This post has been sitting in my drafts waiting to be published. I think it’s time to let it go. Plus, it’s perfect for a rainy day like today.

It’s always been hard for me to forgive myself for mistakes, missteps, failures. It’s taken me a long time to learn to laugh at myself. There is this adorable story from my childhood when I gave my nickname when asked for my middle name that my mom loves to tell. It’s cute because I was so enthusiastically wrong, so impossibly and irrationally confident in my incorrect exclamation. But I hated when she told the story. I was beyond embarrassed and you can be sure that, after being laughed at, I never confused the two again.

I’ve gotten better at laughing at myself, at letting the petty things go. There are few things I let myself even regret. But it’s been hard for me to forgive myself for that last pseudo-relationship. There were so many times when it could have been over. But I didn’t like the ending I was being offered so I kept on going, resolved we’d have a more satisfying conclusion. (Oh, how many I wrote for us in my journals!)

There is something a little crazy about my fidelity when I knew, by the conclusion of that first semester, that our relationship was doomed to end and probably badly. When all I was hoping for one day was the chance to sing out the last lines of Stars’ “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” with complete sincerity:

You were what I wanted
I gave what I gave
I’m not sorry I met you
I’m not sorry it’s over
I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save
I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save

Like Stephen in “The Brothers Bloom,” I embedded symbolism and foreshadowing in our story. Like when I had him listen to Fiona Apple’s “Partying Gift” with me. The chorus so unbearably accurate:

And from the first to all the last times,
The sign said ‘Stop’ – but we went on whole-hearted
It ended bad, but I love what we started

It’s difficult to explain why I let our relationship continue knowing all of this. Except to say that I loved what we had started. To say along with Jack Gilbert that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” And there was a lot that was worth it. Or I might admit that I’ve always been a little like Abou Fatma in “The Four Feathers,” I felt that God had put him in my way and I had to see it through. The best I can do is to say that up until the very end he was my good and my bad guy.

I’ve struggled to forgive myself for loving someone who became so cruel, so misogynistic. For too long I was like the wife in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” It wasn’t that I was completely ignorant. Nor was I completely at ease with the man he was becoming. I just couldn’t accept the entire truth until it was made so blatant I couldn’t disbelieve it.

When I first watched that movie, I was struck by Vera Farmiga’s performance after her character realizes that her husband is running a death camp. How she won’t let him touch her and screams at him that he’s a monster. How she stops caring for herself and becomes listless. I believe that we all feel we are what we love. So what are we if we love a monster? I’ve been living with that question.

Yet the man he grew into was not the young man I’d fallen in love with. Can I be blamed for not wanting to leave him at his worst? It is heartbreaking to give up on someone you love even when they become monstrous. Especially when they become monstrous. You don’t want to remember them that way. And you know, better than anyone else, the insecurities and scars that are motivating them. It seems like an act of cruelty itself to walk away. You have to learn to accept that there might be necessary acts of cruelty. That loving doesn’t always mean staying, and that sometimes you have to love yourself enough to leave.

Copper Engraving of “The Fall of Icarus” (1731), by Bernard Picart

I’ve been fighting to forgive myself for how much I gave and how much I held back. How hopeful I could be. How mean I could be. For the times I was cold when I should have been warm and warm when I should have been cold. I cannot justify any of it other than to say, along with Ray Porter in Shopgirl, that “well…this is life.” To remember, as Jack Gilbert reminds us, “that Icarus also flew.” And to believe that he was not failing as he was falling “but just coming to the end of his triumph.” So we came to the end of ours with singed wings.

My battle to pardon my faults has been fed by more than the regrets of one relational failure. I’ve been singing Sia’s “Breathe Me.” Feeling unsafe having lost myself again with no one else to blame. Unbearably aware of my own need to be held, to be cared for after so much coldness. So worried about the attraction between me and these men who’ve shown so little respect for my emotions. Concerned by this pattern of almost romances and awful endings I’ve had. Worried that it’s not enough to simply say, “Lesson learned, I won’t do that again.”

Yet, this last one has broken something inside me. It’s shattered my belief in my emotional invincibility. His stark coldness made me painfully aware that I am small and needy. At different points during this time, Ben and Logan have been my friends, wrapping me in care, warming me with their ungrudging affection. Though our friendships lack that x-factor of attraction, and I think I’ll continue to be something of a sucker for eccentric men who have the ability to out-chat me, it’s becoming non-negotiable that love manifest itself through care, affection and tenderness instead of obsession. And I’m feeling a little less unsafe.

Feature image by Riley Briggs.

One thought on “Surviving with Singed Wings: Sometimes You Have to Love Yourself Enough to Leave

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