He danced with me on an empty, pin-drop quiet street in Lagos into the small hours of the morning, moving me through yellow-dim lighting with his breath against my ear, hand below my waist. I miss being spun by him. He understood, intimately, the poetry with which I want to move through life, chasing beauty as far as my legs can carry me.
I learned a lot from him.
I especially loved his name, and would tell him so often. In Igbo culture, we believe your name is your destiny, but his name was a trick.
Him: "I’ve finally figured out what you smell like: 4 p.m — like there’s a little bit of work left to do, but you’re almost home free.”
My past had two people in common with his present. Two men I had been involved with. One turned out to be his friend from school and the other, a close friend of mine. He pretended like he could move past it but instead used it like a stick to beat me with every day.
“You embarrass me.”
“I’m afraid that if we walk into a party together, you will have slept with all my friends in the room.”
The problem was that his words stuck to everything. They clung desperately to the hems of my skirts, were woven into the fabric of my duvet, and tacked to the walls of my cheeks. The rest of our relationship was me trying to quell the feeling that I’d left the stove on. It always felt like things were never settled. He told me I was his karma, a special serving of hell for crimes he'd committed. He knew the truth, but exchanged it for a lie that made it easier for him to treat me badly.
I will never forget the anxiety of him. That immense, perfunctory wishing well into which all my coins disappeared.
Abuse is a process of slow conditioning. When someone repeats the same terrible things to you over and over again, you begin to think they might be right. I remember when I finally realized he was a dangerous person to believe in. I told myself to start writing things down, because I knew my memory would play tricks under his fog.
“Maybe it’ll make sense one day,” he would say to me. This was one of the many excuses for his bad behavior, inconsistency, and unreliability. He was the smoke, the mirror, and the fire. I will never forget the anxiety of him; that immense, perfunctory wishing well into which all my coins disappeared.
“I don’t want to do this anymore. I met someone… With her I’ve found peace, among other things I couldn’t find with you.”
It wasn’t until around 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day when he told me the truth, but, it turns out, our bodies can know things before they happen.
For the longest time I couldn’t process him. It felt like trying to drain an ocean of hurt, one bucket at a time. At the end of the day I would find myself on my back, exhausted. Maybe because I was trying to lie to myself? A good decision that doesn’t work can quickly begin to look like a bad one — but I’ve resolved myself not to judge the quality of this decision on the outcome. I fought for the best thing I had ever seen (him), and the best I had ever felt (being with him). He'd been my most passionate love, but in the end took from me what passion demands: a pound of flesh.
When thinking of him I still feel many things. The warmth of my head against his heart. The longing to feel the magic of a soulmate. The anger that he couldn’t be better for me. The shame that I stayed with him for so long. But finally, breaking through my crowded room of feelings, is gratitude for the kind of love that brought tears to my eyes. I learned that it’s possible to hold complex, seemingly contradictory feelings in the same hand.
There may come a time very soon when I look on him with great kindness. But for now, he's a tornado, swirling recklessly through my memory. He sneaks in when it’s warm out, only to leave a painful history of shattered emotions. He's a sensitive man, and probably thinks about the broken pieces of people he has left in his wake. I don’t blame him for anything, mainly because I don’t want want to be stuck with my memories of him. I take full responsibility for my hopeful, magical thinking. Real people, down here on earth, don't have the ability to turn stone into bread.
This story was published in response to Human Parts’ Weekend Writing Prompt, “Give us a snapshot, a moment, an experience from a life you could’ve had. What are you up to out there in the multiverse? What would Multiverse You think of the life you have right now?” To receive prompts like this one every weekend, subscribe to our newsletter by following Human Parts.