We accept the love we think we deserve.
I looked out the window to make sure my car was still there. I had parked it in a tow away zone. If he drove past it right now he wouldn’t know where I was, because where I parked left options for my whereabouts. Maybe he would think I was grabbing a coffee at the student center, or maybe he would think I was visiting a friend, but what I really wanted him to think was that I was with someone else, because that was exactly where I was.
“Is it still there?” Ian asked. I scooted over and rested my head on his shoulder. “Yep.” He pressed play and we lay back to watch The Big Lebowski.
Ian and I had become close a handful of months before. He was going through a breakup. I was going through a breakup. We bonded over our pain by listening to a lot of music, Beck in particular, and watching movies. I would call him and see what he was up to, go over, sit in his black swivel chair and watch him move different albums around on his turntable. It was like we enjoyed each other’s company enough to make the pain of missing another’s company bearable.
“She wants to get back together,” he told me changing one album to the next. She was horrible for him, which meant at that time in life, she was perfect for him. He put his big black headphones up to one ear and listened for a minute. Then fiddled with the volume. “But I said I wasn’t into it anymore. She’s not good for me, you know? Doesn’t treat me well.” Whether it was the truth or not I didn’t know, but what I did know was that I was proud of him.
The movie ended and I propped myself up to look out the window. This was how it always was. He glanced over. “The car’s fine.” I sat at the edge of the bed knowing that I didn’t want to leave, but not sure why. I looked over at him. “What?” he asked. I stood up. “Nothing.” He was much taller than me, so when he stood I was at his chest. We hugged. I left that night confused. Although nothing had happened, something between us had changed.
The next night I went over to watch Rushmore and afterward he kissed me. It was like chocolate: rich and smooth, heavenly. I started sleeping over regularly, but all we ever did was kiss. There was no questioning what this was, what we were doing, or what we were thinking. It was simple. It was good. At the end of the semester we said we’d stay in touch over the summer. He was going to Germany and I was going home to Ohio. “We’ll see how we feel at the beginning of next year,” we said.
Over the summer, he sent me a postcard, but there was no return address. When school started again, we met up. I fiddled with my car keys. “He wants to get back together,” I said. “And, well, I told him yes.” I looked at Ian. There I was, saying goodbye to someone who had only given me athlete’s foot, something that I could cure with a cream, and saying yes to someone who had already scarred my heart.
I don’t remember how it all ended, what was said or not, but I do remember we remained friends. We’re actually still friends, well, Facebook friends, and I know from his page that he’s married with a new baby. Sometimes I’ll look at his page, not because I regret my decision from years ago, but because I now understand why I made it.
Our encounter was this little blip that showed me for a minute what a healthy relationship could be like. But I wasn’t ready for healthy; I was still growing. I was still figuring it all out. I can think of a handful of other times after Ian where I said goodbye to men who were good. And I didn’t leave because they were good, but because I wasn’t. I had yet to reach “good” in my mind. So I threw myself into drama and passion, faced extremes, got lost so I could experience heartache and pain. I needed to be treated the same way I felt about myself then: rotten.
I see this happen often with other women around me. The external is in tact, but the internal festers. Inside there’s fear, self-doubt, this overwhelming feeling of not being good enough, deserving of better. For me, it was this gross, mean-spiritedness toward myself that drove me to bad relationships, because it was a way to validate what I thought myself to be.
But I eventually realized that was just a story. The same story I’d been telling myself since I was in grade school. I wanted to rewrite my story, because put simply, I didn’t want to feel bad anymore. I didn’t want to care about others more than myself. All I wanted to do was feel good, and for so long I’d felt there was something wrong with that. Like I was supposed to be unhappy with who I was.
So everyday I woke up and asked myself: What do I want, what do I need? I posted on my bathroom mirror and recited every morning “My words are valuable. What I have to say is necessary.” I joined workshops, read books, took classes, got out into nature, I started meditating, dancing, all because I wanted to feel goodness. It wasn’t something that anyone else could teach me how to do, because only I knew what would feel good to me. The world became my research, my lab. I tried and tasted everything and what lit me up inside I kept around. What I learned was what felt good to me, which made it easier to reject what was poison to me.
Only after I had cleaned up what was inside was it easy to let goodness in. A year or so after I started this “who am I, what do I need/want” journey, I met a boy who was good. I met him, and I have no intention of letting him go.
Cynthia Kane received her B.A. from Bard College and her M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. Her writing has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and journals including: wandermelon.com, VegNews, Pregnancy, Yoga Journal, Bridal Guide, The Jerusalem Post, and more. She has published short stories as well as Take a Hike: The Best 50 Routes in the Community of Madrid (Ediciones la Liberia, May 2011).