there are two ways to lose people: by hurting them, or by being hurt.

this time last year, i left a life in toronto for a more exciting one in san diego. i left my boyfriend of six years, my apartment, and my old self in the snow and chased the sun southward. but not just the sun. a month before that, i’d gone to san diego for a few days for work. i met someone, got a taste of that californian magic, and was hooked. i knew i’d be back before i’d even left. nothing could make me forget what i’d experienced there, so the day after my return to canada, i booked my flight back to san diego.

i was there for three months. and i want to say that it was the greatest adventure of all time, that i didn’t leave a californian stone unturned, that i’d hiked the hills, swam in the pacific, tried all the bars, bumped into a celebrity in los angeles–done all the things people dream of doing on the conquered west american coast. but i didn’t.

it was an adventure, yes, but i didn’t do all those things. i didn’t do any of those things, nor many things really. i’d moved to a hostel as a volunteer, a program where people exchange minimal labor hours for a bed, and the person i’d met the month before, the person who’d hired me, was our manager. let’s call him dionysus, a mid-size, broad-chested man with thick fingers and a smooth voice; lover of wine, sex, and all things hedonistic; and exactly what i’d been looking for–a liberator. he was the kind of person who could talk about anything. he wasn’t especially well-read, but he had enough style to lead you to his territory. and if not, he could riff on about anything with absolute confidence, or charm you out of caring about the conversation. he had freedom on his lips all the time, talked about living on the road, having only a bag’s worth of belongings, and free love. he stayed up all night and woke up at 6 am and said things like, “monogamy is a choice,” and “come work for me. no paperwork involved,”–i hate paperwork.

even though my job as a social media person gave me a certain freedom of movement, i spent most of my time around the house, meeting travelers, watching them come and go and interact with one another, and being with him–having coffee with him in the mornings, smoking spliffs on the patio during his breaks throughout the day, getting drunk at the bar down the street and playing weird, provocative games; drinking wine in his room and reading poetry and smoking some more. at first, it was great. it was exciting, liberating, new. we talked about everything. he asked all the right questions and always knew what to say. i was making friends with other people around the house, cooking from time to time, and writing all day. until the fall–from grace, in love, and right back where i started.

we woke up one day and i could sense it, almost like a smell–we were in a relationship. the self that i’d left behind had caught up with me. i was waking up with someone. neither alone, nor free, nor new–the same girl, with another man, in another place. and when i looked at him, he wasn’t there anymore. he was watching me sleep, with love in his eyes and cheeks ready to pour out–and i didn’t try to stop it. partly because it felt amazing, to be loved so passionately and dramatically, to be looked at like i was the only person on the planet, and listened to like i was the only articulate thing in existence–i hadn’t been loved like that before, and as beautiful as freedom might seem, love is better. love is always better; and partly because being with him came so naturally. i understood him, i knew what he liked, and it was exactly what i had to offer. he loved me in my purest, meanest, unadulterated form, without hiccups or compromises, in my paint-stained sweatpants and messy hair smoking spliffs all day, running on poetry and coffee. it was beautiful until it wasn’t.

i don’t know if it was slowly or all at once that i transformed from being his muse to his addiction. it started with a fixation on our sleeping arrangements, in that he wanted me to sleep in his bed every night. at first, it was a trifle, a small argument at 2 in the morning after a bottle of wine and some poetry before i could peel myself back to my own bunk. with time, it became an afternoon discussion, and then an all-out breakfast fight. there were days when it was the first thing he asked me in the morning: are you going to sleep in my bed tonight?

still, i didn’t stop it. there was something about it that i liked, the feeling of being, not just wanted, but needed, craved. of being pined over by this lion-man leading our pack. and there was something about him, something so warm and familiar, easy to deal with even in his darkness. the toxicity of the whole situation was intoxicating. i squirmed from time to time, when it became too much, too suffocating. tried to weasel peaks around for new candidates, for an escape from my escape. i’ve never been much of a fighter, so flight has always been my go-to. but every time i thought i saw greener grass, he pulled me back in, turned the charm back on, puffed the chest, said the words, let his gaze drift elsewhere. and every time we made up, it went deeper. the next argument would be worse, the jealousy would be stronger, the fights would get more intense, the words harsher.

until one day, when i decided i was done. there was another man at the house, a guest, who’d been flirting with me. he was nice; tall and thin, funny, had a bit of a traditional southern streak that reminded me of the boys back home. we had good banter and liked the same shows, and he was persistent, which i liked. he stuck around despite the vain attempts to steal a kiss from me. after rejecting a couple of his advances, one day, i agreed to go out on a date with him, after a long, tiring day of coddling a jaded dionysus. regardless of the fighting, this was ok because we had agreed from the beginning that we weren’t exclusive, that what we had was casual, an open situation. but at this point, we were only paying that casualty a lip-service. neither of us had been interested in so much as speaking to anyone else since we’d started.

but i was fed up. i hadn’t done anything in san diego, besides him. i hadn’t had the adventure i’d gone there for. i’d spent the previous few weeks having the same fight every day, the same way i’d spent the few years preceding. so i agreed to go on a date with the funny man. let’s call him jerry. i wasn’t particularly attracted to him, but i did enjoy his company. he had a good sense of humor and he wasn’t awful to look at. still, i knew he was attracted to me, and that a date would definitely lead him in the wrong direction, to a place i wasn’t intending on going (or was i?). he’d invited me to spend the evening in tijuana. we agreed to meet at the train and when i got there (late), i found him at the platform with an overnight bag. i asked him what it was for and he casually informed me that he’d rented an airbnb. i had to be up early the next day for a conference in san diego and told him i wouldn’t be spending the night in mexico. he said that wasn’t necessary, he’d just gotten the airbnb so that we could work, since we both had work to do. i’d been looking forward to sitting at some quaint mexican cafe by the beach finishing up my drafts for the conference, but i could tell from his earnestness that we weren’t going to work. and we didn’t. we ate beef-topped fries and quesedillas, had some coffee and soon enough, were in the apartment. he’d brought a bottle of wine and turned on some music and there came that moment where i could do one of two things: a) reject him once more after having brought him all this way, excuse myself and run back to dio or b) sleep with him, release myself from the addiction to dio and be done with my fixation on having a “casual” adventure.

i chose parts of the latter with hints of the former. first mistake.

i slept with him, repulsed myself, learned that casual adventures were sad and meaningless, and was barely finished before i’d gotten dressed and run downstairs to call dio and make sure he was still awake.

then came the bigger mistake: the lie.

considering his increasingly jealous nature, the first thing he asked was “what happened?” as in “how much happened?” i had a split second to decide: tell him i’d slept with this man whose vulturine presence around me had already been torturing him for weeks, break his heart, destroy our connection, and spend the last two weeks crying and apologizing and probably being humiliated by the drama it would create around the house–or swallow it. i chose the latter, explicitly this time. it was like swallowing a piece of dice. i couldn’t pass it. so i confided in two people who i’d thought were my friends, but of whom only one would turn out to be as such. it was the other though, whose approval i was pining after, and who explained to me why burying it was not only justified, but the right thing to do: if i was going to choose myself, i had to go all the way. telling him meant choosing him. it suited the narrative i’d already set in motion. i was satisfied.

the lie was there though, lingering in the background, growing, a shadow gathering form, collecting dust. every so often he would point to it, almost as if he knew but just wanted to torture me, to see how far i’d go, how long i’d stick with it, asking one more time, every time: did you do it? we promised to tell if we did it, it’ll be fine, did you do it? no, i said, every time. no, stop asking me that. that’s not cool. just trust me. he would forget it for a few weeks, come back to it for a second, and shake it off. and it kept growing.

the last two, post-lie weeks were beautiful. having been there and back, i didn’t want to be afraid anymore, of feeling. i didn’t want to be ashamed of myself for wanting love instead of adventure, or for letting love be the adventure. and i didn’t want to say goodbye. so we didn’t. we left san diego, and met up again, on the east coast. we made it to his place in philly just in time for the beginnings of the corona lockdown, spending the few days we had left together lounging around on the couch and the balcony, smoking and playing, and there was more love there than we’d been able to give each other before. soon enough though, it was time to leave. we hugged for the last time in the doorway of his parents’ home in ben salem, and i was on my way back to canada. that was the last time i saw him.

months went by and we stayed in contact. we spoke every day, said good morning and goodnight, read books in parallel from our distant locations. he went to denver and i went back home to lebanon with my ex and we kept talking. we both loved talking about anything so there was always something to talk about. then he went to san diego and i to dubai and still we spoke constantly. i could confide in him, and he in me. we understood each other’s darkness, and we knew how to pull each other out of them.

then it happened.

the shadow emerged, the buried truth rose from the very mouth of they who had dug its grave for me, and everything came crashing down. the night he sent me that first text calling me a liar, i didn’t get it. what had he found out about me? who even knew me in san diego? it wasn’t until the next day, as i vented my frustration to the second of the confidantes that i remembered jerry, and the lie. it had found its way back to me. i had to let it pass–but it was too late. he refused to hear or trust anything i said. he had nothing for me but abuse and curses. he wanted nothing to do with me, and still doesn’t. i scrambled here and there for bits and pieces of justification and rationale, trying to repair the damage, but it was hopeless. dionysus was no longer the god of wine and liberation, he was the god of wrath and retribution, and i was the treasonous snake. i had broken our pact. it was over.

this was over a month ago now, around the same time we met last year. a few days ago, i tried contacting him. i wanted him to know that i was thinking of him, that i wondered how he was and hoped he was well, and that i never wanted to hurt him. it only frustrated him, and it may have even hurt him more. after a long day of back and forth, trying to explain myself, to appeal to him, to convince him, almost lure him back into my life, he very plainly asked me not to contact him anymore. he was finished.

this is how i lost someone–by hurting them. and those that say it’s better to be the abused than the abuser are right. because he will move on from here knowing that he, despite all the ups and downs and fights and fixations, was true to himself, and to me. but i will move with the burden of knowing that i, by breaking our pact, had broken his heart, and lost a friend.

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