Charles Bukowski – poet, novelist, alcoholic, lover of all things women and sex – lived his life how he wanted, how he thought he deserved to live, and died in 1994 of Leukemia at age 73. Could he have quit smoking? Sure. Could he have quit booze? Of course. But he didn’t, because that wasn’t Bukowski. He lived his truth, however sad it may have seemed to his readers, critics, and lovers alike. Bukowski – to me at least – is someone who lived until he died, and died many times while still living.
To die over and over (and over) again is something that many of us experience but not many of us recognize. Most recently, for me, my relationship of over a year with a man I was very much in love with ended in a fireball of lies, manipulation, and the discovery (and introduction) of a woman who he had kept a secret relationship with for three months while I was walking through burning hot coals with the death of my dog, and the hospice care and death of my grandfather. Throughout all of this I maintained my life with him – made sure he was alright, listened, and still kept myself afloat the best I could under the circumstances. Unfortunately – and to my utter surprise – he took my independence (and lack of codependency) and ran away with that (and fell into other women).
When he revealed to me that he had constructed a secret relationship including but not limited to very strict date schedules and days of the week, two separate Instagram accounts, different names saved into phones, etc, I knew I would never take him back. I felt a crushing pain within me that was different from any death I ever felt – not my dog, my grandpa, or even when my mom died in 2011. It was a feeling of ultimate betrayal nestled into sheer confusion and embarrassment to know he was playing me like a faithful fiddle while his roommates (and his mother) knew what he was doing; he later tried to defend his roommates to me, saying they “encouraged” him to come clean, but honestly obligation towards one another as people comes from moral standings in my book, not longevity or proximity. AKA if you’re acting like a piece of shit I will not hesitate to call you out on it; no one deserves to live their life thinking they have nothing to worry about when the same hands that hold them at night held someone else just as passionately only hours before.
What’s crazy about all this is I did forgive him. I didn’t forgive him in the sense that, “It’s okay, we’ll work through this together.” Oh no. It was a more, “I never needed you. I cannot help you. This is unhealthy. You betrayed me beyond any repair. I can’t hate you because, honestly, no one hates you more than you probably hate yourself. Best of luck, mate.” He sobbed (I sobbed much, much later once I got over the shock and nausea that the man I saw as a potential soul mate was lying to my face).
It hasn’t been very long at all since I last saw him – since we lay together on my couch crying, watching the clock until he had to leave for work on the morning he brought me back my house key. It hasn’t been long at all since our last kiss, since he rested his head on my chest and his tears burned straight through to my fucking soul. “I love you,” he said as he turned around and grabbed me to hug and kiss me one last time in the doorway. I wanted to tell him he didn’t love me, that he didn’t know love, but I know better than to assume that someone doesn’t know what love is just because they aren’t capable of loving with the same capacity as I am. He loved me (maybe still does love me) with his perception of what it is to love another. The fatal flaw is he doesn’t love himself – that he may be a little bit of a sociopath – that he compartmentalizes things to such an extreme extent that when he walked out of my house I probably no longer existed, but when he looked at me after telling me he had been cheating he burst into tears.
I will never know if the sobs and wailing were from genuine guilt or genuine displeasure at being caught. I’ll never know how deep his love really ran (although I don’t think it was too deep regardless of his claims). I won’t be able to see inside of him to believe the things he told me in earnest. But what I do know, is that things go on. I died that day, but I died a lot of other days too. I died when my mom died in front of me. And I am grieving now, like I did with my mom, but the waves are different. There is no linear movement to grief, that I know. I just know it’s happening. And even with the sadness, I tell myself, “I survived worse.” I still wake up everyday in my own two-bedroom house. I have eight, very happy houseplants. I have a book collection that only continues to grow. I have groceries, a job, and I don’t stop writing. And again, after all this, I am living how I think I deserve and I am dying and will die again and again until I die and don’t wake up. Until then, though, I will reinvent myself, I will live, and things will go on.