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It is New Year’s Eve, 2004. I am a junior in high school. He is my first real boyfriend, not just someone I LOLed with on AIM, a concept that seems significant to me but lost on him.
We have the kind of high school relationship that is built on good looks and locker proximity and being in the same Pre-Algebra class, which is everything when you are 16. I wait for him to call, because texting is a luxury we do not understand yet. I am confused in my innocence why we have yet to solidify New Year’s plans.
At 5:30, after multiple missed calls and voicemails from me, he casually yet sheeplishly informs me he is ringing in the New Year with his friend and that we are over, but we can “talk about it tomorrow.”
The world as I know it is ending. My best friend tells me to come over and lets me cry until I come back to reality, which is around the time her boyfriend comes to pick her up for their night out. My parents are there for me and do not downplay the importance of high school romance, but tell me it gets easier with time and age.
The next day we meet at Steak ‘n Shake for my first meal of 2005 and my first real breakup. For some reason I do all of the talking, even though he is the one who has the explaining to do. I cry before my chili comes and seek refuge in my car, embarrassed and hurt and so self-aware that I did not stick up for myself, but unsure of how to.
At 16, I do not have the words to say “You CALLING me crazy is what makes me act crazy,” and I am frustrated because I have too many emotions and not enough maturity, and I do not know how to name it. I feel like I am not enough for him, and I am self-conscious of my inexperience. He has been in a relationship before and I have not. He has gone “all the way” before and I have not. But I will not give in to the pressure, and I resent him for making me question myself otherwise.
I will never let a boy have this much control over my emotional well-being again.
It is New Year’s Eve, 2006. I am a freshman in college. He is my guy back home, my late-night phone calls, my something in between a friendship and a relationship. I am thrilled to be home for the holidays, reveling in the comfortable and familiar. I am not thrilled to be making the trek to Florissant, Missouri, for a New Year’s party.
Neither are my parents, with whom I must frequently check in with using my silver Razr phone. Neither are my friends, who I unapologetically ditch after dinner. But I make the drive, because he will be there. He occupied a great portion of my mind that first semester. He cheered me up when I missed home. He was ready to get serious, to have a sickeningly sweet long-distance girlfriend who sent him care packages and always looked cute on Skype. At 11:45 p.m., he changes his mind. Or maybe it was made up all along. I do not stick around to find out.
The dashboard clock in my ‘95 Honda Accord strikes midnight and I am sobbing in my car, flooring it down I-270 and scream-crying the lyrics to the Fray’s "Over My Head" on repeat, because it is our song. I make a resolution to sleep with his brother, because I am sad and angry and I want him to feel as betrayed as I do. My friends take me back in, smudged eye makeup and all, and tell me what a jerk he is to make me feel better because they are the best kind of people.
I will never ditch them or let a boy come between us again.
It is Thanksgiving Eve, 2012. I am 24. He is 36 and so perfect on paper. I am growing more and more desperate for him to love me, which pushes him further and further away. He has cut me out of his life without warning and I have done everything I can to get him to hear me and to understand me, but he does not acknowledge me.
When there are nine minutes until midnight, nine minutes until Thanksgiving Day, he lets technology do his bidding and officially ends things with a careless late-night email. He writes three dinky paragraphs, which have the audacity to praise me and reference inside jokes.
With a handful of keystrokes he takes back his feelings that were once so strong and writes me off, downgrading me from his perfect girl to a caricature of a pesky, immature 20-something. I am devastated; he is a coward. I am worth more than 12 sentences. I am out of words to form a reply, which is fine because he deserves nothing. I cry into my pillow for days, eventually stopping when I realize he is not worth the price of one more tissue. He may have destroyed me, but he will not harden me. I write about it, and it feels good.
I will never again silence myself nor apologize for trying to communicate with someone.
It is December 29, 2012. I am still 24 and still too fragile to meet the love of my life, but there he is, and there he always will be. I am a mess of emotions and memories, held together with scotch tape, but he shines through my cracks and lights me up. I hold on to the promises I’ve made to my former self, and to my surprise, he respects me for it.
The notions of being too honest and texting too much melt away, and I feel like myself. I am worth it. I am somebody. I know I deserve love and respect because he tells me I do, and treats me like I do. He is not a boy; he is a man when I needed one most. And he is mine.
I am the girl who gets dumped on holidays, but I am also the girl who bounces back from bad days and perseveres for better things. I am the girl who has learned to let go.
I no longer define New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving as “the days I got dumped again,” but as opportunities to make new memories. Being dump-able makes for a funny monologue or icebreaker story, but it is not my epithet. I am not defined by my past, but by the lessons I learned from it.