When I saw you, when you walked into that damn crowded room with too many people holding too many red cups filled with some sort of salvation, I was suffocated. You walked in with your easy, relaxed gait, in those green sneakers with that same hat you used to plunk on my head while we were driving down the interstate and singing at the top of our lungs and you would look at me like I was this beautiful rare creature.
As you strolled into the room and all my functions became so much more acutely aware to me (every fine-tuned function of my body was now off, my heart was skipping like a scratched CD, the blood in my veins too heavy, my stomach was aching and my fingers trembling against the condensation of the cup in my hand, threatening to fall and spill all its guts on the floor like I had when I begged you to stay, don’t leave me, I love you) I was sure my body was having a meltdown on the inside. My organs were revolting against me because I had let you go; I had let you slip away and even the very center of my being ached a dull pain, throbbing with my irregular heartbeat, because I no longer had you.
After you had sucked all the air out of the room and left me gasping, dying, a fish out of water scenario where I was the fish and you were the water and I wanted to drown in you; you turn to your friend and laugh comfortably at his stupid joke.
Your eyes continue their scan around the room, but it’s lazy and that’s when I can tell you’re stoned. You probably smoked in your car on the way here, like we used to, passing a blunt between us, joking that the car we had just passed was a cop.
I wonder if I went up to you and hugged you and pressed my face into your chest, if you would smell the way you used to. An intoxicating mix of cigarette smoke and soap. The soap always threw me off. It was like you were trying so hard to dirty yourself (and your lungs) but deep down you were always clean.
When you finally notice me and I notice the new girl on your arm with the red mouth who I can tell you’ve already tasted, I wonder if she will stay up all night with you, chain-smoking your cigarettes on the roof and talking about what happens after we die, I wonder if she will walk barefoot to your house in the pink of the morning just to climb gently into your bed to lay her head on that soft spot on your chest just below where your clavicle and shoulder join. I wonder if she will sit with you in the diner at three in the afternoon on a cold winter day, frozen fingers wrapped around a coffee and will she notice the bitterness in your eyes as you tell her your brother relapsed again.
I want to be angry at the new girl but I can’t. Nothing will replace the hatred in my heart that wars with the sadness that has been a constant since you left.
Speaking of eyes, I can see that look in yours, the oh-shit-she’s-here look, and it immediately makes me want to reinvent time. Unwind the threads, peel them back until the day I pretended to like cigarettes so I would have something to ask you about as we sat on the back porch away from the party, our breath visible in the frigid air. (Who knew I would have gotten addicted to them the same time I got addicted to you?)
My heart was pounding then as much as it was now, but that was different. That was excitement and sleeplessness combined. We were back in the hellhole of Midwest surburbia and at someone’s party. I didn’t know whom I had just tagged along. That’s the beauty of these parties: everyone is trying so hard to forget for one night that their lives are going nowhere that they don’t notice if there are a few unfamiliar faces.
I had stepped outside in the lake-effect cold, wanting to get away from the buzzing party for a moment.
You sat on the steps, coat wrapped around you with the buttons undone, inhaling your vice. I slowly sank down on the stair next to you, and we sat staring at the ground for a moment, the cold air around us.
“Can I have one?” the question had fallen out of my mouth.
You smirked, and after I had it in between my teeth, reached out to light it. You laughed at me, a genuine laugh, after my first coughing fit and I knew you knew I didn’t smoke.
“Don’t kill yourself,” you commented. My cheeks burned red with embarrassment and I awkwardly giggled.
“What’s your name?” you asked, and once I had told you you complimented me on it. Like it was something I could have chosen. This made me laugh and I shivered in the cold, and you moved closer and in one swift motion took your coat off and threw it around my shoulders.
“Are you sure?” I asked. I remember my heart fluttered at the gesture. Who does that? No normal guy actually gives up his coat for a girl anymore. Chivalry’s supposed to be dead.
You nodded. “I get to keep a pretty girl warm. And besides, you look too damn good in my coat.”
That’s when I had started falling in love with you. And it didn’t ever stop, the falling. I wouldn’t know until then that it was possible to love someone more and more each day, but when you had looked into my eyes and smiled, you’d successfully claimed my heart.
Flash back to the present. I was trying desperately to calm the oncoming heart attack I was sure to have. You lean into the new girl and kiss her, right in front of me. I expected to feel a crushing sadness, but strangely nothing. I suppose you can only be hurt by the same person so many times before it just starts to become scar tissue.
I wasn’t a religious person until I had met you. But when I was writhing beneath you in the early hours of the morning, my emotions like the sunrise, you had me talking to god.
You stop kissing her and finally realize you’ll have to walk past me to get to where your friends now are. I can see you brace yourself, steeling yourself. I don’t have to see your hand to know that it’s found the small of her back, leading her forward. I stand in your way like a general leading an army, but in reality I’m just another of your speedbumps to be carelessly driven over. No one ever died from going over a speedbump.
Here it goes. You get closer and closer and my body is wired, like a tightly coiled spring. I can tell you’re tensed up too. I should have left as soon as I saw you. Add it to the growing list of regrets all under the title of your name.
“Hi,” you mumble.