Give her space, get anxious, text her; these are the three steps I’ve been repeating all summer. Now it’s been a month since I’ve last seen her. We’ve only been dating for six months, and even though that’s the longest amount of time we’ve dated, a single month is still a sizeable portion of that. I beg to see her, and to shut me up she obliges.

As I walk down the stairs to her basement, I brace myself for a repeat of the last time we saw each other. She’ll be depressed, tired, and unwilling to talk. That’s okay. I can do all of the talking. I can be the one with energy here. I’m willing to pick up the slack to keep this relationship going. I reach the bottom of the stairs.

“Hey,” she calls out from the back of the room.

She seems fine.

She asks me to hold on a second as she finishes apartment hunting on her laptop. I sit in silence as she types up the rest of the email and hits send. When she’s done she finally turns to me. I feel less like her boyfriend and more like an item she has to address on her to-do list. She asks if I want to sit on her bed (which is actually two couches pushed together). I nod, still silent.

It turns out she’s been busy this past month. She got a job at a retail store for camping equipment and supplies. I guess she gave up on completing those high school credits and going into nursing school, but I don’t say anything. She tells me about the friends she’s made at this store. One of them is a semi-successful video blogger she’s been able to bond with over their mental health issues. She says, in a way that I find all too familiar, that I’d like the guy and we have a lot in common. I’ve already decided that I hate him, but again, I don’t say anything.

“Oh, you’ll never guess who has a man-bun now,” she dares me as she pulls out her phone. She stops and gives a sheepish smile. “Eh, maybe I shouldn’t show you.” I shrug wordlessly before she decides to show me anyways. It’s a picture of her and a guy we went to high school with. The two of them are childhood friends and have always had an ongoing joke about being each other’s backup plan for when they’re old and single.

I fucking loathe this guy.

He’s the kind of guy who pretended to be your friend only to make some girl he’s talking to think he’s popular. He’s the kind of guy who insisted on making out with a girl who was passed out drunk on a couch at a party. He’s the kind of guy who, in high school, told someone that he doesn’t know how I ended up dating my ex and was probably smugly satisfied when it didn’t work out. Now, apparently, he’s the kind of hipster-wannabe piece of shit with a man-bun, taking selfies with my girlfriend as they go out for frozen yogurt. Fuck this guy.

I want her to put the picture away, so I grab her phone and put it down. I want her to shut up so I put my mouth over hers. I want this panic attack to stop before it even starts so we begin an angry make out session. It works. We vent our frustrations without words. We don’t go very far and it doesn’t last very long, but after a month of being alone I’ll take it.

Pretty soon afterwards I leave. I walk home, not because it’s too late to catch a bus, but because the panic attack I was putting off finally caught up to me. I need air. Lots of air.

Hey, the next time you wanna tell me that you hung out with that guy, don’t, I text her, feeling as if I’m on autopilot. Every time I hear his name I’m reminded of how much I want to kick his teeth in. I don’t know what I hope to accomplish with this text, but the act of breathing is physically painful right now so I don’t care. I hit send.

I get home and head straight to bed. I don’t sleep. I spend the next hour hyperventilating. Every deep gulp of air does nothing to satiate my lungs and does everything to hurt my entire body. Maybe I should’ve said more back in her basement. I didn’t, so I guess the feelings of dissent have to come out somehow.

Way It Was is a writing project and ongoing attempt to work through a lot of relationship related shit. Find out more about it here.