I don’t know why I answered my ex’s text message last weekend. I guess I was bored because my love life is more or less nonexistent. I also hadn’t heard from him in a while, and the curious part of me outweighed the rational part of me.
I broke up with him over a year ago, but the truth is, I never really stopped loving him.
So when he texted me that he’d be spending a week in New York for a job interview, I told him he could stay with me in my tiny studio apartment. Offering my home to my homeless, unemployed ex-lover seemed like a selfless thing to do, but I won’t deny that I had my fair share of selfish motives.
Our first night together was wonderful. I met him on a street not far from my office, in the freezing cold tundra that is New York in wintertime. We decided to go to dinner, and it was great: We talked about work, finding ourselves and his tentative plans for the future. The conversation flowed the same way it did three years ago when we met; the only difference was we’re both just a little bit older.
We went home, and I helped him unpack his things while he got settled in. We got ready for bed and lay there, continuing conversation. Then I kissed him on the cheek.
What happened next was only natural: sober, passionate sex. It was great in that kind of way you can only appreciate when you’ve gone too long without something you should have had in your life all along.
The next day wasn’t bad, either. When he came home from running errands, I laid out pizza and tidied the shower for him. I enjoyed taking care of him. It felt like we were together again.
I’d forgotten what it felt like to be that intimate with someone.
On the third day, he had a bunch of doctor appointments lined up, so he went out for the day while I went to work. When I got home, I noticed he had left his backpack on the floor by my bed.
I stopped cold.
The frumpy black bag stared at me, practically begging to be opened. I didn’t really expect to find much in it — aftershave? Condoms? Maybe some snacks? — but when I unzipped the pocket, I found all of those things, plus a little diary.
Ah, that’s right. My ex loved to write.
For a moment, I hesitated, clutching the diary in my hands as if someone were trying to steal it from me. I considered calling my best friend to consult her about whether I should open it. Only that’d be fruitless, because I had already made a decision. There were so many things I wanted to know. There were so many things I wanted him to say.
Time wasn’t on my side; I had an hour to read this thing cover to cover. And that’s exactly what I did.
There were carefully chronicled descriptions of every hot passerby:
Then, this girl in all white walked onto the subway platform. God DAMN, she was so sexy.
There were confessions of body insecurities, which surprised me the most, because he was fit to a T:
Some days, I look in the mirror and am pretty damn pleased with what I see. Other days, I feel like the ugliest piece of sh*t on this planet. Lately, it’s been more of the latter.
There were ramblings of a guy too scared to open up:
I don’t trust women in New York. I don’t trust women in society.
And then, there was my name. Sheena.
I could barely breathe. As I read from July 2014 through to August 2015 — a time in our relationship when we weren’t dating, but still fervently kept in touch — my heart sank. My name wasn’t surrounded by words I’d often use to describe him in conversation, like “care,” or “love,” “special.” The words surrounding my name were just…ordinary. Lackluster, even.
He spoke not much higher of me than he did of the girl in white booty shorts on the subway platform. He was a detached observer, a man whose head was disconnected from his heart, if he even had one.
I was just a placeholder, filling a space of little significance in his life. It was a space that could just as well have been filled by someone else. Meanwhile, he had consumed every corner of my heart and every musing of my mind. I was his fool.
I sat there, too stunned to think, too paralyzed to move. Putting the diary down seemed like a good idea, though the damage was already done. I tossed it aside, lay down on my side and pulled my knees in close. F*ck.
What was weird was how colorful his descriptions of other things — things that weren’t me — were. As I read, I noticed how easy it was for him to talk about people and places of which he’d only skimmed the surface. He talked about the momentary out-of-body feeling a hip-hop concert in downtown Brooklyn gave him and the enchanting juxtaposition between the aforementioned girl’s milky white dress and caramel-colored skin.
But when it came to me, or his uncle in a coma whom he’d visited the day before, his words were all fluff and no meat. These moments paled in comparison to the moments he’d written about with strangers or at random shows.
It was impossible for him to talk about anything he spent time getting close to. He took those feelings, pushed them down and locked them away, never to be accessed again.
Everything about our relationship was beginning to make sense. Why he was always so distant. Why he had no problem living in the present, but couldn’t talk about the future. Why he was never as transparent with me as I would’ve liked for him to be. He was too damn afraid.
As I waited for him to return, I also waited for the tears. But they didn’t come.
When he finally came home, I was out of the fetal position and ready to talk.
His gaze slowly made its way from me, to the diary next to me, then back to me. He sat down, gripping the arms of the chair to keep from falling. I confronted him about the diary.
“Just let me speak,” I said, polishing the monologue in my head that I’d practiced on his way over. “I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew you were lost. But I didn’t know you were this lost. I’m just trying to get a sense of what the hell is going through your head. It’s so hard to read you. And I care about you too much.”
“I knew you’d do something dramatic like this,” he countered, fitting in words between deep breaths. “But I trusted you. That’s why I left my sh*t here.”
Typical us: me trying to pry him open because I see his potential, him feeling attacked.
He laced his fingers together and put his hands behind his head, leaning back on them the way someone important does when he’s mid-decision. He was angry and embarrassed and fighting back tears. It was the first time I’d ever seen him remotely close to crying.
As I spoke and tried to justify what I’d done, doing my best not to sound like an obsessive lunatic, I told him I wasn’t surprised he’d minimized our four-year relationship until we sounded like two acquaintances wandering around in the dark. He’d always been defensive, and insecure, and afraid to let anyone get too close.
“This here — your confusion, immaturity, inability to stay in one place for too long — this is what kept us from being as great as we could have been,” I said. “And I understand why you left New York to travel. I would have done the same thing.”
He fidgeted and stared at his shoes, getting up in between accusations to pick up pieces of clothing scattered around the room. It was as if I were uncovering every little secret he’d tried so hard to keep from me since the day we met.
He slowly packed away his things. His diary. His too-small clothes. His pillow he carried around with him everywhere, like a little boy, because he couldn’t part with it.
“Oh,” he said, “by the way, I’m in love with someone. And it isn’t you.” And then he left, slamming the door behind him.
His last attempt to hurt me. I knew it wasn’t true, because our first night he told me there was no one he loved in his life. But I suppose I deserved it.
Now, the tears came.
As much as I wanted to be mad at him, I couldn’t be. No, the pages weren’t filled with things I wanted to read — in fact, I wish I’d never read them — but I no longer have to wonder why he left New York, or why he picked on me relentlessly, or why we were made to fall apart from the very beginning.
He’s just a boy wildly unsure of how to become a man.
They say everything happens for a reason. I know I breached his trust, but something tells me I was meant to find that diary. If my life were a romantic comedy, this would be the climax of the story. This would be the pivotal moment for the romantic lead, when she finally realizes what she deserves and is a hair away from finding it.
Reading the diary gave me closure. It stopped me from riding on a wave of false hope and unwarranted expectations. Because I learned that he never really loved me. I learned that men and women communicate on two completely different wavelengths. But most of all, I learned you can never truly tell what someone else is thinking, even the people you keep close.
And trust me, that’s a good thing. Because some things are simply better left unsaid.