found someone more suitable, so that I could remain just that. Any closer, and they would have to see that I was imperfect too – just in less socially acceptable ways than them.

Confessions of a Part-Time Alcoholic

The decision to drink until I passed out every night was not consciously made. No, this new lifestyle crept into my evening routine like a slug, gliding – albeit at a glacial pace – while concealed in gloom cast by a clouded mind. Eventually, instead of ambling to bed, I’d fall asleep on the couch, my fourth goblet of wine half drained. And when I started to sweat alcohol at the gym, I decided it was best to come home from work and attend to my box of Malbec rather than pursue what had once been my passion. Because restless but dreamless sleep mattered most now, even if I was becoming increasingly late for work.

I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was weak, and in my decision unintentionally became an embodiment of my own weaknesses. In recovery, you’re told that you’re only as sick as your secrets. But there’s so much that they don’t say, so many proverbs generated by an overwhelmed mind. There’s safety in silence; you can only be told you’re a slut if they know. Secrets, when revealed, are just a way to create problems. And not only for yourself. This is what I told myself when I switched to drinking hard cider, hoping I would better pace myself. (The only accomplishment I can lay claim to through this choice is gaining ten pounds faster than I could ever lose them.) So the sickness spread. I was only ever wrong.

One or the other, and I would have survived. But I lost a part of me twice in a span shorter than the life I went on to extinguish. As time went on, I didn’t heal. I couldn’t. These empty spaces grew larger, like the red ring surrounding an infected wound. The pain started small but swelled, til dime-sized lesions became as large as islands – all held within me, curdling my thoughts until they resembled pus.

I’m aware now of where silence got me. And as I put away the bottle, having come to understand that I will not passively die despite my expressed interest, I encounter nights that are both restless and sleepless. I wake up to myself talking, terrified of him or crying to you. Love for myself sleeps in the New Jersey sewage with our clump of cells I flushed all those months ago. It was gray, among all that red; given a few more months, it could’ve had a name. And my pride was torn from between my legs, that day I was reminded I don’t own my body. Like the lifeless sac that passed through me, I see him in my nightmares.

Now I wait, and in an unfamiliar development (that makes me yearn for the numbing effects of gin), wonder the course of my fate. Will I explode and die, my regret just a bloated corpse decomposing within me? Or will my body expel this half-formed shadow of life too? Someday, will I rejoin the living? Will I leave my night terrors behind so I can stop drinking and puking them away?

Only time will tell. But I hope that this new era is marked by healing and not by holes.

We’re Only As Sick As Our Secrets

I saw the cells you made in me floating in the toilet, reduced to a web of blood spun across the water’s surface. And I wondered when I saw that gray sac, when I felt the last of life’s potential pass through me, if care would ever greet the news of the fetus I expelled. Instead you sewed my mouth shut and met me with silence, your parting gift the dreams I dreamed in restless sleep of arachnids and children and the absence of color.