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  • Writer's pictureSteph Shuff

Red Flag, White Flag

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

I didn’t expect your sharpness. It was sudden, as if I had stepped on something splintered while walking, surefooted, through what I thought were the soft sands of our love. Old habits die hard and I retreated at the first sign of your discontent into the swift apologies of past selves - abused and imprisoned as they were. I’m sorry. I regret saying anything at all. I didn’t mean to upset you. Fear and shame pulsed like oxygen through veins dilated by adrenaline - a fight or flight response I can’t help but have anytime a confrontation becomes more charged than a soft and soothing exchange.

These wounds are not yours to heal, and these scars are not your doing, but these patterns are mine to break, and the collateral damage is what this might have been. I have been free of armor with you for too long and now I can hear my walls come up like the sound of an iron door slamming shut, sending echos through hopeless hallways. I can open them back up again if I want to. Do I want to?

Many months in and this is the first taste of anything unkind in you. Is it a fluke? Or a warning? It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. Our love, which felt transcendent, has plummeted back to Earth, heavy and material, to remind me that abuse creeps in like a rising tide. PTSD is a cruel mistress, but a pattern repeated is so much worse. The honeymoon phase is over now. Things are already too complicated for me to leave my neck exposed to see how hard you might bite. For the first time with you, I feel afraid. And if I must choose between solitude and fear, you already know which one it will be.

So what happens next?

Politeness will take the place of vulnerability, and I will send my representative to all our future meetings. My representative will be kind, diplomatic, appropriate. She will bear little resemblance to the free and fiery woman you saw in me before. That wild woman has vanished from your view like a magic trick, impossibly gone, but still somehow right in front of you. You will search for her in cold and vacant eyes. She will peer out at you from behind this robotic veneer. I will long for the days before we were both reminded of a love that turned terrible. But I will be grateful to know that this love never will.

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