I’m going to sit down and write this now. Write now; right now. Because Maya Angelou told me (albeit indirectly) that There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. And this one has been trying to get out for quite some time, and I think she’s right. Write.
This story is about a boy. I’m calling him a boy despite the fact that he looks like a man, and has since I met him five years ago when I had just walked into nineteen and he was beating down the door of twenty-one. I’m calling him a boy not because it makes his selfishness more understandable or his cruelty more pardonable, but because the honor of being called a man is a badge he has yet to earn.
He’s a boy whose body is too big for his heart, whose strength and anger together are cataclysmic. Once, during the spring when we first met, his roommate called me in the middle of the night telling me this boy had gotten into a fight, telling me to come quick. I remember running there, leaving my dorm room without my phone, my shoes, without telling anyone where I was going. In College Park it’s not safe to be out alone at night, but I was safe until I walked into his room. He swatted the bag of frozen vegetables I’d wrapped in a washcloth; he wouldn’t let me see that one of his front teeth had been knocked out; he wouldn’t answer me when I asked how this happened. He was mad that I had come and wouldn’t let me leave. He yelled at me with his hand over his mouth and even though his words were muffled, they were harsh. He squeezed me until I stopped crying and when I woke up in the morning I stared at the pillow stained with the blood from his mouth–he’d gone to the dentist. If you met him today you wouldn’t be able to tell which one of his two front teeth it was, but I have always known and I thought about that night every time he smiled or snarled or kissed me for the next four and a half years. I thought about how that’s when I should have known.
We never were actually a couple, we didn’t date and he wasn’t my boyfriend. I begged and pleaded for that though, for him to not see other people, to call me his girlfriend, to go out in public with me. None of this ever happened (except the third, when he was hungry enough). Our rendezvous were kept secret when all I wanted was to tell the world. Once, after college, I visited him at his rental rowhouse in Baltimore. He’d worked up an appetite and we walked to a nearby sub shop. After the boy placed his order, the sandwich maker looked to me. Oh, I don’t let her eat, the boy said, wrapping my neck in the crook of his arm and pulling me close to his massive chest. We all laughed, the sandwich maker, the boy, and I. But it wasn’t a joke, he wouldn’t have paid for a sandwich even if I were willing to eat in front of him. Which I wasn’t.
I developed disordered eating one quarter of the way through my unofficial romance with this boy. Maybe I wanted to be small, like the way he made me feel. Or maybe I let him talk to me with belittling words because it helped me toward my unattainable goal of being invisible. All I know is every time I purged, I was trying to get rid of him. Because he had made his way inside me, he could always see me, and always found me.
I swore the boy off countless times, with the support and encouragement of my friends and family. I even dated other people in these months when we were out of touch. But I made sure to find other boys who mirrored him, who made me feel the same way because it was what I was used to. Lie to me, use me for my body I must have said, subconsciously, right after Hi, I’m Kelsey. No one was as painfully comfortable as him, no one hurt as good. So I’d find myself back in his arms, behind closed doors.
After one entr’acte, when I’d sworn to all I’d had enough (enough of what? obviously not enough self-respect), I answered the boy’s call. I’d just walked in the door from work, it was October 25th of my junior year of college and it was pouring. I’m in Lot 1, I finally figured out he was saying. With the sound of the rain and the way he was slurring, it took a few times. It’d been a few months since I’d seen him, but he looked the same, just soaked. He was entirely intoxicated after heavy tailgating for the football game he didn’t attend. He had to be at work in four hours. I took his wet outfit down to the dryer in the basement and gave him a set of clothes he’d left in my room months before. Sleep it off, I told him, I’ll wake you up. I went upstairs to shower, refusing to alter my plans since he’d showed up unexpectedly. I told myself this meant nothing, I was still going to stick to my guns in swearing off any physical contact with him. I told myself taking him in was like taking in a stray and helpless dog, but only for a night before taking it to the pound.
What happened next broke me. The boy swears it didn’t happen, he swears he doesn’t remember, he was blacked out, therefore it didn’t happen. My mind wasn’t muddled, the nos and shhs played crisp and on repeat deep inside my ears for the next two years. I remembered enough for both of us. I made him leave right after, I took him to his car and didn’t care that it meant he’d be driving drunk. I didn’t care because I wanted him out of my sight forever. The boy later convinced me it had been my fault, that he didn’t believe it happened but if it did, it was my fault. That’s when I convinced myself he wasn’t the stray dog, I was. And I had no where else to go.
I was more attached than ever after that. I was sad and confused because my love and hate for him were so intertwined and his indifference towards me pulled the knots tighter. Things went on the same way they had, months on and months off.
Some of those months off were those I spent in California, where I fell in love (good love), but it didn’t last. I felt the boy’s pull again after. I fell back in to the predictable pattern of late night meet-ups. It was worse this time though. He’d tell me he’d only see me if I promised not to speak. I let him take my voice and lock it away. He called me one night and told me his girlfriend found out about me, it was the first I’d heard of her but I wasn’t surprised. It’s different with her, the boy said. It made sense. I’m ashamed to say I kept seeing him anyway. If I didn’t speak was I really there? We had a way of pretending things didn’t happen, didn’t we?
Toward the end of last year, I asked myself, What would be the last straw? What would he have to do to make you say, finally, I’ve had enough? And I thought, the boy has already done everything. There’s nothing more he could do to hurt me. I’d gotten to the point where I was so emotionally beaten that I was unbeatable. I’d given up everything and therefore had nothing to lose. I was finally in control.
I told him it was over, that I knew he didn’t respect me but to please try to find it in his heart to honor my request for zero contact. And with that I let go. I didn’t explain myself, because he would never understand. And I was right, in thinking that he didn’t respect me, because the calls and texts and messages that came for the next few months were incessant. But I was gone. I was light as a feather and flying to the other side of the world to see, and hear, and feel, and taste, and prove to myself that I am alive.
I don’t care to see if the boy ever becomes a man, I don’t care to find out if his emotional maturity develops enough to fill his massive body. I am content in my not knowing. I’m content to use my voice because I no longer speak his excuses; I’m content to keep my food down because it no longer tastes like him; I’m content to live my life wholeheartedly because I know I have a whole and worthy heart inside me.
Toni Morrison told me (albeit indirectly), that if You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down. And I can, because I did.