I Should Have Loved Myself With The Love I Gave You

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Let's be honest: I was in a bad place. I'd never been what you'd call stable, but the death of my best friend less than a year before exaggerated it.

I cut myself. I burned my arms with cigarettes. I dyed my hair black. I was a picture of the artsy suicide girl.

And you loved it.

We were in class together, the class with the Big Novelist, and we were her darlings. Me, because I could write and breathed crazy, and you, because I suppose you could write, but she always did like a sensitive Southern boy.

On the last day of class, you asked if you could take my picture. You spun me some artful BS about wanting to work on your photography, and you knew this perfect brick wall downtown, and would I please, please do a shoot for you?

In retrospect, a cheap ploy. And you knew I had a boyfriend.

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You wanted to take my picture. I'm still not sure you know what that does to someone who abhorred her appearance, someone who periodically binged and purged just to punish herself.

Actually, I think you know exactly what it would do. You told me to wear all black and drove me to a brick wall. You treated it like a real shoot: "Turn more to the left. More, more... you've got it."

You told me I was beautiful. Plenty of guys thought that. But you said it aloud, so I fell hard for you.

Despite your short stature (a height even with me), your vampirish teeth that somehow missed out on braces, you were an artist. You took pictures. You wrote. You told me what I couldn't tell myself. I was smitten.

You didn't have a summer job. You didn't look for one. You stayed at home, somehow, to keep your mother company from your bastard of a father (he was never anything but kind to me). Your brother had beat cancer as a kid, twice, and that was the central reality of your family life.

You stayed, in part, to help with your brother, who didn't need your help, and in fact lived in his own apartment with ferrets and samurai swords. I didn't question any of this.

You told me I was beautiful. You told me I was thin. (I was both beautiful and thin, so any sane observer would have told me this).

So I drove fifty miles every other weekend to visit you, all summer long and all through the school year. You stayed over often. We slept in the enormous auxiliary closet for privacy, which I wanted to mean sex. But you had sworn to keep your virginity.

No, you didn't think I was a slut (your eyes said yes, you totally thought I was a slut). But we fooled around and your oral sex was mostly competent.

You had stopped telling me I was beautiful.

The pressure of no sex and no admiration made me start cutting myself again. I'd wait until you left on Sunday night and get the razors out then. I had all week to heal until I saw you at my place or your parents'.

I did my damnedest not to smoke my beloved Parliament Light 100s in front of them because they would "think less of" me. I slept upstairs; you slept downstairs, and hardly the twain did meet.

We went for endless walks through the local woods. I wrote "AJS [heart] BNK" under a bridge in chalk. You found it less than charming.

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One night there, we'd finally gotten some alone time in your room, ostensibly to watch a movie (your parents needed an excuse). Things got hot. Then they got heavy, and I got naked. So did you.

You lay on top of me, and I was talking dirty: "Oh, give it to me, yeah, I want it, I want it so bad."

You reciprocated a little (you were never comfortable with talking dirty, though you sure liked to hear it), and I started in again, knowing nothing would happen: "Oh, put it in. Yeah, I want it. Put it in for me, baby."

"You want it in? OK," you said, and you entered me. Like penis-in-vagina. Like what you swore not to do.

You thrust, and thrust, and thrust until it was over. Then you pulled out. You sat on the end of the bed.

I had just pulled your V-card.

"I broke a promise," you said.

"Huh?" I asked.

"I broke a promise to God."

There isn't much you can say to that.

Days later, in the car, you told our friends a vagina looked like a "hideous clam beast." Everyone knew I had the only one you'd ever seen. I never wanted to take off my panties again.

To my credit, I stood up to you, but you were firm. Hideous clam beast. That's it.

I broke up with you soon after, for a boy with dyed hair and killer talent in the sack. You freaked out.

You called me a slut, and when my birthday present came, a case of personalized Jones Soda, you arrived at my apartment, screamed until I came down, and threw glass bottles at my head. I sliced my foot open on the shards. Then I went up and cut myself.

I spent almost a year making you happy. I spent almost a year loving you, waiting for the crusts you'd throw me. I all but slavered for your affection.

And when I finished with you, I was still as crazy when I started, if not crazier. I hadn't had a complex about my vagina before.

Years later, even as you contacted me once and were pleasant, I realize the truth: I should have loved myself with the love I gave you.

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Alissa Scully is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom of three kids and two German Shepherds.