Wings

Writing is editing. Again, and again, and again.
Here’s the first draft of something that has seen many since, and will see many more. Tell me what you think!


I want one.

Anna shook from excitement, her eyes dancing and her jaw stubborn. Jimmy told me I couldn’t catch one. He said I was too small. She stood taller, balancing on her bare toes in the dirt. But I’m not, right? And you can help me. You’re fast, faster than him, and he could do it. Her finger twirled the ends of her hair. And she pouted, her eyes growing big. he called me a scaredy-cat. She tugged on my braid. Let’s catch one. Can we? Will you help me?
I didn’t like Anna sad, so I nodded; her smile tugged at my lips, and I grinned back. I unbuckled my shoes and slipped off my socks. My toes joined hers in the soft ground and squirmed in their newfound freedom, sinking into the cold, wet soil. Her small hand grabbed mine; it sent a little spark up our arms and for a moment, we were connected, her excitement bubbling over into me, and I was thrilled. My brown eyes met her blue ones and we giggled, Anna pulling me through the trees to the field to chase the butterflies. She jumped over a log, but I tripped and lost her fingers. Anna kept going, only stopping once to turn back, her blonde hair flying in wisps across her face, and laugh.

Come on, silly!

As she ran, her hair spindled gold behind her, and I watched it catch the light, envious. My fingers pulled off the elastic band tying my braid, and I stumbled up. My hair unfurled in knots around my face, the bottom of my dress was grimy and brown, but I imagined I was beautiful and I ran, following her into the light of the field.

When I reached her, Anna was spinning, the butterflies dancing around her, and I joined her, our mouths open in wonder. Our school skirts blew around us like little puffs of cloud, and we went round and round like tops till we were dizzy, falling in a little heap to the ground, my head on her shoulder, her whole body laughing. I listened, fingers curled around hers: her laughter was the sunshine; mine would just be a shadow. She rolled away and waved her arms and legs against the ground, trying to make a dirt angel, while I watched the butterflies, flitting above us. If she was the sun, the butterflies were stars, falling, their little wings bright blinking lights, reflecting the rays, flirting with out fingertips. We chased and we failed, the colorful little balls of life just beyond our reach. Sometimes, I thought, sometimes I heard them laughing.
            As I ran after the butterflies through the tall waving grass, I remembered Thumbelina. It was the secret my mother and I shared, the movie we watched whenever Daddy was out, the one we’d pinky-promised on – I won’t tell if you won’t, we’d giggled. It had a mother, like mine, who’d wished and wished for her own little child until she was born in a flower, a precious angel, my precious angel my mother whispered. She was small, this little princess, the size of a thumb – and so that was her name, Thumbelina. And the little princess, she dreamed of people like her – a small people that lived in a field just like this one, a vale, my mother whispered. A people that danced and sang and flew, like the butterflies. Fairies. That’s what they were. Fairies, little fairies, and I curtsied clumsily to a blue-winged one, the prince, Cornelius, I imagined. Hello, prince.

He bowed, I imagined.

In the story, he was the one who gave Thumbelina her wings – bright ones that dazzled, like the snow when the sun hits it.

So, I whispered (we whispered, Thumbelina and me), I wish I had wings.
And I thought I heard them, they said, maybe someday you will.

And then Anna picked one.

There’s the one I want.

On a large boulder, alone, was the most beautiful of fairies I’d ever seen. Its wings flapped lazily; they weren’t colored, but clear. It made their light blinding, like the flash of sun on snow – lightning against my eyes, and I lifted up my arm to shade them. Anna shivered in anticipation. Please?

I moved slowly at first, every step punctuated with a pause, letting myself feel my feet dig into the dirt.

It was fearless, this little butterfly – who’d harm it at home? I wondered, briefly, if this one could sing. I was close enough to see the sky in its little beaded eyes. Its wings fluttered faster, but before it could rise, my sweaty hands swept forward. Against my fingers, the wings beat frantically, pulsing against my palms like a little heart.

I lifted my hands to my mouth. Shhh. Hey, hey little princess. It’s just me.

Before it could sing, there was Anna, again.

Open your hands! Let me see! she whispered, her mouth close to my ear.

I can’t. It’ll fly.

Her laugh was quiet, hot against my skin. You have to take a wing. Her finger plucked the empty air, demonstrating. Jimmy told me. Just tug. Real fast.

I froze and so did my fairy – like she understood? or did I just clutch too tightly?

A – a wing?

Come on. She whispered.

I hesitated, and she tugged at my arm. Don’t you want to keep it?

I’d never said no to Anna before.

I opened my fingers, like bars, just enough to peek.

The wings caught the light. Anna gasped. They’re so pretty.

And there she was, Thumbelina, curled up in my palm. Hey, I just want one, okay? Just one.

The world grew quieter, like it paused, as I reached in. The wind fell still, but it was somehow colder, my fingers shaking as they crept closer, like pincers, to steal me my wings, and all I could feel was Anna’s quick breath in my ear and all I could hear was the slow, soft beat tickling my palms and then

snap.

All it took was a pinch.

The world rushed in, like it was catching up. The wind whipped my hair around my face, and it stung, coarse against my cheeks. I looked, and the wings had stopped glowing – as if they were candles, and my fingers had snuffed out the lights. The little butterfly – my little princess fairy – turned in half circles, crippled, its one clear wing faintly fluttering; it looked like it was shivering.

It’s not pretty anymore. Anna said. Let’s get another one.

The rush of blood to my cheeks was unfamiliar, the pain in my temples foreign as I frowned. She was already running when I named the emotion, the furrow in my forehead reminding me of my dad, when I forgot homework or failed an exam. My heart beat furiously, and I unfurled my fingers, uncovering my prize. I froze; my fairy was still. Thumbelina?

I stood and I stared and was silent, waiting for the wing to beat, to catch the light again, and then I whispered, a tear dropping to my palm.

Anna? Anna, why isn’t it moving?

But she was gone, chasing the lights, her feet playful as she wandered, and I curled my fingers over my Thumbelina, alone.

I walked home, leaving Anna in the fields calling my name, my feet dirty and my fingers still fisted over my prize.

Mom. Mommy. I caught Thumbelina. When my mother pried my fingers open, my cheeks were already splattered with tears. She gasped oh honey, and I whispered, repeating the words until she could hear me.

I think I made her cry.

I never spoke to Anna about the butterflies. She was angry I’d left her; she didn’t speak to me for days. But then, I think, she forgot about them. At least, she never tried to make me catch them again. It was a fleeting hobby, one that had bored her quickly. I was glad. It wasn’t something to be talked about, our quiet murder. For weeks, I fell asleep to her voice in my ear, innocence in my palm, picked at and killed. I had stolen the wings, but somehow it was Anna who flitted and flew, while my own feet sank deeper into the ground, weighted by the wing that was too small to hold me and had withered, too fast, after being plucked.

I only went to that field one more time. It was summer, and I was older, leaving home for the first time. I went at noon and waited all afternoon, watching the sun dance through the waving, yellow grass. I waited until the moon took over, until the sky was glittering with real stars, cold stars, that were too far away for me to hear their song. I never saw a single butterfly.

We’d said we’d …

We’d said we’d keep in touch. But touch is not something you can keep; as soon as it’s gone, it’s gone. We should have said we’d keep in words, because they are all we can string between us–words on a telephone line, words appearing on a screen.
– David Levithan

Keep in Words

After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.

– Philip Pullman

Have you ever said the word ‘cock’ out loud?

Yes, I expect you have – but have you said it to your professors? Your peers? Not as a curse. Not to your friends in jest – I mean to people you don’t really know, who don’t know you, but who you respect, the ones you hope one day will hold you in the same esteem. Have you stood at a podium in front of them, stared them in the eye, and said cock.

If you can still answer yes to that question, than I want you to answer this: was it important that you said it?

This past Tuesday at an honorary event for seniors who had submitted these for their creative writing concentrations, I stood in front of advisors and peers I dearly respected and read Freshman out loud. (For those of you curious to read it, you can see it here.) For the rest who have, though I do not think it is a story easily forgotten, let me remind you: Freshman is a montage of rape scenes that explores gender dynamics, gender expectations, and deep-seated beliefs of the perpetrator/victim dichotomy. An uncomfortable story to read, it is even more unsettling to speak. On Tuesday, I read it with power, I read it with feeling, and I did not choke on a single word.

I had four stories to chose from. Why would I read that? Why would I put myself through what was certain to be a blush-worthy speech? I was the opening speaker. I remember thinking, well, that’ll certainly set an interesting tone. I remember distinctly the discomfort of saying my rapists’ raunchy, crude words out loud. I remember settling into the disgusted, repulsive voice of ‘Johnny’. Before the word ‘cock’ left my lips, I could hear it in my head. I remember thinking, just as I uttered the first syllable – am I really about to, and there it was. When I sat down, they all applauded, and then there was a singular sense of needing to ease the unease. The air was heavy. I remember stealing their comfort till the only comfortable choice was to not speak of it, to ignore it, to slide into something else.

That’s when a lesson I had taken in stride, without question, but never understood, finally hit me. When something is uncomfortable, that is when it is most necessary to say it out loud. That is when you cannot, should not, must not stay silent. When something remains unspoken, you must speak it, uncover it, share it, boldly emblazon it across the sky with every ounce of strength you can put into your words – because more often than not, you are uncomfortable because what you are holding in your hand is real, and true, and hard.

Philip Pullman ranked food, a roof, and a loved one before stories, and he’s already a writer, so I guess I’ll have to allow it. But when all those are gone, when we are forgotten, what we leave behind are stories. Stories are not frivolous compositions with no purpose. They are the words we string between us, to span any gaps left by reason, so our thoughts may reach out their fingers and grasp us. So we may understand. 

There is something inside you that is left behind when you are unskinned, when the muscle falls off your bones, when your shadow leaves you. That uncomfortable essence, the truths you are scared to say out loud, the ones you fear. Those are the ones that need most to be spoken.

Freshman

In the spirit of my previous post.


The first time he kissed me, it was soft and I wanted to moan because that’s what they do in the movies (right?) but my back was pushing against something sharp and his leg was digging roughly against me and the thing was I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to bite on his lip or not, but I did, and it made him laugh. My eyes were still open, and he’d laughed. Why did he laugh?
I dropped the water bottle I was holding because girls are supposed to put their arms around their man’s neck. He was looking down at me intently, chocolate eyes and all. He pushed back my hair gently, putting his other arm around my waist, and I shuddered as he dipped his mouth to my ear and whispered:
“Let’s go to your room.”

That was not the sweet nothing I expected. I froze, my body rigid, a coil ready to spring free. His arm tensed around me, and his smooth whisper was urgent, his eyes pleading. “No, no. Just to talk.”
The coils loosened.
“Just to talk?”
He pushed a strand of hair behind my ear, and smiled.

“Mmhmm. Just to talk.”

Walk. Talk. Maybe I should have known better, but to me, it felt like a movie. You can pause movies. You can press any button you want. You can rewind, you can skip, you can stop and take the disk out. I had the remote and my finger was hovering over the pause button. I thought. I think I thought. I thought it was like the movies.


He’d never thought that he’d look at a woman and not feel arousal. The way the male libido – or at least, his libido – seemed to work, he could look at a cardboard cutout of one and still feel the irresistible need to touch it.

“You’re not stiff, baby.” She pouted. “Does my little boy not want to play? Does he need some more…” Her nails raked into his chest, and his eyes watered. “Incentive?”

He shook his head furiously. He thought of women bare, the curve of their thighs, their gasps, their eyes drunk with arousal. But he could hear her panting. He could feel her silk scarf tying his hands to the bedposts, rubbing him raw. He could feel his buttocks, throbbing in pain from the dildo she had taunted him with. And he wilted.

“Oh, no.” She tutted, swatting his chest with her hand. “We’re gonna have to fix that, aren’t we.” The bed creaked as she heaved herself off, he suddenly smelled something foul, and she giggled. “Oops.” She waved her hand behind her. “Methane. Can’t do nothing about that.”

Dan felt an irrational urge to laugh, but he choked on his gag instead.

“Aha! Found it.” She laughed and hopped back on the bed, blueblue eyes crinkled in excitement. “You know what this is?” She held up what looked like a band. “It’s a ring. I’ll put it on little Danny, and my boy’ll stay right up!” She tiptoed her fingers up his thigh, “Come out, come out, and play!” She shoved it on him. “Now you’ll be ready for me, see? You’ll be ready, and you’ll stay ready. As long as I need you to, won’t you, baby.”

His eyes were watering, but real men never cried.


When he started to undress me, all I did was turn off the lights. I knew I could press pause. I knew I could stop. And we were talking.

“I’ve liked you forever, you know. Like, since summer.”

I was babbling, and he was unbuttoning my shirt. I felt like a doll. He pushed my arms up, and they were up.
“Yeah, yeah, me too. I’ve wanted to ask you out forever.” His shirt was off now, and his fingers were fumbling at his belt. “We’ll go on a date, tomorrow.”
My heart was skipping and his hands were trailing down my sides. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
His fingers reached my waist and pulled, kneaded at the skin, pinching it together. He laughed. “Love-handles. I love it.” If I were less brown, he would have seen my blush. I pried his fingers away. It only made him laugh more, and he hugged me, kissing my neck. I thought his hands on my back were meant to comfort. Then snap unclasped, my back was bare; I shivered. “Don’t worry. I said I loved it, didn’t I?”

He pushed me onto the bed and caged me with his body, his face disappearing into the side of my neck. My fingers dragged down his back. That was what I was supposed to do, right? Here’s when I moan.  My pants were off, and I didn’t remember pressing fast-forward. 

 “Hey. Um. I’ve never done this before.”

 “Mmhmm. Don’t worry about it.” He was fumbling with his jeans now, and my hands on his shoulders grew rigid.

“Hey, hey. Um.” I was trying to get him to look at me, my hands moving to his face to pull his gaze back to me. He looked annoyed, eyebrows slashing across his forehead. His eyes weren’t pretty anymore.

My fingers pressed the pause button. I want to pause. “Stop. No.” I tried to push my thighs together, but his knee was insistent.

“No, I don’t think I want to do this.” I was shaking my head, now, rapidly, side to side. Nuh-uh.

“No, I’ll make it good. Don’t worry about it.” His fingers dug into the sides of my panties, raking into my hips. He tried to push down, but my arms were stopping him. My body was revolting, and my eyes were wide and wild. I kicked and thrashed like a bird with a broken wing. An actress in a script. It was exactly like the movies. I was good. Good actresses don’t deviate from the script.

The girl in that bed had my long hair, my near-sighted eyes, my pudgy thighs. But it wasn’t me. I was above her, floating there, watching some dumb, useless bitch let a drunk boy shit on all my naïve, candle-lit, hopeful dreams. I took after the original fairytales, you know, the ones with blood and unhappy endings. I went to the ball and never got my glass slipper back.


 “Open your eyes, baby. Don’t you wanna see me?”

She took his gag out. “Talk to me.” When he didn’t, she slapped him.
“Oh, come on. You’re a boy. This is your lucky night.” She whispered in his ear, sticking her tongue into the crevices. “You should be happy, baby. Come on, give me something.” Her fingers wrapped themselves around his neck, and she squeezed until he gasped. “Come on.”

His voice was hoarse, his throat sore. He croaked, “Wh-what.” Her grip loosened. “What do you want me to say?” He whispered.
“Do you think I’m beautiful?”
Her hair was mussed, her eyes manic. In the light from the window she looked pale, like a ghost. Her fingers tightened on his throat again.
“Yes.”
“Tell me.”
He coughed, swallowed. “Y-you’re beautiful.” She began to move, sliding up and down. She moaned.
“Tell me – tell me I’m sexy.”
He stared at the ceiling, bottom lip quivering. “You’re – you’re sexy.” He said.
“Look at me.” She grabbed his chin and forced it down.
He could feel his limbs, once taut, now falling limp at his sides. He looked at her, stared at her, and in those blueblue eyes he saw nothing. He felt nothing.
“Tell me you love me.”
He couldn’t see her, now. She gasped, but he couldn’t feel her. Somebody was crying, he thought. Somebody was shaking.
Somebody spoke. “I love you.”

The bed creaked.


 “You little shit.”

When Adam looked up, Johnny’s pants were unbuckled, his arousal out and unashamedly held in his hand. It was thick. Thicker than him. He met Johnny’s gaze, and he had never before thought eyes could twinkle with menace.
Johnny stepped back against a desk.
“Touch it.”
Adam hesitated, and then put his hand on himself. He wrapped his fingers around and watched Johnny, watched his hand move confidently up and down his own shaft.

“Move it.”

He didn’t. His legs shook and his eyes were mesmerized, watching Johnny’s head appear and disappear between his fingers. Johnny stopped, and Adam’s eyes shot up, begging.
“What?” Johnny smirked.

“Please.”

“Oh, this?” Johnny’s hand slowly pumped. “You like this? You little shit? You little homo piece of crap.” He grunted, his strokes growing stronger. Adam moaned, and started pumping. He imagined Johnny’s thick fingers on him.

“Not so fast.”

Adam pumped faster, enthralled.

“Slow down.” And the hand he had been watching was on his own, stilling his fingers. He groaned. Johnny was glaring. “You need to last.”

No, Adam thought. No, I need to come. But the fingers on his fingers wouldn’t let him move. So he dropped them. And his dark eyes met Johnny’s wide ones as alien digits lay a hand on his cock. There was something about feeling another hand on him. Or there was something about feeling Johnny’s. He didn’t know, but when Johnny didn’t move, he started thrusting, lips parted, gasping. As he watched, Johnny’s hand began to play along. It tightened, and as Adam grunted, he saw the lights in Johnny’s eyes wane, and he closed his own.

“Come.”

Adam grunted, gripping Johnny’s shoulders.

“Come.”

And he did, with a shudder, hot and thick over Johnny’s hand.

In the silence he tried to quell his shallow gasps, tried to keep still as the sweat trailing down his back tickled him. He followed the giving hand, slimy and sticky, rise and stand still in the air with fingers outstretched. Frozen.

“Look at me.”

Adam flinched. His eyes were hollow. “Johnny…“

“Shut up.”

Johnny raised his dripping hand and slowly dragged it down Adam’s face. Adam could feel his stickiness, its damp sour smell rank in his nose. He began to cry, and Johnny sneered, leaning in close.

“Fuck. You.”

And he left. His pants were still unzipped, resting on the angles of his hips. He held the hand that had touched Adam away from him, as if a foot’s separation could mask the stink. He didn’t look back.           


She didn’t forget to give his cold, fishy lips a sodden kiss, her tongue slithering over his one last time before she turned away. She didn’t put the rag back in.

“You won’t scream, now, will you?” Her fingers raked down his cheek as she chuckled. “No, of course not.”
The bed creaked as she stood up, pulling her sweater over her arms, her spindly fingers stretching out of the sleeves like thin little spider legs. At his whimper, she tutted.
“Oh come on, baby. Aren’t you glad you won’t die a virgin?”

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

When I was younger, I loved reading those “Chicken Soup for the…” books. To this day, those books remain the only kind of “soup” I’ll ever let near me. My aunt would drink up the stories like she couldn’t get enough of them – which was ridiculous, because she was a vegetarian. Every time she read from that book, she looked like she went through some religious experience…and there I would be, sitting next to her on the couch and watching her face light up in joy, thinking that book must be magic.

Now, add to that building curiosity the fact that at this point in my life, I’d heard the phrase “tastes like chicken” exactly 697 times. (Okay, so I made that number up, but you believed me for a second, didn’t you?) As a since-fetus vegetarian, I’m sure you can understand my overwhelming need to know exactly what the taste of “chicken” was, and why the “soul” wanted it so badly. I didn’t know the first thing about finding chicken, let alone how to make it edible, so I did the next best thing: I stole her book. She was in bed, and its shiny plastic cover was sticking out of her bag enticingly, so I pinched it, scuttled to my bedroom, grabbed a flashlight, and ducked under my covers to read.

It was the equivalent of a little boy’s first porno.

It turned out the copy I grabbed was for the “Romantic’s Soul”. I was 11; “romance” pretty much meant Mario rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser. When my frantic aunt found me, my slobbering mouth planted against some page about marriage that had clearly bored me to sleep, she laughed heartily and gave me one more my size – Chicken Soup for the Children’s Soul. That’s where I read those words for the first time: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Even at 11 I knew that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard.

Bruises, bones, cuts – they mend. That’s not to say that physical ailments should be taken lightly. But when your body is hurt, you can see it; it’s tangible, visible, and often curable. The physical breaks have tried-and-true fixes. And more importantly, when your arm is broken and you are in pain, you know the cause and you’re feeling the effect. There are rarely any un-answerable questions, and when there are, you have someone definable to blame.

Words are invisible bullets. They can tear through your heart without leaving a mark, and send your brain a flurry of mixed signals that have no discernible source. And when they change your life? When you’re there sitting on a wall of words defining everything that was you and someone destroys it, when you have a great fall and those thoughts that made up YOU break into tiny pieces? When you can’t even see a scar, don’t even know that one exists? Well, all the people in the world couldn’t put you back together again. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can tear apart all of you. This world we play in forges us in fire. Words can hurt, words can tear, words can kill.

But if my aunt’s joyous face taught me anything at all, it’s that words can also save. They can teach, they can feel, they can empathize. They can stitch back every aching heartstring. That’s why I’m here. That’s what I aim to do. I want every word I send out into this cruel, beautiful, ever-changing world to be a little needle-and-thread. I want my stories to stitch you back together, because every word I’ve read since I was a little girl – before I’d ever even heard the word “chicken” – did just that.

Seaglass

 Here’s my first dip into sharing. I hope you like it; feel free to tell me what you think anytime, anywhere.


Sweetheart,

My toes were curling in the sand, and you were naming constellations. Orion was first, I think; you were tracing his belt out for me, and I was staring at your fingers. Wow. They’re so long. He probably plays piano. And. I giggled. And you know what they say about long fingers. You turned to me, but when I nodded, you continued, fingers moving on to place some other stars in the sky.It was Lauren’s wedding, and I was desperate and drunk; then, weddings were still sad, and I still felt left behind. Earlier, I had experienced one of those ugly moments: my heart all in rage that someone I honestly believed was severely less attractive than myself had somehow captured happiness. This had led to a rush of guilt, self-pity, and a deep sense of solitude. So, after the vows, I’d palmed a bottle of champagne and a glass and wandered down to the edge of the waves, alone.

I smoothed the back of my annoyingly expensive dress, sat down, and cracked open the champagne. At first, I kept classy, pouring the liquid into the glass before downing it. But I know that by the time you came around, the glass was broken and forgotten, and I was grasping the almost-empty bottle tightly with my fingers. I was standing and yelling, waving it at the waves, incoherent syllables pouring themselves out of my mouth while sparkling champagne sloshed around in the bottle. I was the picture of imperfection. I was angry, and I was sad, and when you came around all I wanted to do was verbally abuse you with what little control I had left over forming words. I opted for concision, lifting a solitary middle finger, and you? You asked if I minded if you sat down. I think I was so thrown off that I stopped mid-yell, and watched you sit carefully on the sand. You flicked away a glass piece and patted the ground next to you. I plopped down. For the first time in the past hour, I considered what my face must look like – black mascara streaks staining my cheeks, my eyes. I’m like a raccoon. I hugged the crumpled edges of my saltier dress, and you started talking. The cadence of your voice soothed me. You were painting some pattern in the sky, but I just focused on your eyes. Blue? Green? I must have looked confused because you asked me if I understood. I nodded. You turned back to the stars, my head fell on your shoulder, and your hand was comforting, smoothing back my hair. I thought of nuzzling, straddling, kissing…things you’re only brave enough to do to strangers when you’re drunk. I faced you and bit, lightly, on your shoulder. You turned. I opened my mouth to make a sound, but then I felt your hands on me, so I closed my eyes and leaned in. And then frowned. Because your hands weren’t around my waist, but under my arms. And you weren’t kissing me, but helping me up, and we were stumbling along, leaving the beach behind. You led me back to a familiar face that cried my name, and then I was in a car driving home and for once my tears were silent.

The weeks passed, and I stopped thinking about you. What’s there to think about? I don’t even remember his name. So, of course, when I went to Lauren’s for her official house warming, you were there. Murphy’s law, right? When you walked into the backyard, I almost spilled my guava juice and immediately tried to hide behind a fern tree. Not my best idea. The grass was too slippery, my feet too clumsy. With just one misguided step my legs were in the air, my body in the bushes, and my guava juice dutifully watering both. I would tell you to imagine my embarrassment, but you were there to see it. Again, so graceful.

I hustled to the bathroom, putting on a pretense of composure, avoiding any and all eye-contact. But when I came out, I walked right into you. I jostled your drink, apologized, looked up, saw you, and I swear my heart stopped for a moment. Green eyes. Definitely green. You were charming and smooth – “I see you’re laying off the sparkling drinks”, you winked – and I was blushing. You kept talking, I kept nodding, and somehow the party was shutting down. I’m not entirely sure what happened – I’m certain the guava stain on the side of my dress wasn’t much of an aphrodisiac – but somewhere in that conversation, you asked me,

“Lunch? On Tuesday?”

And I said yes.

I felt privileged, I remember that. I was all giddy that I had the opportunity to be with someone like you. We went to something Thai – not my favorite, but I didn’t care, draped on your arm like an ornament.

The waiter came, and I was ready, mouth open, syllables forming, and you said, “Pineapple fried rice to share, please.” You looked at me, smiling. “That’s alright, right?”

I hate pineapples. I nodded. “Sure.”

You told me about yourself, and I was in awe over my rice, pineapples shoved aside: I was right, you did play the piano. And the violin, and the cello, and the guitar. And let’s not forget the singing.

“I’ve only composed a couple songs, though. The music’s easy, but the words are a little harder.”

The only thing I’ve ever been able to compose is myself. My mouth was hanging open, and you, smiling, reached a finger over to push my jaw back up. I blushed. Sometimes. “Working on any right now?”

You sipped your water. “Yes, actually. A love song. But I’m having a little trouble with the chorus. Maybe you could come over and help me out?” You winked.

How ‘bout you come over and help ME out? My blush got deeper. Well, I hope he’s not a mind-reader, too. “Sure.” I mumbled, and hastily grabbed for my fork, instead knocking over my glass of water. You laughed and called for the waiter. I sighed, pineapples and carrots floating in the pool on my plate. At least I don’t have to eat the pineapples.

Our next date was a step up – dinner. I was in a deep maroon strapless, pearls in my ears, and you said I looked beautiful. It was Italian that time, I’m sure. Marinara sauce stained my dress. A week later we went for a movie; I remember, somehow, I lost my ticket seconds before we had to walk in. The next Friday you cooked me dinner, and then we went horse riding because you refused to believe how uncoordinated I was. I sprained my ankle, and you couldn’t stop laughing, even as you took meticulous care of me for the following weeks.

You know, I hadn’t noticed till now how all of our meetings had me in disarray. Maybe that’s the problem. When I’m around you, I need to constantly find my bearings. I look at other couples – I look at Lauren, for God’s sake – and they’re each other’s orbits. They revolve, you know? But around you, I’m displaced. I’m uncertain, I’m stumbling along – often, literally – trying to match your assured, wide-spaced gait. I’m unaccomplished, unsure, uncomfortable.

But I didn’t realize any of that, then. Then, I was happy. I had begun measuring our relationship in months rather than dates. We were officially a “we”, and my life had never felt so right. A year later, and it was the first official meeting with your family – Thanksgiving dinner.

“Thanksgiving? Of all the holidays?” I squealed; I was terrified. What on earth are you thinking?! “You do realize, right, that I’ve never met anyone from your family? And now I’m meeting all of them, at once?”

You chuckled, combing back your hair. “Not all of them.”

You’re missing the point. “Oh yeah? Who isn’t going to be there?” There was a clump you were missing, hair sticking out at an angle at the back of your head. I didn’t tell you.

“Well, Aunt Sam. And her dog.”

The dog isn’t coming?! Damn it, my one guaranteed fan. I huffed. “You only get one shot at a first impression, you know.”

You finally looked over, pecking me on the cheek before turning back to the mirror. “You’ll be perfect, sweetheart. Perfect.”

You were right, I was perfect. But not because of anything I said. And not like your parents. They were sophisticated and neat, accommodating and delighted to meet me. But that’s when I first noticed it, I guess. We were on the porch, the four of us, talking over evening cocktails as the sun went down. They were asking me about myself, but somehow you were always giving the answers.

“Where did you graduate from, dear?”

My fingers were fidgeting, twisting the napkin in my hand into a tight spiral, but I was smiling. That one’s simple. “Oh, I – “

“UCLA, Mother. She was an Art Major.”

“Oh? And what’s your favorite art movement?”

“Impressionism! Her thesis was one of those artists, Dali, wasn’t it, sweetheart?”

No. “Yes, that’s right.” Surrealism. Salvador Dali was a Surrealist. You were supposed to know that.You’d told me you’d loved my thesis, watched the video a dozen times, said it made the art “come alive”. Come on, you should know that.

“Dali! He’s wonderful. What do you do now?”

I tried again, leaning forward, opening my mouth. “I’m actually – “

“She’s a curator! At the City Arts Museum! Hard to get, too. No surprise, of course, that she got it.” You were patting my hand, squeezing it a little too tightly. “And she’s happy, aren’t you?”

Why don’t you tell me? My smile was thin. “Yes, I am.”

Maybe you were as nervous as I was, maybe you wanted to make sure the “right things” were said, maybe you were just trying to be helpful…but it’s a wonder they liked me when I barely said a word.

You mute me. I listen and believe you are just so much more adept than I am, so I sit and smile in silence, like some painted doll on a shelf. I adored you. Sometimes I feel like you accept me because I preen your ego. You are the act, and I am the audience constantly reacting to signs I myself have penned.

These weren’t things I thought, then. Then, I just noticed how little I talked. All I did was vow to make things better. But they haven’t gotten better, and neither have I.

Last week, you took me to that same beach. I guess you thought it would be romantic, a “this is where we first met” idea. You’re sweet in that way; you’re always so sure you’re doing right. I loved you for all the wrong reasons, darling, and I’m so sorry.

You were so sure. You said, sweetheart, do you remember? You had a speech ready, a suit ready, champagne ready. You had a small square box with satin lining filled with a promise. You were on your knees at the edge of the beach, and you asked, with all that certainty in your eyes, and I said no.

I said no without a pause, without a thought, and it wasn’t just you I shocked. You asked me why, and this is why. I am not the person I pretended to be in order to be with you. I am something less, or simply something different.

I love you, but I cannot live up to you. I can imagine you’d say, sweetie, it’s just the way you’re looking at things. But that’s it. I am so, so sorry, but I can’t have any more broken champagne glasses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       – Clarissa