I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
He walked in the apartment visibly upset. Without saying hey to any of us, he kept his head down as he walked straight to his bedroom and slammed the door. I had known him for over two decades and had never seen him in such a state. Verbose, outgoing, and confident – he was aggressively rational or would be the first person to throw a punch. He always said, “If you’re going to get into a fight, then fight. Don’t talk about it.” He had no time for bullshit. A real “salt of the earth” kind of guy. No pretentiousness, just all real all the time and filled with courage almost to a fault. That’s why it was so odd to see him so agitated and yet so quiet.
A few hours later he emerged from his room while we were all sitting around watching a movie. Again, he walked past us without saying a word and into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water and sat down at the kitchen table staring off into the wall. I got up and went into the kitchen, poured myself a glass of water, and sat across from him. I waited a few beats and asked if he was okay. He paused, looking like he was having trouble finding words. It was so unlike the friend that I had grown up with who never once missed an occasion to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.
“I… I just don’t,” he was choking up. “I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
“In regards to?…” I asked.
“Her.” He said, “She’s fucking crazy, you know?”
Oh, we all knew. She was exciting and exuded sex and was verbose and outgoing as well, only she had no brakes. She was on level 10 at all times. Always raging. Scattered and messy, with little regard to how her actions impacted the lives of others. But absolutely no one could deny she was off the charts intriguing. The only problem was, her mess became his mess. And for a man who has always been in control, he found himself in a very unsettling position. She was fragile and when they would argue, she would run away. Physically jump out of moving cars. Throw her drink on him in the middle of a restaurant. And the rumors were, that whenever they fought she would immediately run to the nearest bar, get blackout drunk, and go home with the first guy who hit on her. Of course he didn’t believe that last part. Or at least, that’s what he told us. I mean, there’s no way someone so intelligent and perceptive could miss the signs but when you’re in love you do whatever you can to believe the lie you so badly want to believe.
He did he best to make the words count, “I’m not stupid. I know she needs help. But I just don’t know if I can stick around and wait for her to get better. It is killing me.” He stood up and walked to the other side of the kitchen, “I get no sleep, I am super stressed, I call off work when she’s having an episode… and it’s all because one day I know she’s going to do it.”
I knew what he was referring to. She was prone to having fits of rage where she would threaten to kill herself. And the problem was, she had already tried committing suicide twice before we ever met her.
“Last night, she pulled into my driveway, locked herself in her car, called me to come outside and made me watch as she swallowed handfuls of pills.”
“Dude,” I said. “Are you fucking serious?”
“She was screaming about how she wanted me to watch her die because it was my fault and she wanted me to have the memory of watching the life slip from her.”
“So what did you do?”
“I had to call the police.” He said, “But she drove away before they got there. I had no idea what happened until she texted me tonight and apologized.”
“So how are you going to handle this?” I asked.
“I know I can’t be with her anymore despite how much I love her. She will drive me crazy if I stay with her any longer. I can’t handle it.” He paused, breathed heavy and said, “I just know if I end things there is a good chance she will kill herself. And I couldn’t handle that hanging over me for the rest of my life.”
Years later, I found myself in almost the exact same position. Threats of suicide on a monthly basis. Cryptic 2am texts saying that she would see me on the other side and to take care of her valuables and I would rush to her place, kick in the door, only to find her safely medicated in a bathtub wearing all of her clothes, surrounded by candles, listening to Sade. So many false alarms but I just knew the one time I call her bluff, I would get the call the next day from the hospital. So I stayed because her bullying and guilt tactics worked. Because manipulators will always seek out the most susceptible to their ploys. And those are usually people with the biggest hearts and the most love to give.
When I finally found the courage to walk away, as if on cue, she sent the cryptic text. “Please hide my journals. They’re under my mattress. I don’t want anyone else to read them. Just know that I loved you with all I had. Goodbye.” And I had to attempt to sleep that night in my bed and fight the urge to not rush over there to kick in the door once again. But I didn’t. I crossed my fingers and hoped that I wouldn’t get that call. Luckily, the call never came. And somehow I was free.
Unhealthy relationships don’t always come with bruises and there will never be a perfect exit plan. But I can tell you that while suicide should not be taken lightly, you are also under no obligation to maintain a relationship based upon threats or coercion. Ask if they need help. Tell their brothers and sisters and moms and dads. Tell their friends and let them understand what is going on. Keeping it a secret seems like the right thing to do when you’re in the middle of it, but by letting people around you know of the situation, it tends to dismantle their plans when they know more eyes are on them. Their guilt tactics fade a little when they know their mom is aware of their behavior. I wish I had known that back then, but I’m just happy to be away from a situation that sucked the life from my bones. I wasn’t able to be who I truly was out of fear that she would kill herself. I overanalyzed every move I made and apologized even when I didn’t do anything wrong in hopes that it would ease her mind. I compromised everything I believed in and I sacrificed my character – all for a manipulator who refused to get help and her mess became my mess.
My friend eventually called her bluff and managed to finally get away. He went on to have a full life and is now married to a wonderful woman. He instantly came back to life and I have never seen him again like he was that night in the kitchen. And now I look for the signs. If I date anyone and hear the inklings of threats or guilt, I call it out right away. Because people only behave in relationships in a way they feel they can get away with. And if those behaviors come back again, I walk away as fast as possible. Because there is a certain strength that I gained from kicking in all those doors so many years ago…
That while I might love the shit out of you – I love me first.