I slammed my laptop shut and furiously rubbed my eyes, which were prickling with exhaustion and the beginnings of tears. My heart was racing and my chest felt uncomfortably tight. Whether this was due to anger at his misguided jealousy or the severe lack of sleep I was suffering, I didn't know. I just knew I had to get out of the house. I recognized this feeling immediately, as it was all too familiar over the past several weeks (or had it been months by now?).
As I reached down to tie my sneakers, my exhausted and overworked mind registered a faint greenish tint peeking through the cracks in my curtains. Could it be dawn already? Another night spent at the computer. Another night running the gamut of emotions in this long-distance communication I was stupid enough to call a relationship. I cursed at myself for not getting the sleep I'd promised my best friend I'd get (she'd notice...she always did), grabbed my keys, and quietly left the house before having to deal with any questions from my parents.
On the drive over to the high school football field/track, I realized with dismay that this was becoming a routine: work a double shift waiting tables (working open to close meant that I didn't have any time to sit and think about things, and I was just fine with that), grab a salad between shifts to keep up appearances, drive the long 45-minute commute home, boot up the computer and shower, eat a bowl of cereal while waiting for email to load, and feel a strange mixture of elation and dread when I see his name come up on my messenger list, accompanied by the harsh chime notifier of the first message. The night flies by as we chat about everything and nothing, and before I know it a new day is breaking.
I slammed the car door with more force than was necessary as I made my way to the oval track. It was still early; the sun was barely up and the grass was still wet with dew. It was a relatively cool morning for July in Texas, although the forecast promised baking heat and humidity before mid-day.
I sat down on the track on the faded numbers at the start line and began to stretch my leg muscles. They were shaking from exhaustion and lack of nourishment. How long had it been since I'd slept more than 2 hours in a night? How much longer had it been since I'd eaten a decent meal?
I stood and hopped up and down a couple of times, loving as always the way a track will give, making me feel like I was weightless (oh, if only), and started off. "I wonder how far I can go today," I wondered. "Yesterday it was a full mile and a half before I threw up."
As I began to run, I replayed my conversations with him in my head. It had started out as every other night. We spoke about our day, what we had done and what funny things we had heard on the radio. We spoke about our jobs. I talked about some of my more interesting customers at the restaurant, he spoke of the fires in Colorado and how he and his fellow firemen were working nearly round-the-clock. I worried about him, and told him this. He assured me that he was taking care of himself, and that he constantly thought of me.
Then I stupidly remembered to tell him about something hilarious that had had me and a co-worker in stitches between the morning and afternoon shifts during the day. A male co-worker. Previous conversations with him should have reminded me that I should have left the gender detail out of the story, but things were going so well on this night that I hadn't thought to be careful.
The jealousy was immediate. The doubt, the accusations, the fear that he would lose me since he couldn't be physically with me. I immediately backpedaled, trying desperately to reassure him that he was the only one in my thoughts, every hour of every day. And this was true. I thought about him at the restaurant, I thought about him on the drive to and from work, I thought of him in the shower, and I thought of him in my dreams. Every ounce of every part of me that wasn't physical belonged to him. This concerned those close to me, as they all knew that we had met through an on-line dating service.
Again I begged him to please let me speak to him, to please call me so I could tell him how much he meant to me. He refused, giving me the same excuses which, in retrospect, should have greatly worried me.
Through the haze of my memory, I became vaguely aware of my feet hitting the track more loudly as I thought of this particular argument.
For hours, we went back and forth, until I finally was dissolved into a hiccuping, crying mess and saying that I didn't think this was going to work anymore, this was just too hard. Now it was his turn to backpedal. He was immediately apologetic, begging me to please forgive him. He told me how often he thought of me, how he had my picture taped up right next to his computer so he could imagine I was actually there. He told me how he wanted to touch me, to kiss me, to hold me tightly in his arms and never let me go.
I began to run faster as I remembered this. Years of insecurity about my body attacked me as I started to panic about the first time we would meet (if ever, due to our distance and his job). Would he like what he saw? Would my thighs be too big for him? Would my stomach be flat enough? Would he like that my collar bone was so pronounced (a recent discovery that I was quite proud of)?
He just couldn't. Few men had ever shown this much interest in my physical appearance, so I didn't trust this. I knew that I was intelligent and witty and a good conversationalist, but I couldn't trust that to keep any man I was attracted to so strongly as I was to him.
I ran until I felt my legs turn to jelly. I stopped where I was and fell to my knees, my empty stomach heaving. How far had I run this time? I was too preoccupied with my thoughts to have noticed.
I sat until it began to get hot outside, the Texas humidity beginning to bear down on my weak body. I wiped away the tears and slowly walked back to my car. I managed a small smile at the morning walkers as I passed them, and drove home. I vowed that today would be better.
I showered, considered breakfast before deciding I didn't have time, and dressed for work. I'd need to go shopping again soon; these pants barely stayed around my waist with the belt notched as far over as it would go. I checked my email one last time before leaving and I had only one message. The timestamp showed that it had been sent while I was running. It was short, to the point:
I'll think of you all day.
I sighed and fresh tears of fear and self-loathing filled my eyes as I realized I'd do the same thing.