After a week and a half of trying, I finally get you on the phone. When I see your name pop up on my screen, I’m not excited like I usually am. My eyes glaze over, indifferent, defensive. I’m nothing. Numb, because I know what’s coming.
Your voice sounds the same and that shocks me for some reason. Like I had been in denial that you were really still around, really still being while I was compartmentalized into some dusty shadowed corner of your mind. Stored somewhere with everything else not currently important, on deck to my fate of becoming just a memory. Just something that was.
I start in on my spiel: you’re great when you’re here, you’re distant when you’re not. You leave me hanging constantly and you don’t give a shit. I don’t know what we’re doing. I don’t understand. I’m excited now because at least I finally get to hear what you have to say, finally can put to rest all of my tired speculations about what could possibly be happening between us. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding and you’re going to try harder. Maybe you’re going to try at all.
You say this isn’t working. You say you aren’t getting anything out of this relationship. I get stuck on that word: relationship, because I know it’s bullshit. You can’t do long distance, you say. Vaguely. Noncommittally. With no concrete details as to why not. I’m supposed to just accept this. You can’t do long distance and that’s that. Unchangeable. As though it were a physical characteristic like the color of your hair or skin.
“Yeah, I can see that.” I’m twiddling my blue-polished toes, eyes swimming around the room. Shifting back and forth to keep the tears from falling. They land on the enormous Chipotle sign that we stole together, hanging in my apartment, littered with the signatures of all of my friends. I see your signature, scrawled out in orange sharpie. I want to sign next to you, you had said. I’m angry because I can hear how far away you are, in a completely different world where I never existed. I’m angry because you’re leaving me here, right at the scene of the crime. Where our lives became intermingled and entwined and all of my friends signed the goddamn Chipotle sign that you stole. I’m angry because the path we walked home from work every fucking night this summer is on my way to class and you get to live on a completely clean campus, one I never touched. I’m angry because I have to deal with that, deal with still being here and trying to forget you while you get to be there, already well on your way to forgetting.
You want to be friends but I don’t. I can’t. I want you as more than that and you understand. You start to cry, and I don’t get it. This is your fault. You could take it back. You could make it work. You don’t have the right to cry. I realize that you didn’t think that I would leave completely. You thought we could see each other here and there; catch up now and then. I know one day we’ll be able to do that, but I can’t tell you. I tell you that we won’t ever see each other again and you just cry harder.
I wonder if it’s someone else, but I don’t think it is. Despite everything, I trust you. Why would I trust a guy who tells me he loves me when he’s drunk and then takes it back when he’s sober? I don’t know, but I do. I trust you and I can’t explain it.
There’s nothing left to say, so I ramble. I say random things and talk about random memories, one last-ditch effort to make you miss me. Hoping that it might remind you of everything that I still remember and that you have clearly forgotten. You keep crying so I stop talking; I don’t want to hurt you. I’m just scared to say goodbye.
You’re the one who eventually says the conversation has to end. It’s fitting, I think. “Okay. Bye, Justin,” I say. And that’s it. A dead line. Silence.
It takes a minute before I start to cry. I have to look around me, realizing that you’re everywhere. This couch alone: Nebraska, Old School, Perks of Being a Wallflower. Drunk Jen walking out here while we have sex. Me covering your mouth to shield your loud, ridiculous laugh. You’re goddamn everywhere and it isn’t fair, because I know I’m already disappearing. Your not-quite-girlfriend. Just a summer fling that wanted to be more.
This is a different kind of pain. It’s like an inhaled breath that’s always going to remain inside. Never fully realized, never coming to fruition. Things cascade into my mind, things that I had been waiting for, excited for, that I now know will never be. I’ll never visit you at school, see you with your friends, be a part of that side of you. I’ll never know how this big project turned out, or if your mom’s going to be okay. I’ll never know what happened with your brother, or how it made you feel.
You never saw me dance, and now you never will. I let that sink in and wonder if that would have changed anything. If it could have made you want me more, want me enough to make this work. I wonder what it was about me that you decided wasn’t worth fighting for. What I was missing that might have made you want to stay. I hate myself for thinking about that. It’s pathetic. Desperate. And it doesn’t matter. I know the reality: you’ll always be the first guy I ever had real feelings for, and I’ll always be that not-quite-anything. A name rattled off among buddies, squeezed between long-term girlfriends and real relationships. Disappearing, quickly. I put my hands to my face and feel the water on my cheeks. I cry, hard, already feeling faded away.
Jen hears me crying and comes out from the bedroom.
“You’re joking.” She looks at me, disbelieving. I nod, confirming her suspicions. “Oh my God. Fucking idiot.” She comes over to me and holds me, places my head down on her shoulder. Doesn’t flinch even though I can feel my tears splashing her. “Wait. So. He actually thinks he can do better than you?” She says this half to herself, half to me. “That is genuinely funny. Like. Wow. He might be actually retarded. The kid’s a joke, Sam.” I shake my head, disagreeing. “No, seriously. You were the best he was going to do. Hell, you were out of his league even. He’s gonna hate himself for letting you go.” I know she has to say this, so I let her. I’m glad for it, even, although I know it isn’t true. You won’t hate yourself for letting me go. You’ll be relieved. I flash back to the summer: we were in your car and One Less Problem by Arianna Grande came on the radio. You told me how much you identified with that song. You turned it up.
“I just…don’t know what happened.” I sputter and I hate the way I sound.
“Me neither, honestly. It was so obvious to everyone that he was into you. God, boys are the worst. I’m so sorry, Sammy.”
“It’s okay. Fuck him, right?”
“No no no…fucking him got you nowhere. Fuck someone else. Someone really hot.”
I laugh, loudly and genuinely and it takes me by surprise.
“So what lovely addition should we add to his signature up there?” She motions to the Chipotle banner deviously. “We could do the classic Justin Bradley Sucks but I think we’re better than that.”
“Hmmm… Justin Bradley cried on the phone for 45 minutes?”
“Shut up. He cried? What?! I thought he dumped you.”
“That’s what I’m saying….it makes no sense.”
“Hm. Justin ‘Cry Baby’ Bradley, “ she offers.
“Justin ‘Mixed Signals’ Bradley,” I play along.
“Justin ‘Tiny Penis’ Bradley.”
“Well that’s not true.”
“It doesn’t have to be true! You hate him, so now he automatically has a small dick. That’s what you do when you break up with a guy.” She gives me instructions because she knows I’ve never done this.
“That’s logical,” I say, except I don’t hate you. I’m pissed that I don’t, because that was the only thing you cared about. I just don’t want you to hate me, you said selfishly, not considering it would be easier for me if I did. I want to just fucking hate you. I just want to make fun of you and tell Jen you have a small dick.
“Do you wanna drive around and blast music? We could sing Celine and drive through Bellefonte.”
“No, no. Go to sleep, Jen. I’m just gonna write a little bit. Thanks so much you’re seriously the best.”
“Okay. Wake me up if you need me, okay? I’m right here. I luh you boo. Boys are stupid!”
We hug and she goes to sleep and now I’m officially alone. I think about what she said: I’m right here if you need me. I think about how you never said that to me. How you were never there. How often I felt like I needed you.
I open a blank page and stare at it for a moment, thinking about our story. Thinking about how much better I’ll feel once it’s out of me. It always makes more sense on the page; it always feels more manageable. More easily dealt with, more able to move on from. It’s going to suck to write. To relive everything that I felt made what we had so beautiful. To capture the spark, and then depict it going out. I don’t regret it, I tell myself. I don’t regret our story.
With sticky cheeks and heavy eyelids, I begin to type.