Three Hours to Valentine’s

Pick up the phone. Dial her number. Contemplate whether this will be the last time.

Say hello. Try your best not to stumble for words. Don’t ask her how she’s doing.

Start with a compliment. Don’t make it too sappy, or you’ll set the wrong mood. Don’t make it too extreme, or it will seem fake. Don’t use the word “love,” which just sounds like an insult in this context.

Be honest. Tell the true story in the best way you know how. Start the story with tomorrow. Start the story by saying “I can’t,” because that begs the question and will make it possible to talk uninterrupted for a while.

Fight back the guilt at the tremor in her voice. Remember that this is a decision that’s already been made. Remind yourself that this is not a negotiation. Don’t give her one more date or one more day or one more memory, because as of this moment, those are lies. As of this moment, any “last hope” is tearing out necessary stitches.

Give her a chance to talk, but don’t let it go on for too long. Let her ask her questions, and give her honest answers, but don’t feel the need to be brutal. Remember that people in this circumstance ask for answers that they’ll later wish they didn’t have.

Use firm words that aren’t cutting like, “I need to figure things out on my own, and I just can’t do that in this circumstance.” Make it about the “circumstance,” and not about her. Do not use the phrase “I just can’t see a future with you.”

When you do use that phrase, explain what you mean, because it’s better than leaving it dangling.

Think back to art therapy, and the session that led to this decision. Think back on free-writing. Think back on the role of women in your life. Think back on the night when depression wracked your body so intensely that you convulsed in the bathtub, when your violent sobs caused the water to flood the floor. Now think forward to what it might be like to feel better than that. Try not to feel guilty for not being able to do that with a woman in your life. Try not to feel guilty as she cries.

When you feel guilty anyway, accept that this was always part of the bargain.

When she says that she wants to give you your Valentine’s present, be assured that there is no right answer. Feel like a terrible person for not realizing that this was necessary long before Valentine’s. Accept that it would make you an even more terrible person if you spent Valentine’s with a woman after already having made this decision.

Feel elated. Feel jaded. Feel depressed. Feel free. Feel angry. Feel frightened. Feel guilty. Feel happy. Feel alone.

End the call quickly. Do not call her back. Do not respond to her call. Do not respond to her text. Do not respond to her email. Do not respond to her post on your Facebook wall. Grit your teeth as you wait for her to drop off the Valentine’s gift. Hate yourself, but don’t let the hate last too long. Accept that this was the right choice.

Feel elated, feel jaded, feel depressed, feel free, feel angry, feel frightened, feel guilty, feel happy, feel alone.

This piece was written in February of 2011. It uses the second-person as an attempt to re-tell the story of a breakup I’d had just prior.

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