By Moss Ruskin
I let go. But he let go first. I think of the words I said that marked the end with a bruised tongue.
I sat on top of him and held his face close to mine. His tears were rolling in between my fingers and his cheeks. They loosened my grip and when he shook his head, it was harder to hold on.
He said, “You don’t love me the way I need you to.”
Months later I sat across from him on the bed that held us through our entire relationship.
I said, “I don’t know how to be happy. I don’t even know what happiness is, really.”
He said, “Well, you know that’s not what I need right now.”
I left. I drove. I heaved. I woke up. I drank. I hurt -myself, for hurting him.
Months past and I started to measure the time of day by how many times I had asked myself,
“Am I happy yet?”
Norepinephrine is released at the highest rate during a stress response. It increases arousal and readiness as well as enhances retrieval and formation of memory.
On constant alert of where his body was in proximity to mine, I look over my shoulder at all times. I can’t tell if I want him to be there or I if dread it.
I trudge up a steep hill on the way to my car. I’m sweating and heaving and reminiscing about the night we walked up the same hill with his purple hands in mine. I didn’t even notice it had been this steep. It was November and we were trying to find the ledge of a parking lot to watch cars go by at the nearby light. We sat in silence while we fell in love.
Falling out was louder, but just as intense.
In place of the thought of watching him buckling our kids into car seats, now sat blocked phone calls and texts that read, “There’s nothing here for you anymore.”
A yellow piece of paper once told me that he wanted all of me and I knew I wanted all of him so I don’t know why it was so hard to handle, conceive, embrace, allow.
The letter ended with “Always.”
Five years ago my best friend spray painted the side of her old elementary school with stolen gold letters that read, “FOREVER DOESN’T COUNT” while I felt the stinging of my car cigarette lighter on the skin of my forearm for the first time. It left a grey impression. Nothing ever hurt worse. Nothing was ever more welcome.
Fear has always fueled my urges. With gnarled teeth, desperation lingers in the pit of my stomach and takes the happiness I consume, turning it into 3 am phone calls, 12 pm quiet sobs in a bathroom stall, 9 am naps, 7:45 am frantic emails reading, “sorry, family emergency,” when the only sirens blaring are for my inherited genetics, 10 pm sitting on a plaid couch eagerly telling my boyfriend that I think I love him and when he says it back I cringe. I hold back tears.
I look at the door. It’s painted white like my face.
It’s all-consuming, all-powerful, and always thirsty. And I can never tell if I’m a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty kind of girl.
It’s just that even gravity is still too much weight for the fragile. We fell together, but we broke apart. We kept trying to pick up the other’s pieces but we just ended up slicing into each other and now there are these scars on his chest that he’ll explain to someone else one day. I wonder if he’d wish she’d been there instead.
I’ll never forget the way he cringed and the overwhelming feeling of needing to save him, but having to remain in my seat. Maybe it was both of us, but maybe it was just me. His love hurt.
Probably because it was so true.
I digress. I dissect.
An action potential inside my neurons depolarizes the cell after threshold of excitation is reached in order to reestablish resting potential after giving my brain the message to stop, to start, to react.
My parasympathetic system inside my autonomic system inside my peripheral system inside my nervous system tells me to breathe him in.
What made me stop wanting to?
The hippocampus is crucial to form conscious memories and to unconsciously recognize complex patterns inside them. It is responsible for learning and remembering things like- Relationships that characterize spatial layouts items in context in which they have been experienced , associating sequential or logical relationships inside your experiences.
Life only exists in memories.
Memories that touch me in the way my mother ran her fingers over my protruding rib cage the night I hadn’t eaten in so long I couldn’t make it to my own bathroom. She touched me just like the way the Russian cashier looked at me when I bought diet pills after work at the tender age of 16. She looked at me the way he closed his eyes when I held his hand the moment we knew it was over. He closed his eyes the same way I sat in shower and stared at my hands the day I realized I was going to die. I saw my hands for the first time like I felt the softness of my best friend’s lips two nights before she left for college. With remorse. With effort. With compassion.
These memories don’t just fade away, or shrink, but get bigger in time. They become our lives.
To establish long-term memory, neurons change in structure through long-term potentiation. Whenever something is learned circuits in the brain (neural networks) are altered, created, strengthened, electrochemicals transfer neurotransmitters across synapse gaps to receptors. This communicative strength of certain circuits is reinforced and, with repeated use, the efficiency of the synapse connections increase.
I got into my car and started the engine as my pocket started to vibrate. His voice was on the other line telling me he had just gotten off of work. It was the first time I had heard his voice as more than just an acquaintance. It surprised me as I paused to analyze it. I left to go get us juice.
I got into his car and and we sat in silence. He took us to all of the book stores we could find. I followed behind him reading Green Eggs and Ham as loudly as I could. It was raining. We drank chocolate milk and drew penises in notebooks throughout the store.
I got into his car and we drove as far as we could. We got pizza along the way.
Favorite discussion of the night: What are the qualities of a good pillow?
I got into his car. We had been fighting all week. He drove us around like he was trying to find something. Not in a navigational sense, but as if he was trying to re-find us. It turned to sabotage. I realized I would have to stop loving him soon. I laid my head on his shoulder.
When we finally got to where we were going, I bought as much maroon yarn as I could carry and he bought a box of those strawberry cheesecake popsicles you get on ice cream trucks. We went home. I woke up and found him on the couch.
It is also known to associate the hippocampus with the changing of neural connection for a period of three months or more after the initial learning.
I got into his car for the first time in four months. His voice responded to mine and we were both surprised—at how easy it was to get lost again. We talked about where are lives were and what our lives meant to each other. He said he was sorry. I did too. I promised him I would never talk to him again. I meant it, but that doesn’t always mean it’s going to happen.
Structurally, the short-term memory is supported by transient patterns of the neural communication in the regions of the frontal, prefrontal, and parietal lobes while the long-term storage is maintained by permanent changes in neural connections all throughout the brain.
I walked past a room he was reading in one morning after I had been up studying all night.
I wanted to watch him peel an orange. I wanted to watch him the way I would watch my grandmother peel potatoes over a black sink.
I had been there for hours, dirt from the floor they never mopped coated the underneath of my feet. I sat and wrote a poem about flowers. Now I write poems about the only way we still exist.
We stumbled into a Steak and Shake on a Friday morning. We were hung-over and I watched him order cheese fries through that same sleepy haze. It was the first time I had seen him in glasses. It was the first time I didn’t want to run away. It was the first time I loved him.
The hippocampus files away our memories and connects them to other memories and, in turn, gives them meaning. Consolidation is the process where short-term storage becomes long-term storage by using things like rehearsal and meaningful association.
When do the long-term memories finally leave?
I came home one night to Him:
Bald and drunk and making chicken and rice. A handle of vodka, an entire bottle of my Simply Orange with Banana, and one-week-old chemo ran through his towering body as he grasped my hips and made me dance. He told me he thought of us doing taxes together and then he spilt the dinner he made us all over the floor, giggling, sobbing, swearing.
He said all of these nice things about me. Eventually they became so desperate. Eventually they became so scared. I became so scared. It was 1 am and I was still covered in ice cream from work but we sat on the couch and talked. He grabbed one of his guitars and started belting out songs he had taught himself years before—before I knew it he was making me sing Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” as loud as we could inside the apartment. I thought: If this is what loving someone means, I don’t think I want it.
I’ve never been more terrified of anything in my entire life. I had a 6’2” stepfather who would pin me to cars, washing machines, doors, couches, and tell me how worthless I was. I didn’t flinch. It was so easy to slip through and run away.
Here a man was giving every part of himself to me- dark places first- and I wanted to run away so fast but it was everything I could do to stand. So I slept.
I woke up to cigarette stained kisses and when I opened my eyes I saw slashes on his legs and tears in his eyes and I had a test on Foucault’s take on the asylum and an annotated bibliography due the next day but I was holding pale hands. I could see every vein. I could see every dark part of him with every dark part of me and I didn’t want it.
I didn’t want it.
Neither of us buy Simply Orange with banana anymore.
Where do all of the dark places hide? In my skin, in my bones, in my heart, in the hollowed book where I keep my razor, in the depths of memories where I sat alone on playgrounds in my feet, my hands. In my body.
My body aches as I wait for my world to silence. I can’t move for weeks and then one day my roommate comes home to me scrubbing the sink and telling her the overwhelming amount of decisions I had made for my life that day. I deleted my Facebook. I’m going to Italy. I made us dinner. The only person I’ve ever truly loved called the cops on me-can you come get me? Can you come get me, I’m not OK. I just need more time. Please. Please. Understand. I’m trying.
Years spent disappointing everyone who has ever cared for me. Years spent feeling like I wasn’t good enough. Years spent not being able to come up for air.
People only come when you’re at your end. I had never gotten so many phone calls in one day as I did the day I was admitted to the hospital. I had never gotten so many voicemail boxes in one week as I did the week prior to my admittance.
Norepinephrine is made up and released by the sympathetic nervous system, setting the body up for action. It increases restlessness and anxiety and releases the lowest amounts of levels during sleep. Damage occurs from chronic stress. This results in loss of routine body system maintenance which can potentially lead to depression and slower-healing injuries.
I laid in his bed after therapy and I asked him if I could just be sad today. He said yes, but he wouldn’t let me. Maybe it was his need to fix me, when I seemed to have been born broken. He would look at me like I was insulting him by being hurt—that it was his fault he couldn’t save me from my darkness like he had saved himself. He was mad that it was permanent. That it didn’t disintegrate along with his cancer cells. A few weeks later, we were broken up for good.
An action potential inside my neurons depolarizes the cell after threshold of excitation is reached in order to reestablish resting potential after giving my brain the message to let go.
My parasympathetic system inside my autonomic system inside my peripheral system inside my nervous system tells me to breath him out.
What made me start wanting to?
Moss Ruskin is an aspiring neuropsychologist and habitual bed hog in her early twenties. She is a single mother of two cacti, Frog and Marzipan, a recent college graduate, and is often told her jokes are really funny but depressing. When not being too busy for her own good she can be found in the Nashville, TN area drinking chocolate milk under a blanket and wondering what reality actually is or knocking something over. Probably the latter, honestly.