Memories are hard to recall when he’s tied to them.

I go through each one with the careful caution of a shell shocked soldier. I approach the image– the blue of the ocean and the feeling of a sand dollar in my hand– and when I hear the train of past conversations in my ears, I try to gently tune them out. I try to focus on what I felt alone, not what we felt together. I try to breathe in and breath out. Reshape and sculpt things. So that I can visit the beach in my mind and not see his face. Not smell his hair or notice his gait.

I want to reclaim myself. I want to pluck her up and plant her on firmer ground. I want to reintroduce her to her life. I want to select her feelings and remind her that grief doesn’t claim it all. It doesn’t get to sweep in like a shameless thief and leave everything bare and empty.

My feelings are complex and everlasting. They are not stagnate. And while he tried to change things– distort those pictures because he could not bare to visit the past, they remain. I am no longer beholden to his rules. I do not have to put his thoughts into consideration when it comes to mapping out my own history.

But still, how he tries to linger. A bad scent of something decayed. Untraceable but still present.

They say we only live on as long as people remember us, so I am taking each of these memories away from him now. I am determined. He will become in my mind what he was behind the mask, a skulking shadow to be eradicated. No more trickery. No more illusions. I name him abuser. I name him rapist. I will not shy away from the truth.

In each memory, I loved as he hated. In each memory, I gave as he took. In each memory, that hand holding mine in the sun would be turned against me at night, and I told myself it was worth it– I could endure this abuse and take on his inner pain for the eventual moment he’d be purged of it all. Healed. He’d choose us like he said. Free at last.

Oh, my little narcissist. How wrong I was about you. The only moments that were actually real between the two of us were when your hands were pressed against my neck. You squeezed so tightly, as if by choking my throat, you could wring out the lies coming from your own. You were only real when you took control. When you had me submit. When you struck my face and smiled as you’d cry out your victimhood. You’d remind me to be strong because you were weak. Remind me to know my place underneath you.

Today I claim the scenes between your tantrums. I claim the love I felt outside of your scorn. I rewrite a new story of what we were– I was there with you, and I endured. I celebrated life with you, and I endured. I preserved these landscapes in my photo album as I endured. You are banished into the background of my memories. You are no longer beside me in any one of them. You are the dark shadow that tainted the message these places were delivering to me. I am embracing the truth of those experiences. While in those moments, I thought it was us standing on top of those points, looking out at the expanses of Colorado, California, Wyoming, and Nevada. But it was never true. It was never real. The truth is there were two separate people there, having two separate experiences. And I was never really seen in your mind’s eye. I was never actually there. No more important than the backpack you carried or the car we drove to get there.

The truth is I was alone in those memories, and now I am going to reclaim them. Shift them. Adjust the lens.

And see myself and feel her feelings. Alone but together. She and I.

United. And Completed.

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