Grace had the kind of beauty that literally hurt to look at. She had big, plump lips and butt-length brown hair. She could tie a cherry knot with her tongue. She could draw a portrait on a bar napkin in two minutes. She had such a sculpted stomach there was a rumor circulating that she did crunches before every sorority pregame. She was a golden color that even the most expensive spray tan in SoHo couldn't replicate. She was impulsive and exhilarating. We dated for two years before I figured out how to end our on-and-off relationship.
We met at a dumpy college bar called The Dizzy Lizard Saloon. It was so gross that one night, we thought the water on the floor was leftover from a foam party, only to learn the toilets had overflowed. Every Wednesday, the bar held a contest to chug beers out of a Frisbee, and every Friday, they hosted a wet t-shirt contest. You could order an entire pitcher of Sex on the Beach for just $10.
Grace and I first made eye contact on Penny Beers night. She was letting some sweaty Jersey Shore wannabe lift her up on the dance floor while I was slugging back a vodka soda (I may have been ratchet, but not ratchet enough to drink a penny Bud Light) with my friend. When she locked drunken eyes with me, she winked. Only someone as gorgeous as her could make winking cool.
“Future plastic surgeon,” my friend Arran said, nodding toward Grace. He always had perfectly disheveled hair and a perfectly coifed man by his side.
“Huh?” I asked him, squeezing a lime into my vodka.
“That girl, over there. The hot one. She’s pre-med. Wants to be a plastic surgeon — make people as hot as her. She’s gay, go dance with her. She’s looking at you.”
Then Grace strode right up to me. "Why are you so cute?" she asked and didn't wait for an answer. She grabbed my face and kissed me.
I handled it like any normal person would: I panicked and ran into the bathroom. I splashed water on my face. Does the hot girl actually want to hook up with me or am I just dreaming? I splashed more water on my face, praying it wouldn't make my bronzer streak. I strutted out of the bathroom, took a shot, and asked her to come home with me.
We had amazing sex, then talked for hours. I was shook, convinced that it had to be a dream. At 6 a.m., when I got dressed to leave for my 8 a.m. Geology class (barf) I was sure that this would be a one-night stand. But then Grace asked for my phone number.
We saw each other again that night. Then again the following night. For five months, we had sex 24/7. If we weren’t having sex, we were staring into each other’s eyes. We didn’t even go on a date. Like, ever. I moved into her dorm and we spent all our time together, ordering in, watching Grey’s Anatomy, or scissoring. Which is why I was completely blindsided when she cheated on me.
She got up early to take a shower while I lazily lingered in bed. The moment I saw her phone on the nightstand, my heart beat quickened. It was the forbidden fruit.
Of course I trust her, my brain told me, but my hand had other plans. I snatched her phone like it was the last glass of Pinot Grigio on earth. The hum of the air conditioning, the running water, the yells of still-drunk frat guys in the hall fell silent. It was just me, my shaking hands, and her phone.
"Can we f*ck this weekend?"
That was all I saw before I slammed the phone down and choked back vomit. I literally saw spots. Like, not to be dramatic, but my whole world was shattered in that moment. When Grace returned to our room, slipping off her towel, and wrapping it around her cascading brown locks, I thought I’d want to punch her. But all I felt was sadness.
I pointed to her phone and burst into hysterics. Instead of defending herself, or even saying anything, she held me and comforted me. Soon enough, we were having sex. Tears were still rolling down my cheeks and she touched me. It was passionate, angry, devastating, and kind of hot. It was no doubt unhealthy.
After we had sex — and a long AF silence — she explained herself. “I didn’t answer, see,” she said, showing me her phone. “I haven’t even talked to that girl in a year.” I had seen that they'd had a conversation from a week ago above the text, but I didn’t say anything. In fact, I apologized for going through her phone and promised I wouldn’t do it again.
I went through her phone any chance I got: when she was asleep, when she went to the laundry room, when she was studying. I found incriminating texts every time.
At first, I thought I could handle her cheating. I almost liked the cycle of pain, anger, screaming, sobbing, her begging for forgiveness, and the intense sex. The thought of losing Grace made my stomach flip. I was OK with breaking up sometimes because it meant we could get back together again.
But the pattern only got darker. The stomach flips turned to flat out sickness. If we weren't breaking up over infidelity, we were on the outs because of something else: her refusal to come out to her family, or my body dysmorphia and anxiety becoming too intense to handle. Sometimes we broke up because we knew our relationship was doomed, and other times, we broke up because we were bored.
I don’t remember each breakup specifically; there were too many of them. But I do remember hysterically crying on the floor of our dorm shower. I remember driving by her house and frantically shoving her stuff in her mailbox and making my friend speed away. I remember asking my friend to pretend to propose to me on Instagram to make her jealous. I remember the ratchet motel we used to meet up at to have sex. I remember the mixture of elation, pain, and arousal I would feel whenever I saw her again after I promised I wouldn't.
None of my friends wanted to hear about Grace. It was the same sh*t all the time. I started keeping the on-and-off nature of our relationship to myself because I was embarrassed that my friends didn't want to hear about it anymore. Even my best friend refused to talk about Grace. She was sick of giving me the same advice over and over, only for me to never take it. She couldn't understand how I felt — that I knew wholeheartedly that I should stop seeing Grace for good, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
One night, two years into our relationship, something in me snapped. We had broken up and made up a million times, and we were fighting again, like usual. But that night, I was done — for good.
We both fell asleep on opposite ends of the couch while a thunder storm raged outside. In the middle of the night, I felt her slide up next to me. I choked back tears as she nuzzled my neck.
The next morning, we didn't fight. We hardly spoke at all. She simply said, "Maybe it's too hard," and I said, "Maybe it is." I rushed out of her house and felt so grateful to be alone in my car. Instead of being devastated, I only felt numb.
I knew that it was over. I knew that, no matter how much I loved her, no matter how gloriously we had started off, I had reached my limit. Though she never said so, I suspect she had reached hers, too. She didn't fight to win me back this time.
We didn't speak for the next two years, until I drunkenly followed her on Instagram, which prompted her to text me. We made plans to catch up over dinner. I knew it was a terrible idea, but a part of me wanted to see if we could make our relationship work again.
After slurping back drinks in awkward silence, we fell into a conversation that skimmed the surface. We talked about makeup and friends. I sucked down my vodka soda (some things never change), feeling a strange sense of astonishment that I had once centered my life around this person. I used to answer her calls immediately, no matter what I was doing. I chose her over my friends. I chose her over myself.
There was nothing to say. I looked at her and didn't know her. My mind drifted to the mozzarella sticks on the table next to us, what time my eyelash extension appointment was the next day, and if I left my straightener on. Somehow, I wasn't under her spell anymore. She looked equally as distant. Somehow, she wasn't under mine.
I think we were both disappointed. Our inner masochists and romantics wanted the reunion to be explosive, but instead, it felt unceremonious. Boring, even. When the small talk petered out, I paid the check, and we left the bar. This time — unlike all the times before — we wouldn't leave in the same car and drive to a motel to have sex.
Outside the bar, she flicked her cigarette to the ground and stomped on it with her stiletto.
"Do you think we'll ever be able to stay away from each other?" she asked, only for the sake of dramatics. I didn't respond. I didn't have to. We both knew the answer.
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