Okay, this one is hard to put into words. There isn’t a story line with a beginning, climatic middle, and a heartening resolution that makes you thankful for the life lesson. It wasn’t long enough for that. And I definitely wasn’t thankful.
Storytellers of all kinds speak of their “one GREAT love.” Often it’s the one that got away, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, it’s the one who stuck around and changed the way they saw the world. Devin wasn’t my one great love; we didn’t know each other enough for that to be true. Looking back, I’m not sure if what we shared was love at all. Instead, it was something desperate, longing, and sharp to touch. It was characterized by an unhealthy need and both of us looking in the wrong places to fill it. It was dark, lonely, painful love; I guess that’s why he is my one great heartbreak.
I remember the first time I met Devin, the exact way his face looked as we locked eyes at a party. Maybe even then we could see the urgent need in each other’s faces in spite of the drunken smiles on our faces. Devin was a past friend of my best friend, Matty. He had just discovered his girlfriend of 6 or 7 or 8 or something years had gone back to using heroin, secretly in their home, in her car, in the bathroom at her job, in spite of promising she was clean. She had been placed in a rehabilitation facility where she wrote him regular letters, and he had moved back in with his parents where he was living a nightmare.
At the time, I don’t think I realized I was worse off than Devin. My depression and self-loathing was reaching new depths, but I was able to stave it off as long as I constantly kept busy, was never alone, and drank copious amounts of alcohol. Devin, Matty, and I spent more time together, usually drinking. Devin smoked weed almost constantly, needing a hit every hour or two in order to maintain the numbness he preferred. I lost 60 pounds in the course of a few months, not because I was trying to diet or lose weight or be thin, but because my anxiety killed my appetite most days.
Our relationship changed one night after the three of us had been out bar-hopping. I don’t remember a lot. I know I had been dancing on Devin the whole night. I was later told that I smoked with him in the backseat of his car in the parking lot of the bar. I remember watching a movie on the couch at the house Matty and I shared, he on one couch with his fiance and me on the other with Devin. I don’t remember the movie. I don’t remember asking, “Are we going to have sex, or what?” although I was told about that the next day. I do remember going down on Devin in my bed and that he eventually took off my pants and we started to have sex. I remember that almost instantly I started to panic, said, “Wait wait, can we stop? I can’t do this right now.” And he stopped, and he apologized for starting. I wasn’t mad. I walked him to his car and said goodnight.
After that, we talked all day, every day. We said we were “friends,” although on my end I was developing feelings at a rapid, unstable pace. Devin talked to me about how hurt he was by his ex-girlfriend and I played the part of a selfless caregiver, always offering comfort and advice that I should have been giving to myself. I opened up to Devin too about how I hated being alone and how I doubted my own worth. I think I thought if I could save him, he would save me next. One night, Devin told me that I was what gave him hope every day, and I made him happy, and he didn’t understand how it could happen so soon, but he wasn’t going to fight it. He kissed me and I felt needed and necessary, things I hadn’t felt in as long as I could remember.
These are the parts that make forgetting hard: On the phone, Devin tells me that even though we are only apart for about 8 hours a day (while we were at work), those are the longest, hardest parts of the day. We discover we have a shared interest in the Illuminati and Transformers and rum and coke. Taking drags off his cigarette and holding hands as we drive. Slow dancing to a metal song outside a rock bar. For Christmas, I give Devin a copy of my favorite book and I reread it at the same time and we talk about the characters like they’re friends of ours. When I go home to visit for a few days, we Facetime every night and Devin says, “How is that perfect smile for me?” When I fly back, he is waiting for me at the arrival gate. He calls me “his girl.”
It was palpable when things started to fall apart. We would have snarky arguments via text message (and I would end up apologizing profusely for having any type of feeling that wasn’t 100% pleasant). He told me he though we should stop saying, “I love you,” because we had started saying it too soon. His smoking increased even more somehow. I was frantically trying to save a sinking ship. I spent as much time with him as possible. I spent way too much time away from my home and way too little time with my dog.
My best friend Cherish and I had planned a long-weekend away to California. At the time, it made me anxious because that was 4 days away from Devin where I would be unable to convince him to stay with me. Now, when I imagine my happy place, my safe spot- it’s on this beach with Cherish in February. We were titillated when we got mistaken for locals. I brought my dog, Bella, with us, and we shared strawberries at a farmers market. We bonded and cried a lot about how hard things had been since we moved away from home and into the party house in Arizona. I think she realized that in spite of my absence and all of the changes, I was still her best friend.
The night I got home, Devin broke up with me. He said, “I can’t believe I’m doing this and I’m probably going to regret it because you’re so amazing and good to me but…”
I was shattered. I cried every free moment of the day. On the way to work. On my lunch break. After work, I drove around sobbing for hours or came home and cried quietly in my closet. I cried through the night and into the morning, sleeping for only tiny, incremental pieces of time. It was like someone had thrown me a life-preserver and then yanked it away and I was left drowning, thrashing in the middle of a dark, deep ocean.
I watched on social media as he spent nights out with his friends having the time of his life. I watched as he got close to a new girl, only weeks later. I saw their first kiss, documented in a snapshot taken by their friend. He gave her my favorite book, the copy I had given him for Christmas. Every image of his happiness without me sank me deeper into sadness.
This went on for months. I had given him every piece of myself, opened up every dark corner, and when he turned away I collapsed into a vacuum of despair and self-loathing. Sometimes, even years later, it still hurts to think about. I never went to him for closure, never wanted to give him the satisfaction of knowing how long I cried over him.
Remembering it now, I can see how we used each other. How unhealthy our relationship was from the get-go. I can see that what I really needed was to love myself, but at the time, I didn’t believe I was worthy of anyone’s love, least of all my own. I think, if we had met now, we wouldn’t have given each other a second look. At the time, I had thought he was my one great love, but actually he was just another way to numb myself. No wonder it hurt so much when he left; I was stuck feeling everything I had been ignoring for months.
They say though, that it’s through the cracks that the light gets in. And, eventually, after months of crying myself to sleep, I woke up to a sliver of light.