Being friends with bartenders certainly has it perks. I didn’t want to leave, it was 6:30 a.m. and I was still at the bar with friends. I was flirting with the guy who doesn’t like me back, and the thought of my empty white-walled room sounded lonelier than usual. A curt nod was the kiss of death, and my crush left my side to join his buddy at the other end of the bar. I waited for time to pass. Finally, it was 6:48 a.m., so I faked a yawn and said I was tired, platonically kissed everybody goodbye, and walked home. I could feel fall in the air, though it was still August, but fall creeps into summer that way. A cold wind in the morning is a little reminder not to get too comfortable sunbathing. The weather will grow colder and the days will grow darker, and I will long for a body to warm me. The stairs leading to my third floor apartment were endless, linoleum miles leading to a crooked empty bed where I noticed the early morning sunlight seeping through the curtains in little slivers. I pulled at them unsatisfied with the light, but with each tug, the pool of sunlight on my sheets grew larger. I wanted it to be dark, pitch black, a darkness to fit my loneliness after another night wasted on an unrequited crush. I could have cried at that moment, but no tears fell.
The next morning I awoke with a nasty hangover, but begrudgingly met my couple friends for brunch. They giggled and spoon-fed each other while I eyed them curiously over eggs and fried-green tomatoes. They’ve been dating for four years and they still make each other laugh all the time. Despite my loneliness, it was lovely to see them so happy. They were dreamy, blissful. It was a feeling I’d forgotten, a feeling I’d left in Virginia when I packed up my cheap crap in boxes and moved to New York alone. Alone. The word was a lead balloon. After brunch ended, I was acutely aware of all the couples I passed while walking home. They were holding hands, fingers interlaced. My palms dangled at my sides, empty. I caught a glimpse of myself in a storefront window and noticed that I looked bigger than usual. The couples swarmed around me and I was giant and silly like a nodding bobble-head. My temples pounded from my hangover, and I couldn’t help but think of my crush, the one who doesn’t like me back. The one who says I’m pretty, but I know the feelings stop at pretty. I grow stupid and slow around him, so I’m only a pretty girl, and pretty girls are only good for one thing. I could have cried at that moment, but no tears fell.
My parents always taught me to never feel sorry for myself. Put a band-aid on it! There’s somebody who always has it worse than you, so count your blessings. Be thankful for the roof over your head and friends that love you.
You are never alone.
That Pollyanna attitude has been my saving grace when times are tough. I hardly ever cry, but when I do it is unstoppable and desperate because its arrival is surprising. It slithers inside me like smoke wrapping around my vocal chords like a lasso. I feel the sour taste on my tongue and the unmistakable force of a sob curdling in my mouth, and before I know it my eyelashes are soaked with unfamiliar tears. Crying has come.
If I wish it… if I will it… the tides will turn and he’ll fall for me. If I wish it…
In high school, I fell pretty hard for my friend’s older brother. He was very intelligent and incredibly shy, so I clung to his rare spoken sentences like tiny presents.
Please like me! Like me! I wished it all the time.
I was a complete and utter idiot around him. At the time, I hated to drink but I always shoveled down a couple of beers around him thinking he would like me more. I’m aware, looking back in hindsight, that this was irrational and childish; a Keystone Light never leads to love. I tried too hard and looked foolish, but I thought my attempts were somewhat noble. After all, unrequited crushing is like batting a piñata at a child’s birthday party, to get the sweet stuff, you have to be willing to spin around blindfolded and look like an idiot. A couple months of futile efforts prompted me to finally tell him of my crush, but his response was watered down and casual, a Keystone Light rejection. Unfortunately, his dismissal didn’t ease my feelings and instead made them unmanageable and messy. How do you keep caring for someone who doesn’t care for you?
Nowadays, I become a Barbie doll around my unrequited crush. I dress to perfection and make sure every hair is in place. If there is even a teeny chance I will see him, I’ll spend the extra time getting ready as if one look at me would change his feelings. I’ll glide in wearing high heels and a flowing dress, and my hair will be golden and shiny. I’ll smile, silently thanking my mother and father for getting me braces as a kid, and lay it on thick. But a Barbie is only a doll, and a Barbie has no brain. I become the girl I roll my eyes at while in the bar with friends, a delicate little porcelain beauty drinking far too many vodka cranberries.
Around 5:00 a.m., I was hunched over the toilet in my apartment, my own personal porcelain beauty. My fingers were shoved down my throat in a desperate attempt to remove the alcohol from my system after a night of unrequited crushing. I don’t even like drinking alcohol all that much, and I felt panicked and sloppy. I choked and gagged and wriggled my toes into the floor, and finally after several degrading minutes, I stood up with surprising strength.
I struck the top of my head on the towel rack, tumbled to the floor, and landed hard on my shoulder. Tenderly, I touched the top of my head and felt an eerie wetness seeping beneath my fingernails. My head burned and throbbed, and I felt too exhausted to move. Though my fingers were red and sticky with blood, I tucked my knees into my chest and rested my cheek against the floor. The tile felt nice, cool to the touch and calming, so I lay there. I don’t really know how long. I could have cried at that moment, but no tears fell.
That next evening, I showered and curled my hair for a date with a guy I’d recently met. He was attractive and smart and I wanted to like him, but I knew the date was only a band-aid, a temporary fix for my aching heart. My memory grasps at little bits of that night, the sickening feeling that overcame me when I smelled his glass of whiskey, the sepia shine of my glass of white wine that went untouched. When the moment was right, he reached for my hand and I let him hold it in his. Once upon a time, I hated holding hands. It seemed too intimate for a girl who keeps men at arms length. My hand looked lifeless and tiny in his, a dead battery. The electricity of touching was absent. I pictured my crush’s hands, the hands that will not hold mine and the hands that will not reach for me, and for a moment I felt invisible. My date looked at me with an expression that resembled concern, but he ordered another whiskey and didn’t ask any questions. I could have cried at that moment, but no tears fell.
“You really can’t read that one, can you?” my friend Jennifer said to me as we strolled home from brunch. She was talking about my crush, the one who doesn’t like me back.
Jennifer is Irish, and just listening to her perfect lilt calms me. Even when she curses, it sounds like music. Something about her melody stirred something in me, and I felt a small choke. I hoped I wouldn’t start crying, not over something as silly as a guy not liking me back. I swallowed a sob and smiled at her.
“But your guy! He definitely likes you! You should go after that!” I cheered.
She smiled, a band-aid, my temporary fix. She always offers a perfectly timed compliment when I start to feel sorry for myself, but I don’t want her to take part in my loneliness by association. I know she’ll never admit that she pities my insatiable crushes, just as I’ll never admit that I’m pitiful.
At the bar that night, I drank beer with my buddies. They’re men, so I try to act tough. I prayed they couldn’t see through my paper-thin disguise, a confident and cool guy’s girl who’s kicking back with the boys, because underneath I felt strangled and lonely. I couldn’t help but think of him, of my unrequited crush, and I felt my tongue go sour. He doesn’t like me. He’ll never like me. My throat tightened and pulsed.
But at just the right moment, my friend Nick told a joke. Suddenly, I was clutching my sides in hysterics. My buddies and I were roaring with laughter, fists pounded the table in appreciation. We sounded like school kids, and I couldn’t breathe, choking on friendship and joy. And all of a sudden, an eerie wetness formed around my lashes, tears bursting free at last. I cried at that moment, out of laughter, out of love, and I’m reminded of something my mother and father once said.
You are never alone.