I used to look at the pictures you posted of the two of you together and think, “I’m better than her.” I would mentally list all the reasons, convince myself that I had been the right choice, and that you were simply settling for her because it was convenient and easy.
I was hurt and angry because before that, in an instant I will never forget, you knocked down my walls, the ones I had so tirelessly built. Your eyes pierced into me and I had no defense. Everything inside of me collapsed and soared. It was as if I had been lifted up and out of myself, as if my soul had recognized something greater than itself in you. I felt intricately tied to you, even before we ever had a conversation.
Everything after that first look simply confirmed what I already knew. From the moment you slid the coaster across the bar and recommended a drink, I sensed you felt it too; an undeniable connection that came from somewhere greater. We laughed and you teased me. I felt childish and shy; you threw me off, made me go off-kilter in the very best of ways. It was as if, in those first few moments, I finally understand what it meant to just know.
It was busy that first night; I sat down on an open barstool unknowing that my existence was about to be spun on its axis. I tried to keep it cool, like I didn’t care that you had to serve other patrons. I suddenly became jealous, noticed all the other women looking your way too, and mentally tried to pull you to come back to me. Which you did, again and again. I acted cooly to the other man who approached me and tried to buy me a drink, worried that you’d think I was into him. But we smiled at each other, because we both felt it. I knew it.
After I cashed out, dizzy not from the alcohol but inebriated with elation, you handed me a small piece of torn paper. I didn’t unfold it right away because I didn’t want to seem eager and somehow, I managed to make it until I got to my car. And then I carefully unfolded the paper and soaked in the letters and numbers scribbled across it. We hadn’t even exchanged names, somehow the mystery of it made the conversation feel like foreplay, and then there it was, in my hand. I felt like I had you then.
The first time you touched me, nights later when the electricity of the night before was not only confirmed but heightened, you took my hand gently in yours, gazed into my eyes and told me how attracted you were to me. Despite my usual difficulty with such raw vulnerability, I couldn’t look away. You saw me and it filled a part of me I didn’t even know was empty. The conversation folded over itself, us caught in internal revelry, where time slowed and then quickened its pace; it felt like years passed in just seconds between us.
Each look gave way to another, each conversation to the next, and I barely noticed as we giddily stumbled from dinner to drinks to your house. I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty or drunk; I don’t even recall if I consumed anything other than your words and the way you looked at me. I was carelessly and recklessly giving into every moment with you.
You first kissed me as we were standing next to your washing machine in the basement. Inviting me downstairs as you folded laundry felt like the most intimate thing in the world. As your lips met mine and we closed that gap of longing between us, my stomach tied in knots and then flipped over itself. I could smell the scent of your shampoo, of your laundry detergent, of you.
You pulled away and said, “I think you can tell a lot from a first kiss.”
I smiled, grabbed your hands, and whispered, “And?”
The corners of your lips turned up slightly, and you tenderly pulled me closer and kissed me again, forgetting about the laundry and the rest of the world. It all dissolved into the abyss of a reality I no longer lived in.
After that, we became ravenous, devouring each other with our hands and mouths, as if we were afraid that the illusion would fade should we let each other go for just a moment. We tore our way through the house, up the stairs and past the kitchen, locked in a hungry embrace. When we fell onto your bed, somehow, some way, I pulled myself away from you and laid by your side.
I could feel myself falling into you and it all became too fast. I felt my insides coming out of me, felt like I was losing myself, losing control. When I told you that sex was a bad idea because it was an incredibly intimate thing to share with someone, you laughed. You laughed because you agreed and because you were surprised by my candor. You laughed because you were falling for me too and you were surprised by its depth. But I could hear it then- that hint of guilt- your laugh was laced with it. Laced with a knowing that you were going to take what you wanted and think about it later. You wanted me too badly to admit you might destroy me. You propped yourself on your elbow, smiled, and said the words that undid me.
Hours later, I woke up shivering and pulled a thin sheet tighter around my body, trying to will warmth. You were lying on your side, facing away from me, and I could hear your heavy breathing. I forced myself back to sleep, wanting the harsh reality of three a.m. to vanish back into the night. I had a sinking feeling that I had fed into a game that neither of us would win.
In the morning, it started to creep back in slowly; I noticed the bare white walls around me, the ironing board full of unhung clothes, and textbooks strewn across the floor. I noticed how the magic of the night before had dissipated and now all that hung between us was the discomfort of sharing your body and soul with someone who was a near stranger.
What followed is a blur of forced efforts, desire fraught with the cruel reality of us living worlds apart. The night on the beach we walked for hours, talking and laughing, our words woven with an unspoken grief; the end we could see coming. The night you wrapped your arms around me and sheltered me in your sweatshirt, trying to fend off uncertainty. The night you tried to teach me to play pool and your fingertips graced my sides gingerly as you showed me how to slide the cue. The electricity in our touch started to sting, started to tell us that it was too hot, too much, and that one or both of us wouldn’t get out alive.
And then, as a way to save yourself from undercurrent that was pulling us both under, you jumped. You went as quickly as you came, except your exit was like a crash: hard, fast, and violent. The pieces of glass scattered around me and I saw the truth reflected in the shards at my feet. My reflection gazed up at me, disjointed and broken, unrecognizable. When you left, I fell into myself, imploded and collapsed, my joints and bones crumbled and my internal organs twisted and shifted in a way I didn’t even know they could.
I felt crazy, like I had taken a mind-altering drug and woken up to discover that the extravagant array of scenery around me was just a cartoon drawing in a children’s picture book. In my imagination. Unreal. Distant. Untouchable.
I stopped fighting for you when I realized that you refused to own any responsibility for what happened. When you acted as if what we felt had never existed. When your warmth gave way to the chill of winter and you became a shell of the person I had known, uncaring and unfeeling. When you dropped the baggage at my feet and ran in the other direction.
I hated myself for being a cliche. I hated myself for feeling so deeply, and for once, giving in and going against my typically cautious nature.
When I saw you with her, a painfully short time later, I couldn’t look. The exciting stomach churn I had felt before tumbled over into crippling nausea, and I wanted nothing more than to vomit you and it all out of me. I imagined you telling her all the things you told me. Imagined that we had been a fallacy and you felt for her what I had tricked myself into believing you felt for me. I imagined that it was all because I was not enough. I fell further, the dream I had wished for darkening into a nightmare partly of my own making.
And then, as time faded the memories clouded by lust, I looked back down at the broken pieces of glass, swept them up, and threw them away. I decided that maybe it wasn’t so smart to try and build something out of something so fragile. I decided to refuse the narrative that you were selling; I had felt what I felt, and so had you. No one, not even you, could take that away from me. I decided to give up trying to understand the explosion that propelled you up and out and left me in its wake trying to rebuild. I decided to focus on me.
Now, I understand that my willingness to be vulnerable is a gift. I understand that my propensity for lust, passion, wild emotion, and strong conviction are what makes me powerful. Now, I understand that these things are only to be shared with a lucky and deserving few. That these things are what it means to be beautifully human. And that if I let myself fall madly, I can come out on the other side and look back knowing that I gave it all I had.
Now, when I see the pictures you post with her, I think, “I’m better than what he was willing to offer me,” and I trust it. Because I know my intuition is never wrong.
And I hope that what you’re offering her is better than what you could give me. I truly do.