I never thought I’d talk with her again, so it was a bit like talking to a ghost.
When I answered the phone, her voice sounded just as I remembered. For a brief moment, I went back and forth between feeling as though I was hearing a voice from another life and feeling as though I had just talked with her hours before. She felt completely alien to me — but she also felt intimately familiar.
I don’t know why she called. She said she didn’t even know. She suddenly needed to talk with me and she impulsively dialed my number.
She’s married now, but she used to love me. That’s what she said, anyway. I used to love her, but she hurt me by pulling away unexpectedly. With no warning or explanation, she changed course. She disappeared from my life and quickly married someone else. I never knew why and that hurt. I assumed it was some fault in me — something that would cause her to choose another man.
Now I finally know the truth — and the truth makes me sad.
She sounded like someone who had called to make a confession. Her words tumbled out as though she had been saving them for too long — as though she had to get everything said before a clock ran out. I heard in her voice what sounded like a combination of need and relief, like an addict who had needed her drug and had finally given in by dialing my number.
I didn’t ask her why she disappeared. I didn’t have to.
“You scared me,” she said, before realizing what that sounded like. “I don’t mean you did anything wrong. I guess I scared myself, because I’d never fallen in love with anybody like you. I was attracted to you because of your emotional intensity and how open you were with me. I needed that. But I was scared of it, because you wanted the same thing from me — and I didn’t know how to trust anyone with all of my heart.”
She met John — not his real name — at church and he had pursued her. He was a nice guy. Very socially acceptable, had a good future, liked her — but there was one important difference. He didn’t want much more than her presence. He didn’t want to know her deeper thoughts and feelings.
He didn’t ask her to talk about ideas or motivations or her past hurts. She didn’t have to deal with knowing herself better or going deeper. Everything was easy. She could just put on a happy mask for their social world and hide who she really was.
“You would have never let me hide like that,” she said. “I would have had to be real and open and vulnerable — and I was so terrified of having to go there. That’s what scared me. That’s why I ran away from you.”
She said that while John was a good and decent man, he is as different from me emotionally as she could’ve gotten. He lives his life. She lives her life. They have a child now, so they talk about practical things about their child and about their household, but other than that, they don’t know each other.
“I needed the emotional growth you offered me, but I was terrified to go there,” she said. “I wanted to keep hiding and stay in denial. The way I live keeps the real me hidden and it feels terrible that nobody even knows me. Nobody even wants to get to know the real me anymore.”
She said that the days when she was getting to know me were the happiest days of her life, but what she felt quickly scared her.
“Nobody had ever known me or understood me the way you did,” she said. “He did you do that? I mean, it was like you could see right through me and I felt naked and vulnerable. You shared so much about yourself and you wanted to know me. It felt so good for a man to really want to know who I was, but once I got past the first excitement, it scared me — because I was telling you things I’d never shared with anyone. So I closed up and I ran.”
She said she knew what she was giving up in making her decision, but the fear — and her desire for socially acceptable stability — pulled her away.
“Loving you would have been better for me in the end, but I was scared to let myself stay with you and work through the hard parts,” she said. “I knew I would have to open up and be more honest than I’d ever been in my life. I didn’t know how, so I took the easy way.”
She has her work and her friends and her child to distract her from these thoughts. She said she doesn’t like to think about me or what she did, but she can’t help herself.
“I don’t love him,” she said. I already knew that, so I hadn’t planned to ask.
I asked her whether she still loves me.
“I shouldn’t answer that question,” she said after a long pause. “It’s something I want to say, but that would be admitting too much. I think you’ve always known how I really feel.”
She confessed that she has a comfortable life but she’s bitterly lonely, so she tries not to think about any of this. She can’t make a change in her life and she said she knows I couldn’t trust her and probably wouldn’t still love her anyway, even if she were free.
“I miss you,” she said softly with a melancholy tone. “I would give anything to have a chance to make that decision again.”
And then she was gone.
Note: I’ve reconstructed her quotes as accurately as I can from my notes.