I had a nightmare last night. With him.
I was young. Four, maybe five, at most. I was playing in the yard with my miniature cars.
"Hello," he said.
Startled, I looked up from my make-believe highway and saw a man walking toward me. "Mommy?" I called. No response.
"It's okay, my sweet girl." He smiled, a mirthless grin never reaching his eyes. "You and I are going to be the best of friends."
"Mommy?" I called again, louder. I could hear her singing in the kitchen. Why was she ignoring me?
"We're going to play a game," he said, kneeling. "Mommy doesn't need to know about it, okay?"
"Mommy!" I cried out.
"What is it?" you asked, while my mother kept singing. I turned my head quickly in your direction.
There you stood, at the edge of my sandbox. A tall man with striking eyes, concern across your face.
I pointed at the monster.
"Him?" you said, soothingly. "Don't worry about him." You crouched down and I ran to you. You scooped me up in your arms. The monster faded into the shadows. "I've got you, okay?"
I started to cry, sob with relief.
"Shh, shh. It's okay." You smoothed the hair out of my face. "He can't hurt you now," you said. "You're with me."
Even here, in this most private place, my mind falls prey to the madness.
When we ended, when I untangled from your webs, I was unprepared for the shock of living without you. I hit the ground hard in my fall from grace. I spent months in anguish trying to sort myself out, writing page upon page dedicated to your name, your face, the marks you left no one else could see. I grew resentful of your hold. I wanted –needed you out of my system. The first man after you kissed me passionately in the backseat of a cab. Blissfully, I didn’t think of you at all. I kissed him back, enjoying the feeling of him on top of me, the allure of the voyeurism, and the intoxication of his whiskey breath. The world spun and I was dizzy with joy. Or was it gin? Either way, forgetting you existed was sweet relief.
In his apartment, he reached for me, fumbling in the darkness. My bubble burst, and I could swear you were standing there. It was never awkward with me, you said. He grabbed my face and kissed me, hard. This time I thought about your gentle touch. Your lips. Your mouth. This time the whiskey tasted vile.
Meaningless rendezvous are the problem, I reasoned. I tried dating next. I put valiant efforts into falling for the, “good on paper” guys who kept falling for me. It was always the same story, always ended with the same cliché. "It's not you, it's me." There’s no torture quite as sweet as unrequited love, is there? Poor men. Poor me. I was only trying to erase you. Why'd you use ink when you wrote your name on my heart?
My insides rage with wildfire. I am overcome with desperation to drown in your rain. If only you’d consume me, devour me until there is nothing. Maybe then I can rest. I’m tired of thinking about you.
I saw you once after we ended, and it was exquisite in its agony. I’d forgotten how lovely your eyes are. Not the facts, the feelings. Seeing you, though, reminded me I was worth more than what I'd been settling for. The men who came after you were filler, and I don’t need filler, I need love. Callous as you can often be, your kindness knows no bounds, and sex with you is an art form. You look at me as if nothing you’ve looked at before ever mattered. Your arm wraps under me, securing me in place. As if I’d ever want to be free. Your fingertips grip my hips, burn into my flesh, I can’t help but cry out. In these moments I’d swear on anything you were made to touch me. And then – just like that – they’re over. Our bodies come down and the strain builds again. Why are those skilled at pushing buttons drawn to seeking such chaos? What's missing in your life that makes you need it? Sometimes I wish I could fix you, or that you wanted to fix yourself. Other times I wish I could be different, that I could stay the course, stay quiet through the storm. Observe. Breathe. Refrain from reacting. Until I can, I can't be with you.
Despite everything that's come to pass, in my heart of hearts, you'll always be the sweet boy from the train station. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I remember that I couldn't forget you, hard as I tried. You'd taken me by storm from the moment we met, in that cramped dorm room in Barrie, though I didn't notice it at first. Unbeknownst to me, you'd stirred something in my heart. It wasn't until you left that I realised how good it felt when you were there. You were out the door, barely down the hallway, when the space you left behind became palpable, heavy. Your absence made the room go cold. Days later I found myself still thinking about you, wondering what you were up to, looking forward to hearing from you. My new-found feelings, though reciprocated, were unwanted and unfamiliar. Eventually I threw caution to the wind and agreed to spend a weekend with you, but in my city, on my terms.
The morning you left to come see me I woke up riddled with doubt. Ration and reason told me I was nuts, that I should stay in bed and just forget you. But my gut said to go, so I listened. I found myself standing outside Union Station, by one of the weird statues, waiting for your train to arrive. A mid-summer afternoon, hot and humid. Despite the violent strength of the wind my back was sticky with sweat. I remember closing my eyes as my hair blew across my face, my sundress billowing around me, laughing to myself as I tried to hold it down. I’m not sure when you saw me, how long you’d been making your way over, but I caught your eye as you walked, so much purpose in your stride. My heart raced, feet planted on the ground. “Hi,” I smiled when you were finally in earshot. Wordlessly you walked up to me, dropped your bags, and kissed me with so much urgency I crumbled in your arms.
We stayed at a hotel by the beach that weekend. Nothing fancy, just somewhere we could spend time. We strolled hand in hand on the boardwalk, telling stories and making each other laugh. I loved how close you always stayed, how affectionate you were. We lost ourselves in conversation for hours before I realised I was hungry.
At dinner I learned you’d rather hang back and let me talk to the servers, something I thought I hated until you came along. There were lots of things I didn’t know about myself until you came along. I saw parts of you I’d never seen in anyone, but everything I learned was inexplicably familiar. I remember lying in bed with you, the rise and fall of your chest with each breath, the heaviness of your arm draped across me. It occurred to me then I felt connected to someone for the first time in years, maybe ever. I don’t know how you did it, but you found your way in.
I had an errand to run the next day. When we parted ways, it tore me up so bad I nearly bolted, ready to leave my pink duffel bag and all its contents behind. Everything in that hotel room was replaceable. Everything except you. I was terrified of how it hurt to say goodbye –what would become of me if I ever had to leave you for good? Perhaps I should have followed my fear. Perhaps I should have known whatever pulled me to you was too urgent to be trusted, certainly too urgent to last.
When I returned, you woke up from your nap. You were such a light sleeper. You looked at me with those big, blue eyes, so serious and intense. Everything I wanted to say bubbled up inside, but the words caught in my throat, constricting it.
“I’m back,” I croaked.
You smiled. I squirmed a little under your heavy gaze.
"G--" you cleared your throat. “Good." You smiled wider and I blushed.
You spread your long arms, spanning the king size bed, beckoning me. I crawled on and settled into you, inhaling your soapy scent. You kissed my temple.
We laid there for a while in silence, while you stroked the small of my back. “It was weird when you left,” you eventually said into my hair.
"Was it?" I hid my grin in your chest.
“Yes, it was." You smiled, wrapping an arm around me and squeezing your fingertips through my scalp. "Don’t leave again."