Almost Love: Part 1

I see him standing across the room like a cliche, only we aren’t at a dimly-lit bar and this isn’t a romantic comedy. I know going into this that our story, if we even get one, has no happy ending. Given that I am entering into something with the unintentional (but no less inevitable) consequence of destroying something else, given that I am using the skills I have to achieve what I want, given that I have repeatedly damned the consequences, I know full well that karma will eat me alive by the end.
I’ve just recently decided that I don’t care.

He climbs the stairs alone as everyone leaves. I follow, without asking myself why. I don’t want to examine that impulse too closely; I might not like what I discover.

He tells me about her, the last thing in the universe I’d ever want to hear about. Since I’m chasing something, since I am selfish and stubborn, since I am projecting a very specific attitude, since I never did much like rules, I let him. You can say anything to me, I tell him, which is an offer I will come to regret.
I’m supposed to hate her, I know. I even try. I think of her as the Queen in hopes that it will distance her from me. I want to hate her, but the truth is I hope to be her. Someday much too soon there will be another woman wanting to be me, and he will let her, just as he’s letting me. Because that’s who he is.
I realize that, in this moment, I am thinking more about the woman that will shove me out than I am about the one I’m shoving, and then I wonder what that says about me.

I don’t quite start this thing between us; I go only as far as I can deny responsibility for. Part of me knows I will need to, at some point, so even now I protect myself as well as I can. My conscience will tug at my sleeve later, but for now I ignore it and step right up to that line. He’s the one, though, who crosses it. I cling to that point even now, like it’s a pardon that will absolve me of all the sins that followed.
I feel my heart speed up as he moves toward me, and suddenly I am on the brink of something both terrible and beautiful, and all I have to do is step into it, but I don’t. I wait, because power is the only thing I can pretend to have, and I won’t give him that too.

He stares at me and there is an endless pause. He’s beautiful, I think, and wonder when exactly I noticed.
“I can’t stay away from you,” he says. I don’t say I know, or please don’t, or any other honest reply. I know already that honesty will not be one of our privileges. Given what we’re doing, what we’re about to do, what’s to come, I think somehow we don’t deserve the peace that comes from honesty. I wait.

Then I’m in his arms and it feels too familiar, too much like home, too much of too many things I wanted. I hear that alarm bell ringing, the one that says I will suffer for this later, and I ignore it because I want this moment to myself. This moment that I can never share with anyone else. He’s here, it’s ours, and for now that’s enough. We are an earthquake, two intense bodies along a fault line, knowing that our touches are destroying things but also that we are both forces of nature who cannot stop.

I want all of him, but I’m supposed to be grateful for this one small piece. I accept far less than I probably deserve. I deserve nothing, because he isn’t mine. I am stealing, and therefore do not get to be happy. We have an impossible existence that we both know is doomed to go down in flames. We keep that feeling buried when we’re together, but are drowned in it when we’re apart.

When we leave for the day, I wonder which of us will be the first to regret what we’ve done.

I get my answer when he refuses to meet my eyes, but it still stings.

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how strange to be strangers

Ten years have passed and unexpectedly
they share the same set of walls,
representing opposite poles of the same planet,
standing as far apart as space will allow.
Where their gazes used to attract they now repel,
bouncing off, pushing away from each other,
so no one else will notice that
they recognize themselves in the other.

He knows all the shades of her skin in summer,
the taste of her mouth at the beach.
She knows how it feels to curl up in his lap,
the sound of his laugh when she teases him.
He’s familiar with the exasperated roll of her eyes
and knows her favorite kind of pizza.
She remembers every peak and valley of his body,
and knows lines from all his favorite films.

They remember building a fence and digging a garden,
and leaving books on each other’s shelves.
They remember lazy nights spent entangled on the couch,
and choosing colors, fabrics, music.
They remember choosing a Christmas tree,
and hauling boxes into a new house.
They remember walking hand-in-hand to see fireworks,
eating ice cream on a porch in the summer heat.

But ten years have passed and suddenly
they are held by the same cage,
oil and water poured into a clear bowl,
pulling apart as quickly as reactions allow.
Where their spaces used to flow together they now stand rigid,
the tight discomfort of shoes that no longer fit,
hoping no one will notice that
they’re pretending their apathy.

(how strange it is
to be strangers,
for the first time
in their lives together)

trucks

We are driving in the rain. Holding hands, happy, entrenched in a spirited debate about futuristic technology. We discuss self-driving cars and the progress being made; I say they’ve made great strides, he says it’s too slow.

“We’ll have teleporters by then,” he teases.

And all at once I am in a different truck — similar, but not identical, and yet it’s a truck I know. It feels familiar. I know the scratch on the dashboard; I know its unique smell of sawdust and metal and him; and I know the chain hanging from the rearview mirror. All the same, I’m aware that haven’t been inside this truck in years. In fact, when I turn to the memory of the man beside me, it occurs to me that he might not even own it anymore.

But it’s the one I remember him in.

“Life would be so much easier if you didn’t live so far away,” I remember him saying.

“I know,” I answered. “I wish I could just snap my fingers and be where I wanted to be.”

“I’ll build you a teleporter,” he offered. His crooked smile made my heart flutter.

“Oh yeah?” I tossed back. “Knowing you, I’ll be waiting five years before you get around to it.”

He winked at me. “Then it can be your wedding present.”

I remember not replying, because I wasn’t positive that he meant what I thought he meant and I didn’t want to assume. So I waited.

“When we get married,” he clarified, and though his tone was still casual I felt my heart skip, “I’ll build you a teleporter.”

“Right,” I remember answering slowly, acting like the idea that we’d get married wasn’t news to me. “But by then I won’t need one anymore.”

“Okay, so the teleporter will be an engagement gift.”

“Then what do I get as my wedding gift?” I demanded.

He smiled at me again, and I felt in that moment how overwhelmingly I loved him. “For our wedding I’ll build you a rocketship,” he promised. “We can take off in it after the ceremony is over.”

“Fair enough,” I agreed, and we both laughed.

“I’d rather have a rocketship,” I say without thinking.

He looks over at me, puzzled. “What?”

I shake my head, the ghost of a smile on my face. “Never mind.”

telling her twice, and why it’s never funny

Go back and visit that moment where you learned a hard lesson.
Yeah, that one.
The one even your subconscious shies away from.
The lessons that stick with you are the ones you learned the hard way.

Count on the fact that I’m utterly insane and won’t go away or something.

I’ll say this for myself:
I learned ‘em hard.
He taught me lot.

You make me violent towards women.

For a long time, I wished I could delete him, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-style.
Just gone, rubbed away in a cloud of old-school chalkboard dust.
I thought about how much easier it would make my life.

What, did you think I was gone?

People don’t understand
why I obsessively lock my front door,
why I lay awake most nights in April,
why it makes me jump a mile to hear a switchblade open,
why I check the backseat before I get into my car.

Did you get the gift I left in your car? I think it’s a fair trade.

For awhile I wondered if I was just making him into the villain of my story, casting him in a role he didn’t deserve. Maybe I was being melodramatic, making things out to be worse then they were, maybe things were never That Bad.

Sorry about all the noise and blood.

Injuries heal. Bruises disappear, bones mend, scars fade.
Anything physical can be fixed as long as you don’t die of it.
But there were moments I wished I would,
(and I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for pain so I’m thinking it was actually That Bad).

I’ve got far too much time on my hands now, and I’m not entirely sane.

What doesn’t fade is my anxiety
when someone comes up behind me on the stairs,
when someone opens the door without warning,
when someone makes a joke about abuse.

I don’t know if you’re avoiding me because you want to or because the police ordered you to.

You know the jokes,
we all do, the ones we all let slide way more than we should.
Because we’re “overly sensitive” if it hurts us.
“What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?” “Nothing, you’ve already told her twice!”

I found that my right hand will most likely be in too many pieces forever now.

Those jokes are like getting slapped.
They’re not like getting punched, oh no,
I promise, that hurts more
And my friends say them, and strangers say them, and people I love say them.

I’m pissed and I can keep going forever, and very likely will.

And they “don’t mean anything by it” and it’s “just a joke”
but none of them have a fucking clue what it means
to look in the mirror and see rock bottom
and learn a lesson because you’ve seen your own blood too many times.

They dropped all the bullshit about me being dangerous or whatever so I’m not going to stay away from you for long.

Go back and visit that moment where you learned a hard lesson.
Feel what you felt then.
The impact. The weight. The emotion.
I dare you to make a joke about yours.

I’ll probably give it a week before I start hunting.

Carrie & Coki: Diaries Of Unrequited Whatever

Let me be clear: this is not a book review. I’ve never written a book review and I don’t intend to start now. This is simply a commentary on a book and the impact it had, very personally, on me. That said, there are “spoilers” I guess,  so don’t read this if you plan to read Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist.

***

I read this book for a lot of reasons, not the least of which were my love of Carrie Fisher and my sentimentality over her death. I kept seeing reviews for this, her final book, in which she chronicles (among other things) her Star-Wars-era affair with Harrison Ford. Reviews for this book almost universally take on a fan-girl quality; fans and critics uniting in mutual enthusiasm: Han and Leia were together in real life! They describe the book as “intimate and hilarious,” “an amusing jaunt down memory lane,” “witty and authentic,” “funny and touching,” “packed with one-liners,” ……you get the idea. They see it as rollicking celebrity gossip, or “wish fulfilment for Star Wars fanatics,” which leaves me wondering if any of them actually read the book.

I found it irrevocably and unshakably heartbreaking.

The Princess Diarist is not what I expected. I still can’t decide if it’s even what I wanted. Don’t get me wrong here: Carrie Fisher did an excellent job with it. I loved the book. I’ve reread it three times now, color-coding it with post-its flags of my emotions, and I haven’t even owned it for very long. It’s full of emotion and heart and vulnerability, and it is, at various points, amusing and self-deprecating. But I’d never call it hilarious, or lighthearted.

As someone who also, at 19, had an affair with an older and unavailable man, someone who also kept a journal during the experience (and never again afterwards), I knew before I opened the book that I would relate to it. If I’m being honest, it was the primary reason I bought it. I assumed I’d recognize some emotional parallels between my situation and hers. Knowing Carrie Fisher’s personality, I was ready for a funny, lighthearted, straightforward, possibly self-deprecating approach to her own affair. I hoped it would give me perspective on my own.

Carrie Fisher’s 19-year-old self is full of insecurity, anxiety, and low self-esteem. “I forgave him for not loving me in the way one usually expects,” she writes, “and almost forgave myself for not expecting it.” You experience her heartbreak as it’s happening, and all the while she pretends it doesn’t exist. The worst part of her descriptions is that she consistently tries to trivialize her own feelings, tries to pretend her vulnerability isn’t there. She mocks herself for having emotions, tries to put a comical spin on it, but it comes off much more like desperation than actual humor.

All I could see at first were the painfully obvious similarities. In so many cases, her journal could have been mine, and mine hers. Our nineteen-year-old selves would have either been friends (bonded by the mutual misery of secret-keeping and unrequited love), or hated each other (for being the physical embodiment of our own vulnerabilities). Eerily similar phrases popped up in our respective journals, so much so that I actually went and found my own so I could compare them. I guess insecure 19-year-olds who are in love with unavailable and inappropriate men are all remarkably similar. You can see those similarities for yourself in the quotes I’ve entered below — just a few selections out of dozens of nearly-identical phrases and emotions.

On those points where our stories diverged, however, I found myself inordinately jealous of Carrie’s experience when compared to my own.

Carrie describes Harrison as sullen and silent, disinclined to discuss their relationship or their future. Even as she fantasizes about a potential happily-ever-after future, she seems to accept that it will never happen, writing, “No one was telling anyone that they felt misunderstood and as such there wouldn’t be anything leaving-wise in his instance. So that was that.”

I wish I’d had such clarity at the time. My own Harrison was charming, funny, interesting, and often endearing. It made it difficult to know what he felt for me, or ultimately for anyone.

I tried to seem indifferent to him, Whatever, I know you won’t leave her so I’d never embarrass myself by asking you to, because I refused to ask him for more than we already had. I refused to be clingy, or needy, or to push any boundaries or ask anything that might make him leave. So I faked indifference, all while watching his every move and listening intently to his every word. My focus was entirely on him whenever he was nearby — not that I let him know it — because I constantly hoped that hidden within his words or actions would be some clue or hint that would indicate our future (or lack of one). A clear answer on this point, like Harrison’s refusal to discuss it, might have been the reality check I needed.

Then again, having read Carrie’s experience, I wonder if it would have made any difference at all.

“I was relieved when it ended,” Carrie writes. “I didn’t approve of myself.”

I didn’t either. I ended my affair multiple times. I’d walk away. I’d stop talking to him, wouldn’t go near him, wouldn’t interact with him at all. And then, for a multitude of reasons I could never quite define, it would start all over again. It was like magnets, or satellites — or, more accurately, like a slow-burn chemical reaction destined for an explosion at an indeterminate time.

“While there’s still time for Carrison to grow old together, that gateway is steadily closing,” Carrie mused. “If we’re going to get back together we’re going to have to do it soon.”

And this is the one that really broke my heart. Of all the phrases, all the emotions, all of the devastating musings of Carrie’s book, this present-day passing comment was the one that made me cry. Because here she is, all these years later, having at some point been married and had a child, and yet somewhere in her mind she still hoped that she and Harrison would end up together. Time and distance did nothing to erase that (admittedly dwindling) possibility. The fact that Carrie passed away after writing this book makes that dreamy, wishful sentence even more heart-wrenching.

I enjoyed the book, in the sense that it was very genuine, and very powerful, and very engaging.

But I’d never call it lighthearted. I’d never describe it as “amusing.” I wouldn’t diminish its power that way.

It’s an excellent read, I’ll tell people. And it’s heartbreaking.

[EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARIES OF CARRIE AND COKI]

Carrie: “…perhaps what disturbed Harrison was the implication that he was subsequently burdened with something very like responsibility, in that he had somehow been given a gift he hadn’t wanted or expected.”

Coki: “He seems to feel responsible for me, like I need education in all the ways I should stay away from men like him, all while being charming enough to keep me around.”

Carrie: “Harrison was on his lickety-split way to being everything to me.”

Coki: “I’m half in love with this man, and he isn’t mine. How’s that for absurd?”

Carrie: “How could you ask such a shining specimen of a man to be satisfied with the likes of me?”

Coki: “I don’t even know why he’s interested. Here I am, the nerdiest 19-year-old virgin you’re ever likely to find, and for some reason he thinks I’m something worth looking at. What??”

Carrie: “There were two reasons I wrote the diaries….it seemed to calm me, getting anything that might be chaotic behind the eyes onto the page in front of me where it could do me less harm….[and] I felt that I couldn’t confide in anyone else, because [he] was married. And not to me.”

Coki: “I have a lot on my mind and no good way to put it into words or explain it. And, after all, who the hell would I even explain it to? It’s not like I can go out for girl’s weekend and lament the tragedy of my love affair with [him].”

Carrie: “Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

Coki: “How did I arrive here, in this moment, loving this man who will never love me back? What choices did I make to get me here?”

Carrie: “He would wonder where I had been all his life and then recall with a bemused, ironic sinking feeling that I had yet to be born for much of it.”

Coki: “I get so angry with him sometimes because when we argue, he likes to dismiss my opinions as being ‘young’ or ‘naive.’ I am admittedly naive about this relationship, but not about much else, so it infuriates me. You picked ME, so don’t you dare act like my age is such a huge problem for you.”

Carrie: “The inevitability of his escape is most likely his most attractive feature.”

Coki: “It’s the chase. I tend to pick a guy who’s totally unobtainable and try to get him, like it’s a game, like no one’s going to be broken at the end.”

Carrie: “I’m quite sure, though, that if I had any principles what I’m doing now would violate almost all of them.”

Coki: “Of my top relationship rules, I’ve broken all of them….I shouldn’t have let it start in the first place.”

Carrie: “We could come to a full stop now if you think that would help. Because like any other B-movie heroine, I can’t go on like this. Can you understand? I don’t want to hurt you any more than I want you to hurt me. It’s now a question of surviving each other’s company instead of enjoying it.”

Coki: “This is wrong. I abuse myself for my own lack of morality every single day and yet I do nothing about it. I should walk away and never look back. So why do I let it continue? Why are there always people you can’t make yourself stay away from?”

Carrie: “I’m frightened of the power that he has over me and of how he will almost certainly abuse it, merely by not being fully aware he has it.”

Coki: “I can’t let him see that I want him more than he wants me. He could wreck me with a look, with a sentence, or with silence, and that’s the worst part of this whole thing.”

this game called “when we catch fire”

I’ve heard people say that it’s awful watching an ex be happy with someone else, especially when you’re miserable yourself. But I wonder if it’s worse when the opposite is true.

What’s worse: Watching someone you love be happy with someone else, while you’re miserable? Or watching them be miserable with someone else, while you’re happy?
I don’t have an answer for that. I guess it depends on how much you loved them. Or rather, what kind of love you felt for them. Whether you subscribe to “true love comes once in a lifetime,” or if you’re more into “if you love something, set it free.”

I set you free. You ended things, and I made it simple for you to walk away. I didn’t fight you, I didn’t stop you, I didn’t cry and guilt-trip and complain. It hurt like hell, but I made damn sure you’d closed the front door behind you before I let any tears fall. Because I knew you believed it was what you wanted — and I probably knew, even then, that we weren’t right for each other. Not in the ways that mattered, not enough for forever. Love, ultimately, wasn’t going to be enough to save us in the end — whenever the end came for us. Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same, after all.

Fast-forward four years. It took me a long time to get past it, past you. Arguably, in some ways, I’m still not entirely over it — I admit a strong case can be made, given the fact that I’m writing this to you now. But now — four years after you walked out, after I went through hell and high water, through the literal hardest decision of my life — I can say I am, at the very least, at peace when it comes to you.

And here’s the crazy thing: I’m happy. Happier than I ever was with you, happier than I’ve ever been with anyone else. He challenges me, and makes me laugh, and pushes me to do better. It’s the first time I haven’t wanted to run. The first time it hasn’t terrified me to talk about the future. The first time I believe I have one.

But I still watch you,
(I loved you so much then that if you had asked, I’d have married you. It would have been a mistake, and it probably wouldn’t have lasted very long (that’s if we even made it to the altar, which I doubt more and more as I get older), but I would have said yes. I said yes to you even when I had doubts piling up around me like storm clouds, because I loved you too much to let them scare me away. Because I had fought too hard for you to let you go so easily)
and I don’t think you’re happy.

You left me, and six months later, you were engaged. Just like that. Ready to spend forever with someone else, after years with me. Years of “us.”

It broke me. I won’t lie to you because after everything you and I shared, you deserve better than lies. (You may deserve a few big ones just for the sake of balance, but I’ll resist the temptation). You broke my heart. I’ve never felt actual pain in my chest, never understood why they call it heartbreak, until you. Hearing you were getting married so fast hurt even worse than when you left. Of all the ways we’ve hurt each other over the years, that was the worst of it. That casual sentence, that flippant comment about your fiance when I didn’t even know you’d started dating again, broke me — in a lot of ways, for a long time. You’ll never understand how much. I’d never admit the extent of it.

But several months passed, and when I decided to remove you from my life for good, the farewell letter I wrote told you that I hoped you’d be happy. I wished you the best. And as much as I’ve gone back and forth about that sentiment since then — as many days as I spent full of hurt and anger, where I wanted to be vindictive and take that back — I can honestly say that I meant it. If you weren’t happy with me, I loved you enough to actually hope that you’d be happy with someone else. With this other woman, whoever she was.

So I still watch you.
Because I loved you once. Because your life and your happiness still matter to me, even if I’m not a part of either one anymore.
I check in on your life, now and again. I don’t contact you, I don’t intrude, I don’t even ask other people about you. I just check around, see what I can find, make a mental note of any major updates.
(Partially so that if I ever run into you, and you tell me these things, it won’t be the first I’m hearing of it and you won’t have to watch the emotion brewing in my eyes.)

Your engagement photos were the first place I saw it: you were uncomfortable.
In all those photos where you should have been huggy and kissy and all a-twitter with love, you looked…stuck. Like someone had asked you to pose in a photo with someone you barely knew. Like you didn’t know how to stand, or where to look, or what to do with your hands. When to hold her, how to look at her, where to touch her.
Some of that was just you; you always hated photos. But it got me wondering. It’s the first time I questioned that maybe you chose the wrong woman….again.

I wasn’t right for you either, I know that now. But we talked about getting married often enough that I knew what you wanted. We agreed on an old beautiful barn, with exposed beams and hardwood floors. You wanted bare lightbulbs hung in strands across the beams. Acoustic guitar and shoes kicked off, warm soft colors and everyone singing along to our first dance. Just the two of us, in a theatre of our own making — where, for one day, we’d been cast as the leads.

I saw your wedding photos. That was the second place I saw it, or rather, didn’t see it: I didn’t see your touch on anything. I saw stark white walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, crisp white tablecloths, shiny silver chairs — this buttoned-up, banquet-hall, country-club wedding. It looked flashy and expensive and cold, and you were nowhere. I didn’t see your warm lights, your soft comfortable colors, your hardwood floors. Your personality was strapped into an immaculate three-piece suit that someone chose for you, and I looked straight past you in all the photos because you weren’t even present. Someone took a cookie cutter to you and kept cutting pieces away until you fit. Until you were just the groom, irrelevant; just stand on your mark and pose. Your personality, your laughter, your warmth and charm, were invisible in that clean white spotlight.

Those pictures made me sad, but not for me. This time, I hurt for you. I wondered whether you were happy with your choice, or if you just wanted to be married so badly that the bride and the wedding and the photos didn’t even matter. Where was my laughing carpenter, full of bravado, who always smelled like sawdust, and smiled at me across rooms and winked? Where was the mischief and quirkiness that I used to know so well?
It was supposed to be the happiest day of your life — where was all your joy and anticipation?
I didn’t see you in any of your wedding photos, and it made me impossibly sad. I had hoped to see your smile again, the genuine one that started from your eyes.

When you bought your house, you were so excited to show me around. We walked through the back gate and around the yard and through the bedrooms. You kissed me in the kitchen and we watched Pulp Fiction on a mattress on the basement floor. We watched Blues Brothers curled up on the couch in the living room, and laid in your bed reading books late at night. We watched fireworks from your front steps and ate ice cream sitting by your garden in the backyard. You were building your man-cave in the basement, planting herbs in the garden out back, and getting a dog now that you had a fenced-in yard. You were so in love with it, every part of it. You said you wanted to spend forever in that house.

A month ago, you sold it.
I checked in on your life, expecting things to be the same, and saw it for a third time: the loss of you. Your house, I learned, isn’t yours. That house that you loved so much was just…..left empty.
I am that house. Loved, cherished, altered; then abandoned for something new. Part of you, loved by you….and then, all at once, not yours anymore. I felt the loss of that piece of you.
And I knew, the way you know from “hello” that a friend is upset, that it wasn’t your idea. I knew with every fiber of my being that someone else made that call. Maybe they even convinced you it was your idea. But I am absolutely certain that, isolated from outside influence, you wouldn’t have let it go.
I don’t know how many pieces of yourself you’d be willing to give up, for the sake of “happiness.”

I often wonder about your life, wonder if you’re okay. I hope you’re happy, even though that would hurt me too. But I would rather know you’re smiling somewhere, that everything you and I went through counted for something, that we both arrived at happiness somehow. If you’re miserable, I can’t — shouldn’t want to — save you. I can’t contact you, because I swore I wouldn’t. If you’re unhappy, it is of your own making, and there is nothing I could or should do to change that.

But the fact that I loved you for so long makes it hard to watch you be unhappy.

he promised.

It’s midnight.
I check the locks.
I turn off the lights.
I climb into bed.

I start to feel it, the loss of control.
I go to war with the anxiety; I use logic.
Everything is fine, you’re safe.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 1 am.
I wake in a panic, a small noise somewhere.
That sound isn’t him, he doesn’t know how to find me anymore.
I get up and check the locks again.

I start to cry, can’t stop.
I whisper out loud to myself.
It was years ago; wipe your tears.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 2 am.
I stare at the curtains, watch for every shifting shadow.
I jump at all the noises and lights.
I get up and check the locks again.

I give up and get out of bed.
I sit on the couch in the dark.
I listen for a knock, but there’s no sound.
But he’s coming; he promised.

It’s 3 am.
He’s still there in my head.
He is coming; he will find me. He promised.
I get up and check the locks again.

“You think you can ever escape? When you’re finally happy, when you think you’re free, I will hunt you down. I’ll find you wherever you are. I will destroy you. I promise you that.”

He promised.

recovery

You used to tell me you were addicted to me.
What a truth. What a lie.

You used “addicted” instead of “in love,” and maybe that should have been a warning sign, but you know what?
You weren’t addicted.
Not the way I was.

I never said it, maybe. I didn’t use those words because I didn’t want to seem like I cared too much.
Doesn’t that tell you everything?
I refused to be seduced by the idea of sinking into you and letting our lives intertwine, because you were never quite present.
She laid between us in bed at night and she was there in the pit of my stomach when you said “addicted.”

I was addicted. I left you over and over again. But I came back. I couldn’t stay away from you.
I felt my heartbeat trying to shatter my rib-cage every time you kissed me, and I figured that meant love.
It helped with the guilt sometimes.

But the guilt also meant that I tried to let you go. Over, and over, and over. I kept walking away, kept quitting you.
But I never did it right, because I always returned. I always thought “this is the last time,” and ended up with you in my life for another few months.
I kept giving myself back to you, and not understanding why you let me.

Until the last day, when I promised myself I wouldn’t go near you, wouldn’t speak to you, wouldn’t answer when you called again.
When I finally figured out that you didn’t love me. A flashing neon sign would have been less subtle.
Finally, I gave you up like the bad habit you were. And I’ve stuck to it. Almost four years have passed since I’ve touched you or heard your voice.
But I didn’t quit you the way I meant to.

You’re everywhere. Sawdust and green eyes and ripped jeans. Museums and tattoos and light bulbs. Trucks and curly hair and paint.
You were in so much of my life, for so long, that you’ve left your fingerprints on everything I touch.
I can hear you laugh at my jokes and see your eyes when I close mine at night.

I crave you. A conversation.
Just to hear you laugh or say my name again.
I crave the caress I felt on my skin when you smiled just for me.

I wish I could stop.
Stop seeing you in everything. Stop wondering how much I would tell you. Stop feeling this pull to know what you’re doing.
Stop wondering what you’d say if I broke the silence. Stop hoping I’ll run into you somewhere. Stop looking for you every time there’s a knock on my door.

I don’t love you.
I did. I think.
But I don’t.

I’m addicted to you.

April 19, 2011

I don’t know what to say when people ask me about him.
Please ask me – please never ask me – please only ask sometimes – please only ask in a specific way.

Part of me wants to talk about it, to have that conversation, to let some air into those locked-up places I’ve left untouched for so long. The rest of me freezes up when it’s mentioned. I worry that if I speak his name, it will breathe power back into him, give life to the memories that I hope are dead and buried.
So I don’t. I never use his name and I avoid discussing that time in my life, and I get anxious when people ask me to.

When other people mention him, it makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

Casual references to him being somewhere, or saying something, or even just still existing — when the last thing in the world I’d want is a reminder that he’s still in it. They mean well. I think they’re hoping they can desensitize me. They either don’t know, or simply don’t understand. It’s impossible to comprehend, even for me, so I don’t ever expect someone else to get it. I can’t imagine anyone understanding what it was like, what he was like.

He’s impossible to describe to anyone.
I’ve tried, and my tongue suddenly feels out of place in my mouth and I get restless and start finding all the exits in a room.

He was smart, with his quick responses and calculating eyes. He was angry and jealous and strong. He was funny, with all his dark sarcasms. He was dismissive and cold and distant. He was beautiful, with his scarred hands. He was bitter and rageful and cruel. I used to think of him as a phoenix – all that power and fire and fury and destruction, somehow harnessed into his icy eyes and bloody fingers. I’d know those hands anywhere. His branded knuckles, and the way they always smelled like charcoal, and how they tasted in my mouth.

There’s no way for me to say it.

They were never wounds, they were an artist’s brushstrokes – he just favored a blade over a brush. It takes a certain kind of artist and a certain kind of subject to be a part of his furious style. The canvas was my skin and the only colors he ever chose were red and blue and black. After a while, he ran out of canvas, that’s all. Strangely, he never ran short on paint, or brushes. There is always more paint. There is always another brush.

There’s one more thing he ran out of: time.

April is a hard month. I remember the angry, unhinged, rambling phone calls. Early in the morning, late at night, in the middle of the afternoon. I had to turn off the ringer for a moment of peace.
“I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you.” “I know where you live.”
He was there, and then he wasn’t.
“Did you think I’d just go away?” “When you think you’re free, I’ll be there.”
The police came. They asked me questions I’ll never be able to answer, and I stopped feeling anything. He called, again and again and again, until I was convinced he’d never stop.
It’s been years and I still can’t sleep in April without closing the curtains and triple-checking the locks on my doors and jumping at every sound.

When he comes for me, it will be April.

To the Man For Whom I Wrote My First Poem

I have written so much about you
that I have run out
of poem titles
and writing surfaces
and ink in my pens.
But not words.

You never had enough.
Words. Love. Attention. Commitment.

I hate that I spent that last night in your arms
and everything seemed simple and happy and real,
and knowing that memory is tainted now
because now I realize you were already gone.

I hate that you arrived before I was ready.
All the days I asked you to be somewhere
the jokes you made about how you never got anywhere fast
and for this, to break me, you were early.

I hate that you wore the shirt I bought you.
That I relived the memory of you surprising me at work,
laughing and giving me fuck-me eyes in the dressing rooms
not knowing you would never do it again.

I hate that it took you so little time to say it.
Three years ended in five minutes
when you dropped every flaw I had
onto my floor for me to review when you were finished.

I hate that you stood in the doorway of my bedroom to apologize,
six feet from a wounded animal, but you didn’t dare step closer
because I might get sad, or rage, or go wild,
and you knew you drew first blood.

I hate that I didn’t mean enough to you to bother softening the blow.
You knew the words would sit on my skin like slow-burning acid
but you threw them on me without warning,
because once you’d discarded me, I wouldn’t matter anymore.

I hate how fast you ran,
once I said those steady words to release you,
that only a few seconds clicked by
before you weren’t there anymore.

I hate that you didn’t come back.
I sat perfectly still, listening to that melancholy ticking,
waiting for the sound of your return
and for hours, not allowing the tears to fall.

 

I hate that after everything,
I still seemed “cold” to you,
when all I ever tried to be
was the girl you fell in love with late at night,
who stood on the catwalks and let down her hair for the first time,
who acted like she could take on the world and win,
and who was breathless when you leaned in for that first kiss.

I just tried to be the girl who waited in the shadows covered in paint,
whose spine you traced with your fingertips when no one was looking.
The girl you broke into places with after hours
whose hand you held as you climbed the stairs in the silence.
The girl who laid on the floor and looked right up at you,
who you said you were addicted to.

I hate that I changed for you.
I gave up little pieces, chipped away parts of me,
carving and maneuvering,
making myself smaller,
trying to fit into your life.

I never belonged in your life.
I hate that you didn’t tell me.