A friend recently said to me: “I can’t talk to you about my problems with my boyfriend. Your relationship is so perfect.” I looked at her and laughed. “Oh honey, if you only knew what I’d been through.” I relayed this story to my mother later via email. She echoed my response, having been there every step of the way. What follows here is a memoir of those relationships, a boy-chapter at a time.
I met Pierce after I’d been back in Austin for a couple of months. He was one of Dean’s colleagues. I had been on a dating whirlwind and was lamenting the fact that I didn’t really have a connection with any of the guys. I had random, intermittent communications from both Billy and Jay. I think at the beginning Billy regretted breaking it off. And Jay ran hot and cold with me, as usual.
Dean and I went to the Bob Marley festival together in April, and he brought along some friends—one of whom was Pierce. He completely captivated me that afternoon. He was tall—nearly 6’5”—we must have looked ridiculous next to each other, as I’m just over 5 feet tall. He had a shock of curly light brown hair, hazel eyes, a goatee. I described him in my journal at the time: “cute, funny, educated, intelligent, he’s AMAZING.” The group of us lounged in the sunshine, drank beer, listened to music. Pierce had a date that night with some girl he met at a coffee shop. But I didn’t let that deter me. As we all walked back to our cars, I boldly told him we should go out next Saturday. Obviously I knew he was already booked that night. He said that his parents would be in town the following weekend because it was his birthday, but maybe after that?
“That’s too long,” I simpered.
“I’ll get your number from Dean.” He grinned at me. “Until then?” And he leaned down to give me a quick peck on the side of my mouth.
I was the one to ask him out, and then I was the one who got his email address from Dean and emailed him two days later. I thought I was just being proactive and going after what I wanted, but I probably should have listened to my mother when she told me that I shouldn’t chase boys. He emailed me back, to my delight, and we made plans for Saturday.
I spent that Saturday at the lake with my friends, anticipating seeing him again with a flutter of nervous excitement in my belly. I was living with my parents at the time, and we were far north of town, so I didn’t want him to come pick me up. Similarly, since he had recently moved to Austin, he was living with his brother and sister-in-law. So I met him there, and we got in his 4Runner. He had suggested a party being thrown by another colleague.
We stayed at the party for half a beer. We were too into our date to hang out longer: people were annoying us simply by distracting us from each other. I hadn’t eaten much that day—too nervous—and he took me out for pizza at his favorite neighborhood place. We couldn’t stop talking. From dinner, we went downtown to the Elephant Room and listened to jazz. I’m not sure I had ever been on a date like that. My dates up till that point had been things like keg parties and Taco Bell at 2 a.m. And Billy hardly took me out at all. Dinner and then listening to jazz seemed so sophisticated to me.
We left Elephant Room and strolled down Sixth Street, people watching talking and laughing. At some point he took my hand. Then he was beaming at me and saying, “Wow, you’re fun.” I felt as light as air. I thought he was the fun one—can you imagine the difference between him and Billy? And he liked me? We wound up outside the Driskill Hotel, gazing up at its imposing outer walls, and Pierce suggested a nightcap. I agreed enthusiastically, telling him how much I loved the hotel. I had never stayed there, but the sweeping grandeur of the architecture, the marble floors, and the Texas-themed bar were all so classy and cool.
“Why don’t we get a room here?” he said then, and I might have swooned. We certainly couldn’t spend the night together at either of our respective homes, and neither of us wanted the night to end. In the hotel room, I was all nervous and fidgety again. I was bouncing around the room, acting silly, pulling books off the shelves, checking out the view while Pierce lay on the bed and smoked a cigarette.
“I’ve been dying to ask you this all night,” he said.
I paused, looked over at him warily. “What?”
“Can I kiss you?”
I was floored. No one had ever asked me that before, and something about it struck me as incredibly romantic.
And so the Pierce chapter began. In the beginning, our honeymoon stage, we were electric. We went on dates to restaurants, bars, parties, concerts. Again, it was something I had never known with Billy, who was absorbed in his world of computers. Pierce could dance, and would spin me around the floor, everyone watching. I think I fell in love with him after a week. I wanted to say it but I couldn’t—I knew that was crazy, and I didn’t want to be the first one. One weekend we drove to Shiner for a picnic. Inside the picnic basket, Pierce had three roses for me. That night he hesitantly asked if I would be his girlfriend. I was ecstatic. Of course I wanted to be his girlfriend. I couldn’t get the guy out of my head.
He also warned me he had issues. He didn’t tell me what they were, but he said that his heart wanted to be with me but his head was trying to deal with the unresolved things that happened in his past. I told him I would help him, even thought I had no idea what I was signing up for. I loved him so much that I was willing to do anything for the relationship. And I think he truly loved me, but true to his word—the issues in the end were just too much for him.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Something about his issues and his past—there was a weird religious cult thing that he would occasionally bring up, usually after many drinks, but I never really got the full story—made it hard for him to say those three little words, “I love you.” He said that he really didn’t know what love was. He slipped, though, and after we had been dating about a month, he said it while he was spinning me around the dance floor at the Continental Club on South Congress: “I love you girl!” I didn’t say anything. I pretended I didn’t hear him. I didn’t want to be mistaken. It was loud, crazy, the band was pumped and there were throngs of sweaty dancers. We were practically screaming to be heard. But then he pulled me close and said it again, in my ear—“I love you!” I was so relieved, because I was besotted with this man and beginning to fear I was in it all alone, afraid of what that meant and what would happen to us and to me.
But as Pierce said, he was weird about it, so after that night, he stopped telling me. It was like he jumped the gun, said it too early and wanted to take it back. I became obsessed with it. My friends and I called it “The Phrase.” No matter what he did or said that showed me how much he obviously loved me, I needed to hear those words. Nothing else would do. It took nearly eight months for him to say The Phrase again, and this time he kept telling me.
We were still far from perfect.
Pierce’s mother Pam came to visit when Pierce and I had been dating for about six months. I played the situation all wrong. I made jokes she didn’t like, a curse word or two likely slipped out, and I’m sure I was dressed inappropriately. It simply didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to act a different way in front of her than I would otherwise. We had an awkward dinner—Pierce, me, his mother, his brother and his wife—and then we went back to Pierce’s house so she could evaluate it. I didn’t realize at the time that Pam felt she should be involved in all aspects of her youngest son’s life, even though he was 24. She needed to determine what furnishings he needed—no matter what Pierce thought. At some point it dawned on me that I should go home, when on a normal evening I would spend the night with Pierce.
Pierce walked me to my car and we had a heated discussion. His mother had gone home a half hour ago, but he was actually afraid she would drive back by and see my car there. And then he would be in deep trouble with her. I couldn’t wrap my head around the situation. This man seemed so smart and in control, yet he was terrified of his parents. He was so terrified that he would alter his behavior to suit them. I took the situation harshly and personally, as always. Pierce wouldn’t have been able to spend the night with anyone—this was not about me, but about propriety—but I didn’t see that. I was laser-focused on what I saw as her rejection of me, and his inability to stand up for me and for us.
The weekend was awful. Because Pam was around, we couldn’t have a “normal” weekend—and he was at her beck and call. Our phone calls were short and clipped, and later Pierce would tell me how awkward he felt talking to me while Pam was standing there listening. We went out Saturday night and he allowed me to spend the night. (How did I manage that? He must have felt bad for me, or maybe I wore him down.) Sunday afternoon his mother called after her return from antique-hunting with his sister-in-law, demanding he come to their house immediately. I was pointedly not invited. The afternoon was bleak, spitting rain from low gray clouds. Pierce drove me back to my apartment and I remember staring out the window of the 4Runner, feeling like a tramp.
Though that first night was not about me, I had already made the terrible impression that would ultimately spell the end for us. His mother didn’t like me. She had not chosen him for me. It was as simple as that. A couple months later, we went to Lubbock for a concert. As we drew near, Pierce detailed all the things I should keep in mind: don’t talk about religion, don’t say curse words—in other words, don’t be yourself. I drew inward and stopped talking. In the silence of the car ride, he took my hand and asked me what was wrong. “I get it,” I spit at him. “I’m not a dumbass.” But I clearly was—because I had already screwed up so badly it could never be repaired.
We had been dating for about a year when Pierce broke my heart for the first time. I was so happy that night—we had just come home from a party and I was thinking that he was such a good boyfriend. I felt pretty too. My hair was curly and wild and Pierce kept telling me how much le loved it.
In his kitchen, we started discussing music and I drunkenly maintained that he needed to hear Rod Stewart’s cover of a particular song. He thought Everything But the Girl had done it better.
“I’ll download the Rod Stewart version,” I said to him, sure I could prove my point. In his office, I fired up his computer. His ICQ list flashed to life in the bottom right corner of the screen. I glanced at it—honestly, my intent was just to download the song, not invade his privacy like past boyfriends had done to me—and saw several names of girls whom I didn’t recognize. Frowning, I clicked on one of the conversations with a girl named Maple Sugar.
The screen swam before my eyes and I felt sick to my stomach. I thought, “This can’t really be happening.” He was having cybersex with her. Sometimes begging her to get him off quickly as he was on his lunch break. It was disgusting. I stalked into the kitchen, tears blurring my vision.
“Who the hell is Maple Sugar?” I was hollow.
Pierce looked trapped and confused, and tried to explain it away.
“No,” I said, trembling. “No. Read the fucking conversation, Pierce. You’re fucking her.” I started sobbing, and sank to the floor in the hallway. I screamed at him that he had betrayed me and I couldn’t forgive him for hurting me like that. My heard was absolutely breaking.
He was looking at me like he didn’t know what the hell hit him.
We talked for a long time. He said he didn’t realize what he was doing and it was no big deal and he would never do it again. He insisted it was just another persona and not really him. I told him it was completely unacceptable and I didn’t know what to do. I sat in the hallway, leaning against the doorjamb of his bedroom. I felt deflated. I felt like I wanted to die.
He asked if I wanted him to take me home. I was living with Dean at the time, and I couldn’t face him. Dean didn’t like me dating his friends, and he didn’t like that I was dating Pierce. Going home and admitting that he was right—that Pierce and I were wrong for each other, and I was an idiot for jumping in wholeheartedly, with both feet—I just couldn’t do it.
Finally we went to bed. I lay fully dressed on my side of the bed, refusing to touch him. I tried to sleep, hoping when I woke up it would all be a dream. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Suddenly, manically, I was shaking him, waking him, saying “I want to read it.” Groggily, he stumbled out of bed and sat in his desk chair while I peered over his shoulder. We scrolled through every last conversation, every single word typed and exchanged. Two things stood out to me: he called her “lover” and he also said that I was an “on-again, off-again girlfriend.” He fairly sank into the chair as he kept reading further.
“Do you feel pretty awful now?” I whispered. “I hope so.” I went to bed.
He uninstalled ICQ and swore he would never use it again.
That morning, I woke up before he did and watched a movie, still unable to go home and face Dean. Pierce got up and sat across the room from me and made me some food. We hardly spoke. Coldplay was the soundtrack for that awful weekend—it was on repeat. To this day, when I hear a song from the Parachutes album, I remember sitting in the shadows at Pierce’s house, feeling broken, unable to walk away, yet again. Again. At some point, he sat next to me on the couch and asked how I was doing. We talked some more about what had happened and how deeply he had hurt me. I was tired—I had hardly slept the night before—and wanted to nap. He came with me to bed and held me. I let him.
He started crying then, and he said that he knew how badly he had messed up. When I saw those tears, I felt so hopeless and so convinced that he didn’t intentionally hurt me. I tried to believe that he hadn’t realized what he was doing to me and to us.
“I didn’t expect you to be lying next to me this morning. I don’t deserve for you to be here.” His voice broke.
The next day at work I wrote him a long letter. I was alone, again. I didn’t want to tell anyone what he had done. I was so confused about it. Was there something really wrong with him, or me? Was it okay that I considered it real cheating? My heart certainly couldn’t tell the difference. He said he would be lost without me and wanted to get past this somehow.
I should have left him, and that’s why I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. I was sure my friends, my mom, everyone would say that I should leave him. But I couldn’t. How could I leave this man, who made me Portobello mushrooms cut into hearts for Valentine’s Day? This man who wrote me sweet emails, who called me sexy, smart and amazing? This man who took me out, showed me off? He said that I was too good for him. He told me all the guys at work were jealous because I was so awesome. He loved me enough to do all the stupid things I wanted him to do, like call me each day at work, and make plans each weekend because I needed them, even though he wasn’t a planner. This man who told me he thought about me all day, from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep. He had broken my heart into smithereens, but I couldn’t leave. I didn’t know how to breathe without him.
So we stayed together. But it was never quite right. I kept trying to make him into someone he wasn’t. I made up rules to satisfy my own insecurity, and then I got angry and hurt when he broke them. He didn’t want to call me every day—I insisted. He didn’t want to spend every night together—I did. He felt backed into a corner constantly. Pierce didn’t want to be controlled. And as soon as he started to pull against my needs and desires, I would back down for fear of losing him. It dovetailed nicely.
I didn’t want to love him anymore. I knew he was going to hurt me again. But I couldn’t pull away from him.
In October, after we had been dating for two and a half years, we went to Lubbock for his dad’s birthday. Things had been tense with me and Pierce for a while. He kept chafing against committing to me in some way; I kept looking for ways to be more secure in the relationship. The weekend was awkward, weird. His family, as usual, didn’t talk to me very much. Saturday night Pierce retreated to his bedroom to watch TV. I lay on the bed next to him and tried to touch him but he shied away. He was being cold and indifferent. I chalked it up to being around his parents, which always freaked him out to some extent. I gave up and went to my own bedroom. Surprisingly, he followed.
“I got the job with Tom,” he said. He was sitting at the foot of the bed; I was leaning against the pillows. Pierce had quit his job earlier that year, and tried his own thing. Several of his “own things” actually—nothing was working out, he had moved back in with his brother, and things weren’t looking great for his career.
“But the job’s here in Lubbock,” I said dully. Alarm bells were ringing in my head. This was why things had been so weird lately. Somewhere in my mind I knew he was preparing to end the relationship and I was panicked, reacting.
“And you don’t want to do long distance, so…” Pierce looked everywhere, all around the room, anywhere but at me.
It was Maple Sugar all over again. The world was swimming. This couldn’t be happening. Pierce was leaving me. The thing I had been worried about, fighting against—it was happening. My entire life I had worried how men would leave me, starting with my dad. And it was happening again.
We had another long talk. He kept clinging to the fact that I didn’t want to do a long-distance relationship and I had previously made that clear.
“I don’t prefer it,” I said slowly, “but I would be willing to work it out if you’re sure that’s what you want.” I paused, and looked at him. “You are sure about us, aren’t you?”
He hesitated, finally meeting my eyes. “I don’t know. I know what you want from this.”
“What is that?”
“You want to spend the rest of your life with me.”
“And you?” I waited, holding my breath.
“I just don’t know.” Pierce shook his head, staring at the coverlet. “I think maybe I don’t know what love is. I mean, I don’t think I ever really loved you.”
I’ll never forget those words. They fell between us with a thud. I don’t think I ever really loved you. How can you say that to someone? It had been two and a half years. We had our ups and downs, and I needed a lot of reassurance, but this? This was brutal. This was savage. I was absolutely stunned.
He left my room and I cried myself to sleep. In the morning, he asked if I wanted to come to breakfast with the family. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “Why would I want to come?”
“What should I tell them?” he asked. Since our talk, he had assumed a hangdog look that made me want to scream at him.
“Tell them whatever you want,” I snarled. “Tell them you just dumped me and it might be a bit awkward.”
While the family was gone, I called my mother and told her the story between sobs. She offered to fly me home—Lubbock was a six hour drive from Austin—but I declined. I wanted Pierce to feel as awful as I did for that long drive.
“You don’t want to be in this car with me, do you?” he said, somewhere around Sweetwater, Texas.
“No. You fucking broke my heart. What do you expect?”
As we drew closer to my apartment, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to give him the stuff he had left there because he was between places.
“Do you want any of it?” he asked.
“No, I don’t want anything that reminds me of you.”
He seemed surprised. He kept saying “This isn’t how it was supposed to go.” I was so confused. You tell your girlfriend you can’t picture a future with her, that you think you were lying about loving her and you don’t expect her to end that farce of a relationship?
“I hadn’t gotten that far,” he managed.
“How far have you gotten?” I asked.
“This conversation right now.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. He was clueless.
After we arrived at the apartment, I started throwing all of his stuff in bags. I slammed cabinet doors. I heard him sniffle and I realized he was crying. Let him cry, I thought. This is his mess.
He took all the bags to the car. The final item was, strangely enough, a vacuum cleaner. I set it down in front of him in the door way.
“Is this it?” he asked.
He just stood there, with that stupid look on his face and his hands in his pockets. And he cried.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” I said quietly, breaking finally in the presence of his tears, his real emotion.
He said he was sorry. He hugged me and I didn’t hug him back. He kissed the top of my head and said that he wished me the best. I remember thinking how lame that was. That’s the way you’re going to end our relationship?
I closed the door and sank to the floor, head in my hands, sobbing once again over this man who had completely wrecked me.
The next few months were some of the hardest of my life: I dated. I drank. I cried. I thought about him constantly. I compared everyone I met to him. I was alternately sad and angry. I wrote emails and letters that I didn’t send. I was depressed. A not insignificant amount of men told me that man must have been crazy to leave me. It almost made things worse. It just didn’t make sense to me.
In February, I heard through the grapevine that he would be in town for a wedding. I broke down and called him that Friday night. He didn’t answer, and didn’t return my call. The following day, I was eating lunch at our old favorite restaurant with my mom when he walked in. It felt like my heart stopped.
He walked up to our table; I rose to meet him. He hugged me, and I drank him in. He was wearing my favorite sweater, this cable knit forest green v-neck. He was so tall. He had a fresh haircut He told me he had gotten my message and was planning to call me that afternoon, so he would talk to me soon. After he walked away to get a table outside, I promptly burst into tears.
“I’m still in love with him,” I said to my mother.
“Maybe you should tell him that,” she said gently.
I was so nervous that afternoon that he wouldn’t call. But he did call. We met at a bar down the street from my apartment. We sat at a picnic table drinking beers and grinning at each other. He played with the label on his bottle. He confessed that he missed me, that he loved me still, thought about me twenty times a day. Lubbock was making him miserable.
“I go to sleep hugging three pillows each night,” he said. “I always wish they were you.”
The wedding he was attending started at 5 p.m., so he walked me to my car and we stood next to it, fingers entwined. I wanted so badly for him to kiss me. Then he did, and I melted.
“Stay with me tonight,” I whispered.
Pierce didn’t think it was a good idea—he didn’t know where it would leave us—more confused than ever?
“Look, we’re both miserable and we still love each other. Why don’t we just try it for now?”
He promised to call around 10 after the wedding. I went out with my friend to an Irish bar, hoping to distract myself, but as soon as the clock struck 10 p.m., I was watching my Nokia like a hawk. He waited until the excruciating time of 11:30 to call me, but it was worth it—he was on his way to the bar. We fell into each other, kissing, hugging, breathing “I love you so much.”
He stayed the night with me.
“I made a mistake, letting you go. I won’t make it again,” he told me as he left for Lubbock. The night had convinced us we could make our lives together work.
We were going to try the long distance thing after all.
He seemed like a changed man over the next few months. We coordinated visits between Austin and Lubbock. When we were together, we were like drowning people who had found a life vest in the other person. When we weren’t together, we emailed or talked on the phone. The attentive boyfriend I had always wanted him to be—had tried to make him into, stupidly—finally existed.
“He looks so happy,” my mother told me after we visited her one weekend when he was in town. “You look happy too. I think he’s changed. He’s really grown up.”
When I got laid off in late February, somehow the idea surfaced that maybe I could look for jobs in Lubbock. Pierce latched on to the idea. He was unexpectedly excited about it. He emailed job listings to me, talked to his friends, was always brainstorming and supportive. Now I see how it was really a selfish thing for him to do. After all, he didn’t see himself leaving Lubbock for several years because he needed to rebuild his career. Why not bring me in to his carefully arranged world? I could be his plaything while Lubbock bored him.
Of course there was a huge roadblock still in our way despite our new-old love. His parents. I decided the only way we could move forward and make our relationship work was if they accepted me. And for them to accept me, Pierce had to stand up for me and tell them I was his girl, that he loved me and that he planned to be with me long-term.
I learned some painful truths during that time. Pierce confessed he may have been partially responsible for his parents’ attitudes toward me. He complained about what didn’t work in our relationship, and never told them how much he cared about me. Pam was convinced the woman for him would be chosen by God, and clearly I wasn’t that person. It was clear, she told him, because when he found God’s chosen one, everything would be easy. He would never have to work at the relationship.
I should have run fast. I had almost gotten away once.
But I was so crazy in love with him and he was finally the person I had wanted. It was as if the months apart had helped him see clarity. He couldn’t stop telling me how much he loved me. How beautiful and kind and smart I was. How he was a fool before. How we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. There was a ring, he promised, and a plan.
And so it was with that backdrop that we finally had The Talk with his parents. It was a spring evening in Lubbock, following a dinner with the usual stilted conversation—me, because it was always hard for me, and I knew what was coming—Pierce, because he knew what was coming as well and he had never backed down from something his parents wanted. The fact that he would do this for me solidified the idea in my head: this man loved me.
Pierce began the discussion bravely. I was so happy he was sitting close to me, with his hand on my knee. I thought at the time it was to help me be strong, but now I wonder if maybe he needed me so that he could be strong.
“I think we all need to get our issues out on the table,” Pierce said.
I was choked with tears from the beginning of the discussion, but I managed to tell his father how I felt invisible around him. Several times he had left a dinner or an evening without saying goodbye to me. Once I arrived at a dinner and everyone had already finished eating. Pierce kept jumping in and claiming fault for parts of these interactions, but his mother didn’t want him to take any of the blame.
Suddenly she fixed me with her steely gaze. “You know what your problem is?”
“I’m sorry—what? My problem?” The conversation had been steering me toward weepy and sad, but her words had shot me through with adrenaline. I was pissed.
Pierce tried unsuccessfully to intervene. “Mom—“
She turned the gaze on him, her mouth pinched in anger. “You be quiet.” Back to me. “You have an inferiority complex. I don’t appreciate your attitude. You haven’t tried at all to fit in with the family.”
“That’s not true, I did try—“
“No, you didn’t. You aren’t good with uncomfortable situations. It’s up to you to make it better.”
At that point, I was flabbergasted in addition to angry. Why, I wanted to ask, were these “situations” so uncomfortable? Because she was correct, they indeed were uncomfortable. Excruciating might be a better word. Pierce, as he had attempted to point out, had actually created these situations by telling him about how his girlfriend was a real drag and a gold digger, and it seemed my role had simply been that I was a person his parents had never imagined for him.
Which was the point his mother drove home next, by asking me if I believed Jesus was our savior. Now, on top of my confusion, hurt and anger, she was going to tear apart my religious beliefs. Pierce gave my knee another reassuring squeeze. I explained that I didn’t believe in Jesus as the savior, but as a prophet. I haltingly told her that I believed in a number of aspects from different religions, including reincarnation. I thought her head was going to spin and pop right off her neck. Her eyes may even have bulged from their sockets. Unaware that I was damaging my life and love with Pierce beyond repair, I blundered on.
“We all have different beliefs about God,” I said, ignoring Pierce’s silence, “but it all boils down to one thing—you should love all people and all things. The specifics don’t really matter to me.”
His father, sitting across from me in a huge leather chair, looking nearly as stern as his wife, considered what I had said. He shook his head slowly, almost as if I were an idiot, which I’m sure he believed. “You and Pierce don’t have a foundation for your relationship because it’s not based on God. Everything else,” he went on, “shared interests, respect, attraction—they don’t matter without a foundation in God.”
How do you know what it’s based on? I wanted to yell. I wanted to yell at Pierce too—he was part of the problem here—talking trash to his family about me for the past two and a half years.
“You shouldn’t be sleeping together either,” his father continued, his fingers steepled together in an illustration of a foundation. It reminded me of the Saturday Night Live skit about George P. Bush–“1,000 points of light” and I wanted to laugh deliriously because this was going from bad to worse. Worse than I had even imagined, if that were even possible.
“Because marriage is a covenant, not a contract. And if you’re taking all the benefits of marriage, then you’re just trying it out, and that’s not right.”
The fight went out of me. I had underestimated my opponents. Resigned to listening, I heard his father tell us that a contract means that you can back out if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain; and a covenant is only broken by death. “And not only that. You’re not considering what God wants for you; you’re selfishly only thinking of yourselves.”
It was his mother who finally delivered the death blow. “I will not allow my son to marry a woman who believes in reincarnation,” she said, fixing us again with her stare. “It is an Islam belief and that is wrong.”
Then she told me if I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior that he would fix my inferiority complex.
Remember how I said I should have run?
Yeah. As fast as my legs would carry me.
The lecture completed, Pierce drove me to my hotel room. I was so emotionally wrecked I couldn’t really talk. We sat in the depressing glow of a table lamp and he said, “Do you love me?”
I nodded. I did love him, but at what cost?
“Good, because I love you,” he told me, wrapping me in his arms. “You’re the one for me.”
He couldn’t stay with me, of course, because of his parents. I couldn’t stop crying, even after he left. I dreamed he broke up with me, again, and it was so real that waking up felt like I was still trapped in a nightmare. Because I was.
We kept up our long distance relationship for the next two months. The relationship even marginally improved with his parents. We tolerated each other, much like my pets do now—the Labrador giving my old cat a wide berth, as she cautiously sniffs at him. It was better than out and out war, but the words they had hurled at me that night in March still haunted me. I suppose I knew they weren’t going to let us happen, but again, I underestimated them. I believed that our love would trump everything.
In late May, I got a job in Lubbock. I was ecstatic to finally join Pierce and put an end to our long distance relationship. But leaving Austin—again—was hard. We had an impromptu going-away party with friends and family. My friend Monica hugged me fiercely and told me not to put too much pressure on Pierce. He was going to be my only friend for a while. “But he’s not responsible for your happiness,” she reminded me. “Keep it in check.” I promised I would try.
She was right. Life in Lubbock was a roller coaster of emotion. Even though we were finally living in the same town, he was still living at his parents’ house. That meant we couldn’t spend the night together. There were so many nights that I just wanted him by my side, and I hated it when he’d pull away and say it was time for him to go home. I think there was a part of me that felt if he really loved me and wanted to start a life with me, he’d stand up to them on this. The big talk had been a huge step, but I needed more from him.
I always needed more.
My job also required that I travel quite a bit. Sometimes I was away for 10 day long trips, flying into airports in large cities and then driving to stores that were off the beaten path. I have never been particularly good at going somewhere on my own, forging a new path. I get lonely and scared and unsure of what to do. I function best when I have a routine, when I’m confident I’ve handled each thing that’s coming my way each day. So moving to a new city, starting a new job as a Sales Trainer—something completely new for me!—and trying to get on track with this man I was obsessively, crazily in love with—was difficult for me. So much change all at once will make anyone a little crazy, and I was already crazy.
It was especially hard for me to believe that Pierce was serious this time around, no matter what he said. The experience with Maple Sugar, the previous breakup and his harsh words wouldn’t leave me. In my lowest moments, I remembered them and they played through my head like a serious of sad movies. When I would tearfully confess my thoughts to Pierce, he would reassure me.
“I don’t just stop loving you,” he told me one night.
“But you did,” I said.
“I never stopped loving you. I was confused and mixed up.”
It worried me. What if he got confused and mixed up again?
Those were the bad times. There were great ones—didn’t I say Lubbock was a roller coaster? Pierce would tell me all the time I was the prettiest girl in the room. He would always make sure we talked on the phone while I was gone. He was patient with me. We had fun: Willie Nelson concerts, restaurants, bars and art openings. Sometimes he would join me on a work trip and we’d have a little vacation. July Fourth weekend we watched the neighborhood parade. Over cheese fries and drinks at Cricket’s, we talked about getting married in Belize. Afterward, we would have a reception in Lubbock and a reception in Austin. Pierce’s friend Ben was a jewelry designer and Pierce hinted, with a gleam in his eye and a grin on his face, that Ben was already working on something special.
I couldn’t wait to get that ring on my finger. I kept hoping it would fix what was broken with me—maybe I could look at the ring and the prior hurts would disappear. No more Maple Sugar, no more of his parents’ ire, no more wondering. Maybe that ring would spell confidence and security.
I know now how stupid that was.
I started to catch Pierce in little lies. I’d be out of town and he supposedly went to a party, but Ben would say, “What party? We went to that new club.” Or I’d return to the table at the bar and everyone would clam up because of the story Pierce had just told—“I swear to God that story was about my brother and a strip club in Mexico”—when it was nothing of the kind. He started hanging out with his beautiful blond colleague after work. When he’d tell me he was leaving work, he was really at her apartment doing drugs. I was helping him pay his bills because he was terrible at paying anything on time. I had access to his cell phone records online. I saw 900 numbers. And I saw repeated calls to a local number, always late at night, after he had left my apartment. Was he cheating—again—this time via phone? When I asked him about it, he claimed it was the blond colleague’s mother, and it had something to do with managing a band. At one a.m.? The conversation about the late night local phone calls happened in the backyard at his parents’ house, and Pierce was annoyed I would bring it up. He was defensive and nervously smoked a cigarette and kept glancing inside to see if they could tell we were fighting.
He delivered the second death knell, broke my heart again, in December. I had been in Lubbock for about six months, and my birthday was days away. We got into a stupid fight over the phone—Pierce wanted his space—and I pointed out that when you get married, you don’t have that kind of space.
“You know, presumably we’d live together and spend the night together every night,” I spit at him.
“I don’t know if that’s what I want,” Pierce said.
I felt sick.
He came over at my insistence so we could actually talk. I hate the phone, and especially for something like this. He sat heavily on my purple couch. “I just haven’t been happy lately,” he told me. He said t wasn’t just me. But as we delved into it, he accused me of resenting his family and said that I didn’t understand how he needed them in his life. In halting words, he went on to say I hadn’t tried hard enough to get back into their good graces. Then, in even an even more bizarre turn, he said that he couldn’t deal with our conflicting beliefs.
“We have an Eastern philosophy vs. a Western philosophy and that won’t work,” he said. I started at him. It was as if Pam were feeding him lines off stage.
I again made a last ditch effort to save our relationship. “We’re good, Pierce. We’re really good. People are trying to find what we have.”
He agreed. But then he said, “I think we both know deep-down that marriage won’t work for us.”
“Sounds like your mother told you what to say.”
He protested—“No, these are my feelings”—but I didn’t believe him. I still don’t. His parents told him to end it, and he did.
“I just need some time to get my head on straight and figure things out,” Pierce said, running his hands through his hair.
“I thought you had,” I whispered, my eyes pooling with tears.
He said he needed a couple of days.
“What am I supposed to do? Just sit here alone in my apartment?” I retorted.
He shrugged, but he didn’t get up.
“Well, are you leaving?”
“Yeah,” he answered. But he still didn’t get up. After a few minutes, he finally stood. He looked down at me and said, “I love you” and tried to kiss me. He got a corner of my forehead. Then he grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go and tried to kiss me again—this time on the corner of my lips. He stood at my door and looked like he was going to cry again. It was like a carbon copy of the year before, standing at the doorway to my apartment. He was making this decision, it was killing him, and he somehow wanted me to fix it, when I had nothing to do with it.
“What do you want me to say?” I asked, still sitting on the couch.
He mumbled something about calling me when he could. I didn’t respond. I stared ahead at the television, which was muted, the actors on One Tree Hill playing out their fictional drama as my real one unfolded. My dinner sat untouched.
After six days of silence, he came over again, simply to confirm what I already knew. I can still see him standing in the kitchen, edging toward the garage door, while I sat in the same position on the couch as the week before. “I fully expect to walk into a Barnes and Noble someday and pick up your book and read about the asshole on page 36.”
Here you are, Pierce: your page 36.