Like a star, you can only change once you die.
From the beginning, you journeyed for a more favorable sign. Still, I adored the problem that was you, even as the trials became more than I could bear. I was challenged through my hope to divert your path to my constellation. In the end, I did myself no favors. The mythology of “us,” by way of oral tradition, remembers me reckless, elides the contradictions that passed your lips.
I lost my own course in chasing you, water bearer. You were immutable and animated by air, drawing oxygen from the lungs of nymphs. At times, I felt your equal. More often, you reminded me that I was not. You did not desire complementary angles; the shape you sought in the stars overlapped with yours, as if you needed some version of a her that reinforced your bones.
Even as the sun’s proximity to Venus predicted our lives would decouple more abruptly than the event of their crossing, I was unprepared for your absence. Devastated by loss and to lose. And I’m more sorry than your audience will ever know, both for myself and (as time goes on, less) for you. Because you see, I never wanted to fall in love.
Vibrations travel through the heels of my boots, intermittently and inconsistently interrupted as I take a few strides. I pause more often than I’d like to find a direction that will bring me back to Mike. The venue is crowded; what little air exists between and above the bodies of LCD Soundsystem’s fans is cloying. Whenever I can’t uncover an opening between the throngs of people, I stop, pivoting to change course. Part of me considers simply abandoning my date and enjoying the show on my own: I’m not sure he’s worth the trouble of discovery. But he drove us to Brooklyn, and I don’t trust that I’ll find my way back to Harrison on my own.
I commend myself for recognizing my own discomfort, for not pushing away the bits and pieces that tell me to enjoy myself but to not let this man into the interior of my life. I count two accusations of lusting after other people that I’m not sure are jokes, and one awkward conversation about our feelings on political correctness. (He’s not a fan, he told me. Most white men aren’t, I’ve found, and I’m not surprised.) Still, I can be polite and enjoy a good show. So however much it tests my patience, I continue through the venue, eventually finding the balcony’s stairway.
The way he looks at me doesn’t hurt. I may not think he’s handsome, but I could tell from the moment we hugged how pleased he was to see me.
If I were to be honest with myself, I’d admit that it’s intoxicating to know that I’m desired, even when I’m certain that I don’t want them. My high is a positive correlation, in terms of the lust in their eyes. But it’s the most innocent of my addictions, and I’ve worked on myself enough for the year.
So rather than dwelling on my inadequacies, I decide to enjoy this version of myself. This is me in my element, I think, finally reaching the upstairs balcony. A year ago, I wasn’t in a position to brave the crowd brought in by Brooklyn Steel, locked away with girls and women terrified by the relationship between their death wish and the calories they (had not) consumed. And on this exact date, Scott visited me with his mother. Today, on December 26th, I remember the impatience that infested his bones like termites, his leg jumping as he sat on my therapist’s couch. I can even remember Nicole’s assessment of my then boyfriend after our session, nearly verbatim: As hesitant as I am to tell you this, I have my own fears that you’ll go home and not succeed. Both are memories I recall more clearly than his appearance. In a way, I’m pleased.
I break from my brief reverie when I bump into another concert-goer and hear their “fuck” in response. After I dart to the left, wanting to avoid the assignation of “culprit” regarding his spilled drink, I reach what I had previously identified as the best spot on the balcony. I now see that I’ve caught Mike’s eye, my date standing a few feet away, and a flash of white teeth breaks up his doughy head. His face suddenly reminds me of a dog that has dropped a toy at my feet, the grin akin to the lopsided expression of most canines: even without words, he is able to demonstrate that he’s absurdly and ridiculously pleased with himself.
At the time, I don’t realize that this is the wrong comparison.
Trauma is not finite, I learn. This too shall pass, my ex-husband used to tell me. So I wait under Mike’s body, feeling like something of a corpse as his stomach flops against mine.
When “no” ceased to work, I started to distract myself with a variety of thoughts, most of them revolving around dating. The sound his body makes brings me to the absurdity of my own insecurities when meeting men. In addition to sounding like a wet sponge hitting the wall, he’s overplayed his alleged commitment to the gym, his body more Rubenesque than my own. Like many men with thinning head hair, it’s as if the strands that once belonged to his skull migrated downward and then somehow multiplied exponentially.
Scott taught me that it’s easier to give up and give in when a man will not accept your protests. Silence will be easiest, and it ensures he’ll leave. But in addition to feeling dirty, I also feel stupid. Where’s your roommate? he had asked me early on, before we had even reached the venue. When he brought me home and I was ready to leave his car, he asked to use my bathroom. I allowed him into the apartment.
I didn’t think this is how my night would end, sweating under his weight, waiting for his grunting to stop.
And even then. Even then. He finishes and rolls off of me, prone on my bed, likely to leave a large sweat stain on the spot I usually sleep. He laughs. “Girls are so confusing,” he says. “They say no, but they really want it.”
I want to scream. I don’t.
Bruises bloom in the darkest places:
A gift from my father I cannot return.
I am cursed to love those who do not have the capacity to love me in return; I am cursed to fear those who love me with no expectations to return.
I don’t want to ever forget what it was like to fall in love, as much as his final judgment of my feelings made me feel something of a fool.
An hour, I wanted to tell him, holds no more value than a minute: time simply measures the distance between the beginning and the end. Moments of joy are not bound by the intervals in which they were born – and they should be assessed through their meaning alone. For that reason, loving you for a day was as significant to me as the love I bore you for months to come. Maybe it makes me simple, to come to this conclusion, to be vulnerable in this way with you. But I can’t count the times I laughed disruptively in public, reading your next response in our goofy banter. The times you bit your lip while concentrating, engaged in some shared activity, and I’d feel like I was seeing you without your armor. However short you feel our time together was, I can’t even count every single time I made you smile, whether we were friends or more, and I felt so glad to know you and to know that I brought some kind of joy into your life.
As the year changed, you maintained that it was silly, the intensity of my affection for you. But does happiness need to exist until the Earth rotates around the sun for you to believe as I do? To not love me, and to not even care, but to not doubt or invalidate my desire to have you in my life? Had we remained loosely connected, would your opinion even change, time nothing more than an excuse to reject me?
But even if he could hear the monologues I think, I know now that our beginning and our end were bound to meet. He had made up his mind before we ever met, and saw love in a very different light. Unlike me, he held onto the damage others inflicted, as if letting go and moving on would be more painful than his near pathological fears to be vulnerable, to love again and to lose. Even without knowing this to be true, there is a part of me that wishes I had heeded his dour prophecies about how I would move on, should anything happen. That even in our friendship, I would find someone to help me forget about him. Not so that I’d cut my losses sooner, no – I would just know that his inability to love me was not exclusively my failure. I would not spend the time I did blaming myself for not being enough even prior to his absence from my life.
While most people protect their needs without empathy, or simply fail to balance the two, I brought him into my world the way I had so many others: I was empathetic to the point of rejecting my own needs. I could see myself repeating the pattern, but I also held onto the thought that this was different. In the past, I simply thought it was my duty to put other people’s needs before my own. My own past made me much like a well, designed to nourish others until my depletion. This time, however, I was actually in love. I accepted that he was broken. I even accepted that he would not love me. I just wanted him to care for me as much as I cared for him, too wrapped up in the great moments we shared to recognize the incongruity of my thoughts. He would give as he had taken, I thought. But he didn’t, not always; eventually, it became more accurate to say “seldom” rather than “often.”
In lacking a balance of my own, I became unraveled. With having not met my own needs to satisfy his own, the confidence I gained in embracing my freedom from a defined relationship turned into anxiety and unhappiness over time. When I was raped before Christmas, following a date with someone I had only agreed to so that I would not feel so alone during the holidays, I wanted to lean on him for support. But my function in his life precluded this level of attachment and need. I couldn’t put this on him, he said, not wrong, even though it hurt to hear. And he turned away, taking a slow departure from my life.
As I move forward, I don’t want to dwell on the idea that I’m a broken person. I’ve spent too much of my life believing that I don’t deserve happiness or love. Instead I want to focus on feeling in love for the first time as an adult, for allowing myself to be vulnerable when I doubted that I would be anything but. And I can still think about the moments we shared, or the warmth he brought into my life, and know that I can have that again – with someone who will not be made uncomfortable by my kindness, and who will appreciate the intensity of my love.
It took 28 years to find the man who made me feel that I’m capable of truly loving someone else. Knowing that, I won’t judge myself for the time it may take to find this again, to have my feelings reciprocated by someone who is ready to love me too. With this experience, I can see that I deserve more, that genuine affection cannot live on the shoulders of one.
With the said, I will not regret that I love him. I will not deny the place in my heart that he’ll stay, a person I will always cherish, even if at a distance. I will not try to forget the nights we stayed up until the sun returned to the horizon, laughing and talking. I will never hate him, even as he begged me to do so. Because whether I knew him for a minute, or an hour, or a day, he provided my life with new meaning. And much to his dismay, he taught me how to love.
For too long, I played the contortionist, bending without breaking until I fit the shape of the scripts you provided. My existence in your life was carefully curated and intentionally finite. Amber, you were fun. You were easy. Even then, my performance was reviewed in the context of your narrative, my character some reduction of fiction designed only to advance the plot.
But no woman wants to live as someone else’s story. When I refused to be reduced, you destroyed the version of me you created. Worse, you were vindictive over my exit from the role; you made me doubt that I could live as more than just a subplot, too desperate in my need to be at the center of the tale and too broken to deserve it.