An Essay about a bad relationship and a learning experience

Untangling Heartbreak: Navigating the Aftermath of Manipulation an Deceit in a Relationship

The first time I saw her, Eugene and I were sitting on a high top with a pitcher of beer between us, refilling our glasses in tandem, and watching two couples playing pool on the pool table next to us. We were waiting for the next game, at Carlow East on New York City’s Upper East Side, we were always either the game or waiting for the next game. I don’t remember being drawn to her in any way, I don’t think I even really noticed her other than that she was one of the four players between Eugene and I and a game of pool. As their game dragged on Eugene and me somehow or another became involved in the game’s banter, and by the time that game ended she was sitting with us between shots, and her friend eventually joined us for a brief time before calling it a night. Shortly after, Eugene took his last sips of beer for the night and stumbled toward the door, and suddenly it was just she and I.

            Alison—I’m going to call her Alison—and I would start to see a lot of each other, until we were all but inseparable. This was a delicate situation for me, dating again. Before I moved to New York I was married and living in Salt Lake City, Utah. My then wife and I had only been married a couple of years, we worked together in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and quickly started seeing each other, and almost as quickly we were married. We moved to Salt Lake City together because she wanted to go to skin care school. I don’t harbor bad memories, still I have internalized my relationship with my ex-wife in different ways, there are difficult feelings that come up, although as memory serves me our marriage ended amicably, nevertheless issues developed in our marriage that I continued to carry, and though I can’t articulate any reason, I didn’t think I was ready (or just didn’t want to) be in a relationship for a while, after we divorced. And yet, here I was courting this woman completing her master’s in journalism at NYU, walking hand-in-hand on parade day by the floats in the lawn of the Natural History Museum, exploring the coffeehouses, bars, restaurants, bookstores, parks, and museums of New York City. We were both writers, we claimed to see the world in a similar way: patterns, ideas, dreams, and Alison and I became synonymous with one another. I was opening up to her with an honesty about myself that I didn’t know I was capable of

One afternoon, late in our relationship, Alison takes me out and opens up to me about how after graduating, she was moving back home to Napa (she was set to graduate a month from then). I was hearing about this for the first time, months into our relationship, and a matter of weeks before graduation. The news hit me hard. The week before leaving New York we discussed the possibility of a long-distance relationship, and we seemed to have the same enthusiasm about the idea, at least until things started to settle down again. I had never been in a long-distance relationship, obviously something like that changes how you think about relationships, and there are benefits to the emotional and behavioral strengths that you might develop. I knew myself pretty well, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was also pretty convinced that I was in love.

We were feeling the long-distance thing out pretty well early on, figuring out our individual preferences, and discovering how to both teach one another and learn from the other's direction. We learned how to communicate via calls, text, and email, and molded one another into our routines. Time can be more fluid with a long-distance relationship if you learn how to manage that, and if you want to figure out how to manage it. Alison and I did for several weeks.

Until we didn’t.

Alison started calling and texting less, and she started to go days without reaching out to me at all, and suddenly, she was gone. I stopped hearing from Alison entirely. And I, of course, took that very hard. I lost interest in whatever I was doing at the time. I thought a lot about, and compared my two most recent relationships, and I continued to keep everything inside. I had great people in my life who wanted to be there for me. Eugene and Adam, the four of us, spent a great deal of time together and found family in the dynamic that we created. Eugene and Adam were there for me when Alison disappeared, but I struggled to open up to either of them. I left New York City a couple of months later.

During my last couple of months in the city, despite the fact that I closed myself off to the people and the world around me, I did start to notice a sort of resonance, whether it was coming from the mouths of the people I knew and loved, advertisements in subway trains, conversations I was eavesdropping on while people watching throughout New York, I seemed to be being directed to Santa Fe, New Mexico. A mention of this town reached me almost every day, in different ways, and for different reasons, and then I started to listen. I packed up my small life, found a room in someone’s house in Santa Fe, and flew to the Albuquerque International Sunport. Santa Fe welcomed me. There are different places, people, opportunities that will lead you in the direction that you’re supposed to go, because if you’re headed in the right direction, everything opens up for you. And Santa Fe opened things up for me. I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico for no more than a month when I was approved for a nice little casita right downtown. I have no idea how I was able to get it, the casita was sought after, there were people in Santa Fe who have probably wanted the place their entire lives, and yet I moved into it my second month living in the City Different. I was offered a job as the marketing manager for an art gallery on Canyon Road, and I have no experience in marketing or with the sale of art. My commute was a bike ride from Guadalupe and San Francisco streets, through the plaza, along Cathedral Place, and up Alameda to Canyon Road, I loved it. I was loving my routines, I was loving my job, I was loving my life in Santa Fe.

There were several places that I would frequent: to people-watch, to eat, to drink, to enjoy life, and to be around others enjoying life. One of those spots was a café called Aztec Café, across the street from Double Take Consignment Shop (unfortunately Aztec is no longer there, there is a fine dining restaurant called Zacatlan where the café once sat). I was sitting at Aztec one late morning, working my way through a green smoothie, and I was writing when my cell phone rang. I didn’t even look at the caller ID, I took the call.   


Hey, uh, where are you?


How are you?


Where are you?

“Where am I? I live in New Mexico now.”

I heard. Where are you exactly?

“Right now? I’m at a café called Aztec, in Santa Fe.”

Alison and I talked for a minute more, maybe, and as I sat there staring at my computer screen unable to focus, I couldn’t shake that something about the conversation was bugging me; other than the fact that I hadn’t heard from Alison in more than four months, at the time that she had called.

I was able to shake the feeling enough to find my train of thought and continue working, and at one interval where I had paused in my writing, I was either thinking or slipping into some brief mediation where I disappear deep inside the space right behind my eyes, and I remember just above the computer screen, in the blurry background of the more present world stood a figure, watching me. It hadn’t even been an hour and Alison was standing across the table from me, and I didn’t have a clue where to go from there. I don’t know what I said, I’m not really sure if I said anything. I’m certain that, at the very least, I thought, Now, where the f$&k have you been? I can’t remember anything about that interaction, beyond looking up and seeing her standing there. I do know that I wasn’t very happy with her. Alison tried, for several days, to apologize to me, and even more she wanted to get back together. Over the coming days and weeks, Alison and I did talk, we did see each other, and eventually we picked up where we had left off. I didn’t want to have feelings for her, and yet sometimes that’s out of your control.

            A number of weeks after we were once again happily in love, the two of us were sitting at her place in a little casita off of Galisteo Street, we were watching Across the Universe, and talking into each other’s ear. I don’t know how or why this came up, perhaps a queue inspired by the movie, but we started talking about her ex-boyfriend. It had been brought to my attention months prior, while we were still in New York, that she had been in a fairly serious relationship that ended several months before we met, and whether it came up at that time or in the months since, I had learned that he was going to school at Oxford. As it would turn out, sometime in the last four months Alison had spent some time backpacking through Europe, and stopped in the U.K., and while she was there, she and her ex started seeing each other again.

When she told me that, a question emerged and started lingering in my head.

“Are you two still together?”

I want to be with you.”

“OK, but, Alison, does he think you two are together right now?”

Alison paused for a moment. And now that I think about it, that pause is interesting, obviously she was reflecting on her response, but what she was doing was considering lying to me. And something that never occurred to me until this moment, is why she decided to tell me the truth. It’ll become clear why I’m thinking about that, later.

Yes, he does.” She finally said.

I didn’t say anything, I sat there for a moment, perhaps giving myself permission to respond instinctively, and after a moment of reflection I simply stood and walked out. It’s amazing what people are capable of, that we can be capable of such compassion and kindness, and we are equally capable of cruelty and indifference, and how our actions can affect and influence a person for years after.

            The next morning, Alison was standing at my front door, she had a Chai, which was apparently my weakness, although I didn’t immediately forgive her, I did take the Chai, with a little righteous indignation, and I sipped while I listened to her explain to me that she had ended things with him, and that she wanted to be with me. I didn’t believe her. I wanted to believe her, but I just didn’t. Nevertheless, over some time Alison did manage to convince me that she would put effort into rebuilding our relationship, and our trust. And I let her. Before too long our relationship was back to normal, if not better than it had been when we were together in New York City.

Alison and I were good, we were really good, and now a few months had past, she and I were exploring Santa Fe and northern New Mexico together, we ate incredible food at amazing restaurants, followed the local music scene and danced to Americana music, microbrewery hopped, and hiked and camped all over northern New Mexico. Alison was working as a writing intern at Outside Magazine, based in Santa Fe, the offices were only a couple of blocks from my casita. Out of nowhere, Alison started acting a little strange. I have been a fairly empathic person throughout my life and have a tendency to pick up on small things: micro expressions, tone, word choice, vibes that translate as feelings, and I was beginning to notice something out of place with Alison. I asked her about it, and she blew me off, and when I continued to ask, she would start to get upset with me. I made an effort then to put it out of my mind. I mean, I knew that something was off, but I wanted to trust her. She encouraged me to believe that I was attributing an action to a feeling, and all that really was-was paranoia. I began to doubt myself so that I would trust her. I convinced myself that she was trustworthy, and honest.

One night Alison was supposed to meet me at my place for a date night and she never showed. She didn’t respond to my call or text either. The next morning, she said that she was hanging out with the interns (“The Interns,” is what I called her five colleagues at Outside). I thought we might spend that evening together and she said she had already made plans, again with the interns. And those hairs started standing up again. Nevertheless, I put the whole thing out of my mind. I ignored my intuition. A few weeks later Alison and I were having breakfast at the Pantry, and I brought something up about her behavior and attitude, and she got downright defensive. I had never seen her behave that way. Not even a week later, Alison and I had plans to meet at my place, again for a date night, and again she didn’t show, and she again ignored my attempt to reach out to her. My intuition was practically screaming at me now, I rode my bike to her casita, there was a faint light in the corner of the room; I knocked and there was no response, I waited a few minutes and then rode home.

The next morning, I walked to her place, because I wanted time to think. Without knocking I let myself inside, and I found Alison in bed with one of the other interns. The experience of something that is equally confirming and shocking, is an alarming one. The two opposing emotions battle one another, and in the meantime your body and conscious mind remain in limbo. You are frozen, and it might feel like minutes, though I’m certain it was only a matter of seconds until I collected myself and walked back outside, beckoning Alison to follow me. She and I were standing outside her front door, on the gravel, I was wearing my Doc Martens, and Alison was barefoot, wearing a shirt, and draped in a blanket.

I am so sorry. This isn’t…I love you; I want to be with you.” That’s what she said to me, and I’m standing there thinking about, well, everything since the moment she told me she was moving back to Napa all those months ago; the manipulation, the deceit, the lies, and worse of all she had trained me to question myself, and my own intuition, and now she standing in front of me telling me she loves me while some guy is in her bed, at that moment.

“Oh, Geezus, shut up!” I said, as I pointed inside toward her house, through the front door, past the living room area, and into her bed, where her colleague was. I’m not sure where it came from, but at that moment something was beckoning me to ask.

“Did you ever actually end things with [insert “ex” boyfriends name here]?” And she was silent long enough for that to be her answer.

I…he knows…

At that point, I turned around and walked away. I never saw her again. I did, however, as I started walking away, I took a deep breath, and felt a weight lift that I didn’t even know was there. It wasn’t her, the weight of her tugging at me, it was the weight of all the things she didn’t say, all the lies she told, and the perception that she kept up, and for what? I don’t understand why someone like her will maintain the stories and the deceptions, I genuinely cannot understand what would inspire a person to behave in the way that Alison did.

I was walking, I wasn’t headed home, I was just walking, and I decided to try to reach out to Alison [“ex”] boyfriend (this is the guy that is going to school at Oxford, the boyfriend she had before Alison, and I ever met that night playing pool at Carlow East on the Upper East Side in New York City). I was able to get a hold of him, and we talked for a few minutes. I told him about me, and the relationship that Alison and I had had, that it started in New York many months ago, and I told him about the intern that was laying in Alison’s bed right at that moment. He explained to me that not only were they, in fact, together, but that they had always been. The two of them had never actually broken up. And that was a bit of a shock, although not even remotely surprising. I suggested he give her a ring.

            My relationship with Alison, yeah, I’m not even sure how to describe it, there were a number of emotional issues that I developed with that one, and many of those issues were incorporated too, and inflated during my next serious relationship. And if this sounds bad, my relationship with Alison, this was a dance in comparison to the time I spent with Samayya.

            After speaking with Alison’s boyfriend, I called Adam Silvera. He had always been a good friend and would drop anything to be there for you. He didn’t fly down to New Mexico of course, nevertheless he was always there to listen. Adam and I lost touch when I started seeing Samayya, and she very subtly encouraged me to alienate myself from anyone that I had ever known. I lost touch with everyone that had been in my life, past and present. Years went by, and once I was able to escape Samayya not only had enough time passed, but I was a broken person. I wanted only to disappear, and to heal.

I struggled to trust people after Alison, and I wouldn’t open up again until I met Samayya, and as it just so happens, she and I would meet at Aztec Café. After Samayya I stopped trusting people entirely, and not by choice, after an inexplicably difficult marriage, my relationship with Alison, and then the years I spent in confinement with Samayya, trust was nothing but a word, a bad word. These are people that claim to care about you, and they are the most capable of causing harm.

            We make a choice every day, and until something very real and, I don’t know, traumatic, maybe, happens the choice is an unconscious one, and for most people it’s autogenetic. A choice about how we are going to feel about ourselves. That very first, subtle and mostly unconscious decision that we make every single day is going to create a ripple effect that will influence how we behave, as well as the behaviors of the people around you, and the people around them. On one hand, if you’ve been traumatized or abused you have to relearn how to make that decision, and it has to become a conscious decision every day, until you start to believe it again. And on the other hand, being conscious of how our behaviors affect other people, the people in your life are no NPC (Non-Player Characters; I really only know the term because of Ryan Reynolds’ movie, Free Guy—I’m not much of a gamer), they are people living lives that are beyond your purview but are making the effort to exist in their own right.

            I was sitting at Aztec Café, at the exact same table, my laptop in front of me, and I was staring at a blank white background, thoughtless. The afternoon clouds were beginning to roll in, it was monsoon season in northern New Mexico. The faint aroma of rain was only just becoming noticeable, or perhaps I was imagining it. Samayya was sitting alone at a table against the wall, she had asked me a question earlier about the internet, and whether it was working for me. “I’m not sure…” I said, “I’m not using it.” I started to walk out, I was going to sit outside and wait for the rain, I stepped back into the room after leaving, and asked her, “Would you like to watch the rain with me?” And she said, “Yes.” :/

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