You’d kiss me at the front door — lips cold from a few blocks walk with San Francisco wind, your cigarette boy sweater lingering on your shoulders. I have to wonder now, how many times did you fuck me right after? How many times did you throw pillows on my floor like plates meant to break afterwards? Right after you addressed her emotional bids? Her tears? With one of your “infamous pep talks”? How many of your ‘I love you’s were straddled between messages to her, affirming your ex-girlfriend’s needs through a contact in your phone labeled “Andrew?” (After nearly a year together, most would assume he was a rather unstable friend; insatiable).
I tend to see the world in black and white, yes or no, all or nothing. That’s what makes the gray area of life challenging. You loved me and lied to me. You lied about her, about where you were, and whom you were with. You cared for me, you slept next to me every night, but chose to deeply reside in a past relationship, in that dysfunctional delight you felt from being needed by her. I needed you.
The sight of a slightly dirty, middle-aged man carrying a plastic tub of Neapolitan ice cream on the bus can make me cry because I’ve conjured up a story about his attempt to win his children over with frozen sugar during his one night a week with them, post-divorce. And I’m scared it will melt. In the tub. With the red handle. And I’ve imagined this story before the teenager next to me has turned the page of their book. I have an overactive imagination: I’m a writer.
I thought I could be pen pals with her. (I thought I was Mimi Rose from Girls.) It’s amusing now — my attempt to settle this unsettledness through written word. I thought I could accept your friendship with your ex by exchanging letters, by accepting the unacceptable, by ignoring my intuition and replacing it with an action.
I put a stamp on that envelope. I addressed it with my lovely handwriting, a mix of cursive and printing and lengthy vowels that spilled onto the next lines down. She’s fine with it. You said. She wasn’t: you’re a liar.
I can imagine her now, over croissants and tea and she’s laughing (ferociously). With lingering fingertips pointed at questions in a letter from a person desperate to make a relationship work, a person who didn’t know when to give up. She has my addressed envelope, my account of my most embarrassing moment, my inquiries about her life in a letter that I can never take back, a letter that exists in a life that it should never have been a part of.
I often tapped notes in my iPhone while you slept — feebly, snoring softly, with our lower limbs intertwined, ankles tangled, toes lined up like a squad of small monsters, your chest hair falling into an owl shape on your chest. You told me you loved me. Over and over again. You told me so many times a day that the declarations surpassed the number of hours I was awake. That’s the thick, webbed, drowning gray that I want to file away in my mental file cabinet so urgently, but keeps me stuck. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Terrific or terrible.
You said you were home safe, and stumbled your way across dawn and onto my doorstep after a coke binge. You woke me up from a nightmare, calling my phone repeatedly. I thought something tragic had happened, I thought someone must have died. You announced you were on my doorstep, high and slurring and stupid. (You never went home.)
I wasn’t the person you’d call if something bad did occur though, was I? She was. An old lover slept in my bed last weekend, from years ago, a random situation perpetuated by wine quickly consumed after babysitting children with negligent parents.
We laughed in my room about where we had been and what we had done and kissed. I liked reconnecting with him. I liked knowing his history, his family, and what his college bedrooms looked like.
You smell the same. I said. You kiss the same, except you bite less. He said. We talked about broken hearts and how I made him sleep on the floor once. (Or twice?)
I consider us sharing an interaction like that one-day, but then I remember. I remember what the betrayals felt like, those stealthy violations. For the truth of one of your lies to slap me, pushing the air out of my lungs, filling me with anxiety that buzzed through my being.
You said you wanted to marry me. You said you were home. You said you understood. You said you were sure. You said you hardly talked. You said I was wrong. You said you were done with that. You said I came first. You said I was being ridiculous. You’re a liar.
Dating a liar is like a skeleton’s attempt to wrangle wild horses, the only possible outcome is brokenness and defeat. We sat there, you and I, in your apartment, on my blanket, after crying all afternoon, after I realized I had to lie to myself to keep you.
I begged you to tell me what else you’d been dishonest about. Nothing. You said. Any lingering doubt I had about ending our relationship dissolved when I discovered who “Andrew” actually was.
I put on my shoes. I stood up. I fell down. I asked for water. You asked me not to be cold. You asked me to listen to the last thing you’d say to me in person. You said you had never loved someone like me. You said that I taught you to look inward. You said you were sorry.
I dated a liar; you dated a writer. (And you could have at least chosen a gender neutral name.)