Reciprocity

He’d been writhing in pain on my bedroom floor for three days now. I must have gotten used to the moaning and twitching because all of a sudden it was worse, and we had to go to the hospital. It was 3 am on a work night, which felt mildly inconvenient to me as I tried to wipe up the puke and pile him into the car. Driving through the streets which were eerie and empty and filled with rain as he sat there in the passenger seat, curled up and crying out.

As we pulled up to the emergency room, I could feel something evil inside me. Not the evil that has always been inside me, but the new, foreign evil that has been sitting in the pit of my soul like a rock for the past year or so. The evil that someone else put there, that I’ve been trying to get rid of for months now. The evil that says, “Fuck him, why the fuck am I doing this?”

I think there must have been something special about being at the emergency room with a lover in the middle of the night that made me feel that way. That reminded me that people can be disposable, and what am I going to get out of this by the time he’s feeling better. I guess that’s my inner cut throat feminist talking – I’ve spent so many years putting my empowerment first because no one else ever did, but now that I’m feeling pretty top dog about where I’m at in life I’m starting to wonder if that’s still the most useful thing I can do. Because I know what we, the feminists, are going to say about me, a feminist, dropping everything important I’m doing in my life – my work, my friends, even to some extent my writing – to take care of a man. What is he doing for me that makes it okay for me to do this for him.

But I’m sick of thinking that way. What if I just love him, and what if this is just something I am deciding to do, even if it’s not in my best interest and will never be in my best interest. What if I want to take care of him because I find there to be something fundamentally redeeming about caring for other people. What if I don’t mind suffering for a moment because it will ease the suffering of someone I love? And maybe it doesn’t matter that the person I love is flawed and fucked up and might never be able to repay me. What if the nature of love isn’t transactional.

Although maybe that thought has less to do feminism and more to do with the last time I was at the emergency room. Maybe I’m thinking about leaving him here and never coming back because I know that’s an option because I’ve been left here before. That’s what life experience can do for you – it can show you certain ugliness that was beyond your own imagination. It can taint your mind. But even as I think about leaving because sleeping in my bed alone without anyone else’s problems but my own would be easier than taking care of him, I realize: nah. I can’t even stick my feet into the shoes of the people who hurt me and feel okay. I can’t walk around in their shoes, treating other people the way they treated me and feel good about myself. The evil that he put in me was just an idea, but I will not let it change me, sour me, turn me gray. Just because I’ve been hurt does not mean I can hurt other people. That’s not how it works. I wish I had realized this years ago, but I’m realizing it now, which is just in the nick of time.

I’m starting to think that maybe I shouldn’t have been so cruel. That I shouldn’t have treated men with the same nastiness with which they treated me. Starving them out, ghosting them, abandoning them. All those things that looked like female empowerment, all the nasty text messages, all the drunken tirades, all the cutting insults – it’s not that I regret doing them, it’s that I would regret doing those things now because I know better. The world doesn’t need me to create any more men in pain, even as I’m sitting here, watching him writhing. I know in another instance I would feast on his pain. It would feed me for weeks. But perhaps we’ve had enough of that.

So I grab his hand and tell him I love him. I am not going to be that monster, not today, not now. I’ll probably be that monster at some point in the future, but in this moment, I am the angel that I always knew I could be. I am nurturing him, because he needs to be nurtured. I am caring for him, because he needs to be cared for. It is not easy, and there is no reward, but I am doing it nonetheless.

I am doing it because I don’t want to be the person who says no when the people I love are in pain. I have heard “no” from the people who love me when I needed them the most, and it was perhaps the most painful thing that I have ever experienced. It filled me with dust and stains and sand and sin. It made me evil to be so unloved. Which is why I have to be here, right now, helping him, because to turn my back to him would be to let the people who hurt me know that I deserved it. But I didn’t deserve it, and he doesn’t deserve that either. None of us deserve that, but it’s still what I got. But that’s okay, because it hasn’t changed me beyond the recognition of love.

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