It was all over. I was leaving him.
After years of torment, humiliation, financial ruin and social isolation I’d finally reached out to my family for help and confessed the whole horrific state of affairs.
The end didn’t go like I’d imagined. I’d been so afraid of him and his ability to mow me down with a single pass of his scythe-sharp psychotic words that when he stood weeping like an abandoned child as I packed my things, pathetically offering me the only gift he had given me since a packet of cheap conversation hearts five years earlier, (this time it was a Tiffany bracelet—an upgrade, but it would have taken the Taj Mahal to even make me pause), I actually felt sorry for him.
I walked out the door, and that was that.
Or so I thought.
At first, my lack of equilibrium wasn’t so surprising. I was officially diagnosed with PTSD, and I did have all the symptoms. Nightmares, paranoia (though that was less a symptom and more a realistic response to the death wish I knew my ex held close to his heart for me,) jumping out of my skin at the slightest touch from anyone, extended periods of depression, back pain so severe I was unable to rise from my bed and agonizing digestive problems.
Everywhere I went, I thought I saw him. Not someone who looked like him, but him—trailing around after me like a hostile ghost. It didn’t help that several times I really did see him, at first, lurking around at the bar across the street from my apartment, in the shadows at the club where I worked, and once accidentally while I was downtown with my new boyfriend. We walked into a restaurant where I’d worked long ago, laughing and holding hands, and there he was, sitting at a table as if he’d been waiting there just for me.
My heart stopped, my boyfriend wrapped his arm protectively around me, and he steered me to a table nearby. We sat and drank and laughed as if we didn’t have a care in the world, while inside my spirit shrunk to a tiny pinpoint of terror.
It was not out of character for my ex to wield his fists or even the gun I knew he kept with him, and I was waiting, just waiting for his explosion.
But this time it never came.
As when I moved out, he sat by, emasculated, robbed of all the power I had once given him so freely. My boyfriend and I left in a grand swoop of victory, like two raptors leaving behind a squirrel corpse.
De-throned as he was, however, he still continued to haunt me—in my dreams, and in my understanding of myself and of the world—all places I now knew could be eclipsed by darkness.
He had entered the matrix of my soul, and I realized that I would never completely extricate him.
But here’s where the story get a little strange, at least from my perspective. The less I fought him—or rather the memory of him, or even more accurately the person I had been when I was with him—the stronger I began to feel. I decided I didn’t have anything to hide, that I would accept all of myself and all of my experiences. I would speak them, I would write about them, I would own them.
This was no longer about exorcising some evil demon and getting back to who I had once been, but integrating the whole sad affair shamelessly into my present self, looking back with eyes wide open, and forward brazenly.
As I did this—pulled in all the threads from the mixed up tapestry of my life, re-wove them and let whatever ends dangle that I couldn’t figure out—the more durable, the more beautiful the fabric seemed to become.
I had learned to rest in not-knowing.
Almost 20 years later, there are still a million things I haven’t figured out about how and why I subjected myself to that relationship, but it’s okay. I still have nightmares—though not as many—I still jump when my-now husband touches me unexpectedly, and I still think I see my ex in crowds, at baseball games or on TV.
But all that’s okay, too. It’s just a part of who I am.
In the end, my ex didn’t take much away from me, nothing I can’t now recoup. He may be always lurking in the shadows of my mind, but it’s those dark places that make the rest of me feel so bright.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Renée Picard