I have been skinned.
So here it is, and I am terrified.
Exposed are my sinews and bones, insecurities and failings. Look closer still and you will see each vein, each subtle thud of my heart, every what-if and not-good-enough that has ever kept me awake late into the night.
There is no partner-in-crime, no warm body to chase away my unease. There is no longer one to plan for or around, nowhere to store my aching need.
It is too early in this painful transition to look at myself in the mirror and love that girl. Besides, I am so frustrated with her.
Must we continue on this unending path? Do you not realize that it leads only back to where we began? Aren’t you sick of this place?
I berate myself and every exposed nerve-ending shudders. The benefit of repeating past mistakes however, is knowing how to put yourself back together.
While I wept into my sheets and thought of how unfair it is that I have to do this all over again, and oh, woe is me for trusting my heart and the foreseeable future to a relationship that has always been tenuous at best, a deeper truth clawed at me from behind the rushing blood and twisting organs.
Relief—the truth is I am, while hurting and afraid—flooded with relief. Though the emotion is multi-faceted, of course. I think perhaps I am relieved to have escaped any deeper commitment with an (ultimately) ill-matched partner.
Had it gone on any longer we may have been, for better or for worse, stuck with each other—too afraid to admit to ourselves that all the time and energy we’ve invested in this was a lost cause.
Maybe we would have stampeded onward into our shared future. Onward into a quagmire that would eventually demand domestic conventions: marriage, a child, a house, a dog.
In the middle of all of these societal requisites there we would be, willfully ignorant of our own unhappiness, our own disquiet. All the while screamingly aware of it in the small, false nuances that would punctuate the long stretches of illusory fulfillment.
Haven’t we seen that scenario before, in nearly a million Oscar-nominated films? A failed life, a failed love, acted out deliciously.
Haven’t I seen it in the dissolution of my parent’s marriage, in the depression of my mother, the emotional dam that is my father?
I am relieved because my inner-demons are satisfied. “See,” they hiss into my ear, “you really aren’t good enough. You aren’t suited for a long-term commitment. You are unlovable, unkind, and you are false.”
I can finally put them to bed, bloated and content, where they rest at ease until the next time I try for loving normalcy.
And yet, beneath the self-loathing I harbor desperate desires. I long for honesty and authenticity, for the courage to stop lying.
So badly I want to accept the fear, the open wound, the loneliness and the uncertainty—to embrace it, and to love the broken pieces of myself back into something whole.
The bright center of this relief stems not from an escape, nor the terrible self-doubt that leaves me immobilized—heavy with grief. It shines out from the door it has opened onto the knowledge of my own worthiness.
I have not—I cannot—cross its threshold yet, but I can see it’s frame built independent of the expectations from family and friends, from old and new acquaintances, from the tyranny of the should.
There it is, wide open, not despite but because of the profound vulnerability present in being alone.
I do not yet know why this door closes in the time it takes for the relationships I cultivate to reach their peak, and then slowly wither. I suppose, as I’m sure my therapist might, it has plenty to do both with the people I choose to love, and my own deeply entrenched inability to believe that I am worth it requited.
As I watch helplessly my fear snakes between the entwined limbs, between the loving words, while stifling the laughter, the pleasure, and the joy of intimacy.
Habits are so difficult to break. We are bred into them, somehow, from an early age. I can only be grateful that along the way I picked up the ability to recognize the destructive forces of mine.
What comes to me with brilliant clarity in the midst of this complicated internal monologue is the realization that this, and any other relationship I have invested myself in, that has at least partly ended due to my own subconscious attempts at sabotage, was entered into in order to escape something else.
I have never committed myself to someone wholly without an almost rabid desire to forget a part of my life or a part of myself that terrifies me. I know I am young, but the stark truth of this admission is laid out in my personal history, glaringly apparent.
I can only hope that some day, after I put in the work it takes to shed these layers of self-deceit, I will look back on my early twenties as a turning point toward a life lived as richly and as truthfully and as full of love as I know I must deserve.
Editor: Jennifer Cusano
Sarah Nabulsi is a recent college graduate of UMass Amherst. She originally hails from the shores of Nantucket, MA, and is currently living in New York City, taking acting classes and attempting to live intentionally and avoid limbo. She is a dedicated runner, daughter, lover and bibliophile. She hopes to use her degree in English to further an understanding of and passion for theatre and film, and perhaps eventually define what it is about acting that touches so intimately.