A whole love in half-tones.
The first night we met was on Halloween. A bold and unusual move for me: I decided I needed to meet you the same day we started talking on Tinder.
At the time, I could boast a 100% success rate using dating apps. You were the first person I’d met from there or any other dating site, for that matter.
Before we met up, you had sent me a photo of how you were dressed so I would recognize you. Maybe it was the filter you used or the way the light was shining off of the sequins of your costume, but it seemed like you were glowing. There was something so ethereal and angelic about the way you looked.
I was also impressed with your selfie-taking ability.
I got drunk with my friends and then left to meet you at the bar down the street. I observed you and your sister taking pictures together before I approached.
You gave me the biggest, warmest hug the moment I introduced myself. I wasn’t sure whether it was because you were drunk or what. But part of me fell in love that very moment.
You were apparently dressed like a gypsy, but I thought you looked just like Daisy from The Great Gatsby—an interesting coincidence considering your love of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
You came home with me that night—another first for me, as well.
The first week we met, we stayed up every night, talking until 2 or 3 in the morning. I hadn’t done that since college and felt like I had a perpetual, silly smile on my face because of it. Something about you seemed so new and exciting, yet so old and familiar. It was in these conversations that I learned all of the things I would come to adore about you: our mutual love of cheesy music (Hanson and pop punk!), your favorite drinks (dirty martinis and Moscow Mules), your favorite color (Tiffany blue, same as mine), and your favorite fruit.
You said you loved pears because of their grainy texture. I thought that was the second best thing you ever said about food. The first being that you like to “run your pizza through the garden.”
You have a way with words when you want to. That is for sure.
Even though I work in digital media, I had never been too into Pinterest before. But you were obsessed. In fact, it was the one form of social media you were most active on. (That later changed, of course. It always does when someone is dating me.)
While you were back home in California the first time after we had started seeing each other, we were going back and forth saying goodnight via text message. It was “past my bedtime” and I was getting ready to silence my phone when I got an invitation to a shared pin-board.
On it, you began posting romantic quotes. It was one of the cutest things anyone had ever done to court me.
After we had discussed our “bucket lists,” I pinned a photo of the Northern Lights to our board. It’s the one place I had always promised myself I’d go with someone I loved. The seafoam green streaks through the sky reminded me of all the things I wanted to do with you.
One day, you asked me if I’d ever dated anybody else with light eyes. I thought through and named my exes and their eye colors, before saying “two with blue eyes.” You snipped back, “Wrong answer!”
I responded, “You asked if I had dated anyone else with light eyes, not who had the most beautiful eyes. You know what my answer to that would be.” You responded the way you always do when you are satisfied with an answer: “Touché.”
One of the first things I noticed about you was that you never had morning breath. I was both intrigued and made insanely jealous by this. All I wanted to do the second I woke up was kiss you, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it without brushing my teeth first.
While you were home for the holidays, I realized I could just keep a tin of Altoids next to the bed and chew a couple up before you woke up. I started doing that, even though you said it didn’t matter to you.
You say a lot of things don’t matter, but I know deep down – they do.
I’d never been a huge online shopper before meeting you. It had been many years since I was a shopper at all, really. Money is something that’s always made me nervous, so I was more of a saver than a spender.
Not when it came to you, though. I kept impulse-buying things that I thought would make you smile and one of them was a white noise machine that projected neon stars onto the ceiling.
When it came in the mail, I couldn’t wait to try it out. The second you saw how it worked, you said to me: “We must put this on later and make out to Ben Howard!”
You constantly surprised me by saying the things I was thinking.
Right after Thanksgiving, you and your sister packed up your stuff to head to Salt Lake City to meet up with your dad, who was passing through for work. Then, she was supposed to head back to California and you were supposed to come back here.
Two days into your trip, your dad got laid off from his job. He drove home while you and your sister stayed in his hotel. I wasn’t sure why you didn’t just want to come back.
We finally settled on a day for you to return and for me to rent the car for you, but I didn’t hear from you the whole next morning. It was early afternoon before you texted me back and you said you had food poisoning.
This was the first of many times that you would not show up when you were supposed to. Every time you went home, your parents only bought you a one-way flight and I would be stuck buying every flight back for you because you said you couldn’t afford it. You would miss every single flight and not come back until days later. You would be in and out of touch whenever you went home, saying you were busy with your nephews or that your family was so big and loud that I would just never understand. Your mom was yelling at you. The dog ran away. Basically everything came before coming back to the home that we were trying to build together.
I had never kissed anybody below mistletoe before, so when you said you hadn’t either, I obviously had to buy some.
I honestly don’t even remember where I put it, because we did not need mistletoe. You told me you had never spent so much time kissing someone before. I was happy to hold that title.
One evening, we were up watching Love Actually with your sister and I either had a long day or had smoked too much weed or maybe it was both, but I tucked myself into bed at around 10 o’clock
I don’t know if you were tipsy or just trying to be cute or maybe it was both, but you came tiptoeing in, climbed into bed, woke me up with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” held the mistletoe above my head, and kissed me.
Again, you surprised me with things I thought only I had imagined doing.
My ex and I had two cats that I’ll never see again. One was named Juniper Breeze. Once you moved in, I took down all the photos of them from around my apartment.
It was with a heavy heart that I replaced all of their pictures with your dog, Maddie. I love her to death, but I say “your” dog and not “our” dog because even though we registered her as one of the emotional support animals from US Service Animals so she could live in my building, I always knew you could leave tomorrow and take her with you. Then she would just be another pet I’d never see again. This type of fear danced across my brain several times a day. I worried that one day, you’d just leave. I didn’t know why. But it’s a feeling I couldn’t seem to shake.
We both laughed the night I realized I use spinach, garlic, onions, and mushrooms in almost everything. We laughed because I realized my mom did the same, too. Thankfully, it wasn’t a problem—you loved all the same flavors I did. We bonded over that—by cooking together almost every evening. It was the best part of my day.
When we were driving from the airport to my mom’s house in Clearwater, Florida after taking a redeye from Denver, you asked about crocodiles and alligators. You said they terrified you and then you regaled me with a story about how you refused a visit to a mansion of some sort in Charleston (or maybe was it New Orleans?) because there was an alligator warning.
I laughed and smiled and shrugged because I knew why you were chattering so much. You were so, so nervous to meet my mom. Even after I told you not to be. Even after I told you that my mom wanted to name me your name. Even though I said my mom is one of the most accepting and loving people ever.
I guess it meant a lot more to you than I had really thought about.
When we went to the beach, it seemed like you were shocked by how nice it was. You grew up in California, and carry a little bit of that California-is-best attitude. I don’t mind it, but I was pretty proud that my little Florida beach impressed you.
There was no seaweed.
And there were lots of shells—whole ones.
You were in awe of my ability to spot them and pick them up for you. (Or I thought that maybe you were just humoring me. Either way, I kept doing it.) By the end of our walk, we each had a handful. You cupped your hands together and I took a photo of them holding your beach treasures. The shore was glistening perfectly and your feet, small and blurry, looked adorable.
I later found out the reason you were so impressed was because you weren’t wearing your glasses and couldn’t actually see any of the shells until I picked them up and handed them to you.
One of the most refreshing things about you was that we had the exact same taste in music. You didn’t have to settle for gangsta rap and I didn’t have to settle for depressing, whiny, post-emo indie rock.
We both grew up going from loving Hanson to loving pop punk to still loving Hanson and pop punk but also listening to happy indie rock. I made us a shared Spotify playlist entitled “<3” and the last time I checked, it was up to 144 songs. I joked every once in a while, saying that the playlist would be the soundtrack for our wedding.
But I was only half kidding.
One of the few things I had brought with me from my old apartment was a giant, dark turquoise “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. It was framed and behind my bed when you moved in.
For some reason, you hated it. Not sure if it was because it had been in photos of my old apartment with my ex (unlikely) or you just thought it was juvenile (more likely) or if it had something to do with you continually telling me you wanted to break me down and rebuild me (most likely), but you asked me to get rid of it.
After about a month of comments, I got rid of the poster and, calmly, I carried on.
The last time you came back from California was July. Again, you went home without a return flight back and I was left paying for you to get back to Colorado. Again, you missed the flight and didn’t come back until days later.
It was weird and I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why you would want extra days in a place where you were being screamed at. I didn’t understand why you would want extra days in a place where you claimed you never belonged to begin with.
I couldn’t wait to see you. All I ever wanted, when you came back, was to be able to wrap my arms around you and kiss you. But by the time you finally returned from your trips home, there was so much animosity I didn’t know how to handle.
When I picked you up, you told me a story about how you yelled at your nephew for saying he hated your mother.
That turned into an argument. Because I thought he had every right to say that, considering how she spoke to you.
It turned into an argument where you threatened to move out and get your own place. I said I didn’t know where you’d move to, considering you didn’t have the money to pay rent. Considering you “couldn’t afford” to book flights in advance.
This ended up with me getting flustered and crying. Again.
This ended up with us yelling at each other in the car until 1:30 in the morning and then going back up to the apartment and me crying more and you climbing on top of me and telling me to “just stop talking and crying.”
This ended up with you trying to have sex with me instead of talking about it. Instead of hugging me. Instead of telling me you loved me or giving me any sort of reassurance that things were going to be fine.
Somewhere along the line, you learned to avoid talking about feelings by being physical instead.
That wasn’t how I worked.
But I “just stopped talking and crying” anyway.
You sat behind your computer, working the hourly customer service job I got you at my brother’s ex girlfriend’s tea company, when you asked me what my five-year plan is.
There were not many times I actually stood up for myself. In fact, most of the time, I got so frustrated from being asked pointed questions or being accused of things that you were actually doing or being told you would do something that you wouldn’t actually do, that I would just cry.
I cried more in 2015 than I had any other time in my life.
But not this time. You got kicked out of law school because rather than use it for your semester abroad, you gifted your student loan to your disgusting ex-boyfriend who wanted you to take him and his cousins on a road trip across the country.
You could only apply to one law school–the unranked Christian law school that he goes to–and hope they would overlook whatever lie you told about why you got kicked out of the first one.
You were wildly under-qualified for any job you applied for and wondered why you couldn’t get a job. I wondered why you couldn’t get a job, even with my recommendations.
But that afternoon, you had the audacity to ask me what my five-year plan was.
My face became hot. But not the kind of hot that it became after I would try to drink. Not the hot that it became right before I would start to to cry. It became the kind of hot that it could only become after being unnecessarily interrogated.
It clearly didn’t matter that I had been moving up in my career for seven years or that I hadn’t lived at home since I was 18 or that I had actually finished my master’s degree. Or that I was paying for everything.
“I’m going to be the Creative or Brand Director of an awesome company by the time I am 35,” I shouted. “What is YOUR five-year plan?!”
Never liked this shade. It’s always reminded me of vomit. Nevertheless, this is what it felt like. The events went as follows:
You get a text from your ex. You know. The one who emotionally and financially abused you for eight years. (Truth of the matter is you tortured each other.) He tells you that you got into law school. You know. The only one you could get into after your precarious issue with your past law school. The one he goes to.
I try to feign excitement. But how, when it’s delivered like that? How, when he steals yet another moment from us? But how, considering the landscape of law school and law jobs and with the knowledge that friends of mine who went to top-50 schools couldn’t even get jobs? But how, when the school isn’t even an ABA school? But how, when the only accolade the school has is “Number 2 Most Devout Christian Law School in the Country”?
I tell you that you should go but I know myself well enough to want to break up. I can’t do long distance when short distance has become exceedingly difficult. We are people who understand each other completely and then not at all.
You think I am saying to not go to law school.
I think I am saying please don’t go to the law school your stalky ex-boyfriend goes to. Where you’ll be out of touch and I’ll be left worrying. I think I am saying defer so I can move with you, so that we can continue building our lives together. I think I am saying defer so you don’t have to take out extra loans to pay for living, in addition to school. I think I am saying I want to be in this together.
But this is really all that comes out:
You beg me to calm down and to try to make it work long distance. Or at least think about it.
Or at least think about it. As if I don’t have 1000 things swirling around my mind at all times. Just add this one to the tornado.
I come home from work the next day, visibly upset about what was happening. Not understanding why I am not involved in any of the decision-making or even allowed to be a part of the conversation.
You tell me you can’t talk about it because you’re working.
I sit on the couch and try to calm down, but the tears just won’t stop.
You continue to work and ignore me.
And then your phone rings. You never answer your phone, but you pick it up and sound super cheerful. I sit and listen to your half of the conversation and finally glean that it’s your ex’s sister.
Something in me snaps. I get up, I tell you to get off the phone or leave. Everything about this situation feels like I am peering through the eyes of John Malkovich. This is not me.
This is not me at all.
I go into the bedroom and scream into a pillow and pull your clothes out of the dresser that I bought you. The dresser that you still haven’t paid me back for. I throw them into your suitcase.
I feel like a lunatic.
I am absolutely enraged and have never felt this way before, but I knew it was not healthy. I knew everything was wrong. I knew this shouldn’t be so hard. I have no idea what I am doing or how to proceed. But it kept happening just like this. You would push me to the edge and then pummel me with love and affection and tell me how much you appreciate me.
From what I read, that’s how it worked.
The only wish you expressed about your birthday is that you want to wake up somewhere else.
We try to plan a camping trip but that would require too much time in the car.
We try to plan a cruise trip but that would be too expensive.
We had been talking about wanting to go on an oyster binge for some time. All signs pointed to New Orleans—a place we had both been to, but not for a while.
Everything was perfect. Our flight was perfect. You finally got two days off in a row. I had special plans in the works. A whole itinerary of places to check off a list.
All goes well until Friday. You get a call from admissions. They tell you that you don’t need your loans to start school. They’ll retroactively charge your loans when they kick in.
To me, that sounds a bit… curious. And again I have a panic. I say again: I can’t do this. It’s too hard. The frog in my throat croaks in agreement.
My bananas Foster French toast soaks and sags in syrup on the plate in front of me. I hadn’t even touched it by the second time our server came around to see how we were doing. You’re silently eating your eggs Benedict.
Tears filling my eyes, I put my sunglasses on.
We put the food in boxes and walk back through the swampy air to our hotel. The tears eventually have to find somewhere to go. So I leave to go to the room as they stream down my face.
I am beside myself. And you are downstairs for two hours making plans with your father to have all of your things packed up and taken with you. Including our dog. My emotional support animal. And I don’t know any of this until the morning he comes to get you.
After spending a good portion of the day crying, it only gets worse when you finally get upstairs to check on me.
After your phone call.
After your email.
After your work thing.
The thing is. You’re always before, for me. Why do I always have to be after with you?
I finally am inconsolable. Not like you were consoling anyway. More like scowling and being flustered that I was upset.
Again. We understand each other completely or not at all.
I finally just lie down, eyes swollen shut. I tell you I simply can’t do this anymore. I’m sick of being sad all the time. I hate crying. Especially in front of other people. Especially in front of people who are supposed to not be making me cry to begin with. Especially in front of other people who devalue feelings and aren’t familiar with empathy.
I wish I could give you some of mine.
I tell you the truth: Some mornings I just don’t want to wake up.
And something apparently clicks. You rush over and hold me and squeeze me, tears running down your face. You book a flight to come back to Denver the weekend after your first week of school. You tell me how sorry you are. How I deserve to be treated better. How you’re going to do right by me and prove to me that you’re worthy of my love. For some reason, I believe you.
The morning after we return from New Orleans, I wake up to you packing all of your belongings.
Since you had booked a flight back from California to Denver and not one from Denver to California, I had assumed you were going to just bid on a last minute Priceline flight.
I ask you what you’re doing.
You say you’re packing.
I ask you how you expect to fit all of your things on an airplane without paying a crazy amount of money.
You sigh and tell me your dad is on his way to pick you up.
You tell me he drove all the way from California to Denver to fix your sister’s car.
You tell me this an hour before he arrives.
I have a meltdown. And am, once again, made to feel badly about gasping for air when I’ve been punched in the gut.
You hold my face. You tell me how much you love me. You ask me if I need you to get on your knee right there and propose to put my mind at ease.
I think: Yes, probably.
Instead, I shake my head and try to squeak out any words I can. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
I help you take your things down to his car when he arrives. And then you pack up Maddie’s bag because you’re taking her, too…
“I’m going to make you so proud of me. Please say you’re proud of me,” says one of the last texts I get from you before everything goes sideways.
Dollar Bill Green
The day after you leave, my friend Preston calls me and says he is driving back from Vail and I should meet him in Blackhawk for some gambling and crab legs.
I put on my “lucky hat” and hop in the car.
Blaring Taylor Swift with the windows down, I stick my arm out the window and let the wind turn my hand into waves.
Preston is up $300 by the time I get there. I immediately lose $40 playing craps and we decide to hit the buffet.
You weren’t really into crab legs. You would always say you don’t like working for your food. But on my birthday, when a friend brought 15 pounds of crab legs to the cabin I rented in Breckenridge, you felt so accomplished, like you were “providing for me” by cracking all of mine.
So I made a new crab leg memory, and followed it by winning $487 on a slot machine.
My instinct was to call you and tell you to pick out a gift. Instead, I held onto the money and ended up buying myself a new set of sheets and a plane ticket to New York.
How could a person feel so ambivalent about winning nearly $500? Beats me.
I sit at work, trying to hold myself together. It’s somehow even harder now that my doctor has upped my SSRI dose. It was embarrassing to have to call the office, for them to read my chart and say the last time I was in –a few weeks before meeting you – that I was doing so much better. That I should have been lowering the dose.
I pick out a lime green coffee mug, fill it with water, and take my pill.
I find a note in my car that said how much you loved me and I take a picture and send it to you. I try to remind you of your kindness. But why?
I have a million questions and you have a million excuses. The sad tapering off that I wanted to prevent by breaking up is happening.
I finally begin to feel numb and I guess that’s better than sad.
One afternoon, via Gchat, you ask me if I had ever taken Xanax and Adderall at the same time or know anybody who has because you hear it’s “a fun combination.” I scrunch my nose at my keyboard and respond: “Are we in college again or something? Mixing pills is a terrible idea.”
You lashed out, calling me a drug addict because of the SSRI I take to manage my OCD. You tell me I am always medicated or high, so how could I judge you?
I stare at the screen and wonder if we’d ever been on the same page at all.
My brother Brett is in town the morning I wake up to a text from you saying goodnight and that you can’t wear heels like you used to.
It’s also the morning I wake up to texts from several of my friends asking what the hell is wrong with you.
I had deleted you from Facebook a week or two prior because your sister told me you’ll never change, and I should stop trying. I also didn’t want to watch you rekindle your friendship with your ex right in front of my eyes. Still, though, I followed you on Instagram. “The world’s greatest” was the caption of the photo of you two looking like you’re about to kiss.
First I wonder: World’s greatest what? Because you had described him as an abusive con artist. He is also unattractive, broke, lives at home at 36, horrible in bed, and can’t spell.
I try to think of a scenario where the way you’ve treated me is acceptable. Maybe if I stole your dog or wallet or spit in your face or broke your leg or took thousands of dollars from you. But I didn’t do those things. He did. Or you said he did.
I don’t cry. I don’t react at all, really. It’s just another disappointment and broken promise in a very long line of disappointments and broken promises. You didn’t have to post that photo, but you made the choice to do so.
I am finally too embarrassed from spending months defending you to do it any longer. I finally realize that my telling you I know you are “better than this” is bullshit.
Brett convinces me to drive up to the mountains and take a hike with him. He says it’ll help me take my mind off of it. We stop halfway up the horseshoe trail, sit on a rock, and I light a joint.
I take a long, slow drag. Exhale into the sky.
Brett says, “Look at these trees. They’re what really matter. Our time is so finite and I know it sucks, but think about the bigger picture. These trees. And they don’t give a fuck.”
“Oh, to be a tree with no fucks to give,” I say and take another hit.
Illustration by Yvonne Martinez.