Last night, I was perusing the web with a friend when an old girlfriend popped up on his social media feed. “Please don’t judge me by my college mistakes,” he said. I assured him that I was no one to judge. To prove it, I pulled up the account of a college mistake of my own. So he wouldn’t think I have something absolutely wrong with my chooser, I promised him that the disheveled, mess of a man in the profile pic was quite cute and charming a decade+ ago.
As I gave him the brief run-down of why “Ted” had been such a mistake, I felt myself getting flushed. Was I still mad? I was. I was actually still angry at my old college flame.
To be fair, Ted had a pretty ugly rap sheet:
– Ted wasn’t interested in being my boyfriend, yet he liked acting like it when other people were around (putting his arm around me if he saw me talking to another guy). Then, he’d tell me about a date he’d had but how she’d been “too smart” for him. Sometimes, he’d sit next to me while I was working (we worked together) and browse the personal ads in the Willamette Week.
– Ted regularly reminded me that my college degree was inferior for my chosen career. Never mind that he had dropped out of school, himself. His school had been better than mine. Therefore, he won.
– He would remind me that I was too “loud, crazy, and drank too much” for any guy to want to be with me. I was “too much like Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?“ Yet, he “could tolerate me…somehow.”
– He told me my clothes were weird, my face was shaped funny, and my voice was odd–but that he was able to see past all of that.
– His most romantic gesture was a handwritten copy of Sonnet 130. If you’re not familiar, it’s Shakespeare talking about finding love with an ugly woman.
This was an on-and-off mistake for about two years. Several times, I told him to leave me alone. He’d immediately launch into a personal sob story because honestly, he was a desperately hurt and lonely person and I had a penchant for attempting to save the hurt and lonely. I kept coming back. It finally ended when he moved to South America and I moved to NYC. For some reason, we stayed friends. Maybe I’d been hooked on ego–I couldn’t stand the tepid feelings and would MAKE him love me, eventually. Maybe I was then a weak-willed person who didn’t believe I was worth more than crass remarks and partial attention. Maybe we fall into the pattern of believing the words of those we care about, even if they’re lies.
But I bought the talk. I believed him. I broke hearts and had mine broken again and again, throwing away promising relationships and throwing myself at worthless ones as I didn’t believe I was fit for love. It wasn’t until another boyfriend, many years later (who, ironically, had some pretty steep commitment issues of his own), said, “I don’t know why you always say you’re not fit for a relationship. I think you’d be a great girlfriend,” that I wondered if my time with Ted had left some scars. (Courtney. You think? I know, right?)
It was also about that time that I happened to see Ted again. He’d moved to Austin. I was in town visiting friends and asked if he’d like to have lunch. He came, and brought his new girlfriend with him. She was much younger than we, and very pretty. I wondered what she saw in him, as his smoking and bad-food habits were already taking a toll on his body. As we ate, I watched him do to her as he had done to me: Constant put-downs all throughout our meal and our walk around town, afterward. She likely believed as I once had, that she was “lucky” to have him.
Then, somehow (How did our conversation turn to this? What was wrong with us?), the conversation turned to a murder in my neighborhood, of a young woman who looked eerily like me and how the murderer was never caught. Scary, right? Yeah. It was.
Ted said, “Maybe she reminded him too much of his ex-girlfriend.”
Yup. That was our very last conversation.
They say that when you move away from the north, your blood thins and your tolerance for your environment changes. If you then go back to the north during the winter, the brutal, whipping winds that once never phased you are suddenly intolerable to you, down to the inside of your bones. I’d been away from Ted for long enough. One stupid (and pretty fucked-up) joke I wouldn’t have blinked at years before grated on the inner-layers of my soul.
I wanted to tell Ted’s girlfriend to “RUNRUNRUN.” Or push him in front of a car. Instead, I wished them both a pleasant day, left for the airport, went back to New York and sent him a MySpace message informing him that he would never contact me again. Ever. He didn’t. We never spoke again.
So. Last night.
There I was, in the comfort of my home, sitting with the love of my life whom I’ll be marrying in a few months, and I was angry about events from a decade ago. Mostly at myself, for having put up with that and for subjecting him to others I cared about (he liked to tickle my girlfriends and throw packs of cigarettes at their heads. Sorry, y’all. 🙁 ). What was wrong with me? In truth–nothing. No one is invulnerable to an abusive relationship. We all carry cracks and sometimes, we run across people who are just slick enough to ooze their way in.
I forgive myself for the pain I allowed me to undergo. I recognize that I was young, vulnerable, and unable to see how wrong the situation was. I credit myself for eventually seeing clearly and for walking away, definitively.
Can I forgive Ted? Should I even bother? There’s also the possibility that Ted barely remembers me or if he does, has no clue about the pain I carried for years. I can hear a chorus of friends say someone like that isn’t worth forgiveness and maybe it’s true: maybe he doesn’t deserve it. But my final dreams last night were of raising up above the Earth and seeing things from all sides. There is more to the story than the hurtful words. I dreamed of saying a few things that, if I ever had the opportunity, I hope I would say to Ted in person:
I wish for you a life in which you don’t feel the need to hurt to make yourself feel better.
I wish for you confidence, so you don’t project your insecurities onto your relationships.
I wish for you the knowledge that you don’t have to break a woman down to make her stay.
For anything I may have said that inspired your hurtful words as retaliation, I apologize. I wish you healing.
I wish for you the kind of love I’ve found with my partner.
I wish for you fulfillment of your dreams. You are only as inferior as you believe yourself to be.
I wish for you peace, if our past ever haunts you.
This song is Legends by Jenna Greene. It is available for download and purchase on her website.