October 9, 2019 | by Kera Kowal
A small Catholic school probably wasn’t the right place to fall in love with a girl, and looking back that should have been a red flag in itself. The only time I had remembered talking to her before was freshman year. We were both in concert band that year, we were all boarding a bus to play Christmas music for different schools. As I got on I nervously looked for a familiar face to sit by, and remembered she once picked up my sheet of music from the floor when it flew off my stand during practice. I noticed her staring out the window - looking cold and angry for some reason, an expression I’d later come to know well. She took her earbud out after noticing I sat next to her. I gave a friendly smile to which she replied, “Just don’t fucking talk to me.”
When I met her for the first time again junior year she wasn’t as harsh. She spoke with eloquence and thoughtfulness - taking time with the way she’d articulated things, I admired her so much for it. My scattered mind couldn’t put into words what she could, and she made me feel like I finally had a voice for myself. I was infatuated with her for a long time. I’d think of her constantly throughout the day when we weren’t together, I’d miss her even when she was right next to me. I stayed utterly and desperately in love for a long time, even after I realized the relationship was purely fueled from fear.
By the time senior year began our relationship had slowly progressed from unyielding love and support to fights that ended with empty bluffs of leaving each other. It started out small, with subtle disagreements and pettiness. It slowly evolved into constant fighting at every opportunity one of us had to be mad at each other. I knew the constant arguing wasn’t what normal couples did, but I was scared she would do something, hurt herself. Anything I said was gaslighted, used against me, or used as a catalyst for her to threaten hurting herself. And I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed. For two years of my life I made excuses for her, defended her when my friends told me to leave. There was no ah-ha moment when I realized how terrible she was for me, but rather a perpetually growing snowball of confusion and resentment that drove me to the revelation. I knew when my friends would tell me, I knew when she told me she cheated on me, and I knew when I kept fucking googling what a healthy relationship should be. What was at first exciting and freeing and captivating became desperation and paranoia and sadness.
As the end of summer 2016 approached I was more than eager to leave for college. She couldn’t hurt me once I was there, a whole four hours away. It was September, and I was a freshman when I finally mustered up the courage to end things with her over text. I couldn’t call her - I just knew she would try to coax me back in like she had the other times I tried to leave her. She responded by telling me she was going to cut her throat for abandoning her. She didn’t, I blocked her, and life went on. Being with her had taught me so many things about love I hadn’t known before: love isn’t supposed to be a liability, love isn’t supposed to be perpetual feelings of doubt and worry, and love isn’t supposed to be something you get to hold against someone else. From our very first interaction on the school bus to our final conversation, she had instilled fear in me. And she used that fear to string me out more than I ever thought possible. Looking back now, at the years I spent in complete isolation, the only thing I can thank her for is teaching me all the things love isn’t.