The First Time I Knew It Wasn’t Love

Rachel Baran
Rachel Baran

I had a dream the other night that I was in a tiny, sun-flooded kitchen overlooking a river. A male figure only existent in my dream-reality sat quietly at the kitchen table, attempting to find traces of his name in the poem I had scrawled on a take-out napkin the night before. I loved the way he always seemed to mistake my poetry for some kind of puzzle.

I stood in front of our little stove, barefoot and wearing a long white dress, making him scrambled eggs. I could feel the sun dancing in my hair and when I glanced out the window, I smiled because the sky looked twice as bright when he was around. It is an equally heart-healing and shattering thing to care about a person whose presence can make a daily bullet point such as preparing breakfast such a luminous, precious event.

He got up to stand behind me and gently squeezed my shoulders, murmuring stories with my favorite endings into my hair. They were stories about breathing wonder, getting lost on country roads, and burnt grilled cheeses. Stories from the summer he went blackberry picking before they were ripe because he couldn’t wait. Then the story about the first time he saw me. And the story about the first time he knew.

***

The dream changed. Time had passed. Blackberry season was over and winter had arrived once again. He had grown tired of eggs and I didn’t know how to make anything else. The skin on my shoulders that he had once so lovingly touched had rotted all the way down to the bone and sprouted oozing, blackened, sores. He was with another girl and she was so incredibly lovely. Another barefooted-angel in a white dress that smiled at the sky while the sunshine played hopscotch in her hair.

He was so happy, he told me, as we shivered together on a bench beside the river-the same one we had once looked out on a different season. So happy. I closed my eyes and wished he wasn’t saying any of it-that his touch hadn’t left me with putrid, puss-filled sores. But the dishonesty of it all caught in my throat because I could never begrudge him happiness the way I did myself. And as he adverted his eyes from all I had become, I realized that it didn’t make a difference to him whether my wounds were dripping with blame or with blood. To him, these nightmares took place in a past to which he only looked back upon with hideous indifference.

I listened as he began murmuring stories with endings that left me far behind into the wind. The story about the first time he saw her. And the story about the first time he knew. I took a breath and asked him why he was with her-why I wasn’t enough. When he explained she didn’t expire after he touched her, I couldn’t argue. I wanted to scream that I never wanted this. That if I had wanted to make a puzzle, I would have done so instead of writing a poem. That before he came along, all I’d ever hoped for was an ordinary sky. That I had never asked the world for anything, much less sun.

Before I turned to leave, I almost pleaded with him to take a look at his own hands as long as he considered me worthless after touching me with them. But instead, I asked him if she made him eggs in the morning. He said he was never really a breakfast person. That was when I realized that this was the story about the first time I really saw him. And the story about the first time I knew. TC mark

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