I shivered under the dark sky, eyes quick with tears, watching as strangers piled sticks on bonfires and laughed like normal people. You’d left a drafted letter open and I’d skim-read it with dread. In it, I was a caricature, full of twisted motives and vengeful thoughts. Your misery was my fault. Babies had sagged me into someone you didn’t want after all. I squirmed under the weight of the blame, swinging between stubborn hope and despair, trying to figure out how to make you understand. You admitted your lust for her and your disgust with me. You mingled icy silence with promises of love and told me that you were better than I believed, that I was wrong to think you loathed me, that I was not good enough for a man like you.

What was I to do with that – to find myself spinning off balance, teetering towards the edge of who-knows-what, afraid of leaving and yet more afraid of diminishing to nothing otherwise? I had no perspective, no firm ground, no hands to catch me. You were both the victim and the one with all the power, the one whose wishes mattered.

I can see through you now. The veil of pity and fear is gone. I was a worn-out car, littered with kindy paintings and ice block wrappers. You needed a new model with leather seats and the smell of adventure to make you feel important. You had to make everything my fault to justify leaving, to resolve the war between your conscience and your ego. There was no use trying to make you understand because you’d already sacrificed me for a chance at something better.

But oh, what cost! Not to you – you have what you wanted: new arms to cradle no one but you. I’m the one who carries your consequences. I’m the one whose nerves jangle with constant noise and trails of kid-chaos and bickering and bullying and need, need, need, and never enough quiet to bring to light the joy in the madness. You tell them to try their best or they will end up like me, the me you withdrew all warmth and encouragement from and loaded up with work and guilt until I was a burnt-out shadow, powerless.

I get angry sometimes – not just at what you did, but now, because it’s all too heavy and no one seems to comprehend the void of care created by a missing partner. There is no one to peel the children off my frayed nerves, no daddy-voice to back me up, no embrace to collapse into. I need to be something more than human, though that is all I am. I need to reshape the culture of contempt you left behind, but it takes more energy than I can summon.

I’m stronger than I used to be. They say that happens, if it doesn’t kill you first, but only once the assailant has left the building. Now that you’re not absorbing me, I’m coming to know who I am, slowly shedding the layers of misplaced blame, digging up long-forgotten dreams, forgetting I’m supposed to be worth nothing.

It hasn’t stopped hurting – if anything it hurts more now than it did when I believed it was deserved. An icy wind has blown away the fog, and nothing is hidden. I can’t pretend away the chill or betray myself again by denying I am freezing. You hurt me. You hurt me still. But I will draw the children close and slowly thaw beside the fire, letting love creep closer than bitterness, and it will heat me through. In time, I will light other fires. And I will feel the preciousness of warmth all the more for having known such bitter cold.

 

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