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Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

This story contains sensitive content

TW: abusive relationship described.

Old Man Luedecke had released his Proof of Love album in the late summer. Of course we had seen him live four times through the spring and summer. Once in a church, where the sound rolled through the polished wood like amber honey and scotch pouring into a crystal glass. Twice at the coffeehouse where we sipped our craft sodas with an all ages crowd. And once at a giant club where he looked out of place surrounded with empty stage, perched on a chair with his wool sweater and banjo, and where only about half the crowd sang along, the rest yell-talking to each other over their cheap beers. 

At the church show, Jerry actually allowed me to unreservedly enjoy the music without worrying about what others around us thought. That was nice. 

When we were first dating, there was one night where we were walking home, late, and one of us stuttered a bit over the phrase “going to go” because late at night things sound ludicrous if you’re tired enough. We kept repeating the phrase back and forth until it evolved into a counterpoint freeform song of a sort, with one of us saying “going going going going” and the other saying “to GO to GO to GO” for a while, and then we’d switch and once in a while fall into reciting the whole phrase. I am not a musician. It was the closest I have come in my life to making music. It was like jazz. 

Our good memories were so few, this night stands out. It was liberating and funny and spontaneous. If we could have stayed in that moment. 

One night in early summer at another bar, I approached Daniel Ruth and said hello. He was a very recognizable regular member of the group of music fans we always saw at shows, and a regular poster on the music bulletin board we followed. He was so friendly and helpful, and shared a lot of weird pop cultural touchpoints that were very familiar to me. 

I was starved for friendships. My friends didn’t like Jerry. 

Jerry came back, said something loud and awkward and kind of rude. I said goodbye to Daniel. Jerry called me a social climber and a star fucker. 

He apologized later at home, admitted to insecurity. I waited a beat, reached out to kiss him. He pulled away. Told me, “We aren’t having a moment.” He didn’t like sentimentality or affection.

We had been together for a few years before Proof of Love came out. In September he started his PhD studies. Talked a lot about the future. I honestly expected a proposal in December. I mean, you lose touch with reality, don’t you?

He and his buddy Steve, who he rarely saw, spent some time hanging out in September. There was one night he just stayed out all night. Steve and he were such bad influences on each other! He came in looking horrible, bed head, smelling like beer and sick. His phone was cracked. 

When we went to the Halloween show with some of his PhD colleagues, and he called my daughter “Little Buzzkill” to one of them, I laughed it off. I knew he was almost always very loving and nice with her, although he was a little obsessed with getting her into science. 

I had seen he had put together a mixed CD called Proof of Love and I was expecting it to come, because I knew that the honeymoon periods between the gaslighting usually brought gifts. And Proof of Love was the Old Man Luedecke song we had been enjoying at his shows. The very anthem for a future of domestic bliss.

He often worked at the kitchen table, leaving his laptop there. The night I made hash brownies and he power vomited all over the bathroom, he almost threw up on the laptop.

Afterwards he told me he was going to bed, for me to come in and lie very still so I wouldn’t make him sick again. I lay there, watching the sounds flow from the television in edible colours, enjoying the best high I had ever had, as I tried to stay unmoving. 

I was forever moving the laptop to bake or work. There weren’t a lot of work spaces in our apartment. So the morning in November he left it open to the Facebook Messenger conversation, it shouldn’t be surprising I saw it. I might not have read it if I hadn’t seen the word “Proof”. It was a fellow student thanking him for the mixed CD. She loved Old Man Luedecke, she said. Sorry again about breaking his phone, she said. 

Couldn’t wait to head to Montreal in the spring, she said. Radiohead was going to be great. She had always loved them. Steve and Caroline were cool to rent the car. 

Sure, he said, when asked. He had plans to go to Montreal with these people. They were fellow STUDENTS for gods sake. I had no right to be JEALOUS. It’s not like I even liked Radiohead, or knew who they were for that matter. And this was true. 

Sure he and Steve had stayed up listening to music with this lady and Steve’s girlfriend the night he had stayed out. They were at Steve’s. She accidentally broke his phone. 

Two nights later my cat of more than seven years had some kind of fit. We rushed to the cat emergency room, but Omar died later that day. Jerry had had to leave, to go to class. Benji, a friend from before my divorce, came to be with me. Benji has ADHD and narcolepsy and a pathological inability to be silent. As tears rolled down my face, he chatted on about … but I can never remember what, since. I just remember he was there. Proof that I still had friends, people who loved me. 

Proof I needed. 

The next weekend, Jerry stayed out all night again. My daughter was with me that week, and I was horrified that he would do something so disrespectful while she was there. He came in at 7 am. I was waiting. I had packed my suitcase. I went to my sister’s to give him time to find another place.

Of course he denied everything. What was I to him? Why did he want me to stay so badly? I don’t know. 

I spent the first half of December crying, drinking, staying up all night, typing in short blog posts that read like a scream of pain. I posted what I thought were cryptic thoughts online, but they made high school friends call to check on me in the middle of the night. 

Somewhere around Boxing Day I went downtown and picked up a stranger, who charmed me with Buddhist philosophy. Meaningless sex didn’t help, but he too had recently gone through a break up and he said a very wise thing. He said, “the worst hurt comes from the death of the ego - the person you had been with that person. Even if that person wasn’t the best you, it was a kind of you… and when it dies, that hurts.”

So this New Year’s night, as I toast myself with chamomile tea and watch Mama Mia and get weepy, I am committed to this, in memory of this fifteen years past version of me… the only proof of love I require is proof of love from myself. I will find someone great or I will not be in a relationship, but never again will I gaslight myself. That’s my resolution. 

December 31, 2021 00:01

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5 comments

K. Antonio
00:41 Jan 01, 2022

I loved the first line. Loved that by the second paragraph we already get a sense of the relationship. The MC's narration of the events is so other, but at the same time so creative and interesting to read. *Snaps fingers* IT REMINDS ME OF SYLVIA PLATH'S "The Bell Jar"

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Vivian Cooke
03:20 Jan 09, 2022

I love the way you describe moments. I always look back and remember how I used to judge women who stayed in domestic violent relationships. Until I was in one. And everything sounded so familiar. And it is a beautiful thing when the women stand up for the love they deserve.

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00:09 Jan 21, 2022

I'm still processing it all, so it's not coming out as smoothly as I'd like. But I'm here to report there is a beautiful better life beyond. I'm in the best relationship of my life now, with a beautiful man who treats me like a queen. Thank you, Vivian. :D

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21:44 Jan 05, 2022

Amber honey and scotch, I love this it summons up such a thick hedonistic sound.

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Jon Casper
12:43 Dec 31, 2021

As always, your prose is breathtaking. Loved this description: "I lay there, watching the sounds flow from the television in edible colours..." The Buddhist's words are profound: "the worst hurt comes from the death of the ego - the person you had been with that person. Even if that person wasn’t the best you, it was a kind of you… and when it dies, that hurts." It is so easy to gaslight ourselves, isn't it? I never even thought about it that way before, but that's what I think we all tend to do. That is going to have me thinking for some ...

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