A study in second person narrative. By Julie Nyhus.
He is tall and whiskered, with the sort of masculinity that has cutting edges and sharp lines. He opens doors, reaching in front of you with a smile, happy to do it again and again. His arms are solid and hard, but feel like comfort around you. And when you cry, he is awkward and strange but doesn’t turn away. And it is then that his arms do what his words cannot: reinforce the lack of distance between you.
When you’re teetering on reality and feeling like someone who stands outside a drug store all day smoking cigarettes, he’s still there when you come home. And you look at him with question marks dripping from your eyes and you want to ask, you want to know why he’s still here. But you don’t ask. You swallow the fear of not knowing if he’ll stay and you concentrate on the scent of his nearness and the cadence in his voice.
And when you see him across the room, his head nodding in time with his friends and his capable frame shifting his stance from foot to foot, you smile at his laughter and you wonder if he thinks of you the way you think of him, with warmth and desire, with thoughts that make his mind race and his heart quicken. And you consider for a moment the weight of the pain should you ever discover that he doesn’t. And as the stabbing sensation loosens your senses, you step backward. You retreat even though you’re screaming inside yourself: don’t withdraw. Then he looks over at you, marking you with a solid gaze as if you belong to him, as if there could be no other in the world for him but you. It stops the retreat. But not the stabbing.
At those times when he takes you away for the weekend, you go willingly. You visit restaurants with dead fish on the walls, you drink beer and talk about how expensive everything is here. Somewhere between the haze of noise and the buzz of the alcohol, you know you should tell him you can’t do this anymore. But instead you nod and drink another beer while he tells you of his global excursions and his finished girlfriends.
And when you leave the bar, all of that stays stuck between you but you’re not sure why. Later that night in bed he loves you and each touch makes you feel like a stranger in a foreign land as excitement mixes with all that is still unknown in him. And you try desperately to figure it out, this pull of distress that is weighing on you. And when he turns over on his side and tucks his arm beneath his head, you say, “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Why not?” He asks, slanting his brows to attention.
And in a split second you decide that he should never know that there are days when you’re riding the train and you’re straining to remember the last time he said he loved you, but you can’t recall and so another fear deposits itself into the soles of your feet. And before the train stops you’ve realized instead that when he talks of politics, you think of romance. And when he watches football, you think of marriage. And when he cooks dinner, you think of leaving.
Instead you say, “I’ll have my things out by the end of the month.”
And after your belongings are packed, you forget to mention that the movers are scheduled for that morning. And he comes home for lunch and when he sees the truck he asks you if you’re sure you want to do this. You look up at him, plunging into the warmth of his dark eyes once more and you tell him again that you can’t do this. Do what? He questions. I need to feel safe. I need to feel loved. You struggle with the invisible truths that sit between you. But again, leave them tucked away.
He shakes his head as he wraps his hand behind his neck and rubs it back and forth. It sounds like a dog scratching and you wonder if he’s ever really loved you. You think back to the beginning of you and him. Your mind wanders in and out, following the weave of moments that created a false sense of we. The time he looked away first, then pulled you tight against his chest. The day he forgot your middle name, so he made up a new one. The little things that didn’t mean much to him then or now.
And as his head stops shaking and his scratching hand returns to his side, you step closer and say I’m sorry, because you can see the pain pulling at the corners of his mouth. And you question for a split second if you’re doing the right thing but you know inside there’s no going back. So you look up at him, tall and whiskered, and you pull every detail of him into your mind one last time daring not to breathe in the chemistry of him as the wrong type of quiet settles between you. And when suddenly his form breaks, you see that your closeness is nothing but a slapping farewell. He steps away, retreating out the door. And you leave with the moving truck.