Truth 8: “Everybody Plays The Fool: An Ode To The One That Got Away“
So here you are, right?
Rehab Week 3 – Day 2 – and you’re sitting around the upstairs rec room watching Lilly comb her fingers through her ratty hair as you eat a sanctioned 2:00pm snack.
My hair’s falling out, she muses, looking at her hands.
I haven’t noticed, you say, peeling the wrapper off your granola bar.
Swear to God it is, Lilly says. Look at this.
She holds up loose strands of hair. Look at that; no way you can say it’s not.
You nod. Feel you. My bathroom looks like Chewbacca shed his coat.
Dude right? Your roommate’s hair is falling out too – have you noticed?
Yeah. But she’s usually pretty good about throwing it away, you pause. That or she just leaves in on the shower wall like a heathen.
Kenzie clomp up the stairs.
Yo, she says, sitting next to you. I’ll take a pack of Almonds, she tells the bored-looking counselor.
God, I had to move, she mumbles. Some bitch is crying downstairs about her boyfriend.
I dunno her name – the one from Canada.
You’ve been here for 2 months, Kenz – how do you not know everyone’s name?
Lilly shakes her head. Canada girl’s boyfriend has been a dick since she got here.
He sounded like a douche when she told me about him.
He is, Lilly says. I heard her on the phone with him.
That’s why you get the upper hand first, Kenzie says. Or you’ll never have it.
You shrug. Everyone has that person though.
Kenzie looks at you. Doesn’t yours live halfway across the world?
I don’t get it, she says, shaking her head. Why talk to someone you know you’re never gonna be with – why even be with them in the first place?
God, I’d never date you, Lilly says. You heartless wench.
Well I wouldn’t date you either, she pauses. Or you. She looks at Lilly. You two would be all clingy and shit.
Yeah-huh, she says. Your ex left forever ago and you’re still bitching about it.
Cause she’s human, Lilly says.
People bitch about everything, Kenzie mutters. That’s all we do in here is bitch about shit we can’t change.
Eat your food, you say, watching her try to sneak almonds into her binder.
She makes a face. I can’t stand snacks.
Kenz, you say. Eat your food.
She rolls her eyes. Maybe I’ll lose weight and get kicked out, she pauses. Then I could go back to LA.
Like you’d make it there, you say. Look at you, all shaky and shit.
I miss it, she says. I was a good model.
You were a junkie.
A “junkie?” she grins. Okay Texas – is that what your parents called it?
It was fun, she says again. I had a good guy there too – until my dad made me come here.
What happened with the guy?
She shrugs. I don’t know.
You didn’t tell him?
Why would I? We don’t all pine away for our exes.
Yeah you do, she says. I saw your journal.
You read it?
Of course. What else is there to do around here but steal peoples shit? She pushes her hair behind her shoulders – grabs an almond.
You should tell that person, by the way.
Tell them what?
What you wrote, she says. You should just tell them, she pauses. Or at least let them know so you’ll stop moaning about it.
You flick a piece of granola at her.
And now here you are again – talking about this person on your therapist’s couch as Kenzie predicted.
Because it’s true what people say – that there’s two sides to every person;
And no matter how many people you date –
You will always have the one
(That left you)
That one that got away.
So this person, your therapist says. your Achilles Heel; tell me about them.
No, you’ve told me what happened – not what happened.
You shrug. Met them when I was young, you shift in your chair. And I just had that feeling. Like I saw them – and I knew, you know?
Where were you?
A party, you say. We were in the backyard and this person put their drink on a table and it shattered.
You grin remembering it.
The whole table just shattered; everyone staring.
I just remember his face. I looked over from where I was and he was just standing there with this shattered table, looking so god damn pathetic. I wanted to help: something about him you know. I wanted to know this person – wanted to talk to them.
Okay, she says. So how’d you end up dating?
Took awhile, you say. He wasn’t the type to warm up easily – all foreign and everything. But then one night he called. I was sitting in my room doing my homework, you say. Talked till 5am.
She nods. How did it end?
He left. Had to; his visa was up. He had to go back.
You think about that night.
2 in the morning–
Legs entangled on a chair: his hands holding your face.
Just little kids, you think now. Fresh-faced.
What do I do, you’d said. What am I supposed to do?
Hey, he’d whispered, running his fingers under your eyelids. No tears. No tears, okay? I’ll come back –
Sitting there – hands cupping your cheeks – fingers on your jaw.
I’m sorry, he whispered. I’m so sorry.
Don’t leave, you say. Don’t go.
Stay and it’ll be okay-
With the leaves falling on the ground
From the tree that hung over the roof
You sat there all night – the morning light on your skin through the window.
I love you, you said, the words falling out of your mouth. I’m sorry-
I just love you–
You look at your therapist now. We stayed in each other’s lives all these years – through everything. Bradley’s death. Moves and choices. I feel like if things had been different –
They weren’t, she interrupts.
Right, you say. But I think about it.
Everyone does. Everyone wonders how something goes wrong when it worked before – And, oftentimes, it’s in retrospect you realize it was never going to work at all.
But I don’t know that, you say. I still think it can eventually, when we’re older.
In theory – but is that realistic?
Of course not, you sigh. But,I don’t know how to get over someone that I never had a chance to get tired of.
What do you mean?
Our relationship didn’t end, you pause. Life ended it. Distance ended it – everything else. We had to keep going – keep existing – and I held on. Years went by before I realized that this person was moving on from me and I wasn’t.
She nods her head. How did he tell you?
He didn’t have to, you say. We weren’t in the same place – we saw each other when we could, but we knew there was no point at 18 years old. He never had to tell me it was over; he just started dating someone.
But you still went back and saw him and his family? She asks, her brow furrowed.
Yeah, you say. I don’t know why. I loved his family. I thought I could get him back – or just make him remember, you cringe. Seems pathetic in retrospect.
And obviously that didn’t happen?
You almost laugh. No. It was a disaster. The first time, his girlfriend cried the whole time and everyone was miserable, you pause. But I guess a part of me still thought he’d come back after college was over… and all that ended up happening was he moved to Thailand for a year.
How’d you handle that?
How I always do, you say, sinking into the couch. I said nothing. Drank- cried- dated- stalked- binged, you pause. Read Thought Catalog pieces.
I used all of it as a reason to get sicker, you admit. I thought if I looked perfect – if I tried harder – he’d realize on his own.
Time just kept going, you say. And he never came back. Moved to Austria. Went to Grad school. And yet here I am at 24, still crawling back every time he calls.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know, you say. I guess even now I still believe he’ll realize it in a few years. That he’ll wake up and think ‘Oh shit, this girl. That’s my best friend – it’s been 8 years and I need her,’ you pause. We joke about it, you know? Finding each other down the road – how we know we’d never sit in a room together and not wonder.
Alright, she says. But if what you’re telling me here is true – the two of you are never going to want the same things because he’s not interested in coming back to America.
I don’t know, you say. There’s hope of that changing. I’m flexible.
You mean, hopes of you changing? She asks. Cause that’s what I’m picking up on – that if this person came and begged you, you’d go running off to wherever he was.
I doubt I would now, you say defensively. I mean back then it seemed realistic – I always adjusted well to different places and I liked his life and–
Lindsey, she says, pointedly. Do you hear this bullshit?
You make a face.
Do you realize you’ve sat in here for weeks now talking about how much you need your family – how much you value your friends – how you ultimately want your version of stability, and yet you’re telling me you really think you would be happy leaving all of that to go be with someone halfway across the world that you truly believe doesn’t love you as much as you love them?
Okay look, I know that, you say. But once you’re in something – you’re in it, and how do you know when it’s over?
Have you told him this? She asks. I’m just curious – In all these years, have you ever once told him what you want so you know where you stand?
No, you say, indignant. How horrifically pathetic to go on telling someone you love them if they don’t say it back.
She looks at you. Then why do this?
I don’t know, you sigh. It’s been 8 years. I’ve tried not to – It’s just when–
You want to make sure you still have some part of him.
Alright, well explain to me how you think that’s fair to anyone you’re with in the future? Or to yourself?
It’s not, you admit. But, why do things have to be final. You can’t just put a stamp on something and be done.
I don’t think that’s what your problem is, she says. I think you’re scared because you know if you did say it then it’d probably be done – and you wouldn’t have the option of dreaming anymore.
Well, that hurts.
I don’t mean to hurt you.
I know, you say. It’s just that this person’s out there living their life, you know. This person gets up on the left side of the bed every morning – watches BBC when they get dressed – drinks Diet Coke from the can, you pause. I hear this person in my head – can hear his response to something I do. How do you let that go?
It’s painful, she says.
I think it’s just surreal mostly – that you can know the moles of someone, and yet are meant to wander around the earth with this useless knowledge of one person, you pause. It’s hard because it all seems sad, doesn’t it? You never love someone half as much as you miss them, and I think that’s the real tragedy – maybe the saddest part of all.
It is sad, she says. And you can let it be that. There is value in sitting here, being sad. But ultimately, what price are you going to pay to keep yourself 20% attached to someone that doesn’t want you the same?
You smile. This all seems trivial doesn’t it? Someone wanting you or not. There’s other pain that matters more.
It’s not about mattering, she says. No pain is trivial as long as it’s real. And no one’s telling you it didn’t matter or that what you’re feeling isn’t ‘right.’ You’re not ready to let go – the way you see him at least – and that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t. Letting go comes when you start changing the definition you place on an event. Looking at the same event with a different meaning, and that can take a long time.
It’s never made sense to me, you say. Hundreds of messages, thousands of words, and the whole time you think you’re creating this thing – this massive tapestry – and all of a sudden it just unravels from a single frayed thread and falls apart. And you’re left sitting there with a half undone blanket being like ‘What the hell do I do with this now?’
Nothing comes undone in one sitting, she says. It unravels quietly, with one string pulling away from another, she pauses. You’ll see that someday.
You wanna know the truth? you say, pausing. When I lose him, the entire joy of remembering that part of my life will feel like it’s been taken from me – and it’ll feel like losing the memory itself, as if the things I did then are less real – like I’m watching a movie that cuts out before the end.
Just because your finale didn’t get wrapped up with the credits running doesn’t mean it’s not over, she pauses. Life happens this way. It ends and it begins in the middle of a sentence. It’s rare people get the satisfaction of playing out a whole story to its finish. It’s why they end up on Oprah, she says.
Not everything will happen perfectly and when you think it’s going to – that’s not how things go. You’re going to be unable to go on with life until you realize that things often don’t unfold the way you think they’re going to, she pauses.
You can’t hold onto something that wants to leave – you can only love what you have while you have it.
You have a ton of love, Lindsey. I see a lot of families come in and out. Girls in here that don’t have friends, don’t have anybody – but you do, she says. You have people that love you whether you’re 95lbs or not. That love you even after you think you’ve done the most unforgivable thing in the world. Quit being preoccupied trying to make yourself matter to someone that doesn’t value you.
You make a face.
You matter, she says. And you’ll leave little speckles wherever you roam. But you won’t matter in the way that you’re searching for now, she pauses. People leave – we drift in and out of each other’s lives all the time.
You gotta matter to yourself so you can stop trying to always matter to everyone else and be a more genuine version of you.
But, what do I do with this person, then? With all the years?
Forgive him slowly, she says. But forgive yourself first. And then forgive both of you together because it’s sad, she pauses. Do it so you can be free to someone else. Figure out how and what forgiveness feels best for you – and then wait till you matter more to yourself so that when you tell him you forgive him, you don’t need him to tell you the same.
You can’t hold onto people that don’t want to be in your life as much as you want to be in theirs, she says. You’ll always know it and you’ll never be happy.
I know, you say– standing up – tying your sweatshirt around your waist. But what if I’m not ready? What if I don’t know how yet?
Then you’re not ready, she shrugs.
Will he be okay? You wonder. Do you think he’ll be okay.
I think he’ll know, she says. I think somehow, he’ll already know.
And if he ever loved you, the day that you tell him –
He’ll let you go too.
Weeks go by after this.
You talk about it again before you leave rehab – mull over it in a journal.
It’s funny to you now – looking back as you write this –
How things unfold when you least expect them.
Weeks later, when you’re home, your mom downstairs making dinner – and your dad outside cutting the grass–watching Law & Order in the game room –
You see his call on your screen.
His face on Skype – remembering how before you went to treatment he sat on the phone with you in your room after he’d seen a picture of you on Facebook.
You look awful, he’d said then.
No, he’d said, pragmatic as always. You look sick; let’s do something about it.
It’s just the picture –
It’s not, he’d said, bringing out a sheet of paper.
You really are a psychologist, you’d laughed then– loving it– because this was the way he’d always been– and it’s comfortable to love something you know.
These are your rules, he’d said when you came to an agreement. No running every day, rest days, he’d scribbled. Fish twice a week – no vegan.
You’d smiled – listening to him – happy in a way that he cared, even if you were sick.
Hey you, you say now when you answer, forgetting therapy, forgetting rehab.
Watching his face appear on a screen.
Past your bedtime, isn’t it?
He nods, but he was thinking of you.
And you want to be thought about by this person so you talk to hear him talk back.
He asks how you are. How was rehab?
You start to tell him about the girls.
About your life – about all the times you swore you couldn’t do it and did.
About the night with Bradley–
And your mom–
About your counselor–
You never called, you say, surprising yourself. When I was gone – you never wrote.
I’m sorry, he says. I was busy.
He makes a joke.
Busy? you say, feeling something wince.
You had 2 months –
You, you say. You had 2 months to call.
You could’ve called. You could’ve said anything.
Jesus, you could’ve written.
Lindsey, he says. I’m not like you, you know that.
Not like me? You say. God, you just had to call. You missed all of it.
You missed the whole thing.
I’m sorry, he says.
You’ll never really be there, will you, you say. And it feels strange hearing it – because you’re not sure you mean it and you’re not sure if you’re manic.
Unsure whether you’re mad or whether you’re sad.
God, you really just don’t love me.
This person closes their eyes.
I cannot do this, you say. Look at me – look at me when I’m talking to you.
You say their name.
You. I’m so tired of you.
He lowers his head.
You don’t love me, you say. But I’ve always loved you – I have always loved you.
Hey – he’s whispering now.
Like they did all those years ago – holding you on a chair.
All these years, you say – feeling your throat close.
So many, you smile. And you – you’ve got to let me go.
Hey you, you say again.
You have to let me go.
He’s looking at you now, pulling his hat off his head.
4 hours goes by – on the couch in your game room.
You tell him to listen – you love him.
You tell him you always have.
And then you tell him you have to find your life without him.
Tears running down your face –
You get it, don’t you? you say. You have to get it.
Tears in his eyelids.
I’m sorry, he says.
Let me go, you whisper.
And he does.
Months go by quietly after that.
For awhile you ache to hear from him – you don’t.
You finish treatment – move back to NYC – get a job.
You think of him.
Want to tell him – want him to know.
You get a message one day–
I’m happy for you, he says – when you’re walking from lunch – I don’t know what you’re up to, don’t know how you’re doing-
It kills me-
But I want you to know I’m so proud of you, Lindsey.
I’m happy you went back to NYC – and I’m happy you’re healthy.
You want to message him back – standing on the sidewalk with your phone in your hand – your Whole Food lunch in the other.
You want to message him because he messaged you. You want to tell him you are happier and be smug when you say it– want to ask them how his job is – how’s your mother?
Did you ever get surgery on that shoulder?
But you don’t.
Months go by again–
You publish your blog.
You publish this blog.
You get a message:
Can’t help but notice the story looks familiar–
You smile. It should.
It hurts, he says. Reading it – I never meant to hurt you.
I know, you say. Goodnight little one.
Goodnight, he says.
You’re sad, sometimes, that you’re unable to have the chance to tell him what you’re feeling now.
Sitting in a car–
Holding someone else’s hand.
Forgetting to see your life with theirs–
Forgetting to miss him when something happens–
Forgetting to check his pictures–
Changing your music – before The Cure, and James, and The Smiths –
You’re holding someone else’s hand –
And you’re not thinking about how one summer when you went to visit, and held the others in the center of the counsel.
Teach me to drive stick, you’d said– 11 at night – the lights from the street lamps hitting your faces when the car passed.
Now, you’d said.
And he’d driven you to an empty parking lot.
Quiet – with the leaves fluttering from the trees.
The breeze – colder than you expected.
This person’s hoodie pulled up over their head – switching spots with you in the car.
In the vacant parking – on a street 4 blocks from their home.
Circling around each other to the other side.
Drive slow, he’d said– when you buckled your seat belt– his fingers over yours. I’ll tell you when.
And you’d listened–
No – you’re not thinking of that now.
Sitting in a car with someone else–
Looking at their hand– at a scar on their finger.
Holding it with your other one out the window.
Cupping the wind with your palm–
Watching them take a sip of their drink – noticing the way their mouth moves.
You wonder what it is that you feel for this new person – what you could feel in time.
It’s midnight now and you hear the highway– the noise the car makes when they press on the gas.
You’re happy being there–
And you’re happy because you chose it, and you think this person is choosing too.
It’s nice to choose something with someone – together.
So to you, beautiful person:
Here’s to all the places we went – all the places we’ll go.
And for a crooked, little heart
That will always hold love for you –
This is Rehab: Truth 8