I don’t have a great memory, but of course I remember him. He was shorter than I had expected when we first met on a blind date, and a lot younger looking, as if his features had not yet caught up with his age. He made me laugh a lot. He was the quintessential joker, nothing was ever serious and everything was a chuckle waiting to happen. Yes, he knew how to make me laugh.
He also knew how to make me cry.
He was a true performer when you were with him; you felt captivated and full of energy, as you also vied for his attention. But when he wasn’t around, you felt the loss like a pint of blood spilling from swollen wrists. It was an absence that felt both fresh and familiar; like a paper cut in between fingers.
He was extremes to me, a self-confessed manic. His charisma brought excitement, and his sadness was crushing. I had become too invested too quickly, wanting him even when he was down. And not answering my calls. And drinking.
You know when you recognise behaviour, but you’re also personally, completely blind to it? I knew trauma, I worked with trauma on a weekly basis, I understood it and knew the signs. I saw his trauma but said nothing, because he had said nothing about it. He was the kind of broken that continues to break, no matter how many times you try to gather the pieces together, with the strongest glue you can find. He would always find a way to keep breaking; to a point that surprised me, when there did not seem to be any more intact pieces left to break in two.
It made me love him more. So incredibly stupid is my heart. Or perhaps it was just mundanely average. He was not though; he was bells and whistles and knives and razors. He only knew how to hurt himself, everyone else was just background noise. I was in the background, whispering sweet nothings into his ears, thinking he could hear me.
He spilled his secret to me finally, after a particular spell of erratic silence, something I didn’t even know silence could be. I comforted him, told him I wanted to be there. Actually I needed to be. I needed him. At that time, I truly believed that I needed him. I thought that our souls were aligned, that I wouldn’t love anyone else after this. I have not since. But I was wrong about our souls. There were not aligned, they were parallel. My trauma met his trauma and they clasped fingers and held each other, and then had trouble detangling themselves after too long breathing to the same rhythm.
He let me go after that. Or I let him go. Or something.
He disappeared again into silence, after revealing his biggest pain to me, the one that remains current, a constant struggle. I didn’t know what to do with it, and never had a chance to figure it out. But it was not my puzzle to solve, it was his. I think perhaps, he regretted giving it to me, his burden, even temporarily. The gift was too big for him to hand over and for me to take from him. It was too early for that. It’s always too early.
I missed him, went a little numb inside, got lost and found myself again. Did the whole healing thing.
He contacted me a year later. Or perhaps it was ten years later. I forget which. He was sorry for disappearing. He had been reading my poetry, reading my pain; he knew he was the subject and he regretted it. He was sober now, his addiction was to the gym instead. He still wasn’t in therapy, and I tried to separate the good news from the bad but I’ve never been good with knots, or nooses. Instead we arranged to meet.
He looked the same and different. Stupid love, it’s such a liar. He talked about working out a lot, I felt bored by it and this gave me hope. He talked about his reach for rock bottom; how his journey to total annihilation with alcohol had failed. He was recovering; how was I?
I think I looked at him, I smiled, I laughed, said all the things I thought I should. I still loved him but wanted nothing from him. My love was misguided, rooted in the unconscious playful needs of my younger self, me as a child. She still wanted to play with him, the equivalent child him, where our trauma met. But I think by this time, he was napping. Having a rest, tired of fighting his internal horrors. He wanted to grow up and be distracted in a sensible way. He was still in there, but I realised that I needed a new play mate, one that wanted me in the same way.
We said goodbye.
I still Google him from time to time, to check that he’s still alive. The last time I did, he had a drink in his hand. My heart sank and I felt the door close on our chapter. I still remember him, of course. But that’s all he is now; a memory.