I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
It was late, probably two or three in the morning and my depression was weighing heavy. In retrospect, I can recognize that year as the lowest point of my life. The planets aligned and made for the perfect shit-storm that my life had become. I just remember sitting there on my filthy used Craigslist couch watching a lumbering cockroach slowly walk across the floor. They didn’t phase me anymore and I didn’t even bother getting up to do anything about it. He walked under my roommates door and I just shrugged and huddled back under my blanket.
Our underground apartment never really warmed up and there was something about sitting there under a blanket, in the middle of winter with absolutely no one to love and a heart so beaten that it couldn’t even love if it had wanted to. And when that depression sets in, it won’t let you sleep. You will lie there awake with your eyes wide open to the point of tears because you can’t fall asleep. So I sat there, cold and alone, just staring off into nothing wondering how many years it would be before the pain of my disarded relationship would pass.
I had been buying and selling things on Craigslist to help pay the bills and when I was bored, I would lurk around the seedy side of the personals. I began responding to ads and eventually started making my own. I met a lot of people this way. Some boring, some sketchy, some married, some that I had sex with, and some that looked absolutely nothing like their pictures, but along the way, I actually made a friend or two. It had become a new and scandalous way to keep my mind off the pain and the loss.
I contacted her because she sounded intelligent. CL ads are kind of seen as the bottom of the barrel in online dating and aren’t really known for their eloquence. Hers stood out. I don’t recall exactly what it said but whatever it was compelled me to respond and not even with sexual intentions. She didn’t even post a picture of herself, her humor was enough to capture my attention.
We flirted on some chat app well into the night and eventually I got sleepy so I thanked her for her company and assured her that we would continue our line of flirting when I woke up. And that was exactly what I did for days until I finally asked her to grab coffee. She was beautiful in person. Average height, dressed as if to say, I’m professional yet fun. Her clothes draped her enough to barely hide her athletic body. But that was who she was. So confident in herself and her sexuality that she didn’t have to try to sell it. She was quick and challenging, and our back and forth was highly charged and exhilarating.
After a couple hours I could tell that it was time for a venue change so I suggested we go back to my place to watch a movie, but we both knew what that meant. When we walked into my room and I closed my door the animalistic sexuality came out and it was incredible. To this day, it was some of the hottest and adventurous sex I had ever had. She left around midnight because she had work in the morning and I almost broke my rule and asked her to stay the night. I felt that connected to her. It was quick… and I didn’t like it.
I had told her over coffee how hurt I was. I didn’t lie. I was trying something different at that time – a new version of honesty. One where I would tell women that yes, I was not over my ex. That my ex still filled my thoughts and yes, that I was still in love with her. You would think this tactic a bit odd but strangely enough, most women responded positively. They seemed to think they could fix me. That all I needed was to see the good heart of a strong woman and I would be ready and open to a future with them. But like I knew all along, their love couldn’t fix my damage and it wasn’t fair that I let them believe it could.
We got along so well for a few weeks that it felt as if I had jumped right back into another relationship. One that I wasn’t ready for. One that had been thrust upon me at the worst time in my life and I knew that I would never be able to appreciate it for what it truly was. Like giving a bruised and bloody fighter a birthday cake after 12 rounds – as much as you might like cake, it’s the last thing you want while you’re dying inside.
I took her to see a movie and she kept holding my hand throughout the evening. It was something so simple but it made me tear up. I hid my emotions because I didn’t want to have to explain that the woman I had just left rarely held my hand and never on her own accord. That I would have to practically guilt her into being affectionate. That she didn’t know how to love me or show me that she loved me or made me feel like she loved me so now, that there was this woman next to me so easily touching me because she was compelled with attraction – well, it was a little too much cake for me to handle.
I have always been a good communicator in relationships. I pride myself on my ability to rationally explain my feelings and to listen to my partners side. But when we got back to her apartment, I felt different. I was cold and quiet. I didn’t know how to process these overwhelming feelings of intimacy while the memory of another woman burned its way though my brain.
She said a joke that I didn’t respond to so she took her water bottle and flung a little water at me. It splashed my face and went down my neck. Even thinking back on it now it was slightly out of line, but nothing as terrible as to warrant my response. I looked at her and said, “What the fuck is your problem?”
Her smile faded and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t think that much would come out.”
“Well, what the fuck?”
“Chris,” she said. “I really am sorry. It was an accident.”
What happened after that was a blur. A fury of passive aggressive insults and me looking for my coat. I stormed out and I could hear her choking up while following me and apologizing. I walked out into the cold night air and I never saw her again.
Years later, I came to realize that this is what people do all the time, all over the world when faced with emotions they can’t handle. They take something of no real consequence and use it as an excuse to run away. Because running away from true communication is significantly easier than holding your ground and opening your heart. She couldn’t have fixed me and I knew it. But I never even gave her the chance to be a cheerleader. She was intelligent and educated and charming and witty and sexy and it was all too soon and too much and the acid was still burning in my lungs from the fight so instead of explaining why I didn’t want to eat the cake, I shoved it away and ran like an embarrassed child.
I knew I did wrong. I knew that I had disrespected her trust. I tried texting her weeks later and apologizing but she wasn’t very responsive. She had been hurt and said that my response was irrational and disrespectful. She thanked me for the apology but told me that it was best that we no longer contact each other. I knew she had far too much self-respect and confidence to deal with a man still reeling, and bloody, and unsure of his future as a man. And I could respect that.
But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had come across her ad a few years down the line. Late at night, when you’re under your blankets and your eyes won’t close, sometimes your mind drifts to the what-ifs. And I wonder what would have happened. But I don’t let myself dwell too long. Instead, I try to remember what I took away from my experience with her brief time in my life and I think of the importance of respect. That there are always two people in a relationship and it’s not just about me and my pain but how me and my pain impacts the life of another. And while it is their job to listen and attempt to understand my bullshit, it is my job to make my bullshit easier to read. So that I can grow into a man not terrified of his pain, but one courageous to admit his faults. Like we all should.