There are a lot of things I could have written about February 26th, 2010. Because I am an avid journaler, I documented what happened that day. I know that Michael's sister was visiting, and I was terrified because she was bringing her children. I was, and always have been, awkward and terrible with kids. Even now, as a 33-year-old woman, I never volunteer to hold my friends’ newborns or offer to babysit. It’s not that I don’t like kids, necessarily. It’s that I don’t know what to do with them; I don’t know how to be around them.
Perhaps the same could be said about me with Michael. Ten years ago, I was afraid that every move I made would be a reason for Michael to break up with me. We’d only been dating four months—which was a drop in the hat compared to the six-year relationship I had with my ex-fiancé—but already I could feel him pulling away. At that time in my life, I still believed if I worked hard enough, I could get what I wanted in life, like a marriage proposal (before my fiancé and I broke up), or my dream job (before I was laid off), or admittance to grad school.
On that February day when his sister came to visit, I was prepared to make a good impression. “How do I get children to like me?” I asked my friends.
“Be yourself!” they said, then immediately took it back. “Bring gifts. Something small and age-appropriate.”
I heeded their advice, though it turns out Michael’s nieces and nephew didn’t require bribes. In fact, the kids presented me with a gift: a 15x20in stenciled poster of a flying dragon they’d all picked out for me at a Chinese festival. It was a poster I could color. To this day, I proudly tell my friends, “I colored this at Dartmouth,” which makes them question my Ivy League education.
Michael never told me he loved me. But I loved him because of the stories he wrote about his family, especially his grandfather and his dogs; I loved his Rhode Island accent, even though he cursed like a sailor; I loved how sexy he was, rivaling a “Greek god” (to quote a male Chinese student) with long, dark curly hair and Spartan-like abs; I loved him for his modesty, that he would honest-to-God blush if you told him he was hot. In fact, when the students in our graduate program nicknamed him “Hot Mike,” he made me swear to never call him that.
My ex-fiancé would have mandated I call him that.
Michael was everything my ex-fiancé wasn’t. He never acted jealous; he didn’t use manipulation to control what I wore or who I talked to; he owned more books than I did, and actually read them; he was a gifted writer who understood grammar rules. Michael wore clothes until they had holes in them, could kick a soccer ball harder than I’d ever seen—with his left foot, no less—and held his liquor so well I never knew he was drunk. Ten years ago, I didn’t recognize the signs for alcoholism, or know that alcoholics weren’t always aggressive or destructive, except perhaps to themselves. It never occurred to me that Michael might have been pulling away because of who he was rather than because of something I had done.
A month later, just before April, Michael broke up with me. It was the only “official” time we broke up. We continued to see each other on and off for nearly three years. In the summer of 2011 we shared an apartment together while he was in-between housing. Before we graduated in 2012, I wrote him a string of love letters in the style of journal entries—since he knew I obsessively wrote everything down—and Micahel showed them to his sister. He told me she cried.
In the last ten years, I haven’t dated anyone seriously. Even when I was with Michael, he was more of an apparition than a boyfriend; I knew one day I would reach out to touch him he simply wouldn’t be there. But I thought that in ten years, we’d either be married to each other, or I’d be over him. Neither is true.
The Chinese poster I colored still hangs in my kitchen, reminding me of a time when I was innocent, unaware of how much heartache lie ahead of me. But perhaps my story is like that poster. I can choose to leave it with gaping holes, white space between black lines, or I can choose to give it color.
Jenny Currier is a dolphin trainer turned writer who has strong feelings for gelato. She regularly contributes to Rhode Island publications, such as Motif Magazine, Providence Monthly, and East Side Monthly, and her stories have appeared in The Boston Globe, The Sunlight Press, and Vagabond Magazine. Her current aim is to find an agent and publish a travel memoir-ish book about Greece. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @travelingfoodwriter and Twitter @jennycurrier.
One charity she supports is water.org. Today, 785 million people lack access to safe water, with women and children being disproportionately affected, as they are usually responsible for collecting water. Water.org not only supplies clean water, but helps transform communities by giving them autonomy. (Plus, if you donate, you get to see photos of Matt Damon.)