Precisely three rings, and then I will pick up. Two rings, and I will have seemed too desperate to hear from you. Four, and you might have preemptively hung up, not wanting to be confronted with the existential crisis of my voicemail.
Three rings, and I say “Hello?” soft and weak, as if I don’t know who it is. As if I’ve never seen this number before.
You clear your throat and ask me how things are, how I’m doing, what’s new. These words don’t really mean anything to us, of course. They are a soft sort of water that washes over us, dilutes the importance of our exchange in something more palatable and less uncomfortable to think about. If we fill the air with enough meaningless words, then we can pretend that we don’t actually want what we want.
What do we want?
We want to see each other, but for different reasons.
You want to take me underneath you and feel like you have something stable to hold onto for a little while as you rock back and forth inside of me. I want to feel like I am not just a port in a storm, that I am not just an object to be replaced or a source of warmth to be stoked every now and again. When we meet in the middle somewhere, there are a few hours or so of mutual delusion that allow everyone to go home happy, at least for a little while.
I’ll look up at you when you are still naked and it will be as though a light has shut off somewhere inside of you. I can already feel you looking for your phone, remembering where your clothes are, planning how you’re going to extricate yourself from every limb of mine you are trapped under.
You’ll ask me if everything is okay, I’ll say yes because I know that if I say no, there is a good chance you won’t come back again. You will take that as the final sign that I am not capable of withstanding the kind of openness you need. All of my protests to the contrary — the moments of pretending not to care when you tell me about another girl, or leave without really saying goodbye, or allowing you to think the moments of silence were mutual — would be for nothing if I said no.
Don’t call, this is so degrading.
I can’t stop answering, though. I can’t pretend that my heart doesn’t skip several beats every time my phone rings, just on the off chance that it might be you. I can’t pretend that I don’t have to quietly prepare myself every time I see that it actually is you. There is no part of you which is not both the highlight and the low point of any given day, which doesn’t directly relate to the kind of happiness I will be allowed to have.
You have to stop making me take myself through this, stop making it so beautifully disappointing to follow that phone call all the way to your apartment.
Delete my number, because I can’t do the same for you.