“Stupid girls are always trying to disappear as revenge. And you are not stupid. You loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars, and here you stand. Heart like a four-poster bed. Heart like a canvas. Heart leaking something so strong they can smell it in the street.” ~ Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell by Marty McConell
Once I loved a man who didn’t love me back.
He said he did, he said it passionately, he shouted it to the rooftops and across the rivers of New York—but he didn’t.
We were together for five years. In that time I received one material gift—an envelope full of conversation hearts sent to my apartment in Germany all the way from Manhattan the day before Valentine’s Day.
I was dutifully wooed.
It was meant as a plea to return to him, to give up my dream of living abroad and come back to America. He needed me, he said, and was trying not to let his anger that I’d left consume him. If I didn’t come back, perhaps I wasn’t the woman he thought I was.
We had only been dating for a couple of weeks.
I dropped everything—leaving my roommate high and dry with no one to help pay the rent—and got the first plane out of there. Hamburg was too depressing anyway, I reasoned, the Alster too grey.
When I showed up on his doorstep, he seemed annoyed. He grudgingly let me inside and so began my five year mission of trying to decipher and anticipate his moods. Everything revolved around his perceptions, his needs.
But he’d sent me candy, so I put up with it.
I subjugated myself in every matter, trying to disappear into him, and soon enough, it worked. I disappeared. I existed only as a reflection of him. My family and he disliked each other, so I stopped speaking to them. He loved strippers, so we went to strip clubs.
He loved drugs, so we did drugs.
He determined everything I did or said, down to the cut of my jeans.
By the time the next Valentine’s Day rolled around we had gone through all our money and gotten evicted from both of our apartments. No candy hearts for me that year.
Some time later I became a dancer. It was, after all, what he believed I should do. On Valentine’s Day my clients brought me presents—chocolate, flowers, jewelry. I made a fuss and then dumped everything in the trash. If I came home with things like that I was certain to be accused of being a whore.
And then he called me a whore anyway, and I finally left. I put the few things I owned in a garbage bag and dragged it out the door.
I was stupid. But unbroken.
I still hate conversation hearts and the fact that I can’t speak German, but I don’t hate myself. When Valentine’s Day comes, I smile. I can give and receive love so strong my heart beats down like a million rays of sun in the white empty desert, and I am filled with light.
Being not-loved was a great gift. As it is when we are deprived of anything we need to survive, when that thing is once again in abundance, it can’t be taken for granted anymore.
Every time my child grabs my hand, or my husband wraps his arms around me, or my mother and I laugh at the same old joke, I become a little less stupid. Because I know, I know, that I am here and that that matters—and you can see easily me now.
Loneliness and how to love yourself:
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: FrankGuido at Flickr