You were in New York City when he told you through the bathroom door that he loved another. You had gotten mad about M&M’s, the only thing he could think to get you. An afterthought to the “I Heart NYC” mug, the only thing he’d wanted to buy. For her. For the Other. For protection, you barricaded yourself in the only safe place the city had to offer.
The hotel bathroom was white. Off-white, cream, yellow under the single bulb. Remembering it now feels like an out-of-body experience. Surreal. You can see yourself sitting on the dingy white toilet seat. The shower curtain, white—cream—and close. The space, small and suffocating like all of NYC, you had heard before you came. But, then, in that moment, you wished the city would swallow you whole.
Only later did you learn his plan—the breakup. It wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. He had told the Other to wait; he would do it in a week or two. He’d told the Other before he had told you. Only later would you learn this.
She knew before you did.
Hours before, you had cried for a different reason, holding hands as you both turned away from the jumpers onscreen at the 9/11 Memorial. You were too young to remember where you had been that day. But you knew, as you walked through one dark room to the next, that everything after had changed.
Unbeknownst to you, while you still had his hand to hold, the Other was crying. Over the phone. To the friend who had come along, the third wheel to your already-complicated love life. As you wandered past the burnt-out firetruck, the Other, on the phone, in another city, was in the throes of a panic attack. She was scared. Scared of you—of your reaction to his plan. You know this now, not because you were told. But because he did the same to you when he had been with another, the girl before you.
He’d always had a flare for the dramatic.
You cried through the Broadway show. You didn’t care if people saw your tears. Looking back, you still don’t. You know now you’ll be fine. But then, you just hurt. The shock overwhelmed you.
It wasn’t until later, when you are talking to a friend who wasn’t your friend then, that you’d feel even a small twinge of shame. He was there, the friend reminds you, sitting behind you as you cried. You had forgotten. In that moment, your only thought was I hope I’m not being too loud.
You cried again on the bus ride home. And then you slept. At least you think you slept. You can’t remember.
Back on campus, the world becomes a blur. Things have been said, and you don’t understand them. You begin to delete phone numbers, but memorize them because you are angry and afraid. You can’t look at her, the Other, when you pass on your way to your seat in calculus. The class becomes your personal hell. You don’t understand what’s happening on the board, and you don’t understand what’s happening in your head.
You become exhausted. Tired. In the beginning, you sleep to forget. But the pain fades slowly. Now, time replaces sleep.
You tire of running yourself ragged trying to be friends because he wants it. You thought you wanted it, too. But it doesn’t fit. Eventually, you learn to stop talking to him—to them—altogether.
He doesn’t take it well.
You become the bitch. You don’t know what to do with this new title. It hurts you. Because you know it’s not true. You didn’t call his mother a whore. You didn’t call him a monster either. You didn’t sleep with his best friend. It had been in a dream—his dream—but he still accused you. You become confused, hurt, lost. You don’t understand.
Gaslighting wasn’t a word you knew then.
You stop eating. You don’t realize it at first. But in the shower, looking down at your wrist, you realize how small it’s gotten. Your legs look like twigs. It’s a slow jolt, a sickening realization.
You start eating again.
The rumors continue.
“You only used him for his body.”
“You made him feel ugly.”
“He knew you couldn’t be friends with someone poor like him.”
“You yelled at the Other, ‘If you see him, you can tell him to go fuck himself.’”
“Did you hear? You tried to run over the new girlfriend with a car.”
“He’s trying to get a restraining order against you.”
You call campus police and try to explain the situation. A report is filed. They call to ask what the hell you want from them. You shake your head. “So it’s on record,” you tell them. You imagine them as they nod through the phone, before the line goes dead.
You just want to be left alone.
And you are for a while. Entirely alone. You panic. In loneliness is vulnerability. But within vulnerability, you learn, is recklessness.
Your idea of recklessness is to reach out. You talk to more people than you ever would have considered speaking with before now. You make a Tinder account, you ask a boy to coffee, you go on a date not to get coffee, you delete Tinder, you join clubs.
Most of them are failures. You continue to feel alone.
But you continue anyway.
You talk to a girl whose grandfather is sick. You share words of comfort in the dark. You are now best friends.
You talk to another, a guy from high school who works night shifts and who is struggling with depression. Next year, you’ll be a bridesmaid in his wedding.
And another, a girl you meet while painting pumpkins, who lives nine minutes away from your house back home. You yell about boys and school and feeling eighty-years-old despite only just being allowed to legally drink. She gets you, and you are grateful.
Soon you’re saying more hellos as you walk through campus than you ever thought possible. You ‘re not entirely sure how this happened.
There continue to be attempts, run-ins. Snapchat requests and emails. Mutual friends—now acquaintances, now people you used to know—are asked to pass his number on to you. You politely decline, smiling through gritted teeth before blocking them all. No apology is good enough for you to lose your hard-earned self-respect. You are happier now. Happier than you had been with him.
He’s there when you decide to go on the New York trip with new friends. He sits in the chairs of the student union, only a few feet away.
But you are surrounded. Surrounded by people who don’t bat an eye because you never told them about him. He would have wanted a scene, you think. But you have nothing left to give him. And he has nothing left that he could ever offer you.
Maybe, once you’re in New York, you’ll buy a bag of M&M’s.
Leah Balsan is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying biology, creative writing and studio arts. She is a reader for the University’s literary magazine Hot Metal Bridge and an avid animal lover. As an emerging writer, “Fallout” is one of her first publications.