Content warning: death
I scrolled through Facebook, attempting to catch up on all the gossip and life events I missed during the past year I spent logged off. I sifted through wedding announcements and pictures of newly purchased townhomes, then checked to see who had requested to be my friend during my prolonged social media break.
I found a request from an ex-lover near the bottom of the list, and so I clicked on his profile, curious to see what he had been up to since I had stopped speaking to him a couple of years ago. I had been expecting to see photos of his culinary artwork, perhaps, or updates about his young daughter, but what filled the top of his timeline was an article from a local newspaper.
“Man dies from injuries after motorcycle crash,” read the headline. It took me a moment to process that the article I was staring at was about my ex — that he was the man whose death the headline referred to.
I clicked on the full article, and instead of catching up on the details of his life, I read about the details of his death.
I wasn’t immediately overwhelmed with grief; my first thought wasn’t I can’t believe he’s dead. While I would eventually be hit with a wave of sadness, my first thought was one infused with relief.
That could have happened while we were together, and I am so lucky that it never did.
It wasn’t a far-fetched notion, the idea that I could’ve died in a motorcycle crash with him. He loved moonlit rides down to the beach, and he would always insist on taking me. We’d fly down highways and backroads alike and spend an hour or two cuddled up on the beach, watching the waves lap in the quiet of the night, before heading back to his place.
It was romantic, really, if you overlooked the earlier part of the evening, where he would drink round after round of whiskey while we talked about our day.
It wasn’t that I thought getting on a motorcycle with him after we had been drinking was a great idea. I knew that it was unsafe, but I couldn’t bring myself to contradict him, to disagree when he reassured me that he was okay to drive.
Okay, I’d think. I know you’re wrong, but if you say it’s fine, then I guess it is.
It followed me off the streets and into the sheets, this desire to go along with whatever he said, to avoid a disagreement, even at my own expense.
It wasn’t that he coerced me into doing anything, nor would I necessarily say that I felt pressured. It’s just that his demeanor was one of confidence, of a man who thought that he was always right.
And he was — not always right — but a man, a full-grown adult who was in his 30s.
His age seemed to imbue him with a kind of authority, and it made me feel like I should go along with whatever he said. The 14 years he had on me made me feel like a kid in comparison; I was insecure in my relative inexperience in life, too uncomfortable to speak up when I disagreed with him. After all, who was I, to think that I knew better than he did, to question anything he said?
And so, I didn’t question him. Not the first night we slept together, when he insisted that we should forgo condoms; I agreed without further discussion, after he reeled off a litany of reasons in support of his argument. I wasn’t comfortable with our decision — really, his decision — but I said nothing that hinted at my unease.
Well, I thought. I guess if he says it’s fine…
I continued to say nothing during the nights that followed, even as his lack of reciprocity in bed became apparent. When he would suggest that we try something — a new position or sex on his balcony — I would enthusiastically agree, willing to give his idea a go.
In return, he brushed off the ideas I brought him, insisting that sure, my idea sounded great — but maybe we should just do this thing he liked instead.
Well, he has more sexual experience than I do, I thought. If he says his idea is better, then I guess it is.
I said nothing, until one night where I finally said “no” for the first time. It wasn’t a dramatic disagreement; I simply said that I wasn’t in the mood for sex, and suddenly our relationship dissolved.
I eventually moved on and rarely thought about him as time passed, until I stumbled across the news of his death. My sense of gratefulness — that he never crashed when I was on that bike with him — was infused with a thread of guilt that needled in.
What if I had never said no to him that night? Would things have turned out differently, had I stayed with him?
The younger me, the one I had been two years ago with him, might have said yes and insisted on shouldering some of the blame. But now — older, and at least a little bit wiser — I tell myself that the answer is no. This time, I don’t have any trouble saying it.