As a first-time server, I was completely embarrassed by my clumsiness.
I had known him a long time, and like a lot of crushes and romantic entanglements, we were good friends until we were suddenly in love with each other. We lived many states apart, which I actually liked; it afforded the physical and emotional support to focus on the demands of a double major and, in the early months at my post-college job, the time to focus on my career.
I should have known he was wrong for me in college. He would message me and say, "I met a girl and she reminds me of you!" It usually meant she was “really into pop punk” or, more generically, “wears Chucks and reads books.” But we pursued each other off and on over the course of a few years.
In the months following my college graduation, we dreamt of a life together through IMs and emails: we would live in Brooklyn and make art. It was naive and abstract, but I believed him when he said he wanted to share a life with me.
As I waited for an excruciating Friday to end, the two of us IM’d back and forth. My 23rd birthday was the next day, and I was excited — I had convinced myself that 23 was going to be a great year. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed 22, but I had a job and a car now, and I was sure the following months would find me living in a city — not at home with my parents — and thriving in my career.
He glossed over my birthday to talk about packing for a long weekend. Where was he going? To the beach, with a girl he was madly in love with. This weekend, he said, was going to be when she realized how deeply she loved him, too. He might have detailed plans for passionate kisses, or in my rage and disappointment, I might have imagined it. I know he discussed his plans to share a room with her, so that he might sleep with her, which distressed me. I told him he was cruel and tacky.
He told me "a good girlfriend would support" him as he pursued a girl he was in love with and attracted to. He included a frowning emoticon to convey his disappointment.
I was aghast. I was angry. I stared moodily at my monitor until I could finally leave. I pouted through most of my commute home. I pushed my feelings deep inside so I could go out on the town with my friend.
The next few days were as miserable as my ill-fated chat session. Hungover from going out night before, nearly all of my friends bailed on a casual birthday outing. Then, on a dreary Tuesday night, I left work and headed for the county bus stop across the street from my office. I did not make it.
I was hit by a car in the crosswalk. I thought I had the light. I didn’t see the car, and the driver and passenger didn’t see me. I bounced down the street until I finally came to a stop.
I was whisked away to a trauma center, and operated on into the night, where the surgeon vacuumed shards of bone and attempted to reset a fractured humerus, radius, tibia, and fibula with rods, pins, nails, and screws.
In the morning I woke up to snow flurries, my sister, and my laptop. He had gone away, like he'd said, but he also left a public away message dumping me, crowing that he was with a beautiful, ethereal girl with two legs that worked.
I was furious and brokenhearted. I wallowed but didn’t speak to him again. I didn’t want an affection from a jerk like that. I cried for a few minutes before I realized I couldn’t lift my leg or arms. Realizing my recovery would take more than a cast and a few days off work, I had my recovery to worry about instead.
In the summer, I started dating again. I also drove to and from the office; I never took the commuter bus again. I felt like crossing the street wasn’t worth it. I felt safer in my car.
Unable to read as I had on the bus, I whiled away my commutes with podcasts, including old episodes of The Savage Lovecast. As I crested a hill toward the end of my commute home, a familiar voice — his voice — filled my car, calling Dan Savage for advice. I gripped the wheel and hoped I could stay on the road. I couldn’t bear to turn my radio off.
He asked permission to date a new girl, a girl he liked, without telling his other girlfriend. I was surprised to hear that. I had been manipulated to feel like a chump for thinking I was anything but an emotional girl pining for a young man who could never reciprocate feelings for me. I had been made to feel, in our last conversation, that everything he had said was made up and in my head. My stomach dropped in anticipation that Dan would somehow let him off the hook.
He didn’t. Dan told him it was inconsiderate to string me along and to tell me the truth now.
He had called in before our most recent conversation. He never took Dan’s advice, but instead plowed along through his life, with no cares as to how anyone would be affected by his callousness. I knew trying to dump someone the way he did was universally agreed upon as a bad move; I’m confident now that dumping someone like that when she’s in critical condition in the hospital is worse than Carrie Bradshaw’s Post-it note.
A year later, I moved to Brooklyn for a new job. I settled into a house in a neighborhood that reminded me of home. I spent my weekends wandering the city, and quiet nights writing and watching TV. That’s how he caught me on a weeknight, blogging and watching primetime. It was his birthday now, and he was miserable.
I had waited for this opportunity, and it was finally here. I let him whine that he was lonely before I let him have it: You were never there for me, especially when I needed you most. You were deliberately cruel, and you knew it. You sound ungrateful. Don’t talk to me ever again.
It wasn’t smart or sophisticated, but it was the most gratifying experience I could imagine, and it happened. I previously could have only dreamt about enjoying such unrestrained honesty.
The weight was lifted, and with each day I enjoyed the life I had planned (an in some ways, the life we had planned) with more buoyancy than ever before.