Lessons I Learned From My Ex

The Indiana summer was unusually hot that year. The blistering heat mixed with the lack of air conditioning caused the air in the gymnasium to be thick and reek of body odor. Even with all four sets of double doors propped open and two industrial-sized box fans, there wasn’t even a slight breeze.  Hundreds of girls wearing hundreds of bows inhabited the blue mat that covered the indoor track. Our only escape from the sweltering temperature was the few breaks we got to eat. McNutt Dining Hall had become my temporary sanctuary. I stood in line holding a black, plastic cafeteria tray eagerly waiting to get food, when one of the few boys at cheer camp “accidentally” backed in to me.

            “Ope, I’m sorry,” I said, even though it was him who backed into me. He turned around and smiled, but he couldn’t get any words out. It was the prettiest smile I had ever seen. One I would never forget. Lesson: Love at first sight does exist.

            I left cheer camp with an All-American medal and a crush on a boy whose name I didn’t know, from a school I’d never heard of. Life has a funny way of bringing people together, though. A little over a week after camp was over, he followed me on Twitter and direct messaged me.

            You’re the little blonde flyer, right?

            I was. We exchanged numbers and got to know each other electronically for about three weeks. I convinced my best friend to convince her boyfriend to take us on a short road trip, since neither of us could drive yet. It was July Fourth, and we were on our way to a little town we didn’t know existed to spend the holiday with this mysterious boy from cheer camp. I had never been more nervous. I was worried about my wind-whipped hair from the drive there in the convertible. I felt fat in my high-waisted shorts. I was horrified he wouldn’t be the same in person as he was through text message. I stumbled awkwardly out of the back seat of the two-door convertible. He was standing there with that same luminescent smile. My fears vanished. He asked to hold my hand and gave us a tour through his little hometown, which was situated alongside a gorgeous reservoir. My friend and her boyfriend ventured off on their own. He introduced me to several people, who all seemed shocked.  He bought me a huge slice of pizza. Without even thinking that we had just met, I asked him to eat my crust. He did with no hesitation. Darkness settled in. We found a spot up on the hill that overlooked the water where the fireworks would be set off. He sat down Indian-style on a blanket he had spread over the dry, brittle grass. I laid down with my head in his lap and watched the bright explosions light up the night sky. I glanced up to see him looking down at me. He leaned down. Our first kiss was a Spiderman kiss: my favorite superhero. As we walked back to the car, we danced in the street. He twirled me around and spun me back into him. The feeling was euphoric. Lesson: Love like in the movies is real.

            The heat simmered down into a cool October. I finally had my license and was able to drive myself to that small town an hour away from home. It became my escape. It was his Senior Night, and it was the first football game I was able to come to. I was running late because I stopped at the store to buy a picture frame. I had gotten him a new pair of white Nike tennis shoes, a box of maple bacon donuts, and a framed picture of us. I drove ninety miles an hour the whole way there so I wouldn’t miss the Senior Night introductions at halftime. After the game, we left my mom’s car in the school parking lot. We were getting ready to leave in his Chevy Trail Blazer when he leaned over to kiss me and slipped a ring on my finger. I looked at the gold, tiara-shaped ring on my left hand. “A promise for my princess.” Lesson: Commitment is more than just a ring.

            Fall quickly turned to winter. We had been together for a few months, but it felt like a lifetime. I practically lived at his house. All I wanted was a puppy. I would see so many on social media, and they just melted my heart. I’m sure it was annoying how many times I begged for a puppy. He would always smile at how excited I would get when I’d see one. He never told me no, and he always gave me everything I wanted. At the beginning of February, he told me he had a surprise for me. He brought home a white and brown spotted Pitbull puppy. We made a list of names and narrowed it down like we were trying to pick a name for a baby. We decided on Dallas. He was the only thing I loved more than my boyfriend. Lesson: Don’t get a dog together unless you’re at least engaged.

            An entire year had passed, and the oppressive June heat consumed Indiana once again. He was the designated driver for his best girl friend’s twenty-first birthday. She had bought tickets for the Luke Bryan concert. He bought me a ticket so I could go, too. The night was so much fun. We got back to his mom’s house at around 3 a.m. We were in the process of feeding the dog and our two bunnies (he got them for me as a one-year anniversary present because I begged for a bunny, too) when his mom stormed into the garage. She was screaming at him for everything he had ever done wrong. His family situation was less than ideal. A few months prior, his mom found out her husband had relapsed into his drug addiction and was cheating with a woman much older. His stepdad left not long after that, but not without causing quite a scene first. It was the middle of summer, and we were in the garage cleaning a birdcage for his little brother’s bird, which he was getting as a birthday gift. His parents got home, and his stepdad was so angry that we weren’t finished with the chores. His stepdad was screaming degrading names at him and yelling at me. His younger sister came into the garage and tried to calm him down. He slapped her in the face right in front of me. I was horrified. We all got in my car and left. His mom attempted to find the answers at the bottom of wine bottles. They had been together since she was seventeen. She didn’t know who she was without him. The night we got home from the concert, she was several glasses in. She ceased her screaming at my boyfriend and turned her anger towards me.

            “He never acted like this before he met you.”  My heart shattered. I was bawling uncontrollably.

            Anger overtook him. “Don’t talk to her like that.”

            She kicked us both out. We crammed the dog, the bunnies in their cage, and as many of his things into my car as we could. I spent all the money I had on a hotel room that night. My parents let him live with us. Lesson: Sometimes, alcohol makes blood thinner than water.

            He lived with me for a few months until my best friend got kicked out of her house when her mom found out she was smoking weed. They rented an apartment together. Our relationship had suffered greatly because of his mom and our living situation. He would say he would do things, but never ended up doing them. I was getting fed up with it. I was really excited because I thought that him moving out into his own apartment would be our saving grace, but it wasn’t. We crumbled, but neither of us wanted to accept it. He started lying about drinking because he knew I didn’t approve. It had always been his vice, and I only wanted what was best for him. I started talking to a guy from my past, who had always been my vice. One night, I came home to find him passed-out drunk on the stairs of the apartment. I stepped over him furiously just to find his ex-girlfriend and his two friends sitting on our couch. I had never been so angry. I went into my best friend’s room and screamed at the top of my lungs. I wanted to punch his ex square in the nose, but I didn’t. I left and went to the guy’s house I had been talking to. There was no pretending we were okay after that. Lesson: Love isn’t always enough.