It's Tuesday, and I'm sitting across from Azita, my therapist. I need to tell you something. But it's so embarrassing.
Because I'm telling her about how I had just acted like a little girl, my body morphs into a childish skit of itself; I cover my face with both hands, grin and groan and scrunch my face, turn away from her, fall to the left and into the couch as I lift my boots off the floor in one long, grand gesture of I did something dumb.
Last week, rolling into San Francisco on the same BART train I have countless times, I realized I hadn't thought about Justin, not since the last time I was there. The last time I was there being January when after three years of sexting and over a year of zero actual sex, I asked if I could spend the night with him, and he said no.
I'd been so proud of the dynamic I had developed with him over the last 20ish months, the one where I didn't ask for anything but pictures of his face and sometimes his penis, where I could tell him things like how bad most men were at sex and how gifted he was, where he would call me gorgeous and babe and other words women need to hear; where we would, on occasion, say we missed each other (or rather, he would tell me he missed my pussy, and I would tell him I missed his heart).
I didn't blow up at him anymore, didn't need anything from him anymore, or so it seemed. He was like this thing I took with me wherever I went, this special thing that I had. Here's a picture of the Tiber. Look I'm stuck in traffic. Here's a piece of my heart, my life. Do you want to see how my face looks when I think of you?
In November of last year, I jokingly said that I'd be ending our textmance before long. I was on a mission to find a partner, and there'd be no room for this thing we did. I was certain it was going to happen soon, this partnering, because Doug, the psychic in the Salem crystal shop, had told me it would.
Justin asked me if I thought he was that partner, and I said no, I don't live there anymore. And I didn't. And I meant it. Except, of course, I did, in a way. Not futuristically, not as in he was on my vision board starring in the role as my future husband. Nothing like that. But he counted for something, right? If I were to estimate the number of messages we sent to each other since we first met I would imagine the number would be in the tens of thousands. What two people do that without there being more? If he wasn't my future anything, why was he sometimes my present everything?
Right before my January trip to San Francisco, it happened. The inevitable. Another girl. He sent me pictures of her tattooed thighs soaking in a tub. My heart hurt, and I said she had pretty legs, and then he told me she was ruining sex, and my heart found itself again because he's mine and I wanted her to suck. I'm sorry, I said. No, not ruining sex, he clarified. Life Ruining Sex.
Life Ruining Sex, the kind of sex that ruins sex for every sexual encounter that comes after because it's so good. But he and I were the ones that coined that term, our sex was what ruined all other sex. The bottom dropped out. I threw my phone, with her thighs still in it, sailing across the room.
Days later, arriving in San Francisco, he told me she was awful. She's the worst. Where are you? I sent him the same photo I always do, some shot of the skyline or a bridge. The one that says I'm here again, can you feel me?
Which brings me back to that night in San Francisco, days after her thighs flew across my living room back in LA, hours after he'd told me she was awful, when I asked this entirely familiar stranger of a man whether he wanted to spend the night together while I was there.
We used to call Justin my Psycho Vacuum, back in the days when he actually wasn't just this thing in my phone, but a real life bear of a man who fucked me back into my body. Because no one - and I mean NO ONE - had ever made me lose my fucking mind as much as he did. But it had been nearly two years since that dynamic was a thing, since I had last unleashed the part of me that feels like it needs an exorcist, to let it do the talking for me.
Now when Justin would say things that hurt, and by say I mean text, I just wouldn't respond. I'd roll my eyes and with a sigh, delete all evidence of him from my phone, including the countless pictures of his bearded face, including the pictures of my tits I'd taken just for him. I would remember as I was calmly cleaning him from my life all the times I had gone nuclear on him. And then I'd get so proud because finally, I was acting the way I wanted to act. Because finally, I was unaffected, desensitized to his complete disinterest and utter dismissiveness. And I'd feel smug as I did this because I knew he'd be back anyway, like clockwork. He was just as needy and predictable as I was.
But on that January morning in San Francisco, the No killed my dis-affect, eviscerated it, and the part of me that is forever screaming - the one with the gun - grabbed the part of me that had been playing nice for way too long, gagged her, tied her up; then answered his No on behalf of all of us.
At coffee with Tim an hour later, I picked up my phone to some five or six messages, and without looking at even one I deleted them, deleted him, blocked him. Cleaned him out. Then I went and dropped a grand at Sax Fifth Avenue on winter coats and got a dagger tattooed behind my ear. Fuck. You.
Last week as that same BART train whisked me into the City, I thought of Justin for the first time. I went to grab my phone to take that inaugural photo I always do, and then I put it down. Reflex. I texted Laura that I had the impulse to take the photo except with my middle finger in front of those buildings. I'm here again, can you feel me?
And before I knew it there I was, editing a photo of my middle finger dancing in front of the San Francisco architecture. Before I could even think, I had sent it. Fuck. You.
I hadn't thought of him since January.
On Tuesday of this week, it's approximately four hours before therapy and I can't get Rome out of my mind. I book a last minute trip for May. I miss Rome more than I remember missing any human, any man I ever loved or thought I loved.
I text Francesco, who lives in France sometimes, who has an apartment in Rome, I'm coming in May, is your apartment empty that week? Four hours later, Azita will ask me why that was necessary. Are there no other apartments in Rome? Are you broke? And I'll look at her and shrug because as I'm texting him this request, it seems absolutely essential that I do. Why wouldn't I ask to stay for free in the empty apartment of an ex-lover? It would be almost irresponsible to not.
I feel nothing for you, I try to say with every word we exchange now. I don't think of you. You mean nothing. He tells me he'll be in Rome that week, and when I text him later to tell him my trip is booked, he sends me an emoji. The "thumbs-up" emoji.
I feel nothing for you. I don't think of you. You mean nothing. I stare at his emoji response and I feel everything, as in everything that is small about me.
Four hours later as I walk into Azita's office I notice her cowboy boots because I'm wearing mine. I tell her about how I can't find good ones these days, and she asks me what size I wear because she's cleaning out her closet. I think, Who gets rid of cowboy boots?
She doesn't laugh or find it cute when I tell her about Justin and Francesco. I can't explain to her why I do either of these things.
I'm wearing an old romper, one I haven't worn in years but have kept because I can't bring myself to throw it out. It's hideous, shapeless, with a stain. Azita says, You know when you go to clean out your closet, and you have those pieces of clothing that you have no point in keeping, but you just can't let go of, because what if? She holds up her hand like she's holding a hanger, crinkles her nose. What are these men doing for you? What percentage of it is good? What percentage of it is shit? I look at my romper, my 7-year-old $20 Gap romper with a stain. I look back to Azita as I say something like, It's never good, and all I can see is her throwing out vintage cowboy boots.
She pushes me to block Francesco in my phone, to not see him when I'm there in May, in July, or ever again. And I think, honestly, What will Francesco think of all this - of me - when I inevitably unblock him like I have dozens of times before?
I go home and put the romper in my give-away pile. I block both Francesco and Justin in my phone.
I can't get out of my head, for some reason, the idea of what either of them thinks of me. Or maybe it's not even that because truth be told I don't give a fuck what they think. If I did, I wouldn't say the things I say to them, or show them the most immature wounded version of myself, as I do, and constantly. I save the worst of me for them.
It's more along the lines of this…
I experience myself, in some way, through their experience of me. As in, my life, in some ways, is only genuinely lived through the lens of which they observe me, of how I observe them observing me when I involve them in my life. It's about me, but I'm removed from the equation. My wants, my needs, my lens, my worth - those things lose their shape when these men enter the scene. I lose my shape. And it's not just the two of them, either. This is my pattern, has been my pattern. They're just the dregs, what's left, the shitty camisole I might wear. I've let all the other ones go, but these two I can't.
I know this, intellectually. I get it and I get it clearly. But then again, I've been working on my Italian and I wonder, What if Francesco never hears me speak fluently?
I eye the romper in the give-away pile.
There is this lesson, a sutra, from Kundalini Yoga. Recognize the other person is you. It's such an obvious thing, intellectually. What you see in other people, experience in other people, is never about them. It is always about you.
I get it. And yet, I don't. It's like in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna turns into the light of a thousand suns, or knowing that there are 7.4 billion humans on this earth alongside you. You don't need further explanation of what is being conveyed. Krishna is bright, there are lots of humans. But you will most certainly almost never comprehend what it actually means. Because it's ineffable. No one has ever seen the light of a thousand suns - or 7.4 billion people - at once.
I climb on to the elliptical today, and things flash before my eyes. Azita asking me about Rome, why I love it so, and me telling her about the art, the air, the food, the history, and the city that builds on top of itself. She waits until I finally tell her what she wants to hear, which is who I am when I'm in Rome, not what Rome is.
Into the Mystic comes on my phone, and there I am, age 17, in love with Jeremy all over again, swooning in the doorway as we kiss to this song like we have thousands of times in my mind, every time I hear it. Brand New Me plays next, and I'm in the back of the Flatiron office, on the phone with Tom, telling him to fuck the fuck off, quitting my job and him in one fail swoop, for the hundredth time. This is followed by Black Sheep #4, and now I'm transported back to Valencia Street, running out of Elixir and toward Andrew; it's 2008, and we're about to get back together, and I see his "can't-live-without-you-face" and I smile the same smile I always do. When your life is set to music - like mine is - almost every song has a story that repeats along with it. Only usually it's just background noise, those flashbacks to other times and other men. But today it feels like an unreality, or a stolen one.
I think, What if they were never really there?
I do it again, the same order of thoughts, the same stories, except this time Jeremy isn't in the doorway; I'm screaming into the phone at myself, not Tom; and Andrew's toothy smile and smitten eyes morph into me, walking towards me. I think about Francesco in my phone, blocked, and suddenly it doesn't matter if he never hears my Italian because he was never really there to begin with.
Which is to say that I saw the light of a thousand suns with my own eyes.
Which is to say, it's never been about them. It was always just about me.