“I gave you up for Lent.” He takes a swig of his beer, a drag of his cigarette. He’s naked, and my eyes fall to his round belly, his husky build. I think about how much I missed this body. He says it matter-of-factly, like there’s no further explanation needed. It’s the verbal equivalent of a shrug. I gave you up for Lent, *shrug.* We are sitting in his room. It is sometime in the early morning hours, when most of the world is asleep. Or maybe dawn is breaking, and people are beginning to rise to head to work. I bend down and do a line of cocaine off the counter. My breasts swing forward, heavy. I inhale deeply and feel the familiar trickle down the back of my throat. “You what?” It’s the first time we’ve spoken — let alone seen each other — in 40 days. Previously, our biweekly meetups had stopped suddenly. My texts went unanswered. I thought I’d been ghosted. I sent an embarrassing number of drunk text messages, and left an even more embarrassing number of incoherent voicemails. I got nothing in return. Then, seemingly out of the blue, his name appeared on my phone. It was 4 a.m., and the words were familiar — “Hey, want to come over?” Our relationship had never been particularly healthy. We met in a bar and bonded over cocaine, hard drinking, and rough sex. We’d go home together after the bar closed and stay up all night, talking, screwing, drinking, snorting. Repeat, ad nauseam.
Our relationship had never been particularly healthy. We met in a bar and bonded over cocaine, hard drinking, and rough sex.
Aside from the partying, we didn’t really have much in common. I’d been thrilled to cast my vote for President Barack Obama when he won his first term. He preferred Sen. John McCain of Arizona. I dressed to stand out in a crowd, flaunting bright colors, loud patterns, and sky-high heels. He’d prefer to enter a room unnoticed, wearing T-shirts and jeans. I was a gossip, a loudmouth, and a drama queen. He coveted privacy and discretion. Our relationship never really made sense to anyone that wasn’t in it. Most of the time, it didn’t even make sense to us. “I can’t be seen with you in public if you’re going to dress like that. I’m sorry.” I looked at him in disbelief. “Are you really breaking up with me because my clothes are too flashy?” Yes, he was. He said I embarrassed him in front of his friends with the outfits I wore. I felt like a child who had been scolded by a parent. I said I would dress differently, if he’d just change his mind. I was desperate to hold onto him, to keep him. But it didn’t matter; his decision was final. He wasn’t kidding when he said that he wouldn’t be seen with me in public dressing the way I did. After we broke up, he hardly ever spoke to me in front of other people. Twice a week, we hung out in the same bar — the bar where we’d met. He stayed on one end, with his friends; I sat at the bar, talking to mine. I spent most of the night hoping that something would change, that he would walk over, and say "Hi," sit down, have a drink, put his arm around me, and smile. I’d try to make eye contact or find any excuse to try to talk to him. I hoped he’d acknowledge me. I laughed too loudly and flirted too aggressively. Instead, every night at closing time, my phone would light up. “Hey, want to come over?” This continued for over three years. We each slept with other people, but not many. We were each other’s constants. No matter who else we were seeing, we still had each other. Week after week, I’d go to his place in the dead of night. I’d leave other dates with very nice guys — guys who were actually into me, and who had no problem being seen with me in public — to sneak into his house, careful not to wake his roommates. I hoped that he would wake up one morning and realize that he really wanted to be with me. I figured that having him like this was better than not having him at all. I took him in whatever way I could get him. And so we’d drink, use, bang, talk, and pass out. Sometime in the middle of the night, I’d sneak down and steal a pickle from his roommate to replenish my electrolytes. I began parking down the street so his roommates wouldn’t know I was there. They didn’t think what we were doing was healthy. No one did, really. I didn’t care. It was the only way I could have him.
I spand that having him like this was better than not having him at all.
The afternoons that we’d wake up and he didn’t immediately kick me out were my favorites. They gave me hope, and let me keep thinking that maybe one day things would be different. Maybe one day this would all be real. The longer this went on, the crazier I became. Aside from his roommates, very few people knew that we were still spending at least one night per week together. To the rest of the world, I was just a pathetic girl who simply couldn’t get over him. I was the unhinged ex yelling, "Why don’t you just go home with her already!” across the bar, as he chatted up another woman. I was the scorned lover who couldn’t move on, who sent texts at all hours of the night, begging to see him. I wore the bruises from our rough encounters like badges of honor. I flaunted them as proof that we’d been together. He gave me this bruise two nights ago when we were having sex. See, it’s not over. We’re not over. He’s mine, so back off. But it seemed that neither of us could really quit each other. You generally don’t give something up for Lent unless it’s hard for you to do — a vice, I guess. And that’s what we were. We were each other’s vices. We weren’t necessarily good for each other, but we didn’t know how to leave each other alone. I tried, I really did. I dated other people, but continued sleeping with him behind their backs. I’d leave dates to meet him when he beckoned me. I told myself it was the sex that kept me going back. And that was part of it, sure. But the truth was, I needed the validation. I needed to feel worthy. I needed to hold onto him as proof that I was desirable. When he called, I could finally exhale. I was good enough. In those moments, in those hours, I was enough. It took me moving across the country for us to finally break our ties, though it wasn’t immediate. For about a year, we texted each other, drunkenly, at 4 a.m. We wished each other “Happy Birthday.” We let each other know that we were thinking about them. The texts got further and further apart. Eventually, they almost stopped altogether. You know, it’s funny. Even after all this time, with all this distance, I still think about him and smile. The story of the time someone gave me up for Lent is one of my favorites to tell. It’s something only he would do. Today, we’re both happily and healthily partnered with other people. We text twice a year — on our birthdays. To the rest of the world, it was pure dysfunction. To us, I truly believe that it was some kind of love.