Originally published on The Good Men Project.
It was when I was 22 years old that I realized love isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in love so early in life; I just realized there are things in life that overpower love, rendering what I thought to be an indestructible force completely impotent. Love doesn’t really conquer all, at least not in the real world.
I didn’t come to this conclusion by chance, however. Before I accepted such a fairy-tale shattering truth, I was a stereotypically naïve girl. I believed in soul mates and didn’t disbelieve in the concept of love at first sight. When people told me I would “just know” when I met “the one,” I accepted that. Anticipated it, even. To me, love was the binding force that maintained the balance between good and bad, dark and light.
With love, anything was possible.
Then I met Jay (not his real name).
Everyone has their first love, the one all other loves are compared to, and mine was Jay. Jay was the first adult man I’d ever been with, and that alone thrilled me. He had the broad, sturdy build of a laborer and a crass sensibility that stirred the blue collar, Midwestern girl in me. More importantly, unlike any of the boys I’d dated in the past, he had the experience to see past the thinly veiled wall I attempted to put up between us. I was struggling with a deep-seated depression I had only begun to work through, and he was one of the only ones in my life brave enough to force me to show him a little of the darkness I spent all of my time trying to hide.
My memories of him are now fragmented, broken and diffused by time.
We’re sitting in his car. It’s late. Dark. Summer. He’s wearing dark blue. He frequently wears dark blue. I love the smell of his cologne. I’m telling him a story, some memory that pains me, fills my chest with emotions I don’t know what to do with. As the story (and the pain) crescendo, I stop talking. I blush. I feel shame. Weak. Female.
“Enough about me. Let’s talk about you now.”
“No,” he says. His hand finds mine in the darkness. “You’re not finished.”
He says he wants to know. I hear “I want to take this burden from you. Let me hold it for awhile.” I finish my story. Barely. Then I cry. I’ve held it all in for so long, I’m not sure I can hold the real force of it inside. He pulls me into his arms, cradles my head into his chest. I let it all go.
I can barely breathe, so he wipes my nose with his sleeve. It’s disgusting, and I’m ashamed. He acts like wiping the snot from a girl’s nose is nothing out of the ordinary.
I don’t have a chance.
For the first time in what seemed like ages, I had someone who didn’t treat my illness as a burden. I wasn’t a smudge that marred his otherwise blemish-free life, but a little light in his own dark corner of the world.
And his world was dark; I was just too young to understand that kind of darkness. Looking back, there were red flags from the very beginning, starting with an angry, late night phone call.
My cell phone rings. I can’t tell what time it is, but I can tell I’ve been asleep for a few hours. It’s Jay. We’ve been dating maybe a month or two. I’m confused, disoriented, but I quickly realize he’s not calling to tell me someone’s hurt or in the hospital. He’s angry with me. He’s not making very much sense. I can’t believe he’s yelling at me. I don’t know whether to argue or apologize. I opt for the latter. It’s the safer route. He seems mildly appeased. We hang up. I look at the clock; it’s nearly 3 a.m. I’m not sure what I was apologizing for.
He brings me flowers the next day. I’m a little sad the first flowers he brings me are apology flowers.
The late night (or early morning) phone calls happen more frequently. He’s always angry. Always yelling. Always barely comprehensible. Sometimes he calls me the next day asking why I’m angry with him. He doesn’t remember talking to me. He says he must’ve sleep-dialed me. I know he’s a heavy sleeper, so I believe him. What else could make him forget such awful, heated phone calls?
When this behavior manifests in face-to-face interactions, I’m even more bewildered.
We’re in a bar with his friends, something we do frequently even though I hate drinking and hate bars even more. His friend Matt is trying to make plans with him, but Jay and I already have plans that night.
Matt jokingly tells him, “Fuck Mika.”
Jay says, “That’s what I’ll be doing.”
I’m not sure I heard him correctly until he adds something about the lower half of my anatomy. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. I didn’t know I could feel so humiliated.
On the way out, I make a joke to one of his other friends about slapping Jay. Jay doesn’t hear this, but he sees the interaction. He doesn’t like it. He accuses me of sleeping with his friend. Then he accuses me of sleeping with Matt.
I’d never been called a whore in so many different ways. He doesn’t remember any of this the next day.
I started to realize Jay had a drinking problem after he admitted to me he’d gotten a DUI when he was only 20 years old. His unintelligible phone calls, his lapses in memory, his Jekyll and Hyde personality changes—it all made sense.
By then we’d been dating for more than a year. I was going to graduate from college soon, and we were making plans. I expected a ring shortly after graduation, but I wanted to make sure everything was right before making that commitment. I asked him, pleaded with him to stop drinking. I told him I loved him. I wanted to be with him. I wanted to build a life with him. He agreed. He said loved me, too. Anything to make it work.
A month later, he got his second DUI.
It all unraveled from there. It was ugly. I was ugly, a young girl changed by the constant verbal assaults of the alcoholic I was in love with. I did everything I could to help him—cooked him dinner, drove him wherever he needed to go, listened to him talk about what he learned in his court-ordered drug and alcohol classes. Most importantly, I believed in him. I loved him hard, as if my love were a force that could push the alcoholism from his body to make room for the love I knew he felt for me.
Then he crashed his car. In the middle of the night. The police came pounding on his door, but he was so passed out, he didn’t hear them. He claimed his car had been stolen, but his broken nose gave him away. He was later arrested.
I stayed a little while longer. A few weeks maybe. We tried to be friends for awhile, but any time he mentioned some small thing he did to try to better himself, I couldn’t control my rage at the fact that he couldn’t have done those things while we were together. Soon we couldn’t stand to even talk to each other.
We haven’t spoken since, but I think of him every time The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” comes on the radio ….
“Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend somewhere along in the bitterness. And I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life …”