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

by | Oct 18, 2020 | Dean Cleaning Two

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.

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