The Other Woman

In the months following our break up, it was her I hated, the woman that came after.  Though it was him that left me suicidal, desperate for pharmaceutical grade serotonin and a mental-health professional for the first time.  

Without a hint of emotion, he left me to walk our neighborhood park where he called her, as if nothing had happened, because to him I was nothing. Meanwhile I lay crying fetal on the floor in the house he and I shared, repeating the words I'd gasped out to him before he turned his back and closed the door on me, "I'm scared for myself, please help, don’t go."

He did go. He went to her. And it was easier to hate her, this person who now had what I once loved.  As I struggled for months to so much as get out of bed, to force toast down my throat, to remember the little things like my phone number and what bus to take to work; simplicity was key.

This was a woman I'd never met; he’d kept us far away from the other so that he could convince me she was everything I wasn't. As if there wasn’t enough love to go around for both of us, as if one of us needed to win.  And I believed it. She was the pawn to make me feel even more worthless, more of a failure. And I fell for it. I got distracted aiming my sadness at her as if it were her fault that he's an abusive narcissist.

I hadn't stumbled on that logic or label yet—narcissist—the word that would be the puzzle piece to bring closure and clarity to our time together. But in those early, raw moment, it still all felt like my fault. I was too needy, too horny, too emotional, too much. When in reality I was just me.  He was the one that needed changing. Too little empathy, too little emotion, too little humanity to be trusted around others, or to be allowed access to the hearts of  real people in all our complexities.

I hate myself for falling for one of the oldest tricks bad men play by taking the bait and hating the new woman instead of the man at fault. She did nothing but fall for the same lie I did. The lie of that mutual ex being a decent person, worthy of love or attention. The lie that he had something to give, that he wasn't just using us to feed his bottomless hungry ego.

Neither of us women understood then that he was just a fantasy, an elaborate trap to lure us in.  A dangerous trap that would close its teeth around us once we were vulnerable, belly exposed, and in love with this man that claimed to see us, love us like no one else before.  A man who understood and was passionate and present. This only lasted as long as it took to get us close, then facade fell down and we saw his monstrousness, the cage he had placed us in on that pedestal he would threaten to yank out from under us at any moment. Ready to add us to the long list of crazy exs, as he moved on to a shiny new thing.

And oh she was shiny. He has great taste in women.  He chose someone that was already everything I struggled to be: published writer, confident on stage, storyteller, goofball. He couldn't have picked a sharper knife to cut me through with.

And I fell for it. Instead of warning her of what was to come after seeing the train wrecks he left behind and still I was stuck on him...idiot. Instead of helping the sisterhood out, I seethed. Easier to hate someone I didn't know than the evil who still lived down the hall. Even as he gave me a break up mixed tape for our birthday, claiming I was reading too much into it. They were just songs and this was just me being a harpy again. Even as he ruined that birthday by scaring away the pile of girlfriends holding me, giving me affection and kisses, all the things he'd been withholding for months. Even then it was her I focused on.

Grief is a form of madness.  And even after a friend came and dragged me up off the floor, put me in her guest room and sewed me back together enough with kindness that I could find a new place to live, to leave his abyss, I was still sick with him.  Most of me wanted to find a way to get him back, to figure out where I had gone wrong, how I could change enough to be loveable.  I thought no one would ever understand me, fuck me, go on adventures with me as he had.

With enough therapy and distraction, added to the distance that the passing of time provides, I became sane again.  I moved on and he became a story that I told, a person I crossed the street from when I saw him in this small town we share.  That was all he was, a mistake, a memory.  I healed and met people who were capable of love and intimacy. 

Sometimes I would see them together, my ex and his new love and I would wonder about her.  Did she know the secret to making herself loveable enough for him to stay and be kind? Or would it be just a matter of time before he played his evil tricks on her?  I wasn’t strong enough to walk up and ask, even a year later it hurt too much to get close to anything that had touched him.

One day I got an email from her and I panicked, she wouldn’t be writing me if all was well.  Without reading her message I knew and hated myself for not warning her.  Hated myself for wasting any energy on hating her.  She had never deserved my anger.  She and I were always on the same team, more alike than I could have imagined.  And now she was in the same place I was a little over a dozen months before and I was powerless to help.  The time for my aide had come and gone.  All I could do now was send her words of comfort and learn the lesson. Learn to hate the man in the equation if hate was needed.

And now another year has passed and the other woman and I are not others.  Instead we’re on the same team, traveling through healing on the same path, sharing our stories with one another to make sense of the madness he caused in both of us. And the wicked web he’s currently wrapping around his next victim, we wait and hope for the best for her.

It’s rare but this story has a happy ending, this woman and I can now call each other friend for which I'm grateful.  He really does have amazing taste in women, I’ll give him that.  She’s a powerhouse of awesome, as are the women who came before me.  All of us living out the ultimate form of revenge by living life well, fully, and without him.  He tried to break us but the joke is on him because he succeeded instead in making us friends, opening our worlds, providing us a community full of everything he lacks.

I’m no longer afraid of that break-up-iversary coming around this year.