[This is part 5 in a series about shitty things I’ve done to people. You can read the original post here. This post accompanies the one before it, so if you haven’t read that, you might be lost. In the interest of protecting the anonymity of all parties involved, all names have been changed.]
When I was living abroad, my Discman and my headphones were my best friends. Too broke to afford an iPod at the time, I burned mix CD after mix CD and carried at least five of them in my messenger bag at a time, not only to have variation, but to be able to have a song that reflected my mood. Happy, sad, contemplative, I believed then and still believe to this day that there is a song for every single identifiable emotion. And when May told me that I “didn’t know what love [was],” the only songs I could listen to were of heartbreak and longing.
My obligations became less and less important in the days following that conversation. I ignored calls from family members and skipped a lot of my classes, opting to grab a taxi to the city center, just to walk around and listen to music. I had recently discovered Broken Social Scene’s album “Feel Good Lost,” having purchased it on a whim at the Virgin Megastore downtown. After the first listen, I carried it wherever I went. I roamed the city trying to convince myself that I wasn’t hurting, but my music selection proved otherwise.
The situation was especially difficult because I couldn’t confide in anyone for fear of outing her or myself. I had friends that I trusted for the most part, but I still had to be cautious, for May’s sake more than my own. I had the luxury of running back to the United States if things went sour. She unfortunately didn’t. I’d face grief and embarrassment from my family. Her fate would have been far worse. So, knowing this, I kept to myself, kept my head down, and kept walking.
Against my better judgment, I went to Acid that Friday night, having fooled myself into thinking that I’d be able to drink without letting my emotions rule my consumption. I was wrong. All I remember from that night is kissing everyone I came in contact with, drinking between five and ten screwdrivers, and puking in the parking lot while hanging out of the back of a friend’s Range Rover. My friends couldn’t in good conscience leave me at the club to find a taxi by myself, so they drove me to the dorm and dropped me off at the main gate. I made it halfway to my dorm and awoke the next morning on a bench facing the football field.
The morning sun beat down on me, waking me up from a restless sleep on the bench. My hangover was wicked, with searing pain behind my eyeballs. I tried to shield myself from the sun as best as possible as I stumbled my way back to the dorm. It was a Saturday at 7 AM; no one would be awake. I made my way up to the fifth floor, holding on to the hand rail in the stairwell, and cautiously climbing every step.
My roommate was still asleep when I arrived; I crept in undetected. Smelling like the vomit matted in my hair, I went to the rest room to take a shower before crawling into my bed. The water was soothing. I spent most of my shower with my head resting against the tile, allowing the water to beat down on my back. As I soaped myself, I thought about my next step; things without May would be different. We had only been seeing each other for a month, but in that time, I was able to feel for her more than I had felt for anyone. Dealing with those feelings would not be easy. Clean from head to toe, I dried off and went back to my room. I slept until 6 PM, ate dinner, and slept some more. Going to Acid was the last thing on my list that night.
I made an attempt to attend my classes the following week; concentration escaped me. I doodled in the margins of my paper instead of focusing in my math class. When the professor called on me, snapping me back to reality, all I could say was “five.” Snickers were heard throughout the classroom; it was obvious that I had not been paying attention. The professor shook his head, walked to the other side of the room, and posed the same question to another student. I felt eyes on me, some real and some imagine. The discomfort continued through the end of the class and I left as soon as 3 PM arrived.
Thanksgiving approached. Unable to go home to celebrate with family, I made plans to celebrate with other American students. A sudden bout of depression derailed those plans. The group had counted on me to make macaroni and cheese and feeling guilty about being unable to do so, I quickly whipped a dish together and sent it with a friend. I stayed in my dorm room and watched movies on my laptop, tugging on a pint of vodka I had purchased earlier that day.
After having fallen asleep sitting up, with my laptop on my lap, I awoke to a knocking on the door. I was still in a haze, slightly tipsy from the mix of vodka and depression. Instead of opening the door, I shouted at the person to go away, slurring just a little. After a moment of pause, they knocked again. When the knocking didn’t stop, I answered the door in a huff, loudly complaining about people not understanding what “go away” means. I opened the door to find May with a box of takeout and a much needed bottle of water.
“If I go away, you’ll miss out on dinner.” she said, pushing past me to let herself in. I stood there, blinking for a moment, trying my best to comprehend what exactly was taking place. May sat the care package on my desk and examined my room.
“It smells like shit in here.” It had been three weeks since we last spoke.
May was right; the room smelled like stale cigarettes and a bit of body odor. She opened a window to let some of the stench escape, and emptied the ashtray into the wastebasket, threw away empty food wrappers, cigarette packs, and cans of Diet Coke. I remained near the door, taking in the moment. She stopped cleaning and turned to me.
“Well? Aren’t we going to eat? It’ll get cold.”
Looking out of the corner of her eye, May spotted the pint of vodka that had slipped between the mattress and the wall. She grabbed it and tossed it into the wastebasket. I growled at her and said she had no business doing that.
“You’ll thank me later.” she replied. She was eerily calm, and it bothered me a great deal. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t have come over, that I was trying to get over her and her presence didn’t help that process one bit, that I still loved her and regretted what I had done. I didn’t. I approached her and mumbled a quick thanks for the dinner. She sat on the floor and arranged the food and paper plates; it was an indoor picnic. I sat, guarded, quiet, and silently grateful for the meal.
“It’s your favorite.” May opened the containers and revealed falafel, complete with all the fixings. My stomach was a bit sour with vodka, but she insisted that I eat. She even went as far as to make me a sandwich, complete with lettuce, tomato, pickled turnips, and tahini sauce. We ate in silence, glancing at each other periodically, unsure of what to say. After May finished her sandwich, I leaned back against my bed an lit a cigarette. She took one from my pack and put it between her lips, gesturing for me to light it for her. Torture, I thought. She’s doing this on purpose. The silence continued for just a moment.
“So, what compelled you to do that?” I asked. She tapped her cigarette into the ashtray and stared at me, rolling the smoldering cigarette between her fingers.
“I talked to your roommate and she said you weren’t doing well. You had been ‘sick,’ she said.” May took a long drag from her cigarette, exhaling at the ceiling. “I guess I wanted to take care of you.”
We talked. The conversation was brutally honest; we both apologized for our roles in the fight that we had. I should have been patient, she shouldn’t have said that my feelings weren’t genuine. There were times in the conversation that she became angry, and I became upset. I let her raise her voice at me, she let me cry at her. After about an hour or two, we sat in silence, unsure of how to proceed. We had reached some kind of resolution in the form of forgiveness, but reconciliation was unclear. The silence became palpable.
“Put some music on,” May suggested, “I can’t deal with this.”
I played the Broken Social Scene album that I had gotten a few weeks prior. Her face was twisted for a moment, unsure of the music. After a minute, I noticed that she was swaying a bit, eyes closed.
“You always listen to such weird stuff.”
“I could change it.”
“Weird isn’t bad.”
May sidled up to me and rested her head on my shoulder. After a moment, I gathered the courage to kiss her on the top of her head. With my roommate gone for the evening, we crawled in bed, my arms wrapped around her, and we slept through the night for the first time in weeks.
Midterms came and went. My grades weren’t entirely abysmal. I was sure my philosophy profession felt sorry for me and gave me a passing grade just for showing up. May and I had resumed our routine of meeting after class and cuddling. There was a noticeable increasing in kissing. She seemed more passionate, which I did not discourage at all. Things escalated a bit; she explored touching me under my clothes. It was inexperienced and she treated my body like a fragile object. I insisted that she didn’t rush herself for my benefit. Despite my growing sexual frustration, I remained monogamous and treated the relationship seriously.
May asked to accompany me to Acid again soon after exams were over. It was December, deep into the country’s rainy season. We were standing outside of the science building, smoking cigarettes, crammed under a small awning to stay dry. Without hesitation, I accepted her request and suggested we go that Friday. She seemed giddy; this was her rebellion. This was her opportunity to see what life could be like, being out and proud. She asked a lot of questions after that, like what to wear, who to avoid, how open with her sexuality she could be. Her sexuality. She was yet to label it at that point and I didn’t force her. The label wasn’t important. What was important was that we cared for each other. Everything else was secondary.
Friday evening arrived. My friend with the Range Rover came to pick us up, which was exciting in itself, as we were able to avoid a tense taxi ride to the club. She held onto my arm for the duration of the car. It was endearing; I didn’t let go. Not even once.
When we entered Acid, something about the atmosphere wasn’t right. The crowd was unusually rowdy and the club was hosting way more men that women that night. We found my friends and pushed our way to the bar. After introductions, I asked a friend why the club was so packed. Apparently, the DJ playing that night attracted a large crowd, but these folks weren’t the usual Acid clubgoers. They were aggressively heterosexual and full of an energy that I hadn’t encountered before.
May proceeded to drink a lot, overwhelmed by the crowd and her own excitement. After a few drinks, she wasn’t exactly slopping, but she wasn’t fully in control of her actions, either. My group of friends and I decided it would be best if we stayed together, as we were well aware of how rowdy everyone in the club was. May drank even more.
When the DJ began to play, there was a lot of dancing and jumping. As expected, the men there, the aggressively heterosexual men, attempted to dance with us and got carried away; one grabbed my hips and rubbed his crotch against me, another other licked May’s face. Our group tried to form a circle around one another and stick together, but the crowd pushed and pulled and we were separated all over again.
And then the lights went out.
The DJ was able to cut the lights just before bass drops and everything in the club would turn pitch black. The nightmare began. In the dark of the club, faceless hands began grabbing at me and May, grabbing our crotches, our breasts, trying to molest our asses, pulling at our clothing. I punched at the darkness, trying to fight off those around me. When the lights would come on, seconds later, the hands would vanish. My anxiety spiraled. I grabbed May and tried pushing through the crowd to get to the door, but the lights cut out again, and a third and fourth time. The grabbing and groping was relentless, each time feeling more violent than the last. By the time we were able to separate ourselves from the crowd, my shirt and pants were ripped open. My friends followed soon after. We left the madness as soon as possible. May was still anxious and holding my hand so hard her knuckles turned white. I assured her it wasn’t normally like that. I didn’t bother asking her if she’d had a good time. We both knew she didn’t.
After being dropped of at the front gates of campus, I guided May back to the dorm. She was still a bit drunk and wobbling, protesting my attempts to get her inside.
“I don’t want to go in,” she pouted, flailing her arms.
“Well, where do you want to go?” I asked.
It was the answer I’d wanted to hear for months, but it was jarring. May was still heavily influenced by alcohol and the lines of consent were blurred. I said that probably wasn’t a good idea, but she protested, pouting again and whining like a petulant child. We meandered down a long path to the football field. There were some mats lying in the center. She guided me there and flopped backwards onto the mat. She held out her arms and beckoned me to come to her.
Ambiguity. I didn’t want to leave May alone, but I didn’t want the situation to escalate. I sat next to her and we looked at the stars for a moment. I fell onto my back and we laid there. Water pooled in the crevices of the mats as it had rained earlier in the day, soaking our clothes. I didn’t care very much. We were experiencing something greater than wet mats and soggy garments. The air was still and we could hear each other breathing. It was perfect.
The moment was short lived. May crawled on top of me and started kissing me, opening up the part of my shirt that had been ripped and exposing my chest. I attempted to control the situation by holding her hands away from me while we kissed, but they always found their way back. I was still unsettled from the experience at the club and the contact felt uncomfortable. I continued to pull her hands off of me to no avail. That’s when I finally asked her to stop.
Hearing those words caused May to roll off my body, landing next to me on the mat. Her silence was deafening. I could feel thoughts racing; the energy was radiating off of her.
“I want this to happen, but not like this. I want you, badly, but only if you’re sober.” I was surprised by my own words; the sounded more put together than I had anticipated. May, unfortunately, didn’t see it that way.
A few minutes later, she rolled onto her side and draped her arm across my midsection. Her eyes were different; they were glaring at me. I’d hurt her.
“I never want to do this again.” She proclaimed. I sat up to get a better look at her.
“I’m sorry?” I wanted to make sure I was hearing her correctly. She sat up as well and faced me, her eyes still shooting daggers at me.
“I never want to do this again. I don’t want to be your girlfriend ever. I want to be normal.”
Normal. I stood up and backed away from the mat, turning away from her to stare off into the great, dark nothingness. I decided that it was time to leave and started to make my way back to the path. She called out my name several times, but I refused to turn back. I didn’t want her to see how upset I was.
“What is wrong with you?” May screamed. “Like, are you really that hurt?”
I turned around and stomped my way to her. “Of course I am! I tell you how I feel, I open up and tell you I fucking love you, and then you do this. All because I want to be with you when you are sober.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
This was the first time she had ever cursed at me, and I was taken aback by how the words sounded coming out of her mouth. “You weren’t sober when you fucked around with those whores at the club. You think you love me because you just want to care about someone, thinking that maybe you’ll care about yourself in the process. You think love is fucking and fucking is love and I’m not like that.”
“Like what exactly?” I moved even closer to her. I wasn’t trying to intimidate her, I just wanted to see her face clearly. I wanted to take in the gravity of the moment. I wanted my reason to leave and never look back.
“Like a slut.” She said it so nonchalantly. Emotionless. I was indignant at her assertion that I was not only selfish but a slut. It was all I needed to hear to turn around and walk towards the path again.
In the brief time it took me to get from May to the path, I started to put together a plan, a plan to create distance, to shield myself, to never find myself in a position like this every again. I’d create an armor of indifference around myself. Love is vulnerability and I wanted to become tempered steel.
I heard May call my name as I reached the path. She said it again and again, but I refused to turn around and acknowledge her words. I was too wrapped up in my hurt, and looking at her would have served as a reminder of that, of that moment that she wanted to be normal. And that is when I heard her body hit the ground; she had crumpled onto the dewy grass, too intoxicated to walk without assistance. At that point, I did turn around, rushing towards her to helped her up. As angry as I was, I couldn’t abandon her. I propped her up and guided her back to the dorm.
After dragging May to the fifth floor, she rushed to the bathroom to vomit, stumbling along the way. Despite how tired I was, I followed. As she released the contents of her stomach into the toilet, I held her curly hair away from her face. The retching came to a halt a few minutes later. She spat a few times, wiped her mouth, and grabbed my hand. I released her hair, the pressure from her grip causing my hand to open.
“Don’t… don’t not talk to me tomorrow.” she said, looking up at me, her curls falling into her face.
She repeated herself, and requested that I act normally around her. I looked at her, hanging on to the toilet seat, a mess of vomit and smeared mascara. She was still beautiful, despite everything that happened. Her request to carry on as usual, however, was absurd and unreasonable. I wanted to be alone to nurse my wounds, but May wanted us to continue on as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t promise that. I left her in the bathroom to sort herself out, and went to bed.
The month that followed that night was lonely. I spent less time with my group of friends in the dorm and forced myself to be more social with other American students, the liberal, freedom-loving types. I met a guy named Andy from California, who came to the country for the semester-long study abroad program. Hanging out with Andy helped me take my mind off of May, not entirely, but just enough to feel moments of relief. He and I liked the same music and bonded over that. We would smoke hash together regularly; he always commented that I rolled joints better than him. He would accompany me on walks around the city, bringing a cable splitter for my Discman so we could listen to music together while walking around. Things began to feel okay. Normal, even.
I moved out of the dorm in the middle of January, wanting to further distance myself from May. I moved into an apartment with an American student from New Jersey and we hit it off. When my friends from the dorm came over to visit, May would tag along. She wanted to maintain some semblance of friendship, but I didn’t know how. When I would go to the kitchen to grab a drink, she would follow behind, having just enough alone time to ask me how I was. She caressed my arm one time after saying “It’s really great to see you” three times in a row.
I had a pretty big 19th birthday party in the apartment. It was a merging of social groups; my friends from the club, from the dorm, and the American students all descended upon my apartment to eat, drink, and be merry. There was no shortage of alcohol, and everyone was varying degrees of drunk within the first hour. The music thumped, the conversation flowed. Things were great. May made a brief appearance, long enough to have a drink, hand me a small present, and give me a small kiss on the cheek.
That night, after that small kiss on the cheek, I proceeded to drink too much. I threw myself at Andy, and after he rejected me, threatened him and two others with a broken beer bottle. Within minutes, we were laughing again. The thumpa thumpa went on; we danced and drank, living like there was no tomorrow.
My depression quickly took hostage of my life after my birthday and I didn’t enroll for a second semester as a result. For the most part, I stayed in the apartment to write, get drunk, smoke hash, and listen to music, hoping and praying that one of these things would lift my mood. They never did. In March, after evading question after question about how school was going, I came clean and told my parents that I hadn’t been attending and that I had no intention of going back. As a result, my father booked me a ticket to come home two days later.
By this point in the post, you’re probably wondering how this qualifies to be part of the series about the shitty things I’ve done to people. The bulk of this essay has indeed been about how I was hurt by May and how poorly I coped with it. But I did end up hurting her, delivering the final blow to whatever we had.
May and a few friends from the dorm came over to help me back the day of my flight. In my depression, I had procrastinated and put off any kind of packing and organization until the last minute. My father, disappointed in me for not returning to school, said I could bring back only one suitcase, telling me to choose my possessions wisely. I let my friends pick through the things I didn’t mind leaving behind. Clothes, shoes, books. One by one, these items vanished. The rest was donated to a women’s shelter.
My friends said goodbye one by one. Clara and Mona, the two sisters on the fourth floor, both hugged me tight and wished me safe travels. Andy gave me a mix CD and told me to listen to it on my flight. My roommate told me that it was a pleasure living with me before going out that evening. May stayed until the very end.
Bags packed, we sat on the couch awkwardly waiting for my uncle to arrive. In the months following our falling out, we had less and less to say to one another. But still, May lingered. She was always the last to leave, and always the first to volunteer to help me with something. Our interactions each time, however, seemed forced and our conversation seemed pressured. Nothing was the same.
“I’m going to miss you,” she admitted. I shrugged and told her not to. She couldn’t understand why I would say such a thing. I went on to say much later that it was the depression that caused me to say the things I said. The reality was that I wanted to hurt her.
May went on to apologize for her role in our falling out, explaining her inability to understand and accept her sexuality. Her drunkenness was a way to cope with her conflicting feelings while at the club. My responses were thin, mostly “uh huhs” and “yeahs.” I cared about what she was saying, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t express it. She went on to tell me that she wanted to explore her bisexuality, which she never would have discovered had it not been for me. Because of this, she felt the need to thank me. “When you think about it,” she said, “I really owe all of this to you.” I sighed, rolled my eyes, and lit a cigarette, my actions catching her off guard.
“You don’t owe me anything.” I exhaled toward the table lamp, the glow of the light illuminating the smoke that swirled around it. “You talk about this big, transformative thing that happened to you, and that’s great and all, but it really wasn’t that serious. ” I took another and looked at her. “It was all just a mistake that got way out of control.”
A mistake. There she was, telling me that I had this profound impact on her life and my only reply was that this profound impact was a mistake. I minimized her experience just enough to turn her confusion into incredulity.
“How could you say that?” The tears were building in her eyes. “You said you loved me. You showed me how it could be, to be loved.”
Normal. Normal. Normal. Now I was the one demonstrating to her how love can move mountains. Normal.
“There’s really no other way to see it. I was homesick and you took my mind off of the homesickness for awhile. I mean, I even thought about how right you were when you said that I was incapable of loving. I kind of am. I mean, if I truly loved you, we wouldn’t be where we are now.” I took one final drag of my cigarette, stubbed it out in the nearby ashtray, and said “You were just… there.”
That was enough for her to storm off, her last words to me being “I hope your plane crashes.”
My uncle arrived shortly after and helped me load my suitcase into my car. He was surprised that I was leaving with only a single suitcase, remembering that I had more luggage with me upon arrival. I shrugged it off and sat in silence as he drove me to the airport. I was dealing with the instant regret I felt having said those things to May. Had I gotten what I wanted? Had I cut the deepest? Possibly. I don’t think anyone ever wants to hear that their relationship was a one of convenience, to later be regretted by someone you thought loved you.
One suitcase. One suitcase to pack my most valuable possessions. I may have left the country with only that suitcase, but I was carrying an impossible amount of baggage with me back to the United States.