The first time we broke up, we met at an old-fashioned ice cream stand. I ordered a strawberry shake, and we sat at the edge of the patio, off by ourselves. It was late spring, and it was my doing. She was electric and attractive, but ultimately, too young, too impish, and too gaseous. Not as in flatulence, but rather the type of person that tends to expand and take up all possible space. It was a charming attribute in some ways because when we first met, it was daily love texts, praise for my good looks, and sweet kisses day and night. But anytime you take one step, there’s another unless you want to go backward, and I felt like I had a perpetually raised foot with nowhere to put it. So, the solution was to be a gentleman and cut my losses early. I told her I didn’t want to hold her back. I thought it went pretty well, but as I was heading home, I got a text.
“Can’t we just get together and make each other feel good? Xxoo.”
It was a while before I heard from her again, right when summertime was in full bloom, spreading warmth and possibility, like a classic car tuned to a favorite radio station. No particular place to go. Long days and longer nights.
“You doing anything this weekend?” she texted me out of the blue, “I need to ramble.”
No harm in taking a drive, I thought, as long as I put ground rules in place. The car was a neutral space. So, I said yes, bought some French bread and cheese, packed a picnic basket, grabbed a blanket, and picked her up at her apartment. Off we went down the Natchez Trace. We listened to music for awhile, though mostly she talked over the tunes, telling me about some troubles back home, childhood trauma and hospital visits. She teared up a little as she got to the heavy parts, so I patted her knee platonically and started to think maybe I hadn’t been patient enough. We stopped at a little waterfall hike and took the winding rocky trail all the way to the bottom, where she told me about some more troubles back home, friend issues among those who didn’t understand her and had our picnic as the sun began to set. I’d never met her family or her friends, but I listened mindfully until she was done. Then I took a break to go to the bathroom, at which time she texted me.
“You make me so happy. Xxoo.”
This made me feel good. It capped off a perfect afternoon. I’d enjoyed her company, taken in by the sweeter parts of her soul, while still keeping my boundaries. On the drive home, however, I put on a Massive Attack CD, and she fell into my lap, and as she parted her lips, it became clear she was going to stay the night. She stayed over the next day and the day after, as well, and soon I began reading books by my favorite Zen authors on how to love better. For the rest of the summer, I spent long nights trying to make her orgasm, sitting on the front porch afterward to gaze at the stars while she smoked her pipe. She had developed an aversion to going out in public together, but I still managed to take her to movies or concerts occasionally. Sometimes I felt rejuvenated, other times I felt 100 years old, like, the time I took her out to a nice Lebanese restaurant, and over the appetizer, she told me about a couple she knew back home that she wouldn’t mind having a threesome with. Later that night, she texted me from her side of the bed.
“I still think about that road head I gave you on the Trace. It was hot even for me. Xxoo.”
Texting was her preferred method of communication, and as I said, she was much younger. Call me old school, but I felt like it crushed nuance. I still had a flip phone. But, I rolled with things, at least until we broke up for the second time, which happened in the middle of fall when the leaves had turned colors, and light jacket weather was in full force. She had switched to Facebook Messenger as her preferred mode of communication, and so I got an account to keep up.
One day while I was at work she began a long thread about feeling disconnected from her family, her dad was a narcissist and unable to give her real love. It was sad, but I offered some encouragement, and during one of my responses, the account shut down mid-sentence. Confused, I went looking for her in the virtual world, and stumbled upon a second, alternative site, under her first name only – Riley – where she’d posted memes and musings about the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, smoking weed, and being drunk all day, while inviting men to massage her. She had also posted strange pictures, one in which she was double exposed to show two heads and four arms, in a kind of binary lotus pose; and another that had her with her arms around another woman, both principals in various degrees of suggestiveness and undress, though not naked. The dates on the posts were a few years old, well before our time together, but as I looked, I recalled stories I’d been told and where the lines of omission fell. Nonetheless, I let it go, and she went radio silent. Three days later, she responded, back to texting.
“Stressed, so I deactivated my Facebook for a while.”
And then, xxoo, with a photo attachment of her naked torso, neck to belly button. It looked like an old shot because I’d seen her breasts many times at this juncture. But, maybe I just looked at them differently. I’d begun to look at everything differently. I sent her a picture from her alt-site, which I’d downloaded.
“Where did you find that?” she texted immediately.
I didn’t have time to reply.
“Did you take it off my thumb drive?” came lightning fast.
I switched to email.
“You know, Riley, you’re afraid to go out in public and seem pretty concerned about what people think, but this was in plain sight. Anyone could’ve seen it.” I added the URL, hit send and then texted, “sent e-mail.”
Funnily enough, she thanked me. She had no idea it was out there and added, “this is no excuse, but that was a few years ago when I was fucked up on prescription drugs all the time and out of my mind. I don’t even remember it.” Suddenly I realized that I’d always felt she wasn’t entirely on the level…until she said this, which I believed fully. Somehow it gave me closure. I didn’t reach out, and she didn’t say any more. It was over.
Until the third time, we broke up.
“I miss you. Xxoo.”
It was only ten days later, close to Thanksgiving and the coming of the gourds, when I got this text from her, out of nowhere. It was as if nothing had happened. She wanted to talk and wound up rolling by Saturday evening, after the art crawl. When she got to the house, she looked good; she was wearing these nice turquoise earrings I’d given her, her mascara perfectly accentuated her soulful eyes, and I could smell a hint of perfume as she entered the room. It was a change. Normally, when we got together, she dressed down – worn jeans and army boots, no make-up, chipped nails, hair tied in a ponytail out of haste. She seemed happier than I’d seen her in some time.
“I like your earrings,” I said.
“Oh, yeah,” she laughed, “I put these on when I went out, I forgot you gave them to me.”
I put on a Marvin Gaye record, and we sat on opposite ends of my long mid-century sofa and made small talk. Intuitively, it felt like she’d moved on, found someone, and I was kind of relieved. I’m always up for friendship, and the conversation was open and relaxed. This is what I was thinking as she moved closer on the couch, put her head on my shoulder, and then, took my hand to lead me down the hall to the bedroom.
Over breakfast, she sat naked at the little table across from me, nibbling at her toast, telling me I had put the moves on her when she was in a vulnerable state. I felt very strange like I’d cheated on myself and someone else at the same time. But, I pushed ahead because something was nagging at me.
“Yeah, I slept with him,” she said, meeting my gaze as she answered my question. “Can you blame me? We’d broken up.”
“You move fast,” I said. “It was only ten days ago.”
“I knew him already,” she shrugged.” It just happened, we only went out twice.”
But that wasn’t the crux of what bothered me, so I continued to push.
“Did you use protection?”
I groaned, muttering her name three times as I buried my head in my hands. I was remarkably calm, my inner voice telling me what’s done is done. “And you didn’t tell me last night, beforehand,” I said quietly. Silence fell, heavy.
“People have done it to me before,” she said defensively, lips pressed together. “Back in the day I was living with this guy, and I found the condom in the bathroom after he had sex behind my back.” This was the first I’d heard of the live-in, but that wasn’t the point.
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” I replied. “What I meant was hopefully the guy didn’t give you an STD, and hopefully you didn’t give me one as well. Or worse than an STD.”
We’d been sloppy at times, but always with the understanding that since we didn’t have anything when we started, we wouldn’t get anything now. I felt like an idiot and prayed for a future without a complicated pill regime…or worse. She remained still. She didn’t apologize, but she didn’t argue. It was in her nature to argue, so that was unusual.
“If you want to stay with this guy, do so,” I finally said, “But it’s up to you. And either way, you should be tested.”
I figured she’d just stick with him and I’d go to my doctor, and hopefully, all would be well, and then I would get my mind, body, and space back. But, for the first time since I’d known her, she surprised me. Later that day, she texted me and said she’d messaged the guy and told him she couldn’t see him anymore. Then, for the first time in our relationship, she apologized, via email. And, then she went and got tested.
“I guess we’re game on again, xxoo,” she texted when she learned the results.
And, we were. For awhile. But, something had changed between us, in a way that went beyond the day to day quirks of life. Now that we had survived, she displayed more and more signs of detachment, the type of waning interest indicators you’ll find listed on those Doctor Love websites, which I’d begun checking fairly regularly. I wondered what was wrong with me and went back to counseling. Perhaps it was my ego, in that I thought only I could crack the code. In the meantime, the relationship lingered and then devolved, remaining mostly sexual until I broke up with her for the third time, although to be fair, I think she had already run out the emotional door. I don’t even have a good story to tell about it.
My counselor advocated no contact. They all do, and I get it. So, I blocked Riley on Facebook and deleted her number from my phone. I kept other lines of communication open but did not reach out. For the next month or so, I was on edge at times, thinking it was inevitable that she would eventually resurface when I least expected. Sure enough, about six weeks in, I received a flurry of brief and pointed emails, cartwheeling between romantic ruminations and flat-out insults. I poked back, not always kindly, which made me upset at myself because I wanted to stay positive. I had failed, however, so I deleted my email account altogether. Then came silence, another six weeks or so, and my anxiety lessened. A haze was definitely lifting.
Then, one day, at the beginning of winter, when it was cold and icy outside, my cell went off, rapid-fire vibrations around 9 in the evening, random texts one after the other.
I didn’t recognize the number at first, but then I placed the area code and remembered. But, somehow, it didn’t sound like her, if a text can carry personality.
“Is this Riley?” No reply. “Are you okay?” I tapped, with my index finger. I’d recently upgraded to an android.
This went on for awhile, a storm of one syllable bombs, so fast that I barely had time to read them, let alone reply. It was unsettling, and I wondered if they were even meant for me. “Well, if you’re okay, I’ll go then,” I texted back. “Have a good night.”
“Good night?” she replied.
“Old mannn,” came immediately.
“This little girl,” and finally…
“All alone tonight.”
The thing about no contact is you leave behind the piece of what was, what got you in there in the first place. It’s human nature to want to see that thing again, just like you want to see your children as toddlers again, just for a moment, running excitedly through the playground. Or you want to see your parents back among the living, sitting at the kitchen table, even if it’s just to hassle you for your life choices. Or, you want to be the man you were when you were even nine months younger, idealistic, waiting for your life to change. You can wish for these things, but maybe only one will happen. Maybe.
So after the last text, I did as I was advised and quietly blocked her number, knocking out the final bridge.
And, then it stopped.