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When Brian began to end his infrequent telephone calls from Argentina with the word "Ciao," I made a mental note: Itís over. He had traveled down in September and within two weeks had become Eurotrash. "I cannot be with a man who says, 'Ciao,'" I told myself. I thought it was a funny thing to say, to think, but I also meant it wholeheartedly. I have a copy editorís mind. I can be cruel about such things.
On Thanksgiving Day, while my father and his wife were visiting me, Brian called collect from Argentinaóhe always called collectóand said, "Iím never coming back and this is the last time Iím going to speak to you."
"Wait a minute," I said. I was hissing into the phone, angry and trying to whisper so that my father wouldnít hear. My stepmother. I cannot bear to be embarrassed, and how embarrassing this was, to be broken up with in this cavalier way, as if seven going on eight years counted for absolutely nothing. We were married, for fuckís sake. Not that it meant anything to anybody, since we never told, but you canít break up with your wife on the fucking phone, can you? Jesus Christ.
What I understood at that moment, and understood even better later, was that he was a coward and the reason he thought he couldnít talk to me ever again was because he was afraid of me, and especially afraid of the power he thought I could exert over him. If he let me talk, I might talk him out of it. So instead of saying exactly what I was feeling, I had to be reasonable, and calm him down enough to agree that this would not be our final phone call, since I did not even have the luxury of privacy. No fair. And to this, he relented.
He might not agree, he might not remember it the same way, but the way I remember it, I let him go easy. I didnít fight very hard. I didn't fight for "us." I had started letting go before the phone call, but the way he did it hurt me terribly. I had been writing him long letters, but I wouldn't mail them. I still have them, in fact, sealed up in a Ziploc bag. Because I knew, you see? But the way he did it was so disrespectful. I didnít know what to do with that knowledge. I thought I deserved more, and to be taught otherwise was a blow to my self-esteem from which I have never recovered. It made me feel like a joke. Like an afterthought. A joke. My friend Birgit kept urging me to try to get him back. "You have to try," she'd say over and over again. We had become close because her boyfriend had broken up with her around the same time, and since her strategy was to try to get him back, she showered me with this same advice week in and week out. She read my tarot cards obsessively, sometimes four, five, six times in a row, always coming to the same conclusion: I should try to get Brian back.
But I refused. I would do no such thing because he had behaved badly, he had been a coward, made me look bad, embarrassed me, and he had said "Ciao." I couldnít be with a man who suddenly started saying "Ciao." It was too embarrassing. He was a foolish man, I decided. He had made a joke of himself and I didnít want him back, no matter how much I still loved him.
The pain I felt was excruciating. It's hard to make myself think about it because I know that if I get close to remembering, it will come back and hurt me again. I may be over him but I am not over the hurt of it. I still dream about him, not because he is a real person to me anymore--I don't believe he is--but because his rejection of me is so enormous in my mind that the very thought of him, his name, his face, conjures up every insecurity I own. In my dreams, he represents the critic. But he wasn't a critic--it's ME. I am the critic who sees all my failings, but I put his face on the critic because he rejected me. He left me for reasons that had to do with him, not me, but it's convenient for me to imagine otherwise, in my dreams, and torment myself with this critic-figure before whom I embarrass myself again and again. I start to say that he judges me, in my dreams, but it is really me judging; me who finds fault with myself.
Ugh, this is completely unreadable. I'm writing in the box, too, which is unforgiveable.
All I want to do right now is stand up and move away from this keyboard before I get too close to that place. To Iowa. I think I will get up. Iím not anxious to go there tonight. Another time, perhaps. I have to get my son to preschool in the morning; I canít stay up crying until my eyes are swollen shut.