I first started writing this in December of 2011. I think I’ve finally found a way to end it.
I’m warning you right now: this is about a boy. No, that needs a little more elaboration: this is about the capital B Boy, and I’m writing and editing this after watching “Blue Valentine” and while listening to Grizzly Bear’s film version of “Shift” on repeat, so bear in mind that I have only just stopped crying.
“I could be a good girlfriend, if someone would give me the chance.” If I had a nickel for every time a friend of mine has sighed this line over lunch, I would have nothing, because nobody says these kinds of things.
There’s this unspoken rule that no matter how desperately you want not to be alone, you don’t make a point of pointing it out, unless you want to be labeled as some kind of social pariah. If you wistfully pine after every kind, attractive person you meet, you’re delusional. If you act on your sexual frustration, you’re a slut (which, as a word, is its own kind of monster). If you pursue anyone who gives you a second glance, you’re a stalker.
We’ve all inwardly (or outwardly) rolled our eyes at the lonely souls who give voice to their loneliness. It’s such an utterly defeatist way to think! These people are probably uninteresting or annoying or needy or any combination of the above and then some. The thing is, plenty of people feel this way. I know I do sometimes. I know friends who have expressed their loneliness despite their surface satisfaction, something I usually discover in substance-aided tête-à-têtes. I see plenty of people on Tumblr who write laments about their singleness. (To be fair, Tumblr is the ultimate destination for people wrapped up in their own perceived isolation.)
Does that mean that we’re all delusional stalker sluts? Something, for some reason, tells me no.
But then, why put so much stock into the idea of a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” or “significant other,” into the lament of wanting “somebody to love”—as Freddie Mercury so stirringly wailed years ago—even if (or perhaps especially if) there’s nothing inherently missing from your successful, single, life?
Why is it, that years after we broke up, I could break down so thoroughly at even a fictional reenactment of a degrading relationship? When Cindy walked up the stairs wearing Dean’s jacket, I remembered the feeling of slipping his fleece over my shoulders and huddling in its warmth, even though it meant sweating like a criminal under interrogation. When they canoodled in the back seat of a taxi, I remembered dark drives and Muse blasting and coy expressions alternately shadowed and spotlighted by the brilliant headlights of passing cars.
In watching these scripted romantic expectations rise and fall like buoys on the open sea, I remembered the last time I was a girlfriend—the last time I declared I was “in love.”
Sure, it was a love built on teenage curiosity and its concurrent delusions, but it was love in its own way. How else could I articulate the feeling of giddy weightlessness that overcame me every time I snuck into his house through a loose screen on a first floor window, when we’d creep up to his room (skirting the squeaky centers of the stairs that stood nowhere near his parents’ bedroom) and lay under the covers, nose to nose, whispering our secrets to each other until the untimely dawn—or distill and label the warming shivers of his body when he’d bike over to my house in the frozen silence of a suburban winter and I’d peel off his jackets like cheap wallpaper, both of us reveling in the warmth released with each layer shed.
We were John Donne’s compass legs; woe would befall those who were “sublunary lovers,” but oh, not us, never us. Of course, that was a lie: there are over 2000 miles between Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, and as I made my new home in the former and his in the latter, our compass stretched precariously in a cross-country split, its spindly points quivering in unsteady earth.
Two months into the college experience, it snapped. And my first reaction wasn’t sadness, or anger, or bitterness: it was panic, not because he was telling me “It’s over,” but because of the repercussions of those words, of what I would have to immediately change about myself. I must have looked and sounded mad, laughing even as I fought back the tears, telling him that I could fix this, that things could come back together again. But he told me that it didn’t matter, that whatever he had felt for me had actually been gone for a while.
And slowly, I came to terms with the fact that all the love I still felt meant jack shit.
We promised each other that we would remain friends.
After that, the anger came easily. Who was this boy to break my heart? I would conquer the aching in my chest, I would erase this boy from all the little niches he had occupied in my life. In a box went the physical things: the gifts, the photos, the evidence of his handwriting reading “Hope to see you soon.”
Then came the task of sweeping away his digital residue: his phone number, his Skype username, couples photos and boy-centric statuses on Facebook, gushy blogposts (from the days when I kept a secret Xanga) that read like swoons. And after one of my friends hid the box in her room, and I had swept clean my electronic affiliations, I still refused to weep.
That’s not to say I didn’t cry. Some of my floormates heard me sniffling, and they offered condolences and candy and reassurances that I would be okay, and I nodded and smiled and offered reassurances of my own, that things would settle down and I was so much better off without him and hey, the guys were hotter in California anyway.
Then, I repeated the schpiel to my friends and family back home, both those who had texted me writing “OH MY GOD why does his Facebook say he’s single now?” and those who hadn’t, calling them up to let them know that alas, a high school romance was over, and they told me the same things that everybody else did. I lay awake that night thinking, Well, this is the worst of it, the pain’s rawest now but in a handful of hours, the sun will rise and I’ll be that much closer to stasis. In hindsight, I was naïve to think that, but how else was I supposed to sleep?
The next few days, I went to class and sat through all of my lectures, hour after insufferable hour. I told some of my classmates about my recent “inconvenience,” and they expressed the appropriate sympathies and even told me that I seemed in high spirits. But one day, I walked into my room, closed the door behind me, collapsed to the floor, pulled my knees into my chest, and sobbed with that particular ferocity so especial to regret.
Then, I asked that boy to give me, to give us, one more chance. He answered as anyone in his position would have.
And when our relationship reached its icy epilogue in the waking hours of Thanksgiving (the irony only became clear years after the fact), I cried the remainder of my frustration and loss out in the company of a dear friend, as daylight peaked above the horizon.
And now it’s as though this boy had never meant anything to me at all, besides a starring role in the highlight reel of my high school memories. To borrow from a film I first watched during a Valentine’s Day date, time has become my Lacuna, Inc., and I am Joel, remembering fleeting fragments of something that once meant so much more.
Yes, sometimes, as my eyes flutter shut, his image pervades my dreams, and I’ll wake up blinking through the mist of unshed tears, knowing that whatever else awaits me in the waking world, he doesn’t. And then a longing, lonely ache sets in, weighting an oppressive heaviness in my chest like an anvil on the body of a drowning sailor.
This is the new panic in which I find myself, when I emerge from dreams both startling and sentimental. Because I don’t dream about the break up—I dream about reconciliation, of the heat of his arms around me, of a happily ever after carriage ride into the sunset.
I dream about being his girlfriend—but the he of whom I dream is not real.
Of course, this kind of fantastic relationship only exists for the person fantasizing: there is no real union between the once beloved and the once lover. I can only really tell the part of the story that I know, and what I know is the immediate heartbreak, and the repercussions of my withdrawal from feeling… not “anything,” but many things.
Yet, by retracing the dream-laid treads of an impossible future, I begin to understand how wrong I was to assume my self to be in the right.
And I think about that boy again, about all the times I cried because he shuttered his emotions off, about the moments he looked at me in pure frustration because I refused to answer his plaintive questions, about the jealousy and the evasions and the casual brutality of which we were both capable.
I fell in love with the boy who had lent me his sweater, who remembered the details of our first encounters with a clarity that spoke to a history, a framework, that existed long before I’d ever given him a second look.
I stayed the course with that same boy, who once told me “Nobody’s teeth are that straight” when I smiled at him across the room, who was capable of such unaware callousness and arrogance,
who saw the futility of our efforts and had tried to stave off the inevitable because he knew I would hurt.
That boy had as much idea as I did when it came to building and sustaining a love—in that our expectations collided, connected, and then repelled when we encountered reality. We’d completed our circuit at around the same time; he was just the first person to recognize the end when it arrived.
It’s taken me a long time to reconcile what I once felt with how I feel now. And even now, I still don’t know how exactly I should feel. We are much more than strangers, but it’s been a long time since I could forcibly imagine the contours of his face, let alone the sound of his voice or the cadence of his laughter.
“How can you miss someone you don’t even know?”
Unlike Joel, I do not will myself to forget, but I do not fight to remember.
Yet, when these memories seep through in my dreams, I slip back into the skin of a love that affirms that indeed, every encounter is destiny, every spoken word is scripture, every touch is homecoming.
In dreams, I am a good girlfriend,
And he is a good boyfriend,
And the fantasy persists,
But all of this fades into blurry, blooming shadows when I
I wouldn’t have it any other way…
(Image: summerfest 2010 by Amanda Mckenzie)