5.7 Editor's Pick
October 14, 2020

To All the Boys I’ve Hurt Before.

We had to break up.

I never meant to draw them in and break their hearts. I was a lost child in a full-grown feminine body, even at the immature age of 11.

I would aimlessly follow anyone willing to lead, as a means to my own survival. I had no desire to live a certain way; my only intention was to get through a day. Most days were a solitary ride through mundane tasks. And when following another’s lead, it was often through destructive episodes as a result of their personal agenda.

I was a master of shutting down my senses to sustain the fear that loomed over engaging in life with full presence. But ever so often, I mustered the courage to participate with my adolescent coming of age empiricism. 

There were brief moments, between harmful ordeals, where I could be fully present to ingest the wonder of secret places to gather. Like the train tracks behind the tennis courts of the middle school where we would chug stolen wine coolers. Or walk deep in the woods wielding party balls of beer, or a keg for a pickup hockey game on a hidden frozen pond of the wetlands. Those were the few times I sort of remember consciously breathing with life, having reckless fun, and being young and dumb.

I was mostly left to my own devices, with no rules under the roof my single mom overworked to provide. No one home to notice I wasn’t. Indiscriminate choices left me scarred, but miraculously I never got pregnant, alcohol poisoning, overdosed, or died. And believe me, I pushed that boundary from my territory without borders. 

I was lucky to be pursued by a few good, young men. 

From an early age, I was groomed to obey any request of me, to follow a man’s lead, even when my gut told me it was unsafe to go. It’s an unfortunate and sad susceptible danger of being sexually abused as a child.  

That trauma effected every aspect of my being. It offset any mode of self-actualization through self-deprecation. The real me got squashed under the burden of being something for someone else, in every bond I made. Not feeling worthy to declare my own choices, I let others decide. I wondered, “What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I die?” I welcomed death, believing it would bring me freedom—so why be selective in living?

I was the quiet adornment that impressed onlookers. I had a small, yet curvy, physique wrapped in olive skin as perfectly clear as the Mediterranean. Enough ethnicity in my bold features, with slightly crooked teeth, I was more distinct than all the others similar to me.

The attention I got for my looks never felt good in my being; instead, I felt small, dull, and dirty. Having been used the ways a child does growing up in dysfunction, my upbringing reinforced being an object, one that deduced me to become another’s subject. 

A failed suicide attempt landed me in talk therapy, where I started to uncover my true identity. But it took me decades to see the conditioning that played out in the patterns of hurting others—a process that continues to unfold to this day. 

I wish for redemption. Having been silenced and shamed as a little girl, I thought I didn’t have a right to question anyone, or to say no. 

The youngest age I somewhat remember are those horrid days of middle school. To those who wrote me off as a stuck-up b*tch, I’m terribly sorry I didn’t understand I was projecting a mysteriousness that drew you to inquire about me.

I am sorry I wasn’t able to hold a conversation or find the courage to say much of anything, I could only quickly shift my gaze to the floor, letting my hair fall to hide the embarrassment that shown in blushed cheeks. Or offer you a slight shoulder shrug helping me to appear as small as I felt. I was so disconnected from myself, I didn’t have your answer. 

There was one who stood out for he never gave up. With his tireless acts to make me smile when I couldn’t, or laugh when I shouldn’t, he was the first to warm my heart. He would walk me home from our bus stop, or try to get his pet to follow him in my direction, remembering once I had mentioned a love for cats. 

We were from the other side of the tracks, yet my looks afforded me acceptance into the more affluent circles. Most of the in-crowd didn’t care much about me, only that I could add to their attractive army, beefing up the artillery. I would have much rather stayed invisible, left alone in my existential contemplation, because the unavoidable draft into their service led only to a surplus of discontent: endless demands to fall in line to those in command, and threats of being dishonorably discharged if I wouldn’t.

I apologize to him for not having the courage to break my unspoken contract with the sergeant and fraternize with the enemy she saw in him. Maybe he would have helped me fight the enemy within, and with them.

I unconsciously avoided people and experiences that sparked true connection, or conjured the sweetness of butterflies flitting about in my stomach. They were far more terrifying than blacking out drunk and waking up in strange places. I was comfortable dissociating and escaping intimacy; being raped of my innocence early left me only to dream of how fun and playful first kisses might be.  

It is hard to recall much from high school. I added drug use to my drinking, to further bypass my emotions. But there was a period of a year somewhere in there as the girlfriend to a sweet guy. 

He was tender and cautious, and while he hoped to get me to feel something, all his attempts proved futile. With great respect, he never pushed me or ran out of patience. He had endless ways he wished to spend time with me, sharing his passions for simple pleasures he had the privilege to experience, coming from his home of a wealthy, nuclear family. 

I ditched him more times than I would like to admit, simply because my narcissistic, overbearing frenemy suggested I should. She knew if I did, it would spread around school like wild fire, solidifying her an invitation to multiple parties where any popular asshole gained an opportunity into my pants.

I became one of those girls that got around. I was added to a list of heifers a group of boys referenced in their senior portrait write-ups: “Why buy the cow, when the milk’s for free?” 

When I told a trusted friend I was molested, in the hopes of getting some help, she told everyone I was a liar looking for more attention. Shortly after that occurrence is when I downed a whole bottle of pills from my dad’s medicine cabinet, testing my theory of gaining freedom by dying. 

It only proved a scream for help, as I was ridden with guilt and grief for having toyed with my boyfriend’s emotions so carelessly while denying myself the pleasure of what he got me to feel. 

My heart would thump so loud in his presence, I swore he could hear it from his bed, across the  room from where I preferred to sit. I felt safe curled up in a big armchair covered in his semi-clean clothes, my feet up on the cushion, my arms wrapped tightly around my knees, surrounded by his scent. I could only give myself the love and protection he so desperately tried to give, but I was too ashamed to receive it. 

I used to buy Tide Detergent to evoke memories of his kindness and daydream about a life I could have lived, if only I had given him a real chance to love me. 

To that sweet, high school boyfriend, and my teenage self, I am greatly sorry I couldn’t tell right from wrong, good from evil, or know my worth. 

Next is my best friend in college. Another sweet soul, from a small town not far from our quiet, country campus. It was exciting coming from a suburb of New York City, nothing like the pretty girls he grew up with. He was a great listener to whom I could confess all my short comings and the experiences that helped create them. Compassion and empathy were what brought him to appease me. In his willingness to help, he became driven to fix me, unable to save himself from my enchanting request to be saved. 

Even though we still talk to this day, and he knows my remorse, he still deserves his spot on this list. I treated him unfairly and was only capable of loving him platonically, while his passion for me ran deeper than friendship. I selfishly took more than I gave, subconsciously knowing his devotion kept me safe. He helped me break some cycles of destruction, leaving me to wonder what would have been if I could have let down the wall guarding my heart and love him more equally.

Finally, to the last boy I wish to address. I first need to offer him gratitude for having taught me comfort in my skin and freedom from the shackles of my shame. We spent many years entangled in each other, karmically connected. Having reached a depth in trusting a partner I hadn’t before—without fear and with vulnerability—I jumped in with years of pent up feelings, and while our sex was explosive, it was not enough to sustain our intimate alliance. 

For a while, it was he and I against the cruel world. Severely marred by our pasts, our issues pitted against each other and we created a codependency perpetuating our cycles of unconscious manipulation that strangled the life from our love. 

Out of breath, it took me a long time to end the incessant circular conversations. 

But with him, it was different—I gave more than I had to give. I tried everything to get him to understand his worthiness, but he wouldn’t. I found myself in the opposite role, but our break up was not because of him…still me. I saw I was different.

Sometimes, the best way to love someone is to leave.

I have finally forgiven myself for disappearing. What must have seemed like abrupt abandonment had actually been percolating for years. I trust that deep within his heart, the truth of our demise is intuitively understood. 

To these three gentle men: it wasn’t you, it was me.

Nevertheless, I carry you forward with me. You all were an integral part on my journey, plateaus on my path of healing. You saw the distant light I had abandoned, from the crevasse of my heart where I keep you. And I am wise to what you taught me. Those lessons are the beacon for my next ascent.

With no more need for a lead, I will free climb on my own until I reach the peak. 


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Megan Zwerlein  |  Contribution: 11,865

author: Megan Zwerlein

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