Today would have been 11 months. We only made it 10 months, 29 days and 23 hours.
The end began with a non-verbal spat in the airport.
We'd just finished a week-long vacation with his family in St. Thomas. We've been on enough trips together for me to know he gets a little testy with me at the airport. I wasn't having it that day, though. Because we were with his family and I didn't want to make a scene, I locked eyes with him and silently told him to BACK OFF.
Although I was upset with him at the time, once on the plane I basked in the revelation that we had reached a point in our relationship where we could communicate so clearly with just a look. I'd never had that before.
In the taxi back to my apartment we ordered a pizza and each got our favorite things on it -- him: Italian sausage; me: banana peppers. I looked forward to ignoring my diet for one more day.
We timed it perfectly, our taxi pulling up minutes after the pizza delivery man called to say he'd arrived. Inside my apartment, we devoured it, and while I was still hurt by how he'd treated me earlier, I didn't really care anymore. All was forgiven. Pizza and a long flight had done the trick. I was happy to overlook it, as I'd been overlooking a lot of his moody behavior lately.
It never occurred to me that he might be having doubts about us.
Why would I?
In the first month of our relationship, he blurted out that he loved me. A month later he came to Atlanta to meet my family for Thanksgiving. During a drive through my favorite parts of town He asked me how many kids I wanted. I was astounded but guarded. If he's asking me this, is he thinking about our future together? The question resulted in our first argument -- I didn't want to raise our hypothetical children to believe in Santa Claus and he was adamant that we must. He won.
He treated my nephews like his own. By Christmas they were calling him "Uncle Rick." I spent that holiday with his family, meeting both sets of grandparents and all the aunts, uncles and cousins. I obsessed for days about what gifts to get everyone and settled on big, glittery baskets full of homemade goodies and golf balls. His mother kept her basket on top of the hutch in her kitchen. A piece of me was in their home. His grandmother wrote me a thank you card and told me to call her "Grandma." I was becoming part of their family.
We celebrated my first real Valentine's Day, a day that had always been somewhat of a joke before. He set up a scavenger hunt in my apartment that led to various treats. The final one was a Tiffany's box with a little heart necklace inside. I rarely took it off, telling him I wanted to keep his heart close to mine. I could tell he'd made similar gestures toward previous girlfriends and they probably didn't regard them as highly as I did. It's because they were wrong for him. They couldn't appreciate him like I did. Because he had been mine all along. He just hadn't met me yet.
In March we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway and met several of my West Coast friends along the way. They adored him. This one's different, Mary El. We can see by the way he looks at you. He is a man in love.
We spent hours together in a car and they flew by, just as they had when we drove from Atlanta to DC after Thanksgiving. Then, 11 hours seemed like three. We hadn't even bothered to turn on the radio. On the PCH we listened to 80s music and marveled at the views. We stopped in Sonoma and shipped wine home, bottles we were saving for special occasions. Sometimes the feelings I was having for him were overwhelming. My job had been so stressful, and away from it all there was nothing but him and the Pacific Ocean. Nothing else mattered. Everything would always be okay as long as I was with him.
Alone together in the car again, he asked me questions about our wedding. Our wedding. We argued about how many bridesmaids and groomsmen we would have. We agreed that it would be really cool to have an 80s cover band. He wanted a fully stocked, open bar. I wanted to stick to champagne. He won all the arguments. I was happy to let him win. He wanted to marry me.
Soon after, my grandmother fell ill. I went to be with her and he took Noli for me. He let me cry on the phone to him and tenderly told me how sorry he was and that Noli was enjoying herself. A week after coming home I had surgery and was laid off. He told me we were "going through some s***" and it would only make our relationship stronger. He told me to let him take care of me. I had been on my own for so long, it felt selfish, even indulgent to let him. But I did. He was so wonderful to me.
In June I noticed a subtle change. We were driving to Boston for Margaret's wedding, and it felt like it took days to get there. We talked some, but mostly we complained about the traffic. I chalked it up to us transitioning out of the honeymoon phase and into mundane, real life. We began to have more arguments over stupid stuff, no longer about our future together. We always made up quickly. There's no one I'd rather fight with, I told him every time. I'd never fought with anyone, really. I just threw in the towel when things got tough or lost their luster. No one had been worth the time before him.
He was worth every moment.
In St. Thomas he seemed a little off, but I just figured he was tired or hungry. His mother had clued me into that a few months earlier. He's the nicest guy until he's hungry. He'd been working longer hours and was often exhausted, not wanting to do anything but watch TV when he got home. I would suggest things for us to do -- go to an outdoor movie, a free concert, even a weekend getaway to New York. He would sometimes agree and then back out, or he would brush off my ideas with Yeah, maybe.
It never occurred to me that he might be having doubts about us.
After we finished the pizza, I decided I wasn't going to bring up what had happened in the airport. I didn't want to fight. The trip had been so great, and I just wanted to leave it at that. But he began to talk about it, and as I explained to him why I had been upset, the floodgates opened and I found myself pleading, Why do I feel so alone when we're with your family? I look at your brother and sister, and they are with their significant others. Why do I feel like you aren't with me?
He started to cry.
I've been a terrible boyfriend to you.
You don't deserve this.
I feel like something's missing. I've been feeling it for a while now.
I stared at him in horror. "How long have you felt this way?"
He began sobbing. "Since June."
The next day he picked Noli up from his friend who was keeping her, and he came back to my apartment to find me crumpled in a ball in my bed. I was crying uncontrollably and had been since I'd woken up that morning.
"I sometimes get ideas in my head and focus on them till they overtake me," he explained to me. "I think I just need to focus on having a good time with you."
"No," I said. "Do not put that kind of pressure on me. Take a couple of days and figure out what you want to do. Don't drag me through this with you."
"I never wanted to do this to you," he said before he left.
I love you, but I don't know if I'm still in love with you.
I called my sister and filled her in. I could barely talk to her. I couldn't bear to tell my parents, so she did it for me. I turned off my phone and counted down the minutes till I could go to sleep. I didn't want to be conscious. I couldn't comprehend life without him. I couldn't figure out how he couldn't be in love with me. Nothing was making sense.
The next three days I waited to hear from him. The anger was setting in. How could he do this to me? How could he lead me on all these months? What was I going to tell people? What would I tell my nephews who already think he's their uncle?
How will I recover from this?
By Wednesday I couldn't take it any longer. I texted him. How much longer Rick?
He texted back that he was at a family dinner for his granddad's birthday and would call me afterwards. I was supposed to be there. What excuse had he given them for why I wasn't? What would Grandma think of me?
I contemplated not answering the phone. Anne called to check on me and told me that I deserved for him to talk to me in person. I didn't tell her that every day since he left I had expected to come home and find him waiting for me, because that's the kind of guy he is. But now my value had been diminished to a phone call after dinner. It was time to end this. I knew what he was going to say, and I didn't want to prolong the inevitable. When he finally called, I answered immediately.
"Hey, how are you doing?"
I paused. I had always been honest with him. It felt cheap to say Okay. "I'm doing horrible, how are you?"
"Pretty bad. Can I come over?"
It was after 9. It would take him at least 40 minutes and I had an important meeting in the morning. I didn't want this to go on late into the night.
"Do you know what you want to say?"
"Then just say it, Rick."
I don't want this to be over, but this nagging feeling won't go away.
I don't think we're meant to be.
This is the hardest decision I've ever had to make.
I've been on the other end of this. You will be fine. It's going to suck for a while, I won't lie. But you are one of the strongest people I know. You will find yourself again.
I couldn't believe he was trying to console me.
"If you think you know what I'm feeling right now, then you don't have a clue how deeply I love you."
I've been in love before, Rick. I've had my heart broken before. And I didn't have a clue what heartbreak was until now.
I could hear him choking up on the phone. I went on.
How could you lead me on all these months? How could you talk about our wedding? How could you make me and my family and everyone expect a proposal? What am I supposed to tell them? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?
I am so broken.
I sobbed. I wanted to say so many things. The rage had been building up inside of me and now it was mingling with utter despair.
"Maybe one day I'll realize I'm an idiot and come back, and it will be up to you if you want to take me back," he said.
The hope vanished before it could even appear. I loved him for wanting it to work and ached for him to be able to resolve whatever he was feeling. But he was tearing my heart apart even more.
I'm so sorry, Mary El.
He rarely called me "Mary El." It was either "babe," "Mary Eleasah," my full name that almost no one calls me, or, during our most precious moments, "baby." I knew it was over.
"We are already oceans apart," I said. I imagined him moving on, meeting some other girl or somehow ending up with the girlfriend he'd had before me, the one that had done this to him months before we met.
We both cried. We stayed on the phone but didn't say anything for a couple of minutes. Finally I cried out, "I don't want to get off the phone with you because I will have to say good-bye. You do it. You hang up."
And he did.
Good-bye, Mary El.
The wine bottles from Sonoma sit on a dusty shelf in my apartment, reminders of the special occasions we never reached. We would have opened at least one on our one-year anniversary in September.
But I can't worry about that now. It's 7 a.m. My alarm just went off. It's time to get up and get ready for work.
It's time to move on with my life, and I don't have the slightest idea how to do that.
As I willed myself to stop crying last night, fearing my eyes would be puffy in the morning (they are), the Lord gave me a song, from Psalm 25.
Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
O, My God, I trust in Thee.
Let me not be ashamed.
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
Somehow, it's going to be okay. And I know the one man I've always been able to fully trust will never leave me.