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  • Writer's pictureSean

At arms length

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

1. It was super late. That was how we did things. Almost always after dinner and never in public. Hours would pass as we talked. She told me about the newest insights she’d gained with her therapist and I’d tell her whatever I was doing that I thought would most impress her. We just sat at the empty library playground until well past midnight. I never knew how to sit, where to put my legs, or to bring enough layers. I would always end up freezing and shivering, which at least made for a seamless transition to walking back to the car.

2. I loved the way her blonde hair fell like a wave of silk around her shoulders. Even in the dark passenger seat of my car, her smile lit a fire in my chest. She insisted we hang out again soon. I felt the beginning of a smile form on my face against my will. I told myself to play it cool, to remain distant, to not give up the power. But there I sat in front of her house, after spending a few hours with her, I felt myself lose control as my body engaged its autopilot. “Yeah, I’ll see you soon,” and we hugged.

When she passed in front of my headlights, I saw her entirely. The darkness was shooed away, her cloak removed to reveal her in all her vulnerable self. There was no place to hide. Unfortunately, she was more beautiful in the headlight’s rays. Her illumination was fleeting but the moment burned in the back of my brain like a solar eclipse. Her bright blonde hair and soft skin, her hand-me-down bomber jacket, permanently etched in the depths of my mind.

Why couldn’t the headlight have revealed a flaw? A sense of discomfort? An awkward step? A pimple? She floated past the light like she barely noticed it at all. I slid the car into first gear and quietly pulled out.

3. Once I rode my motorcycle past her house. It wasn’t on the way to my destination, but I made a turn early just to… I don’t know why, really. Did I want her to notice me? If it were to happen it would be strange, and I realized that maybe it was not a good idea. At the same time, it would mean she would think about me, and if I zipped past without offering her house even a glance, she would not know I was passing through deliberately, would she? She would see I have gotten on with my life, that I have moved on and I’m not a muscle of hers to be flexed on a whim. But while I was still debating the strategic consequences of passing through, my body, on autopilot, made the decision for me. Zooommmm. And just like that it was over. Some ten minutes of deliberation for two seconds of passing. Her car wasn’t even in the driveway.

4. Five years ago, we dated. We met in a high school global history class, where I did my best every day to elicit a smile from her. Succeeding was like receiving a high-five from god. I asked her out on a dare, at a Dunkin Donuts behind the school. I was too scared to ask her unprompted and I think my friends knew I needed a push. Backing down from a challenge was unthinkable, so they challenged me to do what I was dying for. She blushed very hard when I asked her and my heart exploded. Like a combustion engine that explodes to push pistons, my chest pounded. She said yes and there wasn’t any uncertainty about it -- of course she would.

5. Three months later things had changed. We spoke less. Well, at least, she did. I was not oblivious to the change. I had assumed this was how it worked. It starts with intense passion, reality consumed only with thoughts of each other. Class, friends, even food was jettisoned in the face of spending time or thoughts on each other. Gradually, through the course of winter, the lust waned. Then she uttered the fateful words, “We need to talk”. I lost my appetite like I had months before but instead of being full, I was empty. There was a snowstorm the weekend after we talked and I spent the day shoveling, cleaning out a path for the goats and chickens. In my head, I did the same. What to do? I was lost. A blanket of snow crushing my thought process, leaving me lost in a blizzard. In a last-ditch effort, I wrote a letter and called her that night, hoping my words could enchant her as they once did. I thought of the retina-searing teeth she hid behind her fine lips. I was going to dig my way out of this storm, but digging only takes you deeper… I’m sorry. That’s all I got in response. I’m sorry… Click.

Months later, I learned that the night of the breakup, my best friend and she had gone to Applebee’s for dinner together.

Every day after school they went to Dunkin Donuts.

6. They dated for two years. I only ever offered them a friendly gesture in passing. It was painful, humiliating. I triumphed in the small victories, like being with new friends and my girlfriend at prom while they sat quietly in the lobby. I learned later she had torn her dress. I passed awkwardly on my way to the bathroom and flashed a smile.

7. Three years after Applebee’s, she sent me a text. Hey, want to get coffee sometime and catch up? A week before she sent it, my former best friend sent me a very long, apologetic text recounting all our amazing childhood experiences, pleading with me for forgiveness and to accept him once again in my life. Triumph! Victory! It had taken three years but finally I had the satisfaction of watching their worlds crumble, and the icing on the cake was how they had both reached out to me in the wake of their reality’s destruction. I thought it was a fitting ending. No reconciliation and no forgiveness. After all, I had tried hanging out with him, but we were not the same. Our friendship may have been well forged, but it was quickly discarded, and thus could not be mended on volition. Finally! It was over, and I was happier and with more quality friends then the two of them combined! A perfect end to the story of treason.

That was two years ago, and not the story’s end. I responded politely to both of their texts and accepted their invitations. Despite my determination to win and leave the story there, I could not. I relented, we hung out. I told him one day that I forgave him, but he mistook it for amnesia. We had already become different people and with the constant backdrop of her and how he and I came to be separated in the first place.

8. She however was still a pleasure to be around. When she texted me, I rejoiced. She had then, in some small way, been thinking of me. Or perhaps after years of spending all her time with a boy she needed a boy to fill the now gaping hole in her life. Perhaps I was just a crutch on the road to recovery. Still, it hardly mattered. I watched them ostracize me, build an isolated world for themselves, and come crawling back when it crashed down in a spectacular explosion! They were left in the headlights of a car that slowly creeped up on them, and they did not know what to do.

Against my own initial convictions, I elected to accept her offer. After all, what could be the harm? I had all the cards now. She was still interesting, funny, and exactly as beautiful as she was five years ago. We drank endless coffees and visited all the town’s diners. I invited her into the fold of my friends. She had slowly returned to a central position of my life and I found myself gradually the hostage. I wanted nothing more than to be with her, but the dream was better than reality. I knew that to keep it hovering in the future was safest. Reaching out to touch it would risk melting it with the heat of my anxious fingers. Instead, I floated ever towards it, dangling it in front of me as a source of intense euphoria. But winter returned and our nightly havens became disrupted by snow.

9. A year ago, after many months of silence, I reconnected with her. Our texts now served only to arrange meetings and we would not answer the same day unless six hours had passed. This was the kind of neutral way we nonverbally decided we would communicate. It was mostly expressionless, muted of tone, and, most importantly for me, safe. I do not know if she cared about me the way I did her, but she would randomly send me movies, shows, and songs to watch and listen to. I lived through them and felt, through them, a connection. We returned to the playground for a meet, she held my gaze and I relished in swimming in her blue eyes. The nature of our relationship is ambiguous. We live together as much through ideas as in reality. The gaps in between our meetings were in some ways more important than the meetings themselves -- the substance of the relationship relied on the sinew as much as its beating heart. This kind of separation implied for me that touch was the culmination and would be the conclusion of my experience with her. But the arc towards touch in some ways distorts the touch itself, and I would hate for the oils at the tips of my fingers to ruin a timeless masterpiece. Instead, I relied on my eyes, my ears, and my nose. I bathed in smells, cherished looks, and shivered at the soothing voice she carried around. Before we got back in the car to head home, I looked at her one more time. We locked eyes again, and the world’s rotation stopped. It was hard to tell if the blue in them was warm and tropical warm or icy cold.

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1 comentário

04 de jan. de 2021

So, so good. Thank you for this.

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