He made her feel like she was part of the world. And the funny thing was, she thought she had already experienced that feeling. She had been in love once, a time that felt an age away, when she was young and dumb and love felt so natural she never questioned until it left. And then she felt flayed alive, trying to cling onto a life and a dream that had already faded, and she flayed the people around her. But she had stopped. She had let the past wash away until it only became a dull ache of remorse and abused memories. She had learned to laugh again. She had learned to reach out and care again. She only realized how much she had shoved the world away until she let it wash back over her. And then she met him.
She had seen him, before, in the midst of all that pain. He was an object, nothing more, pleasant to look at and difficult to capture on paper. There was one conversation, awkward and stilted, because the world had barely started to seep back in through the cracks.
The world was willingly embraced and when they spoke it was with a different result. She heard things come out of his mouth that she believed only existed in her head. Because dreams could never be more than simple brain fantasies. Except when they were so much more. And to hear someone mention those experiences that made her feel weird and crazy was like Fourth of July inside of her skull.
She could never remember who mentioned it first. And perhaps then was when her art changed from something that could be good into something that was grand.
Still, the world’s stiff waters was a hard thing to embrace and she couldn’t quite manage to speak to him again. She kept him at arm’s length, because she knew, even then, that it would be an inevitable fall.
Besides, he liked her friend, and he was devastatingly handsome and who even knew how to talk to people that good looking? She replayed the feeling of hearing about dreams, about hearing her thoughts come out of someone else’s lips, more times than she would care to admit.
But the month passed and the warm air of summer did much to ease the passage away from the hermit. She barely thought about him, for who feels separate when one is physically separated from the world at large?
Fall came to pass, as it does on occasion, and fate had put him there, constantly in the corner of her eye. It should be a nice metaphor, but it’s not. Three hours a day, four days a week, he’s there, sitting, creating, being.
When it starts, she can’t remember. He’d make a blunt statement, clearly put out there for attention, and she would wander the five or so steps to look at what he was working on. But even this seems fairly far along. At some point she was avoiding him, trying to pass by the fascination which would be fueled by attraction of both mind and body that would easily turn to something more.
But he was intelligent and attractive and sensitive and always there and the dreams she simply couldn’t stop having. He got under her skin and when it became easy to talk to him, she realized she quite liked him there. Anything more, though, was simply too much for someone who was continuously burned by love. She constantly ignored how she wanted to step just a little closer, burn into her brain the sight of his eyes as they looked up at her through his fabulous hair, the way she was chasing away thoughts of lean, sinewy muscle that she tried to capture so many times on paper, back when he didn’t mean a thing.
And then she went out with friends. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. She had wanted him to, by all means, but had no idea how to drag along a guy to hang out with people he never talked to. But circumstances let it all fall into place, just as convenient as his proximity, and he got drunk and she got more drunk than she was used to and it all felt just so right. The feel of leaning against him, of laughing with him and their heads touching, of being on his arm, being lead unsteadily, and of the world fading to just him, despite friends she adored and music she hated.
And she woke up the next day and knew. She knew that she wanted him and could happily spend the foreseeable future just like that night; laughing and sharing stories and curling against his side and mining his clever, learned brain. It frightened her. She spent the weekend ignoring, trying to come to terms and believing she had. But concrete things are so much worse than memories. Being there, drowned in things that reminded her of him, became in a way symbols of him, set her trembling in fear.
To describe the exact nature of the fear would be a hard thing. It was a slew of fright over her own emotions, of the helplessness of being attracted to him, of the reality of once again having a crush on someone with a girlfriend, of long forgotten memories of a budding sexuality crushed by rape. She saw him and hated the odd, stilted conversation that followed. She explained to the friend that watched as she broke in front of her. She decided she was done shattering in silence.
But by Wednesday she was under control. She knew he was with his girlfriend, that all of those feelings she had would have time to simmer and for her to get used to him. So she was going to talk to him like normal and come to terms with the fact that she liked him. She wrote him a letter, a horrid, awkward affair, attempting to justify the existence of such a revealing object and yet convey her thoughts on him without giving too much away. It’s likely she failed. Only he could say. In return she received the best hug of her life; tight and warm and feeling like another human being saw the sun in her pathetic fumbling. It was long enough that she could feel comfortable curling against him as he squeezed her. It was long enough that she suddenly became aware of his body against hers. The hug ended before she could panic at her own emotions. They shared food and chatted giddily. He said he broke up with his girlfriend. She really should have known, with the hug and the look in his eye and the premonition she had felt the moment she woke up. Instead she rationalized the realization away. She simply took it as a good sign and tore herself away from him to go to class.
She returned, happy and giddy at this turn of events. He came by later with a note, practically vibrating and she had to shoo him away so she could read in peace.
The letter made her mind go blank. She had to run to the church, the best place for the calming of the soul. The possibilities of a future relationship was there, almost violently thrown at her with its suddenness. She didn’t have weeks to get used to the idea that she could easily grow to love him. It was there, asking for an answer, too soon, both to her realization, but, as was dawning on her with increasing dread, to the breaking up with his girlfriend. She refused him.
With his actions, she had no choice. If she was in the opposite position, dating him and then suddenly separated and watching him immediately took up with another girl, she would feel worthless and cast aside and thinking perhaps that he hadn’t really cared all along. She couldn’t do that to another human being. He said being friends was fine, but at the same time he didn’t show up for those three hours of class.
It should have been the end of it, or at the very least a start to a slower courting. She knew, even then, that it wouldn’t be easy, knew that she had hurdles of issues to get through first. But it wasn’t the end of the problems the girlfriend would cause. They worked together every other day for those three hours. She thought it wouldn’t bother her. She thought perhaps they wouldn’t work together and it wouldn’t bother her for long. And then she learns that they aren’t quite as broken up as she’s lead to believe. By his own admission, to be true, but the girlfriend doesn’t leave his station and she can hear each and every one of their interactions despite her growing hatred of those overheard conversations. But it is a slowly building worry, and one that she feels is her being needlessly possessive of a man that’s not even hers. She explodes at him, misreading a text. She’s back at that rape because of some little thing he’s said. She misreads and wants to kill him. She sends him an angry text and even now it’s almost impossible to discern where all the pieces fit into place. Because she gives him her number as a sort of apology and because she wants to give it to him anyway. Her mind says that it is the exploding incident that was the cause, but it wouldn’t have gotten so bad if she hadn’t had his number. She wouldn’t have told him about the rape otherwise. It freed a little something to tell him, dislodging a shard she had been carried for years upon years.
They keep passing notes, her being ever honest, especially after the admission of the rape. She feels his are lacking in some way, but she knows that few can articulate as well as her through pen and paper.
She feels jittery. She can’t eat. She’s sleeping poorly. She can’t paint and that is one of the most distressing things of all. That and the sight of her ribs. She tells someone who she’s been avoiding telling, for this friend spends even more time with him than she does. But the friend gives out so much sympathy that she simply can’t turn it down. And the friend tells her that she must get answers about the relationship status of him and the girlfriend.
So she writes a few letters. One in the depression after speaking with the friend, where she lists her fears and her reservations. Another was written earlier, during a sweet weekend of texting poetry and silly things back and forth. A third one followed that, accumulation of acknowledging what he meant to her. She tells him of her feelings, how he made her feel for the first time in her life like she wasn’t crazy or weird, that she felt connected to another human on a level she never dared hope for. She tells him of how this feeling of acceptance allowed her to open up to people she liked, but never allowed herself to love. These three letters he would have seen all at once.
And the letter she receives in return is…well, its unlike what she expected. She does not receive her answer about the girlfriend. He tells her about his mental illness and the fact that he slept with a damaged girl she hated and just how much his girlfriend means to him. All three of these things are shocking. The mental illness, probably his most fearful one, she shrugs off. The fucking of that girl he hated she can barely fathom and it takes her a little while to figure out what it all means. But it’s the girlfriend that stings the most. Because on that glorious weekend of texting he reconsidered leaving the girlfriend at all. Because he’s thought about marrying the girlfriend. Because the girlfriend’s special and understands him and it suddenly it feels like she’s only going to be the girlfriend’s replacement. And then she realizes that if he feels this way about the girlfriend, he’s probably not going to leave her after all.
So she bites the bullet. She sees how fickle his love is and she knows how devoted her own is. She knows that if she loves him, he will hurt her beyond belief. He’s already hurting her and what she feels for him is a high level affection. She writes all of this down, in a way that is perhaps too blunt, but with the same honesty as the rest of her letters.
Then it turns out the girlfriend has read all of the texts. The moments she thought were theirs turned out not to be so. The girlfriend had read about the rape. And suddenly she couldn’t handle it anymore, couldn’t handle him or the girlfriend or the pain any longer. She had given him so much, and yet it seemed that he couldn’t even give her privacy or his heart. She lashed out, refusing to talk to him. He sent back a note that seemed to say that he was trying to use all of the tenderly given life stories against her. He didn’t actually use them, but the intent was clear.
Sitting back as I’ve written this…I guess I’m reminded just how close I was to loving him. I see now that when he tried to make things go farther…I liked him a hell of a lot less. Perhaps that was all that second to the last note was; a reaffirmation to myself as to why I thought I could love him. I’m sitting here and it’s been a week and I’m still so furious. Not so much when I write it like this, but when I see him, and especially when I see her working next to him. It’s a reminder that he didn’t care, not like I did. And yet, I firmly believe that he is sitting somewhere thinking the exact same about me. That I gave up too soon. That I clearly didn’t want what he wanted. Which one of us would be right? I’m determined to say I am in the right, but I am naturally biased. Sitting back, however, I wonder how much of it is her craziness? If she guilted him into staying, if she performed a ritual, if she purposely pushed me to the breaking point? I don’t know her, not at all. And she would be an easy target for the blame. I don’t want, on one level, to let all that energy to go to waste. I gave him a lot affection and care when it was just a simple friendship and I desperately wish I had never lost that.