The box sat on my doorstep, just as you said it would. I noticed that you mailed it, which was a relief. You said you’d either drop it off or mail it. But the thought of you being anywhere near me was making me panic. I was staying away from my own home as often as I could manage simply because I did not want to be there if you ever dropped by.
The box had your name and return address on it. Just seeing your name made me tremble. I took the box inside and set it on my kitchen table. I fetched the box-cutter from the drawer, and stood over the box. Such a typical, normal looking shipping box, perhaps 12 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 6 inches deep. So innocent looking, so nondescript. I began to cut it open.
Inside were the things I left at your house. The last time I was there was nearly 22 months ago now. I recognized all the things as mine. Several boxed CD sets, a couple DVDs, and two books, including Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, which we struggled to read out loud to each other, laughing at how difficult it was for two people to divvy up scenes with several characters, men and women. Hard enough to try to do the beautiful language justice. I feel as eloquent as Richard Burton until I speak out loud and realize I’m a stuttering idiot. You were Elizabeth Taylor or Emma Thompson or Helen Mirren…you were just as clumsy as me, but I only heard beautiful Shakespeare when you tripped over the words.
Although these were my things, and I could easily remember enjoying them myself before I enjoyed them with you, all I saw were memories. A boxful of my own things now forever perfumed with the scent of you and colored by my memories of you. Would I ever enjoy any of these possessions again?
I removed everything from the box, dreading what else I might find in there. My heart stopped and my breath stuck in my lungs when I saw the neatly folded piece of stationery at the bottom. With trembling hands I took it and opened it. Through tears I read your words, handwritten. I’d never really seen your handwriting before. Like you, it was neat, elegant and clear. You were offering me an explanation, closure. But your words were nothing; certainly not explanatory, and definitely offering nothing close to closure. I know I’ll never find closure through anything you ever say; you are not real, and nothing you communicate has anything to do with me or who we were together or where we’ve ended up. I read your words, again, the same words you always said when I looked at you, baffled at your utter vacant soul, wondering what was standing between you and your love for me. No closure; only reruns.
The last time I saw you was Memorial Day 2015. On that day we planned to go to SIFF; we chose a film at Uptown Theater, and Folklife was going full throttle at Seattle Center. Traffic sucked. You were late. I’m so capable of forgiveness. Stand me up, skip planned outings, show up hours late. I always forgave you, always tried to understand. But that day I realized I had lost my ability to forgive you. Being so late kept us from seeing the film. While standing on a corner wondering what to do instead, I realized I was now ready to say goodbye to you. For the last time. This time forever. The straws finally broke my back. I said goodbye. That was the last time I ever saw you.
So why am I suddenly so sad today? Why after all this time do I care to recall fondly all the wonderful things we did together? Is it the box? The memories it contains? Is it the events of the past couple days when I finally realized you were out of my life for good despite having left you so long ago? I looked down at the box and realized something that was so clear, so poetic, so ironic. This box was me. This box was the way you treated me. This box was your sad life, and it was suddenly crystal clear. I was later to find out that my tears were for me. That I would try for over three years to understand you, to give you the space you needed so I could remain part of your life, to be satisfied with the box you were holding me in, just filled me with grief. Three years I could have spent loving myself, but instead wasted on loving you. Someone died. It was me. It was never us. There never was an “us.”
There is no need to recall the whole arc of this story. Suffice it to say I fell in love with someone who wasn’t real. You were merely a projection on a screen. A moving image that looks wonderful, but cannot reach back when one reaches out to touch it. Pure imagery. Imagery you willfully created based on your very strong ability to at least see what makes me happy, then conjure up the illusion that you are giving me what I want without actually giving me anything. Through this I validated you, gave you love, enabled you to appear to others as desirable and complete. This you stole from me without ever once giving me what I needed in return; love, respect, acceptance…anything. Trouble is, you do not have these things to give. I can see it now.
As I’ve been working on this post, I’ve find myself going back to the top daily. Every day I’ve learned so much about what happened between the two of us that the new knowledge had rendered everything I’d previously written obsolete. This must be the hundredth time in two months I’ve attempted this post. Today I finally stop seeking new insight. Today I just spill it, raw, incomplete. It will never be complete. New insight will most certainly come, but I feel I know enough now to tell my side of this miserable story. I don’t care if you ever read it. It’s not for you I write, but for me, and me alone.
It starts with myself, for in me are all the qualities a person like you needs to fuel your vacant life. I am a classic Meyers-Briggs ENFP (Extroverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving). I am an empath. From early childhood I’ve been programmed to subvert my own desires and needs for the betterment of whatever partnership I am involved in. I was taught to shine, but not too brightly, because it might cast a shadow on others whose lights may not burn as brightly. I learned my mantra, and believed in it wholeheartedly: “I’m happy if you’re happy.” But with your help I’ve finally discovered that this programmed approach to love and partnership would never work. It attracts people who want or need control, for whatever psychological reason, and what could be more attractive for a person like that than a man who tells you “I’m happy if you’re happy”? What inevitably happens is I become nothing. An empty vessel filled up with the needs of others. Unattractive because I’m just a mirror of all my counterparts’ needs and desires. It doesn’t matter who I am, but how I’m able to be your source of worship. I could be anyone with these qualities. My own personality is of no consequence, and eventually, ultimately, I am disposable.
I don’t know your Meyers-Briggs type. I do know you suffer with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, combined with Borderline Personality Disorder. Everything you do, every relationship you partake in, must be strictly controlled so it always reflects favorably on you and your desired image in the community. Your failed marriage was a crisis for you, not because you lost a loving partner, but because a divorced woman did not fit your template of moral superiority. How could your marriage fail if you were perfect? That’s what others must be saying, and this tainted image needed to be changed in order for you to function in your community. You had to publicly demonize your ex-husband as a pariah devoid of morality. It was astounding how far you went to rip your ex-husband to pieces. The fact that he actually was all the things you accused him of was not so much the point; that you had to tear him down publicly in order to maintain your “moral” image was actually frightening. I felt this way even when I was under your spell.
Your children must succeed where you did not. You only have a Bachelors Degree while everyone around you has a Masters or Ph.D. You’ve pushed your now adult children from infancy to be on the Ivy League track. This has nothing to do with the children themselves, but everything to do with you and the public image you have pursued for yourself. Your children must simply be accepted to an Ivy League school. I’m willing to bet you’d consider killing yourself if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted. It hurt me to the point of nausea to see how screwed up your children were…all because of you.
You grew up isolated in a large house, your only friend your nanny. Your next oldest sibling was 16 years older than you. Your first conscious experience in life was realizing you weren’t welcome in your own family, and that the best you could hope for, if everything went fine, was that you didn’t embarrass your mother more than the simple fact of your existence already did. If all went well, you could be a good reflection on her. You never learned how to trust anyone, let alone form a healthy attachment with another human being. I felt sorry for you. I understood you as only an empath could. I felt I could finally help you make that quantum leap from unloved and fearful to the person you were meant to be. I wanted to “fix” you and be the recipient of all the love you could give. It’s classic empathic thinking… sacrifice, help, teach, protect…all in the name of love. True love. I believed a deep connection existed between the two of us, and this connection must surely be good. But it was all just smoke and mirrors. It was all just a movie you were showing me, with a screenplay based on everything I was sharing with you. My life, your screenplay, written with the sole purpose of capturing me and putting me into a box.
How could I ever become attached to such a sick person? Here’s how: From the very moment we met I gave you the information you needed to set about bringing me in to your life, installing me perfectly in your world, just enough to satisfy you, yet only to a level safe enough for you to control. I let you know how I felt about you, deeply and with great detail. With this information, you were able to mold yourself into an image of what I found most desirable. You were soft, approachable, intelligent, well-read, sensitive, giving, sensuous, open-minded, liberal. Basically, like a chameleon, you became an image everything I ever dreamed of. You almost became me, which in hindsight is absolutely terrifying. But at the time, it worked magnificently. You drew me into you, knowingly, purposefully. You knew one of the most effective ways to implant your beauty inside me was through sex. I’d never made love with anyone who so perfectly fit my every desire. The few times we were able to spend significant amounts of time together we made love endlessly. It felt as if we were connecting on some deep, cosmic level I could never have imagined possible if it weren’t actually happening! After such times, and they were so, so few, we would part and I would leave you, glowing inside and out, and we would text each other for the next day or so exclaiming how vacant our physical world seemed when we weren’t together, so intimately connected as we were.
I never wanted to be apart from you. I was so completely hooked. I would have married you. I would have sacrificed things that were dear to me to be part of your daily life. But this is where the crisis began, where the fine polish of your plans for me began to flake away, showing the tarnish of your true self. And this is where your fantastical image of yourself became something that had to be maintained at all costs. This is where the truth began to reveal itself; truth that until just a few days ago I refused to see or believe. Your magic kept working long after it should have dissolved into the ether it came from.
How convenient it would have been for both of us if I wasn’t so deeply involved with finding my own happiness. Despite the great love I felt for you, I was also very aware of the dissatisfaction that came from loving you. My love was simply not being returned, and I pushed as hard and persistently as I could to find the key that would allow you to simply take the love I was offering you, to accept it, to see it as the great gift it was. Why couldn’t you love me as I loved you? I know now that you simply could not. You never learned what love is. Or perhaps you did know, but it scared you to death. To truly love you would have to let go of something; you would have to trust another person. I believe this simple thought terrified you. You would have had to open yourself, at least a bit, and allow me to have a glimpse into your soul. But you couldn’t even think of this. No one, not even you, would ever want a glimpse into that dark, black place where you kept your soul safely hidden. You kept your soul in a box, locked up and out of sight. And you wanted me to stay in the box you had created for me too, and I simply wouldn’t. In fact, everything in your life existed in its own little box, each uniquely designed to keep the genie of true connection safely in its bottle. Your marriage, your children, your image in the community…all boxed up for safety, controllable.
To make a list of all the significant events that occurred during our time together, both good and bad (and there were actually plenty of both) would be be nearly impossible, and it would be a major digression. But I will recall a few. To begin with, I’d like to confess that the box you kept me in was very beautiful. We had several lovely weekends together. Long passionate evenings followed by peaceful, passionate, languid mornings, lounging around in our robes and simply being together. You took me to your second home in Winthrop for four days, and in addition to the usual passion, we went hiking, visited the local brewery, got really drunk, and basically had a marvelous time (except for me spraining my finger falling down a mountain slope).
You came to several opening nights of shows I was playing. I was so proud of myself; you truly are a beautiful human being. I can honestly say you were beautiful inside and out, and to be in public with you filled me with intense joy.
Early on during our time together we exchanged “manifestos” intended to fully inform each other of what mattered most to us. The hope was this information would keep our love growing in a positive direction. I believe now that this was part of your “mirroring” of me…saying what I wanted to hear, actually saying what I would say, as a means of capturing me. I don’t believe you truly meant anything you wrote in your manifesto, but the sharing of these documents is something I’ll always remember fondly. Something I will never do is go back to reread what we wrote. Yours was nothing but lies…although I’m sure you wouldn’t agree. One thing I do recall is you telling me once you were “very clear” about the temporary nature of our love. You told me you wrote this in your manifesto. But you didn’t.
You had parties, and you made me feel like a guest of honor at all of them. But these events always left me sad in the end. They gave me a glimpse of domesticity with you, which was one of the ways I felt I wanted to express this love I felt for you. Because you were terrified of such a thing with me, the memories of these events will always be tainted by what was being denied me.
One time I got really sick and you paid for a doctor visit to a specialist outside my network. It was significant. During one of the times we were “broken up,” I thanked you for this. Your response was, “That’s what you do for the people you love.” You made such ironic comments frequently, and they always stunned me. True, it was a loving gesture to pay for this doctor; but nearly everything else a loved one does you were very good at not doing…and justifying.
Early on we worked at coordinating our calendars so that our child-free weekends would coincide. This activity, “calendaring,” made me very happy. But so many of our weekends together were torpedoed by your twisted idea of co-parenting. You told me you hated your ex-husband, that he was a poor moral example for “your girls,” and that you loathed the idea of them living with him at all, even part-time. You worked double-overtime to keep the girls with you. You would sabotage their dad’s time even before it happened, making it difficult for the girls to go to his house. If they actually did go to his house they would call you in panic over the slightest thing, and you’d be out the door in an instant to bring them back. Sometimes this would happen before I actually got to your house, and I’d have to accept that the weekend together was off. Other times it happened while I was with you, and I’d have to throw my clothes back on and head home. I was very open with my frustration with this, but you dismissed my frustration with a simple, “My children are more important than you are.” As a parent myself, such a statement is easy to make and easy to understand. But in your case, it was way more complicated. You were, and probably still are, using your children as a means to your own twisted ends. Such weekend interruptions were all about you, your image, keeping me at arm’s length, and using your children to take care of everything at once. And me? I was tossed out, cold, angry, disappointed, frustrated.
I was never allowed near your children, except in artificially constructed situations. I was never allowed to show you any affection in their presence. I didn’t like your children. They are spoiled, entitled, ugly human beings. Funny… it is so important that they reflect well on you; either they do, which doesn’t make you look too good, or they don’t, in which case you failed. I only ever met your sister once, and your nephew, a famous mountaineer. The fact that I was allowed to meet any of your family is odd. I think you knew these two would approve of me, while you felt the rest of your family would not. This made me aware of your own sense of entitlement, and your own struggles with narcissism in your family. I myself cannot imagine choosing my partners based on what my family might think of them. My mother is very vocal and critical of my life choices, but I still do what I want and live with whom I choose. One time when I was trying to describe my frustration with you, I mentioned it would go a long way if you “came out” about me to your family. Your answer was telling. “I know they wouldn’t approve of you.” I’m sure most of your family had no clue you were ever seeing anyone while you were “with” me. I asked you every year to join my family for Thanksgiving or other holidays. The answer was always no, and your children were the nominal reason for you not being able to become part of my family, even superficially. You had to have your kids to “save” them from their father, and they wouldn’t enjoy my family anyway. Such beautiful children.
For nearly the entire time we were “together,” you kept telling me you felt I was hiding something from you. You would tell me there wasn’t enough “data” on me yet to make a full commitment. I had the constant feeling that I was being judged, that someday I’d do something in your presence that would allow you to see who I really was. For me this was so absurd I had absolutely no weapons with which to combat it. I was always, am always, simply who I am, and I never tried to pretend otherwise, or to withhold anything from you. I was, in fact, the opposite of secretive, about everything in my life. In hindsight, I know you were able to use my openness to fabricate the box you kept me in. So it’s simply absurd that you could think I was hiding something, that I had some ulterior motive for being with you that needed to be dug out in order for us to become “us.” One time you said to me, “You left your wife. What part of ‘until death do us part’ do you not understand?” This was the only time you ever said out loud that you considered yourself morally superior to me. But it was a very clearly stated declaration of moral superiority. I should have walked away right then, but I really was in your thrall. I didn’t feel I needed to prove my moral worth to you, but I should have realized right then that you were the one struggling with your own morality, and that, perhaps just like everything else you thought about me, this was what you actually thought about yourself, not me. I’ve learned so much since then.
Why would you bother with love at all? Why even pretend you wanted it? Why go to the incredible trouble you did to create even a faux version of it for yourself? I know I will never know what it was you got from me, why you went to such trouble to have me, even to the marginal extent that I was, in your life. I can only speculate. I must seek my own closure, because asking you for a truthful answer would be an exercise in absolute futility.
I believe you really did love me is the only answer that makes any sense. I’ve read about narcissists needing a source of energy. I’ve heard the term “narc-pire;” people sucking life out of others as some twisted source of life-giving sustenance. If this is truly what narcissists are doing, I simply must admit I don’t get it. There must be something else motivating you poor people.
I think if I could diagnose you (and I admit there’s a lot that goes into a diagnosis that I have no clue about or the qualifications to undertake) I would put you pretty high up on the narcissism spectrum. Your obsession with how others see you is just too all pervasive to deny. You exhibit all major traits of someone suffering with NPD. Not merely narcissism, but the full disorder. However, I believe you believe there is room in your life for someone else, and that this is a value you desire for yourself. I really do believe you loved me, but such a realization for yourself did not bring you joy; it scared the hell out of you. The fact that it was me is also significant. I am a very intense person; I fall in love completely. I made you know, and I know that you knew, there was no halfway with me; that I would never be satisfied with any limits, especially the severe limits you were putting on me. We both knew it would be all or nothing. While I was constantly struggling for all, you were constantly seeking for a way to enjoy what you could from me without ever letting me touch that dark empty space in your soul. I must have been the personification of terror for you and your carefully constructed world.
I interpret now, from the safe distance of over 20 months’ hindsight, that what you really struggle with is complete, all-encompassing, debilitating fear. Understanding your childhood is key. The fear of abandonment you feel must be very real. To trust another human being with your emotional safety is simply beyond your comprehension. You exhibit many of the traits of Borderline Personality Disorder as well, and it very well may be that it is BPD that really kept you from being able to love me or accept any kind of love at all in your life. The fact that you were able to let me anywhere near you I take as a testament to my basic, decent qualities. I believe I brought you closer to understanding the value of love than you’ve ever been. I cannot blame you for being unable to accept me or my love in the end. This is the simple truth I must live with. Trying to coax you over that final threshold was futile; a doomed effort that would have destroyed both of us. I would probably recover, as I have, but you probably wouldn’t. Unless, somehow, I was able to shelter you from fear. But that would be the empath’s doom. You’d never be able to give me what I wanted: complete, total commitment.
You wanted me in a box that you could open when you felt able, when it was convenient, or maybe even when you felt strong enough to take a risk. But you knew I’d never be satisfied in that box, and you knew if you really opened the box and set me free, blind fear would jump out to greet you. If I could find a way to tell you, if there was some way for it to make sense, I’d tell you I was honored you felt strongly enough about me to go to the trouble of building a box for me. But there’s the thing: it made sense for you, while it sucked the life out of my soul.
It is not for me to pass judgment on you. Even so, I would be more likely to judge you with compassion. I really feel, deep down inside, despite the pain and frustration, that you were truthful when you told me you loved me “as much as you could.” That we are not together, and never were truly together, is something for which I am extremely grateful. We would have destroyed each other, I’m sure of it. Instead, I live on, as do you. I am now as clear as I’ve ever been about who I am and what I need. I’m much more wary of people who say they love me but really don’t (or can’t). I’ve learned to fill myself up, and to keep myself half-full with my own love of self. To drain myself for the sake of another has proven to be my continuous downfall. No more. Never. I have you to thank for this.