Breaking the Habit: Exes, Past and Future

I stumbled upon the idea that our exes all leave lessons, reflections on experiences we’ll have in the future. Those “us” moments, the laughs, the arguments, the cute little spots, the things that make our bodies tick, the break ups: they all find themselves mirrored in our future. Staring back at us, and we think, “Funny, how…” I had such a moment about two years ago.

See, at some point I was a pretend-woman of twenty-something, with a serious thing for bartenders. Really, a thing. I was prey, mistaking myself for a predator. I would sidle up to the bar and place a hand on the bar top that never left. An extension, an invitation. Sometimes, I heaved myself up on the barstool to get their attention. Chest leaning forward, my face half a foot above the crowd. One knee firmly in place on the barstool, a foot dangling over the side. My eyes watched them… slowly… following them, until they caught mine. The rest was easy. I would return, each time my tongue looser, my tits more playful, each joint seemingly unhinged. By the end of the night, they were responsible for the dizzying excitement I felt. Naturally, I fell for them.

He worked at one of the nightclubs downtown. I was in college in the sticks, and he was the embodiment of city life. A cute one bedroom apartment on the edge of downtown. Exposed brick, marble top kitchen counters, minimalist modern style, a neat freak, older, $100 jeans. He smoked pot all the time. I, at the height of my marijuana use, could not keep up. He waked and baked. I baked and slept. Still do in fact. He turned out to be highly emotionally unstable. HIGHLY. I would later find out as a result of his cocaine habit-turned-addiction. Gasp! Cocaine? That was the real deal. Real fuckin’ shit. I had barely dabbled in ecstasy, how had I ended up dating a cokehead who would call me at 9 am from a bathtub in Minneapolis crying? Full grown-man crying. He wanted to kill himself. “What if I just let myself slip under the water?” I crisis managed. The first of many. He swore he would change, get help. His mother showed up. I stayed, hid his porn, fucked him, babied him. Then I left.

It’s 3-4 odd years later. I’ve just left my girlfriend’s loft in downtown. I have the dream. She’s drop dead gorgeous, smart as whip, funny, loving; an impeccable catch. The loft is a gift to herself for the $120,000+ she’ll be making at her new big-girl job. Exposed brick. Marble top kitchen counters. Two bedrooms. Windows the size of doors for us to fuck on. The past, exaggerated. I can’t remember where I was going, but I’m thinking of the other woman as I amble down the street. The one I was cheating on my amazing girlfriend with. The thrill of a lifetime. Bringing me to the edge, just to peer over it. I don’t like heights, and I don’t like edges. But there we were, on the edge of madness.

It’s a hot August day, flowing green skirt, fresh out of the farmer’s market, like every good progressive should be. My mind churning as always. A constant cacophony of should-have’s, and would-have-been’s. There’s a man on a bicycle. Shirtless (why do men feel the right to be shirtless in public?). I once read about a topless rally in the North East, Maine I think. Some women had gotten together to campaign for their right to be shirtless in public as well, free of the sexist objectification of their bare breasts, of course. Anyway, the man without the shirt. He’s watching some street performer, visibly enjoying it, clapping, and cheering him on. The uninhibited smile of a grown man. It’s sweet, slightly disturbing. There’s something familiar about this shirtless man with the bicycle.

He turns, I smile. He reaches out to hug me, sweaty bare skin and all. He apologizes, with a huge grin on his face. He looks so damn happy! And good too, his face is glowing, his muscles taut. “How are you? I never thought I would see you again!” Me neither. He doesn’t know I have a girlfriend, and a mistress. He doesn’t know that he doesn’t know me anymore. I am nonetheless happy to see him. I’ve wondered about him from time to time. He says to me, “I really want to apologize for all the things I did…” It’s one of the AA steps. He’s clean, sober, and so fuckin’ happy!! So FUCKIN’ HAPPY!!! He doesn’t know that I’ve spent the last month snorting plates of coke in questionable houses, with even more questionable people. He doesn’t know that I have a bag somewhere on me, filled with the purest coke in the city (or so I’m told). That I am falling victim to the very thing I left him for. I am his past. He was my future. And so, we stand.

I realize now that part of the thrill is that familiar sting. I like the feel of the numbness as it moves down me. I know now why it’s called a habit. Because habits entail routines, patterns, familiarity. In this case, the sting, the cutting, the crushing, the back room club, hands underneath the table, bags tucked closely to moist skin, the dollar bills flattened to be rolled, then held vertically against the smooth glass, the quick inhale of those imperfect white lines. And then the rush, the instantaneous, inescapable rush. A jolt to the brain, you feel your eyes get wider, brighter, the tempo picks up. You are there. We were there. Her and I. The one who’d brought me to the edge just to peer over it. She and us.

But in the end, it was all a game of hide and seek, a chase I could never win. I spent months chasing that first rush, my body in heat. I had it, no, we had it. We ate and slept it, the cream of the crop. The world, our metaphorical oyster, though we were content with our one cell city, an oyster within an oyster. It was dazzling. We made lofty plans, stayed into the night replicating highs, falling deeper in love with the highs we created. “Vampires never sleep,” she used to say to me when we first met. I didn’t understand what that meant, until those 4 am mornings spent lying in bed, heart racing faster than I thought possible, willing myself to go to bed, for sleep to come.

And so, we raced, each of us more reckless than the other, a bad combination. A mutual friend once said to me; “The problem with the two of you is that there’s no one to say no.” There was no regulatory mechanism. We ignored the scientists who had intimated that all living things, systems, required balance. We were a dysfunctional system, and if we are to believe that the product of any processes regulates the process itself, then we were toying with mutual destruction. Our product was shit. Like all living systems out of balance, we were unsustainable.

The demise was not unexpected; it would be deceitful to say so. The fashion in which it took place though, was, and the eventual fallout. In the end though, we had fulfilled our biological duties, each mutating the other. And so I left her, hurling insults on a sidewalk on a sunny April day. The cocaine, though, that was harder to quit.

Kari is a creative writer born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya who spent her formative years in Minnesota—where she often dreamed of warmer weather. She is an avid traveler, perpetual list-maker and sometimes performer. Her words have appeared all over the internet, on the radio and on stage. For more, check out her website, The Warm Fruit, or follow her on Twitter.

Kari has written 16 articles for us.


  1. This reminds me of an Andrea Gibson quote that also sort of sums up my dating history:
    “I’ve been wrapping one night stands around my body like wedding bands but none of them fit in the morning. They just slip off my fingers and slip out the door.”
    It sucks.

  2. your story was like reading an introduction to an interesting novel, and I enjoyed it so much that I was surprised that it ended there. I hope you continue to write and share what you are comfortable sharing, given the content matter of addiction and your experience of being part of that, I appreciate what you have shared. I hope that you continue also to find support to become stronger and more capable of calibrating your own balance. Stay strong.

    • Thank you. It’s hard to end a story like this without revealing too much. I shared what felt right and complete in the moment. But then again the whole experience was much like this story, abrupt.

    • I feel like thanks to the Internetz, a lot of first-person narratives end up in the public sphere when maybe they would better remain a journal entry. Thought Catalog is the absolute epitome of the navel-gazing, special snowflake writing that seems to characterize my generation. But but but. I feel like this piece was generally well-written. There were some very stunning passages, and I found this to be emotionally moving, unlike a lot of other crap that gets posted online, even though that may be due primarily to personal experience. In any case, haterz gonna hate. At least this writer has the (metaphorical) balls to submit something this personal to so much public scrutiny…I don’t know if I could ever do that! If you don’t like it, at least give some constructive feedback.

      • “Thought Catalog is the absolute epitome of the navel-gazing, special snowflake writing that seems to characterize my generation.”

        This EXACTLY. I am not of that generation. And I’m past that stage of my life. So I do not enjoy these types of pieces. I find them narcissistic and self-involved, if not self-indulgent. The writer has already acknowledged that this was a piece of personal reflection. As you point out, if everything private must be published, perhaps it would be more appropriate in a personal blog rather than a public popular magazine-type venue like AS.

        As far as offering constructive criticism, in this case I’m not sure how to do that without sounding mean and that wasn’t my intention. (Of course, that’s now been obliterated by my replying to your post.) I know most (all ?) of the contributors around here read the comments and I was specifically trying not to hurt the writer’s feelings or discourage them from expressing themselves. I’m actually not a “hater.” The writer has a good command of the language and talent in creating illusion. I just don’t care for what it was used to do. As others have written, I also felt like it ended abruptly and like it didn’t go anywhere. Now that the writer has revealed that this is one piece of a larger project, it makes sense. Perhaps it should have been prefaced with that fact. For those who were bothered by that, that’s an editorial foible and not the fault of the writer.

  3. “But in the end, it was all a game of hide and seek, a chase I could never win. I spent months chasing that first rush, my body in heat. I had it, no, we had it. We ate and slept it, the cream of the crop. The world, our metaphorical oyster, though we were content with our one cell city, an oyster within an oyster. It was dazzling. We made lofty plans, stayed into the night replicating highs, falling deeper in love with the highs we created.”

    Absolutely beautiful, amazing writing.

  4. I thought this was really well done but I did worry that it ended abruptly.

    That moment, though, of you two not knowing each other anymore and flipping or changing in silent ways, I really identified with ALL of that. I appreciated the way you put it: the feeling of a baggy somewhere weighing on your mind as you speak to this person… He won’t know but he almost could.

    I wish/hope that there’s a follow up to this piece.

  5. I appreciate all the feedback, you beautifully supportive, critical people! It is a deeply personal story, and a reflection inwards so I can understand the nay sayers who find it difficult to consume. But for those of you who loved it, and find your experiences mirrored in or just simply enjoyed it, THANK YOU!!

    For those that want more, there’s more pieces to this, it’s finding the right places for it.

  6. I have already commented with my thoughts about this but have been reading other comments re: “navel-gazing”, diary entry, etc. I’m just wondering, sincerely, where is the line drawn? If this were a personal piece of erotica where the writer attempts to process an experience would that be viewed as “navel-gazing” or would it be accepted and better “liked” because we as readers derive pleasure from it and a greater number of people can relate? I genuinely don’t understand what makes one memoir piece interesting and another a diary entry. What makes one valid and the other not? Isn’t this rather subjective?

  7. I recognize the craft of this piece, but can’t love it because my girlfriend was once in a similar situation to the author’s girlfriend and was devastated by discovering her ex’s cheating. Her wounds have mostly healed and she seems happy now- and I never previously condoned cheating- but it’s harder for me not to be extra-sickened now that I am dating her at anyone taking advantage of their partner’s trust in a way similar to my girlfriend’s ex.

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