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Not being for you was like not being me.
I met my best friend in April. It was a long winter. I loved it. When the earth began to thaw, the roads were flooded with melted ice and the sky was pink. We were delayed our spring. So when the leaves finally came, we couldn’t have been happier. Of course, I was standing there by the gutter with my hand in my pockets. That was when he came into my life.
I walked around the corner and entered the coffee shop. He served the coffee. “Two dollars, please,” he told me with his black apron coming lose. He tied it up. After exchanging two dollars for my two-go-cup, I couldn’t help thinking about how adorable he was in his mess. About to exit, he interrupted my stream of consciousness. “Is it still raining?”
“No, it stopped.”
That became my weekend ritual. I was obsessed with Fifth Avenue Coffee Shop. I told myself it was because the coffee was cheap and it was close by. I will skip over the conversation with him that evolved from weather to where we went to high school to our favorite musicians to our dreams. This all took place over a year. We were going into our second year of knowing each other when he invited me to hang out with him.
We walked down ..
.. towards the river. It was the following spring and it came on time. I climbed up the cobblestone bridge and watched the swans drift below in elegant circles.
It was at the point in time when he knew how much I loved to write. I said I would never be a writer. That summer, my birthday came. He gave me a journal. He inscribed something on the inside to me. I was too insecure to read it in front of him. “You don’t like it?”
“No, I love it,” I answered. I smiled but all he did was frown at me. “It means a lot to me, thank you.” A few heartbeats passed. I won’t tell you every gushy detail of how we became close and honest and ultimately fell in love with each other, or so we thought. We thought so.
Words and ideas and promises were unbelievable, beautiful, and I caught them and held on them like fireflies in a mason jar. I don’t know whether I never screwed the lid on tight or what. But everything I held onto slipped from my fingers like sand. It came out of nowhere. All I had to do was take one breath in and out, or look back. That was how easy it was for everything to change.
I listened to every song that sounded good. I watched the weather change. He wanted to talk but I didn’t even know what to say. I remember the things he told me. “I will never do that to you,” he vowed. I could see us sitting there on the couch in the glow of the TV light. “I promise.”
I knew him so well.
Sunlight woke me up the next morning.
I peeled back the blankets. I had two unread text messages from him checking on me, post-break up. I sighed. I didn’t know what to think. He broke up with me a week after I made him a scrap book… I spent a month working on it. I bought glitter and stickers and sharpies for it. I cut pictures out from magazines and lyrics out from CD covers. I used our photographs and inside jokes to make it perfect. Then I wrote endearing messages to him throughout, on every page. It was totally girly. It was pink and sparkly and pretty. It was a piece of me that he could have. The idea was that whenever he got scared or insecure and darkness broke lose on his dreams, he could open the scrapbook. I knew exactly who he was.
He broke up me a week after.
I could see it. It was dwindling. It was changing. I could care less who he hung with. It didn’t matter that he went on non-date dates with Megan. It didn’t that Megan was willowy and beautiful. She was more than I could ever be. He turned the phone off to be with her. I left voice mail when they were having dinner. I left a text when they were bowling. It definitely didn’t matter that he handed her a single violet in an unspoken rush on her front stoop. It didn’t matter that the violet was my analogy. “I’m a violet and you help me with water and sunlight,” I told him.
Not until after it was over between us.
The white horse that was so sure of wasn’t anywhere to be found.
It could have been because it was a difficult time. He wanted to take me out and I couldn’t make the time. He took Megan out instead. He was nice about it, “if it was you that would be so much better.” He wanted to buy me a necklace or a bracelet from the most expensive store on the city strip and I said no. He was nice about that too, “at least you know you’re worth it.”
My dad needed me around a lot. I was almost twenty and he was getting older. I poured his coffee and washed his clothes. I set his books by his recliner. I took his dog out for a walk. My sister was falling apart. I dried her tears and calmed her fears. It was good for awhile. I was good at that. All of those things sort of became my identity. Until my sister wasn’t ever home, didn’t return my calls, and she distanced herself from me. What I did for her wasn’t enough anymore. That was all around the time of dad’s major life-change. I didn’t ask him about his life changes. I didn’t say anything. He didn’t need me like he did.
Who was I if I wasn’t taking care of them? I spent twenty years doing that.
It was freedom. It was depression. It was unanswered questions. I called him up. “I miss you. I miss you so much.”
“Hey, long time no talk.”
“I know. Do you have any plans for tonight? I really need to talk to you.” My words were jumbled. He knew them well. He had a talent for sorting them out. “It’s really important. I just want to talk to you about-”
“I have plans tonight.” His voice came out slow and soft.
“That’s cool. I know I haven’t been around but-” I stopped to take a breath. Something didn’t seem right. I was in unfamiliar territory. “Caden?”
“Let’s just go back to being friends.”
He canceled whatever plans he had that day and I drove over to his house. He sat on the front step in the sunlight. He looked up at me, squinting. I walked closer. “Things are going to be different, we can spend more time together, you know.” He didn’t say anything and so I sat down next to him. “It’s been so hard this summer.”
“What do you want?” He asked me. “It’s your life. If you were needed and you wanted to say no, then why didn’t you say no?”
I shrugged. “I didn’t want to.” Not a whole lot more was said. The sun went down behind the distant mountains. He got up in his converse and wiped his hands together. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
That was when it was over. It was done. We were so close. We had our phone calls and hand written letters abundant and beautiful and now they were done. There were so many things I wanted to say to him back then. I wanted to tell him that everything would turn out just fine. I wanted to say we would make it to the finish line and my hand would be in his like it was back at the start. I never did because I never could.
I wanted to lead my sister. I wanted to take her hand and pull her up. I wanted to lay my life down for her. I wanted to fix all the things my dad worried about and stand beside him until the end. I wanted to follow Caden everywhere as he once followed me everywhere. It was up close and personal and I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t know what to feel. So I boxed up his gifts to me and put them in the basement. I crumpled up his letters at the foot of my bed. I stared at the wall. I stared at the stars. They were all so alone and they didn’t know how to say so. I could see everything they wanted to say. I saw it when I looked in their eyes.
Maybe it was time for me to move on.
I cried and I cried and I cried. When I stopped crying, I got a new tissue box and made my bed again, just so I could start crying all over again. I did. My bed sat in a pool of drying tears and empty hopes. Everything I had ever worked so hard for was shut down and over. Just like that.
Maybe I should have slept on ninety percent of what I said to him. If I didn’t say I couldn’t make our date, but said wait…if I listened more and spoke less… Could I have done anything differently to change the outcome? At the same time, it was fully expected. I couldn’t have predicted a more sensible ending. I was never anything beautiful. I let him down and I knew that then and that it would happen again. I was never Megan. I was never his.
After my family fell apart and my relationship fell apart, I had no idea who I was. I built myself on expectations and promises. Who I was, was defined by who I was to those people. They were leaving my life and it all shifted. Without them validating me and needing me, who was I?