The ocean was rough and wild that evening as we lay beneath a thick blanket on the sand.
Above us, the moon was shifting, black to red, like a living marble in the sky. The total lunar eclipse, dubbed “the blood wolf moon” had been anticipated widely on social media that day. And here we were, new lovers, snuggled up under the night sky watching the magical event.
Everything was perfect. We were falling in love.
Within several weeks, I was sure he was the one. I could tell by just looking in his eyes that sweet Apollo* and I were connected through destiny and time. He felt it too.
When we met a few months earlier, I was just six months out from a divorce and certainly not looking for the love of my life. But when we met each other near the beach that day I was enticed. He was charming, attractive, witty, and exotic, like a man from the islands who had sailed his way north for adventure.
He seemed to fill in the blanks of my post-divorce life just perfectly. It seemed that I had manifested the exact man I desired without even trying. Within a month he had virtually moved in.
But even in my starry-eyedness, some things didn’t add up. Actually many things. He was a lousy listener, which, in itself, isn’t a big deal, but it seemed that he never wanted to hear what I had to say. He insisted on controlling conversations as well as everything else we did.
However, I was entranced by him. He was fulfilling a hidden need. I wasn’t used to living alone and I deeply missed not having a house full of family around. I longed to make my kids dinner each night, tuck them into bed. I wanted to be needed.
So, I cooked him dinner, poured his wine, called him “my king,” and role-played as a domestic goddess. It was a fun, sexy game of submission; a radical departure from my feminist upbringing. And whenever I felt doubt about what was going on, all I had to do was bring his body up close against mine and I was reminded that all was happening just as it should.
The months passed and our sex became more and more imbued with spiritual energy. Never in my life had lovemaking been such a cosmic event. Neither of us could believe the realms we traveled together. And yet…and yet…whenever he’d be away for a day or two, and I had some quiet time, questions about the relationship percolated.
When I talked to my family and friends about his behaviors, they expressed apprehension: “Lyla, be careful,” they’d say with concerned looks in their eyes.
“I’ve got this,” I’d answer.
However, it got to be too much. After he returned from a business trip, I decided to break up with him. He wouldn’t have it. “No” was not an option. He kept coming to my house, calling, texting. At one point, on the advice of a domestic violence advocate, I called the police.
“How can you doubt our connection?” he’d say, even after I had called the authorities. “The heavenly signs are all there, Lyla. I love you.” But his version of love was different than the juicy kind of love I grew up with, or the kind I gave my kids, or even the love I had received from my ex for 22 years. This love had stipulations. This love criticized. This love deceived. This love controlled.
I felt compassion for his predicament. Clearly, he never learned how to really love. He was not unlike me—searching for meaning and connection. I could feel his pain, but in the process, was ignoring my own.
Time after time, I broke up with him. And time after time, I forgave him. Each round of makeup sex was more cosmic than the last. All I had to do was let my eyes soften on his and I could understand the workings of his delicate soul.
But things were far from perfect. Two weeks ago, I became sick. Really sick. I had a high fever that lingered for over a week. Apollo was on a trip and I was alone, barely able to get myself a glass of water, let alone drive to the grocery store.
Under the urging of a doctor, I ended up in the ER. As I spoke with the on-call physician who puzzled over my condition, he brought up the topic of STDs.
“Actually,” I told him. “I recently found sores on my…” I paused awkwardly, struggling for the right word. “On my labia.”
Still feverish and bleary-eyed, the nurse positioned me into the standard, spread-eagle gynecologist pose. The doctor looked beneath the paper sheet and nodded.
“Yup. This looks like HSV-2 to me.”
“What’s that?” I asked, awkwardly bending my neck as I tried to see what was going on.
“Herpes,” he answered.
“Oh.” I thought. Tests were done and the results came back positive.
Now, I can’t say for sure who the source was. I’d had unprotected sex a year earlier with another man. However, herpes usually rears its nasty head soon after exposure. Apollo was my only partner in 11 months. He swears he is clean.
Regardless, when I was well enough, I broke up with Apollo again, this time blocking him on the phone, email, and social media.
But nothing ends easy with me. I like to squeeze the lessons out of every encounter. I wanted truth, and secretly, deep down, still yearned for connection, so I met with him at a cafe.
In prep for the meeting my dear friend, Dan, told me, “You need to feel anger toward him, Lyla. It’s okay. It’s good.” I tried to muster it, but it only came out as baby bursts of rage. I couldn’t be mad at my soul mate. So, instead, I went in with a plan to offer him love and light and gratitude and send him on his way.
I could smell his warm scent from across the table. “I would do anything for you. You know that don’t you?” he said at the cafe. “I love you unconditionally.” He spoke with sincerity.
He assured me that he never had the virus. He told me that he always wore condoms with all the other women he slept with. And there, I tell you, from that small cafe table, over hot chocolate and tea, everything he said felt like truth. To this day I don’t know what is real and what is fabricated.
This morning I woke up in bed—all by myself—and it felt good. Really good.
As I lay there, staring at the blades of my ceiling fan, I sifted through Apollo’s words. Away from him, I could see it; the inconsistencies and deception that he so eloquently offered me over the past 10 months.
He had been so charming, so delightful, and yet his kindness was often steeped in illusion and accusations. Time and time again, he took advantage of my kindness, of my love, and optimism. Whether he meant to control me or was just acting out of some misguided childhood, I don’t know, nor do I really care.
Conscious intention or not, his goal was to have me and keep me.
“That f*cking asshole,” I said with a growl.
“How’s that for angry?” I thought to myself, a big smile growing across my face, and I experienced this happy rumble in my chest. Here in bed alone, under the warmth of my own blankets, I felt something new—a connection to something more solid and enduring than anything that I ever felt with Apollo.
This was strength. Independence.
With thunder-like resolve, I picked up the phone and texted him, “Thank you for the lovely night,” I started. “However do not ever mistake my kindness for naivete. Unconditional love does not involve lies and deceit. I am done with you for good this time. If you come near my house, or near me, I will call the police. I have people watching. You and I are done. There is nothing more to say.”
There, in my room, with the rising sun sneaking through the window, I played my favorite music, and in my pajamas, I danced around the bed in a gallant celebration. Like a sugar-high child, I jumped up on the mattress, the same one he and I had made love on, and stomped around in victory.
The Gods were with me, I am sure, smiling, and singing along, and it felt warm and good and equally, if not more, beautiful than all the sex he and I had.
And now, as I sit here reflecting on this intense, delicious, yet simultaneously horrific love affair, I get it. Soul mates aren’t singular. Over a lifetime, we may match with many beings. None of them, however, are here to save us from ourselves or make us whole. Some aren’t even nice, but they do serve a great purpose. They challenge us to rise to the next level of self-understanding.
When we’re open to the possibility, we can see that even the most self-serving, manipulative people come bearing gifts—in fact, it’s these people who have the greatest ability to awaken us, to show us our weaknesses and point us to the light.
I got a great love affair out of this deal and the best sex of my life, but even more importantly, I was shown that even in adversity, I can be bold, powerful, and wise. I see now that I have the capacity to grow from the darkness. I have tapped into an enduring strength and wisdom that will stay with me, my whole life—sort of like herpes.
* Names and details have been changed in this story to protect identities.