I think I’ve circled the topic of you and me long enough.
For a long time I allowed an image of you to stay fixed in my memory, warmed by fondness, lightened by nostalgia. There was a time when we had a language all our own, a mythology of munchkins and gumps and grumps and gnomes and other small, bearded fantastical beings that followed us and watched over all of our love; we shared a tone of voice both babyish and otherworldly; we kindled a romance both capacious and cloistered; we fostered a need for one another that was sustaining but never satisfying. And when I was deep in the murk of it, I thought it was the greatest human connection that would ever happen to me.
I still have so many cloying memories that cling unfairly to my mental evaluation of you. I used to fling myself at you in the kitchen of the house on Maynard; it wasn’t a romantic or sexual embrace, it was a goofy, pratty trust-fall, my arms spread, my face puffed out. There were times when you held me close in the freezing cold attic and you said, let’s make a memory. Let’s fix who we are and what’s happening so it stays in our minds. And I did, and I find that they won’t go away, these flashes of joy that felt sad and final even when they were happening, these tender feelings that still swell in me even when love for you can’t anymore, because you ruined it.
There were ice fights and long walks and late night runs to the Giant Eagle for hard candy to suck on; there were long kisses and knocking shoes on the floor of the house party while everyone drunkenly watched us roll around together. There was laughter and long bedtime chats where you tried to memorize the names and backstories of all my relatives. There were long drives across the country, Johnny Cash’s then-new album playing as Nebraska’s frigid plains swallowed us up; Sufjan Stevens crying with jubilant horns as the Chicago Skyway took us inside itself. There were states and cities, cataloged — where have we been, where have we kissed, where have we had sex, where will we go, where will we live someday. There were fears, spirit-shaking, overwrought, melodramatic, that someday what we had would end.
I am so glad it did end.
— — –
In my Google Calendar, there is an event five or ten years in the future, on our anniversary. In it, a long spool of text unravels all my sad drunken memories of you. I wrote it when we were breaking up, in the spring of 2009, and scheduled it many years ahead. In the message, I remind my future self of all the tender moments we shared together, and all the roles you served that cannot be replaced or recast. No one else will ever be your first, I chided myself. No one else will ever be the one who attended you father’s funeral, who saw your uncle buckle with grief and turn red like a setting, bleeding sun over a dying earth. No one else will ever know you when your name was different, when you were new and hopeful and too sensitive to live.
Now I can look back at this message from my younger self and say, good riddance. I don’t want to anyone to be that primordial. I don’t want to need that person. I don’t want to be a lover with no past. It’s gross and weak and it never felt good, and I never have to be that person again.
The message on the calendar warns me that time is running out. How young and self-hating was the person who wrote that? No wait, I can answer that: 21, and very. She tells me to reach out to you, to marry you, that there’s still time. That there is no one else for me but you.
I’m so glad to be making a fool of her.
— — –
When I met you, you were outgoing and affable to everyone you met. I could not tell if you liked me, or if you just needed everyone to like you. At a mixer in the dorms, you said your favorite movie was Chicken Run. I remember my first thought was “Oh, this dude thinks he’s hilarious.” You were always quoting books and reenacting scenes from movies. This passed for having an acute sense of humor then.
We played flag football. Your roommates and my roommates shared a bottle of Tequila and a game of Taboo on the floor of my room while I played with my new ear piercings. I’d got them at a Walmart right after turning 18. I was tan and sun-blonde after a long summer of life guarding.
You asked me what my race was. You thought I wasn’t white. You made some off-handed joke about dipping your wick. I was not offended. I was a libertarian then, and trying very hard to be post-feminist, cool, easy to like. I was never easy to like or easy to know, and you’d never let me forget that.
We made out on a beer-stained couch in a split-level next to a pizza shop. The crowd of seniors asked my friends what our names were, and then cheered us on. You had entered into a bet with your roommates; who could go the longest without orgasming by any means? As we fumbled in your bunk you pulled out your phone to check the date and time, never parting our lips, just darting your eyes at the dark green glow as our teeth nearly knocked. You needed a time stamp to give your buddies.
I was drunk. I was drunk the next time too. I was eager to lose my virginity. You said no, I was drunk. I said you were “so decent”.
You proved me wrong.
— — –
Every moment we spent together you ranted and wheedled and pushed. I spent a whole day in bed crying and skipping my classes. And then I gave you what you wanted. You could not believe I’d never done it before. You became jealous and hostile, accusing me of not copping to the clearly voluminous experience I apparently had. Names and dates were demanded. I sobbed and stayed in bed. None of it was true. I’d never been with anyone before you.
We made up. We walked together to the pool. I wore my bikini and somebody honked and you called me the Whore of Babylon. We argued in the whirlpool and you stormed away. You took me to a Greek restaurant and paid with your parent’s money.
I stayed for the summer, so you stayed for the summer, blaming me the entire time for all the parties and drugs you were missing. We attended an Astronomy class with a professor who had a thick Austrian accent. You pushed me into a threesome. You pushed a mutual female friend into screwing an acquaintance in front of you. You moved in with my friends and bought ecstasy from a dealer in the courtyard. I found you nude in the living room with Skinimax on full volume.
— — –
We went west. Your dad was a bigot but he was kind to me. Your mom was a silly doormat, often called dumb, quick to cry. I had a dull intimation that you wanted me to be like her. You never liked my smarts. You literally patted me on the head and clapped and whistled to get my attention. I pretended it was endearing.
Your friends were rapists. I listened to their stories of guilting women, insulting women, and taking advantage of women in their sleep. These stories were recounted as funny. These were straight-A geniuses at one of the country’s most competitive and illustrious public high schools. We drove to Columbine, looked at the building where all the deaths happened. It did not feel uncanny at all.
We went to Aspen and saw a baby bear trapped in a tree in the outdoor mall. The cops shot it with an air gun and dragged it down by its throat. Every bear has two-strikes. If it is seen down in the city more than once it is eliminated. This baby bear was given his reprieve. We ate pizza and drank homemade root beer.
— — –
You gave me a necklace. Silver and aquamarine. Years later, when I finally made out with someone else it kept falling down my neck and into his mouth. At a bar in the Short North on my 21st birthday, the stone fell out, leaving behind a square silver setting, a vessel without a ghost. I wore it like that for a year until I gave up on you.
We moved into a big house with a bushy pine tree crushing its roof. We shared an attic that sweltered in the summer and froze in the winter. Your parents moved their furniture in. Your mother bought you underwear and dropped off your prescriptions. They gave you money each week which you spent on Banquet meals and 30 racks of Keystone. The cans covered my living space. You found a giant winged insect in a can of Chef Boyardee.
You did laundry maybe twice, and showered next to never. A large black-red cyst formed at the nape of your neck. It hovered above your collar, murky and occluded with puss and blood. It would burst spontaneously sometimes and leak over your dirty clothes. I held paper towels to it while you moaned, sopped your ugliness up.
You stopped your medication. That was my fault. Panic attacks came. You drank and met with a therapist. You put Keystone in cereal. It has a slightly vanilla taste, compared to the other cheapo beers. I trusted your judgment; you were a connoisseur. Natty Ice was bitter; Rolling Rock was like water; Labatt was sophisticated; Old Style was just fine. You drank 20, 30 a day and fell to the floor. You’d pretend to be dead then berate me for not calling 911. You’d pull me in for a kiss then act disgusted.
— — –
I didn’t want you. I needed your support, wanted you by my side a night, but I was disgusted by your body and put off by your mistreatment. You called me stupid and emotional. But useless was the worst word. Sometimes it was even a pet name, doled out in syrupy tones while I screwed something up: oh my poor little useless-ton.
You nagged me about sex. I felt awful for not giving it. I felt awful when I gave it. I still remember the sickly saccharine, hot pink warming lube you used to have. Strawberry. I had to throw out a creamy shampoo that reminded me of those nights, freezing in the attic, face tight in a grimace.
lips and eyes quivered long before the tears came. You didn’t care. You didn’t notice. Didn’t matter what the crying was about. It was always unattractive, and that was punishable.
Am I making you mad yet? Do you feel slandered? Which part isn’t true? Is it just that I left out how…frustrated you were? How many times you begged me and I rebuffed you? I should have dumped you sooner; you’re right. But there is nothing dishonest or manipulative in a no.
— — –
I hit the angled walls of the attic with my head. I sobbed and hid in the bathroom. I drove with bleary eyes and nearly struck a car in the garage by the engineering building. I got on a Megabus and you wrote in the frost on the windows. I will always love you Erika. Be happy.
We talked on the phone with two states separating us. Together we watched The Big Green. You asked me for advice about graduate school applications. I read your blog. We Skyped until you begged me to take my top off and I flipped the screen down and stalked into the kitchen, shoving cookie dough into my mouth to absorb cries. We made plans to visit the German Christmas Market and then you arrived and I kicked you out.
Life was miserable that first winter without you. Chicago got dark so much sooner. The studio was tomb-like and my only window faced a brick wall. I was certain I’d blown my one love, doomed myself to a lifetime of solitude. You told me I’d grow old and move in with my mother and dodder away into nonexistence, sputtering with regrets.
— — –
I was harassed and assaulted and you said that made me disgusting and unattractive. You went to Poland. A group of men battered you and a cop stole your wallet. I curled up on the far edge of my mattress, phone jammed in my ear, wanting to die but having to stay alive to stay with on the line you, to wake at odd hours and help you process your grief.
You dated a woman, a Polish lighting director for a theater. She was being abused by her boss. You moved with her to Pittsburgh. Suddenly you became effusive with praise. She was so special, so innocent, so cute. You always knew how to bag a good-looking girl with low self-worth. You told me that after you dumped her. She needed a Visa and she loved you and you sent her back. No matter, you told me, reassuring yourself. It was just a matter of finding another girl with a pretty smile and sad, unsure eyes.
— — –
I went to a wedding and encountered you for the first time in four years. I was newly graduated, in a relationship both fulfilling and secure. I wore a crimson dress with a long tract of cleavage and a bare back revealing a fresh tattoo. It included a quote that I’d always wanted, which you hated. If it cannot be measured, it does not exist.
I danced with my friends the whole night. A glass of champagne was forever in my hand. We whirled around the floor and belted atonally and dashed around the bride. I remembered a time when I was hurling your old beer bottles into a recycling bin, back in Columbus, and how you screamed at me and made me silent. Now I danced and shrieked and flirted with the groom’s brother. You played with your napkin ring. You seemed afraid of me.
I had offered you a place to stay, but then got afraid at the prospect. You stayed in a hotel down the street. I crashed with a friend, wearing a t-shirt and translucent black hose and nothing else. I went down to breakfast like that, and you sat at the end of the buffet table and watched me argue with the groom’s friend, a Harvard student who did not believe consumption of an artist’s work was ever an endorsement of that artist’s values. I won decidedly. The groom and bride called it before it got tense.
You looked down. You always hated when I “acted like a debater”. Never mind that I’d once been in the top 7 in country in competitive debate. That was before I met you and let you make me mild. You left without saying goodbye. I felt like a tiger standing over a carcass.
— — –
I loved you. You loved when I was flinching and mild. You loved when I cleaned up your beer cans and assented to whatever you asked. You loved my body and my low self-esteem; you loved how I could impress your friends at parties; you loved when I was weak, or stupid, or unsure. You loved when I was cloudy-headed, or drunk, or desperate to please. You loved when I went along or when I was terrified. And as much as you would claim otherwise, you loved when my sadness was bottomless and losing you was my deepest fear.
You hated me when I was angry, or self-loving, or fine. You hated me when I disagreed, or countered, or said no. You hated me when I was confident, when I had goals, when I blamed you, when I moved away. You even hated me when I was crying. It was hard. It wasn’t sexy.
And I still cry plenty. Just not ever about you.
Now, when it comes to you, I’m just angry. I remember us tangled in bedsheets and giggling. I can picture trails of paper hearts, mounds of stuffed animals, bottles of wine, vases of flowers, steaks and hands held and whispers shared on the sidewalk when we both were naive. Doesn’t matter. I feel tender emotions for the girl who saw all that, I feel gratitude to her for recording it in our shared mind. But I feel nothing for you but fury.
And it feels good. It feels right. It doesn’t feel petty. You may never read this, but I know you know why. You have always known. You were not good to me. You never even loved me. Your mistreatment was a mindfuck that took me 100 entries to sort out, but I might as well be plain. I’m not afraid of truth.
Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.