An Open Letter: Perhaps THE Open Letter
For the purposes of this open letter, the subject will be addressed as ‘Cynthia.’ –Ty
Let me start by saying that I got my first DVD player.
That was of course years and years ago. But I started this letter with that fact, because that is the subject of the first email I sent you that you refused to read. The first of many you refused to read after reading them for a few months after our break up. I’ll insert it here for irony more than anything else. It satisfies me.
The second, and more relevant thing I will mention in this letter to you, is that I don’t truly believe you have committed physical violence on people. I don’t have any reason to believe you harm your children, or anything like that. But contrary to popular belief, one can be a narcissist and a psychopath without being violent. I’ve had many years to think about this, Cynthia, and I have come to the conclusion that you are a psychopath. A socially responsible one, as far as laws are concerned. One that apparently can show signs of love to people within extremely narrow perimeters, but a psychopath nonetheless.
Why do I say this? Because looking back, everything you did and thought was fundamentally all about you. Deciding whatever you wanted at any given time, and doing whatever you felt was necessary to obtain it as the situation dictated; that’s your M.O. The rarity of your apologies and the consistency of your deception when it was convenient for you to be deceptive. The umbrage you took when others partook of the same strategies against you. The successful manipulation of the perceptions so many people have about you. The anger with which you responded to those, such as myself, who ultimately tried to being your attention to such things. You’re a chameleon, blending into whatever environment suits you at the time. You can recreate a persona that fits with whatever you feel gets you what you want. And you’re one of the best at it that ever was. I should know; I fell for it.
Not that I know what exactly you felt you would gain from me by positioning yourself as an ideal, caring, understanding partner, at least at first. Nor do I have any idea what private goal you had in mind a few months into our relationship by suggesting we marry some day. This I know you would deny until the end of time you ever suggested or desired. That is part of what you do so well. But you and I both know that you brought the idea up yourself for my consideration.
Before that though, there were other initiatives you took. Convincing ones. It was much the same when, after I bailed out on a party during which you had left me to my own devices, you had more sober people track me down and bring me back to said party, so you could confess to me that I was your “best friend,” and you didn’t want to do things without me anymore.
To that end, later in the semester you begged me to come home and meet your parents during fall break. A trip I initially agreed to take to another state with friends that would be passing through yours eventually became a trip to your home, because it was “important” to you. Again, your request. Your initiation. Your idea. An idea I agreed to, when I saw how much it meant to you.
How about the time you initiated, “I love you.” Nothing earth shattering there, except for the fact that during the times we sneaked up to the roof to look at the stars, you had made it clear how casual and slow you wanted things to be between us, a pace that I accepted readily. Taking my cues from you, I didn’t move to the next step first in most cases. You said it first. (And not long after you wanted to slow things down, ironically.)
I even reigned in my actual intimate/sexual history, so I would appear perhaps less threatening in that regard. Not that I was ever a Casanova, but I thought perhaps it was important to show you that it was not a priority to me, so I presented as someone with less experience in that field. I even opted to slow things down, to make sure we would be ready for such intimacy, when one night while drunk, (which became frequent after a while) you in your own words would “beg you to fuck me.” I never did. It didn’t seem right.
Again, all by your initiation over the six months we knew each other. All the while you presented with the sorts of persona, questions, interests and understanding that felt ideal in many ways to me for a long term relationship. I felt at the time that I was even in love with you. (Though I no longer define what I felt for you in that way.)
It would be fruitless to use this letter as a list of annoyances and incongruities we ran into while dating. Any two people in a relationship have volumes of such lists. Even those who stay together find that there are numerous things about the other that they cannot stand. Neither this letter, nor the desire I have to write it have anything to do with the way your held your fork, or how I kept the volume on the TV too low. It is, however, partially about willingness to work through and overlook such things, and to seek places deep within myself in order change some of them.
In short, I was very willing, if not always successful. You were never at a loss to point out the shortcomings in my efforts, or to even tell me I was less of a boyfriend for failing to do so. I suppose, in all fairness, these were the moments I should have realized that we were not right for each other, and that you were not at all what you appeared to be when we met and first got together. In fact there was a considerable gap between what you presented in the magic of being strangers, and the comfortable intimacy of being a couple. A gap I noticed but assumed was normal for any couple once the “romantic” faze died down. (Three months or so, I guess.) It was a labor at times, but a labor in which I was willing to engage because I loved you.
Or, loved the version of you that you had presented. The version of you that somehow fit quite well into all of the nooks and crannies of my life. Not solving my problems for me, but making them seem more bearable. But as I said when I opened this letter, people like you have an uncanny ability to morph themselves to fill whatever void they need to fill in order to obtain what they want. That, I’ve determined is exactly what you were doing early on.
And later on. The more time you spent away from me and with other friends, (especially those who claimed, incorrectly to be feminists), the more you would act like them. If the last you told me was you were going into town and would be back at 10:00PM to watch a movie, you were indignant when I got concerned that you were still out at 3:00AM. My honestly expressed desire for at least a courtesy phone call to let me know you had decided to stay out later, and that nothing bad had happened to you, was translated into “a male dominance” over you and your affairs with other friends. Those friends would tell me, “she has a right to a girl’s night. Deal.” As though that were the problem.
Or the time you came back from dinner with them, and explained to me that you had been wrong when you said that you needed me in your life. That no woman needs a man, and that though you may love me, you didn’t need me. (Again, you were the first to say both of these things, not me.)
In any event, you made your concerns quite clear.
Yet when I tried to sleep one night, and neighbors blasted music and pounded on the floor and I got upset enough about it to address them, you begged me to leave it alone. “You’re always expressing what you don’t like about other people’s behavior. Just live with the noise, please.” And you’d turn on the water works, and beg to be the one to go talk to them instead, because of the alleged fear that I would get “violent,” something I had never done, and you knew it. But being upset like that bought you some time, I would gather.
Not that I didn’t fuck up sometimes in our relationship. Of course I did, everyone does. I was short at times, opted to do things while you were away that you preferred me not to do when you were present. Misjudged some of what you said. I pretended to be upset or hurt at times when I wasn’t just to head off another argument. The biggest mistake was probably thinking the time was right for a long term relationship. It likely wasn’t, but so many of our peers were in one…
So I did my share of wrong things. But an apology was usually not far behind when I did it. You rarely saw a reason to apologize if you had “done nothing wrong.” When it did come, all you mustered was usually a shrug, and a stiff, “sorry.”
So yes, I should have ended it myself. That was my biggest fuck up. Maybe these were your attempts to get me to drop you, so you wouldn’t have to make the adult choice to end it with me, I don’t know. I do know that I felt being in love was a work in progress, and though there were patches of it that were draining, it felt like what I was supposed to. What we were both supposed to do. What, foolishly I thought you would be willing to do. What you claimed you were doing all along by “putting up with me.”
I knew what you were going to say that night when you came back from watching a play I personally had no interest in seeing. A play that you used as a wedge between us, somehow equating my lack of desire to see it with you as an unwillingness to make sacrifices for you. This after months of buying you things, lending you my clothes, staying in the music room during your boring flute practicing sessions because you “strongly preferred if I stayed,” and doing my best to deal with such statements as, “I shouldn’t ever have to tell you why I’m upset. If we’re in love, you should already know it and work on fixing it before you ask.”
And for not going to a play, I didn’t know what it was to sacrifice?
That night when you came back to my room, you told us that we brought out the worst in each other. Though I asked you what you meant, I knew what was coming.
I heard those words in my head, syllable by painful syllable for years. Saw your empty face as you uttered them while sitting on my office chair. Felt your hand on my cheek. I’ll not recreate it here, mundane as it may have been. I relived it enough years ago.
If one could remain conscious and standing upright yet have no more blood in his veins, it would probably have felt the way I did at that moment. It was in many ways out of nowhere. As I said, there were the signs and disagreements over the months that I probably should have taken as proof that I and the real you were not compatible. Yet at no time did you bring up the desire to work things out, to discuss the nature of the relationship, or to even take a break. You wanted out, and though you told me, “I’ll always love you,” (This, the unkindest cut of all) I somehow did not believe it.
The passage of time has of course revealed to me that you never loved me in the first place, but at the time you had loved me as early as that morning when you said so, and then at night, you no longer did.
I asked if there was anyone else, and you denied there was. I know of course that there was. I know who it was. I knew then. I knew you were cheating on me when you allowed only him to drive you to your private lessons, instead of me. “I don’t want you to get nervous driving somewhere new,” was not a solid reason even when you gave it. I knew who you were cheating on me with when I would walk into the room and find said scumbag massaging your shoulders, and stopping when I showed up. At least at first. Eventually, even when we were still together, you allowed him to keep doing it even after I entered, saying that you had a right to “enjoy” other friends as well.
So yes, I knew you were cheating on me, despite your denials at the time, and several denials after that time. I may not have been able to provide you with your every last desire as you demanded, but you cannot ever claim I was a stupid man. Yet I’d have to be to ever think you were not enjoying his company away from my sight. Another mistake of mine of course, was not ending it there. Nobody at that age should be willing to work something out that much. Yet, love is work, and I already knew that. I wasn’t going to go around half-cocked and blow something up that I thought was going to last over some college-aged antics.
That first night or two was difficult enough. It was only painful and confusing then. It was stupefying and tortuous when you and he in the coming days released all pretense and got drunk in the hallway outside of my room and made out. (Well, you would be drunk. He was famous for being sober and following drunk girls around.)
It was like being burned alive in some ways. The horror and the anguish hung on me like a wet wool sweater. The more public the two of your were over the weeks, the heavier that sweater became.
Unable to process all of what had happened in a few short weeks, I tried to talk to you. Tried to at least get some sort of understanding as to why. Of course nobody owes anybody an explanation as to why they act the way they do. A woman can date, fuck, or fuck with anybody she chooses, as can a man. Let’s skip that lecture. But this isn’t about male dominance, Cynthia. It’s about showing some degree of moral consideration for someone that obviously cared a great deal for you for quite a while. It’s about showing the slightest bit of discretion with your new lover just for the sake of not causing more pain to someone else than the break up already had. It’s about showing the world that something, somewhere on the earth other than your own gratification matters.
It’s about not having your allegedly feminist friend show up a few days after you dumped me to lecture me about how happy I should be that you were at last happy, and that if I loved you, I should rejoice that you no longer felt miserable dating me. It’s about having the basic human decency to not display the picture of me with my face crossed out in such a prominent location, where anybody who happens by your room can see it and laugh at it. It’s about not doing all of these things while still inviting me to sit with you at lunch, and having the audacity to get pissed when I asked for some time away from you. To think you actually were offended that after all of this, I needed my space from you. That I was not willing to be a casual friend at least, “after everything we’ve been through together” to use your words. That is narcissism. Dictionary narcissism, and some of the worst I’ve ever encountered.
I could and should have stopped trying to talk to you. Stopped emailing you. Stopped trying to salvage a friendship, or determine what had gone wrong. Yes. I should have just cut all the bait right away and been done with you, and him, and all of it. Left you to be the morally bankrupt person you chose to be. (Even though you ended up marrying the guy you cheated with.) I didn’t, though. Another mistake of mine.
Yet even in my mistakes of trying too hard after the fact to figure things out and find some degree of remorse within you, I was never cruel. Never flaunted my anger and pain in your face, or determined that nothing but my own pain mattered in the world. Didn’t hang pictures of you with your face marked up for passerby to ponder. I didn’t cower behind other people to secure what I wanted, and then dance the night away once I got it, and what other people thought be damned. Maybe I didn’t do many things correctly, but I damn sure had more consideration for the thoughts and feelings of other people, even in what became the darkest year of my life than you have ever shown, as far as I am concerned. I’d rather make the mistakes I made in this regard, and be thought weak and pathetic, than proceed proudly as you did, happy to stand on the hearts and minds of anybody who is no longer convenient company. Who is no longer exciting. No longer worth the effort of illusion.
I’m in my 30’s and have had many exes, before and since you. Some were important and some were casual. One or two I thought I could go the distance with. I’m even still friends with some. There were various degrees of pain involved in the separations. But there is only one who I despise. Only one that I hold up as an example of empty, calculating, unfeeling and opportunistic entitlement. You.
I despise what you did, and even more how you did it. I despise you for the lack of honesty you showed during our relationship, and the lack of restraint you showed after you ended it. I despise you for being able to convince most of our friends that you were in the right. I despise you for the damage your actions did to me for a long time afterward, and for how little you care about that.
I despise you for being such a heartless presence radiating false cheerfulness and unapologetic self-service that I felt I had no choice but to forgo my own college’s senior week and graduation ceremony because you for some reason as an underclassmen would also be there.
I despise you for being duplicitous enough to get invited to my Thanksgiving table, a rather sacred ritual in this family, and one to which I have not invited another friend or girlfriend since, partly because of your attitude that day.
I despise you so much that I despised my other friends for a while, because they didn’t despise you. Didn’t seem moved by your sadistic behavior toward me, and your lack of compassion. I still feel sorry that I had less support against you in those days, but have forgiven most of my friends for it.
But have I forgive you? One day years ago I declared that I had. Long after I stopped writing you friendly emails that I know went unopened despite your promises of friendship. Long after I wrote your mother and told her goodbye. Long after I rid this house of every speck of your presence, and ceased to think about you on a regular basis. (Though still suffered the damage you caused.) Long after all things “Cynthia”, were dispelled from my life, I said out loud one day that I forgave you. Yet have I?
It depends on the definition. If to forgive is to no longer be angry when looking back on what happened, the answer is no. If to forgive is to be able to feel platonic love for you as another human being, the answer is no. If forgiveness is to not even hope that some day karma will visit you for the way you acted, than no I have not forgive you.
If however, as some say, to forgive is to merely refuse to allow those that have done us wrong to occupy our thoughts, and to drain our energy with constant hatred, than I probably have forgiven you. You are not important enough either in my life or even on this planet to warrant much thought. I write this open letter because I am a writer, and that has been one of the projects of my spirit this year. A letter to you coming at the end of the year seems fitting, as in some ways, you are the ultimate recipient of such open letters. I live forever with some of the scars you quite intentionally gave me. Scars I never got to discuss with you, or share with you, or work through with you. (Not that you are obligated, let us not forget that tidbit. It’s the first thing you’d say if you ever read this letter, I’m sure.)
Still, you had your fun with me, despite how mean it was, and so allow me to say at the end of this letter:
Grow the hell up and learn to swallow an aspirin without crushing it up into your little apple sauce cups and crying into every spoonful like a two year old would, you sheltered, sniveling, upper class, elitist, jealous, heartless princess.
This letter is part of the Open Letter Continuum.