My birthday is fast approaching. Commonly known factoid about Joan: I take every chance given to me to change something about myself or reinvent something I don’t like about myself. Moves (even just from apartment to apartment), New Year’s Eve, Rosh HaShanah, birthdays, the beginning of school years, etc. It seems that if there is something I want to change in my life, I need a landmark excuse to change it. Well, with my birthday just around the corner, it happened again.
I’m not sure if I ever told you about my semi-abusive ex-boyfriend, James. I’m not going to get into how or why things were so bad with him, just suffice it to say that the relationship was a bad one and it went on far too long. His negatives certainly outweighed his positives, but for some reason I was unwilling to let him go completely out of my life. I moved half way around the world and still, I was carrying around James-baggage every time I would get an email or a message from him.
Most recently when I was in the US, he wanted to see me. I fought with the decision and eventually decided to have lunch with him just to try and give the situation some closure. Our first goodbye a year earlier was not effective (picture it: me in tears at the PATH station in Hoboken, watching as James walked away without looking back, knowing we wouldn’t see each other for at least a year, not knowing what exactly that meant for either of our futures) at cutting the cord. Yes, it’s partially my fault for expecting more from him, but that is neither here nor there. The point is, I wanted desperately to spend one last night with him that night a year ago and he refused, leaving me feeling rejected, empty, unwanted, and alone to start my new life overseas.
This time, I knew I had the chance to take back the power. The last image James had of me was in tears, an emotional mess. This time, he will be left with a vision of a strong woman who is happy in her life so far away who does not need him. He is inconsequential in my life.
So lunch and a movie, it was. James tried to play his old games asking me questions like “when did you stop loving me?” or “why don’t you love me anymore?” Lunch was tolerable, and like a gentleman, he paid. For the first time ever, I didn’t even offer to contribute to the bill. Then, we went for a walk in the park. We reminisced about old times, talked about our current situations and, most importantly, when he suggested we go back to his place, I turned him down.
I stayed strong. I had no desire to walk blindly back into the lion’s den emotionally. And just a few hours after our afternoon together began, I said goodbye to James at the stairs to my subway station, kissed him on the cheek, and turned around and left without looking back as he watched me walk down the stairs with a smile on my face. I was leaving to come back home in two days time and I couldn’t have been more excited than I was in that moment.
Success is sweet.
The other night, here in Tel Aviv, I’m lying in bed drifting off to sleep when my phone rings. It’s James and he wants to know why I didn’t go him with him that night. He accuses me of not being honest with him and “playing games” with him. He says he doesn’t like feeling like we parted ways playing games.
me: “Our whole relationship was a game, James. Why should our final goodbye be any different?”
James: “Just tell me why you didn’t come home with me.”
And then, I hit him verbally with the most honest, matter-of-fact slap in the face he has probably ever received. I told him that I loved him for real when we were together but that he was incredibly unhealthy for me. I told him that he didn’t know how to treat me well when he had me and he made me feel like that was the best I was ever going to get from anyone. I told him that my life here is full of wonderful people and men who want me for me and not because I let them get away with bullshit insensitive acts against women (me, in particular). I told him that sleeping with him was the last thing I needed in my life and that I couldn’t risk the potential of getting sucked back into this tornado of badness, that is so easy to get sucked into. I told him that my new life is a life without him, and it’s better that way. I told him that once there was a time when I needed him, but that time is gone. I told him that I wished him well with his new girlfriend with whom he is now living.
Basically on that note, the conversation ended. When I hung up the phone, I had this sense that it was finally over and I had come out on top. Finally. I did not expect to hear from him again.
I told Ben about this last and final conversation/confrontation, and Ben’s reaction was perfect:
Ben: “I am very proud of you. Good for you. But, you know, this story is not a new story for me. I always hear about my girl friends who were in a really bad relationship and weren’t treated the way they should have been, then they get strong and tell the guy off and feel better. On one hand, you are my friend and I am happy he is not able to hurt you anymore. On the other, I am a guy who has been that guy who didn’t treat someone right and lost them, and now wants them back but knows it’s impossible, so it’s hard not to sympathize with the guy because now he’s feeling what it feels like to lose you, and you’re a hard one to lose.”
me: “But, the fundamental difference is that you’re not a bad guy. James is a bad person and has a bad core. Everyone makes the mistake of taking someone for granted and losing them. But, James was straight-up abusive sometimes. Mentally and physically. You are not a bad person.”
Then, I gave him some examples of what made James actually a bad person. I’ll spare you those depressing details.
Ben: “Wow. You’re right. F*ck him, and mazal tov to you for being rid of him!”
Then, I recieved one last ditch attempt at regaining the power from James:
We never seriously dated because you never made it necessary. Its a girls responsibility. But I never had to actually break up with you either. Which way would you want it?
To this message, I simply responded “Good night, James,” because it was 3AM his time. It’s not going to be so easy to get in my head again like he used to be able to.