Sometimes, dream relationships can turn out to be nightmares, and the people we thought were enemies can become our closest friends. Sometimes, someone breaks your heart, and you find healing through the last person you expected.
And sometimes, through a similar nightmare relationship, you find a dream friendship.
I’d known him for years through friends. We grabbed drinks and played cards ’til 3 a.m., our first time hanging out just us. He told me he was being deployed to Iraq. Talked about a girl he was kind of/sort of seeing and my thoughts on beginning a relationship while he was deployed.
He called from base to ask me to write him while he was gone. I said, “Of course!” I wrote him a letter of jokes, pictures from his going away party. He called from Iraq and told me he had ripped the envelope in excitement to see a letter from me.
My heart beat rapidly, picturing him excited to hear from me, picturing him seeing that letter and lighting up. His letter finally arrived, and thus began an exchange of letter-writing that bordered the romance of a film I would typically hate. He told me he was so happy we’d finally connected and been able to spend some time one-on-one — that he couldn’t wait to get home so we could pick up where we left off. I was falling, but it felt awesome, the thrill of a roller coaster ride.
We kept writing, sharing jokes and stories. Then a letter came that sent me plummeting. He began by admitting he was nervous to tell me this, but that he had always felt a deep connection between us, and that he was so thankful that we finally had our own connection, not just through our friends. He told me how he could count the number of people who mean as much to him as I do on the hand of a former bad shop teacher. He told me how he looked up to me, how he had admired me from afar. He quoted song lyrics to me — “you are the best one, of the best ones” — from the song “Stolen” by Dashboard Confessionals.
When someone sweeps you off your feet, you know they can’t carry you forever. You hope that when the honeymoon phase ends, they will let you down gently, and maybe keep a supportive hand gently on your back. What you don’t expect is for someone to carry you to the ledge assuring you that they’ll catch you when you fall, but then smile at you as they throw you over the edge, leaving you tumbling and grasping, and you just want to hit the concrete so you know it’s over.
I came home after work one day and there were four letters from him. I eagerly opened one. It talked again, of how excited he was to see me when he got home. “I picture us together, making all of our friends laugh. My girlfriend and I are thinking of moving in together when I get back, and I can’t wait to have you, and everyone else over.”
I read the line, again and again, each time more stunned. Rage clouded my vision. I threw the glass I had in my hand at the wall. I collapsed on my floor. I went numb. I’d never felt more stupid in my life. That whole weekend, the weight of the words of that letter sat heavily on my stomach. They kept running across my head. “My girlfriend and I are moving in together.” Is his girlfriend the best one of the best ones? Does he have this intense connection with his girlfriend? Weren’t they just kinda/sorta figuring things out before he left, but now they are moving in together?
I contacted him and told him I was confused. His girlfriend contacted me and told me I was a horrible person who had tried to steal her man. I understood her, where she was coming from. But I felt both of us should be angry at him, rather than each other. He stopped talking to me, because she wanted him to. We had a phone conversation about how we would stop communicating, but once he got home, he would smooth everything out and his girlfriend would calm down. The heartbreak grew more painful.
I kept reading those letters. Talked to anyone about this situation, just wondering if I had been completely foolish to have believed that he had feelings for me based on the words of those letters. I felt insane, and I’m not using that word lightly. I didn’t trust my own thoughts, my own feelings. In our conversations before he returned and after he returned, the blame seemed placed on me — I should have spoken up sooner, I shouldn’t have kept writing if I felt there was something romantic.
He came home. I had a panic attack every time I thought about running into him. I heard friends mention his name and felt my insides tense up, my brain crumble, my heart drop into my stomach. I felt as if everyone felt pity towards me, or felt I was stupid.
I grew tired of analyzing the situation, of trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. Fed up, one night after seeing him out with mutual friends, where he again, talked to me, as if our connection hadn’t been distorted, the frequency hadn’t been lost when he pushed me over the ledge. I wrote him and told him to just not talk to me. He texted me and said we should talk things out. We grabbed drinks and at first we just discussed books we’d read, comedians we were currently following. Then it was like someone rang a bell and it was time for us to get serious. We argued and yelled, and eventually, tensely, talked things through.
We slowly started hanging out more. At first it felt like going through the motions, but there was eventually some honesty and intention behind our actions. He broke up with his girlfriend. I had started dating an emotionally abusive man who was going through a divorce. I talked to him a lot about it. We went out for drinks one night, and came back to my apartment. We watched a movie, snuggled up next to each other and I fell asleep in his arms. He called soon after and told me that he was tired of pretending there wasn’t something between us and that he wanted to talk to me about us being together.
The next time I saw him, he was dating someone new. The heartbreak returned, the confusion, the feeling so incredibly stupid. Of not trusting my own feelings. Of trying to pretend I was okay, and didn’t want to break down and cry every time I saw him, and every time I saw him with her. I kept thinking there was still this deep connection between us, that he would one day figure out that I was the one. But they continued dating. I moved on, tried to find connections with other people. I still longed for him, still felt pained, wanted so badly to just not think about him. To meet anyone who would take that pain away. I drank a lot. I tried to act like I was fine, but I wasn’t. His new girlfriend also became jealous of our friendship, and again, I was told to stop talking to him. By this point, I just felt annoyed and angry. I couldn’t believe that I’d been through the same situation twice. He left for Iraq, again.
I left for New York, to get my MFA, to go after what I really wanted to do. Perhaps that was the reason for all this? If things had worked out would I have had followed my dreams? Would he have wanted me to? Seeing pictures of him, and his now wife, still felt like being stabbed in the stomach, but I was going for my dream. I should be happy. Going home and seeing him still caused the same panic attacks, but I had to deal with them less frequently. The heartbreak went away, mostly, but some people crawl under your skin and stay there. He would always cause a reaction in me, an allergy triggered by bad romantic comedies, songs that reminded me of him, inside jokes we’d told each other. Sometimes I’d be fine, and other times, an attack would take over and I would find it hard to breathe.
I found out they were breaking up via Facebook. I read her post and saw how much he had hurt her. How much he had invalidated her feelings throughout their entire relationship. I thought of how he had made me feel invalidated. My heart hurt for her. I reached out and told her I was so incredibly sorry for what she’d been through. I was nervous reaching out to her, afraid she’d still be angry at me. She wrote back with kindness and strength, and asked for my side of the story of what had happened between me and him. I told her everything — small details that made me believe he was interested, how he’d told me he had feelings for me right before he started dating her. I apologized for not being more welcoming to her, for letting my frustration with him bleed into my perception of her.
She wrote back that he had lied to her about us. And that now that she knew the truth, she understood where I had been coming from. She told me he’d just made it seem like I was crazy and he had no idea why I would feel uncomfortable around her. She wrote that he had quoted the exact same Dashboard Confessionals song to her, and told her to listen to it while he was later deployed again. She wrote how he was emotionally manipulative and how I’d dodged a bullet. How painful the relationship had been, how he’d been completely the opposite of the funny charming persona he put on for all his friends.
It’s hard to describe how it feels to truly get to know someone who you had such a negative perspective of for so long, and to connect with someone who understands not just a situation you’ve been through, but an almost exactly similar situation. Who has been hurt by the same person, the same person that so many of your friends love and admire. And as a woman, how amazing it feels to admit and own up to the fact that I let my jealousy, my jealousy of what was actually a horrible relationship, cloud my judgement of another woman. Talking to her has been therapeutic, allowed me to release a huge weight that’s obstructed my clarity for so long.
But beyond that therapeutic conversation, and more importantly, I’ve made a new friend. Yes, a friend that I came to know through a crappy situation, but a friendship that is a bonding of sisterhood. Sisterhood of the overly romantic gestures. Sisterhood of confusion and frustration. Sisterhood of validation.
We’ve both realized this friendship means so much to us, that we’d both been manipulated, and that each other’s validation has been so essential in helping us both to move on and heal. But I am grateful that, out of this horrible situation, this incredible friendship has been built. So often, women are pitted against each other, and very rarely have the chance to hear each other’s stories. I am getting to know her as I should have always known her, as the awesome, funny, hip-hop loving individual woman she is, not someone connected to a person who had caused me so much pain. I’m so thankful we reached out to each other, and that this friendship is blooming out of this shitty situation.
They do say manure makes good fertilizer.
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