I never wanted to love him, but it was entirely inevitable.
It happened a few months after the most traumatic experience of my life, something which I was still battling daily; I was plagued by triggers and memories from my suffocating hometown. Without diving into the gruesome details, the incident was something outside of my control, decided by someone I loved and trusted very much. There were pieces of that someone everywhere: their house, a mere mile from mine, their smiling face in the school parking lot, and their name still fresh on the lips of our mutual friends who hadn’t heard the story. I couldn’t breathe when I remembered that night, like the mere thought of it all robbed the air from my lungs, and I could almost taste the bedsheets again.
I never thought I could love someone again after that. I was too broken, too bruised; I was damaged goods no one wanted to touch, much less look at. And it wasn’t as if I was actively looking for someone new to occupy my thoughts. I had enough on my plate between telling my parents about it and starting therapy, turning my once-in-solitude suffering into public knowledge for the sake of getting the help I needed for my PTSD. I never expected it.
Until I met him.
He was new and foreign. A stranger at a minimum wage job I nearly didn’t take, with the dark hair and peeking freckled cheeks beneath his face mask. He was silent and shy, the opposite of me, and yet I felt drawn towards him more and more with every shift.
At first, it started as an enveloping sort of friendship. I needed friends anyway and spent so much time working that it helped pass the hours behind the counter. We would doodle for one another on extra receipt paper, help each other with annoying tasks, and learn about our shared loves and passions. Even in boxy, white-cotton blend uniforms and encompassed in the smell of deli meats, there was something undeniable about our connection.
It was daunting, the idea that something new was so close on the horizon for me. Even though he had grown to know me well in a short amount of time, I’d never confided with him my current issues, the weekly therapy sessions I had to attend, and my nighttime routine of sobbing in a hollow bathtub. Knowing you’re broken is one thing, but having to share that is an entirely different hill to climb.
But again, it was inevitable.
I told him about it in the back lot after a shift we had together, right after he confessed to having a crush on me. I choked down the tears between words, terrified of what he was seeing me as now. I was smaller, undoubtedly. I wondered if he could see the claw marks on my skin, the handprint stains of someone else on my neck.
But he just smiled an understanding smile and drew me into a long hug. He apologized for actions that weren’t his own, but simply for the fact that he knew I hadn’t heard it yet. He knew I hadn’t been extended such a courtesy, such a shoulder to cry on, so he gave it to me without hesitation.
That was a year and a half ago now, faded to grey on the mountains of time. We’ve been dating since then, and although it may not numerically seem like a long time, I’ve grown more with him than I ever thought possible. He held my hand through all of it; he listened to my nightmares, comforted me over FaceTime when we couldn’t be near each other, and most importantly, was patient.
It’s hard to be romantically involved after a derailing traumatic event. Sex is the last thing on your mind in those moments. You’re too worried about them pulling your hair in a certain, painfully reminiscent way, scared to tell them you feel the tears or the numbness settling in. It’s hard. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be that sentiment.
But more importantly, it’s possible.
It takes the right person and a hell of a lot of communication. My boyfriend and I to this day take the time to check-in. He understands the borders of my incident, and he knows how to recognize the signs of a breakdown settling over me before it has quite come. He’s attentive when I need it and makes sure I feel like not too much of a burden when I need the extra help. A key factor is a lack of pressure, particularly with sexual trauma, and the mutual understanding of your partner’s boundaries, as with any functioning relationship.
It may feel like an uphill battle, but at the end of it all, it’s worth it. Don’t rush yourself into anything you’re not ready for. Let things take their course in terms of your romantic life. It’s your story, and you choose how to write it all. With enough work, time, and effort, though, you’ll end up with your biggest supporter and a connection based on genuine, nurturing love.
It may feel scary, but it’s possible to love and be loved again, with no expectations. You’re never too broken to heal, and I was lucky enough to find someone to help me along the way in my journey back to myself.