“I know,” came my reply.
Yes, I knew. I could feel the demons within her sprouting like seeds she had planted in the fertile soil life had tilled for her. I could sense in her the affirmation of a life lived in self-doubt, in self-loathing. I could feel the memories well up within me, memories of the day I left it all behind.
“When does it end?” she asked. I wasn’t sure if her question was rhetorical, or if she really could withstand the answer.
“When you choose it to end. When you want it to. When you finally see the world through different eyes. Your own eyes and not the eyes given you, and you want to be free.”
And so it went.
She is so beautiful and doesn’t know it. She sees only her physical beauty. She worries about her complexion, how her breasts look, how tan her skin is. She frets over her hair and the paint she uses to hide what she sees as her flaws. Words like “crows feet” and “wrinkles” offend her, as does each new candle added to her birthday cake. She chooses her partners in life based on what brings her a sense of self-value and, in turn, wonders why they treat her in the way she treats herself. She is often vain, and wonders why others treat her vainly. She is often dishonest with herself, and wonders why others are dishonest with her. She is blind and wonders why others can’t see.
She tries to grasp time and suffers as it slips through her fingers. She tries to hold on to vanity and suffers when it reminds her of how little time she has left.
“Have you ever felt love?” I ask her. “Real love. Love that sets you free. Love that never fails you.”
My heart breaks. We so often rely on mirrors to show us who we are that we forget what we are looking at. She’ll never know how much I love her because she will only focus on how much I don’t. In her own mind, in her own way.
I love her, so I let her go. My demands will only make her hurt more when she can’t meet them. My faith will only make her doubt more when she can’t grasp it. She could never live in my world without putting bars over the doorways, without drama starring as the riptide that drags her under.
She puts her head on my shoulder and sobs. I can feel her grasping at me as she sinks, trying hard to drag me under with her. I can’t follow her, and I’ve become a master swimmer.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper through the ether between us. “I can’t go there.”
“I don’t see what you see. I don’t feel what you feel. I’m sorry, I’ve been there and never wish to go back.”
We both knew it wouldn’t be long before she was in the arms of another cardboard cutout, another false sense of self-vindication. This one would be different. He would care. He would be the honest soul who would make all of her dreams come true. He’d be The One.
I looked her squarely in the eyes. She averted her gaze, pretending as best she could to be studying something else that didn’t tweak her wounded heart.
“I’ll see you soon,” I said, knowing full well that when the Next One fell about she’d be back, searching again for the very thing she couldn’t look at, the very thing she wanted but could never bring herself to deserve. She knew I’d be there, like the warm water she couldn’t bathe in, the hot beach sand that made her search for shoes. She’d never believe that happiness wasn’t something you found, it was something you were.
“Alright, thank you baby,” I heard her say as I turned and walked away. I wondered if she felt it, if even for a second. I wondered if she’d recoil from the feeling, or if she’d never get enough. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, stick around long enough to find out. I had to remain on the surface, breathing, and never turn back toward the shallow depths in which she thrived. There I was, left alone in the wisdom for which I’ve lived, in the ocean of which I’ve chosen to reside.