It made me feel grown up to celebrate a one year anniversary with my first real boyfriend, despite the fact that I was barely fifteen. It made me feel mature that we had been carrying on a long-distance relationship for a year. We started dating two days before I moved from Southern California, my home for ten years, to Bald Knob, Arkansas, the place I had been born, the place my mother had forced me to return to as a freshman in high school.
We mailed each other anniversary gifts that we opened while on the phone with each other that evening. FaceTime didn’t exist then, and Skype was clumsy and slow, even with the best Internet Bald Knob could provide. Inside my box from him was a pretty ring. Inexpensive, but pretty. I slipped it on my finger and stared at it, imagining future engagement and wedding rings. I know I spent most of the day wishing we were together, making out, having sex, doing what normal teenagers did. Though I told everyone gloatingly that it meant we loved each other more that we could stand to be apart, all I really wanted was to have him with me.
That level of dependency—I should have known it was dangerous, but I was fifteen then. Fifteen-year-olds are much more likely to notice that his mother tells you to call her suegra, or mother-in-law, than to sniff out an unhealthy relationship. I was more focused on the fact that he always looked and smelled amazing than the fact that he demanded I stay on the phone with him for hours a day. I cared much more that he called me “princess” than I did that he didn’t want me to hang out with anyone, not even my best girlfriend.
It was a year and two weeks later that we broke up. I wish I had known in 2007 that that day in 2008 was coming. I could have steeled myself. I could have gone into it with my shoulders back. Instead, I walked into it blindly, walked into months of turbulent storms without so much as an umbrella to hold over my head.
He didn’t like it when I turned sixteen and got my first job. I couldn’t talk to him as much, and when I did, I often fell asleep on the phone because I was so tired from work and school. A month after I got my first job, Twilight was premiering, and I was stupidly excited to see it. My best friend and I bought tickets weeks in advance, and to my surprise, my boyfriend didn’t protest. I thought maybe he saw how excited I was and accepted that, even though he didn’t like me going out, this was something I should be “allowed” to do.
Turns out, he really just hadn’t been listening. A week before the movie came out, he told me that if I went to the movie, we were going to break up.
“No we aren’t,” I said, laughing. He told me we would. He told me the same thing two days before the movie, and I found myself giving less and less of a shit. If my boyfriend of two years would break up with me over something so trivial, I reasoned, why was I dating him? Finally, indignation was rearing its ferocious head, and I started to see a little fire in myself, a little individuality, all because of a movie with a cult-like following.
The day of the premiere, I called him and told him to have a good night and that I would talk to him the next day.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“To see Twilight.”
“I thought we decided you weren’t doing that?”
Pause. “No, we did not decide that.” I could almost see his mouth in a straight line if I closed my eyes.
“If you go, it’s over.”
I took a deep breath and took the first step to becoming the woman I am now, ten years later.
“I guess it’s over then,” I said, and I hung up.
A few months later, I took that pretty little ring from its hiding place in my room and slipped it into my pocket, where I kept it all day long, feeling it against my thigh. That evening, I walked outside on my new boyfriend’s parents’ deck and threw the ring into the woods.
Ten years and two additional serious relationships later, I don’t fixate on engagement and wedding rings. I don’t obsess over babies, and I don’t dwell on forevers, not that these aren’t things I might want out of life. Instead, I think about writing and reading and traveling and what my soul looks like on the inside. I think about things I have allowed people to say to me and ways I have allowed myself to be treated, and it seems like some other, foreign person allowed those things. I walk now with my shoulders back, and if I see a storm coming, you best believe I am equipped with an umbrella.
Breana Steele received her undergraduate degree in English from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2014 and her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2016. Her work has been featured in xoJane and in Sibling Rivalry Press's recent anthology If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of an American Inauguration. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, in a house full to the brim with books and pets.
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