But I Loved Him

[trigger warning]

These goddamn photos. August 9, 2015.

You know that feeling when your mouth starts to salivate right before you vomit?

This girl’s eyes look fucking dead. I make eye contact with her, and I want her to look away. She just keeps staring.

It chills me, like a cautionary tale of what could have been.

I remember imagining the headlines that would have spread across social media. Imagining what everyone who never really knew me would’ve said.

‘They seemed like such a happy family.’

But these goddamn photos. They didn’t make it on to Instagram. No nashville filter and doubletapped hearts.

I hate everything about myself in these. My stringy, brassy bleach blonde hair. My pale, sickly skin from months of medicating self-destructing with xanax and vodka. My blonde eyelashes that make me look 14 years old and couldn’t be covered with mascara for sake of evidence.  My doughy chin showing the extra weight I’d gained from stress and an unwanted pregnancy. My chapped, thin lips pressed tight in front of the teeth I was always clenching.

I do see the bruises. I see my nose, not quite my nose, swollen and crooked. I see the broken blood vessels spreading towards my purple cheekbone.

I see these things I should hate more than my natural appearance. I see more than you could possibly know just from looking at these photos. I hear years of words cutting like knives. I hear myself screaming. I see a shell of the intelligent, beautiful creature I expect to see behind those eyes.

But I loved him.

I hear your sigh. And I know that doesn’t make sense, unless you’ve been this girl.

Contrary to popular belief, time doesn’t heal. Time dulls the sharp edges. Time clarifies the things that were too blurry in the moment. Time fades fear.

I’ve held onto time and distance for 365 days, like a child to her favorite blanket. September 27, 2015. Sixteen more hours in my little sister’s car, three kids safe and sound. The rush of hitting the gas pedal on I-95 heading out of Miami for the last time.

Months and months of waiting for the storm to pass, waiting for everyone to forget and quietly accept.

This, of course, was a lifetime ago already.

I am fucking happy. I made tough choices and monumental changes and my life is perfectly mundane and mostly wonderful now. I can sweep this shit under the rug and move on and pretend the past is irrelevant and he is dead and gone.

But these photos haunt me. They remind me that I need to use my voice. They remind me that the past decade actually happened.

They remind me that although I’ve picked up all the puzzle pieces, there are a handful at the bottom of the box that will never fit here. There are just as many pieces I left behind, and gaping holes in the picture.

I loved someone enough to try, and keep trying. I loved someone enough to carry around three little humans and years of everlasting hope. I loved someone enough to want to save him from his vices and throw him my own lifejacket when he was drowning in a sea of his own fucking lies.

I loved someone enough to let him nearly destroy me.

And I loved myself enough to leave.

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