Written by Shataivian
The apartment was dark. Jason had fallen asleep long ago as Lisa lay awake with her phone hovering over her face. She would pull up the messenger, type something out, then deleted all. Jason was right, she needed to talk to Damario. Eventually, the best text she could think to finally send was a single word: “Hey.” Maybe he’d still be up to see the message and send something back. It didn’t matter though. Once she had finally chosen to send the message, her body was done for the night. She drifted off with the hopes that a sort of answer would be waiting for her in the morning.
She had unceremoniously left Jason’s the following morning, leaving him with a simple peck on the cheek. Other than practice, once she got home, she spent the rest of her day flickering her phone on and off. No messages yet. He must have been still upset or busy.
This routine continued for several days.
No New Messages.
He’s busy. Or maybe he’s just unsure what to say back. He wouldn’t want to make the situation worse, after all. But after three weeks even Lisa couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse for why he hadn’t messaged her back besides the thought of him ignoring her. She could have sent another message. Maybe a longer one or a more heartfelt one, but that was beyond her capabilities at that time. No, she was going to have to see him face to face.
The first thing Lisa did once she came back from the Howlers game the following day was head to Damario’s. It was Saturday which was usually his day off. He was going to be home, and he would have to talk to her. She snickered to herself at this thought. Didn’t Jason do the exact same thing to her? Well, it worked. She ended up not having much of a choice but to talk to him once he just showed up at her door.
Lisa knocked on the door, hoping and praying that Damario would open it with a smile on his face. The cool gray door swung open with a heavy-breathing Damario on the other side. He was wearing a sweatshirt and had a towel draped around his neck. That’s right, it was cardio day. Lisa could see the treadmill that was facing out towards the back yard behind him. He was shocked to see her, but only for a moment before he ushered her into his home. Her head hung slightly as she made her way through the foyer into the living room. Everything was clean-cut with straight lines, from the square tables and lamp fixtures, to the rectangular glass sliding doors that led out to a highly manicured square lawn and concrete patio housing a rectangular firepit and furniture.
Lisa didn’t take the seat on the couch Damario was offering her. She knew he wasn’t going to take a seat right away and she wanted to meet him eye to eye.
“I texted you,” Lisa hesitated to say.
“One word,” Damario huffed, reaching the bottle of water in the holder of his treadmill.
“I didn’t know what else to say.” It seemed Damario was upset with her. There was no hug or excitement. He was even critiquing her about the one-word-text she sent him. “Were… you still working out?”
“No. No, I was just finishing up.”
Damario toweled himself off, squirted some water into his mouth, and finally caught his breath. Lisa started off with a light apology, saying that she may have overreacted and that she wanted things to go back to normal. “I’m not mad at you anymore,” is what she told him. But there was no elation or even a smile that came from Damario. Instead, he helped Lisa down to her seat and took his own seat in the armchair beside the couch.
“I don’t know if it’s going to work.” This was coming from the man who was begging her to forgive him and give him a second chance. What did he mean, he wasn’t sure if things were going to work? He should be sweeping her off her feet and trying to come up with a way for the two to celebrate. “I’ve spent some time thinking,” he continued. “I think you were right to end things.”
“No, I was overreacting just a teeny bit,” Lisa nervously laughed. “You know me. But you didn’t do anything wrong. Not really, anyway.” Damario sighed in disapproval. “But, seriously, I’m sorry. My dad’s a real ass, you know. I hate that he did this to us. But I think I want to make things work. I really think I do.”
“I don’t.” Lisa had never really seen him this blunt before. He was sure of what he wanted, but why was it about this? “Lisa, I love you, but I can’t make you love me.”
“But I do love you.”
“You told me that you were tired of being used and lied to. You hated how people treated you. And because of this, you wanted to be in a relationship where you can trust the person you’re with, and work together with.” Lisa nodded at everything Damario was saying. “A relationship takes trust and, above all, a lot of work. No relationship is perfect, But I think you expected ours to be.”
“No, of course not. I know it takes work,” Lisa defended.
“Then how were we supposed to work things out if you gave up on me the moment you saw a problem? You can’t face issues with someone if the simple fact of having an issue ends everything.”
“But we’re not talking a small little issue. I was led to believe that you were faking everything! Yeah, I overreacted, but if that were a true issue then my reaction makes sense.” Lisa leaned forward as she got riled up. But Damario stayed firm and upright in his seat, almost mirroring the straight edges of the rest of his home.
“That’s not a viable excuse. Any reaction would be justified if it matched the issue. If you acted like I killed your cat, it would make sense if that were the actual issue. But it wasn’t. And it also doesn’t make sense when you’re in a relationship, Lisa. What if we were married? I know it’s an extreme example, but what if we were married? You didn’t talk to me, you didn’t listen to me, you didn’t give me the benefit of the doubt.”
“It was something I overheard you two talking about. My dad was the one who revealed a potentially serious problem.”
“Your dad? You mean the guy you just found out has been lying to you about major details your whole life, and, let’s not forget, struck you? You chose to believe him over me? And it’s not even that. You didn’t give me a sliver of a chance.”
Lisa started to cede to Damario’s accusations and stayed quiet as he spoke. “You’re right,” her voice cracked. “No, you’re absolutely right. I’m just so used to dealing with jerks and people who want to hurt me. I closed off and guarded myself against everyone, including you. That was pretty fucked up of me, huh?”
Seeing her demeanor shrink down a bit Damario sighed and massaged his brow. “Listen,” he started again, in a more soothing tone. “I would give you this chance to learn your mistake and try not to run at the first real mess-up like you did with me, but, like I said, I’ve been doing some thinking. You and I want two different things.”
“No, we don’t. We want to be trusted and loved, and I need to give that trust if I’m going to expect to receive it.”
Damario’s chest froze in place as though he were immovable at this point. “I’m looking for my last partner.” Lisa told him she was, too. “And I want kids.” Lisa nodded back and told him that she knew that. “I want to have kids.”
“So do I. One day.”
“Your kids,” Damario quizzed. “Or mine?” Neither was a viable option for her. “What about a sperm donor?” He might as well have been asking her to sleep with another man. “Adoption?” Lisa was so set in her heart on having kids where she and her partner were biological to them, and you can’t exactly get that with one parent being a cat and the other a mouse.
“But… That’s a ways off from now. I have time to think about that. I know it’s a stupid want, but that can change over time, you know. We can talk, okay?” Damario nodded, but something still wasn’t getting through. He was nodding, but in a way someone would if they were only doing it to be patient until they can speak.
Things were a mess. Lisa had been all over the place, not knowing who to trust or what to believe. But she knew what she wanted, and Damario, despite her past accusations, was everything she wanted. Jason helped her to see that. It was hard for her to believe that someone could actually come along and be everything she was hoping for. But she hurt him by not trusting him and running away at the first sign of danger. She needed to own up to it. She curled her feet up onto the couch and wrapped her arms around her knees. With her face buried she apologized again.
“I need you. I know I’m a mess, but I’m growing. I’m changing. I’m getting better. And it’s all thanks to you.” She lifted her head and gave him a teary smile. “I’m better because of you and getting better because of you.”
“But I’m not.” This juxtaposition halted Lisa’s apology. “I realized that all this time I’ve been trying to make you something you’re not, all while trying to prove to you that I’ve got your back. You’ve been through a lot and you needed someone to open their arms and make you feel safe, but what about me? Do you think I’m just this tough guy who can be enough support for both you and myself?”
“No,” her voice softly shook.
“But that’s what you expect me to be. You wanted me to coddle you and tell you that everything was going to be okay, but did you ever once do that for me? COULD you do that for me? You think you’re the only person in the world whose had it rough.”
“No, I don’t!”
“Yes, you do!”
“No!” Lisa stood to her feet as she slammed the table. “I know that everyone has their issues. All I ever wanted was the deviation from the norm. I just wanted to feel safe and loved.”
“Me, too! I wasn’t even supposed to be here today! I was expected to be in the ground by the time I was fifteen, and I lived my entire childhood going back and forth between feeling hopeful, to counting down the days! I was written off as dead before I even hit double digits! Even after I miraculously found a donor and I had that surgery, I was told that it could backfire. And what did I have for a partner then? Someone who told me all the time that I was a waste of a good heart, that I should have died on that operating table! I dealt with that anytime she didn’t get her way. It was a fucking card she could pull out at any second and put me down for her own gain!”
Damario’s presence was becoming more than intimidating. He was normally a very passive person, but to even hear him shout, let alone curse, was more than anything Lisa had witnessed him do before.
“But I’m not her,” Lisa finally pushed back. “I’ve never done anything remotely like that to you!”
“No. You didn’t. I’m not accusing you of that. What I’m trying to say is, you’re not the only one coming from a rough background when it comes to trusting and leaning on people, especially romantically. But I don’t think I can lean on you, Lisa.”
“Of course, you can!” Her voice, though still loud, was becoming less angry and more shaky.
“Are you strong enough to support me? Am I in a place where I can confidently and safely lean on your shoulders and hear you say ‘I’ve got you,’ ‘I will never hurt you,’ let me hold you,’ any of that?”
“Yeah…! Maybe not all right now, but eventually. I’m getting there.”
“And what if I said that to you? That I can’t be a good pair of shoulders for you right now, but maybe one day?”
The answer immediately jumped into her mind and she didn’t like it, because she knew that would mean he’d be justified to feel the same way. She wasn’t looking for someone to waiver about their relationship with her. She’s already been through enough of that in the past year. But he hadn’t been in the kind of trouble she’s been in for a while now. Everything that has been happening to her has happened much more recently than all the things that had previously hurt him. She needed help now. It was reasonable for Damario to want the same things as her, but right now she needed it more.
“You’re so closed off, Lisa. I try and I try, and, yes, times have been great, but I want so much more than a person to wake up in bed with. I want to share my life with someone. I don’t think you want to share anything.”
“That’s not true! Of course, I want to share my life with you! We wouldn’t even be together if I didn’t! I went through trying to find out what my heart really wanted when it came to whether I’d be with you or Jason. I’ve known him for five years and I still chose you! You’re special to me, Damario. I know that now more than ever. I spoke to Jason alone after I saw you last. He was the one to show me what a mistake I was making.”
“But not you. You didn’t come to this realization yourself?”
“Let me pose this to you again,” Damario continued over her. “Can you see us ever getting married? Could you see yourself becoming my wife one day? Like, just picture it. I’m not saying I’m in a rush to get married, but I’m trying to prove something. Can you picture being my wife?”
“Yes,” Lisa answered plainly.
“Can you picture being MY wife?”
“Yes! Of course! You’ve done so much for me. I can easily picture being married to you.”
“Sure. But, now, can you picture being my WIFE: being there for me, putting in the work?”
As Lisa stopped to really contemplate this question, she could feel a squeezing in her chest growing with immense pressure. She was finally seeing what Damario was getting at. As much as she loved the way she was being taken care of by Damario, she couldn’t see herself putting in the work back. No, it was more like she was fighting not to put in the work at all. She loved the idea of one day having a husband, but being a wife, or the implications and responsibilities behind it was nothing she was interested in.
“Let me be clear with you, Lisa. I love you, but I think you need to hear it bluntly. You are selfish. You are paranoid, childish, self-absorbed and greedy. You have the mentality of a young girl dating a young boy, which is fine, you’re only 24. But I’ve grown passed that a long time ago. I don’t want to play house with you. You’re on the right track, but I can’t sit here and wait for you to grow up.”
She was selfish. She was childish. She was greedy. He was right.
“I didn’t want the age gap to be an issue, and it shouldn’t be, but in this case it is. I had fun with you, Lisa. I really did. And I thought if I was completely open with you, you’d see that you could open up to me. I thought if I took you to meet my family, you’d see I wanted you to be a part of it. And I know you were having a hard time and all, but that doesn’t change the fact that you weren’t willing to give anything. I really was hoping that I could be getting as much as I was giving. But the truth is I wasn’t, and I won’t be if I sit here and keep lying to both myself and you.”
The room stayed quiet for the next ten or so minutes. Lisa had nothing to fight back with, she knew he was right. Playing the victim all the time had left her blind to her own faults. She thought she was doing everything right. She thought she could do no wrong. Everything she did was to try and make herself happy. But it stopped at her. Sure, she could put on a face and show empathy, but she wasn’t willing to truly feel empathy with anyone. And that’s not fair to Damario.
“I’m sorry,” Lisa finally said. “I want to change.”
“I know,” Damario sighed. “And I know you can do it.”
“I’m not ready. It’s so pathetic. I think I liked having people fight over me, but I can’t seem to bring myself to do it. I can’t fight. I want to want to fight. I know it’s what I should be doing.”
“Could you see us being together a year from now?” Lisa shook her head. Even the thought of another year with him was terrifying. “What about 6 months?” Again, Lisa shook her head. “Have you ever been in a long-term relationship?” Once, a long time ago. And that was a hard break up for her. Damario was asking her these questions but he knew the answers to all of them. And know Lisa did, too. They were on two different levels. Both meant well, but in different ways that didn’t mix well together.
“Guess I’ve got some growing up to do, huh?” She stood to her feet and slowly made her way to the door. “You deserve the best.”
Damario didn’t stop Lisa as she exited his house. He wanted so badly to. He was used to coddling her and sacrificing for her, and she was so good at playing the victim that Damario had to fight against himself just to stay in his seat. This was silly, right? Maybe she could change. Maybe she’d let him in. But she wouldn’t. She admitted that she wouldn’t. That was just the fact of the matter.