When You Leave Love Behind

Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Widescreen Edition)
Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Widescreen Edition)

On nights like these when the wind stings my face so badly it hurts, I daydream about your balcony in the Texas summer heat. I’d daydream about your Russell Brand haircut and black basketball shorts—the ones that you reserve for bad breakups and hangovers—but that wouldn’t be fair to you or your girl. New York smells like cigarettes, and therefore always smells like you. I keep waiting for you to pop out from behind a corner somewhere in Brooklyn, wearing a too-thin jacket with your hair growing past your shoulders, but you’re never there. I haven’t watched Star Wars in months and I blame you entirely.

I’m not sure what ended it—me lying or me moving away or c.) all of the above, but I’ll always remember how we started it. I was sleeping in your bed because I couldn’t sleep alone. You were always too hot, and you’d kick me in the night. I didn’t mind it. I’d wait until I thought you were asleep, when your nose was pressed into the back of my neck, and I’d shake and cry until I’d notice you squeezing me back together. When I’d get up at four in the morning to smoke cigarettes out the window, you’d just grab my box of Marlboros and light one up with me, never saying a word.

I wanted to save you, and you wanted me to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t save you from your sister or your hometown or Sallie Mae or the girls who came before me that only pretended to love you. I couldn’t save you because I couldn’t save myself. I was drowning, drowning, drowning, and you were drowning too.

You always said you wouldn’t cave. I would laugh and say, “No way—you’re going to Carrie Fisher first.” You’d shake your head and smile. It was that line from The Empire Strikes Back where Han is being lowered into carbonite on Cloud City and Leia says, “I love you, “ and he responds, “I know.” We were at a Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s concert in Dallas, and you were on your third whiskey and coke. You Carrie Fishered leaning against a planter with your hands around my waist. I think that was the moment that I started believing in god again, the fraction of a second where I felt invincible for the very first time.

But then there was the night I spent lying with you on the floor holding a bag of frozen peas against your eyelids and I realized that I wasn’t strong enough. I’d never seen anyone in that much pain in my whole life. Not my grandmother on dialysis, not my grandfather after the surgery where they stapled his neck back together with little tubes draining blood into Dixie cups on his hospital tray. And they were the only real proof of true love I’d ever had. You hadn’t showered in weeks, or brushed your teeth in days. Your mouth was open, and I could see your wisdom teeth poking through your bleeding, infected gums, but you weren’t making any sounds. You just lay there with your head in my lap, tears rolling down your temples and pooling in your ear canals.

I couldn’t stay. I started to leave and you grabbed for me. I shook you free because I realized that I couldn’t un-do all the bad things that had happened, and I wasn’t prepared for your sadness to swallow me whole. I didn’t know how to resuscitate you when you were gasping for air. I let you drown in your living room, and I’m sorry.

But even though I left, you stayed. You stayed through all the bad stuff; my grandparents dying, my unrequited homesickness for Los Angeles, my awful relationship with every guy that wasn’t you. You held me that night I drove to your attic apartment at three in the morning. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, but somehow you saw how terrified and embarrassed I was and you wrapped me up in your arms and made everything whole with your fingertips on my rib cage and your hips on my hips. I wanted to stay there forever, between your sheets and the Arctic air blasting from your AC and play scenes in my head of the two of us walking French Bulldogs down the Pont de Arc in Paris. I wanted to order a pizza and watch Weeds on your couch and have a couple of kids with you. I wanted to erase what a disgusting, miserable person I was, and at the same time I wanted you to see me like that forever. I was a monster, and you still loved me.

I always wonder if those sleeping snapshots of Joel and Clementine on your Tumblr are for me. Are the wiggling puppy gifs there for me too? What about the stills from Hotel Chevalier, or the Modest Mouse lyrics? Your body may be gone, I’m gonna carry you in, in my head, in my heart, in my soul. We used to play that every time we exited Caesar Chavez Boulevard, my feet on the dashboard, your hands gripping the steering wheel, or a cigarette, or the loophole on my jeans.

But I know without a doubt which pictures and words you post for her. She’s there in the images of Max Bemis wearing a red plaid shirt, probably the one he wore when you both met him on tour. Those are her hands holding onto that pack of yellow American Spirits, her perfectly manicured fingernails brushing against your ashtray. That’s her in the Brand New lyrics, in the framed photographs of espresso cups and coffee grounds. That’s her in your new beard—the kind I never would have let you grow. That’s her in your posts about the Dallas skyline, or is that me? I can’t tell anymore. I think that’s the worst part; that I can’t really say for sure.

What I can say with certainty is that I remember when you brought me Star Wars pajama bottoms in lieu of flowers when you made a mistake. I remember the time we jumped over the fence at the Strokes concert in Zilker Park and you thought I was crazy but you kissed me anyway. I remember dominating that beer pong championship on our first date and spending our winnings on gasoline and cheeseburgers. I remember the time our nose rings got stuck when we were tongue kissing, how we laughed and laughed and bled on your pillows.

I remember walking through a Wal-Mart off I-35 in the middle of nowhere, the one where we found that trivia book. The first question we flipped to asked: What did Leia say to Han before he was frozen in carbonite?

“I love you.”

I stood on my toes and my lips brushed your chin. You looked at me like I had never been looked at in my whole life. Like I was your best friend, the only girl you’d ever want.

You pushed your tattooed fingers through a messy section of my hair, pulled me in close, and told me you knew. TC Mark

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