By June Alexander
When this began I had no idea you’d love me, had no idea I’d love you back, had no idea that the full force of you would soon be as anchoring to me as gravity. I thought you were above falling for me, or beyond it, or too jaded for it. I thought you would be with me and then go home, and I thought you’d do it all without a second glance, without that one last look over your shoulder to see if I was looking back at you, too.
I assumed—and there’s my first problem—that you were interested in me simply because of what I look like, because I am what many consider outwardly attractive. I never intended to let you in, never wanted you to discover who I am underneath the confident, smug façade, because I know I am ugly there. I didn’t think you’d want in, and I was immeasurably glad for that. There have been so many before me, so many faces and bodies and voices that you’ve let go or pushed aside or outgrown. From what I knew of you, about you, what I knew you’d done, I thought I knew what you’d do with me. I was relieved to be so sure of you, because it meant I wouldn’t have to be invested in whatever the hell we were doing. It meant my appeal to you was surface-level, and would eventually end. It meant I wouldn’t have to lie down at night and stare at the ceiling and worry that I was giving my heart away, tinkling little pieces at a time.
Instead, you chose to tell me none of that was enough for you anymore, because you’ve had that, done that, worn that out. You tell me there is more to me than what I look like, which I know—it’s just that most people don’t care to notice. You tell me that without my head, without my heart, you would have turned me away. I should’ve run, then. I should have fumbled for my clothes, picked up my wrinkled shirt from the floor. I should’ve said goodbye, but instead I said I’ll stay. And I said it again and again, and you kissed me, then. And so it goes.
“Just know that in the middle of the night in goddamn fucking Texarkana, I was in love with you.”
You said this to me over a scratchy phone line in the middle of the day, because, you said, you thought I needed to know. You said it like you were spitting out venom, like the words were vinegar, but I know that’s not how you meant it. Maybe it’s just that you haven’t said things like that in a long time, because before, when dawn turned the world purple, you’d have just pulled on your shoes and locked the door on your way out, thinking of where you’d eat breakfast, alone at a table with one chair too many. But that night in that city was the first night we spent together. I remember thinking as I fell asleep that it might be the only night, the last night, but it turns out you thought it was just the first night, maybe the first of many nights, maybe the first of the rest of the nights, and when I woke up you were still there.
Once, when we were sitting in your car after dinner, headlights on and cutting through the black, I asked you why I should believe you when you say you won’t leave. “Name one thing you haven’t gotten tired of,” I said, half-hoping to cut you with my tone. Minutes passed before you finally answered. “I’ve had my car for a while now,” you said, patting the steering wheel, “and I once had a cat for a good bit.” There was a part of you that was trying to be funny, that part of you that always cloaks terrible things in humor, because you think it drowns out the real meaning. I guess it does, for some people. But I knew that was really your answer, and I knew you knew how it would sound to me. In that moment I wanted to strike out at you, to reach over you and open the door and shove you out onto the asphalt, because I knew you’d still expect me to give you my trust even though you’d just proven me right. “I’m not a car,” I said, “and I’m not a cat.” You nodded and said, of course, you knew that. Because you know everything. Because you know nothing.
I was—and maybe still am, I don’t know—alright with you tiring of me. Leaving was what I expected of you. It is what I still expect of you, truthfully, though that admission makes me feel sad and weak. What I didn’t expect was for there to be a little sliver of you in every line of every book and poem and song, or to half-wake up to your lips on my hair. What I didn’t expect was to sit next to a stranger on the train and wish they were you, even for a few seconds.
So now, reconciliation: How can all of this be, all of “you and me,” all of “us?” I remember that when you said you loved me I almost wanted to scream, because who you were being in that moment was not who I thought you were. But there was something, is something, that made me, makes me, want to stay, through my perplexity, through my confusion about who you are becoming right in front of me.
Maybe it’s just that I just want to be right. Maybe I just want to be able to look at you one day and say, “Look, you’re leaving like I thought you would, but look, I’m alright with it like I said I’d be.” But I don’t know if I’d be alright with it now. I don’t know if I could stand in your doorway and watch you pack up your things, all your old books and your whiskey bottles and your worn-through penny loafers. I don’t know if I could keep myself from driving or flying or walking to where you are, shaky hands rolling down the car window or buckling the plane seat belt or tying my shoelaces. All I know is this: Damn you—but I love you—for being decent when I wanted you to be shallow. Goddamn you—but I love you—for being honest when I wanted you to lie.
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