Friends Don’t Let Friends Date People From West County
We drive into his gated community in Chesterfield, Missouri, and he tells me that this is where some of the St. Louis Cardinals players live. I look around at all of the mansions, in awe of the fact that people really live this way. Just a few minutes into this drive, and I know. This is not a place for a poor woman from the south suburbs of Chicago. This is not a place for me.
He takes me on a tour of this estate he calls a home. I notice an intercom system planted in the walls, and I wonder how many secrets are trapped in them. How can you learn to communicate properly when you don’t even have to be in the same room with someone to talk to them?
The kitchen has ceilings high enough to hold the year and a half of pent up anger shared between us and enough room for two different refrigerators. And yet, I can’t find a space for myself here anywhere.
I’m standing in this kitchen with the person I am supposed to spend the rest of my life with. He is making us Turkish coffee and going on and on about it, but all I can think about is how I feel like I am suffocating.
I drink the coffee, but I can’t even remember if it was something that I wanted. I look at him standing in front of me, and I wonder if this was at one point something that I wanted.
We sit on a sofa that barely allows enough room for one year and a half’s worth of arguments to sit comfortably between us. We don’t engage in small talk; every topic always seems to bother him. I have learned that not speaking around him tends to keep him the happiest, so I always do my best to stay quiet. Some days, I wish I could disappear entirely.
I am stuck. Firmly planted in a place I never imagined I would be, sitting next to a person I barely even recognize. I think back to all of the chances I had in the past to leave him. I wonder why I continually choose a person I do not actually believe is in love with me.
We are so young. And we are both so angry. He is mad because I am not the obedient, carefree woman of his dreams, and I am mad because he is not the nice man I bragged to my friends and family about dating all of those months ago.
Sipping my coffee and staring across the room, I search for a way out. I never should have called him back the night he showed up on my doorstep. I should have left the past in the past. I should have finally let myself breathe. One month of freedom was not enough time. One month of remembering who I was before he ruined me did not bring me the comfort I needed to get through this.
I think about how wrong it is for me to see this relationship as something I need to get through. To survive.
I am sitting on a couch in what should feel like a dream home next to the person I am supposed to be in love with, but I am drowning.
The table I delicately place my coffee cup on costs the same as one year of my college tuition. There’s a wine cellar in the basement that is worth more than I will ever be. The phrase “friends don’t let friends date people from West County” creeps into my mind, and I wish that I wouldn’t have laughed when everyone told me that. I should have heeded the warning and run.
If I had listened, I wouldn’t be frozen on a couch in a mansion with a man, both of which are trying to consume me. I wouldn’t be staring into this cup of coffee like all of the answers I have been praying for the entirety of this relationship might finally be found there. If I had listened, I never would have lost myself.
I cannot see a future in these coffee grounds, but maybe there is a reason for that.
We sit down to have dinner, but all I can do is stare at my plate. My mind tells my hands to pick up the fork and eat the food he placed in front of me, but I am frozen. It has been a year and a half, and I still don’t feel comfortable eating in front of him. He does not understand my eating disorder, and I do not understand how he cannot feel any empathy for me. He tells me that he can’t stay in a relationship with someone who won’t take care of herself. I want to ask him why he decided to come back to me then, but instead of talking, all I do is cry.
I am in his world now, and I do not make sense here. No matter how many times we try to rearrange the equation, the result is always the same: failure. I have spent the last year and a half trying to mold myself into his version of the perfect woman, but every time I think I have finally done it, everything comes undone. I go to put in the final missing piece, but instead of completing the puzzle, it explodes.
Most of my time is now spent doing things I do not want to do, in hopes of finally making him happy. I listen to stories about coffee that I do not care about. I drink more alcohol than I ever would have chosen to on my own. I only wear the colors of lingerie he likes best, and I do not dare stand up for myself in any of these situations. If this is what it means to be in love, then I think I would prefer to just always be alone.
He manages to provide me with minimal comfort from an unenthusiastic hug as I cry and desperately cling to him. We continue on with the rest of our night as if none of this ever happened. Our entire relationship has always depended so heavily on pretending.
I pretend that it is normal to be dating someone for this long and still not know what their favorite color is. I pretend to be okay with the fact that he gets so drunk that he can’t even form actual words. I pretend that I am not afraid of the future whenever he tells me that we will never break up. I pretend that this is what I have always wanted, even when everything feels like a nightmare.
But I don’t think my acting skills are quite what they used to be. Four years of technical theatre school have taught me how to stay quiet in the background. I have lost myself entirely, and I cannot keep this act up much longer. My words and my actions say one thing, but my eyes tell an entirely different story. If you look at them, they are hollow. They are exhausted. They are so tired of trying to make things work.
We go to bed, and I turn my back to him so I can get some sleep. He notices the shift in my movement, and I can tell he is unhappy about it. There is a part of me that knows I could turn back around and be close to him. I could once again do what he wanted, while continuing to sacrifice my own needs.
I do not turn back to face him. I hope he knows now what it feels like to be the one left behind.