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Tonight, as I sit alone in bed, my room is very dark. Do you know how darkness can sometimes feel extra black?
On a good night, the darkness has an airy quality to it, almost as if it anticipates the morning. When I’m lonely, however, the darkness feels like thick black sludge – a zero visibility, tar-like darkness.
Sometimes on the lonely nights, I get up and walk along the beach. I listen to music and chain smoke cigarettes and the angst exudes from my body so forcefully that I can’t help but laugh at myself. What a cliché. Then, generally, I can sleep.
But sometimes, like tonight, I don’t get up. I just lay in the roaring quiet and my legs get all antsy, as if the sheets are restraining me in a bed that’s far too big for a little girl. It’s silly – I am nearly 23, but in these nothing hours, the ones where everyone is asleep and I’m tossing and turning, I certainly feel like a little girl. I’m so far from “woman.” When do girls become women and boys become men?
Anyway, tonight is particularly bad. I will caveat that with this: I am lucky. My particularly bad nights are just lonely nights. In the lottery that is mental health, I was fortunate. I have never dealt with the chemical imbalances that have, in the form of depression or anxiety, plagued so many. My bad is relative, and I know that. If you feel a truly devastating darkness, something deeper even than tar-like black sludge, I have an extraordinary amount of sympathy for you. I have been close to that kind of heavy, with someone I love very much, and I wish you could know the endless compassion I have for you. If mental health is your demon, you are not alone. It is not my story, but there are many who know it well.
Tonight I’m laying here in the dark, my hand hovering over my phone. And for the first time in my life, I understand what it means to be grateful for the pain. I used to call bullshit on peoples’ exclamatory revelations that they are grateful for suffering they faced in past relationships, believing they’re better for it now. I used to call bullshit so hard. Tonight though, for the first time ever, I think I may understand.
See, I want to call him. As a first round of defense, I think through anyone else I could choose in his place. I think of the other ones before him that cared for me once upon a time. I pick at my frayed comforter and wonder if they ever think about me, but that’s beside the point.
My mind goes back to him again and again because I know he’d answer. The myriad of other warm bodies I could call, they’re good guys but have no allegiance to me anymore. Who knows if they’d pick up.
My ex, I know he’d answer. I know because he doesn’t go out on work nights. He’ll be at home, sleeping, and his phone will be plugged in next to his bed. He never misplaces things, not like me. He always keeps his phone on loud in case his sister needs him.
He’d look at my number and debate what to do. He’d assume I was drunk, and roll over, trying to erase my face from his mind. Then, at the last second he’d answer, and in that moment the wound that has been healing would crack right back open.
From my bed, I’d whisper hello. He likes when I whisper to him.
I would let the silence linger, there’s something intoxicating about a hot silence, anticipation is its own special drug.
Then, maybe I would cry. I would cry because I know I hurt him, and because work is exhausting, and because I feel really fucking confused about my career. I’d cry because I think I want to leave L.A. and I’d cry because I’d know that I am about to hurt him again.
Even though I have no intention of re-building what we had, I’d ask him to come over, and he would.
You know as well as me what would come next. I would use him for the night. I’d use his love and his warmth and maybe his body to make me feel less lonely. I would erase my worries by getting high on his adoration.
As I sit here, my hand hovering over my phone, I’m fighting everything inside me that is begging for some solace, begging me to call him and ease the infuriating darkness.
Tonight though, I won’t. I won’t call.
Trust me when I say I’m no saint. In relationships past, I probably would have. What’s different now, is that I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of selfishness; I’ve been the relief to someone else’s lonely. It’s textbook. One person needs to fill a void, and the other jumps at the opportunity to feel their love reciprocated, to maintain hope that things could be rebuilt.
The blow always comes the next morning when you kiss their neck or ask if they want coffee, and they roll over in bed, turning their naked back to you. That shit is crazy making.
This version of Victoria won’t call, not since I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t reach out to him unless I was going back for good. False hope, once it dissipates, is like smoke in your lungs. I have no right to knock the air out of him again, even if it means I sit here all night.
I know the pain of being someone else’s warm body, when what I really wanted (but would never admit) was to be their girlfriend and confidant. There’s no hiding from that kind of one-sided desire, there’s no hiding from the early morning regret when you know you’ve been used. It has a smell, like dawn and skin.
I get it, I’ve felt that pain, and tonight I am grateful for that. If I can’t handle the lonely without leaving casualties in my wake, then I don’t deserve the good that once filled the void.
What strikes me the most, though, is that this is a life lesson that I “knew”. For all intents and purposes, I knew that painful experiences make us strong and maybe a little wiser. But what I’m realizing lately is you can’t accelerate the timeline in learning these lessons, can you?
My fatal flaw is that I assume life lessons can be absorbed through osmosis. I’ve spent so much time interrogating my friends in their 30s and 40s, inquiring what they wish they knew at my age as if I could study and internalize their experiences to get ahead and avoid the confusing mess that is growing up. But these things, in love and life and the god damn pursuit of happiness, can’t be taught, they can only be felt.
I’ve known all along that pain, in heartbreak and otherwise, can make us more compassionate, stronger individuals. I knew that, but I never really got it until now.
There are a whole lot of things I still don’t get, but I’ve got to stop asking, and prodding, and strategizing as if I can figure them out all at once.
These things, these life things, I think they must come with time?
Tonight, I am simply grateful for the pain that has taught me this much:
My ex is not a body for me to feed off of and I refuse to be an emotional succubus at his expense. No good person deserves that.
It is okay to be lonely and chain smoke cigarettes. It is also okay to seek out sex to fill that void. Lust is as good a distraction as any. What is not okay is to knowingly use someone else’s love, with no intention of reciprocating their hope for more, to selfishly avoid feeling alone.
Last time someone recognized my infatuation and used me like Novocaine to ease their suffering, I swore to myself I would never intentionally take advantage of a person in that way. Tonight is my first time actually putting that into practice and fuck, it’s hard. .