The Hurt I Thought Would Never Heal. (Remix)
Nick and I connected on eHarmony in the Spring of 2007. He checked every box. I fell hard and fast for this tall, handsome Army Captain. I couldn’t understand why he wanted me, which made me feel like (1) I was the luckiest girl in the world, and (2) I had better not fuck it up. These are the 2 most important ingredients in Mallory’s signature “You’re About to Put Up with Some Next Level Bullshit Chili.”
He deployed to Iraq that Fall. We jetted off to Hawaii for a couple of weeks before he left. We joked (ha ha but really I’m totally serious…) about getting married while we were there.
We moved the bulk of his stuff to a storage rental and some to my house. After Iraq, he’d be coming home to me. To us. Nick planned to leave the military after this tour of duty. We would build a beautiful civilian life together, starting in my humble little Kipling Drive home.
The deployment hurt like hell. I waited anxiously, desperately for even the tiniest bit of communication. I wrote a love song for him. I wore his dog tags everywhere, every day. His absence tugged at my chest in even the brightest moments, but I knew he was worth every single tear.
During the deployment, Nick decided to become a Green Beret. He delivered the news to me over Google Chat. He handed it down like an edict. I could get on board, or get the fuck out.
The only upside of my newly capsized world was his early return to the U.S.
Nick arrived home in May 2008. I met him at the gate—a privilege still reserved for soldiers’ friends and family. His return was classic cinematic love-story bullshit. I felt whole.
We spent a few days in the bliss of reunion. He could do no wrong. We were headed to Kentucky soon to follow his dreams, and we’d just neatly pack all of mine up in a nice little trunk and toss it into the Cumberland on our way out of town. Nick took off to the base at Ft. Campbell for some post-deployment something or other, and I set about settling his things into our (now, temporary) Nashville home. I opened a rucksack filled with uniforms and came across a peculiar paper. I unfolded it to find a page, neatly torn, from Cosmopolitan magazine. The article told of “meet cutes”—couples with charming stories of meeting one another in unlikely spots. Scrawled in black Sharpie across the slick paper, a note read:
I never thought I’d meet the love of my life in the most unromantic place on Earth.
The bottom fell out.
I sat in the floor, empty inside, love note in hand, for what could have been a minute or an hour. I called Nick. Something would explain this away. Had to.
He answered cheerfully; I treaded lightly.
“Who is Lea?”
He hung up. Turned off his phone.
I made several desperate dials, immediately relegated to voicemail. I waited. Dialed again.
The cruelty of his silence dug hot fingers into my ribcage. I fought back with a fictional, foolish narrative. “His phone just died. There’s nothing to tell. You can’t have an affair when you’re in the middle of a goddamn war zone.” (Spoiler alert: you sure can, and a whole fucking lot of people do.)
His phone had not died. He turned it back on after about an hour. Took one of my desperately sad calls. And broke up with me.
I collapsed into heaving, ugly sobs. I called my best friend, hundreds of miles away in Arkansas.
“Am I coming there, or are you coming here?” She was on the road within the hour.
My family arrived in Nashville the day Allison left.
Katie, freshly graduated from Stephens College, made plans to move in with Bear, my sweet black lab mix, and me. She packed her things and headed my way.
It hurt to breathe, to think. I couldn’t muster a moment’s joy, but still, my people rallied.
With Katie on her way, and everyone else back at home, Nick came over to get his stuff.
I wish so many things about that day. I wish I had left his shit in a burning heap on my lawn. I wish I had sat silently still in the living room until he left for good. I wish I had said something searing, yet clever, shutting the door in his face before he could muster a reply. I wish I hadn’t been alone in that moment. I wish I hadn’t been so fucking broken. I wish I hadn’t just wanted, more than anything else on the planet, to stop hurting.
He invited me to go get some lunch with him. I went. We talked. He minimized Lea. Apologized…minimally.
By the time Katie arrived at my door, Nick and I were back together, full steam ahead. In August, he booked a last minute cruise, alone, to clear his head from, you know, the war. It sounded crazy, but who was I to judge? From the cruise, he went directly to Arizona and California to see his parents and siblings. He missed my cousin’s wedding and my college graduation. But he loved me, so I let it go.
Shortly thereafter, we moved to Kentucky. I sold Nissans—the only job I could find in the bustling metropolis of Elizabethtown. He left to spend Christmas with his family in Virginia. I stayed behind, alone, because the dealership would be open on December 26th.
Home for my lunch break, I woke my computer to check email and Facebook. I headed to Gmail, but Nick’s account was still logged on. For months, I suppressed suspicions in pursuit of ingredient 2: not fucking it up. In the glow of iMac, I sought…I don’t know…reassurance?
Alone in Kentucky on December 24th, I learned the following:
Nick planned and booked the August cruise with Lea while he was still in Iraq. They had a lovely time.
Nick multitasked on Google chat while deployed, holding loving conversations with me while requesting nudes from the girl who worked at the liquor store near his old apartment. He wasted no time sleeping with her when he got home…to me.
Nick met and bedded at least two women during his travels after his cruise with Lea.
Nick was and always had been a lying liar who lied.
Out fell the bottom. Again.
Odd-shaped pieces of memories fell in to place. Suddenly, I remembered a phone call. Back in Nashville, months before, Nick picked me up for dinner. His phone rang. I nabbed it from the center console.
“It’s ‘Em.’ You should take it.” His little sister in Arizona.
“I’ll call her back.”
“She doesn’t call often. It might be important.”
“It’s fine. I’ll call her later. Tonight is about you.” Swoon. (Now, gag.)
I shot out of my desk chair on a mission. For Christmas, I got Nick an iPhone. He’d had to switch carriers, and the old carrier had printed his phone contacts for him (the good ol’ days). I found the list on the dining room table and scanned for the E’s. There it was. One entry for Emily. One for Em. Different area codes. “Em” was not an Arizona number.
“I’m sorry for even calling you. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a crazy person.”
I told her my story.
She told me hers:
Nick arrived in Iraq a single man. He must have kept my pictures packed away, though they were always out on his desk in the photos he’d sent to me while we were apart. He’d shared that he had been casually dating someone but had broken it off before leaving the States. They’d planned more than just the cruise in the “most unromantic place on Earth.” They’d planned a life together. Marriage.
I couldn't breathe.
“I’m actually relieved to hear from you. He stopped talking to me after the cruise. I was afraid he might have hurt himself. I thought about calling his commanding officer.”
I apologized again. Thanked her for being kind enough to talk with me. Wished her well. Hung up. Sobbed.
I didn’t go back to work. I packed a bag and Bear, and set off on the 10 hour drive to spend a desperately sad Christmas with my family.
Nick and I spoke on Christmas. He cried. Apologized. Begged my forgiveness. Swore he’d changed. He said he’d realized what a horrible mistake he had made after the cruise. He realized how much he really loved me. He said he had cut off all communication with Lea. A verifiable kernel of truth.
Again, I stayed.
We’re both thinking it. I’ll save you the trouble:
WHAAAAAAAT THE ACTUAAAAAAAL FUCKINNNNNNNNG FUCCCCCCK, MALLORY? What. The. Fuck. AHHHHHHHUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHHH. DAMMIT.
Here’s the thing about trust: When it’s gone—really, really irretrievably gone—the absence is palpable. There’s not a neutral to trust. You can feel not-happy without feeling unhappy. You can feel not-hungry without starving. You cannot not trust your partner and feel ambivalent. The absence of trust is a gaping wound. A black hole with gravitational pull. A crater that sits heavy in the middle of your chest. All you can do is scavenge for things to fill it back up. You need a mountain of reassurance to fill that void. Trouble is, the one from whom that reassurance is needed…
So I spent months surreptitiously checking his phone. Email. Pockets. Little betrayals here and there. Emails with his old girlfriend in Arizona. Google chat with some woman from the gym. Ever-changing passcodes on his phone.
(Oh, did I forget to mention that I moved again for this sonofabitch?)
I did. North Carolina. Even further from my friends and family. From Nashville. From reality.
If ever I dared to confront Nick about something I’d found, he would accost me for violating his privacy, betraying his trust. I’d apologize. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I woke up before him on a Saturday morning in late September. I headed downstairs to let Bear outside. Nick’s phone lay on the kitchen counter. I pressed the home button, lighting up the lock screen.
I had managed to sneak a peek at the latest lock code and tapped the sequence, listening carefully for any signs of movement from upstairs. There was a text from someone I’d never met—a contact listed with the military rank as first name. The message itself was fairly innocuous. Something about getting “the book (you) mentioned.”
I stared at the yellow smiley face that trailed behind the period.
This was absolutely, without question, not a dude. I had spent the better part of 3 years making dumbass decisions, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew there was only one reason Nick disguised contacts in his phone, and I was not about to get Em’d again. That black hole opened up and swallowed the very last of my fucks to give.
I had met one person from Nick’s training class since we’d moved to North Carolina, and I called him. It was crazy. Self-sabotaging.
I like to think that a wiser Mallory took charge that morning. She’d been locked in the basement of the cerebral cortex for months, but that smarmy little emoji set her free. She made that call. The nuclear option. “Blow this miserable damn relationship to smithereens!” she cawed, as she pressed send. He answered.
“I know I’m probably just being neurotic, but should I be worried about this Captain So-and-so?”
“Jennifer? Nahhhh. She’s cool, but there’s nothing you need to worry about there.”
“Thanks. Will you keep this just between us?”
“You got it.”
It must have been two, three minutes, tops, before Nick came storming down the stairs.
I sat at the kitchen table, stoic. Waiting.
He glared at me. Pure hatred.
“You’re fucking with my career now. Get out.”
I took a breath. “Thank you.”
And that was it—the end. It took a few days and the kindness of a couple of women I’d only known briefly to coordinate my move back to Nashville. I spent the last few nights of my North Carolina residency in the home of a generous, compassionate young woman named—you’re not going to believe me—Lea. Not that Lea. But still, there’s something poetic about it, and it’s absolutely true.
When I packed the last of my things, I asked Nick to block me on Facebook. He obliged. Driving home, really home, I spotted his house-key on my key ring. I dropped it in a gas station trash can somewhere on Interstate 40. Good riddance.
I felt more empty than hurt, but it was a cavernous emptiness.
I stayed with my dad for a few weeks until my tenants moved out of my humble little Kipling Drive home. They had made plans to leave at the end of their lease, which coincided conveniently with my unanticipated return to Music City. I kept myself busy—visited friends, hunted for jobs, painted my house, doted on Bear, wrote a breakup song. Even as the ever-present-post-breakup-dull-ache faded, I could still feel that gaping wound where trust was ripped from my chest.
In the absence of Nick and the bullshit and the sneaking and the cheating and the crying and the yelling and the apologizing and the wishing and the wanting and the regret and the isolation, I realized that it wasn’t just Nick who lost my trust—it was me, too.
I knew better.
But I stayed.
I couldn't be trusted.
And there it was:
The hurt I thought would never heal.
TO BE CONTINUED…
It got so much better.)