Was it my first betrayal? No. There were many before that, many that I am not sure I survived wholly. However, I had four relatively lonely years, even though I was not alone for all of them, in which to heal my shattered self-esteem. There was an occasional boyfriend, a simplified label for men who touched my life intermittently and lightly. But I did survive and eventually I thrived, basking in the sunshine of my years at university, loving the freedom and independence.
When we met and how is uncertain, not remembered, not important. Within a few months, interspersed with an occasional night out, forgotten words, negligible conversations, I had fallen. He was my selfish life; the only one I thought of, the only one I wanted, something I craved. Everything suffered around me, as did I. It was not an easy six months for me; I had lost my bearings, felt disappointment day in and day out. But that first year proved easier to bear than anything subsequent. Would I have changed anything? Yes, I would have walked away sooner.
When I met him he was with someone else. They had just started a long distance relationship after five years of dating and I was only the second girl whom he opened up to. He let me in and I thrived under his gaze. We huddled like criminals, which we were, tongues were loosened, touches exchanged. One night, in a fall-over-drunk moment, we kissed. I was ready to accept the consequences, but later found there were none to accept. They had broken up many months before the kiss. Suddenly the gates were open. But he was not ready and I was prepared to be patient. Nothing changed, but it ignited a hope like no other. I dedicated every little piece of myself to the long wait.
The night I found out that he had gone to visit her without telling me was the night I crashed my car. I stayed in my friend’s bed for three nights and handed in a half corrected thesis. I had no capacity for caring. Did it quench my hope? No, I wish it had. By this time I was in love; so much energy directed at one person. His capacity to destroy me was immense and I was vulnerable. I had become a victim through my own weakness.
On New Year’s Eve we were staying with mutual friends and slept on the floor. He asked me to lie next to him, and I did. He did not kiss me, but we touched. The next morning he ignored me, going back home and leaving me confused, unsure of what had passed between us. Then someone mentioned that he told them he was together with the girl who I believed to be his ex. I believed them, believed that he gone back to her. I was devastated and so angry. Exhausted, ashamed, I drove the two hours home in a daze. He told me on the phone later that he had never bothered to tell his friends that they had broken up six months before.
The following year was the year he was supposed to have graduated, but he still needed some more time to finish his thesis. I was back at university early, to start my first year of Masters. The first few weeks had me convinced that all was okay. I had surpassed my need of him, I was ready for onwards and upwards. I had exchanged my hope for tepid strength. I succumbed to the charms of some guy and felt terrible afterwards, used, powerless, bleak; but at least I had moved on.
One night I was out and we were talking.
I had accepted a friendship with him, being too weak to let him go entirely. By then I was so wrapped up in his life. We had the same friends, the same interests and frequented the same place.
I drove him home that night and was ready to reverse and leave, no matter how much energy it took. But he paused; he told me he was ready for me now. Just like that, my whole life changed.
His lease ran out and he moved in with me. Do I think now that our relationship was good? I like to believe that in the beginning it was everything I wanted. I remember believing that I could spend the rest of my life with him. A naïve assumption, perhaps, and probably false; however, looking back on my writings during that time, I think I had given over my entire life and body to him. He was not perfect, a drunk and then a liar, but we had many moments of happiness.
I do not remember when the betrayal started; I don’t remember when it first occurred to me. It was soon after our relationship began, within three months of that moment in my car. At first I coped with his lies. They were omissions about his ex, who was back in town for a few months. I tried not to care that he was visiting her, but something didn’t feel right. He started omitting meetings with her, left out important details about her time there. I became suspicious. At first I simply checked his phone for messages received and sent; something I had never done previously. I found really disturbing messages from her telling him how much she loved him; how she wanted to have sex with him.
After that it went from bad to worse. I was a wreck. I will never say that I was over-reacting. What I felt was real and the way I behaved was a consequence of this. I sacrificed my dignity by doing so, but that seemed so inconsequential compared to all the sacrifices I continued to make every day. I would wake, exhausted from a restless sleep. Cold, numbed, I barely did any work. I would take long walks by myself and then run home to check his e-mail and his other networking tools. I became obsessed with the truth. I became ingenious at discovering it, an ingenious and undignified little detective. I was possessed, obsessed, changed and I cringe now to think of my naivety. I lived in constant fear, knowing full well that I would live through daily betrayals, daily omissions and lies.
I stalked through the town, seeing her in every face, afraid that she would see me; I was paranoid. I lost so much weight from stress. It didn’t help that he had little money and I was constantly paying for him. My father is an alcoholic, and yet I still gave him money to go out and would fetch him in the early hours of the morning. He sometimes had to lean on me, he was so drunk. I condoned it. I don’t know why. It also didn’t help that he lived with me; I had to endure.
Every time he was not with me, I was stressed that he was with her. I was afraid that the ‘innocent’ friendship between them would grow into something more, surpassing all that I gave him, all that I meant to him. Sometimes I would lie awake crying until the early hours of the morning when he finally came home. It was enough that he came back. I would occasionally cry so hard that I would choke myself, throwing up phantom food into the toilet. I had panic attacks, cold sweats. Sometimes I would throw a screaming fit; once I even hit him; knowingly, maliciously and with a stab of remorse afterwards. When I started cutting then I knew that I had finally lost myself.
I barely cut deep, just a few scratches. I desperately wanted him to see what he was doing to me. I didn’t know how to make him change; make him see the pain he caused me every day. It was like I was trying to say “Look at me! Yes, I am human too. I am flesh and blood, I have feelings and you are slowing killing me”. I felt like an animal, misunderstood, cowling from the abuse, silent and obedient. I survived many months like this. He finished at the end of the year and, after a few months of long distance dating, I gave in and broke up with him. Being removed from him, having my privacy and freedom back helped me to distance myself. But it was more: I was exhausted, sick, and I couldn’t go on.
Going over the moments of our life together I feel so ashamed. I barely recognise myself. In pain, delusional, paranoid, vulnerable, I played victim and it changed me. At any point I could have turned away; I tried many times, telling him to leave, but he knew that I never meant it. The most shaming aspect of all is that two years later, three boyfriends later, I still love him. He has infected me. I continue to let him hurt me. I write this today having been betrayed once again, for her, after pouring my heart out to him just the day before. I have so little left now, a depression, a hole. I have etchings, scratchings at the surface of who I was. But I cannot change what happened and what he took from me.
I am second best for the one I love. I discovered the truth; the truth that was told to me, and the real truth which I discovered for myself. It continues to cripple me because I love him so much. The thought that sustains me is that the person I was before him is still inside of me. I am not second best to myself. I survived others, worse betrayals (although the consequences were not nearly as bad). I will survive him; it may take my life time, but he has not obliterated me yet. I long now for the person I was, the person who lived the cliché, each day violently, passionately and optimistically. I had a head full of dreams; I responded to life. I felt strong and invincible. Who am I now is just a shell of that person. I’m waiting for my tide to come in.