The Favorite Ex

The Favorite Ex

Winter concocts a peculiar kind of relationship. Lovers don’t wake up too early, after too little sleep, to birds chirping, the usual audience of new love, but to a stark gray sky, the sun too far away from the earth to give us a remarkable sunrise. The emotional experience of winter is flatter. Throw love into the equation and the love becomes a drug trip you don’t want to come down from. This happens year-round, of course, but in the kinder seasons the lover ripped temporarily from his mate at least is kept company by the sun, green trees. In winter he has: indoors, lonely indoors, and too much darkness to indulge an already dark mind.

So there was a sadness to the beginning of our love, a sadness that isn’t noticed as such until you look back on the story from five years away. Then the sadness is seen fictitiously as the sadness of knowing it would eventually end, and pretty quickly. When summer arrived the lovers didn’t celebrate. They combusted. In summer, I tried to reclaim the parts of my life that had lain dormant in winter. But you didn’t want anything else in your life and didn’t think I should either. How could I forget: I look back on us with too much fondness, neglecting that withering urgency you felt about me. Possessiveness is the word more commonly used.

But my soul never stepped inside another person’s so easily as it stepped in yours. I felt safe in there. Nothing changed. My perception of myself did not change. I was not self-conscious. I was just physically there with you. It was a world without mirrors, a world without self-judgment. There’s a danger in that: I didn’t want to leave it, nor did you want me to. I wonder if you had that feeling too — of safety, confidence, comfort. I think you must have. It only worked because we understood each other perfectly. There were no lies, or justifications, or consolations, or denials, in the margins. There didn’t need to be.

But since I was still me, prone to my own destructive story despite your efforts to make me forget it, it wasn’t enough for us to stand face to face and bask in our twin feeling. I had to change you, cut you down, take you apart and try to build you back together better, perfect. It’s a game I play to distract me from my own flaws. You smoked: that had to stop. You worked miserably as the manager of a Starbucks: that had to stop. You were too afraid to sell your artwork: that had to stop. In time, of course, you would have figured out what to do. You did. But it wasn’t enough for me to just be there, encouraging you by my presence. I had to act, too. I had to judge. I had to question.

One day in May I took a fake sick day — your suggestion. We went to a park and played music together in the middle of an open field, much to the curiosity of other park dwellers. You brought a video camera and filmed a surreal video taken from a hundred yards away of me playing the violin while standing atop a picnic table. This, like so many things we did, was designed by you, sanctioned by you. I may have felt like some perfect self with you, but I was just watching a show: your show. That’s how I preferred life, then as now: as a spectator, quiet, easily entertained, yet more willing to criticize than to act: a dangerous role to play in life.

But I had made us happen, folding up a yellow piece of paper with my number on it and handing it to your coworker. Then my nerves got the better of me and I walked up a steep hill chugging a bottle of cider to meet you. The alcohol didn’t seem to calm my nerves but to give me better things to say, more things to say. Words flowed out of me when before they would have trickled. It was strange riding a subway with someone I had just met: better complete strangers or old friends. Two months later we would be so drunk we’d fall asleep on each other on the F train and end up in Coney Island at six in the morning.

You aren’t the one that got away. You’re simply the favorite: too complicated and crazy to not exhaust me to the point that one afternoon, near the end, I ended up in a ball under my desk at work, crying hysterically but at least out of sight of my coworkers. No, we weren’t meant for a life together. But we had something that is hard to find, and perhaps impossible to keep.

Now, years, later, our connection has been reduced to Facebook updates: your cryptic one-liners and new drawings, my favorite news articles. But that strange means of continuity, to me, is just as good as a keepsake box. It grows, moving mysteriously and peripatetically away from what we had. But that it moves at all, I am grateful. TC mark

image – Luis Hernandez

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