For two years, I had the privilege of dating a wonderful young man. He was kind, intelligent, gentle, thoughtful, sensitive, respectful, diligent, loving – not to mention extremely handsome, with beautiful blue eyes and a heart-melting smile. This is the letter I wrote him but never sent – redrafted with added years of hindsight (which, as we all know, is 20/20). It’s about love, and remorse, and theft, and getting things totally, totally wrong.
I’m going to try not to be too epigrammatic or dramatic; like you, I know I have a penchant for words, but I don’t want my phraseology to obscure the content. We’ve had quite enough drama to last us without my ramblings adding to the mix. (Also, please excuse the handwriting; I’ve still got a bit of RSI from third year of university so I’m only just learning to write properly again!).
First of all, thank you.
Thank you for sticking by me through all the dross and mire of the last few years. I am only now realising how traumatic I found them; I find my memory has suppressed some things – for example, it hadn’t properly dawned on me that my Dad was dying, and that the reason he was putting so much pressure on me to visit was because he thought he might not survive the operation. I cast my mind back and marvel, revolted, at how I tried to carry on revising Aristotle and Augustine when my family was falling apart. Oh, the things I would change if I could do it again.
I recently learned that trauma can cause people with no history of disassociation to detach from their reality. It has taken me around two and a half years to realise this is exactly what happened to me, and – naturally – I was too disassociated to realise it of myself. In the shock of my Dad’s sudden cancer diagnosis, the stress of finals and my own worsening pain, my ability to express care switched off. It’s only now I look back and see that this affected all my close relationships, but especially ours. I was terrified of all there was to lose, and I stopped being a person I recognised. Of course I stopped recognising you too.
With you being so close to me, it was easy for me to take out my frustrations on you. I was incredibly confused and conflicted as to what was best for me, but because I knew we loved each other, I put all that in a box and buried it, rather than face it head-on. That was terribly unfair of me and came from a deep place of fear and insecurity. I let you down in your times of need. I wasn’t ready to give you all of myself. I was unfit to be in a relationship with you, and yet without you, there is no way I could have made it through that year, with everything going so very wrong. So thank you. You are an exceptional man for finding it in yourself to love me through it. I’m gutted it wasn’t more enjoyable for both of us.
As you know, the pressure I felt because of my condition made me feel less like a woman and less loveable. In effect, I was already in an abusive relationship – with my own body. I was craving fantasy, escapism; bright lights and daydreams. You offered me comfort in my sorrow and constant love through my dead-end situation. You did not lift me out of the quagmire; you waded in waist-deep just to hold me in the mud, so I wouldn’t be alone. I saw that, and knew that was what I needed, but I didn’t know how to receive it. For that, I am truly, truly sorry. For what it’s worth, I am still grieving.
‘What If’ is a dangerous game, but it’s one I can’t seem to stop playing.
My craving for escape led me to undervalue you in your simple honesty. I failed to see the joy in curling up to watch a film or cooking together, because all I could think about was my own pain. This obsession with my own suffering also led me to talk far too much about other boys – a stupid and insensitive attempt to try to regain my sense of attractiveness, when all the while I knew I was ballooning (physically) and spiralling (mentally and emotionally) out of control. Some part of me wanted to remind you I was wanted by others; perhaps because of our rocky start, with me pursuing you and you turning me down before we eventually got together. Perhaps, like a churlish infant, I held onto this. Perhaps it curled up like a tapeworm and ate away at me from the inside. More than that: I think I became so convinced by my own sense of isolation, that I prophesied the fear into being. I was scared of not being enough for you, as I hadn’t been enough so many times before. I wasn’t brave enough to face up to the ways I was wrong, and vulnerable, and fractious, and fractured; broken. So I became fixated on the idea that others saw me in a different image. I sought the company of those that told me what I wanted to hear; thick, syrupy lies to keep me focused on the nausea and not on the seering pain of everyday reality. I could not bear to face you; you, who had seen me tear-blotched and panda-eyed – doubled over and moaning – ashamed of the half bottle of rosé I had dispatched in a desperate attempt to flee – hours dribbling past me like a pensioner’s toothless drool. I could not face my reflection in your eyes, dear darling. The sight was too much to bear.
If I wasn’t already in pieces, it’s fair to say that long distance broke me.
After university, we tried again. You got a job in another country, and neither of us could drive. You, my friend, who should have been my comfort and joy, brought me anguish and sorrow as we tried to live a shared existence. There you were, stunning a new community in a job that excited you. Meanwhile, I was tearfully accepting I was too ill to finish my Master’s degree, and becoming shackled to my duvet. My aspirations and everything I thought made me valuable were washing away like rain. With every new failure – the short-lived waitressing job, the panic attack walking to King’s Cross, the days in bed I needed after train journeys just to recover – I lost more and more of myself. I started to feel like Pain living in Rosalind’s body: a host. It wasn’t until walking over the bridge when you were at work one day that I realised how bad things had gotten, when I heard myself consider how much easier it would be if I jumped. (See, I told you it would be dramatic enough as it was – I hate that it is so, but I was very poorly; it was beyond my control). When even the little we could enjoy physically became a burden and a challenge, that was me done. I could not see what was left in the relationship when there was nothing we could enjoy. When there was nothing I could enjoy. I did not perceive any intimacy between us any more – because I had shut you out a long time ago.
You may notice how little your internal world seems to feature in the above narrative. I hope you can remember the empathetic person I once was, to know that this detachment was symptomatic of a girl who needed help, not a callous monster with no love in her heart.
The tragedy of it all is that I really think I could have dealt with it all so differently if I wasn’t in so much pain, if that wasn’t taking such a toll on my emotions. Instead, the long-distance had me stuck in a karmic cycle of grief. We would part, I would miss you terribly. After about a week, I would start to deal with the distance “better.” Two or three weeks would pass, and I would start to feel as if I was weaning away from you somehow, and that felt good because it didn’t feel awful. Then I would see you again, we would have a lovely day/week, yet it would be tinged by the nagging inevitability of our imminent separation. Then we would part, and the exhausting cycle would start again.
For months, I honestly felt I did my best to make the relationship work, and used up all my energy in the process. I so desperately wanted things to be easier, better; for us to be nearer, closer, fine. But I suppose that’s one of the terrible truths of life. You can meet the right person at the wrong time. You can let down those you love. You can disappoint yourself. You can survive the keenest pain, but you can’t necessarily keep taking on more. I know the end of the relationship hurt you deeply. You are one of the last people in the world I would ever want to be in pain. You’re one of the best people I’ve ever known. The more time that passes, the more I realise how precious the gift of your love was, and how I failed to see its value. I was blind to it; blinded by my pain and the ridiculous, crazed grabs at “youth” that it frightened me into making. I was terrified to settle, when all I wanted to do was run.
If only I had stopped kicking, and given in – accepted I was in need, swallowed my pride, and let you love me.
But it is right that I feel the loss of this now. You deserve more happiness than this world ordinarily gives, far more than I could give you in my tattered state. Pain has worn and changed me in ways no one could have foreseen. I wish I had known then that to be chronically ill is to undergo bereavement for the self you will never become. I wish I could have poured myself into supporting your dreams rather than mourning mine. I wish I had given you more space to be all you were, rather than trying to swipe for petty moments of control. I could not stand the person I was with you. I hope never to see her again. She’s far away from me now; I am older, stronger, perhaps a little wiser. The shudders of trauma appear to have finally been laid to rest, and I am free to feel again. I know now that certain things I never thought would be possible are within my grasp. Perhaps it would have changed everything between us. ‘What If’ is a dangerous game, but it’s one I can’t seem to stop playing.
You deserved far more than me, my darling. I’m so sorry for letting you down. Now mine is the grief to bear.