I guess the signs were there but I chose to ignore them.
Was that the first mistake I made in terms of this relationship? Or was it the moment I loved Franc, and made that conscious choice to stay with him no matter what? Or was it the moment when I just went back for seconds, thirds, and fourths, like I didn’t learn anything?
I don’t even know when it started to change, you know? But even then I adjusted, and I remained faithful and loyal. He was still the sweet, loving Franco I knew and loved, the Franco who makes me laugh and the Franco who amuses me every day…
Except for those moments.
It was usually always about something I did or something Franco thinks I did—it could be because he thought I was too close to this guy (usually Yael), or because I was too busy, or because I was asking him about this girl in his office who seemed a bit too close for comfort to him.
But there was one common denominator to every single one of those moments: alcohol.
Franco and his friends’ bonding sessions usually involve booze, and I totally understand because even back in high school that was their thing. I never did mind it—he and I even had some drinking sessions together—until those moments.
I think that first time it happened was during Franco and my third month together.I was away on a company trip, those annual planning sessions for the next fiscal year, and I was with Rachel and Yael and other seniors from the other departments of our company. The trip was three days—three grueling days of picking our brains as to how to improve business for the next year. At the end of it, I was too tired, and maybe I wasn’t caring too much what was happening.
The pictures—those where the triggers the first time.
I was so used to being around Yael—I was comfortable around him, and things didn’t really change between us even when I told him I was already with Franco. Yael was still my best bud, and it was one of the best things in the world—having someone whom you know will have your back. Anyway, since I was so comfortable with Yael, I didn’t really mind it when he hugs me or embraces me, and I wasn’t really conscious of myself whenever I lean on his shoulders or I hold his hand.
Yeah. I know, I know. Not the proper decorum of someone who has a boyfriend.
So when they posted the pictures from the trip on Facebook and I got tagged in most of the pictures with Yael—some in ‘friendly’ positions, others not really, that was the first time Franco let it rip.
I went to his place immediately after dropping my things in mine, and when he opened the door to his apartment, the look on his face was already dark. I remember feeling a shiver running down my spine, and how at that moment I wanted to retreat, to turn and already run away.
But I decided to brave through it.
“Hey,” I greeted him, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. I caught a faint whiff of beer and cigarette smoke, but I decided to ignore it. He didn’t react at first, and then I nearly jumped when he grabbed me by the arm, his nails digging into my skin, and pulled me into his place. He dragged me across the living room, and he didn’t hear any of my pleas that he’s already hurting me.
“I guess you had too much fun when you were in Batangas, huh?” he said, his voice coming out almost in a growl. I frowned, having no idea what he was talking about. I tried to remove his grip on my arm but he was holding on tightly.
“This,” he said, and he reached towards the center table and he pointed to his already opened laptop. He was on my ‘tagged photos’ page, and there I saw the ‘incriminating’ photos—Yael hugging me from behind, the smiles on my and Yael’s faces and the tight holding of our hands while we did the paired sack race, Yael trying to eat the apple that was ‘anchored’ on my cheek, me and Yael forming sand castles at the sea shore.
God, I hate icebreaker games.
I totally get his point, you know? Yael and I were too close for comfort, but I didn’t think it merited this kind of reaction.
Franco released my arm and I thought I was free from his grip, but he just grabbed me around the shoulders instead, shaking me while saying angrily, “You have a boyfriend, Luisa, and his name is not Yael.”
I winced at the feeling of his fingers. Those are going to bruise, that I’m sure of. “Don’t you think I know that?” I retorted, trying to squirm away from his grip.
“No, I don’t think you do!”
I could feel his breath warm on my face, the anger making his face red. I tried to stay calm because I was starting to panic—
“He is just my friend, Franco! How many times do I have to tell you that?”
Franco smirked, obviously not buying what I just said. In his disgust, he shoved me—hard enough that I landed on the floor on my butt, my tailbone hitting the marble floor, numbing my senses. I doubled over, feeling the tears in my eyes, the pain too much.
But he didn’t seem to notice.
“He isn’t just a friend, Luisa. Even your friends can see that—look at the caption in one of the photos. ‘Our department love team, Luel.’” He started to pace around me, still fuming, still oblivious that I am practically still because I still couldn’t move.
“We both know he loves you. Is that why you keep him around? Because my love for you isn’t enough? Huh, Luisa?”
“No,” I managed to mutter.
“What?” he shouted and I gasped when he grabbed a fistful of my hair. He knelt down and pressed his face against mine, so close that I could hear him breathing, feel his spit on my face while he shouted.
“I said that isn’t why I keep him around,” I said through gritted teeth. He pulled tighter, and I winced, and I didn’t bother trying to resist anymore because it hurts more when I do. “He is just a friend. He’s my best friend, Franc. So I’m sorry if you think what he and I have is more than that. I thought you trusted me,” I continued, my voice wavering at the end.
“This isn’t about trust, Lui—”
“Let me go,” I whispered, and he just pulled tighter.
“This is about you, flirting with your so-called best friend—”
“Let me go, Franco.”
“—and then coming here, after you’re done with him. I don’t go for sloppy seconds, Lui—”
His words weren’t penetrating my head because I was trying to find a way out. I didn’t hear ‘sloppy seconds.’ I didn’t hear ‘flirting.’ I didn’t hear those.
No, not from Franco.
“You are drunk. Let me go.”
I bit down, hard, on his other hand, the one closest to my mouth. My teeth sunk into his flesh, probably even drawing blood. He yelped and then jumped away, and I grabbed that opportunity to stand despite my ailing back and darted for the door. He screamed for me, he was quick to recover, but I was already so close to the door and I managed to open it but he leaped above me, his reflexes still undoubtedly quick despite the liquor in his system. He pushed the door close in a loud bang—
“Franc,” I said, breathing heavily. I tasted my tears but I couldn’t care less about them anymore.
“You are going to stay away from Yael—” he started to demand, and I just let out a sarcastic laugh, shaking my head.
“Dream on,” I answered defiantly. “Or what?” I challenged, meeting his fiery gaze with my glare.
“Or we’d break up,” he snapped, smug.
I stopped, considering. My heart was screaming no, because I love Franco so, so much and I couldn’t live without him. But my head processed everything that just happened and—
“Then consider us done.”
I pushed him away, as hard as I could, and he bulged a bit, enough for me to pass under his arm. I gave him a mightier shove and he stepped back, letting me open the door. I couldn’t bear to look at his face—I was afraid I was going to change my decision when I see his eyes. I was three steps outside his place, and there was part of me that was wishing he’d retract everything he said, and that I’d forget what just happened, but he didn’t run after me, or didn’t say sorry.
Don’t ask me why I kept on coming back, because to tell you the truth, I’d just give you what I tell Yael: I love Franco.
He’d tell me that it’s bullshit. That or the fact that there is a limit of how much we should love someone. We love because we wanted to make better people out of our partners; we stop loving them because they make us miserable.
Why do you stay, Luisa?
Yael asked me that so many times whenever I tell him that Franc and I fought again. Eventually he stopped asking; he got tired of telling me to leave Franc. There were days when I feel he had distanced himself from me because he couldn’t crack my resolve that I’m staying with Franco. But Yael was just like me—I keep coming back to Franc, and Yael keeps coming back to me.
In the end, Yael and I settled for codes: if it was a fight that wasn’t in any way in league with the first fight, I’d call it a Signal #1. If it was much like the first one, it was Signal #2. And—thankfully I haven’t used this yet—if it was worse, it was a Signal #3.
The Signal #2 fights were the kind of fights that slowly chip my armor of resolve. They eventually got worse—there were days when I had to be absent two days after the fight because the bruising or the swelling was too much and the makeup couldn’t do squat to conceal the hits.
I don’t want to know what Signal #3 fights would be like.
Why do you stay, Luisa? Please leave him.