as he led her through the bar. It was a gentle touch of hand to her upper back, but the gesture was enough to signal to the crowd, to me, that he was protecting her, that they shared a history, and possibly a future. I noticed him, her, the touch. He did not notice me.
It still feels like yesterday. It is still an image that can at once make my eyes smart with fresh tears. Make my stomach fall. And then my heart.
But it was over 11 years ago. At a bar near Fenway Park that has now been reincarnated twice over. On an evening when spring turns to summer. When a school year ends and promises of a new still feel ages away. And yet. There it is. A gesture. A touch. That had nothing to do with me but everything to do with me. My heart feeling like it was actually breaking. Feeling like I knew this boy and yet knew nothing about him. Feeling like I knew myself and yet wondered how I could have fallen so hard for someone like him. A boy that I heard stories and rumors of. Never any good. A boy who held me like he was going to protect me yet all along was the only one hurting me. And in that instance. In that gesture. In that touch. He rendered me invisible. Feeling stupid. Feeling humiliated.
I’d like to say that was the last time he made me feel that way. I’d like to say I didn’t chase this dream of a life with him for four more years. I’d like to say I didn’t run away to another country just to find my life again. I’d like to say it doesn’t hurt just to write that. I’d like to say that I never realized how much it still hurt.
But what I’d really like to say is that I wish he didn’t leave me afraid of feeling. Afraid to let others see I was hurt. To be vulnerable. To think that every man after was the same. To think that I had brought this upon myself. That if I was just a little more brave. A little more tough. No one could hurt me. No would see me sad. No one would judge. No one would say it was my fault.
I never wanted to be that person again. Who I became around him. Someone who thought if he didn’t love me back there would be nothing else in my world.
I sought control. To push and to push to make things work. And to predict the outcome until I was proven right by seeing things end right before me. To punish myself for feeling. To punish myself for caring. To pretend I don’t care. To pretend I’m not hurt.
Because I am “tough”. I am “independent”. I can “do better”.
But it turns out feelings are a lot less scary when you let yourself have them.