The bed was soft, the air was still. I breathed slowly. Any move I made might disturb the woman next to me — my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother.
I heard the front door open and shut; my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend were headed to hang out with other friends.
They had not invited me.
After a while, it sounded like Grandma had fallen asleep, judging by the soft snoring noises. At this realization, my body let go. Humiliation flooded me with hot and fast tears. I slowly and carefully wiped them away in the dark and tried not to sniffle out loud or jiggle the mattress.
Clinging precariously to the far edge of the bed in a fetal position, I questioned every life choice that had led me up to that moment. How did I get myself here?
. . .
I was a baby back then, bungling through my college years. Jack was adorably blond, sweet-natured, and fit — but not in a jock type of way. He loved to ride his bike.
Once, he rode 150 miles from our tiny college town to his grandmother’s house in the big metroplex, just to see if he could.
It was a spiritual experience — not only for him but for me, as he asked me to pray for him every hour of the way.
Then again, everything I did with Jack felt like a spiritual experience. We would talk on the phone all night, then meet up to watch the sunrise together, grabbing breakfast before returning to face real life in the form of 8am classes.
There was the time he drove me out to a historical abandoned town. We packed a picnic and ate it at the ruins of a fort from the 1800s. There was no one else around for miles, and it was easy to imagine it would be the two of us against the world, forever.
On the way home, we pulled over in front of an old building. We sat there talking for a while. Then he tickle-tortured me. I thought there might be more coming, but we were both raised in very conservative religious homes, and it didn’t surprise me too much when nothing else happened.
Our mutual friends assumed we were dating. In truth, we’d never officially broached the subject. All I knew was that he called me every single day and spent as much time with me as humanly possible.
It was clear — we were headed somewhere, fast.
. . .
Jack had taken a diving class that spring. He was pretty excited about the end-of-semester class trip — they were going to the ocean a few hours away to complete diving certification. He couldn’t stop talking about it.
He was gone for one weekend. Just two days. When he returned, I didn’t hear from him as expected. Figuring he must be tired and recovering from the weekend, I tried to convince myself everything was fine. But I already knew.
It felt uncomfortably empty to go from spending every possible moment with someone every day to radio silence.
After a few days, I called him and asked how he was. He was as kind as ever, but I could tell he was different. I desperately tried to pretend nothing had changed, but instead, he asked if we could meet to talk.
As I walked to the spot he requested, I could guess what he was about to tell me. In that moment, I decided it would feel much better if I was in control of myself and the situation.
So, face to face with him, I politely asked him what it was he needed to talk to me about.
He looked at me sadly and said, “Sarah, I’ve really enjoyed the last few months with you and wouldn’t take it back for anything. You’re such an amazing person, and to be honest, you have it all from A to Z. I love you…but like a sister.”
And there it was.
I was already choking back hurt and anger, but I squeezed my heart shut with every muscle I could muster and calmly thanked him for letting me know. He asked if I had any questions for him, and I said no. Then I stood up, said goodbye, walked back to my dorm room, and wept all night.
. . .
I eventually found out what happened. There was a girl named Carrie in his diving class, and they somehow, impossibly, had become friends all semester while he was spending all of those hours with me.
On the diving trip with her, he was struck with some kind of sign from above and knew she was the one for him. They would be married a year later.
I picked myself up and learned to move on, but there was one sticky situation I still needed to resolve.
I was an international student in the US and planned to fly home to Malaysia for the summer. When I returned to college in the fall, I would need someone to pick me up at the metroplex airport 150 miles away and drive me back to my little college town.
Jack had easily volunteered, as he was about to spend all summer with his grandmother, who happened to live close to that airport anyway.
Of course — this arrangement had been made before he broke my heart.
I tried to find another solution, but nothing else came through. Jack seemed perfectly fine with keeping the plan, so I swallowed my pride and thanked him.
And that is how, a few weeks later, I found myself sleeping with my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother.
. . .
Jack picked me up at the airport with a big hug, and I thought it would be okay until I saw Carrie behind him. I had no idea she was going to be there, too.
Because my flight arrived late in the evening, we spent the night at his grandmother’s house before driving back to college the next morning. It was the first time I’d ever met Jack’s grandmother, and she was so welcoming to me.
Her home was tiny and had no extra guest bedrooms, so she offered to share her bed with me that night.
As you can imagine, I had mixed feelings about that. I was grateful for her hospitality— after all, she could have put me on the floor or ask that I get a hotel. There was no polite way to say no, but there was also no part of me that wanted to sleep next to his grandmother.
It was too painful, a reminder of a love I could never have.
But I got through that night.
And the next day, as we spent 3 hours in the car together, I learned that Carrie was the nicest person ever. I saw why Jack liked her, even if this didn’t make it any easier for me.
. . .
There were many times that evening in bed with Grandma and the next day spending hours in a car with two people I did not want to be around, that I wanted to give up on my dignity and unleash the things I felt.
I wanted to hate Jack for having Carrie there to torture me. I wanted to shake him and ask him when it was that he found all the time to fall in love with her while he was spending every waking moment with me.
I wanted him to see me cry and suffer so he would feel bad for the pain he caused me. I wanted to say ragey, petty things to his face and hurl things at him.
I wanted to hate Carrie for taking Jack away from me, for daring to be interested in diving. I wondered if Jack would have been happy to be mine if he’d never met her.
I wanted to hate Grandma for having me lie in her bed while Jack and Carrie were out together, leaving me in the most awkward sleepover I’d ever been in.
But all of those were “wants,” and none of them were “shoulds.” And that night in bed with Jack’s grandmother, as I stormed inside my soul for hours, I knew I did not want to live my life following my “wants.”
I could allow myself to scream at Jack, be unfriendly to Carrie, or rude to Grandma. But the only thing I would accomplish would be to become an ugly person.
Expressing feelings is my right, but it would do absolutely nothing to change the situation I found myself in. There is a time and place for healthy emotional expression, and I knew this was not it.
So in that moment, I made choices. I chose to respect myself and to respect other people.
Jack had not hurt me on purpose; to this day, I will tell anyone that he is one of the best people I’ve ever met.
Carrie was impossible to dislike. She was as sweet and shiny as they come.
And Grandma was the epitome of grandmothers. She probably had no idea how awkward the situation was for me, but she spent the whole evening trying to make me feel at home.
Not only did none of these people deserve for me to dump bad behavior on them, but I realized that I did not want to subject them to it even if they had deserved it. I did not want to become a bitter, reactive person.
. . .
I’m much older now (no, you don’t need to know how much older), but I still think of that night from time to time. Occasionally, I tell the story to new friends as some embarrassing tale to laugh about.
At first, there were twinges of shame every time those memories intruded. But years have faded it all.
Now all I feel is gratefulness for the experience.
Because that one night in bed with my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother helped me learn humility and grace, and I now know that humility and grace are nothing more than components of true strength.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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