It ended in silence, as it had a half-dozen times before. Yet, oddly, it was the possibility of that silence being broken that kept me awake at night.

I've never kissed anyone before.

A January long past. We had been together for barely a month, the excitement and mystery of romance a novelty to both of us. Years of high-school tension were released in a torrent. Our friends were happy for us, even as we made them sick.

And then, unexpectedly... silence. Telephone ringing off the hook. Concern. Something must have come up, and she had to leave quickly. A day passes. Silence. Worry. Something is wrong. A drive over to her house. No answer at the door. Vacant? No, her dog is barking. She would never leave him alone. Panic. It's getting dark. Her mother is sick; did something happen?

Son, can I help you?

A police car. Thank goodness. "Officer, there's something wrong over here!" Explanation. Bewilderment. "What do you mean, she doesn't want to see me? No, everything had been going along just fine." He walks to the door. Knocks. It opens. Glances. Whispers. I have to stay where I am. He told me to. Waiting. She steps onto the porch; it only adds to the alienness of the situation. Forced smile. Rigid.

I don't want to see you any more. It's over.

Blood draining from the face. This isn't real. Dizzy. Insanely, I hear myself speak. "Okay." I need air.

Son, are you okay?

The officer. He seems to realize that this is no ordinary domestic disturbance. Weak nod. Some sort of speech from him: comfort, reassurance. Driving home in the dark, hyperventilating and confused... never realizing my headlights are off.

Six months later. Lonely. I was committed to pressing on with my life, and had almost returned to normal. And then, the letter arrived.

I know things can never be the same...

She wanted to see me. I should have hit delete then and there. But somewhere in my recovery, I had placed the blame for the incident on myself... and now the letter seemed to be a missive of forgiveness.

It never occurred to me that what I deserved was an apology.

A week after the new encounter, it was as if the previous six months had vanished. We never spoke of it, and yet somehow, that was okay. And, over time, I grew to know her mother.

I never liked those damned Mexicans...

Ah, yes, her mother. Spite, paranoia, hatred, racism, intolerance, deceit, narcissism and manipulation incarnate. She hated the world for giving her such a tragic life, and lorded the tragedies over everyone like trophies. She turned guilt into a sword, and lies into daggers. She asked for nothing, and then screamed when her expectations weren't fulfilled. Whenever she thought I was pulling her daughter away from her, she would conjure up blatant falsehoods about me. I was the enemy.

And she became the dragon I had to save the princess from.

And so it went, for years. The theme was simple: I would rescue her and take her away to a palace, free of the shackles that bound her. We were in different schools; our saga was weaved through nightly phone calls and semi-monthly visits. It was a fairy-tale with intermissions of Hell, fights that built up in secret until they exploded. A half-dozen breakups over the course of two years. A series of apologies, as I made mistake after mistake. But anything she did wasn't her fault, it was her mother's. And all the while, I told myself that this was perfectly normal.

Then, suddenly, the wool was pulled from my eyes.

A project I had toiled on for months: a website. She needed it for school; I devoted hours of my time to help. Meticulously coding, tweaking, scanning, until it was just right.

You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?

Weeks later. A midday phone call. Accusation. The webhost made a mistake; the site was erased. This was, of course, my fault. I had deliberately wiped away the very thing I had spent countless hours on. But of course.

It was as if a curtain of flash paper in front of me had been suddenly burned away. She was not being coerced into this distrust. It was genuine. Logic had taken a holiday. Like relays clicking into place, all of the past, explosive fights, all of the walking on eggshells, suddenly made sense. Our relationship was not built on mutual trust and understanding, but rather mutual loneliness and lust, and my desire to be the knight in shining armor. But what happens when a dragon raises a princess?

The princess learns to breathe fire on her own.

Yet even that wasn't the final straw. I was a creature of habit, and though I had seen things for what they really were, I could not bring myself to end it. It took another fight to do that, a maelstrom of fury because I hadn't sent an email on a Hallmark holiday. It began as every fight had, with silence.

This time, I invited the silence to make itself at home.

Nowadays, I always wonder if I'll run into some other guy. He'll tell me a tale of a girl who seemed deceptively sweet, hiding the truth behind a facade of cheerfulness and smiles: someone who constantly reminded him of how he shouldn't betray her trust, when in truth she had no trust to begin with. And I'll smile quixotically, look down, and say,

I see you've met my ex-girlfriend.

Totally true

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