I wish you wanted to take my picture, I said, and I tried not to pout. I knew he hated that.
Baby, he said. He didn’t try to argue, though.
He was a portrait photographer. A good one. He took photos of actresses and models and fashion designers and musicians and sometimes normal people. Usually girls. Always beautiful, often in an unusual way. I figured that’s why he hadn’t ever taken me to the arboretum when the light was perfect around four-thirty on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, why he had never asked me to sit on the little wooden chair in the living room while the early morning light filtered through the warped glass windows of our 1940’s apartment. I wasn’t anything like beautiful.
His hair was shaggy and usually unclean, and he had a bushy beard. His skin was tanned from hiking and running and sailing outside. The weird thing about him was that he was this New England-raised, super wealthy, snobby, kind of awful guy, but he was so damn cool, and all of the controversial contemporary artists and indie rockers just loved him. I hated that.
I put the kettle on for tea. I measured out the good green tea from the little tea house down the road, and pulled out the Japanese tea set. I felt like we hardly spent time together anymore. The tea was steeping and I went to the bathroom to comb my hair. I’m heading out, he said, as he opened the door. He didn’t wait for me to say goodbye. I heard the door shut and I said it anyway.
I’m afraid to think that I might make a decision that would lead me away from you; that I would return to from where I came, and this time, you would not go with me. You’ve told me, and I know it, but I wonder at what point I have to start making decisions for me. We’ve both made sacrifices, I know. I love you deeply, but I’m afraid of your immaturity and the way you can be so lazy and how I think you might never get a job. (Nor may I, but at least I’m trying.) I want you wholly and completely, but I don’t know if that can continue to define me. Then again, I fear I may realize I’ve made an awful mistake if I leave you for a city I once loved. Our life has grown comfortable, but it is still warm and vibrant and full of love. Wouldn’t I be so foolish to give it up for sunny weather and friends who don’t answer their phones? For a city I can navigate easily and bars where I’m a regular and a place that made the most sense when I existed in it with you? I feel so lost, darling, and so confused.
The problem is that everything feels so far away, sometimes. The problem is that I can barely remember the way it felt to lay in your arms. The problem is that I am tired and restless and very lonely. The problem is that I feel like I’m withering away and I don’t know how to stop it. The problem is that your letters are so damn sweet, and you write about how wonderful things will be when we pack our things up and make our way out west, but the truth is that I am fucking terrified.
Before you left I said, maybe you could write me a letter, and you laughed. I decided I wouldn’t send you a letter to spite you, but here I am, writing this goddamn thing. You’re twenty-two and still sort of a boy, if you know what I mean, and I’ll be twenty-six in a few weeks and I wonder if you’ll ever stop needing to leave, go, ramble when the summer rolls around. I’m making plans, you know, for me and you. I’m ready. It shouldn’t seem so strange to load my things in the car and tell my parents not to worry, everything will be okay, even if I’m not really sure that it will be. It’s not so strange, is it, to follow you and my dreams of you—I wonder if they are the same?—to struggle to pay the rent and to sleep on thrifted furniture that gives me the creeps.
I wish I knew what it is that you’re looking for. Why is it that your feet set to wandering come summertime? I wonder why I’m not enough to make you hang your hat up and build a little home with me.
Anyway, I love you.
We had a fight and I am waiting it out at a coffee shop, ignoring the work I need to do and torturing myself by reading Modern Love—tales of love that worked out, and relationships that fizzled. I don’t know which makes me feel worse. I wonder when you can get to that place where you can safely point to how things shook out, and I realize you never can until it’s over. It’s a little dark, isn’t it?
Our story might go:
We met, drunk, at a bar and the next night we made dinner and then we made love. He moved in three weeks later and we traveled across the country together that first summer. We held each other every night and I kissed his back while he slept. (I always woke up first.) But he’s a vagabond, born to ramble, as the song goes, and when summer comes around he’s got this need to fly and this time I can’t go with him, and I can’t stand that he doesn’t want to stay here with me, and he packs up his things and goes and I cry for months. I am never the same; this was my big love.
We meet drunk, at a bar, and we’re inseparable ever after. Speed bumps along the way, of course, and one day I’m sitting sad in a coffee shop, close to tears, unable to touch my tea. (I was crying in a coffee shop the day he told me he loved me, too.) An hour later, his car pulls into the parking lot and he sits down across from me and says he loves me and he is sorry and he doesn’t want to go. We hold each other every night and we finish each others’ sentences and we cook something together when we’re invited to a potluck. After seven years together we get married in a forest or by the ocean, or we don’t get married because it’s not necessary, but it’s me and him, my love and I, we are one, we are together, and we never won’t be.
My best friend hopes to be engaged to her boyfriend in a very sensible “six to eight months,” and mine and I are moving out and it’s not because we’re not still in love, I don’t think. I wonder where we will put our things, who will get the painting he gave me for my twenty-third birthday and the cast iron skillet and if our bikes will be lonely when they aren’t resting against the living room wall together anymore. I wonder how I will sleep without his arm around me, how I will eat without making our favorite dinners for the two of us. I know that I will get too drunk drinking full beers instead of half the pint. I probably will need it. Surely I will cry myself to sleep every night and I have to hope that he will miss me when he leaves, and that it will be enough to make him want to come home.
I tell him that I’m not sure it will work, because I don’t understand how we can leave our infinitely large little life for something unsettled. He wants to go, and I want to, too, but I haven’t got the balls. I wonder if he will still call, if he will meet another girl up north, or out west, or wherever the hell he goes. I wonder why I’m not enough. I wonder if I ever could be. Somehow our relationship is going in reverse, because we moved in together after knowing one another for two weeks, and now we’re moving out and he’s moving away and I’m pretty certain that I’m stuck.
Sometimes I feel certain that it’s over. It’s terrifying. I love him, but he drives me crazy, lately. A lot. I’m quick to anger with him and sometimes I shut myself into the bathroom and let out silent screams because I don’t want to let him see how frustrated I am with him. But I am short with him, and he with me, and sometimes it feels like there’s nothing left to say between us at all.
It’s strange; my friends tell me that our relationship is so perfect. But they don’t know that it is slowly dying. Sometimes I think that I want to be alone forever. I’m not sure that I can handle being responsible for fitting my life together with someone else’s.
it became our little ritual: coffee and bagels and a walk in the park on Sunday mornings. After that first day, there was never any shortage of things to say and I put my shirts in the closet beside his. When my mother met him, she said, like Huckleberry Finn? and he laughed like it was the cleverest joke he’d ever heard. I squeezed his hand tight. He was the greatest man I ever loved.
Falling out of love at a coffee shop.
He was drinking coffee and she was tearing a napkin into little tiny pieces. Neither spoke. I had a good sense, though, of the words they wanted to say but couldn’t. She thought he didn’t pay her enough attention. He couldn’t handle her constant mood swings, the way she would be happy and laughing when he came home and sobbing by dinnertime. She wondered if there was someone else. He swore there wasn’t. But the thought had crossed his mind. She didn’t know how he could even think of that. Don’t you love me? she wondered. He did, he would say, but sometimes love fades into something different from passion and desire and playing hooky to stay in bed all day. She didn’t clear the bits of napkin off of the table, but she got up without a word and left and I saw a single teardrop fall down her lovely cheek. He kept sipping his coffee and behind his glasses, his eyes didn’t betray any emotion at all.
I remember the night I realized he was all wrong for me so well. We had been together—or something like it—for a few months, and I was smitten. He treated my like shit, you know. We saw each other when he wanted to see me. He ate all of my food and he borrowed my car without permission and when I let him sleep in at my place after I had to leave for class, he would use my computer to watch porn, and leave the tissues on the bed. But still, I thought he was the greatest.
That night, he was going out with his boy—I should have known, probably, that a guy who calls his friends “his boys” wasn’t really my type. His friend needed to get laid, and I shouldn’t come out with them. This meant that he wanted to pick someone up, too. We had just slept together. He drove me home and when he kissed me goodbye, I started to hyperventilate. How could he kiss me and then go to some smoky bar and flirt with some horrid girl, probably spilling out of a too-tight tank top, something I would never wear. He would take her back to his place, to the bed where we had slept together most nights over the last few months. He would tell her she was beautiful. She would be drunk off two Jager bombs. He would reach his hand up her skirt and she wouldn’t stop him. He wouldn’t think of me at all. I couldn’t breathe and I was crying hysterically and he said, alright, I’ve got to go. I asked, how can you leave me like this? and I felt like I would never be okay. He shrugged his shoulders and inched toward the door. I told him, I don’t want to be alone right now. I wondered if he would know what I meant. I didn’t want to be alone then. He called my best friend. She didn’t pick up. Can you come to Anna’s place? he said to her voicemail. She’s not feeling so well. He sounded annoyed. I lay down on the couch and put my hands over my face and he shut the door and left and I don’t know how I made it through that night.
I don’t know why I still remember him now, why I can’t shake that awful night from my memory. I’m in love with a good, sweet, kindhearted man who is my world. I couldn’t care less for that cruel boy who certainly never gave a damn about me. But that night feels like a fresh wound, barely healed. It reminds me that I might never be enough.