He offered me a cigarette and a bottle to fix my broken head. You look fucking miserable, he told me. And I was. How did I end up here? A party full of future startup bros and punk kids in torn jean jackets co-existing because this is college and this is what happens when someone posts on Facebook there’s a party with at least one keg and unlimited chill vibes. I take the cigarette, even though I don’t smoke, and deny the pills because drugs scare me. We talk about The Libertines and movies and he tells me Bret Easton Ellis is his favorite author. You shouldn’t say things like that out loud, I tease, before escaping to the front lawn. He asks for my number, writes it on the back of his hand, and promises to call me the next day after class.
Along our bodies we trace patterns with our fingers across the peaks and ridges made of skin and bone, creating maps from lines and scars, navigating the route from one heart to the next. We speak the language of lovers, with a rising kingdom of rolling hills and shallow valleys made of flesh and heart, breathe and tongue. Between the morning light and crescent moon we are the king and queen of an empire ruled underneath thick blankets and bed sheets.
We take off on a road trip to Central America and find ourselves in a landscape of rolling mountains covered in lush jungle and the sound of waterfalls spilling through the trees. We end up in the back of a pickup truck wandering through bumpy roads, intertwining their route through strange wilderness until we see waves made of sapphire and indigo and we realize we’ve finally arrived at the ocean. In this moment I feel free and I feel alive because we are here and we are together and with him by my side I can do anything. We strip naked and dive into the water and when we come up for air we are breathless with possibility, with love. There’s no yesterday and there’s no tomorrow. Right now all we have is each other and together we are powerful and we are infinite.
The first blizzard of the season has begun and inside amongst the fire and warm drinks we begin to reveal the things about ourselves we don’t particularly like, exposing the ugly truths about our lives we’ve tried to hide. He tells me he’s fucked up and he doesn’t know what I see in him, why I’m here, or what we’re doing. It’s overwhelming, sometimes, he admits. You’re wonderful and I’m nothing and I’ll never be the man that you deserve, he tells me, before swallowing another glass of whiskey. I hesitate and let the questions lie on my tongue before saying anything else. I’m an asshole. I’m a drunk. Did you know that about me? I’ll never be the guy you want me to be, he insists. What are you talking about? I ask. We’re in this together. Everything’s okay. I don’t care about any of that. I love you. I can hear myself trying to sound convincing but I can see the look in his eyes and I know somewhere deep inside it doesn’t matter how many times I tell him this; he’ll never hear me.
It’s a lie told before breakfast. The same old argument that keeps coming around. The things that are said and not meant but they hurt anyway. We go to dinner and we’re both there but not really and this is how the gradual erosion begins. This is where we begin to learn the subtle art of loving someone just enough to fool yourself you’re still committed but with just enough disdain to know in your gut this isn’t right. We kiss each other before bed and he looks at me longingly in the morning before work and it’s in these moments I know I still want this. I want him. And if I can still feel this way towards him then that must mean everything will be okay, everything will work out.
I don’t remember the last time we had sex. I’m not sure if I know who he is anymore or maybe this is exactly who he’s always been and I’ve just idealized some version of him this entire time. In a small brown leather notebook I scribble this while silently wondering what I’m doing, why we’re fighting so much to make this work. I look at the deliberately unanswered texts on my phone, skim the personal ads on Craigslist, and browse sublets in Berlin, because an escape in any form seems much easier than dealing with the utter bullshit that is heartbreak. I do this over and over until I have so many tabs open on my computer it’s overwhelming. I close them all and suddenly realize it’s now 5 a.m. and there are actual people waking up now to start their day. I look out the window and think about how the time between 2 and 5 in the morning is a bit dangerous; a time when everything seems so real. You give in to your strongest desires and then when morning comes and you’re staring at the bottom of your coffee cup, you wonder if any of it happened at all. I blink my eyes and look at his last text – how am I not myself?
Iceland, which smells of figs, sulfur, fresh snow, and wet hay becomes our home for 2 weeks. We take this trip because a change of scenery will do us some good we say, confidently, outwardly to each other at first and then to our friends who ask. During the day we walk the streets of Reykjavik in search of geothermal pools, whale tours, art film houses, anything to keep our mind off the inevitable truth that’s looming – as much as we love each other, we also can’t fucking stand each other anymore, and a trip to Iceland isn’t going to cure anything. But we continue to pretend, so we go camping in the westfjords and try to drink our sadness away on the beach. On the plane ride home we look at each other and sigh. This isn’t working.
There are ghosts that live inside my skin – the continual longing for something that once was but will never be again. I can feel him in my sleep – how the sadness beats in rhythm with my heart as I stir between dreams. He is there and he is not there but I reach for him anyway. It all feels so cliche – the pain, the heartache – knowing in 6 months // 1 year // 3 years, this will all just be nothing more than a memory. Physically and emotionally, everything seems so far away right now. I no longer want to be saved. I don’t recognize who I am anymore but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It could be a great thing. A positively wonderful thing but it all has to stop. It all has to stop before I go completely and utterly mad. So I lose myself in writing, in drinking, and in the company of others until I’m so exhausted I collapse in my bed every night. Later on I’ll find a note I wrote to myself – 02.16.2011 2:31 a.m. – There are many ways to drown.
He sets his drink down on the table, looks at me and sighs. We didn’t know how good we had it, he says, looking away. I run my fingers along the perspiration of my glass and nod in agreement but say nothing. So he tells me about his girlfriend, about the new corporate job, about the life he’s built over the years in my absence. I look at this man, a man I used to love so dearly, and I think about what happened between us. Here we are, talking about movies and music, life and writing, while drinking – all the things that at one time had brought us so closely together. I think about how in a different universe we could be perfect together again but right now, in this moment, everything feels hollow. That’s the thing about revisiting your past – as much as you think you want it, there’s something about a memory that can never be the same.
I took a walk down my street a little bit ago. It was so quiet in the snow, in the street, with no one else outside. I don’t know why but I thought of him in this moment as I stood by myself for a bit, looking down in the direction of the street he lived on a little more than a few years ago. I missed him. I still miss him.
And I’m not sure if it will ever be the same.