Holley Hyler

A r t i s t

A True Story About Healing

I am dreaming about him. We are in our loft in Los Angeles. He is throwing food and empty wine bottles on the floor, and I am laughing as I pick them up. In my dream, I have an understanding that I will not be doing this for much longer. That is how it ends, no matter what. It has ended like that a thousand times already, in a thousand realities, in a thousand other dreams.

Every dream is like this. They all follow a formula: a behavior of his, exaggerated, my response to it, absurd, and the ensuing sense of comfort and familiarity with undertones of loss. There is an acceptance in this, a solemn knowing that it must be this way, an increased tolerance and even endearment for his flaws because I know better than to take them for granted.

I love him, but I do not love him the way he wants me to love him.

That is why I lose him.

I am on a plane, traveling from Los Angeles to Rochester, New York. I am in the middle seat. I think of him, how he said, “I’ll be your pillow,” and took the middle seat so that I could have the aisle when we flew to Honolulu, Hawaii from Los Angeles. On the way back from Honolulu, even though we were late for our flight, he stopped in the airport to get a memento for me. It was a Hello Kitty plush with the word “Hawaii” on it, something I had mentioned upon our arrival there. It was a passing thought – “It would be nice if I could find one of those.” He remembered just as we were about to leave, then disappeared without saying anything to me. He hadn’t even been certain the ABC Store would have it, and I had been annoyed with him for running off, for nearly missing the flight – until I saw him approaching me, just in time to board our plane, with the plush in his hand and a grin on his face.

When I remember, I get tears in my eyes. I remember how I swallowed my anger, its bitterness like acid in my stomach combined with my guilt. I blink the tears away.

I am in my apartment, filling boxes for Goodwill. It is time to put away childish things. I can part with most of them. The date marks two years, four months, and twenty-seven days since I began to lose him, but I cannot part with Hawaiian Hello Kitty.

I love him, but it is not enough.

That is why he loses me.

It is only in hindsight that I can see what everyone else saw about him. “He treats you like a child. He tells you what to do.” With a clear mind that has no need to recall anything, but recalls for the sake of recalling, I think of the time he told me that we would not go visit my sister in Florida while we were passing through her town because I was in a bad mood. He refused, even when I told him that seeing her would instantly put me in a better mood. “It is like he thinks he is your parent and he is punishing you.” Yes, says my intuition, it was about something like that – control, perhaps.

I feel nothing.

There is no emotion, only the type of clarity that can be present when the current of emotions is not violently sweeping it away.

I can see him, all of him. The picture becomes clearer with each passing day.

I see him, and I love him – still, it is not the way he wants me to love him.

That is why we lose each other.

The act of losing on a large scale, such as losing a person or a relationship, happens in stages. We reach deeper and deeper levels of our perception of the loss. Most people think healing means that one eventually gets to a stage where a trigger, event, or memory no longer brings up pain. I used to agree.

I thought living alone would heal me. I thought putting my foot down would heal me. I thought letting people physically touch me and send me energetic frequencies would heal me. I thought spending time with my family would heal me. I thought healing my daddy issues would heal me. I thought money would heal me. I thought meditation would heal me. I thought diet and exercise would heal me. I thought music would heal me. I thought writing would heal me. I thought loving my life would heal me. I thought heart-to-heart conversations would heal me. I thought letting myself express anger would heal me. I thought crying would heal me. I thought more friends would heal me. I thought sex would heal me. I thought unconditional love would heal me. I thought healing would heal me.

Maybe it is healing me – all of it. It takes only a few seconds to lose something or someone. For this reason, I desperately wanted my former logic to be true, for healing to come about by some singular event, a linear process, and take no longer than a few years, at the most.

The words “I am done with that,” even just thinking them, conjure a feeling or event that shows me I am not done with that.

Another misconception, held by many people, is that it is worse to be dumped than it is to dump someone.

I dream about him. I wake up. Loss is standing over me, wrapped in a thick cloak of familiarity. I look up at the ceiling and think, “Did I make a mistake?” The date marks two years, seven months, and three days since I began to lose him. There is an empty space in the bed beside me and it is almost four in the morning. I close my eyes and think of two years, seven months, and three days ago, when he would have been still awake in bed beside me, watching a movie or reading. I would have asked, “Why are you still awake?” Then I would have snuggled against his arm, falling asleep before I could hear his answer.

I had a choice between losing him or losing myself.

I chose.

If I had to do it over again, I would not choose differently. But when another man’s words cause me to shrink from touch, to grow cold, to feel forgotten, to feel hopelessly alone, I cannot stop the tiny voice inside me that whispers, “Was it a mistake to let him go?”

I dream about him. Upon waking, I think, “Maybe healing is a concept that only applies to physical wounds, not emotional ones.”

I am deleting e-mails, some of which are dated up to nine years ago. I read them first. I click through bittersweet reminders – an article on how to boost libido, a cute cat video, a long message he had sent as I slept after a bad fight we had. He had ended the e-mail by saying, “I love you.” We had recently started saying that to each other. I don’t blink. I feel nothing as I delete them, as a dialogue box tells me that I will not be able to retrieve them once they are deleted from my deleted items folder. It warns me once more that they will be gone forever. I click OK. They are gone. I feel nothing for a few weeks. As I am working at my desk on a Monday, I think of the e-mails and suddenly burst into tears. The date marks two years, eight months, and thirteen days since I began to lose him.

He is hugging me in the kitchen of my apartment that I have been living in for six months. He is saying, “I don’t know, baby. Even though I should, I just can’t let you go.” He is there to return boxes of my old things from his apartment. I do not know how long it was since I began to lose him, because I do not know if he is really gone, or if I have really let him go. I hug him back, and we talk about how to do this – how to stay together without staying together, how to work with the love that we have to give each other without the pain of knowing it will never be more. I have fallen in love with someone else, the way that he wants me to love him, and it is all so confusing. I can’t let him go either, and anyway, it is nice to hear that. “I just can’t let you go.” No one has ever said that to me.

He was wrong, though.

He could let me go, and he did.

I am dreaming about him. We are on a plane, and I do not know where we are going. “I’ll be your pillow,” he says. I try to reply, but I can’t. My face is doing something funny. It is scrunching up. It is crying and tears are pouring down my cheeks, and I am awake now, and I do not know how many years, months, and days it has been, but I do not think I will heal, and I think it is all I deserve. I let him go.

I let him go, and a piece of me went with him. No, it was not a piece that I should have kept, but that knowing does not stop me from missing it, from missing him.

I did love him as he wanted me to love him. I did love him that way, once. I think it is not as good as the way I love him now, because I see all of him, and I did not lose this feeling. The feeling he wanted me to have, I lost, and it was wrapped in acid and tears, in bile and guilt, a dirty thing that destroyed us both.

I am dreaming about him. I have dreamed about him every night this week.

I do not know when I will stop.

It has been five months and seven days since I became confused about whether or not I let him go.

I am healing.

*

This essay was initially published in the Adelaide Anthology and was a finalist in the Essay category for the 2017 Literary Awards.
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