Boston explodes into Autumn around us, leaves showing off in shades of flames, and that familiar smell that is uniquely autumn filled the air.
Not that I was able to enjoy it.
I saw in shades of gray, smells didn’t register to me, and if my surroundings were beautiful in any way, well…let’s just say I was less than receptive. I skipped classes, emailing that I was sick to my professors and ignoring assignments. Called my coaches and faked the flu, getting bed rest orders for the next week.
I just wanted to hide.
The thought of facing people, having to slap a fake smile on my face to reassure everyone that I was okay when I wasn’t…I just couldn’t.
How could I be okay? The person that I gave my heart to betrayed me. I’ve never had to learn this lesson before, and I felt like it would kill me. I leaned on him, shared so much of myself with him, gave him every part of me, and now that it’s over, I don’t know what I have left for myself.
So yeah, I hid. I stayed in my room, ignoring the two happy couples as they walked past my door, their peppy voices filtering through. Ignored my sister who flipped from being suffocating or needing to be held back from murdering Luca, and nothing in between.
Ignored every text and phone call and voicemail from my cheating ex-boyfriend. I deleted every last one. It was too painful to read his words and listen to his voice, so I didn’t.
Instead, I read every book I could that didn’t involve love. Thrillers, murder mysteries, and one absolutely terrifying book called Stolen Tongues that scared me so thoroughly that I had to watch a Disney movie just so I could sleep that night.
I felt so heavy. It was all I could do to keep up with my stretches.
It wasn’t until my advisor called me into her office that I started to wake up from my fog of grief.
Beth Wheeler has been my advisor since my freshman year. All student athletes at Kalon meet with their advisors weekly, but I called out of our meeting last week, like everything else. I knew I couldn’t avoid it again when she reached out to remind me.
“How are you feeling, Lennie? You’re looking very pale, like you’ve lost weight. Still rundown after the flu?”
I cringe internally, feeling really slimy about lying to everyone. If I’d told the truth though, I doubt I would have gotten any sympathy. How does one properly convey that getting your heart broken feels like dying? A relationship ending so brutally feels like a death. I guess in a way it is. A death of something.
“I’m okay, doing a little better,” I say, quietly. My voice is hoarse after a week of disuse.
“I kept track of your grades, and they’ve fallen a bit in the past week. Were you unable to complete work from home?”
Now is the part that I tell the truth, confess that I’ve had zero drive or focus or hell, even willingness to peel myself out of bed to shower. All I wanted to do was get lost in other people’s stories. It helped me forget mine while I was reading about their lives. But I don’t.
“I wasn’t able to get out of bed. I’ll make up the work after speaking to my professors.”
Seemingly pleased with my answer, we moved on to other topics. I felt uneasy after leaving the meeting, uncomfortable in my skin.
I just want to get back to my bed and my safe space, my quiet room with its fluffy blankets and white twinkle lights.
Instead, as I was looking down and picking at a callous on my hand, I ran smack into a familiar chest, and looked up into haunted eyes.
I had managed to avoid Luca for 8 days. Not that I was counting.
We stand there for a beat, looking at each other.
“Lennie,” he starts, but I’m already moving past him, walking as fast as I can without running to my vehicle.
“Len, wait-God,” he huffs, catching up to me. He grabs my arm to stop me. “Please, sweetheart, please stop.”
It’s the term of endearment that does it.
I stop in my tracks and look at him, really looking at him this time. He looks both amazing and terrible. Terrible because his blonde hair is a mess, like he’s been trying to pull it out by the roots. He looked thinner, and the dark circles under his eyes rivaled only my own. Amazing because of course he does, he’s gorgeous. And terrible because seeing him again rips a new fissure in my already broken heart.
He looks like I feel, like I’m sure I look.
I sigh, looking at the heavens, and wonder what the right move is. Do I talk to him. Break open the wound again? Will it give me closure? I still love him and I’m not sure how much time will go on before that goes away.
But I can never be with him again. Not after what he did. And the funny thing? It isn’t even the cheating that’s the worst part. It was his reason. He got mad that he didn’t get his way. He was angry that he wasn’t 100% my priority. He was upset because I, for once, didn’t put him first.
Yeah. I think talking to him will give me closure after all.
“You can come over at 3 today,” I say. Hope blooms in his eyes, and I shut it down hard. “We can talk, hear each other out, and get the closure that we need. Because Luca? This talk is just that. Closure.”
I know everyone will be out of the house then.
Can’t have my sister arrested for murder at only 21 years old.
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When I meet him later, he looks even more exhausted than earlier, as he follows me into the living room.
We settle on the couch facing each other. Pulling my knees up to my chest, resting chin on top, I look at him. He leans down, putting his elbows on his knees, cradling his head in his hands and we spend a few minutes just existing in the same space for the first time in days.
“Lennie,” he starts. “I know you’re mad and hurt. I am so sorry, babe, so fucking sorry that I can’t even put it into words.”
“I know that you’re sorry,” I say sadly. “I’m not sure that I’m at a place to forgive you Luca. Just tell me, why? How can you be so selfish with my time, so selfish as to not support me when I am fighting for my dream. Don’t I support you? Haven’t I always been understanding of your schedule and your time? Why couldn’t you give that to me?”
“Because I always felt like I was going to lose you!” he exploded at me. “You’re an amazing gymnast, you’re so dedicated and driven, Len. I’m in hockey purely to pay for my scholarship at this point. I can’t even say that I love it anymore, and I’ve been questioning things all year. I’m a senior, and I’ll I’ve thought on repeat for the past year and a half is ‘what am I going to do with my life’? I don’t know, and you do, and it killed me to think that you’d be going to and doing these big things without me, and I guess I just grew to resent it.”
I flop back on the couch, completely stunned. I had no clue, no inkling that he’d been feeling this way. I shook my head to clear it.
“And I don’t know, it was like that voice in my head was telling me that you were moving onto bigger and better things without me, my resentment just kept growing so much over the summer and that night I just snapped. I was so angry at you just for thriving without me, I was pissed off at myself for feeling this way, feeling like a fucking loser that I just…acted out. I wanted to forget, to forget who I was, and yeah, I can admit now that I was feeling spiteful. I drank too much, and those voices got louder and when Bianca came onto me and showered me with attention, I let it make me feel good. Like a man, and not some loser crying about his girlfriend doing great things, because if I can’t be there for her and get out of my own head, then what kind of man am I?”
Tears are falling down his face now and I start to cry too.
“I barely remember sleeping with her. When I woke up, I was still half drunk, but I wanted to stay in that bubble. I knew I had already fucked up so badly, and I wanted to forget that too. And after, I was so horrified with myself that I stayed drunk in my room all those nights after getting home from work. I didn’t trust myself to talk to you. I wasn’t trying to punish you, I was wallowing and feeling like the worst person on the planet because I cheated on my sweet, beautiful girlfriend. I wished so hard that I could go back and take everything back, and I had to come to terms with what I did.”
“And did you?” I ask.
“No, sweetheart. I didn’t. I did anything to I could quiet the noise in my mind, but it just kept playing over again in my mind. Over and over and over until it tortured the absolute shit out of me. Every day that led up to our anniversary, it was in the back of my mind. What I did. How much I fucked up, how I knew I’d ruined it all. And when you gave me that thoughtful gift, I almost cried and begged you to never leave me. Because I was honest when I said I didn’t deserve you. I know that now.”
Ringing silence fills the space between us. I take a deep, cleansing breath, forcing the tears to stop.
“Wow. I wasn’t expecting any of that. I’m sorry that you’ve been feeling this way for so long, I really am. I hate that for you, honestly. I can see, knowing you, how things could spiral in your mind like that.”
And I am sorry. Not that I did anything wrong. I won’t allow myself to feel guilt over his feelings, they’re his own. But I can see things through his eyes a bit, and knowing what I know now, I see other things too.
Luca feels trapped in his own life. He felt that our happiness was threatened by my dedication to my sport, by my level of availability to him. He has things to work through, and he’s waited until the golden hour to figure out what he wants to do with his life and now panic has set in, making him feel cornered.
And I can see now that he is deeply, deeply insecure.
All things I didn’t know but knowing them doesn’t make the situation better.
Except maybe it lessens my ability to hate him. Not his actions, however. Those are inexcusable. But I can see the man behind the action, and I can recognize that he hurt himself almost as much as he hurt me.
“I can’t move past this for us to be together, Luca. I can’t. I’m sorry for how you’ve been feeling, for beating yourself up, for you feeling so bad. I can now say that I wouldn’t wish these kinds of feelings on my worst enemy, having felt this kind of pain. But we can’t be together anymore. You have some things that you need to work on, and I hope that you can learn to be more secure and more accepting, that you can manage your expectations in your next relationship and allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest. I forgive you, and I hope you can forgive yourself.”
He hangs his head on a choked sob before nodding, hearing the finality in my conviction.
Before he leaves, I let him give me a bone crushing hug. My tears soak his sweater and his fall into my hair.
Then he kisses me on top of my head and just like that, he’s gone.
More milestones crossed off the list of life.
All unavoidably painful and changing me forever.
That weekend I get on a train to Salem.
And I don't look back.