The problem with being in relationship with someone like Leo is the self-doubt. People like Leo make you believe that you’re crazy, that something is wrong with you. That your memory is suspect. Even now, after a lot of therapy, I still sometimes wonder if things really were as bad as I remember them. The word “abuse” always seemed like something that happened to other people.
Nevertheless, some of what I shared with Maggie must have been true because she said the same things were happening to her.
What I remembered, and what I told her, was that I’d been afraid of Leo. His outbursts of rage, his cruel sense of humor. The way he could cut me down to nothing in less than five words. He never hit me but there was a violence beneath his skin, something you could sense rather than see, like a jaguar lurking behind dense jungle foliage. He liked to talk about getting away with murder. He talked about how he’d do it.
The night before I left him, I threw away the bullets to his shotgun. Officially, the gun was for protection, though we’d never lived anywhere dangerous. It sat propped in the corner of our bedroom, where I could never quite forget that it was there.
Once, when I asked what he’d do if I left, he told me I would never leave him. I’d kill you if you did, he said, smiling coldly. I believed him. But what actually happened when we broke up is that we sort of fought for thirty minutes and he pleaded a little bit. When he saw I was resolute, he made a sandwich and went to work.
It was beyond anticlimactic. The relationship that had governed one-third of my life was just…over. I’d been so afraid all this time, and yet it had been almost too easy to end.
In a matter of weeks, I was doing exactly what I’d wanted to do for years: moving to New Orleans, living by myself in my own apartment with nobody but me and my cat to worry about. Figuring out who I was. Making friends. Exploring. All of the things you’re supposed to do in your twenties that I hadn’t done. My life went from fuzzy black-and-white to full-color 3-D.
I know it seems scary, I told Maggie, who confessed that she wanted to leave but lacked the wherewithal. But there is a life waiting for you on the other side of this, something bigger and more beautiful than you can imagine.
I wanted her to leave. I didn’t outright say so, but I encouraged her to take hold of her life and make something good for herself. I thought, in some convoluted way, that if I could persuade her to leave sooner than I had done, I was saving the ghost of myself. If she left, it somehow redeemed those nine years of my life, years that still felt meaningless and wasted. That’s how it will seem to you, I told her. I grieve those lost years.
From time to time over the years one or both of us has stepped away from the correspondence for so long that it seemed unlikely to resume. And then I’d have a dream that felt like a warning, and I’d write to see if she were okay. Or she’d write to say she’d made up her mind to leave, and that she’d email me again when it was done. Then I wouldn’t hear from her for months. When I’d check in, they would still be together.
I became so frustrated that I gave up on her for a while. I knew I was too invested in the situation. I’d tried so hard to convince Maggie that life could be better, but I couldn’t do the believing for her.
(To be continued)