They never tell you how hard it is to love someone. Or how hard it is to be loved.
The first person you ever think you love is the shift manager of the restaurant of your first job. He’s twenty, four years older than you, and you don’t even know him. He doesn’t know you. All you remember about this first love, the one you aren’t ever supposed to forget, is that your first kiss was a shotgun hit of weed that turned into tongues and teeth mashed together, that later he vomited tequila in the sink and then you fucked in the spare room of your friend’s house. You were so drunk you didn’t realize you started your period and it looked like a crime scene, which seems appropriate now. Anymore, sex and love seem like crime.
You were never together but you fucked sometimes, and it never felt good, just something you were supposed to do. There were no bells ringing and no toe curling orgasms, but it was nice to be close to someone. That you did store in your memory bank. He found someone else, pretty, thin, pierced nipples, and a convertible. And he moved on.
You didn’t. Not for a long while. Later, after Pierced Nipples is gone, you tell him one night just how much you loved him. He says he didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell him?
But you did. He just wasn’t listening. Besides, you knew even then, that you could show someone all the ways that you loved them, and it didn’t mean jackshit if they didn’t want to hear it.
You don’t know where he is or what happened to him, now. You hardly remember him, even though he used to be everything.
Your mom left when you were a baby. You don’t know why, and you never asked. She was gone, and that was that. All of that was about her, but you won’t get that for a while, and that’s ok. You’ll get there.
The second love, was a person you probably knew you didn’t love, and probably would have broken up with if he hadn’t screwed his ex-girlfriend right when you started seeing each other. When you’re young and have nothing, you gotta fight for every crumb. It was about winning. You moved in with him right away, because that was the kind of thing you did then and went to his shows where he banged on the drums like he sometimes banged away on you. Once he choked you and you couldn’t swallow for two days, but you didn’t leave. You didn’t have anywhere else to go. You even called your dad for help once, when you were desperate, violated your don’t ask that motherfucker for anything, but he didn’t have anything to say about that anyway. Once again, you were the rejectee.
You’re not quite sure when your dad stopped loving you. When you look at pictures of the beginning of the two of you, the small package swaddled and staring at the new world from his arms, it seems to have existed once upon a time. But it left, before you even had the age to retain a memory of it. What you do remember is that he didn’t ever want you around. You never understood why he even bothered to keep you, either. You spent your time locked away in your room lost in books and your own head, while the new family lived happily ever after. You didn’t keep any of the pictures. You don’t keep any pictures. They’ve all been lost along the way.
The third, the fourth, the fifth, you remember their names but not much else about them. By then, you loved booze too, how the warmth spread through you and dulled all the things inside that roared and bit and chewed on your insides. You loved it so much you stopped cutting for a while. People always stared at the cuts, but they never asked why. They never said a word. Years later, after you overdose, and some old country doctor is trying to figure you out in the tiny emergency department of a rural hospital, he says in a voice kinder than anyone else has ever used, “oh, honey, why would you do this to yourself?”
It’s all too much, you thought, but didn’t say. The thing inside your chest that whispered and fluttered its wings rose up sometimes and belched all the stuff you swallowed back up, until it circled you like a pack of vultures. Birds with black hearts and wings saying NO ONE LOVES YOU, YOU’RE UGLY, YOU’RE FAT, SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH YOU, JUST KILL YOURSELF, DIE SO EVERYONE WILL BE HAPPIER. You agree, and you try quite a few times, but you’re a failure at that, too. So, you take a piece of glittering steel and split your flesh, and when the beads of blood well up and run together, you can breathe again. That’s why. And now you’re scarred, and even uglier than before.
The third and the fourth and the fifth, you remember their names, how they used to cut right through the middle of you, but not much else. This one sang opera, this one had a wife who left him a note on the kitchen table and her kid when she bailed, this one had was there but not. All they had in common was they were older, the y fucked you, but they didn’t care about you.
By your mid-twenties, you’ve drank and fucked and drugged your way through college and men, and nothing’s any better. You think about suicide on a daily basis, but you suck at killing yourself. You go to rehab, once, meet another guy, much older than you. He says you’re too pretty to be so sad. He listens to what you share in the groups, about how sometimes you look in the mirror and tell yourself, you’re ugly. You’re stupid. You’re a whore. No one loves you. Later, he tells you he can’t imagine what you say in your head, if you can say these things out loud. You don’t tell him, that even though you don’t cut yourself anymore, that you still hit yourself, pull your own hair, anything to step outside the hole inside you.
Your friend’s dad used to come up behind you, reach between your legs, grab your crotch and yell goose. This is when you understood your body wasn’t your own. It belonged to them. Sometimes he tickles you, holds you down, until you’re gasping for air and you can’t scream about the hard thing pressing against your back or your thigh or wherever it lies.
You end up with the older guy for a year. You don’t love him, but he might love you. Who knows, with the amount of booze and cocaine you’re blowing through on his dime, what the fuck it is. He hits you, too, sometimes. He tells you all the same things the vultures used to. The same things he said you shouldn’t tell yourself in the mirror. The things he said weren’t true.
You get clean again, although that’s a relative term. You can be drug and alcohol free all you want, but there’s nothing clean about your soul anymore. Hold it up, and all you’d see is soot marks, in the form of all the things you did that you didn’t want to do but did to get that elusive thing called love. You can take the stains on the soul, you think, if you can just taste that.
Your best friend in high school was your best friend ever. You hung out and drank southern comfort all summer long your freshman year, listening to the Indigo Girls and talking about a pain in the way that spoiled suburban kids that aren’t loved do. You talk about getting out of this town, about being trapped, about escaping to become who you really are. You start talking to some guy on the Internet and hatching a half assed plan to run away to California. She buys bus tickets and you want to go, you really do. But you can’t. She does it and you don’t. You ran away once before, in seventh grade, hitchhiked over 400 miles through another state, and you know if you do it again, you’ll be kicked out, to the streets or a group home. You know, from before, from the goosing and that hard thing pressed up against your pre-adolescent body, there are worse things out there than being unloved.
Her mother finds the chats, and your dad interrogates you about it, and you know it’s all bullshit since he wouldn’t care if it was just you who had left. You ask him later that day if he hates you and there’s a very long pause, before he says, “I don’t hate you. I just don’t like the way you are.”
The guy you marry, you don’t love, and he doesn’t love you. You’re both ex drunks, trying to pretend you have a shot at something called normal. You have a couple kids and despise each other but love each other in the way that people who have children together do. It’s a funny but true thing, that you don’t have to like someone to love them. He doesn’t like you either, so you don’t feel bad about it. You divorce after an accident you’ll never talk about.
The accident did something to you. It made you strong. It made you less afraid. You started to become your own person, to write again, to like yourself. For the first time in your life, you have friends and self-respect and you like yourself. You’re beginning to figure out all that baggage you carry around wasn’t ever yours to begin with.
And then there’s the next one. He came in the back door, you didn’t even see him coming. Maybe you would have run, if you’d seen it. Probably not. Like cutting and drinking, love is just another art of self-destruction you’ve perfected. He’s older, much older, and he is the one who seems desperate to be loved, something you recognize and never saw in the others. Kindred spirits. His wife doesn’t love him, he’s trapped, his father didn’t love him, all these things he says fits right in your heart, lodged in between the ventricles and throbbing. No one’s ever treated you like you matter before, and things get all confused up in your head.
He got too close, is all. When you end it, and it’s you who ends it this time, just like you ended your marriage, now you’re the leaver. It’s role reversal. And you don’t burn the bridge, you nuke that fucker right out of existence, and you pretend it was never there to begin with.
No one else really knew you, not the others, but he did. That’s what lingers. He wept when you left, sat on your bed and cried for two hours, but you did, too, but it was over. He wouldn’t leave his wife and every time you were together you added another layer of dirt to your filthy soul and you just couldn’t anymore. Sometimes you think about him, and it’s not the thinking that says you want him back, but there’s still an ache there, a brittle bone broken that never healed quite right.
And the last one, you might have loved. He might have loved you. You both say you did, but you’re not even sure what love is anymore. If it exists. Maybe it’s because you never had it before, and you won’t recognize it when it does come, but you’ve broken up and gotten back together. You find these things, text messages or half-truths or just bullshit behavior. He says the right things, but there’s a note of falsehood that rings through it. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re the problem.
Maybe the problem is him, the way he has an explanation for everything, and you’ve never caught him doing actual wrong, but there’s the hint of it. You’re too old and tired for this anymore. You are stuck between is this it? Isn’t there more than this? And well, fuck it, maybe this is as good as it gets.
You look in the mirror and it reflects all the people you’ve been but you still don’t know who you are. You don’t know how to love or be loved, and you probably never will, but that’s how it goes. You’re used to it.
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