I was 22 when I learned to walk away. I left a man sleeping. (We'll call him Jerry.) There was no hint of dawn’s first light, and all I could hear was my heart scraping and bumping with fear, excitement and motivation as I crept around, grabbed the bag I'd packed and released the knob slowly enough to avoid a click. I had found the gumption to put the craziness behind me. Too many arguments, too much struggling, too much tension about money and how to spend it. He'd blown one too many paycheck and had pushed for yet another What the hell? vacation. Because, according to Jerry, when you're already broke and already in debt, what the hell difference did another $1000 on a credit card make?
I left because I was smart but powerless. We were engaged, but I knew I would not put a wedding band on my finger—binding myself to a life that made no sense to me. So month by month for a good two years, awareness grew like yeast rolls within me until there was absolutely no space left for blind adoration or senseless loyalty. So that morning I took the elevator down to "1" with a gigantic suitcase, a travel bag, and a backpack. I did not stumble or strain as I strode across the vacant lot, up the block, and around the corner to catch the 4:30 train. I did, however, cry the entire length of the ride.
But by the time I stepped out into the Atlantic Avenue station, I had the first glimmer of awareness that brightened bit by bit until it became a fully-illuminated truth that I never question: You can't change anybody but yourself. It's a lesson that's best learned young because I think everybody learns it sooner or later. People show you who they are, and you'd best believe them. It will save you from stress, disappointment and wasted time. It's not about judgment or about who's right or wrong. It's about what works for you and what doesn't.
Jerry and I stayed friends, and I am grateful I had the courage to sneak out at dawn. It might be a coward's way out, but I knew I wasn't strong enough to stand up against the arguments and Jerry's charm. So, four things:
1) Pay attention to what people say and do;
2) Don't fool yourself into seeing and hearing what you want to see and hear;
3) You have to recognize when you and somebody are playing by totally different rules or sometimes playing two entirely different games; and
4) When you get off track, you need to know yourself well enough to plot a course back to your own life.