It’s complicated,” she whispered softly the other night. Several nights ago. And I never knew what that meant all those nights ago. In these sleepless nights, I stare at the oblivion unraveling before me. The darkness has crept in, hasn’t it? And I understand what she meant.

“Why do some people insist on staying in a toxic relationship,” I ask my friend one night.

“Because they’re used to being in it and change is hard. And scary,” she responds.

Maybe it’s that I’ve forgotten. Forgotten what it’s like to be in a relationship. In a romantic relationship. The need of having someone who you can wrap yourself to and just let all the heaviness fade away. It’s been eight years since Jeanna, nearly as long apart as we were together. I tried to remember how it was in those days. Feeling empty. Abandonment.

“I miss you,” her text message read. And a part of me wants to respond with a cynical line: It would be hard to miss me if you stopped leaving me behind. But I don’t have the nerve. Because somewhere along the line, I stopped being the self-centered, selfish asshole. And I start thinking that this is some sort of self-issued penance for the years I was a terrible person to those I loved.

“I feel like this a healthy relationship for you,” my friend texts.

And I bite back the tears as I respond: “So I ask again: Why do some people insist on staying in a toxic relationship?”

“I don’t know how you do it,” my supervisor tells me. We’re in her office at work and I just broke the news that I want to leave the library. After everything I’ve been through in the last two years and now COVID-19, I’m feeling less and less content at work. Every morning it’s a fight to convince myself to go in.

“Do what?” I ask. But I know what she’s going to say. Because I ask myself that every day.

“After what you told me about the accident. Your father last year. I think I would have broken down already.”

“And yet I smile,” I say, rolling my eyes at the fact that I just quoted a zombie show. “The smiles aren’t for me. They’re for everyone else. Because if I crumble, the I feel…” and I let that fade into the silence.

“A friend one told me,” I continued, “that I carried the world on my shoulders. That I made everyone’s well being my responsibility. And maybe I do. There’s Jeanna. There’s Shaun. There’s you and there’s Doris. I do it for others and rarely for myself.” And before I go too far into the good guy complex, I fall silent. “I’ve been thinking of seeking someone,” I end my part of the conversation.

Six years later, things are still complicated. And after a lengthy text conversation, she ends it with, “This could be the wine speaking…” And the oblivion wraps its arms arms around me in a welcoming embrace, an old friend falling back in step with me. And as I close my eyes and welcome it, my mind whispers, “Is this all there is?”