All The Things We Did Instead of Say “I Love You”

by | Oct 18, 2020 | Dean Cleaning Two | 7 comments

We can’t tell the truth, so we speak and act in code. We walk right past each other, eyes locked without saying a word. It feels romantic. We are a 19th century novel. We sit side by side and feel like one unit. Two halves of the same brain. I’m left, he’s right. He wears a red shirt, so the next time we see each other, I’m wearing one. We mirror each other. Pick up favorite words and phrases, roll them around our tongues. We use callback after callback until the present is forever tumbling into the past. Our laughter is all genuine. It reaches our eyes.

The people who don’t know better assume we’re a couple, but no one asks. They sense, like we do, that words are things that can’t be taken back. Everyone here is a writer afraid to make a mark. Our tools scare us. Who would we be if we couldn’t rewrite our history?

All my friends know about him; all the guys know about us. I feel their eyes on me, measuring up my figure, my chest. The guys appraise me to see if I’m worth skipping the rest of the girl buffet. He doesn’t have any doubts.

I have doubts. I grew up in simmering silence. The difference between that and him isn’t always apparent. We shimmer with lust. My parents simmered with anger. The two twined in my mind. I see the lust in his eyes, but also how he lashes out when I can’t just agree. How “no” feels like a challenge to try harder. Like when he grabbed me, pinning my arms against my torso, immediately after hearing me say I didn’t like that, and the way he bolted instead of apologizing. Gestures aren’t enough food for love, and when they sour, what’s left? I can’t say I love him, but I can try to love myself.

His over-active imagination tells him that I’ve cheated with a guy we both know that I don’t like. He and I were never together. We never kissed, never touched. We were never even alone together. He treats me like I tongued that loser right in front of him. When he screams about ridiculous shit, everyone knows it’s about me. Before every class I panic, hyper-ventilate and throw up. In class, I’m in control of myself. His agony makes him look like the victim. He starts hooking up with a girl in our class. I pretend it doesn’t bother me. I spent my whole life pretending everything was fine. I can do this, too. My black clothes rejoin my closet. I feel like myself again.

Two years later, he shows up in the same outfit I wore the last time we saw each other—a black shirt and charcoal pants, way too dark for his rainbow pallet, perfect for my insides—I know what it means. He wants to try again. I scan his face. He’s serious. But since he can’t say the words, or apologize, I can’t. I can’t go through it again. The silence that made me want to scream. Never having a solid place to stand, never knowing where the next vat of quicksand was waiting for me and my clumsy feet. He won’t sink me again. Shaking my head to clear it, I walk away. It’s my turn, after all.

7 Comments

  1. David O'Connor

    Great description of the great tennis-game of romance, so many missed points and faults. Wonderful details. Using words like tonguing and hooking up and shimmering really help establish place and time. Feels like this could be a much longer story. Keep going! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Paul Beckman

      Chelsea-I loved the story–the matching of clothes to replace conversation and to end with: “Two years later, he shows up in the same outfit I wore the last time we saw each other—a black shirt and charcoal pants, way too dark for his rainbow pallet, perfect for my insides—I know what it means. He wants to try again. I scan his face. He’s serious. But since he can’t say the words, or apologize, I can’t. I can’t go through it again. The silence that made me want to scream. Never having a solid place to stand, never knowing where the next vat of quicksand was waiting for me and my clumsy feet. He won’t sink me again. Shaking my head to clear it, I walk away. It’s my turn, after all.”

  2. Tommy Dean

    Absolutely love the title! “It feels romantic. We are a 19th century novel.” Love the paradox here and the metaphor or lens you’ve established so early in this piece!

    “They sense, like we do, that words are things that can’t be taken back. Everyone here is a writer afraid to make a mark. Our tools scare us. Who would we be if we couldn’t rewrite our history?” Yes, love this! all of this!

    “I grew up in simmering silence.” oh, this entire paragraph! The play of opposites in this piece is exquisite! I’m leaning in, wanting to hear more!

    My black clothes rejoin my closet.” Great shift here!

    ” It’s my turn, after all.” yes, perfect last line! Love how it continues the circle of this relationship, how it could start all over again or maybe it, finally won’t?

  3. Constance Malloy

    You nailed this title. I wanted to read it this story the minute I saw it. And, you don’t disappoint. “His over-active imagination tells him that I’ve cheated with a guy we both know that I don’t like” this whole paragraph is excellent, and covers so much ground. Oh, what dysfunction can destroy in us. And then you give us hope for the narrator in the end. So well done!

  4. Francine Witte

    I just love the title (as does everyone else) and you really deliver on the execution. I am really taken with the thoughts of narrator and her relation to the other characters and how they are perceived. Great work.

  5. Roberta Beary

    Chelsea,

    Your writing perfectly encapsulates the relationship dynamic, hard to do but this piece pulls it off. The title is a story on its own. Love how you end on a powerful image: “Shaking my head to clear it, I walk away. It’s my turn, after all.”

    Favourite line: “He treats me like I tongued that loser right in front of him.” Wow!

  6. Christina Rosso-Schneider

    Oh, man, this story makes me so glad I never have to date again! haha

    Which is a testament to how well and realistically you portray this romance/relationship.

    Also, you have so many knock-out lines throughout. This is the one I keep coming back to: “We shimmer with lust. My parents simmered with anger. ” Oof.

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