The Choice by Amanda Berg
Her hair was a mess. Her eyes were glossy and a little swollen. Black liquid liner smudged across the lower lids, dark brow gel fading. Tears dried on her cheeks, she looked like a walking cliche. I reached out to console her, but found myself roused by the cold touch of my bathroom mirror.
It was just after 8:30 on the morning after my 24th birthday. It was arguably one of the best birthdays I’d ever had. I finally found my crew of friends who wanted to celebrate my life. I finally had found my place, yet I felt so terribly empty.
I didn’t even remember getting home. I went to call him. My call history said I had made several drunk dials. Each one seemed to be rejected, based on the call duration.
I was becoming that girl.
He picked up the video call almost immediately, answering with a smirk.
“Someone’s feeling a little hungover, huh?”
I groaned. “I feel so sick. I don’t know why I let my friends talk me into going so hard.”
He looked so cute. “What are you doing?” I demanded. “Are you leaving soon?”
Yesterday’s anger came surging back to me. “You were supposed to be here over 12 hours ago.”
He started apologizing and overexplaining how work kept him late, again. The memories of the past three months started flooding my brain. I tried so hard to forgive and forget, but his excuses were making me start to feel sick. “You used to say you were working late… and then I found out you had another girlfriend, Jason. You know that if you mess up my birthday weekend I’m done for good.”
I shuddered. Saying the truth out loud made me want to vomit. It was mid August.
Just two months ago in June I woke up to a Facebook message from his other long term, long distance girlfriend, Mary.
We had both started dating him before he graduated college and relocated for work, a 14 hour round trip just to see him. When she reached out to me, she was there, with him. We cried and interrogated him on a video call. I told myself I was blocking him.
I found consolation in talking to Mary. She filled in the missing pieces. I didn’t understand why he’d go missing for a week, barely answering my texts or calls. Those were the weeks they were together. I expected a truly weird friendship to blossom, but it quickly turned into a brooding, toxic competition over who Jason loved more.
I didn’t block him. I tried to, but he’d email me or find a different way to contact me. He’d swear he wasn’t talking to her anymore, and tell me we needed to keep it a secret from her, so he didn’t hurt her any more than he had. Of course, he was telling her the same thing about me. I was just too naive to think I could be fooled twice. I had his location shared with me, he sent me screenshots of her blocked phone number. The situation became toxic and sticky. I felt destined to be with a boy who was destroying my mental health.
I snapped back to the present moment.
“I’m just finishing up some of these chores and packing my stuff. I’m gonna go through the fridge, which of these beers look good? Let me turn the camera around, hang on,” he rambled. It felt normal. I sighed with relief. He was coming for my birthday weekend. He chose me.
I watched him get ready and pack up his bag, still feeling sick from the previous night’s celebration. Still on the video call, he loaded up his car.
“I got you a present, too,” he added. “I know I’ve never been good at that stuff, but I really am trying.”
“I don’t believe you,” I half laughed. Almost two years down, and he had never given me anything, except for a belated Valentine’s Day card that he only sent after I pouted. This should have been another red flag, but I convinced myself that I should stop being so materialistic.
I could never count on roses, but this boy sent me red flags by the dozen.
Updated dating profiles in the midst of our relationship. Weekends where my phone couldn’t get through to him, but when I convinced my friends to try calling him, their calls would actually ring.
When I first found out about Mary, we went through his phone and found out he had another girl in the mix, too. This girl, Cara, lived closer to him than we did, and they had only been together for a few months. Mary and I tracked her down, and although she was upset, she joined us in the agreement that we would all block him. But he convinced me not to, and I believed him. He said he’d give those girls up for me. I was giving him a fresh start. Or, as he said, giving us a fresh start.
I choked down each excuse. The pit of my stomach was filled with his lies.
But now, things are getting better, I can see him choosing me. He’s coming.
Still on the video chat, he smiled at me, a loving expression in his eyes. “Okay, babe. I’m going to drive now so I should hang up. Why don’t you go take a nap, call me when you wake up, I’ll probably still have a few hours left in the drive.”
“Okay, I’ll do that. I’m so excited to see you,” I sighed again, relief filling my lungs. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said. And I believed it.
I slowly fell asleep, planning out the weekend in my mind.
About three hours later, I jolted awake in a panic. I couldn’t remember much of my dream, but something told me that I needed to wake up.
I looked at my phone to check the time, and noticed he had texted me.
Hey, so don’t be mad but I decided I’m not going to come today. I don’t know if my car can make the trip since it’s so old, and I’d rather pick a time I could fly out to you or something. Sorry.
My breathing quickened. I immediately tried calling him. Straight to voicemail. I went to Snapchat, his profile was nowhere to be seen. I was blocked. He had loaded up his car, told me to take a nap, then completely ghosted me.
I had another notification, a message from Mary, asking if I’d heard from him lately. As of that morning, he said they weren’t talking. But according to her, they were still dating and she was supposed to go see him in a week.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I spiralled into a rage. I continued to try calling him, more upset each time it went straight to voicemail. I blocked Mary from my phone. I had let him ruin a weekend that was supposed to celebrate me. I had let him take away my excitement. For months, I was afraid to check my messages. I obsessed over communicating with him as much as possible to ensure he wasn’t spending time talking to Mary. Or any other girl he decided to add. I did everything I could to win. Win his affection. Win his love and attention.
But here I was on a hot summer morning, sitting in an empty bathtub to help cool me down from a storm of anger. Nearly an hour passed before I started to calm down.
I finally stood up, and went back over to the mirror. I washed my face. At that moment, I didn’t know if I’d ever feel okay again. I was convinced I was never going to fall in love again. The person who made me feel the lowest I had ever felt, used his words to make me feel like the most special girl he’d ever know. But he was never fully mine to begin with.
I blocked his number later that day. He found ways to contact me in the following weeks, but I found the strength to keep him out of my life.
I had chosen me.
Amanda Berg is a TV news producer who works behind the scenes in Buffalo, New York. Raised in the Upstate, NY region, Amanda is dedicated to telling the stories of her community. A writer since childhood, she hopes to one day find a way to combine her two greatest loves: words, and the outdoors. She recently launched a hiking and backpacking Instagram blog, and has dreams to one day contribute to an outdoors publication. She also longs to one day thru-hike popular long distance trails, including the Appalachian Trail.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter and Instagram @Amanda_Berg16. Her hiking ventures can be followed on Instagram @wiki.on.trail.