CW: Some of the language recalled in conversation is abusive and could be triggering.
I spent a lot of time not loving anybody. Perhaps I was in love with the ribbed sides of books, the smell of their yellowing pages, or the breve at the top of a coffee cup, steamed and foaming against my lips. I loved listening to Lana Del Rey. I loved getting on planes to far-away places, sleeper-trains in Ukraine, elephants in Laos. As a writer, I loved to sink into other-worlds where other-people lived, imagine the color of the brass buttons on their shoes, their tights, the taste and smack of lipgloss on lips that exist in the mind’s eye. I could live vicariously through my characters’ love-lives, throw in aspects of my own at random, recollections of a time when I felt a mouth on mine, or when two hands, big and calloused, cupped my cheeks as I was kissed. I did not want to be touched anymore. I could not think of anyone I would care to have touch me. If I got too hungry for it, I got a new tattoo, and needles filled the blank spaces in my skin; I was whole.
I didn’t fall in love quickly, when I loved him. Which is to say, I knew him a long time before I loved him. The way we met varies depending on who tells it – him or me. He doesn’t tell it anymore, likely won’t. I might as well stop. I won’t ever see him again. And yet I remember it as the smell of a shitty dive-bar. I remember cigarettes and the after-taste of Cheetos in my mouth. I was wearing some kind of skirt from the Kendall and Kylie line and plastic shoes. Someone had spilled an entire beer down my legs and I threw a fit. I couldn’t be bothered to brush my hair, so I had a grey beanie on.
Him, I don’t remember so well. By then my vision was getting blurry with fruity drinks, pineapple and marsachino cherry. My friend and I were giggling by the pool tables. “What if we kissed a guy?” I said. “What if we kissed a stranger?”
She thought I was funny. “What?”
“Yeah, like a competition. Like who could kiss a stranger first. READYSETGO!”
She laughed. We were holding hands and ran across the bar, giddy as kids playing on the swing-set at recess. I didn’t know the boy I would eventually love had heard us, that we were not as quiet as we thought, that he, six feet tall and dark, dark hair, had already taken note of me, thought I was beautiful, and…decided not to talk to me, decided I was drunk. His pool table was near where another of my friends was sitting, and they must have made eye contact, because my friend stood up and whispered something in his ear. When I came back around and sat by my buddy, the tall boy with dark eyes came and extended a hand to me. He introduced himself – “Hi.” I looked at his face for a long time. He went and sat back down and I traipsed up to him. I put my hands on his shoulders and they were broad. His shirt had stripes. He smiled, and his face extended like the Grinch. I decided he was handsome. I said, “Hi, I’m Misty,” and watched as he smiled. I kissed him.
He was sitting down when I started but he stood up. He put his hands on my back and my hat fell of. I kissed him and kissed him, tasted his saliva. It tasted sweet. He wasn’t drinking. His hands were big and I was worried they would pull up my shirt. Perhaps he was my bit of rough. It didn’t matter. I didn’t plan to talk to him again.
But I did. Again and again. He walked me home that night and I sat with him outside the bar next to my house and watched him smoke. He came around a few days later and we went to the playground and swung on the swing-sets. I sat on his lap and buried my face in his shoulder. We hung out again. I made him angry. We stopped talking. I dreamt of him. I saw him at the bus stop. I hugged him. He was angry. We hung out again. Again. And again.
I started to lay in his arms as we watched movies, and he put his leg between my thighs. Or I would lean back against the couch and he would hold my feet against his chest, close to his heart, very near his face, and massage them. He saw me perform my poetry and was, at last, impressed. I saw him smile again. I wanted him to come over every day. I grew addicted to the way I felt when he touched me, addicted to his mouth like an opiate, to resting my neck in the crook of his arm and the rush I felt when he didn’t choke me – other men had choked me. I’d grown afraid of this kind of contact. He didn’t hurt me. He did what I wanted.
I made him angry again and he told me not to talk to him. He had a temper that was not tempered by the fact that I can be unreasonable, ridiculous, not know how to work a VCR. He didn’t remember why he’d been angry with me but assumed it was my fault, whatever I did, and broke everything off a few days before my twenty one pilots concert. I had dreams of him on the train. I dreamt of his arms strong and wide around me, dreamt of his tallness, dreamt of meeting his family. To think he was gone forever was unbearable to me. He was cruel, endlessly cruel, but I worshipped him. When I got home, I found a reason to text him. He texted me back saying, “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to talk?” I couldn’t help it. I kept texting. Shocking things, I think, yes; degrading things, certainly. I said whatever I thought would make him talk to me again. It didn’t matter what.
He didn’t hug me when he picked me up, passed me his cigarette only grudgingly. In his home, I leaned back against the couch and watched as he lectured me, asking me to define words for him, to tell him what friendship meant, how words I’d never heard of (sophistry?) represented who I was in this relationship. I agreed with whatever he said. He was wearing the pants that I liked. They hugged his legs and I wanted to lie across his lap and feel his hands on me, big again, and strong. He was vaping almost ceaselessly. I thought I would die if I could not touch him.
I told him, “You are humiliating me.”
He said, “This is the most respectful I’ve ever been to you in our entire relationship. If I didn’t respect you, I would have hate-fucked you on that mattress. I would have put my hand over your mouth if you screamed.”
I said, “You wouldn’t do that.”
He laughed, but his laughter had that same cruelty, that same mean streak in it that I’d grown used to. I wondered if he would be appeased, or if he’d brought me over just to lecture me and send me on my way.
“Are we done?” I asked, looking away.
“If you’re closing yourself off, we’re done.”
His friend came out and asked if I wanted a ride home. I said no and started making the bed. He corrected me, “I like to sleep with that blanket on top,” and I re-did it. “Is this your internalized misogyny?” he asked me. I said, “I would make the bed for you. I would even cook for you, although I can’t cook.”
He said, “I don’t need you to cook for me; I know how to cook,” and I took off my clothes and sat on the bed, black crop-top and pink underwear. He sat on his couch and vaped. He was talking about something, gesturing with his hands, and I couldn’t stand not touching him for another moment, so I jumped off the bed and got on my knees between his legs and put my arms around his back and buried my head in his stomach and breathed.
He stopped talking. At last, he put his arms around me, touched the small of my back, kissed my hairline. He said, “Ohh, fuck, what are you doing?” and I loved him, I loved him, I loved him. I felt love as a physical presence in my chest, felt it jolting through me like a wound. I experienced love as physical pain and he laid me back on the bed.