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Fiction Drama Romance

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

I examine the mirror, practicing my look of contrition. Down a little at the corners of the mouth. Lower the eyebrows, smaller eyes. There it is! Perfect form. Hold it. If only I could cry. That would really complete the effect… normally it doesn’t take much. I’m a naturally weepy person, but for some reason I’m really struggling today. Honestly, it should be fine, I’ll keep trying. He gets here in an hour. I have time, and this needs to be flawless.

“We’ve had a good run, and I’m grateful for you.” It’s hard to hold this face, masked with grief, and talk at the same time. Three years, three long lonely years. Before him, I didn’t know you could love so deeply and still feel so utterly alone. I should have left a long time ago, but I stayed. I stayed because I’m afraid I’ll be more lonely if I leave. But I’ve got Dixie, my beautiful cocker spaniel. And I have a stable job, a couple friends— I’ll be fine. 

“I just don’t think this is working.” Breathe. Calm down. No need to get frantic… this is why we practice. 

“I think maybe we should take a break.” What? No! We’ve taken too many breaks before. They’ve made everything so much worse, every time, without fail. A taste of life after this love only makes me more afraid. Those times alone, without him, were so painfully quiet. At least with him, there was an occasional call or invasive visit. Just enough to make me remember him, not enough for me to feel remembered. No, try again. This needs to end.

“I think…” I don’t know what I think. With an inward shout, I turn from the mirror and collapse on my bed, exhausted. Try again. Come on, you can do this. “I think, I think that maybe… I think, I feel like…” Muffling a groan I press my face into my pillow, but I’m not moving. I refuse to quit this time; I’ll stay on this bed and mutter until I figure it out. I’ve got forty-five minutes and I plan to make every one of them count. If he saw me now he’d call me crazy; he does that sometimes. I know he’s joking, but still, I don’t like it.

It’s not that I think we should see other people. I want to see him, today, and tomorrow, and forever. I won’t be seeing anyone else for a very long time. It’s not even that I really want to break up… I love him. I think I always will. But when something is so completely broken, beyond repair; when it eludes every method of patching and healing, well, what am I supposed to do? Endure? Hope it gets better? Please. It’s been months of talking and compromising, as painful and useless as a stubbed toe. Could quiet loneliness really be any worse than this dull throb that makes life so numbingly unbearable?

Maybe I should call my mom. She never liked him, said he seemed unmotivated and afraid of commitment. At the beginning, I really hoped I’d have enough motivation for the both of us. I guess I was a little optimistic. I know mom would hype me up, remind me of all the bad times, the truly miserable times that I’ll never have to experience again, once I get these stupid words out right. I know I won’t call her; an “I told you so” is really not what I need right now.

Frankly, the only person I really want to talk to about this is him— but I know he would never understand. I’d become another girl added to his long string of toxic exes. Toxic like the sentient sludge in the movies, the dangerous breathing waste. Toxic. What a terrible word. I always trusted him when he told me stories about those other girls: the terrible things they would say and do, the cruelty of their families, the way they left him scattered— how he waited for me to come along and piece together his soul like some underwhelming knight in shining armor. But the common denominator in all of those stories wasn’t ever them, no matter how many ways he spun it: he was the one they all had in common. I’m just as likely to become that crazy ex as anyone else. I can hear it already: “My last relationship was really hard,” he’ll say, looking down and away from the smitten girl gazing lovingly into his eyes. “She talked about our break-up forever. It was like, all she thought or worried about. I was constantly afraid, watching every step, all worked up thinking I would do something to ruin everything. It was just a really toxic relationship.” And you know what, I’m certain that’s what he’ll say, because that’s what he’s said to me for years. And during their conversation a final thought will hang in the air, unnoticed by her until months later— that girl, that toxic waste of space, she’s why I can’t trust. She’s why I can’t fully love you. And in her pity, she’ll accept those answers for too long. Maybe she won’t leave; maybe it will be enough for her. I wish it was enough for me.

I hear the doorbell ring and- crap!- it jolts me back to life. I check my phone: how is it already seven? I am infinitely not ready for this. I need more time, but I have no time— he knocks, probably getting impatient, starting to worry. I’ll go. It’ll be fine. I’ll keep it short, on the doorstep, and we can let each other go the way nature intended— quickly.

Hours later I come back inside and Dixie runs up to me, a concerned expression on her face. My tears are real now. I was able to hold them until I got out of the car at least, which is better than last time. It went so wrong so fast… the words were all goopy in my mouth and neither of us understood them. He made promises too, really pretty ones, I couldn’t shoot down. I know he won’t change, he never changes, but why shouldn’t I give him a chance? I’ve been wrong before. Seventy times seven. I crawl into bed, clothes on, makeup smeared, Dixie whining outside my door. 

I hate myself. We have a date next week.

December 06, 2021 05:38

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1 comment

Swan Anderson
02:56 Dec 16, 2021

Hi Tebetha, I couldn't stop reading this one! You really show how a toxic relationship can be hidden behind a mask of frustration and grief. She knows full well she should leave him for her own sanity but can't. That's another kind of mask, hiding her own feelings from herself and this terrible guy. I just hope she can get free of this emotional abuse someday. Well done! I look forward to reading more of your stories.


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