This is a story with a happy ending.
This is the one where I wake up in your arms, in your bed, in your life. This is the one where I leave my bracelets on your nightstand and my T-shirts in your wooden drawers. This is the one where I was secretly in love with you, and you were secretly in love with me too. This is the one where every night when I left you, I thought about you for hours while I lay awake in my room. This is the one where I wondered what you were doing and what you were wearing. This is the one where I wondered if you were eating a snack or reading on your bed, where I wondered if you were listening to music, where I thought about your hands.
This is a story with a happy ending. For once.
It’s called object permanence; the ability to remember something that you can no longer see. Babies don’t have it. It’s why they cry whenever their mothers leave the room. They think going away means they’ll never come back. They try, their faces screwed up into quivering tableaus. They try to remember their mother’s smell and hair and face and it scares them. They’re so scared. They might never see them again. They want something they can’t even remember.
We used to take a lot of pictures, you and I. Snippets of skin, rumpled clothing. Half our faces showing, covered in blankets and pillows. My mouth beside your ear, my lips over your neck, your stomach and my hand. I’d take covert videos of you getting dressed in the morning, flossing your teeth, combing your hair, swigging Listerine.
“Are you videoing me?” you’d ask, incredulous around your toothbrush.
“No,” I replied, giggling, face transparent. “I’m…texting?”
“Gimme that!” you’d say, reaching for my phone and I’d run away. My laughter echoed.
I exhibit classic “addict behavior,” according to those who recognize it, where I want everything at once, right now, or else I worry I’ll never have it. “Let’s run away!” “Do you want to just buy a house and move somewhere?” “Let’s be together always, forever.” Always. Forever.
Outside, I tell you a story. It’s not a sad story or a happy story. It’s just a story. I tell it while drinking a fancy fruit cocktail. I tell it when we are both dressed up in nice clothing on a weekend. I tell it in the sunshine.
“That’s a sad story,” you say, holding my hand, turning it over in yours, touching my palm. I stroke your fingers. I think about a time when all I wanted was to stroke your fingers. I would go home and cry because I wanted you so much and cry because I didn’t know why I was crying. I don’t feel any differently now than I did then even though I have you, except maybe calmer, maybe more analytical about it, maybe sweeter. I careen toward whatever it is though, open armed, face first, inviting the crash, teasing it, welcoming it, daring it. Sometimes I still feel like I’m reaching out to grab you the way maybe someone would try to grab smoke or fine sand or the wind. Mostly you tell me I can only be disappointed and I think you’re wrong and I think I will want you forever.
I shrug. “It’s just a story,” I say.
“It’s a sad story,” you say. “The sooner you realize that, the easier it’ll be for you.”
“Well, why do you think you were crying?” she asks. She holds a pen and a pad. She wears brown sandals and a blue sundress. She’s too young to be a therapist.
“I’m not sure,” I say. “I don’t think it has to do with anything happening right then. I think it’s just misplaced emotions from before, from other things that happened to me in the past, and then for some reason, they’re just coming out now. I’m just realizing what happened to me now.”
It’s called emotional competence: when my emotional reactions are inappropriate to the cause of the reaction. It goes:
A) event takes place
B) my beliefs that stem from outside the current situation set in
C) I have my reaction
So, the key is to eliminate B, and to react to the event as it’s occurring and to not conflate it with what happened in the past. For example, someone blows me off to hang out. Not a big deal. I remember five other times people in my life have abandoned me. I think, “This is what everyone does to me. Everyone leaves me.”
I react to their blow off as if they represent those other times, instead of as if they are an independent person, with an independent relationship to me. My reaction is inappropriate because I am reacting to my whole life, instead of to one moment.
You laugh, self-deprecating.
“You only wanted me for like, two weeks and then you had me,” you say.
“Sure,” I reply. “And I don’t think you appreciate how hard that was for me.”
I smile. You shake your head. You smile back.
This is a story with a happy ending. This is the one where the two people kissed and then spent their lives together. This is the one where everyone got what they wanted. This is the happy ending that doesn’t really end.
You are made up of photographs, of albums, of old songs, of old T-shirts, of old friends. You could tell stories for hours. You spin words, date everything, pinpoint changes, analyze difference. You’re built from the past, and every inch of you belongs to everyone you’ve ever known. It’s beautiful like a collage is beautiful. I’m fascinated by your nostalgia.
“I don’t like remembering,” I say. “I’m sorry. I know that’s like, your favorite thing to do.”
“You have to remember,” you reply, taking my hand in the street. “That’s the only way you can fix anything.”