It happens when you simultaneously least expect it and recognize the imminence of it all, doesn’t it? That moment in the relationship that’s like a change of seasons, the halcyon sun-filled days of summer and their endless sun suddenly turning darker, the air colder. You brace yourself against the chill of the wind, confident that a shrug or turning your back to it will eradicate the brittleness in your bones, but the moment arrives, all too soon and yet just in time to salvage what left of your heart has gone unbroken throughout it all.
I met Him on a sunny day, the start of summer, my heart open – too much so? – and hoping for love, perhaps, or better yet, for validation from someone. Did I really want love, I ask myself now, or was it more for someone to simply tell me I was worthy of it, that I was good enough for him, that I was worth committing to, not disposable as so many before him had made me feel, or how I had availed myself to be.
He pulled the seat out for me, sat down with a winning smile and crinkly eyes – I have a weakness for crinkly eyes – and asked about my day, my life, and I, his. The hours passed and in the end, I felt that I’d connected with my soulmate, opting to ignore the subtleties that raised a flag for me, the emotionality, the bouts of anger in his voice when speaking of an ex, the seemingly unsolicited tears that filled his eyes in one moment, only to be gone the next and replaced, once again, with that winning smile. “Tell me more about your trip to Spain,” he leaned forward, keenly interested to hear my thoughts, my adventures, and my life.
Our romance began as one from the books, I suppose, a typical whirlwind of long lazy evenings sharing pieces of our lives, as though little snacks to feed just enough of the curiosity but leaving more to the imagination, a yearning to taste one more bite, but no, not yet. Soon, my love, soon. We laughed at silly things, held hands as we sauntered down city streets, proudly showing the world what happiness really is, stopping at times to stare longingly into each other’s eyes, our foreheads touching, our eyes bright with the joy we were feeding each other.
Fall came, and with it, the change in Him, or perhaps in me? In us, maybe. It was subtle, just as the change of seasons can be, with the occasional biting cold from a sharp word. “Why were you talking to that guy?” “I’ll bet you were a lot more fun a few years ago…” At times, the words were spoken under his breath, so muttered and muted that I doubted what I’d heard, and I chastised myself for being so foolish as to believe he would say such things, shrugging it off. In other moments, he looked at me, his eyes cold and emotionless, coolly delivering the criticisms without so much as a blink, his voice almost a monotone, the words hanging in the air between us, waiting for a reaction; I struggled to offer one which appeared to fit his temperament. I had disappointed him, and I would, again and again.
The fleeting moments of happiness, of peace, became what sustained me as the days and weeks wore on, and we became both more familiar and less so. We would dance delicately around each other, an unspoken, unrehearsed, clumsy tango of words of passionate love and, in some instances, from him, blatant hatred. I became She Who Wished to Please, forever bending, twisting, attempting to find the best way to suit His needs, and often times failing because I wasn’t believable enough in my words or actions, or because I was exhausted and, in being so, selfish.
I lost weight. Not that I had a lot to lose, to begin with, my career in fitness and modelling causing this to be a bone of constant contention. But I did. I lost it because I thought it would make me more likeable, loveable even, and that perhaps this would win His approval which I so desperately sought. Was I good enough now? Was I thin enough? Pretty enough?
I changed my style. I traded in short dresses for His sweatshirts, and on those rare evenings I would go out without Him, I would be sure to text constantly, letting him know I was ‘behaving’ as it were, not speaking to strange men, sending pictures that showed I was keeping myself together, that I was ‘being a good girl’.
Winter came, and with it, the biting cold, the kind that hurts just to be exposed, the kind that could kill the vulnerable. With it came the change in Him, as well. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I must not see my closest friends, that I must give up my modelling, and so, to an extent, I did. I did enough to appease Him, but likewise enough to hold on to what little of myself I could, the control I did possess. Our time together became more about shunning the outside world in favour of each others’ company, and less about sharing the moments with others. My group of friends began to fade into the distance, our messages to each other infrequent, kept to small talk in the instance he might ask to peruse them, as he did. I learned to speak in code, or not to speak at all. Of course, in time those friends I had took their own distance, opting to cancel on our plans, perhaps because my time was too limited, or perhaps, even, because my conversations were kept to singing His praises, as though saying it out loud on repeat would make it true.
My emotions toward Him became something of a mystery, even to me. I found the crumbs he would leave me of great affection to nourish me long enough to sustain the hunger I was feeling for more, more, more. I could live off these minuscule pieces and in return, I could better myself and give Him so much more of me. Every morsel I received empowered me enough to give Him my body, my heart, proclaim my love loudly, as though proving to the world that I did, in fact, love this man, or perhaps that I, too, was worthy of being loved in return.
But the cold was too strong. The iciness of his words would weigh me down, as though causing me to stoop, my entire stature changing as I presented myself to the world. What had I become? I was a shell now, empty, my voice, even, diminished, more a whisper, more like that of a child after a scolding. What was I? Where did I go? In the mirror, all that returned my stare was a woman with sunken eyes. A little too thin – but this is what he preferred – and a little too withdrawn. Where was the spark I once possessed?
I had wanted to end it so many times before, but somehow never felt strong enough, brave enough, or perhaps I feared nobody would ever love me as much again. I would lie awake at night, imagining arguments I might stir up just enough to cause him to walk out – his leaving would be so much better than my own – and dreaming of freedom, of seeing my friends again, of remembering who I was. But the end came suddenly, as though a long moment of peace being shattered by the clatter of glass breaking on the floor, the unbearable cold being so great that I could no longer feel myself, and I, numb, told him I was leaving. This was the end.
Tearfully, weeks later, we met again. “Isn’t it better to be miserable with someone than alone?” He asked me, his voice hopeful. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t work out. I don’t understand why you can’t stay. I treated you so well…” Had he? Had he been good to me? The memories of our summer days flooded back in my mind, the happiness, the warmth of his embrace and the laughter we’d shared. Perhaps he was right? Perhaps I had not properly recognized the enduring warmth that should have carried me through the colder days of fall and winter. Perhaps that should have sustained me.
I felt guilty, I felt ashamed for not being grateful. And I stood. “No,” my voice merely a whisper, “I am not doing this anymore.” I turned up my collar and left, facing the bracing winter cold outside, the sun warm on my face. As I left, I could see him behind me, his body hunched from the pain of loss, or perhaps the bitterness of defeat, of losing the battle to overcome one who, quite simply, refused to be stepped on one more time.
For the first time, I could feel the familiar glow of winter light. The snow under my feet crunched in the otherwise silent afternoon. I was free.
All around me was peaceful, the snow sparkling under the sunlight, and though it was alarmingly cold, the sun was warming. I was able to embrace the chill in the air, and gazed up at the sky with a slight smile. Suddenly I had faith that spring would come again, and with it, a change in me.