To be or not to be (yourself)

Today, I didn’t cry. I consider this a small but very real personal triumph.

I could have cried. It was a bad idea to have mulled wine at lunchtime and then show my friends photos of the 16-day-long round of Greece I did last year. With him.

Let’s give him a name: let’s call him Ryan. Actually, he helped me come up with it. It’s supposed to be a character’s name, for book 5 in my Natural series. I will write book 5 someday–soon, I think. Also, book 4. And I’ll finish book 3. Okay, I digress. Where were we?

Ryan. Today, as I showed my friends wonderful photos of magical Greece–Meteora, Santorini, spectacular, awe-inspiring places–I remembered all the crazy times with him. The fun. The lunches on boulders in the middle of dry riverbeds. The dinners watching the sunset in Santorini, with local beer and wine. Discovering half-hidden caves in cliff faces and hidden ponds fed by little waterfalls in the forest. Late nights with strong spirits and talk, talk, talk. Kind words shared and amplified.

And, maybe it was the mugful of Glühwein, or the fact that I stubbornly can’t dismiss the wonderfulness of the whole experience, but I found myself thinking of one of the last things he told me, long after the magical adventures: he wasn’t really himself around me.

I thought I’d gotten past this.

But how do you get past something like that? After half a year of unforgettable Sunday excursions to wonderful places (I do have a knack for planning excursions), music, outings, walks, hikes, spectacular sunsets, late nights with alcohol or burgers on lakeshores, deep discussions, and plans–you’ll visit me, I’ll visit you we’ll go hiking, there’s this place I wanna show you–to be told you’ve been friends with a fake version of him? After he’s slept in your mother’s bed, he’s stayed in your brother’s room at the summer house, he’s been offered food and cookies by both your aunts, he’s met your brother, seen your childhood bedroom, played with your children, been in your car dozens of times, as you drove thousands of miles to all those excursions, to be told that, all this time, on the Ferris wheel, in the turquoise water of the Ionian sea, basking in the glow of the Aegean sun with a glass of Santorinian wine in hand, in the fucking kitchen of the house I grew up in, he just wasn’t himself.

I’m really asking. Do you have the answer? Any advice? I’m begging you. How do I get past that?

How can I accept this level of deception? How can I come to terms with it? Any suggestions welcome.

And, why, I’d like to ask him. Why did you fucking stay, then?

Why did you make plans? Why did you promise stuff?

Why can’t you even talk to me?

Whatever the fuckity fuck is the matter with you?

My friends, to the last one, tell me I’ve been used. They think I’m naive. It’s simple why he stayed, they say–and rather obvious, Ioanna, really, are you that blind? You drove him thousands of miles to wonderful destinations. You took him on an amazing trip to your home country. You cooked and baked and roasted a 90-Euro turkey on Thanksgiving so that the American man, alone in a strange land, wouldn’t have to feel so lonely in the middle of the pandemic. You listened to him and his woes. You were there. You cared. You were good enough–as long as he didn’t have anyone else. A stopgap measure.

It doesn’t end there. There’s worse to this story, but I’ve bored you enough. And if I keep writing, the three tear-free months I spent will come to an inglorious end.

I won’t cry. I won’t fucking cry. It’s enough.

This lack of basic decency, though, by someone who claimed you were important to them. Who promised he’d be there for you. It’s so fucking hard to take.

There are always setbacks, they say, in the process of healing. I’ve come a long way. I cried for fourteen months straight, but now it’s been three months since the last time, and I can take a deep breath and say: well, maybe not today either.

Because today, I realized Ryan’s not “being himself” doesn’t reflect on me. It’s not in any way my fault. I’ve made tons of mistakes in my life, some of them in the past year and a half, and in that particular relationship. I’ve apologized for them. And one thing I can say with certainty: I was always honest. This is my one consolation: as flawed as I am, as uncomfortable as I might make people feel, as weird, as brash, as annoyingly single-minded at times, I won’t deceive, I won’t hide, and I won’t manipulate.

Maybe that’s worth something.

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