“You said you saw something in my eyes that day in Lisbon that scared you. What was it?”
I am sitting in London Gatwick airport. C is on the other end of the phone. This is first time I have heard her voice in a month. It has been an excruciating five weeks in London.
Every time I leave Europe, I fly out of Gatwick. It’s reliably cheap. Today, for the first time in my life, I’ve missed my flight. I’ll have to wait there in Gatwick, overnight, for the next flight home to New York.
On the phone, there’s a long pause.
Finally, C says: “It was hurt. I saw hurt in your eyes.”
“I remember you told me in Budapest that after you cheated on your ex, and you told her about it, you didn’t want to have the power to cause the hurt you saw in her,” I say, angry. “Grow up. Take some agency. I told you my feelings, six months ago, in Naples, when I said I would jump for you. You knew how I felt, and you still held on,” I lash out. “This wasn’t something that happened to you. This was something you did, actively. You just jumped ship when things became the slightest bit inconvenient for you.”
“Don’t think you’re being noble. Every time we parted, you were the one that hung on. All you’ve managed to do is cause anger and pain.”
“Well I’m just a selfish person, I guess,” she says. “I am selfish and I’ve always been selfish, so that’s how you should remember me.”
I can hear in her voice she’s getting upset. Her tone rises as she continues: “I’m walking somewhere and I’m tired and I’m going to meet friends and I’m not making any sense. And I don’t want to sound stupid on your blog, so! I’m not going to give you any more material!!”
The first post of this series had gone up two days before.
She ends the call.
I’m agitated. I dial back. It’s declined. I try again. After a beep, it’s answered. I speak quickly, in case she hangs up.
“One: I asked if you in London AND in Lisbon if you were OK with me writing about it and you said yes. You said, and I quote: ‘I think I deserve some punishment.’ Two: I never wanted to want to write this out, I wanted to talk it through with you. I waited all August in London and you never gave me the fucking time of day. And three: this was never about gathering material, it was about being *deeply* in love with you, almost from the moment I met you. So in love with you that it hurt. Bad. Every. Single. Day.”
“So don’t you dare think of me that way.”
I’m worried I’ve come on too strong. Not that there’s much to worry about, at this point. The people sitting on either side of me in this airport have turned their bodies towards me just a touch.
Half a beat, and she answers: “I don’t. I’m not going to remember you that way.”
Sitting alone in London Gatwick airport, I wish with all my heart that I could tell her the same.
A moment of agitated silence on the other end.
“Hang up,” she says.
“Because I don’t want to be the one to do it.”
“No,” I say. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
I hear footsteps. She is approaching her party; gathering; whatever.
“I don’t want to remember you as a selfish person…” I plead. The entreaty, I’m sure, must be painfully obvious.
“Well I am!” she says in a desperate, bratty voice. “I was and I always have been!”
I pull the phone away from my ear and violently punch the red button, cutting off the last “n”.
One final, desperate push away from intimacy.
And that’s that.
Five countries; nine months; all those adventures; late nights and early mornings spent chatting across time zones — and those will be the last words she is able to share with me.
I thought of what her friend Maria had told me in Italy: “C is always alone.”
Slumped there in London Gatwick airport, shattered and spit on, these words start to make more sense.
I feel sad and empty, of course. It feels as if someone has been using a blunt bone saw on my sternum.
But despite the deep, aching, throb in my chest — there’s a tinge of pity.
Her hurt goes far deeper than mine.
And I’ll never apologize for loving.
No matter how much it hurts.
Time to hold out my hat…
That’s my story; I hope you enjoyed it. In fact, I know a lot of you did — thanks for all the messages, the DMs, the phone calls and the comments. I’m glad you’ve found value here.
This was a performance; a piece of art. Now, same as a street performer or a subway musician, I’m holding out my hat, and saying: if you could support monetarily, that would be great.
This type of work takes a lot of time and effort to produce, and it earns no money whatsoever. $1 is nice. €5 would be better, £20 would be best. But pay what you can — and if that’s $0, I won’t be offended.
Donating and sharing goes a long way towards keeping me able to give you thoughtful projects like this. Hope you can support.
A brief FAQ
I’ve answered many of these questions to people, personally, but the same ones seem to keep popping up. So here they are, for those of you too shy to ask.
Is this all true, or is it exaggerated?
100% true, from my point-of-view. Obviously, there are always multiple angles on any given event — and there are two sides to any heartbreak. I have written mine. If I come back to this material in a different form, the other side would certainly be more represented. But I can’t speak for her in this format, and I wouldn’t risk getting it wrong.
There is one conversation I relocated in the narrative to fit the flow better, without changing the content or meaning, and one text conversation that was combined with a verbal conversation in order to help story flow. These are tricky ethical conversations in creative nonfiction, and I try as hard as I can to avoid combining or moving events like that. Two small instances in this story I consider an acceptable sacrifice for form, structure, and readability.
Everything else is as it happened. It’s not exaggerated and it’s not fabricated. All the photos and videos were taken by me or C.
Do you two still talk?
Do you think she’s reading your posts?
Are you alright?
A heartbreak isn’t easy. Especially not such a complicated one. But life carries on. Every single one of you has been here before — perhaps not in such exotic and contorted circumstances — but the same place, nonetheless. You know how it goes. I have tried to make something beautiful out of an ugly situation. Maybe I succeeded; maybe I didn’t; the important thing is that I tried.
Was writing it therapeutic?
Yes, writing this was helpful for me. It was hard to write about the good times, and easy to write about the hard times. In general, writing can be a way for me to process my feelings. But mostly, I found I could not give this story sufficient form or detail in spoken word — and it was too important to bury inside me. So, here it is. Another piece of my heart.
I would have liked these thoughts to reside with only one person, in Portugal.
Instead, it resides with all of you — wherever you may be.
A heavy trade, but, I have to hope, a fair one.
Is it hard to share such emotionally raw writing?
Honestly, no. As I think you probably understand from the story, I am a person who values emotional honesty. I don’t always do it correctly, I don’t always say the right thing or act in the right way — and that’s NOT the way you should read this story — but I value honesty.
Every piece of good art you enjoy, from movies to books to songs, comes from a place of honest vulnerability. We have to dig deep into these feelings, accept them, acknowledge them, and not run from them.
So yeah, it is weird when I meet a friend, and they say: “I’ve been reading your blogs”, and I know they know every road on the map of my heart… but let me end this FAQ by asking you a question:
why would that be a bad thing??
thanks for reading.