Part of me wanted to say I told you so.
This whole thing is on you. Your fault, not mine. I knew this was going to happen from the beginning and you should have listened to me. But no, you had to do it your own stupid way. You did this to yourself. It was my pride talking, my stubborn heart that always had the desire to win an argument. But holding my cell phone to my ear and hearing the voice on the other end struggle for words between sobs, it didn’t seem the time to point out how right I had been.
“I feel so alone,” he choked out.
“Well, you aren’t alone.” I said blandly, but he quickly picked up on the fake comfort in my voice.
“Stop it! Just…stop it!”
I was standing in the dark hallway of my little apartment, back against the wall and my feet cold on the tile floor, and I was starting to get angry. I deserved to be the frustrated one here, not him.
“Tell me what the hell to say then!” The words came out sharp and angry and I wanted them to. “I don’t know what to tell you when you are a hundred freaking miles away and there is nothing I can do to help you.”
For weeks I had been getting voicemails from Alex at one, two, three in the morning. I wasn’t there to pick up the phone, sound asleep as he pleaded with me for answers, for something to ease the pain he was feeling. I didn’t know how to help him.
I have never felt my heart break, so when I heard the news that my brother had ended things with his first girlfriend, his best friend and high school sweetheart, for good, I tried my best to imagine what that felt like. As he battled the sting of severing his life from the person who had become his world, all I could feel was relief. I was happy it was over, and he was hurting.
He continued to cry into the receiver and I racked my brain, the pounding in my chest, for something to say that mattered.
We used to be incredibly close, he and I. Alex was only two years younger than me and the only person in this world to whom I told my every secret and shared my deepest thoughts. Then I went to college and he met a girl. We grew apart a little, which was to be expected. But by this phone call, we were hardly friends. His high school fling turned into a toxic pact—I came home for the summer and hardly recognized him. In fact, we hardly even saw each other. When we did, all we did was fight.
For a school year I pleaded, wrote, called, texted, and prayed. Alex, this isn’t healthy. This is a bad situation. Trust me, I want what’s best for you. Please, just listen. I wanted to control his life, to protect him from hurting himself. I wanted to fix the problem. But I couldn’t do that this time. In fact, all I really could do was watch as my best friend and closest companion in the world shut me out of his life, poured gasoline on all of his friendships and ties, and lit a match.
So I struggled sleeping. I stopped writing. I lost my appetite. I blamed myself.
“I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.” He had started repeating the words over and over and they echoed in my mind as I sunk to the floor and held my breath to keep from crying. I could hear his red eyes, his hands shaking, imagine his sweaty face dropped between his knees curled up on his bed—with every apology, I grasped the depth of his shame and guilt.
He was sorry for all of it, I knew. He was sorry for the cold shoulders, for the screaming at each other, for choosing to go against every piece of advice, every warning, every plea out of love and desperation. He was sorry for all the people he had isolated and for all the things that went wrong. He kept mumbling and I realized that half of the torment he was experiencing wasn’t how alone he felt in the wreckage of his heart, but knowing that he had chosen this path in the first place.
“I forgive you.” I said, finally breaking the silence. I had decided on this weeks before, realizing Alex was punishing himself enough on his own. For the first time in our conversation, there was utter silence on the other end of the line.
“I mean, ya, you hurt me. But that wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was knowing we, you and me, would have this conversation someday. That you would call me with a heart shattered into a million little pieces and there would be nothing I could do. And also knowing you could have prevented that broken heart, yet having to let you choose her.”
All this time, I just wished we could go back to how things were before. It didn’t matter that I was right, and had seen how deeply this relationship would damage him from the beginning. It didn’t matter that he didn’t know how to patch things up and I didn’t know the words to say to make him feel any better. What mattered was that after so much destruction, he still called me and I still picked up the phone.
It’s the nature of humanity, to wrong one another. Sometimes we think that the people closest to us are incapable of harming us or that our strongest ties will always be that resilient. I hate to break it to you, but even the people you love will hurt you. Even the people you think are perfect are going to let you down. In fact, we almost bloody and wound the important people in our lives the most, because in those situations we have the strongest weapons. To love and to care is to give someone else the power to destroy you, hoping that they will choose not to.
It’s been a year since that phone call. Sometimes, Alex still leaves me long voicemails at 2 am. Sometimes, we still fight. Even though the memories of that bitter disappointment still linger, we are a long way from I told you so. Twenty minutes sitting on the ground in the cold hallway of my apartment was all it took to show, “Yes, I’m still here.”
I’m still here, even when you use my heart against me.
I’m still here, even when you were wrong.
I’m still here, even when I shouldn’t be.
Because in the end, even if you have been hurt or have hurt someone else, they still need you and you still need them. They may destroy themselves. You may walk away. Things will be said that shouldn’t have been and you won’t be able to go back to the beginning again. But if you really love them, and you do, nothing is big enough to get in the way of that fact.