I’m really not trying to paint myself as a victim here. That was never my intention when I sat down and started writing. If anything, the whole victim thing came naturally because I actually was the victim, but that’s not even the point of all of this. If you’re reading this, I don’t want you to pity me, or sympathize with me, or even loathe me for being so petty as to write about what happened. I wrote this for myself, for my own form of consolation, and that’s it. So take what you will from it. But here is my story.
It’s hard to look back and pinpoint exactly when this whole thing started. Fine, that’s a lie- I know exactly the day, the place, the time that Steven- then, Professor De Vida- stood behind me in line at Hiller’s, the storm outside threatening to escalate while we waited patiently in the comforting warmth of the grocery store’s interior. I heard a chuckle from behind me when I moved to put my groceries- well, my gallon of milk and double-stuffed Oreo cookies- on the conveyor belt. Irked, I turned around to confront the origin of the malice, and as I looked him right in the eyes, I said, “Something funny, sir?” He never let me live that down. At any given moment- we could be wrapped in each other’s arms in bed, or walking each other to class- he’d bring up the first words I ever said to him. “Something funny, sir?,” he’d laugh the words sardonically, and I’d punch him back playfully. It was our first and last inside joke.
As my eyes pierced his with the intensity of a parent lecturing her child, I waited for his response. He shrugged, didn’t know what to say. God, he never did. For an English professor, he never seemed to have the right words. Eventually, hints of a smile formed at the corners of his lips, and I remember him saying, “It’s just- milk and Oreos? How very college of you.” “Well, yes, this is a college grocery store, and I am a college student, so it would seem to make sense.” He chuckled again at this. What was so funny? I didn’t realize then that this was his way of communicating. Laughs, smirks, shrugs- these were the unspoken words of the English teacher I fell in love with. The things he could not say, or did not say, were reflected in his every body movement, a body I learned so well over the next two years. But that day, waiting in line at the grocery store, all I saw was a cocky twenty-something who was judging my choice of snacks and I wanted to get the hell out of there.
On my way to the car, I had to fight the wind that was doing everything in its power to push me to the ground. Decembers in Michigan never disappointed. When I closed the trunk and turned around to get into my car, there he was again, smirking like an asshole. “What do you want,” I partially screamed at him. I was probably harsher than I needed to be, but whatever, I didn’t know this guy. “I never said there was anything wrong with milk and cookies,” he said to me, and I think that was the first time I allowed myself to lighten up around Steven. I invited him into my car because it was getting colder every second we stood outside and we started talking about pretty much everything. Now that I think about it, it probably wasn’t too bright of me to invite a stranger into my car, but hey, it happens. Sitting across from me in the passenger seat of my Audi A4, Steven told me he was a first-year professor in the English department, mainly teaching first-year writing requirement courses right now. I remember thinking to myself, shit, a professor? Is this legal? Can he be in my car like this? I mean, he’s not my professor. And it’s only his first year, so he must be, what, 24? 25? I didn’t kick him out of the car then. I didn’t stop him when he took my face in his hands and bit the bottom of my lip slowly. And for two years, I didn’t stop our relationship from happening. Why should I have?
At the beginning, I don’t think I could’ve known. Or maybe that’s just me being naive, but even looking back, I can’t see anything that could’ve said, ‘Addie, this guy is trouble. Get out while you can.’ Even if there were signs, I wouldn’t have listened. When we were happy- God, we were fucking happy. I remember one day, maybe six months into the relationship, I was lying in bed with the covers thrown on the floor, reading a book, and he was sitting at the table grading papers, and that’s when I knew I was in love with him. It was the way I could just stare at him and not get bored tracing his jaw line with my eyes, or smiling into space thinking about the way he bit his bottom lip when he was frustrated. He caught me staring at him and just smiled at me and kept along with his papers, but I didn’t take my eyes off of him. I couldn’t get enough of Steven, even when I knew he was mine.I was in love with Steven. I loved Steven when I woke up; I loved Steven when I walked to class; and I loved Steven when he kissed me goodnight on the crescent of my forehead.
It wasn’t just that Steven was an English teacher- he could manipulate words the way an artist can create beauty out of just paper and a pen. I loved Steven’s writing as much as I loved him; his writing was an extension of himself, the most genuine way for him to communicate his thoughts and deepest emotions. On our 8-month anniversary, Steven told me he loved me- not vocally, but with his written words. After a cozy dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, he handed me a piece of paper with no explanation and told me to open in. Inside was a story. “Some people fall in love with the world,” he wrote. “Some people fall in love with human nature. The way the body maintains homeostasis and reminds itself to breathe every second is truly a beautiful thing. It’s easy to fall in love with human nature. I thought I was one of those people. But now I know that there’s nothing in this world that I could love more than you. Not even the world itself.”
It’s tough to say when exactly I suspected something was wrong. About a year and a half into the relationship, I started to see Steven writing things- love poems, anecdotes about old couples dying happily together- that I knew weren’t inspired by me, by us. There was something else inspiring him anew, a new passion in his life that wasn’t me. For a while, I chalked this up to my imagination. He’s just having a burst of inspiration, I told myself. He can have non-living muses. His career was picking up, and our relationship was doing well- maybe he was just in a good place. But when I read the poem, I knew.
It was sitting on the counter, the ink hot and fresh from the kitchen printer. Maybe I wasn’t meant to see it, or maybe this was his way of telling me. He always had a way with words. I never asked about it. I just left, and never looked back.
To fall in love once is a beautiful thing
That should not be taken for granted
If ever you find a love as strong
And as deep
As the bond between the earth
And the sun
Never let it go
But if you are to fall in love twice
Your loves are like the sun and the moon
You can try to put them together
But the two may never be in the same place at once
And neither can you choose