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