This is a letter to the man who broke my heart. And it is an apology to all the men I have met since, to whom I claimed to be ready, claimed to love, claimed to be open to.
Sometimes it just takes a lot longer than you think.
I was 25 when I got a job in midtown Manhattan working for the most emotionally articulate man I had ever met.
I grew up in the oh-so manly motorcycle industry, in working-class towns outside Seattle, with a blue collar family. I grew up believing that my feelings were something to hide, put away, not talk about. My emotional state was a thing to closet. It just seemed to make most men uncomfortable to encounter feelings.
You either loved suburban life or you got the fuck out, and when I did the latter, I found myself in a city of dreams: a city of writers, a city of feeling, a city of expectation.
Every day from 9-5, you held my hand during the dreaming. I would come in after a difficult breakup with a man, and you would listen. I would express frustration finding a decent apartment, and you would let me leave early to go look at another unit. I would ask to be paid what I was worth and you would pay it.
You taught me to trust my instincts about people.
You taught me that being brave enough to ask questions is as powerful as knowing the answers.
You taught me, when I came back to Manhattan after a tumultuous two years away, that I was changed, I was bolder, I was…
That is the problem, or where the problem began. You said later it was the “Peter principle,” that we took our affection toward each other to an extreme – that of romantic and sexual love – and failed. Boy did we fail. We crashed, we burned, and then, and this is where my story departs from yours, I almost died.
This might be the problem, and it is a problem I have experienced with many men over the years: You assume I am as strong as I was with you. To you. I’m not. I’m really just a lonely girl trying to fucking survive the adventure.
You hit me with every dragon you had.
I have never forgiven you for torturing me after it fell apart. I have never forgiven you for being the boss who threw my things away, who wouldn’t even mail me my W-2, who accused me of stealing from you.
I have never forgiven you, after you pressed me against the door of the office and peeled my clothes off, for treating me only months later like an enemy.
You broke me.
Here’s the thing: I realize I was not an innocent party. I was asking a married man to leave his wife. I was flying without a parachute. I was exploring burlesque, coming in hungover, wearing a short skirt and leftover glitter, on a hot, muggy summer in the city, while working with an unhappy man in an office whose windows looked at a brick wall.
A man I loved.
I guess all I ever wanted to say to you, and in my defense I did try a few times to say this, was: I don’t blame you for what happened.
I just want you to stop punishing me for what happened.
I don’t know if you knew how completely I loved you, or how scary it is to love a married man (and should be).
I am sure you don’t know that I still carry your aphorisms with me. I had this breakdown tonight, about the idea of, after more than six years, maybe forgiving you. Crying, I went to the kitchen to pour myself a drink. All your AA quotes paraded through my mind, and I laughed, as the vodka splashed into my glass. The last thing I heard was “Pot/Kettle…”
You always liked to point out that any suffering you caused me was mutual. A therapist later told me you sounded manipulative. The thing is that love is, to a degree, both manipulative and codependent. The goal is just to sort of minimize those things.
I think if you understood how real love feels, you would have trusted mine. You would have set it off to seed elsewhere instead of stomping on it. And really I would never have tried, if you were in a real love already. I made the mistake of thinking you could learn it, the taste of it, in your forties. Probably idealistic of me.
When you asked her to try for the thousandth time, I knew it was time to run for the hills. And fortunately, I suppose, you sent the wolves after me to make sure that I did.
In theory, I believe in a good love. But since you, I have done everything to avoid any kind of love. I have hurt men in the process, men who believed (as I did) that I was sincere, that I was in it, that I was trying. I wasn’t. I was punishing them for you. I was using those disconnections to fortify the walls around my heart.
I was collecting tears and turning them into ice.
I was becoming you.
I am sorry for this. And you know what really surprises me, what brings the real tears, all these years later? I’m really sorry that I didn’t realize that by being afraid of you, and the hurt you caused me, I have caused more hurt. So much more hurt. I have really paid it forward.
You really don’t deserve the impact I have caused because of you.
Karma being a bitch? Well I’m kinda over it. I’m embarrassed, so embarrassed, that our drama has made other men feel badly.
This is not okay.
You were never okay. And the weird thing, the totally bizarre, universally fucked up but true thing, is that I am both composing this sentence in a way you would approve of, while also expressing the feeling that I hate that I have to forgive you in order to be the kind of person you and I both thought we were steering our lives to become.
I hate that I have to forgive you.
I hope, somehow, you are in a better state.
You of all people will understand when I say: I feel like I have to make amends.