She lay in bed alone and thought of him. She lay on her stomach, her arms tightly wound around her pillow, hugging the material to her left cheek. She lay in the dark, in a bed she’d never shared with anyone, her thoughts focused on someone who was not thinking about her.
Did he ever think of her? Did she cross his mind? Did he wonder if she wondered about him?
He reminded her of a character in a story she had started writing, once.
A journalist: astoundingly clever, highly educated, opinionated, behaving according to his own unique moral code. Difficult. She’d found the fictional man frustrating, problematic to understand. She’d abandoned the project. She had joked at the time that she would probably have fallen in love if he had been a real man. But then again, she’d said: he was a cliché. She needed to write deeper characters, she wanted to find realer truths. Write what you know, went the old adage. She hadn’t known a man like that.
Then she’d met one. Should she resuscitate the story, now? No, she hadn’t come any closer to understanding. She still didn’t know that man. He could still only ever be a cliché. Perhaps that was why he’d never been hers and probably never would be.
He was complicated and jagged and obstinate. He’d decided that she wasn’t what he wanted. He probably put her off his mind from that moment onwards. She had been a brief image that had flitted across his screen. He’d turned her off, he’d switched the channel. Perhaps there were more interesting shows on that night.
She lay in bed alone and doubted that he ever thought of her.
Did she believe in love at first sight? She wondered, embracing her pillow tighter. Surely her lingering near obsession with him suggested that? She could remember the moment their eyes first locked. There was a distinct before and after. She remembered their first handshake, how odd she’d found that. She could recall his eyes on her. She could recall watching him. Perhaps she had been taught a lesson about love at first sight that summer day. But no. How silly. This wasn’t love.
Love was the smile that spread across her face when she pictured her best friend’s messy curls and infectious laugh, love was the warmth in the pit of her stomach as she confided on the phone to her parents, love was the feeling of safety and contentment she got when she met her ex for coffee. This was definitely not love.
She was generous with the word love. She’d never shied away from it. Neither the word, nor the attached concept, scared her in any way. She threw it at her friends, barrelled it at her family, sprinkled it on the barista who remembered her coffee order. Sometimes, she said it to complete strangers. “I love you,” she’d exclaim, beaming, at the man who helped guide her into a parallel parking, or at the woman who conceded the last croissant at the bakery to her. She meant it. That was love. A feeling of light and warmth and appreciation.
She was someone who loved easily, and who, in turn, was beloved by many. Her love was uncomplicated and strangely unconditional. It was simple for her to fall in love and difficult for her to stop loving. She was prepared to love eternally. She was the girl you could remain friends with, she was the person who answered in an emergency. She could be sardonic and unpleasant, but she loved easily. She loved purely. She loved anyone.
But she didn’t love him. He was frustrating and confusing and challenging. He didn’t make sense to her. He didn’t fit a neat pattern. It would have been easy to brand him a cliché, reduce him to another character in her stories. But he never made sense to her, and so she couldn’t write him. She had tried. She couldn’t imagine words coming out his mouth. Even actual words he’d said seemed wrong when splayed across her page.
She didn’t understand him. She didn’t know him. She certainly didn’t love him. And so, perhaps, she never smiled at the thought of him. She never felt that warmth in the pit of her stomach. He didn’t make her feel safe or content. When he crossed her mind, her chest tightened, her breathing constricted. She felt her world close. She hugged her pillow tighter, buried her face in it. Closed her eyes. This was not love, she insisted to herself.
This was nothing like love.
She lay in bed and pictured him alone in his bed, which he’d shared with many. She pictured his long legs casually splayed over one another, she pictured him reading. He was thinking of other things now, she decided. His thoughts were on the day and week ahead, or perhaps on someone else. He’d concluded that he didn’t want her, after all. Perhaps he’d never really thought of her at all.
They were two humans who had come very close to mattering to one another. But they had never belonged to each other, and now they probably never would.
She lay in bed alone, in the dark, tightly hugging her pillow to her cheek.
She lay in bed alone, thinking about the man she did not love and who had chosen not to love her.
She lay in bed alone and thought of him.