Jodi Lewchuk lives and writes in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her deeply personal storytelling and self-portraits explore the vulnerability, and bravery, of the human heart.

Letters to Lovers: The Catalyst {3/6}

Letters to Lovers: The Catalyst {3/6}

—Series inspired by Mary-Louise Parker's captivating Dear Mr. You

How are you, X? It's been a while.

It's been four years, actually, since we last had contact. 

People always seem shocked that I've not been in touch in any way with the man to whom I was partnered for twelve years and with whom I had assumed I'd spend my life. But neither of us has made any attempt to connect with the other since we parted. Dare I say neither of us has had desire to. That fact speaks powerfully, doesn't it? It speaks with a finality I'm comfortable with.

We were genuinely happy once, though. Weren't we? I look back now and wonder. We certainly savoured the blissful early days, when we could barely stand to be separated and I felt myself coming apart at the seams every time you held my gaze and said, "I adore you." We loved, laughed, and were lost to the rest of the world. 

We sat at the edge of pitch-black lakes in summer to watch the Perseids and left Post-It notes for each other stuck to mirrors and the insides of drawers. You played Ron Sexsmith songs for me while I lay in hot baths, and we slow-danced in the kitchen while dinner scorched the bottom of pans. You were political and opinionated and you made me look at the world in a way I hadn't before. I liked that. A lot. 

But what I didn't know about you, at least not yet, was that early days — the early days of everything: women, jobs, hobbies, projects — was your specialty. You'd throw yourself in headlong and be blind to all else. Until routine set in. Until things got hard. Until you saw reality at a thing's core. Then you'd flee, and find a way to start over again. To go back to those heady, easy early days.

We were already in deep when I recognized the pattern. I had given up a permanent job and moved to Montreal with you for yours. We had merged the things that couples who plan to stay together do, and though we chose not to get married conventionally, we called ourselves the common people's Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins — not needing signed papers or rings to prove anything. (I might have been more sad when they broke up than when we did...) 

I don't recall the first time I noticed it — the step back you took. All I know is that one day I felt your distance from my animated storytelling. Then you refused to celebrate holidays and special occasions, calling them artificial social conventions. You'd wait to commit to plans until it was too late to go through with them, and our sex life began to wither (there was no place between us for my "unfeminist" inclinations).

And so to keep the peace, and you, I diminished myself, bit by bit, over time. I tried to laugh more quietly. When I felt myself about to unleash a torrent of words, I bit my tongue. I stopped planning surprises. And on the rare occasion that you reached for me, I didn't dare ask for what I really wanted. Instead, our bed became the place where I itemized grocery lists in my head while counting the bricks in the top row of the eastern wall of the room. (There were 46, in case you were wondering.)

Although every single one of those stark realities was the equivalent of a neon sign blazing the message GET OUT NOW, I stayed. I had made a commitment and I was determined to see it through, to find a way to make it work. So I insisted on therapy and dates and begged you to let me into the secret place where you locked away your dreams and needs and fears. But for every day I thought we might be making progress, circling our way back to one another, there were stretches of weeks that proved the very opposite.

Then it happened.

My first magazine article was published, accompanied by my own photographs. I remember holding the package containing the gratis copies in my lap for more than a half hour before opening it. What a moment that was. My whole life I had wanted nothing more than to write, even though I had fought that desire at every opportunity, too scared to do it earnest and potentially fail at the thing I wanted most. 

But one day I realized I didn't have forever, and so I collected the words that continually rattled around in my head and filled the pages of notebooks that no one else saw and began sharing them with the world. It was one of the most important things I've ever done.

Those magazines sat on our coffee table for days, neatly stacked exactly as I had placed them. I had placed them. How I longed to find one of them askew, or tucked beside the monitor on your desk, evidence that you had consumed the piece you had watched me labour over for weeks.

One day, in desperation, I finally asked if you had looked at it, read it. Though it had received glowing feedback (later it would nominated for a writing award), the praise I wanted was yours. Oh, how I wanted you to be proud of me.

"I'm sure it's great," you said. "But, you know, your style of writing just isn't my thing."

The "thing" that meant the most to me. You couldn't be bothered with it. That's when I knew, unequivocally, that we were over. That perhaps we had never truly begun.

Not long after that day you turned to me one night in bed. I had just put the book I was reading on the nightstand and was about to turn off the light. You glanced down at our Labrador retriever/border collie mix curled at the foot of the bed, and then back to me.

"She's always been your dog," you said. "She should stay with you."

And that was it. No further discussion was necessary, because we both knew. I started looking for my own place the very next day. 

I was shell of who I should have been when I struck out on my own that spring, after the twelve years we had spent together. I know that you, too, were so much less than you should have been, ground down by the struggle we had become. But sometimes we have to be razed flat in order to find the strength to rise again. 

Rise, I did. In the ensuing months, I started to run. I started to laugh again. I challenged myself creatively and professionally. And I let myself feel desires and see possibilities I hadn't in years. 

After you, I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. Friends told me they'd forgotten how funny I could be. I bared my soul in words and published them so that others might find a thread of connection through my narratives. And I started pursuing the kind of pleasure I thought could never be mine. Anything and everything was possible.

It is because of you, and the lessons I learned from being with you, that I've become — am still becoming — the woman I was always supposed to be. The woman I always was, deep down inside. The journey to her was not an easy one, but you will always be part of it. In a way, you were its first step.

I'd like to think you have been on your own journey. That you have searched, and found, who you were always supposed to be once you had the knowledge and freedom, finally, to pursue that self. That our time together helped incite you to find your way.

I hope you are well, X. I hope you are happy. I hope you have risen, too. Truly, I do.

Letters to Lovers: The Twin {4/6}

Letters to Lovers: The Twin {4/6}

Letters to Lovers: The True Heart {2/6}

Letters to Lovers: The True Heart {2/6}