An Irish Goodbye

Aside: the relationships described were nonmonogamous in nature, meaning that the people therein agreed that the people they loved were free to explore love with more than one person. Ideally…

She had blue eyes, dark brown hair, and a name as Irish as Shannon O’Connor, but I prefer to leave it out. Instead, I think it fitting to refer to her as Sally, as her favorite author was JD Salinger.

Sally worked as a barista at the same coffee shop as my ex (call him Ben), usually sharing shifts. I, being a total creep, spent entirely too much time hanging out with them while they were working, thus “incidentally” resulting in my being invited out after work with the rest of the staff. At this point in my life, I was the clingy, distrustful, but outwardly sane type. 

My insecurity was exacerbated by Ben foolishly allowing me to catch him sneaking around with several women he worked with. That mixed with an enthusiasm for “getting an A+ in my first real open relationship,” eventually led us to an evening of dancing and publicly acceptable debauchery. And then the three of us ended up at her place with a bottle of whiskey and a pile of powder and no good ideas. One embarrassing attempt at a threesome and a lot of negotiation later, she and I decided to go on a date, just the two of us.

Initially, we both tried very hard to impress one another. She was a reader, capable of very deep feeling and with a horrible history of heartbreak. We enjoyed playfully scoffing at other people’s horrible taste in books. I was…I honestly don’t know what she saw in me at that point in my life, as I was Hell bent on self destruction through the most fun, manic means possible. I thought I was emotionally honest, but now I feel like a vampire. She told me of her struggles with mental illness, sharing her most precious books with me. Notes in the margins, bookmarked pages; she showed me her soul, warning me how delicate her heart was.

I had no idea how to handle it. I fell in love with her very quickly, but this immediately caused serious problems with Ben. Living together, I doubt my habit of returning home late from most activities made him feel terribly secure in the relationship or his trust in me. 

I wanted to dive into every moment with her, without concern for my other relationships. My nonprimary partners were not bothered by my new love, but the one I lived with was capable of making my emotional environment highly unstable, which he did. While probably not entirely on purpose, this behavior was likely a reaction to insecurity getting the better of both of us.

One morning, I came home from a date with her acting almost manic with dilated pupils. Ben suspected that we’d been doing drugs, but I’d only had two homemade Moscow Mules earlier in the evening with dinner and a cup of coffee in the morning. Knowing that Sally imbibed occasionally, Ben suspected the worst.

While I spent the day vomiting and sweating out whatever was in my system, he questioned her about any possible source of illegal chemical intoxicants which might have made it into my system without my knowledge. She was distraught, but admitted that she knew why I was so sick. She had apparently been engaged in a binge the week previous, and remembered she had hidden her drugs in the bottom of several of her cups, but didn’t remember which ones. After searching the cabinet, she found no cups containing illicit chemicals, and concluded that they must have been in one of the cups I’d used.

She’d poisoned me by accident.

Even though it was an accident, the trust between us was broken, and I did not feel the same toward her.

Suddenly, texts from her were cause for anxiety rather than giddiness. Working with Ben, there was no escaping the tension. Ben informed me that these feelings meant that I was not in love with her anymore, and that any action on my part was leading her on. This disgusted him, and he demanded that I be honest with everybody and break things off. My mind felt as if it were coated in tar, and I was unable to summon any emotion besides guilt. So I dodged hanging out with her for a few days, but tried to be textually supportive and present as I thought was my duty as a girlfriend. She happened to be experiencing some serious family unrest, necessitating her relocation, which was not affordable at the time.

Then she got fired. Ben told me the news when he came home from work, and shortly thereafter, she texted me and asked if she could come over. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I said yes, apologizing in advance for being distant and not talking much. We sat on opposite ends of the couch, silent for about 15 minutes. Ben was watching us from the kitchen, pretending to be cooking.

She turned to me, looking at the coffee table as if she could cut it in half with her gaze, “It’s over, isn’t it?”

My jaw dropped, and my face said it all before I could form the words, “I don’t know.”

It was.

She sat on the couch, keening, for what felt like hours. Ben rushed from the kitchen to hug her, looking worried, and held her as she cried. Between sobs, she drank whiskey she’d brought from home. Not knowing where to go, since it was my house, I sat there beside them and watched, wishing I were invisible. Rather, I wished I was anywhere else, and preferably somebody else. Ben walked her to the door, and returned to my side on the couch. How did I feel? I felt numb. He was proud of me, because that had seemed very hard. I supposed it was for the best.

She continued to text him as she drove home, and with my heart so heavy, I thought that this must also be best. After all, she was lacking in emotional support, and I had him. It was obvious that I would have to share. Within minutes of her leaving, it occurred to me that I had seen her drink a lot, and I panicked. Her texts did not help, and went from frantic to despondent. She narrowly avoided an intoxication checkpoint, and called Ben, begging him to pick her up and drive the rest of the way to her house. He assured her that she was smart enough to make it home by herself, and he was too tired to be a safer driver than she, anyway.

I overheard the conversation, and snapped. How could he say no to a cry for help like that? What kind of a person was he? I immediately dragged him into the car and set out to find her. I grabbed his phone, pretending very poorly to be him, hoping to find out where she was and save her from that mess. After searching for checkpoints between our house and hers, I sped to her apartment, parked illegally, and kicked in the fence in her building’s parking garage. After thoroughly twisting my ankle, I convinced Ben to come after me. I dragged him through the maze of homes, and proceeded to knock on her door in noisy staccato, for what amounted to more than a few minutes. I was determined to wake the neighbors.

A tiny voice came through the door. “I’m fine. Please go.”

“No you’re not. I’m not leaving.”

I began to dig in my purse for something to get through the door, but before I could find a hammer or credit card, she unlocked the door. I grabbed the handle and squeezed into the dark hallway as fast as I could. Immediately, I smelled blood.

Her forearm was covered in fresh cuts, and as she wiped away the tears from her eyes, she left a smear across her face. It was everywhere. I pointed toward the bathroom, and she led me to her sink, which was worse than the kitchen. I grabbed a towel and pressed it to her arm, “I’m so sorry, I know I’m not the person you need for this.” She wept, avoiding my eyes by staring at my hands and the towel, which was slowly turning red.

“I wouldn’t have done it. You didn’t have to come.”

“This is enough that I have to.”

After bandaging her, and cleaning up most of the blood from Sally and her apartment, Ben and I sat on her couch. She was weeping silently in his arms, and I sat a few feet away, waiting until sunrise. Ben drove me home, annoyed that I’d forced him into such an awkward situation. Once in bed, I remained there, smoking heavily, numbly wasting several days until the reefer was gone. Ben assured me that I would get over it if I just got out of bed. But it was my ex girlfriend, Jordyn, (who wasn’t Ben’s and my ex yet) who came to my house, pulled me out of bed, dragged me to hot yoga, then tacos, then a bar, and waited until I cried it out.

Polyamory shines when life is darkest, and if it weren’t for my nonprimary partners and close friends, I never would have escaped the obviously abusive relationship with Ben, six months later.

I got in touch with Sally, a year after I kicked Ben out. I still had her favorite book. It still had all of her notes. I felt horrible for the way I had left things, and was determined to return her treasure. We had dinner, and my crush on her returned. I tried to be a little physical with her, hoping that she felt something in return. After several occasions on which we should not have spent the night together, she turned away from me when I tried to kiss her. Nope. I couldn’t just be friends, so I stopped answering her texts. I was too confused to tell her that I wanted her back but didn’t know how it could ever work. She stopped communicating with me after about a month.

I still feel awful about that graceless and cold exit, and I miss her, but I firmly believe that that door must remain closed. Unlike the man who tries to save the scorpion and gets stung, I choose to accept that there is too much risk for harm, rather than hope our natures will change.

-Alex, 29

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