The fog draped over the rolling hills, a hijab hiding the stories they had to tell. Secrecy had been long brewed into the air, making any fresh breath a gulp of momentary relief before I plunged back into wondering if I was being a made a fool. Once I stepped on the train, I’d have a week to think about it.
Several times throughout the night before, he’d briefly wake himself up with an especially heavy snore. I’d lay breathless like a corpse until feeling his exhale resume long and slow. The whole process took mere seconds but it was long enough for me to consider catching him in consciousness and asking questions about the purple toothbrush and matching razor I’d seen in the drawer, those damn condom wrappers, and why the push notifications buzzing all night on his phone made it clear he was still actively looking for someone when I was lying right beside him. I had a lot of questions I was pretty sure I didn’t want, or need, answers to. Besides, wasn’t he supposed to be a distraction? Someone to take my mind off the last guy, who was supposed to iron away any creases in my heart from the man before that.
I just don’t understand someone who wants their cake, and pie, and some fucking mini cupcakes and a bag of gummi bears when they have the most delicious and lovely fucking cake (aka you), my best friend texted. 10 minutes before my train would arrive.
I pulled my scarf over my head, the way I would cloak my full body in blankets to feel safe. But even with just my eyes showing, I felt exposed. My heart was still on my sleeve.
As had become habit, thinking about this other Her led to imagining Her. I made Her in my image. Petite brunette, perhaps now too old to be considered a manic pixie dream girl like me – but perhaps not, he was 30-something and younger women were certainly possible for him – with a defining facial feature akin to my crooked nose, and with tiny hands that probably delighted him by way of making his dick look huge in comparison. Once I’d conjured my doppelgänger, I gave Her traits that countered my less desirable ones, like self assurance, a more hearty sarcastic streak, and better taste in literature. From there I twisted her into a more beautiful creature – maybe darker skin or even something exotic like dreads (those would be exotic to a country-raised boy, right?). Oh, and full of better ideas – maybe she owned not just a sleeping bag but an entire box of camping gear (bet she’s got a stove), making a weekend jaunt to pitch a tent at the lake even more possible.
I couldn’t help but taste resentment (so much less pleasurable than a peppermint) in the back of my throat, mixed in with the mucasy remnants of a cold. If only indignation could cure phlegm. I had nothing to resent him for; he’d made me zero promises. Not fidelity, not even a label. In fact, he’d all but done the opposite of that, ignoring the half-implied, three-quarters explicit question, “Are you seeing someone else?” Sure, he said the last thing he wanted was for me to be sad. But frankly, the first thing I needed was for him to be honest.
As we’d fallen asleep last night, I’d murmured from half dreams, “Do you think I’ll hurt you?” It was a crumble off the cookie of an hours-old conversation about feelings and fears.
“No,” he’d scoffed. He’d actually scoffed! Like in Jane Austen novel.
“Do you think you’ll hurt me?”
That he was narcissistic enough to fancy he might break me made the asleep side of me giggle. He had no idea. I’d written a poem years before about that.
you can’t break me
[partly because i’m unbreakable,
partly because i won’t let you]
but it sure will be fun to watch you try.
and if i somehow manage to break you
[which would be mildly hi-larious
as i’m not prone to breaking anything,
thought it’s been known to happen from time to time]
please be aware it will be
a completely accidental incident
and i’ll probably make you a really nice card from construction paper and goldfish crackers
Yes, my heart was on my sleeve and thus on the line. But it always was. I’d grown adept at reaching over to where it had spilled, smoothing it back into place. Sometimes hastily, so new fissures showed scarring; sometimes slowly, to the point I couldn’t tell it had fallen in the first place.
Perhaps the best news from all of that – and all of whatever this might be – was in time, I’d only remember the good stuff. How when I’d asked where he kept the towels he’d said, “I don’t domesticate towels!” and the night we’d laid awake with our legs tangled talking about hospice and dying and he’d asked me to wake him up if I had a panic attack.
I didn’t doubt that he liked me. I doubted that he liked me enough.
There are plenty of answers to these questions, I texted my friend as I stepped on the train. I need to not make assumptions. And I need to take a deep breath and tell myself that it’s okay either way.