Ten months ago I met someone.
Eight months ago he left me.
For these past eight months I’ve lived in suspended animation and now wonder if I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. The thought circles endlessly as I sit here on his roommate’s sofa, staring out past the fire escape at the building across the street. There are two light bulbs on in that far-off apartment: one is purple and the other is fuchsia. I’ve been looking at these little bursts of color for about three hours now, having left his bed to escape the gnawing loneliness of lying beside a friend who stole your heart and refuses to give it back. He’s not to blame, of course. He’s never to blame. The tragic curse of being perpetually nice.
The apartment is quiet with all the residents blissfully asleep in their beds. I’d never spent time in the living room before, always sequestered in his room to watch movies. It’s nice in here, with two plush sofas and equally fluffy pillows. I had rested my head on one, but worried my ever-present eyeliner would leave a mark, so now I’m sitting up and looking out the open window. Sitting and staring and thinking about trying not to think.
It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Perhaps. I’m torn on the issue. I owe this man an infinite amount of gratitude, from him changing various outlooks I have on life to saving me from myself when the stress of living in the city became overbearing; he’s been nothing short of wonderful. It’s these nights, these sleepless nights filled with existential dread that I wonder if ignorance would’ve been the more blissful route. Where would I be now if not for him? Sitting on someone else’s couch or my own? Or maybe curled up in a bed with rhythmic breathing revealing a mind that’s at peace?
I never wanted this. I never wanted to want someone. The years of professing my intended spinsterhood have been undone. Now here I sit listening to every creak, every noise as it stirs a hope in my heart that my absence has been noticed. I concentrate on crushing those feelings. He should sleep; I want him to sleep. The guilt of accidentally waking him earlier sits heavily on my conscious; it’s the reason I crawled out of the warmth of his sheets in the first place. My presence is a burden, upsetting the proper order of things. I shouldn’t be here; I should be at my apartment, on my bed, only being a bother to myself.
I don’t have keys to the apartment. If I left I’d be leaving the door unlocked. If the door was unlocked someone could get in and something bad could happen. The unlikeliness of that does not outweigh my fear, so I stay. Staring out the fucking window.
It seems like so many films and shows set in New York have a shot of the moody protagonist sitting on a fire escape, likely smoking a cigarette, and flirting with the thought of slipping off the edge. How I long to re-enact that image, but I don’t trust myself to climb over the furniture and outside noiselessly. I’ve done enough damage with waking people tonight; no need to add to my guilt.
Guilt. Guilt for wanting him, guilt for wanting to leave my job, guilt that I’m not happy. The guilt I would feel if I actually left would be worse. Could be worse. Might be worse. The calls, the concern, the disappearance posters in the subway stations that most people don’t bother checking, the guilt guilt guilt. Guilt for wanting to follow my dreams and live a more reckless life, with less of a safety net, to see if I let myself try whether or not I’d succeed. Guilt for wanting to be happy, like it’s a prized possession I’ve been told I can’t have. A guilty little girl looking at the big shelf of prizes at the carnival, too afraid to ask for anything from the top, telling herself there are those more deserving and it’s okay, something from the bottom will do just fine.
I could’ve left. I could’ve left after we finished watching the movie I love and he thought was okay, just like everything I’ve shown him. I could’ve left after he broke up with me because it didn’t click for him but, hey, let’s be friends. I could’ve left after we rushed into something for which we weren’t ready, but I didn’t. Eight months and I haven’t left. Ten in all. Almost a year. How long will I wait? How long until I fully accept the reality as it is and move on? Can I move on with him in my life, or do I need to leave him completely? The thought gives me chills, or maybe it’s the open window. Or both.
Our relationship is one of friendship and forced restraint. The restraint is on my part, of course, the part that has to constantly remind myself that everything is platonic. The actions are meaningless, the gestures empty of romantic intentions. He’s a friend; just a friend. One of my best friends. We have a deal where we can be honest about anything, that our friendship is a safe space. I used to be able to talk to him about anything, but lately I realized I’ve grown scared, too afraid to open all the way. I realized I’ve fallen for him. My biggest fear, vulnerability, and here I am at the mercy of a person who doesn’t even want me. No control. I’ve been painted into a corner and instinct is having me turn feral, pushing him away and making me run. Because that’s what this is. I’m running. I’m so afraid of being hurt that all I’m doing is running away.
Maybe I should run. Maybe I should stop. Maybe. So many maybes.
It’s just before daybreak when I stir. I creep into the kitchen to check the time. Apparently I was out about an hour. It’s still too early to gather my things and depart, so back to the couch it is. But now there are others stirring in the apartment, and he among them. He comes out and sees me. He sits on the other couch and talks softly, just seeing if I’m okay. I lie. He takes me back to bed, to warmth, but not to sleep. That continues to elude me, until day has broken and he tells me he’s turning the alarm back, to sleep.
And then sleep does come. Not well, not bad, too full of empty dreams that I know involve him, but he’s not there or at least I can’t see him, but I do sleep and I do dream and when I wake up my mind is closed and that’s okay because I felt enough in those wee hours of the morning.
I’ve felt enough.
Cynthia Gray was born in Montpellier, France and moved to Ohio when she was two-and-a-half years old. Upon her high school graduation she attended Ohio University, taking three years to complete her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Creative Writing. By the time she walked for commencement, Cynthia had already written her first novel, had her first short screenplay filmed, and was a published poet. Since graduation, Cynthia has performed in various theatre productions and film work and resides in New York City.