As time has continued to press on in your absence, it’s been ten weeks since you left me and the calendar date reached my birthday.  I’ve always hated my birthday. Contrary to popular belief, you know that I don’t actually like too much attention. Especially not the kind that is forced or used by others to draw attention to how attractive they were so many years before in a fake-love Instagram post. More fireflies came to light up my day but what I really wanted was to be able to sit and cry in peace. My first birthday without you was even more crushing than I was expecting. You haunted me nonstop.

Every card I opened made me think of you and made me wonder what kind of card you would have mailed to me. You would have started my day with a voice memo saying “birthdaaaayyyyyyy” slowly into the phone. I would have saved it immediately. You would have sent me that picture of a cat with a birthday cake. You would have called and talked as long as I let you. Your card would have arrived a couple days late. It would have made me feel special after the birthday hangover subsided. You’re supposed to be here for the birthdays. You’re supposed to be here to send me a funny card and let me know, in an understated fashion, how much you love me. You’re supposed to be here to repeatedly tell me that nobody likes you when you’re 23 and that I have to pay my dues to earn my position in the 24 club. Why aren’t you around for times like this? Why couldn’t you have been here for at least one more birthday? You’re the only one I wanted to see. You’re the only one I wanted to talk to. The passing of my age reminds me I’m the oldest I’ve ever been and that I’m one more year closer to your perpetual age of 29. 

The rain outside the windows was falling harder than my tears on March 6th. I know that was you. You knew I wouldn’t want a bright and sunny day where I’m forced to pretend to be happy. I couldn’t be less happy. I am so broken that when love pours in it falls right out. The St. Andrews fireflies have done their job diligently but their energy sometimes feels exhausted and cumbersome. I don’t want to be a burden in anyone’s life but my own. Something hasn’t been right in the air. I haven’t wanted to smile or leave my house. But I did. I went bowling and tried to enjoy the day. Honestly, I did enjoy the day. It was a perfect mix of fun, competition, and laughter. Sober fun, as sobriety makes the heartache easier to endure. If I had a cake with candles, I bet you can guess what my wish would have been. It wasn’t until the clock struck midnight that I was no longer Cinderella and the universe stopped being kind to me. 

I rang in March 7th getting sick into the night and spent the entire next day in bed. I would feel fine, get hit with a wave of nausea, and have to bolt to the bathroom to be sick. Nico was at my very beck and call. He had been all over me the last couple weeks, forcing his love upon me and lashing out when I wasn’t giving him the proper attention he desired. It was like he was over compensating for something and I just assumed he knew how badly I was hurting. I thought he was doing whatever he could to make my days easier. He was the only one who saw me cry most days. He was the only person in town who could remotely comprehend how broken I truly was inside. Now that I was sick, he did everything he could to help make the physical pain stop. He stayed with me all day, even when I slept. He made me dinner, from scratch. He wanted to skip his drinking club meeting, but I urged him to go. I only wish he would have taken his cell phone with him. 

His phone kept loudly dinging while I tried to sleep. Was this you, Ike? Were you trying to tell me there was something in the messages I needed to know? I hate that this was how I had to find out. I hate that I had to open his phone, attempting to silence the alerts, only to find messages with him and a sultry Italian girl in the grade below. It was hours later when he returned. He asked immediately what was wrong. Apparently, my emotions are always written across my face. I always thought you were wrong when you told me this. When I brought up the messages, he lied to me. Over and over again.

His composure began radiating panic as he dodged every question I asked. He had no idea I knew everything. He kept lying. He even started screaming. He didn’t stop screaming until I forced him to leave and Seher quickly locked the door behind him. I grabbed your iPod and you played “Leader of the Band” for me. I played it on repeat while I cried myself to sleep.

Two days after my birthday, I messaged the girl to find out her side of the story. She sent me message after message. She left voice memos, quite comically. I listened to these, during class, and tried to keep myself composed. Heartache via headphones during an AIDS seminar, I do not recommend. She was understanding as I questioned her on the matter but it hurt like Hell to hear the intimate details of the moments she had spent with a person I thought was mine. I was angry with her for putting herself in that situation and for not being honest right off the bat, but Nico was the one who owed me honesty. Nico was the one whose integrity should have been in place. Nico was the one to direct my anger at.

I went to his flat straight from class. I wanted him to be honest with me. At first, I wanted him to let me know what had happened and why so we could try to work through it together. I wasn’t ready to lose anyone else I loved. He lied to me again. Again and again. I cut him off mid lie and played him the voice memo the girl had left me. Her raspy voice poured salt on my open wounds each time I listened. The pain sizzled on my heart. He started crying and demanded I stay so he could explain now that he understood how much I knew. I collected myself, slapped him across the face, and muttered “fuck you” before bolting out the door.

My heart sank into my chest. I felt faint, lightheaded, and disoriented. I couldn’t be alone. I was drawn to my fireflies’ light. More hugs. More condolences. More optimistic conversations. More of me realizing that pain is most meaningful when endured alone. Thank you for showing me who Nico really is. It’s sad to realize, but deep down I always knew he wasn’t the Prince Charming I kept trying to convince myself he was. Why do the people I trust the most keep leaving me, even after they swear they never will?

The first few days after I had learned that Nico had cheated on me while I was regaining my happiness in Paris then decided it wasn’t worth it to be honest were soul-crushingly painful. I felt angry at everyone involved who had known and hadn’t had the decency to fill me in but, most importantly, I mainly felt angry with myself. How had I been so vulnerable and let someone in so close who didn’t have the sincerity to at least end our relationship before trying to be with someone else? How could I have so badly misjudged the character of the person I spent all my time with? Let me tell you, additional heartbreak on top of mourning is a form of cruel and unusual torture. It should be absolutely illegal. Despite the pain and confusion, I went out. I drank. I danced. Like the not so funny clowns in Uncle Bruce’s circus, I tried so hard to paint a smile on my face and make others enjoy my presence.

The news began to spread and the town was entertained by the unfolding drama of my fucked up life. This shit was better than Sky TV. I would have tuned in too, had I not been the main character. Friends were outraged for me. I feared Courtney might actually fly across the pond just to hit Nico with her noodle arms. It wouldn’t have hurt but it sure would have been symbolic. Mutual friends of us as a couple were baffled. These reactions kept reminding me just how devious and hurtful the situation truly was. I kept feeling an overwhelming combination of agony, confusion, disappointment, deception, exasperation, and relief. Much like your death, this was a kind of pain that I wasn’t expecting. It hit me in the stomach, increased my heart rate, and made me wish I could sleep the pain away. I couldn’t, of course. Reality makes you endure the pain before it’s allowed to fade away. 

In a fit of drunken anger, Nico had spent the weekend before I found out the truth upset with my recent uncharacteristic behavior. On the night of a cancelled fashion show, he occupied his time bullying me instead of enjoying the night with our friends. He screamed at me. He texted me non-stop just to tell me I don’t respect him and how sick of me he was. “He’s right,” I thought, “mourning is weighing me down and affecting those around me.” In reality, he is the one who doesn’t respect me. He was there when I buried you. He had met our entire extended family at the same time as Carter’s boyfriend of 9 years and got a first hand glimpse at the deep and widespread suffering your death caused. He watched me fall apart at the thought of you. He knew you had been the most important person in my life. He knew I was absolutely lost without you. He made me feel neglectful for not letting him into my misunderstood emotions more, growing angry when I was unable to properly articulate my grief. Fuck him. Some emotions don’t have words. If I can’t understand it myself, he sure doesn’t have the right to. 

I don’t know if the pain of his betrayal will ever go away. Right now, I can’t even see him without wanting to fall apart. I hope we can both try to come to terms with our break up and learn from it because, as I’ve already come to know, everything happens for a reason. Knowing this, I get a sense of relief that Nico will finally stop letting me down. Maybe he’s not supposed to be anything more than creative inspiration. I’ll never show anyone, not even you, the poems I’ve written about this. Maybe he was supposed to break my smashed heart even more so I can rise from the ashes on my own. Maybe the reason this has all happened is that it is long past the time for me to let him go. This is what I have to do now. You were always telling me he wasn’t my person but I saw through his flaws and was truly happy with the playful and goofy love we shared. I knew it wasn’t forever but I was happy with the right now.  I understand now that no matter how much you love someone they are always going to let you down. They are always going to leave. In one way or another, they are always going to hurt you. Some people are worth the pain. Others are not worthy. 

The pain of losing you and Nico hurts so badly because of the shock factor the news zapped through my body. I was blindsided by the sudden loss of losing people I cared about right down to the deepest parts of my heart. Life only gives you so many people who truly understand you. Now, my two main support systems were no longer there at a time when I needed them the most. I lost my lifelong rock and the love I’ve been working on for two years just weeks apart. Life pulled the chair out from under me with your death then knocked me down just as I began to get back up. The emotional anguish hurts far worse than the many times you would physically do this to me growing up. It’s a shame I’ve grown too big for Dad to comfort in his arms. Now, I have two people to grieve. One of you won’t go away and the other one refuses to come back. I am in so much pain I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to see the light of day. Deep down, I know that all I really need is myself. And a beach vacation. And a margarita. Or ten. I wish you were still here to beat Nico up for me.