While growing up, I always thought that I would meet a guy, fall in love, get married, and have a beautiful family. I never thought love would be complicated, and to this day, it is still somewhat of a foreign subject to me.
I never dated in high school, so college was where I’d fall in love. He was a wonderful person. Smart, ambitious, kind, and down for any adventure. My family loved my boyfriend; they welcomed him in with open arms. He had his issues, but I was the perfect person to fix them. He had just gotten out of the military, so his PTSD became a problem. He couldn’t handle stress well. The smallest things could set him off. I would be a bystander to his destructive behavior, all while going to school, working two jobs, and still getting to know him.
Selflessness quickly became my favorite poison. Seeing my boyfriend struggle with PTSD alone, without his family, only left him with me. Without his request, I slowly began to give up parts of myself to mend his broken pieces. I was there ready to hold his face between my hands, to bring him back from whatever tormented him that day. Everything and anything he wanted, I made it happen; I was addicted. I wanted him to trust me, to know I genuinely cared for him. I loved him. But I was playing a role, running into battle, needing to be the superhero, and forgetting it wasn’t my war to fight.
Parts of me died; un petit mort, which came with letting go of the one place I enjoyed the most, school. It was a euphoric feeling walking into campus with my books and backpack in hand. The area was always buzzing with students eager to learn like me. I can still feel the cold morning against my young face—the first in my family to attend college. I was ready to take on the world. I had my path set. It would lead me to CSUF, or if I was brave enough, to my dream school, the University of Washington State, go Huskies. Yet with one phone call, I would leave my favorite class to go find him. Before I knew it, I was officially a college drop out.
“It’s just for now,” he would try and comfort me.
I became his assistant/number one fan. Together we commanded an ocean of stories and art for his work projects. I was all ears for his ideas and creativity. I applauded his talent and became a critic of many designs. I rushed here and there, keeping track of what he needed, all while “making sure my energy was calm” as not to disturb his meditation, per his request.
“Don’t get in the way of my career; I want you to know that I will always choose it over you,” he spoke truthfully.
I believed him. I kept my distance, waiting for him to look for me because I knew that I could get burned if I reached for him.
It was only a matter of time before I found myself saying my goodbyes to my mother and siblings. My mother had to see me go once again as I would make my way up north to be with him. She was happy for us, and I was excited to follow him to the Evergreen State. Washington State had been my second home even before I lived there. So green and clean, so fresh and beautiful. This was it, our antidote. Even if it came with the price of being miles away from home, the furthest I’d been from those I loved.
Loneliness crept in, depression a comfy blanket. My strength was gone; my weight tipped the scale. Even though this man was with me, in reality, I was truly alone. In his eyes, I had no reason to be depressed, so he left me there alone. I should have known. Nothing was going to make him happy. My heart weighed heavily when those blue eyes judged me. So he was right; I was ridiculous. Me, depressed? How pathetic. I made myself useful. I woke him up to his favorite breakfast: eggs, bacon, and toast filled the weekday mornings. I bought good coffee; dark chocolate cherry was his favorite. The coffee was ready to go by the time he drove up to Seattle. Its sweet aroma would dance around the car and relax him on his long drive to school.
When he was gone, I scrambled to occupy my time with anything; I had to beat my debilitating depression. A depression that made me breathless brought me to tears and momentarily stripped me of strength. After he left, I survived. I sat on the window sill that overlooked the lake. I drank my coffee and watched the sun climb up the horizon. Its warmth settled within me, burned through the loneliness. But the thought of him returning home tormented me.
“What did you do today? Did you take the dog out? Is the room clean? Did you do something productive since you stay home all day? Leave me alone; I had too much of a stressful day to hear about what it is you claim to need.”
I was trapped with no family near, no friends, and no money. I couldn’t drive anywhere because I didn’t have a car.
“Honey, how are you guys doing? I miss you,” my mom’s concerned voice came through the phone.
“I’m fine, mom. We are doing good. He is going to school, and I’m here. You should see the view from my window right now,” I choked back the tears.
“Good. Well, I’m glad you have him. He is a good man, and it seems like he is supportive and taking good care of you. Tell him I said hello,” she said with relief.
“Right, I will,” I said blankly, staring at the glistening lake as I scratched Zeus’s ear.
Zeus was well cared for, his dog. I knew how much he loved him. I did too; he was my only affection at my weakest moments. The pup’s earthy brown eyes would stare into my soul, reassuring me this sadness was momentary.
“I sure hope so, Zeus. I don’t feel well,” I wondered if he understood me as he set his furry face on my shoulder.
My loneliness became a thing of the past when we met Angela and Jacob. They were married and had come back from their trip to Peru. Angela is Peruvian, a strong, independent Latina who never stood quiet in the face of injustice. Por fin!! A person I could speak Spanish with. A person who understood my struggle. Washington wasn’t as diverse as California. Our Latinx blood was our instant bond, sharing our favorite Spanish songs, novelas, and our cultures’ delicious food.
Tuesday morning, rainy and gloomy, just like yesterday. Perfect! Angela and I made our grocery lists. We both grabbed our North Face raincoats, Angela’s jade green, and mine an onyx black. I weaved around my neck, the colorful Peruvian scarf she had gifted me. We were both excited about our morning grocery shopping trip. As usual, we drove through the rain and reached our favorite coffee shop drive-thru (part of our grocery trip ritual).
“We would like two 12 oz. Strawberry white on white, please,” Angela said.
With our coffees in hand, we made our way to Fred Meyer. Together we moved from one food section to the next. I spotted some caramel popcorn and rushed to it.
“What? He loves it! And I like getting him little treats,” I said.
“Nothing, I remember when I was like you. It’s the honeymoon phase. I used to treat Jacob like a king, but it has to go both ways,” Angela smiled.
Right, I silently thought as I looked at the popcorn I held in my hands. I looked up at my friend, and in her eyes, I could see a question bubbling up. So I waited.
“Can I ask you something?” She asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Do you enjoy it?” Angela asked.
“Enjoy what?” I was confused.
“Do you enjoy doing all that you do for him? You cook, clean, go shopping, have two jobs, and still please his every need. I understand you are supportive of his dreams, but all he gets to do is take care of Zeus and write. You do everything else. I talked to him last time, and he said you like doing everything else.” Her eyes were intense as they searched for the truth.
“No, I don’t enjoy doing everything,” I admitted.
“Then why-” she got cut off as she looked past me.
“I’m open over here, miss for check out!” A cashier interrupted, waving at us.
My heart ached; what Washington had to offer didn’t suffice. Again, we found ourselves saying goodbye to our friends. With a heavy heart, I had agreed to move back to California with him. The clouds were replaced with sunny blue skies—Mount Rainier and the luscious green trees by palm trees. I was happy to be home, but I still longed for the constant rain that once kissed my face every day. He went back to school but soon felt he was beyond it, so he dropped out. We found stable jobs and life settled. Unsatisfied yet again, he asked for a year off to focus on his acting and screenwriting career. I agreed. And since I would be the only one working, we would go live with my family.
My family was a handful at times. We often found ourselves arguing about them. There was a language barrier for him, so I translated everything and included him in everything that I could.
“Maybe you should learn Spanish. I can help you, and we can start having conversations to practice,” I excitedly suggested.
“No, learning Spanish isn’t a priority,” he shot the idea down.
He pushed me out and started to argue with me more. He’d say that I didn’t understand him or how I wasn’t supportive enough. I began to stress out more. I had issues with my family that I refused to share with him because he would bring them into our relationship and arguments.
“Why are they so inconsiderate! Don’t they see how they are affecting us?!” He angrily exclaimed.
“I don’t understand why we are arguing about this again! I was just venting! What I said has nothing to do with us,” I cried.
Here I was again, alone. I stopped sharing my thoughts. He no longer asked.
“You know you aren’t obligated to be with him. If you aren’t happy, you can leave the relationship,” my cousin Jenny said. I couldn’t hold it in any more people were starting to notice.
What was wrong with me?
I mean, was I really a crazy jealous woman like his ex? I didn’t think so, but I fixed that.
I showed him I cared, but he said I didn’t, so I fixed that too.
Standing in the way of his success? I fixed it by making myself small, which always seemed to be helpful for him.
I’m not good enough for you? That one hurt. Mostly because your actions shouted this before your lips tore at my heart.
I used to think maybe someone else could better fit next to you. The image tortured me as I compared myself with her.
But I never left.
I tried harder.
Before I knew it, I had given more than I should have. I was dreaming of freedom but never strayed from the plan: love, marriage, and a happy family. Besides, I didn’t know what my family would say. I didn’t want to be alone. But I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Who was this empty woman, wearing my brown eyes? Walking around like a zombie.
I felt ashamed to want to let him go. But I had a month to think and clear my head, and so did he; we were on a break. Anxiety bubbled up within me:
“There is a distance between us. I know you feel it,” I searched his blue eyes, “I think it would be best if we parted ways. I’m so sorry but I can’t-“
“So that’s it! You are giving up on us just like that?” He asked.
I felt guilty. His eyes were full of pain. Pain that I still couldn’t make go away. I was just making it worse.
“I’m not giving up. I just don’t feel the same anymore. I’ve given every part of me. I have Nothing left. It’s the best for both of us,” I tried to make him understand.
“You won’t find anyone else out there. You know what?! I always thought you weren’t worth enough to be with me,” He spat.
“I know,” I held in my tears.
“At least I won’t have to deal with your troubles anymore…” He scoffed.
I didn’t defend. I didn’t fight. I froze, letting the man I love take his final blows. In my mind, I remembered Angela’s concerned light brown eyes questioning everything I did for him. “Why do you do so much for him? Does he do the same for you? He is fine. He needs to pull his weight now. It’s your turn to be vulnerable. It’s your turn to have him behind you.” These old words burned with truth, my blindfold falling softly to the floor.
I began to open up more to my friend at work. I would catch her on her break. Up until that point, I started feeling like a wildfire. I was set ablaze, uncontrollable, refusing to burn or destroy anyone but myself. I didn’t want to be alone amidst the loneliness and chaos reigning within. But once my friend shared her experiences with me, I wasn’t alone; instead, reassured that everything would be okay. It helped that all my friends were supportive of the decision I had taken. And though the fear of loneliness and failure still had its grip on me (Will he be okay? What now?) I remained vulnerable.
Letting go was difficult. The change was even scarier. I was beginning to take root, and all of me wanted to blossom. My family was shocked when I told them about the decision I had made. My mother questioned if I was using sound judgment, but said she would support me either way. My aunts and uncles were behind my choice, supporting my growth as a person, which they understood I wanted and needed. My friends were happy that I was finally choosing myself. I was finally putting me first.
“I’m proud of you.” Angela had seen me through.
But one of my dear aunts was sad to hear the news. She thought I was making a mistake; she still thinks it’s a mistake. She said I could have been married and with a child by now, but that I’ve let such an essential part of life go.
“Do you know what is the most important thing in life?” She asked me.
“Yes, my happiness,” I answered her.
I wasn’t mad at her for saying this to me. It was part of our culture, where she grew up and how she’d grown up. I understood her. She was unmarried and had no children. She didn’t want what she felt was a lonely life to be mine as well. And to be honest, I share her fears. I fear I won’t find a man to share experiences with, who will admire me and love all my scars. I fear that the spot next to me will remain forever empty on the adventures I have planned. Fearful that my belly will never grow to give life. But those fears have been tossed aside; those fears won’t eat me alive.
In the course of my growth, I have continued to lose some relationships. I have discovered what is needed for my good. Others are awed at my change and wonder where the old me went. She didn’t go anywhere. The old me just sprouted wings to fly into new skies. Ending my four-year relationship to focus on myself was just a baby step in my long journey to self-love. A journey I still struggle with today—many steps forward and some steps back. As I push onward in my growth, my friends and family cheer me on. I’m slow to learn how to self reflect and be proud of how far I’ve come. I never think its enough. I’m my worst critic. I know I haven’t fully healed from my previous relationship. Some wounds have been wrapped and ignored, only now nursing myself back to life again. Painfully and slowly. I stare at the bits and pieces of the person that once stood in my shoes. I fear her. But because I fear her, I fight for her.
My friends pause me from time to time, to hold the moment and say cheers. Cheers to me. Cheers to my smile that rises with the sun every day. Cheers to these wings that have begun to take me places. Cheers to the love and kindness I have shown to myself. Cheers to the strength I didn’t know I had—here’s to the amazing person I am and my ability to continue.