I see you.
I see you doing your best to keep me around. You don’t want me to walk away because it would mean that you made a strategic error somewhere–there was a move on the board you didn’t anticipate. You reach out and you ask me how I am doing these days, as though you cared for any other reason than that you can write it down in your Big Book of Scorekeeping: you asked. You’ve been absolved of your past and any future mistakes you might make, simply because you showed interest for a moment.
I won’t let you in.
I see you punishing me. I see you being unable to deal with your own emotions and reactions to the world around you–to even the smallest slight. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders and when I make my own mistakes, small, big, or just completely fabricated in your own mind, it’s just the right-sized bullet to load into the chamber and fire between my eyes. I see you unable to use your grown-up words and communicate that you are hurting or angry and instead doing what you’ve been told works: the silent treatment will show her just how upset I am. Feelings communicated with stiffness of air and screens of blue bubbles without any grey to break it up. Feelings communicated with quiet, but never with sentences.
I won’t let you punish me.
I see you.
I see you working to win my favor. I’ve told you over and over again, often as plainly as the daylight, that I am pretty sure I don’t want this. You hold onto the absence of certainty that comes with the word “pretty.” You cling to it and apologize and explain things away and stroke my hair and tell me you’re sorry and you’ll do it better next time and you are everything I need in this moment and in every moment. It’s not so much that you deny my agency or take away my choices, but you back me into a corner with your conviction and desperation: you may be more broken than even me. You may need my validation more than I need yours. You are an uncomfortable mirror held up to my past where I can see how and when and where I have been you. You want to be yourself around me, but “yourself” comes with a flexibility and fluidity that moves to the rhythm of what I need. I don’t want you to have to exist in that way, much like I don’t want to exist in that way. I don’t want you to pressure me into being that person who makes you dance.
I won’t have you.
I see you crushed under your own cross, but it never occurs to you to blame anyone else for your collapse. You own the pain silently and you take on more of it willingly, simply because you are convinced that this is your lot in life. You are scared of failure, but even more scared of success. You dutifully bear the burden of mediocrity that comes with such a fear–you’ve persuaded yourself into believing that it’s a lighter load than the alternatives. You are scared of someone believing in you, but you need it so desperately. You cry into my hair and my neck and my shoulders as I tell you that you’re worth it–you want to hear these things, you don’t want to hear these things, you want me to look at you this way, you don’t want me to expect these things from you. You want for us to love each other deeply, on a much different level than we do, but you know you can’t survive under these expectations. The look that I give you when I stare directly into your eyes makes you believe just for a moment that you could be this man you dared to think of once, this man that I think you could be…and then the darkness of grief and guilt and blame swallows the hope whole and you go home again, buckled under the weight of the pack no one asked you to carry.
I won’t spend my time fighting you on your worth.
I see you.
I see you and how much love you have to give. I see you feeling like maybe your time is up and the world has passed you by and you are simply left alone now, with this surplus of fucks to give and a limited world to give them to. You’ve begun to believe that the time you have left is not only not enough, but that it is not worthy of someone else. You see only your failures and where you’re not. I know that you know that you are more and you know that you were once, but you’ve started to think that perhaps you never will be again–that you’ve peaked and are just trying to prevent a longer spiral downward…plateauing is your definition of success at this point. You want me to love you in spite of that, because of that, whether or not that’s the case…you have an iron faith that the love of a good woman can be your salvation, that she can stand by your side and offer you the life raft that helps you float away from the shipwreck you think your life turned out to be. You balance delicately between proving your worth and your loving nature, and needing to cry…needing to open the floodgates and cry for years and tell someone how scared you are that you’ll never have the life you should have had ever again. You tell yourself, and you believe empirically, that this is silly: no one gets just one shot. But you have a nagging suspicion that maybe, just maybe, you only got the one.
I won’t save you.
I see you. I see you struggling to understand how you ended up here. You worked so hard. You deserved more. You can’t comprehend how you aren’t getting what you believe you are absolutely entitled to. How are you in your thirties with a failed marriage or a failed career? This wasn’t supposed to happen to you–you’re a man. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to men who look like you. You fail to see how your own actions and your own entitlement to others and to all things contributed to this hardship that has befallen you. You do the things you swore you’d never do, you say the things you don’t mean and don’t understand why someone took you seriously, you commit yourself to things you never meant, and then you fail to understand the pain others feel as a result. Thinking only of yourself, you break promises and try to push the words back into your mouth and swallow them whole, pretending like they were never said in the first place. You want this body until you’ve found another, at which point you walk away sheepishly, justifying your actions by reminding me that you said from the beginning that you were fucked up: you think maybe I should have believed you when you hinted that you might be a snake. When I call you out, you apologize as though you’ve been waiting to do it for years, but that means we’re square, right? Why wouldn’t we be able to be friends after what you did?
I won’t forgive you.
I see me. I see where I have failed myself and failed my partners and failed men I love, and who love me, for so long: so often, I was only what you needed me to be. I was so concerned with being loved or being left that I didn’t stand up for myself and I didn’t tell you what I needed and I didn’t tell you what was okay or not. I didn’t communicate my boundaries because, simply put, I didn’t have any–how on earth can two people have a relationship without knowing these things? They can’t, honestly. They just can’t. It is, of course, unfair to be unable to communicate boundaries and, at the same time, expect someone to not encroach on them. I see where I was so desperate to be cared for, where my identity was wrapped up in that validation, and why that wasn’t good for either of us. I am so, so sorry. Can you see where I failed you while still seeing that you failed me? My failings don’t absolve yours; yours don’t absolve mine. Unfortunately, perhaps I failed myself the most, by not seeing the patterns in my own behavior and my own choices early enough to stop these patterns from happening for months, years, most of my adult life.
But maybe that’s what it all means: we didn’t fail each other at all…we only failed ourselves. And perhaps we hurt one another in the process. I see us. And I am still angry and still wounded and still recovering and still working to find out what I want, as opposed to what you need me to be.