Dating, Slice of Life

Thou Shalt Not Suffer an Ex Among You

Thanksgiving Day brought a deep chasm of chaotic energy my way.

I got an anonymously numbered text that read:

“Hey Mal, was thinking about you today. I hope you are well and having an amazing day! Don’t forget how wonderful you are. -E”

Hm. 931 area code – Cookeville, TN. The only person I know whose name begins with “E” and lives in Cookeville is my ex. And sure enough, a few minutes later her confirms in the most dramatic as fuck way. In a video text, his name scrawled across the screen, letter by letter materializing my worst prediction.

Immediately, I dropped the phone in my lap and began crying. Why was this man reaching out to me? Why did he still have my number for that matter?

After my several second cry, I pulled it together. I asked a question that the real him should know the answer to. I had to ensure he was the real person, I explained, as I’ve gotten some very rude and harassing texts over the year. He got the question wrong, but sent me a photo that more/less confirmed. “Why do you still have that picture?”

“Sentimental,” he replied against my ginormous eye-roll-hiccup-puke stomach’s reaction.

Day one was an absolute numbing shock. Day two I was suspicious and angry. Day three, I had accepted our messaging cadence. For the next few days, it was spotty communication. Peak season brings crazy long hours, so I was patient, though I did find myself lingering by the phone hoping. It was a disgusting feeling. Whenever I recognized it, I’d start kicking myself about it. I got fed up with myself on the third or fourth day and read the diary entries I documented on my phone from 12/29/17, the day after we broke up, to 10/7/19 the last time we spoke. I relieved the breakup, the maddening self-hatred, and the months of loneliness it took to find my legs again.

In a matter of minutes, I flew through Houston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis and Nashville. My travels for the last three years, dotted with you. I am completely absolved from feeling… I remember how strong I am… that I’ve promised myself not to be compromised.”

Diary excerpt

I messaged, “If I ask you an honest question, can I trust you to give and honest answer?” He didn’t respond, and in my impatience asked the question anyway, assuming his honesty. “Why did you reach out to me?”

“I was thinking about you.”

“That’s not a true answer. There have been times you’ve thought of me before but didn’t text me. Why did you text me?”

“It’s a holiday.”
“Same logic. There have been holidays before but you didn’t text me. Why did you text?”

“I missed you.”

“Well, I missed you for two years.”

Back and forth for a few days, all he wanted to talk about was work and what was going on in my life. Work, I told him, was always a safe subject for us, but not something I cared to talk about, I encouraged him several times to call me with whatever he wanted to talk about as text never served us well, but no. In fact, he gave me practically nothing. Communication was lagging, but I did have enough gall to demand more than three or four word answers “especially as I wasn’t the one that initiated the conversation.” He responded positively, to my surprise, recognizing that he wasn’t engaging on his side of the conversation. I had forgotten how gentle I was with him, how I walked on eggshells to protect his feelings. I forgot how near the end of our relationship I wasn’t even a real person. I wasn’t about to fall into it this time around. What right did he have to ask about my life without giving me anything? Fuck that.

Furthermore, he never answered a single black/white question I asked him. The answer was a simple yes or no, but he always answered vague and grey. Fuck that, too.

What’s the female equivalent to putting one’s balls on the wall? Whatever it is, I did that. December 1, five days after his original message, I texted: “You said a few days ago that dating was a hit or miss. Have you hit yet? (haha I said it out loud and I heard it, but I’m keeping it as is). I just didn’t want you texting an ex if you’re with someone. That’s pretty uncool of me to condone. My full hand on the table, I still have love for you… And it’s been eating me up since Thanksgiving, having you somewhat back in my life now. It’s not a negative thing, let me be clear. But it’s fucking me up… This isn’t me asking for anything, I just need you to know that I’m suspicious, a fraction hopeful, and terrified… I feel like not telling you some things is deceitful and I need you to know where I’m at.”

By Dec. 4, it unraveled in the most glorious way. I got his final message at work, of course. I went to the bathroom and cried in a stall for my allotted 3 minutes. It’s called time management, okay?

Later in the day, I recounted the event to a friend of mine, and in real time he witnessed the metamorphosis of my emotions. The anger and hurt, the dashed hopes of a naïve child changed. In moments, I was filled with a lightness. Or rather, an invisible weight floated off my chest. A mantle I’d been carrying for so long that I didn’t even recognize I continued to wear. Bit by bit, I could feel it lifting as the tingle of discovery made its way from the base of my skull to my fingertips. My whole body vibrated in the solid validation that I was no longer holding on to and could no longer be hurt by him. He showed me exactly the type of man he is, that three years apart had done nothing to change it, that I would never again wonder “what if,” or worry that he was “the one that got away.”

The greatest gift he’s ever given me: a lesson and closure.

True freedom, without the weight of hope or doubt that I unconsciously have been holding onto for the past three years. Truly, this is a Christmas miracle… My heart isn’t hard now… I’ve reconciled within hours, and this is the most beautiful feeling… This goodbye is forever.”

Diary excerpt

But also, for real – fucking respect the woman you’re with. How can I respect a woman that I’ve never met more than you, who sleeps next to her. Fuck outta here.

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