Lay on your guilt so that you might get sleep.

You will hurt anything just to feel clean.

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We grew up together, I was nine and you were eight and I’d balance on gravestones, my full wingspan splayed out under that oak tree and you’d watch from the threshold of the church. All of this was unsurprising and each encounter over the next fifteen years was filled with electric. You were special, you were important. You managed to crest the waves of my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood. Car crashes, plane rides, cash registers, you were there. I felt you in my bones from the beginning. We peaked the mountains in Ireland and beer gardens in Germany, and on railways and airway aisles, I felt myself slipping away. I had shed my skin and had grown up and felt nothing. And it’s so unfair that I have no urge to write about you or talk about you, I feel nothing still. How can this happen, how can I toss my childhood away like that and not bat an eyelash, not feel some weighty tug on my heart? There are hard truths of growing up and I guess this is just one of them.

Someone at practice said, “he’s your boyfriend, right?” and I had to say no, but I liked the way it sounded like ice cream to my ears. And I just remember those really cold March nights on the green bench, when everything was dark and every cigarette was you.

 

Healing is a really interesting thing. I feel like I don’t ever talk about it because it’s just happening. I don’t want to talk about it because I want time to heal it organically, and I feel like if I acknowledge the healing, I’m acknowledging the damage and trauma. I’ve come such a long way, and on most days, I feel almost normal again. Small tasks aren’t insurmountable with reminders of what happened, words or phrases no longer teleport me back to each time I found out.  I no longer cry in dim corners of bars when I reach that certain level of drunk. But I still find myself white knuckled, gripping the steering wheel on my morning commute, driving over bridges, or when I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror, looking older, more defined lines tattooing my forehead. There is still so much more healing to go, and these reminders assert that.  I don’t like to talk about the healing because it acknowledges the hurting. It gives something to the pain, and I do not want to give another piece of myself to that ever again.

Dear S.M.

I found myself going back in time, old photos, captions, words. Anything that would give a nod to when it all unraveled. Hoping I could find any clue to why you hurt her. I looked at your eyes to try to find the exact moment when it all changed. I do this every few months, maniacal and veracious I sit down with my spreadsheets and get to work trying to solve this for her, trying to fix her. She’s trying to find herself again while I’m trying to find your reasons.  How can you take someone apart that way and hold their pieces hostage for the rest of imaginable time like that? When she laughs, the trees rustle and the sun warms skin, how could you do that to her. In the photo, your hand tossed wantonly on her shoulder at the EDM concert, was that the moment? But how about two weeks later, you’re standing by the ocean, there it is, there’s her innocence, I keep seeing that in those photos. And I continue to see it as she tries to navigate the Eastern Seaboard or the Rocky Mountains, she’s trying to find what is missing and she’s trying to make sense of it all. You’ve shaken her certainty and her steady footing.  You may have forgotten what you’ve taken from her, but I never will.

When do we choose to stop? If I would’ve stopped with the boy I kissed on trampolines and against oak trees, who tasted like spearmint and taught me how to smoke cigarettes, held me on his front porch in rainstorms and painted abstract versions of me while I wore his sweaters, I would have never felt the pain I felt. I know this, because ten years later on Christmas, I lowered myself onto him in his new apartment in Conshohocken, and the next morning he still asked me to breakfast. He made an Instagram to follow her and make sure I wasn’t being hurt, when he owed me absolutely nothing. All these years later. He was good. I think he’ll always be that way. I drove home slamming my hands against the steering wheel and listening to Beach Fossils trying to justify what had happened and feeling guilty for not feeling guilty. I should’ve stayed. But then I wouldn’t have cut my teeth on growing up with the gap-toothed boy with the peach air freshener and British mother. We’d lay on basement Berber while Algernon spun and he’d go down on me and make me promise never to forget him. I thought the boy who tasted like spearmint was just a pebble next to this boulder of importance. Until the sweaters unraveled and I moved north and I realized the gap-toothed boy was tanned and smart but terribly broken.

I think about the dimness in your dorm room and how we were both raised by very strong mothers and that’s what brings us together. But the terrible things live right below the surface. You’ve sewn them into my skin like initials in a child’s winter coat, and they stay there.

It was just a weird intermingling of strange celestial connections. It’s crazy that I had you in that one place together. That these two gigantic parts of my life overlapped the way they did. I remember the vest I was wearing and how, that night, Eric Bazilian told me about a perfect dirty martini before I knew he was Eric Bazilian and I was trying to get out of there to come to you. It was the night you left. The night with your arms and the red couch and the silent words we held in the 12 inches between us. I remember him calling me, “It’s dark,” he said, “can you come meet me?” and I walked past the pond and the screened-in porch and returned with someone beautiful. “This is Adam, everyone” I said. I made eye contact with you. It was a promise. I wanted to be with Adam, he was beautiful, but I couldn’t stop thinking of you. So I left him with the carpenter bees to fend for himself. You took my photo, and then Adam took our photo. I knew once that night ended, it would all be over. He invited me to leave with him, and I wanted to, but I had to stay. It was the first weekend in December, before the Tullamore Dew and the couch in the art gallery, before I knew him on that piano bench. I wanted more time with both of you, but I knew somewhere down deep, I’d never see you again. Not in this way. So everyone left and we sat on the couch and we replayed all these moments, like defrosting my windshield and a Kinks cassette, cigarettes out of my bedroom window at my father’s house and that time Alex fell out of the tree, and the sleeping. And then I told you. And you looked earnest and sad and you said, “I’m glad you didn’t tell me before. It would’ve made me stay.” And then we sat in silence before exchanging promises. And then you were gone.

It happened so quickly. One minute I didn’t know you and the next you were on top of me on Sara’s back porch. Sometimes I feel like I never got over it, because I didn’t give myself time. Because I convinced myself it wasn’t real like I remembered. The sluggish summer days moved more and more quickly and we’d be lying in the grass at the winery and and I’d feel sick knowing it had to end. Cool air was coming in, pulling us apart. When the days got shorter, so did our time together. And that’s how it had to be. But all this time has passed and I know it had to be real. I remember when we tore my room apart looking for your iPhone, when your father’s anger shined through. I remember lying to them all and driving to the beach and drinking whiskey from water bottles that we hid in a picnic basket.  And on the way home, sunburnt, we played pool at The Moose. I remember shaking, telling Eric about you through drags of a cigarette during a stifling day, out on the porch. I remember Eric hating your salmon colored shirt. I remember skinny dipping in Shawn’s pool in front of those construction workers in midday. Sometimes my heart still swells for that time, fumbling around. Not being able to control where we were going, and not wanting to, because we liked how it felt. And when I drive by your parents house, I still get that feeling, I still look for your bedroom light. When August feels like autumn, I remember.

The string has unraveled to one last snippet of yarn. And I don’t need it. I’m the scissors and it is taught and waiting for me to sheer through it, until it falls, into the deep depths of my post cerebral memory.