When I got to your aunt’s apartment on University, I remember how happy you were to see me, even though most of your face, of your body, was covered by the cast-iron façade of the door. I was late and I felt badly, and I tried so hard to make my voice sound convincing when I told you that I’d missed you. I made sure you didn’t kiss me, didn’t reach for my hand until we were inside the apartment, since there was someone in the elevator with us.
Your aunt’s sheets were rosy and satin, and it smelled like expensive potpourri. Inside my head I was screaming, I was nervous, I hated myself for coming. You were so happy, you were always so happy. You didn’t even try to hide it. I didn’t stop staring at the sheets. I walked over and rubbed the fabric between my index finger and my thumb, and you followed me, pushing me on the bed gently. I was tense, and nothing happened, I didn’t speak, I tried to smile. It was hard to look you in the eye. I don’t even think I managed to.
Nothing happened after nothing happened, except us lying awkwardly next to one another as we watched the Olympic gymnastics broadcast, because I asked if we could. I knew you’d say yes. I knew that was incredibly mean of me.
I knew a lot of things that night. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself when you asked if something had changed, if anything was wrong. Everything was wrong—we both knew. When you tell your dad you’re having dinner in the city with some friends so you can go spend the night with your secret girlfriend of two months, then everything is wrong. I knew myself well enough to know that I wasn’t myself, that you would notice, say something, and that we would be here—
Sitting on two separate chairs in the living room of your aunt’s apartment, the morning after a night of crying on your part and a night of relief on mine. You asked me about the TV show “Dexter,” I said I didn’t know. You’d taken a walk after I broke up with you for the first time, and had seen one of the actors on the street. I knew you’d taken a walk. I’d heard you leave and then come back an hour later. I fell asleep once I realized you’d made up a bed for yourself on the couch.
You asked if I had anything else to say and I said no, so you told me to go. I texted no one, because to the doorman I smiled at, to the people walking their dogs outside, to the friends I called for lunch plans later that day, I was just a straight girl coming home after dinner with friends. I wondered why my hands were shaking so much.
Nothing that happened in between matters, because nothing happened in between. We moved on, we went to school. I saw you on the first day, literally could have touched you, could have kissed you. I know you looked at my eyes, which I closed promptly as we brushed each other’s forearms, as you walked out of the door and I walked in. I kept a tally in my notebook every time this happened. I couldn’t eat sometimes if I’d seen you walking around campus. I noticed your new shoes. I noticed your sad eyes. I knew I’d done that. No one else knew I’d done that.
You were at a party, and I was there, too. I drank a lot, I didn’t know what else to do. You said it felt good to see you, that it felt normal. I was with my best friend, he didn’t know who you were, I didn’t plan on him finding out. I introduced you as a friend of a friend. He didn’t care very much—he still doesn’t remember you today.
Things moved fast. I met you in the park, we fought (though we never screamed). I cried, I took deep breaths, you listened to me, and I knew everything I was saying was bullshit. But I kept saying it—you were flesh in front of me, you were everything I’d ever wanted to know, to experience, but you just weren’t right. But you were there. I knew you were in love with me, and you were there, and that was enough.
You said it felt different that time around. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way your thumb felt as it stroked my hand that first night you held it again. You told me I had the softest skin you’d ever touched. You told me about everything that had happened since the first time. I felt incredibly guilty, but not for the reasons I should have.
It was three months, but it only took three weeks. If you are reading this (though I don’t think you’ll ever read this), know that it wasn’t all a lie. Know that if it were, I wouldn’t have been able to lie next to you like I did, draped in a silence that was saying enough, looking into your eyes, watching your pupils swell every time I stroked your hair, watching you watch mine as I listened for the sound of my roommate’s key in the door, as I jumped up and adjusted my shirt and made my bed and pushed you off it.
You should’ve known (which you did), and I should’ve known (which I did)—we both knew, again. It wasn’t just one night having dinner with friends. It was months, it was days, weeks, friends asking where I was, where I’d been, who was I with? Months of saying your name, praying to whatever, whomever, anyone, anything, that someone wouldn’t ask, “wait, who? When did you meet her? How come we’ve never met her?”
I’m sorry it was two days before Christmas. I’m sorry that you spent so much on that music box, that I don’t remember what the card said, what the song is. I’m sorry that I couldn’t love you like you loved me, like you still love me. I’m sorry that I can recognize that the only reason I want to be with you again is because I’m scared no one will ever feel that way about me again.
But even more so, I hope you are sorry for me. I hope you realize how selfish you were to say what you did to me, to ask me to come out, to ask me “why” I wouldn’t come out, because whatever that “why” was, it was stopping us from being together. I’m sorry to tell you that you were wrong about that. It wasn’t the reason. There is no reason other than it eats away at a person to be in a secret relationship, to go through a secret break up, and to do the same thing all over again. The reason is that it destroyed me. You had a support system; I had myself. I still only have myself.
Each time was different, each time hurt in a different way. But both times, I had to go pick up my sister from her job at some point in the day. I remember having the same thought in the middle of Dairy Road: “I wish I could call someone right now.” I slowed down the car and placed a hand on my head and remember thinking, Maybe this is when I’m supposed to scream a curse word. But it didn’t feel right, so I kept driving the car instead, figuring out what to say to my sister when she asked me how my day was.