I’ve made the horrible mistake of falling in love with someone who doesn’t exist, and it hurts like you wouldn’t believe.

Let me tell you a little about her. She’s dark, not sad or angry or angsty, but dark in a spiritual way like the tranquility of a midnight mist. She dresses in all black—her hair, her lipstick, her nails—but it does nothing to conceal the radiance of her beauty. She thinks so loudly that you can almost feel it echo through the silence, and when she speaks there is such deliberate measure in her voice that her words turn to music, the simplest phrase containing all the secrets of the world, if only you listen closely enough.

I fell in love with an idea long before I met my wife Sarah. When I saw Sarah for the first time—the fishnets, the black lace, the metal piercings—I told myself that this is what I’ve been looking for since before I even knew I was looking. And all the time we dated, I was looking at Sarah but seeing that dream of what love should be. And when we were married, I told myself that it was my fault for being unhappy because she was everything I could ever want.

I’m not saying I was right to cheat on her. I’m just saying it happened, only a month after the wedding. A stupid mistake at first, but every time I did it, I felt a little less guilty than the last. I couldn’t just abandon Sarah—not after the wedding. Not with her family always inviting us out places, not with our lives so tangled up together. She’d tell me these horrible confessions about how she used to hurt herself when she was little, and how she’d even thought about suicide before she found me. If I left her and something were to happen, I don’t know how I’d ever forgive myself.

The worst part about it was, Sarah knew I was cheating. I’d tell her that I had to go to a conference for work over the weekend, and she’d just press her lips together and force a smile. Like she had no right to ask questions. Like she deserved to suffer. She made it so easy that I just kept getting lazier with my lies.

“Out with friends,” I’d text her, not bothering to say with who or when I’d be back.
“Staying out late. Don’t wait up.” And I wouldn’t be home until morning, if that even was my home.

I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t notice so much while I was distracted with the perverse thrill of being in control like that. I was my own master, and Sarah was… well, whatever I told her to be. I don’t know how long it could have gone on like that, but I knew something had to change when she finally worked up the courage to ask me to my face:

“Are you with any other women? I’m sorry to have to ask. It’s just my insecurity talking. I just want to hear you say…”

“Of course not. Just you, baby, forever and ever.”

I almost told her the truth, but her standing there ringing her hands, hearing the catch in her voice as she forced the words out, I just couldn’t do that to her. It wasn’t cowardice that made me lie. It wasn’t love either. It was pity.

Her dark eyes fixed on me, sparkling with curious intensity. There it was again—that tight-lipped smile. And something more this time. The smile was quivering at the corners, like too little skin stretched over too much space.

“Say it again. I want to hear it.”

“You’re the only one for me.” I was getting more than a little uncomfortable. It wasn’t just the situation either. There was a sharp sting like a needle in my palm. I rubbed the spot without looking.

“Again. Tell me that you’d never lie to me.”

“Never. I promise.” My hand was hurting worse than ever. She glanced at it and I followed her gaze. A trickle of blood snuck through my closed fingers. There was a gaping wound like I had grabbed the blade of a knife.

“Again.”

“What’s going on? How did this happen?”

“Again!” she shouted, all pretenses of her smile gone. “Tell me that you love me!”

“I love you!” I shouted, rushing to the kitchen sink to wash the wound. And then I screamed. The wound was growing before my eyes, the skin savagely stretching as though invisible hands were digging their fingers into the hole. It was half-way up my forearm by the time I got it under the faucet, and it was growing by the second.

“Again!”

“What the fuck did you do to me?” I screamed. Paper towels were soaked in an instant. My fingers kept slipping as I tied the kitchen towel around my arm.

“Just what I asked it to do.” Her voice was silk, strained to breaking. “I asked it to stop us from lying to each other.”

“Make it stop!” I shouted. The blood kept coming.

“I can’t. That’s up to you.”

“Fine, I lied. Are you happy?” I didn’t turn around from the sink. I couldn’t look at her right then. “There have been three others. One before the wedding, two after. They didn’t mean anything. Why does it keep bleeding?”

“Telling the truth doesn’t heal the lie. Now tell me that you love me.”

I had to turn around now. Just to see if it really was Sarah who was doing this to me, or whether some unknown specter had replaced her. It was her alright. I wanted to yell in her face for what she was doing to me and steal her triumph. It wasn’t triumph that I saw though.

Her face was twisted into the pit of despair. All the wind left my lungs in an instant and we just stared at each other for a long time. Me clutching my throbbing arm, her not pretending to hide her tears anymore.

“I’m sorry. I want to, but I don’t love you.”

She wasn’t looking at my face when I said it. She pulled the towel away from my arm, and we stared at the wound together. It was deep, all the way to the bone and still bubbling with fresh blood. It wasn’t growing anymore though. I wasn’t lying this time.

“It’s okay,” she said. “Thank you for being honest. After all this, I don’t think I love you either.”

My wound hurt like hell, but it was nothing like watching the bloody cut appear just above her eye. She must have felt it. I don’t know what she was trying to prove when she kept talking.

“I never loved you. It was just my family—always worried about me, always pressuring me to find someone. I would have been happier alone, trust me.” The wound was growing by the second. Down her face, her neck, blood dying her black shirt even darker.

“Sarah please. You don’t have to do this.”

“How could I love you? You’re disgusting. You’re an animal. I never want to see you again.” The words were coming slower. She was coercing them out, grunting through the pain. I pressed my hand over her mouth, but she grabbed my arm right where the wound was and I had to let go.

“I wasn’t happy with you. I didn’t want to grow old with you. I’m honestly relieved!” She was running from me. I couldn’t stop her from talking. I was weak and dizzy from my own wound, and I kept sliding on the bloody trail which followed her wherever she went. “I never want to see you again!” That one caused her body to surge as though struck by lightning. Her fingers helplessly knotted the empty air while her spine arched so far back that she was looking at the ceiling.

“Stop doing this to her!” I shouted as loudly as I can. “Whoever made this deal, that’s enough! It’s over! Stop hurting her!”

It wasn’t exactly a voice which answered. More like a dormant instinct which has existed my whole life, but only now reared to life.

I’m not the one hurting her, it said. *You are.”

So I left. I stopped chasing her. Stopped trying to fix her. Stopped pitying her. I just grabbed my keys and left. I didn’t speak to her over the next few weeks. Her family told me when she wasn’t around, giving me the chance to clear out all my stuff without bumping into her. I asked them how she was doing, but never got an answer more clear than “she’ll survive.”

The wound on my arm? It healed a long time ago. Not all at once, but every day the scab was a little thicker until it fell off, and then every day the scar was a little lighter until it was barely visible. I don’t know if it’ll be there for the rest of my life, but I don’t think about it when I’m falling asleep anymore. I’m just back to dreaming of the girl I love who doesn’t exist, wondering if she’ll notice the scar when we finally meet.

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