I Know You Never Loved Me Back

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“I love you Arielle Jillian Eastman.

My phone whispers in tiny black letters. I stare at it without touching anything, thinking it might just disappear if I don’t move. My life can magically Run Lola Run it and things will start over. I won’t have this nauseating ache that has me wanting to tell the world I am in love. From rooftops or cliffs, any ledge that will allow me a moment of honesty. Whatever best fits the melodramatic swelling I feel each time he gets out of his car and walks towards me.

A reminder beep echoes. “Yeah, I know!” I shout to my iPhone. “I know, you asshole.”

They say you hurt the ones you love the most, so maybe berating my cell phone is just a dysfunctional way of showing my true affection. Maybe his declaration text is a bit like that. A messed up way to remind me he cares. But not enough.

It was never enough with us.

“I love you Arielle Jillian Eastman.”

He’s not the first to say those words, romantic or not. This message isn’t groundbreaking. It isn’t the news of a death or my mother’s illness flaring again. My best friend isn’t in labor with my goddaughter. The college campus isn’t on fire and I have 20 minutes to get away before the building explodes.

No. He just loves me. He says he loves me. He says he loves me. I’m sick with it already.

I start trying to count how many times I’ve heard this. I love you. In my family, we said it often to one another. It was a nighttime ritual. The last thing spoken before stepping out the door. We always said it because we never knew when the last time would be. Maybe my father doled out a lifetime of “I love yous” in morbid preparation. His body knew before we did. He gave me enough to last, to sip on slowly. But still not enough.

I am finding this a pattern in my life. I cannot get enough. I cannot get enough of men I love and the man I lost. I joke about making a stamp to stick on my forehead. Warning: Dead Daddy Issues Ahead. Slap a bow on top. A pink one to off-set the bleakness of it all.

I read it and everything is out of my control.

“I love you Arielle Jillian Eastman.”

I shouldn’t feel like my internal organs have just been yanked out through my throat. My middle name taunting, waving. Shouting, “He knows your middle name. He remembered your middle name. Love. Love. Love.”

But will he be there when I wake up? When I ask him what this is and if he sees it going anywhere?

He shrugs. And says he loves me. I tell him not to. He can’t say these things that twist my stomach and have me rationalizing every touch. Everything hurts. It feels like the waiting room again, learning my father has stage four cancer. There is a tumor invading everything.

Now he is this tumor, invading everything. I want to tell him it isn’t fair. He shouldn’t take up all this space reserved for important things like missing my father, or college papers, or anything.

“But I love you.” I throw my phone across the room. I retrieve it, my fingers speaking for me.

“You can’t just say that in a text.” I throw it again.

“But it’s how I feel.”

How I feel is covered in ash. How I feel is lava and love and wanting to kiss him until we are elderly holding hands on the front porch. I know he doesn’t feel the same. I know his love for me is a temporary emotion that he has put into text format. I know it, I know it.

So I do not respond. For now, I am turning off my phone. For now, I am remembering why this never works with us. For now, I am convincing myself I don’t still love him.

For now, I am trying. TC mark

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Ari Eastman

✨ real(ly not) chill. poet. writer. mental health activist. mama shark. ✨

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