I once dated a man who’d say, “You don’t act like you’re 21.” He would impatiently tap his finger nails against the coffee house armchair, awaiting a thankful and gracious response of some sort. He would never receive it, and for this, our mutual resentment began to churn. It was slow and cyclical and almost mesmerizing, like the churning cream in those Edy’s ice cream advertisements. “You shouldn’t eat that,” he’d mutter and take a sip of his beer. “That’s the fast track to fat, babe.”
When things were good, he would laugh at his own commentary because he was the star of his original live narrative. Do you remember that distant memory of the father of your childhood friend- the one who was just a little bit creepy, and it felt wrong to laugh at his jokes, but you’d laugh along anyway because the discomfort stung so hard, and you knew, you just knew if you didn’t laugh, your forced coexistence would be so much more painful? That was Mr. Movie Star’s favorite role to play, and he became him with each sip of his beer.
“You’re lucky you’re 21,” he’d snort. “I promised myself that was the youngest I’d ever go.” He awaited a thankful and gracious response, but all that followed was my stomach wrenching and churning, like the goddamn Edy’s I could never eat.
When things were good, we’d meet up with his buddies for a sophisticated Sunday Brunch. Here, they’d bitch about “bitches”, and say sweet pleasantries like “she deserved it, obviously. I mean, look at her.” I learned their custom-made rating system of women, which prompted me to abruptly switch my order to a veggie egg white omelet. No cheese. Once, I was acknowledged across the sea of unsipped mimosas. “You’re one of the better ones,” his grad buddy said. They all laughed, and I could tell there was a pause, graciously reserved for me. He waited for his thank you, but instead, I sipped my half-empty Bloody Mary. I would later regret those sips, and not because I should’ve spoken up, but because I blamed Mary for “bloating” me, accentuating the curvature of my arms. I’d cry about it later, and mask the puffiness with concealer. He wouldn’t have noticed anyway.
When things were good, I’d research real estate in all of the major cities that he said he could “thrive in”. His career would “skyrocket”, and he would finally find fame. Or rather, fame would finally find him. And he would live fully and prove “them” all wrong. I never learned who “they” were, but I assumed his need to prove himself was the same reason why I measured my waist every morning. “And when we have kids, you won’t have to work,” he’d remind me. “Isn’t that what every woman wants? That way, we won’t need a nanny.” My chest tightened. He always knew how to tell me exactly what I wanted.
When things were bad, I’d cry on his bathroom floor. When I was certain that he had fallen asleep, I’d sit with my back to his tub and count the tears that’d fall on the cracks of tile. I’d remind myself that I wasn’t even sad, because to be sad, you had to feel something missing in the pit of your stomach. A longing, maybe. All I wanted to do was be alone and count tears on the cracks of tile. That, in itself, was an accomplishment.
When things were bad, he’d sit on his hand-me-down couch and stare at the wall. Head resting gently on folded hands, like an iconic statue. I’d place myself next to him, far enough from him so that we could not touch, and close enough for him to feel my body shake with my deep, sobbing inhales. “I don’t understand you,” his words seeped through his clenched teeth, “I actually can’t understand you. Is this PMS? Please explain this to me. It must be PMS.” I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I’d shake harder, and grind my teeth more deeply, and actually feel my soul crawl out of my literal skin. Not run. Not sprint. Crawl. Scraping at the floorboards. Clawing at the lock’s clasp bolted to the front door. Thrashing around like a grown woman having a tantrum. But he couldn’t see that, and all I’d say was sorry.
When things were unbearable, I would wait until I heard his car halfway down the street. I’d pack my car and watch the sun rise. I’d write him a note that I’d leave on the kitchen counter, and for the life of me, I cannot remember what it said, and I’d never remember. But even in that moment, I knew it didn’t matter. My soul was singing and scared, and my eyes were dry. The road welcomed me, and I was home again. I unapologetically ate road food, and my hips thanked me.
When things were good, I’d meet up with him for coffee. “For closure,” he said. I would tell him that closure was a myth, and he’d laugh and say, “That’s why you’re just so young.” And while his condescending tone would prod at my soul in all the familiar ways, once more for good measure, I’d smiled. He’d use his coffee cup as a prop to protect appearances, and I’d chug that sucker, unapologetically and with no hesitation. When I’d walk away for the final time, and I knew it was the final time, we’d hug and he’d stoically mumble, “You look good, kid.” He’d wait for that Thank You once more, and I wish he would’ve known that he’d be waiting a damn long time.