Before the clichéd “we need to talk” and the coffee-shop break-up, before the easily forgotten plans and the randomly scheduled practices, I remember when you loved me. I remember the grass tickling my bare legs and the stains on your shirt, and you smirking at my excitement before your tongue swirled pralines and cream into my mouth. I remember your hand in mine as we made the city ours by moonlight. I remember when you loved me, and I did not love you back.
I wanted to love you, I really did. I wanted to feel giddy at the mention of your name, to have you meet me outside the school gates so I could show you off, telling everyone: “Look! That’s him. That’s my boyfriend!” But I never did. Instead, I would take the bus to your house at half past three nearly every day, saying a quick hello before my hands and lips pushed you back up the stairs and onto your bed. I would swallow your words as they turned into little gasps, and clutch you tightly as we trembled and moaned our way closer closer closer. Later, I would look at the scratches down your back and trace the teeth marks on my skin, and I would smile.
But we weren’t good for each other. We made a mistake in even getting together in the first place, both of us so certain that it was just another thing to tick off the list of “Things to Do When You’re a Teenager.” Each mark on your body was my way of saying that I owned you, that you were so weak that you let me leave traces of myself on you for everyone to see. And when you tried to take all of that control back, I laughed.
Your vulnerability disgusted me. When you found out that other boys were flirting with me, you asked if I ever wished you were more physically attractive. You held back tears when I yelled at you for teasing me on a bad day. You said that I didn’t care about you when I wouldn’t drop everything and put my life on hold when you were hurting. When I first met you, I didn’t even think you could hurt. I wanted someone confident and comfortable in their own skin. But there we both were, pretending to be strong. I was just better at it – at least, I think I was.
We only had one conversation where we discussed us. I couldn’t even hold you as you cried.
“This isn’t working anymore. Things have changed. We’ve changed.”
“Do you want to break up?”
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“I don’t know. I think we should try. I want to try.”
“We can try then.”
“I love you.”
It was the only time you ever said those three words to me. Even though I never said it back, I still remember when you loved me.
We hadn’t seen each other for two weeks before you sent me that last text. “You’re all dressed up,” you said, shock filling your voice as I sat down in front of you. And I remember thinking: Not for you. But to show you. To show you that I’m still winning. That I’m still in control.
You broke up with me ten minutes later.
When I got home, I sobbed in my mother’s arms, not because my heart was broken, and not because my first serious relationship had failed. But because you had realized it first.
I unblocked you around a year ago, and saw you smiling in your profile picture with your new girlfriend. You both seem happy. I don’t know what else I can say. I hope she loves you in the way that I never could. I hope she lets you cry in front of her without cringing away from you. I hope she doesn’t play being the broken girl in order to keep you by her side, thinking you can fix her. I hope she actually wants to meet your family and friends. I hope she fights for you without thinking that it’s a waste of time.
I was in love with your reputation, your popularity, your future profession, even your damn school. On paper, every aspect of you fit the list I didn’t even know I had. But I never fit your list either – the one you so adamantly denied having for years. I was never in love with you, but with the person I thought you were, and the person I thought you could make me be.
And now, four years later, when someone entirely new and stubborn and funny and kind is starting to fall for me, I remember when you loved me. And I think to myself that this time I’ll do better and it will be easier. This time I’ll be the one falling too.