WHERE DO I BEGIN? Where does anyone? The beginning, I suppose. It seems silly to dwell on something for so long but every now and then, when the sun is setting in exactly the right position, and through the right shade of cloud, it looks exactly like how I saw her hair. Corn husk hair, I called it in a poem that a few people liked and no one else will ever read. Maybe.
I first saw her hair in the tiny little picture on my phone. I swiped right and we matched and I was confused. I looked at her pictures over and over again. Does she have the right guy? We spoke a bit. She liked David Bowie and that was cool. And then he died. We bonded over that. We arranged to go on a date to a restaurant somewhere on the north side, I don’t remember where, or what we ate. I remember looking her face over. It was even lovelier in person.
She wanted to play me the new Father John Misty album. She had good taste. She sent me songs I liked. Songs I played, not because I wanted to get on her good side but because she had really fucking good taste. There was a song by Majickal Cloudz that she said made her think of me. I played it to death. Multiple times a day. Sometimes back to back. She had such good taste.
We put Father John Misty on and for the first time, I didn’t feel shame or fear or self-loathing. I saw fireworks. I fell into her arms as the piano began twinkling, and the strings swelled, and I put my finger on her chin and kissed her, like a schoolboy seeing in color for the first time. I’ve only been able to describe it in adolescent terms because it felt free and natural and joyful for the sake of joy. The second song on the album was called “Two Virgins” and maybe that’s how it felt.
We laid in that tiny, uncomfortable little bed of mine for hours, kissing and joking. I asked her for her whole life story and she told me, bashfully, wondering aloud when I was going to find out how boring she really was. I never reached that point. I told her mine too, and she laughed. We laughed a lot. And when we stopped laughing, we would kiss. Sometimes we would kiss and laugh. It felt okay to do.
And for a while, we were inseparable. Right up the other’s ass. Her place or mine. We fell into each other. We would make plans to go eat, or see a movie, or move in general, and seven hours later we would be right there still. There was never a lack of subjects when we were together. If it was her opinion on dryer lint, I needed to know it. She played me her favorite albums and I played her mine and it was good.
UNTIL IT WASN’T. She was a warrior woman, a self-made angel. Her mom was an abusive Xanax addict and I bristled when my friends would stumble home goobered out and ask her if she knew where to get more. She smiled and said she didn’t but she had twenty hits of acid in her freezer. What a woman.
I didn’t want kids. It’s an opinion I’ve shared before and one I thought was sure, until I realized I hadn’t been presented the option of children without being under duress. But by the time I decided to think before speaking, the seeds of doubt were sewn. My total inability to filter reigned supreme again. She had been unexpectedly dumped by her boyfriend when we met and because she had a giant heart, she couldn’t tell him to get fucked. He had a debilitating mental illness (recurring themes) and she couldn’t just let him go.
So he came back. Right when I was two hours into being punched in the face by my autistic client at work. I saw a picture of the two of them kissing under that fucking silver bean in Chicago and I felt the air vacate my lungs. By that time, my personal poverty and violent work environment had reduced me to hours long panic attacks so I swigged from my plastic bottle of bottom shelf vodka, the only numbing agent I could afford. I drank so much I collapsed in a heap on the floor. For two days. I told her I wasn’t mad at her but I needed to go. Permanently. So I went.
And it fucking hurt. I stopped listening to music because every song was about her. I went to work and drank myself into oblivion and laid on the floor in the spare room, staring at the walls until I had to get up to go change my client’s sheets. After a couple punches to the face, I would find the same spot and resume my mope. All the color drained from my life for a while. I would drive to as many corners of town as I could afford just to not be in my bed, making sure they were enough on the way to work that I could afford to leave the house at all. I would come home and my dog would curl up to me. He’s a trained anxiety service dog so he knew, but it wasn’t enough.
I hid my situation from her. Not that she would have cared. I could have come to her in burlap and rags and she would have taken me out anyway. The handful of months I was around her, I budgeted so tightly I ended up with two dollars in my checking account, but the budget included her. I didn’t tell her how many nights I went to bed hungry instead of cutting into my meager food supply. I didn’t tell her that I siphoned two giant jugs of cheesy puffs from my client, who had stopped letting me feed him entirely. I didn’t tell anyone. But there was always money for her.
The same week things ended between us (when they had barely even begun, mind you), my client’s father won his custody battle to bring him back home. This was the end result of the phone calls that spooked my client so much that we stopped playing catch with his rainbow colored kickball and he started biting me instead. The same client that broke my eight year old glasses in half and left me blind for a week, arguing with my old boss over whether anyone would be replacing them at all. My boss told me she was going to watch the obituaries for his name. His dad had to pry him out of my boss’s arms when it was time to go back home. He screamed so loud the bailiff had to find them another room in the courthouse.
AND THINGS GRADUALLY GOT A LITTLE BETTER. I deleted all of her photos. I deleted all of our texts. I removed her from my online searches. We used to blow each other’s social media up, creeping all day long on the photos we liked the best. Maybe it was a little like being young again. She owned her own home though. She had a real job. And I was her broke loser paramour. How much longer could I pretend that I wasn’t poor and not in control of anything? Some things are just destined to end.
But god damn, did I not want it to. And she didn’t either. And the last time I saw her, I bawled like I’ve never bawled before. Not since I was a baby. And the whole time, she held me, with even breaths and steady arms. Just like a mother. And I had to pry myself away when we kissed for the final time and I turned out the porch light. When she left, I drank myself into a stupor and a girl I had slept with and wigged out on cornered me and asked me why I was such an asshole. I couldn’t answer. I forget how I got home.
And for two weeks we didn’t speak. But she came back. Or really I came back to her. Like a little lost puppy. And the floodgates opened and we were all sweet nothings again, like nothing had happened at all. But somewhere in the back of my chest, I felt it. Some things aren’t made to last, but god damn, why can’t they?
The first night we were together, she told me she had low blood sugar and was feeling faint. I walked to her car and brought up her orange juice she kept there for an emergency. She was blown away by the gesture. I went out the next day and blew in my leftover funny money on her preferred brand. The biggest jug they had. And another brand of juice that she said she kind of liked. A bigger jug. When I told her what I did, not to gain brownie points but to alleviate her dread of further dizziness, she blushed.
And I kissed her cheek. And her chin. And her dimples. And her ear lobes. And her nose. And back again. Over and over. It was sickening. I told her I couldn’t stop and she said “don’t”. Just like a little puppy dog. But not in a bad way. There was no manipulation. No power struggle. I made her mixtapes and she played them. I told her I would squeeze my oranges into juice if it would make her happy and she laughed. I wasn’t joking. I told her I would treat her like the goddam queen and she told me she just wanted me to be around. Where else would I be?
She brought out so much good in me that had been beaten out through the years. I was romantic, and witty, and silly, and sexy, and vulnerable, and smitten. I can’t take the artistic license and claim that we were in love. We didn’t know each other long enough. She didn’t see my whiny side. I never yelled at her. I never let her see the side of me that wakes up so despondent that I don’t shower. For days. She hadn’t pissed me off either.
UNTIL SHE DID. We didn’t speak for months. I was far from okay but I was pulling it together. And then she sent me an essay of a text. About how she was drunk and missed me and couldn’t get over her guilt about how things ended. She didn’t say a word to me when I told her I was done and I wanted it that way, and god almighty did I snap when I read her long gestating apology. Just like a child.
I tried to talk to her normally. I was working a last minute third, totally unprepared, and as I laid on their stiff, shit-smelling couch, I exploded. How fucking dare she come waltzing back now, when I was just getting back to normal? How dare she disrupt me getting on? I wanted nothing more than to hear from her again but I wanted the whole fairy tale kibosh. I wanted a happy ending. Not a new complexity. I told her never to talk to me again, to lose my number and don’t say another word. When I got home that morning, I cried so hard I threw up. I fucked up a second time. And it hurt just as much. She told me she still kept my mixtape in her car. Hell, we even drive the same car. What a world.
I want to stress that I am still a realist at my core. It wasn’t long enough to be love. It wouldn’t have been perfect forever. I couldn’t swallow all of the shitty, awful corners and traps that make me me. But for a while, they seemed to evaporate, and I felt really good about myself, and the world, and my situation. And her.
And that good mood still comes to visit every so often. I wasn’t ungrateful. I savored every kiss, even after I started to forget how they felt. And what her voice sounded like. And how her hand felt when I held it. Which was every second we were together. And for such a short period of time, it meant so god damn much to me. I told her early on about the moat I felt that separated me from the rest of the world and somehow, in her sweet and all too brief way, she crossed it. Just for a little while. Enough to look around. And she felt it too.
And now I don’t know. There are some days I want to message her and apologize but others, the deranged teenager in me doesn’t want the boat rocked too hard. She is a successful, wonderful person. What would a few months with someone weird be to her in the long run? She told me that a surgeon proposed to her once. That sure blew my $9.50 an hour job out of the water.
But she never cared. She wasn’t the type, though ultimately, at some base level, she weighed her options and I wasn’t one, as much as it hurt her too. The day before we stopped talking, I spilled my guts to her on a level I didn’t think was possible. And she read my word salad in her car at work, crying into her steering wheel, but it was too little too late and we both knew.
BUT I TRIED. I fought for her in ways I thought weren’t possible. And for the few months we were around each other, I felt a comfort I didn’t know possible. And a confidence. And a clarity. Instead of hanging my head and resigning myself to something, I found myself running into the arms of the preliminaries of loving someone. A hard won sort of thing. The sort of thing with the sort of person that inspired me to really, honestly try. And I was so ready to try.
But is anything good if it doesn’t end? Nothing seems more hellish to me than the thought of eternity, but that’s an abstract concept too that I rarely considered. Just like children. Matrimony. Stability. And now I don’t know. I don’t know anything. Maybe it’s silly to still carry a sadboy torch for someone I knew that briefly but when you’re as guarded as me, it’s not the sort of flareup that happens that often. Or ever.
So I don’t know. I know that I didn’t talk to anyone for a very long time. I know that I didn’t tell the whole story to anyone. I certainly didn’t tell it here. It would just be page after page of me gushing, so many good things that don’t mean a thing to anyone else. A private, quiet little romance. It would be less composed, less artistic, but maybe somehow virtuous. Sloppy, uncomfortable, human. I don’t know.
I can kind of guess what will happen for her. She had the uncanny ability to want something but also ensure that she got it. She would sell her house I’m sure and get a better one. She will find someone that is her equal and marry them and be beautiful that day, and probably all days after. She will have children that will grow up to love their wonderful mother. She will ascend and ascend. And I won’t be a part of any of it, beautiful as the possibility seemed.
And I know the things that I want to accomplish I can get too, but they aren’t the same things. Or maybe they are, just in the wrong order. She will achieve what she sets out to do and I will too, but I would be lying if I said I’ve felt as human or needed or comfortable in a long time. It’s been a long time since I’ve really looked at myself and felt all the way okay like I did for a few brief months during the winter.
But those things always have a way of coming back. I won’t close myself off to experience because one beautiful thing didn’t work out. I will kiss and laugh and cry and be an ass again. It just so happens, on a day like today, when the sun is long gone under the river, it shined very briefly, and through the right cloud cover, it looked a little like the way her hair did in the dark when I brushed it behind her ear to kiss her cheek. And wouldn’t you know, I’m working an unexpected third shift on short notice.
BUT I ALSO STARTED A NEW JOB. A real one. That pays well. Just like I wanted. And it took me through a few trapdoors and back alleys, but I got it, and that’s something. She’s somewhere and so am I. Apart. Separate the way I can intellectually wrap my mind around but can’t quite manage to accept when I wake up with that little tight spot in the back of my lungs. Or somedays it’s a pebble in my shoe. Or some nights she walks into my dreams and sets up shop like nothing is wrong and the next morning, I wake up exactly where I left myself, with one side of the bed still empty.
This is the first time I’ve written about this and probably the last. I can’t remember what I was trying to get across. I don’t even want to end this paragraph because it feels like saying goodbye again, but to what? A lingering memory? A person I met at an awful time who made it all seem okay? Puppy love? My wounded ego?
A complex, wonderful person. One I met by chance and one who still exists and who moved on, however reluctantly. That’s probably the best way to put it. And I sat on it for so fucking long. Maybe I was afraid to admit how slap happy I was. Maybe it’s my complex about impermanence. Maybe it’s because the rest of the world isn’t as understanding. I don’t know what else to say except that I don’t know what happens next. I can only say for sure that this is what is really going on.
Article featured on Medium, Sep. 26, 2016.