I have this recurring dream where I run into an ex-girlfriend. We are at some sort of fancy event, although the background always changes. It’s been a cocktail party, a special premiere, always somewhere we are dressed nicely. Words left unsaid still cling to the air as we make awkward niceties. She introduces me to her significant other and I introduce her to mine. As the evening wears on, try as I might I cannot stop myself from glancing her way. We wind up sitting alone together on some stairs, drinking and reminiscing of days long past. Words hang like the chandelier overheard, threatening to crash down.
I clear my throat and begin to shift the conversation to what I feel I need to say. But, we are interrupted.
I awake from the dream, wondering why it won’t just go away.
Of all the things I have been bad at over the years, maybe relationships are the worst. I have always been too much for many to handle. As I both withered and raged, moving through my combustible emotions, many fled the scene of the crime where I lay in a pile of my own wreckage.
Back before it was cool to label everything with DSM diagnoses, they called partners like me a simple term–assholes. Maybe ‘gas lighting’ and ‘narcissism’ were there, but not so popularly thrown around. My label was simple; I was toxic. I was an asshole.
Degenerative Briton Disease would probably be the best term for it nowadays.
I spent a lot of time deteriorating and eroding the foundations of good relationships. I clung to others as if I needed them like oxygen, before fighting tooth and nail to push them away. These aren’t traits I am particularly proud of, I’ve just grown to be more retrospective over the years.
The fact of the matter is I sometimes feel so completely unlovable, so unworthy of the affection of others, that I burn bridges and create an island to wallow on. Even to this day, it is something I struggle with. This random paranoia I will wake up one day to a bedside note reading, ‘I never loved you’ and I will sit there thinking to myself, ‘Well, why would you?’.
I am sure some of this has been conditioned into me. I have textbook mommy issues. Daddy issues, too. From a young age, I fostered a general distrust of women, as I felt abandoned by mother figures. What I know of my father is he owes me twenty dollars he borrowed once before refusing to return my calls. Maybe it is a genetic trait, as my family has always put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’.
It’s neither here nor there where I acquired these struggles to maintain healthy relationships without being a toxic asshole. I don’t believe that, by finding the root memory where my problem began, I will find healing and redemption. I also don’t feel much like asking for apologies for how fucked up I am. Nor forgiveness for that matter.
I don’t seek out where my issues were imprinted on me. It seems to me that would be less a journey of healing and more a search for something to blame. There comes a certain point in your life where you have to accept that the things that have happened to you in your life don’t define you anymore.
I am defined by my actions, not my past.
I try to play the little reminder in my head as recurring dreams wake me too early from my sleep. Years ago, I would have assumed the words I had left unsaid were ‘Fuck you.’ Now, the sentiments are less angry, jilted ex-lover, and more thoughtful. Still not apologetic, but gentler with an ‘I’m happy that you are happy’ theme to them. A wishing of the best for someone who deserves the best type of parting.
The words will always be left unsaid. I am sure the lasting memory of me will always be of a lost, damaged boy who lashed out with the same passion he loved. I burned that imprint on the bridges as I walled myself away in that past life.
A part of me keeps people firmly in the past because it likes to keep the person I was in the past, too. That isn’t to say the person I was doesn’t still live on somewhere deep inside me; afraid and waiting for the world to crash in. It just seems better to me to keep these sort of things locked in a dream. I fear the crash of staring too long in the rearview mirror.
There’s an alternate version to the dream. As I look across the room and catch my ex’s eye, I raise my drink, before making my way to the nearest exit.
A version of this post originally appeared on Punk Rock Papa. It has been reprinted with permission.
Briton Underwood is a parent who likes to write about any and everything he wants. He also would like the world to know he has a beautiful wife, because the couch isn’t that comfy. You can find him on Facebook.