Lana would wear excessive make-up to cover her black eyes and swollen lips. We all knew where the injuries came from, but it wasn’t until I saw the cast on her broken arm that I finally had to bring up the touchy subject. When I asked her why she didn’t leave him, her only response was “Because I love him.”
I never understood how she could answer so matter-of-factly with such a vague and counterintuitive response. Was that love?
The familiar story only makes sense because of its repetition. We all cheered when J-Lo had enough and brutalized her abusive on-screen husband, but in real-life relationships, the victim usually sticks around. A small part of me pitied the fools who felt trapped in such a relationship, but mostly I disregarded them as casualties of their own cowardice. How can you love what only causes you harm? However common, I knew I would personally never find myself in that situation.
Then I woke up one morning with an elephant sitting on my chest. The night before, I sat on a friend’s balcony, overlooking Channelside, laughing over cocktails in the brisk evening air for hours. In those five or six hours, I managed to chain smoke an entire pack of cigarettes plus a few I bummed once my personal stash was depleted.
This was not the first time I had woken up with that heavy pain in my chest, a shortness of breath and that sickening, sticky taste in my mouth, but this was by far the worst. Deep breaths resulted in a coughing fit so long and painful I thought I would pass out from a lack of oxygen or burst blood vessels in my eyes. The feeling was excruciating and nothing short of time would make it better.
And I still wanted a cigarette.
I have been in a relationship with Marlboro for 13 years. I stuck with them when smoking was banned in restaurants. I stuck with them through countless price hikes that have tripled the cost since my first pack. I stuck with them when men that I genuinely liked said they couldn’t date a smoker. In those thirteen years, I have endured their emotional, financial and physical abuse. They have beaten the shit out of me over and over again, and yet I stayed with them. Why? Because I love them.
I love the way a cigarette can calm my nerves in the middle of a hectic day. I love the way one can cap off a big, satisfying meal. I love how they occupy my hands and make me seem less awkward at a bar. For all their faults, I love them.
For all these reasons and more, this is the hardest break-up I have ever endured. Nineteen days, twelve hours and thirty-four minutes ago, I ended the longest, most stable relationship I have ever had. Like any break-up, there is a longing for one more minute together, one more chance to reminisce about the good times or to once more feel that tender kiss on my lips. But I know I have to be strong, walk away, and never look back. Now I just need to find a good rebound.