This piece is part of the continuing saga that started with Once Bitten, then continued with Live and Learn. Or not., and then Better to Have Loved and Lost…? (which should really go after this piece, but why quibble). As with the others, however, this essay stands alone.
My boyfriend’s ex-wife wanted him back. He didn’t love her anymore—he was saying he loved me—but the bait she was dangling was nearly impossible to resist.
Though seriously conflicted, he broke up with me. I was devastated. It was hard for the romantic in me to imagine someone choosing anything but love. It couldn’t be true. And if it was, I had to make it untrue.
And thus began the e-mails, the phone calls, the text messages. As a writer, someone who lives by her words, I felt that if I could only say the right thing, make the case just the right way, he would reconsider.
I’m a good enough writer that he did. A logical and persuasive e-mail led to a logical and persuasive phone call, which led him to decide to tell his ex he didn’t know what he was going to do.
After the phone call, I told my friends, “I live for another day.” The reference was to Scheherazade, wife of the mythical Persian king who married a virgin every day and had her killed by morning. Scheherazade stayed alive by entertaining the king with tales that ended with a cliffhanger each morning. She lived 1001 nights this way (thus the famous Arabian tales), until he fell in love with her and made her his queen.
But according to my therapist, I was no Scheherazade. She spoke to me frankly.
“I don’t think you should be in contact with him. There’s nothing you can say that will fix this.”
I was about to protest, but she shook her head.
“There are no magic words. He will have to make this decision on his own.”
Once I really let the words in, I realized their truth. I could persuade, tempt, and cajole, and he might bend at my words. Like Scheherazade, I might live another day. But I realized at that moment that however far he might bend, he was always going to snap back into the same position, like a fishing pole after a nibble. He would never have broken up with me in the first place if that wasn’t so.
I nodded, and my eyes filled with tears. “You’re right.” As much as I didn’t want to believe it, she was. And as long as I thought there was something I could say that would turn the situation around, I would search for the words, write a volume filled with letters of persuasion. I would obsess ad nauseum. I know I would. I’ve done it before.
It felt terrible to know I was powerless, but in a way I was relieved. I’d been released from searching relentlessly for a key that wasn’t going to unlock anything.
Despite this knowledge, Scheherazade hadn’t quite given up. I was the one who put a moratorium on contact, but I was the one who broke it, again and again, with beautiful, broken-hearted prose.
Despite everything that’s gone on, I still think the happiest thing for me would be the sound of your voice saying this is all over, love and happiness wins. But that becomes ever more elusive as the days go on and it becomes clear that you can live without me. And that’s just another thing to make me sad.
He responded with a loving, confused, and apologetic note. One note led to another (surprise!), and I convinced him to see me, so we could say goodbye, see each other for what might be the last time.
I met him at his house, and within minutes we were holding each other, kissing, saying we didn’t want to let go. But then he pulled himself away.
“I can’t do this.”
A very clear conversation followed. It didn’t matter how he felt about me, how good it felt to be with me; he thought he was abandoning his family if he didn’t try this reconciliation. And he didn’t see how he could try if he was still talking to me.
“It doesn’t make any sense at all for us to be in contact, then, does it?” I said.
He shook his head. We held each other one last time, and I left.
After that, I did have a couple of lapses, one of which resulted in a text message exchange. That exchange told me he was too resolute to be drawn back in. I wrote him one last e-mail apologizing for breaking our agreement and wishing him well.
And now it’s morning, and I’ve no more words.