After the girls split a little more than a year ago, there wasn’t much left of me that could still be considered intact. My thoughts were obscured and darkened. My laughter gone. My eyes no longer moist. My tears were all spent trying to save the marriage. I had none left, it seemed, to mourn the loss of it.
The large organ in the middle of my chest that usually beat with excitement and keenness for life had shriveled down to nothing, barely able to pump the blood through my ever-constricting veins. With each moment that passed, life was sucked further from me. I began suffocating. I began retreating. I became obsessed with only one thing… survival.
I knew if I were to survive, and that if any of my other senses or thoughts were to return to normal, I would have to let my heart recover. I would have to let it feel safe for as long as it took. I would have to give it room to do its job, the ability to regenerate, and the safety it so blatantly and repeatedly told me it required.
So, I built a wall around my heart. Oh, who am I kidding? I built a ten-foot thick, fifty-foot tall fortress around it with no way in and no way out. Around that I built a treacherous moat, ready to swallow any person that dared try to cross it. I was secure. There would be no love. There would be no loving. And I would be… safe.
For months I sat atop a tall tower within my fortress, keeping watch in all directions for potential divergence. I kept everybody, and I mean everybody at bay while I sat there. Nobody was getting in. Nobody was getting out. And I would continue to be… safe.
I would not ever go through what I had been through again. Ever. I often looked down at my guarded heart in those days and thought, well done, sir. Well done.
And then one day I saw Tweni.
I saw her out in the distance, walking by my fortress one day. She wasn’t interested in me. She wasn’t interested in breaking through my stronghold. And, she was beautiful. So beautiful that I watched her every chance I got. Our paths crossed several times.
This was a few months after I had officially sealed myself in. No way in. And no way out.
After several encounters with Tweni, I spoke across the wall and asked her on a date. She quickly accepted my invitation. I was excited.
That first date turned into two, which turned into three, which turned into a true friendship, which turned into a relationship.
And even then, my fortress was still in place. No way in. No way out.
But then, from within the fortress, I felt something. My heart skipped slightly. I was falling in love with her. No, I thought. No, no, no. It was too soon. It was all too fresh. The pain of what the others had done was still too real. And I wouldn’t go through what I’d been through again. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. So, I stayed hidden behind my impenetrable fortress wall, too scared to peek over the edge, fearful that to see the beautiful woman who stood on the other side would lead me to the same pain I had dealt with twice. So, I broke things off with Tweni.
But it was too late. She was already my best friend, and I wasn’t giving that up. It took only days for me to forget the panic I had felt when I first felt love for her, and again we found ourselves in a relationship. Before long, I found myself longing to be on the other side of my wall.
Her eyes said everything. She loved me. She loved me so deeply that the walls around my guarded heart began to shake at her very gaze. I can’t, I thought once again. I can’t let these walls come down. It was all too soon; it was all too fresh. I wouldn’t go through it again. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t survive. And so again we rewound to friendship. A safe place. A place where I would be… safe.
But see, Tweni loved me through it all. She loved me no matter how hard I tried to protect myself. She loved me more than any other woman ever had. She saw my flaws, she saw my walls, she saw the person within the person that I truly am, and she loved me with all her heart.
It didn’t take long to realize that this fortress I had built needed to come down. How could I let a woman that beautiful, that incredible, and that strong go? I became desperate to break down the walls that I had built up to protect myself. I grabbed every tool I could find and started hacking away at the ramparts of my fortress. Why did I not build myself a way out? I thought as I toiled.
I chiseled away for days and weeks and months, desperate to reach Tweni on the other side. She was patient, anxious for me to get there. She loved me through it all. She somehow saw me through the wall. She saw the man I was before the barricade and before the fortress, and she knew that such precautions were temporary.
And after I had clawed my way as far as I could, I slumped on my own side of the fortress and cried to Tweni on the other side. “I’m sorry. I can’t get out. I can’t take this wall down. I’ve tried everything, but the wall is too thick.”
She looked at me through the wall, just as she always had, only this time something was different. I had always been able to read her soul through her eyes, and my inability to breech the perimeter around my heart had taken its final toll on her. She was broken. She was exhausted. She couldn’t wait any longer, and I couldn’t go any further. We both looked at the wall which stood between us and called things off once again. She would remain my friend, and I hers. But that damn wall would prevent us from ever being free to be together. To love each other.
I sat on my side of the wall, looking up at what I had built around me. Desperate. Sad. I had no idea what it would take to finally make it come down. I remember crying as I looked up at that damn wall. Several times. It seemed I had become a slave to my own fears. Perhaps I had put it in place so strongly that I would never again experience a life without my stupid, stupid wall.
By this point, Tweni assured me over and over that she didn’t have feelings for me any longer. She assured me she couldn’t. She assured me she was done. But still, she was there, my best friend through it all.
And then, while we were broken-up, I kissed a girl. It wasn’t Tweni. In truth, I didn’t even enjoy it. With every moment that passed after that, I found myself hating myself for guarding my heart the way I had. I found myself all the more desperate to be with Tweni and only with Tweni. I found myself desperate to bring that wall down. I didn’t want anybody else. And so I picked up my tools and continued to work at it.
I wrote journal entries and poetry to try and find ways over that wall or under it. I spent many restless nights plotting the wall’s demise. I knew I had to get to Tweni before she was gone.
And then, for some reason, I told her about the other girl that I had kissed. Maybe I was feeling guilty because even though we were broken-up when the kiss took place, I secretly and silently loved her from within my wall. Maybe I wanted to know that she still loved me even though she claimed she didn’t. Maybe I was just thoughtless. I don’t know.
I do know that after I told her, through those blue eyes that have always been the gateway to her soul… I saw it. Pain. Anguish. Hurt. Devastation.
With my admission, I destroyed her.
She picked up her things, and began walking toward the door. “You just lost the best friend you’ve ever had,” she said to me over the wall that still separated us. Moments later she was gone.
I collapsed into the dirt against the wall and began to weep. “You f***ing wall!” I screamed. I had no energy left. The wall had destroyed me. And eventually I fell asleep. Alone. Truly alone.
She was gone.
I awoke minutes later because something within my chest started pounding against my sternum. I hadn’t felt anything like it in a long, long time. Wake up you freaking idiot! it screamed. I reached down and felt where it was coming from. It was my heart. When I looked back up again, what moments before had been the wall that would end me was now somehow crumbling before my eyes. Small holes started to appear which turned into bigger holes. The wall still stood, but yes… there were holes in it that I might be able to squeeze though.
I leaped from my bed, my heart pounding so hard I was afraid it might burst from my chest. I love her. I looked at the clock. She was probably asleep long before. I unsuccessfully tried to go back to sleep as well, planning to tell her that I loved her the next day. Planning to make her mine. Planning to meet her, for the first time, without that damn wall between us.
But that never happened, because the next day she finally let herself fall in love with somebody else that she had met some time before.
I’ll wait, I thought, trying not to panic. I settled back down, sure that she would come back. Sure that the love she had always had for me was still there. Sure that days or weeks later she would be free again, and I would be able to confess my now growing love for her.
With each day that passed, my heart broke even further. Yet I refused to give up hope that she would come back.
My heart still screamed at me constantly. You love her. Tell her. Now. My mind kept screaming at me that I had to be “respectful” of the relationship she was now in. I had to “let her go.” I had to be okay with it. I had to stop… loving her.
The constant battle between heart and mind worsened, and I began attempting to subdue the conflicting voices in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways. I was sure that another girl could make me stop loving her, and so I began searching for one. I started dating incredibly beautiful women. Women established in their careers. Fun women. Women who fit the mold of everything I thought I’d ever want.
Yet with every date, and with every moment I spent with every other woman, in the end, I could think of only one person.
My heart belonged to her. The fortress had come down just enough to make that possible.
Then the man she was dating asked her to marry him. And she said yes.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. I wept several times that day. I sent her a message on Facebook that said “congratulations.” Doing so hurt more than almost anything I’d been through to that point. My mind laughed at my heart because it knew my heart had no choice but to give up.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. I whispered it all the day long. I had lost her. She was gone for good.
Again I slouched into the dirt next to the slowly breaking wall around my heart. There were holes big enough that horses could fit through the wall now. How the holes enlarged I didn’t know. Why they were growing, I couldn’t guess. Sleep never came to me that night.
The pain. I had been hurt by women for close to a decade beyond anything a person should have to endure (and I’m sure I did my fair share of hurting back). And yet… I had never felt pain like that. My arms hurt. My legs hurt. My neck and back ached. My muscles all seemed to clamp down together and force me deep into the ground below me. As I lay there, I felt as if my core would rip in two. The valves of my heart worked overtime for hours to keep up with the adrenaline that my sadness kept injecting into my body. It wasn’t all mental. The pain was so bad, and so intense, that my entire body and heart physically hurt.
So this is love, I thought. Real love. I had never experienced it. I had been married twice and I had never loved anybody the way I loved Tweni.
As the sun arose the next morning, I forced myself to my feet, reached up, and felt my chest. Something was different.
My wall was gone. My fortress no more. At some point during the night, it had tumbled. It had fallen apart. The wall had, it seemed, evaporated into thin air. My heart was now open. It was now free.
You see, there was only one way for that wall to come down, and that was to learn that it hurt far more to lose somebody I truly loved than it ever would to be hurt the way I feared loving another would hurt me. No betrayal, no viciousness or harsh words, no back-biting, and no end to any relationship could hurt as much as I hurt that night. I knew it, and my heart knew it, and without ever asking my mind for consent, my heart took the wall down. It knew it couldn’t go through that again. And so now it protected itself by refusing to let itself be guarded. It would finally be… safe.
It is too late for Tweni and me. I recently had the chance to look into her eyes once more and see for myself that the love that once was there was there no longer. But in so many ways, I am thankful beyond thankful for everything she gave me. I am thankful for the way everything went down. She gave me the greatest gift any person could have given me… Freedom to both love and be loved once again.
You see, I would never be able to truly love any woman as long as that damn wall was in place, and nothing else could have taken it down. Nothing. So for that, I will say thank you, Tweni. May your forever happiness be your reward for everything you’ve done for me. I will never forget you.
In truth, I have struggled to know whether I should share something so personal as all this on Single Dad Laughing or not. I have always been very cautious about sharing anything that has to do with my love life. I wrote it several weeks ago as a way for me to understand the pain I was going through. Writing is, after all, the only way I have ever truly been able to communicate with my soul. I cannot lie to myself when I am writing; to do so would destroy it for me. I had no intentions of sharing it.
But in the end, I decided to share it for one reason. I am not alone in any of it. The world is full of those who have built walls to guard their troubled hearts, those who are desperately trying to connect to people on the other side of walls, and those who have experienced or are experiencing true and painful heartbreak. If my words and experience can make the difference for even one person, it will have been worth sharing. If even one person can see for themselves the far greater potential for pain when walls exist… if even one person is able to keep from unnecessarily losing the love of their life… if even one person is able to dismantle their own fortress and love once more… it will have been worth it.
And while my heart may be sad for some time to come, it is also free to love once more. It is free to truly let her go. My heart is free to make my decisions for me from here on out. In the end, it is my heart that will get to laugh at my mind. And I’m excited for that.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
PS. I’d love to hear your responses today. Has the end of love ever caused you or anybody you know to build a fortress around their heart? What are your thoughts on today’s post? Are you experiencing any of this right now? If you’ve experienced having your own walls in the past, what finally helped you bring those walls down?
Also, If you’re new around these parts, we’d love for you to find a way to follow. We have a lot of fun around here (I promise it’s only this heavy once in a while). Also, if you feel like today’s post might benefit others, I’d be so thankful if you’d please take a moment to share it.