About a year ago, I had a lunch date with a guy who was both a computer professional and a licensed therapist. It’s not often you meet someone who straddles two professions and certainly not ones that are so different. He made the comment to me that I didn’t need therapy because I write, which was a really good point. After It’s Over helped me work through the misery of being married to a narcissist. The Gifted: Awakening Begun addressed deep seeded issues from the past (that I’ll never talk about). After I’m Gone was a love letter to the only guy I couldn’t walk away from.
But there was still a gap and a broken heart I hadn’t grieved. After a miserable five-and-a-half-year marriage, I was actually happy to be dating again. What would it be like to be in a relationship with someone who didn’t scream profanity at me on a daily basis? Were there guys that didn’t leave you to take care of his three kids while suffering through the stomach flu so he could grab sushi and see a movie with a friend?
Excited at the possibility that someone good and decent was out there (someone who was just waiting for me to dump the dead weight), I set out on a journey. But this time, I would do things differently. No more giving chances to guys who weren’t even my type. This time I would date until I figured out what I truly wanted in a spouse.
Little did I know that a thousand miles away from my hometown, I’d meet a guy I’d known forever, someone who seemed like everything my ex wasn’t.
We went to the same high school, his sister worked for my aunt, our extended families attended the same church, my friend dated his brother–we were two people who circled each other for years without ever having a real conversation. When we found each other online, I honestly believed God had finally directed me to the right guy. He was cute, caring, and laughed at my jokes. Being with him after the husband from hell, was amazing in spite of the fact that Hess (as we’ll call him) was moody, easily angered, and constantly unsettled. He encouraged me to write my first novel, even read it though the genre wasn’t his thing. Hess worried over me when I was sick and brought me flowers on Mother’s Day. He did all the things a good boyfriend does; he gave me what I needed.
But he also made me feel that I wasn’t enough. Take up Crossfit. Those girls are ripped! he said. No offense, but I judge you for how often you buy toys for your kid. (Never mind that his mother constantly paid his bills even though he was a grown man.)
Why didn’t I dump him when he said these things? What could possibly motivate me to listen to his rantings and placate his ego on a daily basis?
Because he was there for me. While the relationship was draining, I wasn’t alone. I’d never had a relationship before where someone cared enough to show up and I haven’t since.
Eight months into our relationship, Hess moved back to our hometown with the idea that he’d come back every three weeks to visit until we got married. Then I’d quit my job, sell my townhouse, and join him in the city I fled in my youth. Of course, you’ll have to get a job and bear the burden of being the breadwinner. Right, because doing that in my first marriage was such a good time. I was in no rush to remarry knowing that time would show me one way or the other whether this was a guy I should hitch my horse to. Hess was the one who talked marriage; he was the one who determined how things would go. I stood by, happy at the thought of belonging to a somewhat functional family, and not having to shoulder the burden of raising a very difficult child alone.
But it wasn’t to be. . .
In a two-sentence text message after almost a year of dating, Hess dumped me and has never spoken to me since. (It’s been three years as of August 2017.) The guy who said he loved me — dismissed me without even picking up the phone. To this day, it was one of the lowest moments in my life. If the guy that I gave my absolute best to — didn’t love me then who would? Maybe I didn’t deserve love. Maybe going it alone was my destiny because there’s something so awful about me that I should never find lasting happiness. These thoughts plagued me, leading me to spend twenty minutes in my car one morning, sobbing over the steering wheel, and contemplating how best to end my life. I have never felt more worthless than I did during the months that followed being ghosted.
Thanks to Hess, I discovered what it truly means to pick yourself up off the floor, wipe your tears, and tend to the toddler who doesn’t understand why the only father-figure in his life is suddenly gone.
After that lunch date (with a guy who did not ask for a second one upon hearing I have a child with autism), I realized that it was time to write the closure Hess never gave me. While the events in After Love Leaves are fictional, the feelings Zoe has for Brad are very much my own. I never got the chance to ask him how he could cheat on me and then marry someone he barely knew and wasn’t what he said he wanted. But Zoe did. She got the chance to tell Brad how she felt; she got to be the one that he truly loved.
After Love Leaves helped me heal a part of my soul that died the day Hess left. More than anything, he was my best friend and those are really hard to replace.
If I ever cross paths with him again, I have only one thing to say and the words come from a place of painful growth and self-reflection that can only be gained through surviving the worst:
I am enough.