I had just had a terrible break-up, been thrown out of a last chance desperation relationship, a lower-the-bar can’t-take-it-anymore sort of thing after an assault, when I was spending time with A Boy. Someone I’d known for years, though with a gap in the middle, who popped up at a party with my name in his mouth, as if all the space between I was always a reminder, just like he was for me. Curly hair, kind eyes, all the usual suspects.
When we started seeing each other, it was without capital letters, friends spending time with friends, being delighted, being glad. I made him tea, he made me laugh. When I spent the night over, it was platonic, though appreciative, and only sleep, with a walk alone to the bus-stop in the morning. When suddenly I was single, distraught, he was discreet, but gingerly there in a way that he wasn’t before, and when I stayed over, he kissed me. He kissed me and kissed me and kissed me, moving my body cautiously to press against his, surprising me, attentive, his white linen shirt on the floor, mine unbuttoned and left behind. And I was okay with that.
The next night I was over, his mouth moved from mine to my throat, to the clavicle triangle of my collarbone, to the space between my breasts, and down, purposefully, towards a wonderful idea. I was impressed, ye gods, I was, I’ll never forget it, show me ten men who claim it’s their favorite thing and I’ll show you nine liars, but it was too soon. No, said my hands, no, my knees, my angle and body. I pulled him back up the bed and we stayed there until we fell asleep, nestled together like a carving.
I was terrified of the timing, of the brutal year I’d had bleeding in like poison, of the nightmares I’d still been having of the attack, of why I continued to say no. Eventually, after two weeks more of identical nights, I finally did not call. Sometimes I did not even pick up the phone. The relationship, such as it was, quietly expired. Trapped in myself, we stopped talking, and barely said hello in the street. I felt like I should have had a brand across my forehead, the word ruined in copperplate block letters as if typed there, my blood for black ink.
Years went by, accidentally as they do, the friendship slowly healed in our absence, though never completely, while still I never explained, never sat him down and told him, “Look, I was cagey, but it was a bad year. It was never your fault.” Words well known that don’t generally come out in casual conversation, “I should have told you. I love you. I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Please forgive me.”
I can look back with all the grand power of retrospect and think I didn’t too bad considering my age, considering the date and the time and how much the trauma of my reasons was wrecking me. Considering that trip to the doctor, considering that night I spent up too unhappy with my memories to get back to sleep. I can look back and think a fade out is not so bad a way to go, considering, always considering, but I don’t really buy it. My skull can’t shake that I wronged him. Social penicillin in action. I feel like I missed a best friend.