I'm not going to post the letter. It was written with such bitterness, months later I can still taste the bile. But I will describe the scene:
J had started up an e-mail ping pong with me a few weeks earlier. At first I responded politely with short answers, but it didn't take long to fall back into the banter that made us fall in love in the first place. This time we were both careful to keep it light; he didn't ask about my love life, I didn't ask about his. I was enjoying it -- in spite of myself and the lingering anger from this relationship that left me with an eating disorder and a shattered soul (not to be too dramatic about it). Communicating with him felt reckless, but curiousity egged me on. What did he want from me now, three years after we'd ended it? Was he being friendly? Was it guilt? Did he want me back?
I waited until we were deep enough in small talk (which had escalated to six or more e-mails sent back and forth each day -- more than just a friendly frequency) that putting him on the spot wouldn't send him running for the hills. "Why are we doing this?" I asked. He bobbed and weaved in classic J style. Said something about making changes in his life, realizing what's really important... he used words like "journey" and "reflection" and the phrase "choosing a direction."
"It's almost as if I've been waking up for so long that I'm just now realizing I'm awake," he wrote. True introspection had never been his thing. Had this 45-year-old Lost Boy decided to grow up and start living? Maybe, finally, I could stop hating myself for accepting him as my first, indelible love. Soothe that anxious part of me that alternately whimpers and rages, "How could you have fallen for someone so unworthy? How do you know you won't make the same mistake again?"
I told J one of the reasons I'd indulged this reconnection was healing: I still had some residual anger, and forgiving him was the only way to let the last of it go.
And then, as if I'd turned on a light, J revealed himself unchanged and said, "I'm not sure how much I think I need to be forgiven."
I could have just let it go there, but he had to go and patronize me:
"If you believe that working through the concept of forgiveness with/for me will enhance your ability to make yourself happy, I will commit to that process."
Anyone who's known me for five minutes or more knows not to talk down to me. It makes me so angry my shoelaces melt. I took two days to cool down and three more to write my response; I'm not sure if it was the finality of it (I avoid bridge burning whenever I can) or the fact that I still love this man that kept me hovering over the "send" button for four days longer. For three years I'd been holding in every unkind word, thinking that as long as I didn't scare skittish J with my anger, the door was still open. It's not that I wanted him back -- in hindsight I saw character flaws I couldn't have lived with long-term -- I just wanted to hear him say that he really had loved me most, that he was sorry and he regretted his choice. Needed to hear it, I thought.
But here's the thing about doors to the past: As long as you stand there holding them open, you can't move on.
So I held my breath, said goodbye, and slammed the door on my first love.