Commitment is so beautiful and courageous. But people mistake it for a way to change or fix themselves: as if a relationship will make them consistent, wise, loving and true. That someone else can correct their lack of unity inside.
Even among struggles that are seemingly much more formidable – jobs, finances, health – the fetishization, the catch-all concept of relationships is something that overwhelmingly connects a concern in us all. The fear isn’t illogical; as 20-somethings we live in a time in which the person in your bed right now is probably not going to be there in 25 years. They might not even last 25 more days. But this is not the sin of omission we often make it out to be. We have the opportunity today to grow and evolve at an alarming rate, and these people who walk by our side for weeks or months or years can show us more about ourselves than we imagine, if we let them.
But there’s still that desire…no, that expectation for jaw-dropping, Nicholas Sparks, final credits love from every relationship we develop. Instead of appreciating and learning to understand exactly what a person’s role is in our life, we won’t humble our expectations. We ask fulfillment from another person when sometimes we need to instead cocoon and spin our own soul. It’s then, when there’s no room for valenced emotions, enter the people who somehow add a certain lightness to our worn-the-fuck-down being.
After all, we don’t always know the effects we have on each other, but we have them.
It’s late. The night is half over or the morning’s half begun, depending on how you look at it. Anyone reasonable would have left by now, but reason was washed away in the first rains of monsoon season. A mirage remains, people milling about, free, caked with sweat and smiles. It’s all so, so… awake. The liquid spins in your paper cup, ice melted down to tiny slivers that delicately scrape the wax sides until they fade away altogether. “I’m not sure what to do…” her voice cuts the dense, deliriously heavy humidity. She trails off, the very air itself uneasy to carry the sound of her anxiety.
Once anyone admits that phrase out loud, they already know exactly what they should do. But you don’t tell her that. You’re in no position to drag a sepia-dipped brush over your own indecisions of yesteryear.
The bags under her eyes are magnificent in the neon from the ambient light, glazed with a thin layer of disenchantment. You can shed your skin only so many times for your promises of happily-ever-afters, your pipeline dreams and the convictions you’ve sworn over and over before time itself turns fragile. This shedding, this so-called cleansing leaves behind more than it carries away. But then few things are as advertised. Washed up and exhausted, she’s just another pretty face with skin too thin, wearing dark circles like badges.
You finish your drink in a single swig, bitter with diffused heat and settled gin. It stings, sweetly, and your cheeks flush. Nodding her way, you steady yourself and weave through the sloshed drinks that paint the cobblestone, running across the tables, wetting everyone’s elbows, obstacles to the card games that carry on. The convenience store glass is coated with vapor, and through the streaks of condensation you see him and he sees you. Of course he’s still around; there’s nothing reasonable about him at all. He smiles, gently, the warmth almost lost in the harsh fluorescence, but it’s there.
You grab two beers from the cooler, scrunching your face as you pause, cooling your skin with the stale air from the freezer. You hover as the shine dulls from your face, closing your eyes, the intensity on her face burned to the back of your eyelids, mirrored. It’s a look that used to scar your own complexion over and over and over, subdermal blistering that no amount of makeup could manage.
Blessed are those of us who have learned to only question not what we want from others but what we want from living. After all, our entire existence is trial-and-error at this point. If it weren’t, wouldn’t all be here at 4 in the morning.
“You don’t have to like it, you just have to…” but you can’t think of what before your waist, skin cooled and smooth, is wrapped by bare hands from behind.
Outside, the air smells like fireworks, the way it always seems to.
You’re the same age, but he makes you feel young again. Silly, really, when you say it out loud like that, but the complication of relationships passed has aged you, the Daedalian complexity of these men flitting through your life, each either entirely self-aggrandized or completely jaded, connected to you by restaurant checks and body fluids, all just trying to teach you something. Each arrived bearing unending possibility and thrill and companionship, but also the solemn promise, either over time or all at once, to show you glimpses of what you don’t want to be. And now you’ve seen what cynicism can do to a person, what it can do to their eyes, hearts swollen with defensive pessimism. And it has made you, at times, as glittering and heartless as a shard of glass.
But his eyes are alive and soft as they settle on you, seeing you either as you are or as you appear to be, it just doesn’t matter which. Terrifically flawed in his own ways, but he’s self-aware with a certain, beautiful lassitude. You can sense something stable in him – maybe not admirable, but strong and alive and genuine, and you cringe at the thought that he might lose all of that. But for now, his face is relaxed as it slacks into a smile and he cups yours with one hand, spins you around and then lets you go.
She’s gone by the time you get back through the crowd. Or maybe she was never there to begin with. Your blood is thick with wine and water vapor, and in the translucent air everything appears reflective.
Your face pulsates as it beats awake, absorbing radiating heat from the body nearby. Familiar skin lies heavy on yours, peeling back like velcro as you pull it free, forging a canal of negative space that snakes along your silhouettes, body heat meeting in a hiss of vapor. His face is so calm. You could move closer, inching, bridging. But the distance is soothing. Connection could spoil in this heat, reveal things that you don’t want to know about him, when right now he can stay good, be just another good person, a person who cares for you, but doesn’t know anything outside of your drink order and preference for ice pops in the morning. Your tendency to steal his water bottles and exceed at public transit. The way you sneeze when you get hungry and the exact shade of your eyes. He’ll notice when you’re sad, but never ask you why. But he will try to make you smile, if he can. You wonder what his worries could possibly be, and you hope that he has none.
You turn away, the reprieve of morning cool kisses your grin, back turned toward the heat you know you don’t need. It wouldn’t keep you warm if you did.
He almost didn’t wake to see her leave. She was combing her fingers through her hair in the early morning light, back to him, framed by the doorway. He could smell the charred hint of fireworks that clung to her hair and clothes. So penetrating was the whiff of memory in the making, like a summer about to end. She told him she’d see him soon. He was never sure if that was a question or a promise or a formality.
It’ll all change on its own anyway, faster than we ever could have imagined.