As Will laid alone in his bed I was miles away draped over an unfamiliar couch. Drunken bodies decorated the rest of the room, framing my limp form in the center. I heard my phone nip at my thigh three times after I hung up on him. I didn’t flinch a single time. I knew he had probably poured his heart out to me through the screen and I didn’t have the will to illuminate my face with his fractured words. I felt entirely hollow. The only thing filling my senses were the light breaths of the unconscious ones around me and the soft clicking of dishes in the kitchen. I had forgotten that there was at least one other person awake. I traced their footsteps around the house until they finally creaked into the living room.
“You’re still alive huh?”
It was the party hosts’ roommate, Tyler. I’d seen him around my circle a few times and knew him for how chill he was about letting people over. He wasn’t much of a drinker but smoked a lot whenever we were all together. Even from a few feet away I could smell the cigarettes underneath his cologne.
“Barely,” I said with complete honesty.
“Ah. Well I hope you don’t plan on puking on the floor like my brother did. That shit was gross.”
“No, I think I’ll be fine in that department.”
“There’s that at least. Do you want some water though?”
“Umm…Yeah. Water would be good.”
“Coming right up.”
He turned and went back into the kitchen. I listened to him pull down a glass and fill it with water from the fridge. My hand grasped lightly at my pocket, tempted to finally read your messages. I was just about to pull out my phone when he returned.
“I put ice in if that’s okay,” he said, handing the glass to me.
“Yeah that’s fine. Thanks Tyler.”
“No problemo. I’m pretty much the designated baby sitter at this point. Though it looks like all the other kids are knocked.”
“Yeah…” I laughed weakly. Tyler sat in the armchair beside the couch as I took small sips from the glass. He started scrolling through his phone, the illumination bringing his face into view from the darkness. The light in the kitchen crept a couple feet past its threshold, stopping just before the shadows of the living room. I sat there in silence before glancing up at him. He had steel gray eyes and undercut black hair. He looked so young to me.
Perhaps I was just used to Will’s face. It took me back to before we had even started dating, back to when my girlfriends referred to him as “the hot one” to the non-privy people in our group. He was my type of guy and in some conversations their type of guy too. He was strong but not bulky. His voice was a happy medium nestled into the family of firm depth with a smooth, airy charm that rose to the occasion when needed. When shaven, he could be the magazine cover heartthrob of young girls in checkout lines. With a steady beard he could be the leading man of any action-adventure film. I never felt like I could define a “type” for myself, but after my lips had met every inch of his skin and I had become acquainted with his soul in the silence of a parked car, I knew. He was the only type of person I’d ever find worth being with. It was just a shame it would take me so long to finally keep a hold of it.
I put my glass aside and pulled out my phone. My pulse sped up as the screen unlocked to show me the first few words of Will’s heartbreak. He’d sent me three paragraphs of text. I trembled as a read them:
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make you happy. I’m sorry that i tried to pull you into something you weren’t ready for and now I’m feeling the consequences of it. Maybe its the timing or Maybe its just that we fell in too deep too fast. Im hurting right now and I’d be lying to try and cover it up but I don’t know what else to do right now. I love you so much and I never thought you could say the things you just did.
I pushed you too hard. I know I did. but I wish you would have given us more time to fix things. You can’t just let something escalate until it blows up when you know that theres something wrong. there’s a reason why people say communication is the most important thing in a relationship. i was hoping that after what happened before things would be different between us but i guess i was wrong.
I hope that you’ll call me sometime tomorrow so we can actually talk in person but its obvious that this isnt working out. we’ve both made mistakes and its time to accept that. Just be honest with me from here on out, i wont want to hear everything but I know I need to. im sorry. i was really looking forward to our future together. Maybe we can save something, i dont know what but if our feelings were true then only time can tell. i love you. Goodnight.”
I felt like I had been turned inside out. I wanted to punch myself for what I’d done. At the same time, the angry voice that had spoken to him on the phone earlier was still creeping around my body telling me that this was inevitable. I had a different heart than his. His was so full and supple that when it tried to fill my sickly heart with his love it only spilled out of the seams. Again. Again I had made him cry himself to sleep. Again I had to know that I was fully capable of dedicating myself to him but I just didn’t. I chose the same empty life that had led me to being so fucked up over the salvation of his companionship. But perhaps that’s what led me down this road. I realized that my childish inability to solve my own problems was only going to drown my spirit over and over again until I put in the effort to save myself. I realized that even running back into his arms wasn’t going to completely cleanse me. I wanted to heal with him, in my deepest desires I knew that I did. But I was so afraid of it not working again. I hadn’t ever met a man that made me feel the way he did, that challenged me to be better than what I was. Up until that point I stayed content being reckless in my ways because I didn’t feel like it was worth being any different. I wished it had just come to me on its own years ago so that I would be ready for Will when I approached him under those neon lights. Though he inspired me to change I understood that it would take a life away from him to truly become a better person. I’d probably lose him in the process, but at least I could say I’d done something to make myself worth a damn.
I always had trouble recognizing what really made me happy. Looking back I know that I lived so dependently through other people. Lovers, friends, friends of friends, sometimes strangers. I dreaded being alone. I dreaded the thought of people not liking me and an empty chat box was of more concern to me than an empty heart. Will didn’t feel that way. His art made him happy, his family made him happy, and his work did too. It made me jealous. He didn’t need me in any literal sense, but he wanted me because he cared about me and because I made him happy. I wasn’t ready to love yet. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t the right person for someone who was ready to love. I told him glittery tales during the first week we started talking about how passionate I was for my hobbies and how lively and outgoing I was. He had no idea how easy it was to bring out the best of myself for everyone but me.
I had to talk to Will in person but I wasn’t ready yet. The sun had just barely peeked over the horizon when I’d finished reading his text for the fifth time. I typed several replies to him only to delete them all. I hoped that he would assume I was asleep and would get to him when I could. I hoped he had finally brought himself to bed. I imagined the almost full bottle of sleeping pills in his night stand. The ones he said he only took when he absolutely couldn’t sleep. It had been awhile since I’d even seen him touch them. Had the pills been on the shelf he’d be dusting them off just for this night.
“Are you alright? You look like you’re having an existential crisis over there,” Tyler said, breaking my train of thought.
“I’m fine it’s just…got some stuff on my mind.”
“Ahh. Well I’m known as the in-house therapist around here if you need it.”
He turned his phone off and set it on his lap, one of the more respectful signs of attention among people nowadays. I hesitated about opening up to someone other than a close friend, however I realized it might be refreshing to get a guy’s point of view on the subject.
“I…um. Well, I was dating someone. His name is Will. We had moved in together a couple months ago and for some reason I just started feeling…”
“Yeah, basically. Like it was great and all but I started missing the way things were before we got serious. And then I just started missing the way things were before that. Like, I’d feel so shitty bailing on someone I care about but if I don’t feel happy I shouldn’t stick around and put that on someone else right?”
Tyler leaned back in his seat slightly, thinking to himself.
“I would definitely say no. I mean moving in with someone changes everything. Not all people can handle it. I don’t know if you know Rebecca Woods but I used to live with her when we were dating back in like, March. It sounds like a good idea when you’re basically over there every day anyway but you have to really mature for it. People move in together all the time thinking problems will just solve themselves but there’s so much shit you have to work out beforehand.”
“I’m realizing that now… What happened with you and Rebecca? I think I’ve seen her on your page, aren’t you guys still friends?”
“Yeah we are, and I’ll be honest I’ve always had a place in my heart for her but I can’t live with her or any girl right now. We were in our honeymoon phase and had this dream of living together in a cheap studio apartment downtown. It seemed so dreamy the first few weeks until we just kinda started dumping our issues on one another and it was all bad.”
“What do you mean dumping your issues on one another?”
“Well she had big insecurities I didn’t know about and since she was around me all the time she felt like she had to monitor me. Meanwhile I had to look out for my little brother a lot because our step dad is a piece of shit, so of course I was always stressing about him. The bills just made it worse. Put on top of that a girl who has something to fight with you about every time you come home? It’s just all bad.”
“Oh shit, I’m sorry man I had no idea.”
“Not your fault at all.”
“So you left her or…?”
“Yeah I left her. Like I said, I care about her but I can’t live with her. At least not until she learns to trust me. And I still need to learn how to balance my family issues.”
“I understand, I’d feel the same way.”
“Before we keep talking though,” he started. “Will you come outside with me? This is a conversation that should happen with a smoke.”
“Sure, sounds good.”
I didn’t realize how good a cigarette actually sounded. I stood up as he pulled the pack out of his hoodie and headed to the door. We went to the back patio and sat in the cushioned chairs, the sun finally spilling some color on the landscape before us. Somewhere out there Will was sleeping peacefully, safe from the headache of a tearful night. I should have been there with him.
Tyler handed me a cigarette and I was pleased to see it was menthol. He lit up his and I watched the smoke spiral around his youthful face. He kicked his feet up on an overturned crate and I started to take notice of the little things about him. A bold and intricate geometric tattoo showing a skyline and crooked trees illustrated one of his arms. His pale skin contrasted nicely with the pitch black ink. A deep scar poked out from under his jeans and curved around this ankle. I noticed another pinkish scar on his left arm. I’d ask him about them later on, scars always interested me.
“Can I get a light?”
“Of course,” he held the lighter at the end of my cigarette. My eyes met his briefly as the flame ignited.
“No problem. So where were we? Oh, right. What happened with your guy?”
“Well we weren’t really fighting too bad at first, but then I just started getting irritated by the little things. On top of that I was missing my free time, so eventually I just went off over the simplest things. I feel like I was kind of trying to push him away, but I didn’t want him to go. Do you know what I mean?”
“Definitely, I think we’ve all been there. I would just come home and be like ‘If she says anything to me about the goddamn clothes again I’m going to flip shit’, and sure enough she did and I would flip shit. I wanted her to just back off, but then when she stormed out I’d run right after her you know? But one day I stopped running. I just let her walk out. And that’s when she knew things had changed.”
“He was always running after me, but I started running further away. I don’t know why but I just didn’t want any of it anymore. I loved him as a person but I didn’t feel… in love with him.”
I took a slow drag of my cigarette, the coolness coating my stale words. He nodded at me sympathetically.
“It was the same for me. We were just so abrasive towards each other.”
“See we were abrasive but I felt like I was the one causing it. He’d never be upset at me without a real reason, and we had had problems before we moved in but I thought we’d worked past them. I know deep down it’s mostly my fault but I felt pressured and confused at the time. I freaked out and bailed.”
“When me and Rebecca broke up I always said ‘Oh I can’t live with you’ but what it really was was that I couldn’t live with her at that time. I could probably live with her in some other circumstance but not that one. She’s trying to room up with this other guy right now and all I can say is I hope she’s grown up enough for it.”
He exhaled the smoke gently. He must have had plenty of time to adjust to things. Had I heard of Will moving in with another girl I may have snapped, regardless of how long it’d been. I would have felt entirely like a failure and again reminded why I engaged in self-destructive habits.
“Damn. See now I don’t even know where to go from here. I feel like the easiest way is to just let him go and if it’s meant to be then…things will change.”
“I wish I had a straight answer but I don’t know the way you two work together first hand. If it’s any consolation me and her were supposed to get back together several times but some bullshit drama always ruined it before we even had the chance. It just taught me that some people can love each other and not be together for awhile. It’s like those old flames that meet up and find out they still feel the same way. If it doesn’t go down like that, then they meet up and realize they’re completely different people. Then they just say goodbye again.”
“Love is strange.”
“That’s for sure.”
“How old are you again?”
“Ahh, ripe old age of 22.”
“You seem to know your stuff. See I’ve been bumbling around trying to figure out what I want from people since I was 15 and I still have no idea.”
He scoffed a bit.
“That’s the thing, if you only look at what someone can give you you’re never gonna be satisfied. Let’s say you live way up in the fuckin’ mountains, no fast food, no grocery stores, and it’s all snowy and shit. You can’t hunt, but your boyfriend can. So you just sit there every day waiting for him to come back with the food. You never learn to hunt or anything, just cook. Well what do you do when he doesn’t come back? What do you do when a goddamn grizzly bear just slaughters em’ one day? Starve to death? What if you have to go provide for some other person who can’t hunt? Are you just gonna sit there and be useless? Nah, you’ve got to put on your big girl panties and learn how to shoot something before it’s too late.”
“Haha, that’s a great way to put it.”
“Shit, whatever works,” he said.
But it was true. I needed to learn how to be my own source of happiness. Only then could I share that happiness with others. With Will. I should find more comfort in giving rather than taking. I had always taken things to try and fill myself up but it was never enough. When I took Logan Lewis’ virginity in the back of his mom’s car our Senior year, I gave him nothing but my body and walked away with only the memory of that cold January night. I once dated a guy from my Sociology class who just wanted bragging rights to the other guys in class, while I just wanted someone who could buy me booze and cigs since I was only in 10th grade. My previous best friend, who I always demanded to answer my calls when I was upset, gave me so much of her time and effort just for me to tell her she was a shitty friend and slam the door in her face that summer after high school. When my last job hired a gorgeous new guy to work in the stock rooms, I chased after him hoping that he’d be the man of my dreams only to find someone so one-dimensional and boring that it was nauseating. I can still hear the sound of my mother’s voice shaking when she bailed me out of jail when I was 17, and even then I still bickered with her at family dinners and blamed her for my shortcomings. I looked back through my own timeline and felt ashamed. How Will listened to all of these rusty words and still kissed my copper mouth was a miracle.
I felt like Tyler understood where I was coming from. Him being on his own for a few months now surely opened his eyes. I was envious of him really. He had already halfway through his second cigarette and sat cooly in the chair, squinting at the sunrise.
“Wish I had my sunglasses,” he said.
We sat for a little bit longer until he finished his smoke.
“Do you wanna go back inside? That cold air is coming anyway.”
“Yeah, let’s head inside.”
I stood up and slowly opened the patio door in the hopes that no one was awake yet. When we were back into the warmth of the house I turned to look at him. He scanned the room, shaking his head slightly at the people strewn about.
“I’m glad I picked up most of their mess last night. What a circus.”
“They didn’t even get to party really, they just kinda came in and got slammed right off the bat.”
“I hate those kinds of people, just a waste of liquor to be honest,” he reached down and picked up a half empty can of beer. He went into the kitchen to pour it out before returning to me.
“I feel like playing some games but I obviously can’t wake up these infants. Wanna come upstairs with me? It’s up to you, you could just sleep if you want.”
“I’ll come upstairs. It’ll be nice to kinda be away from everyone.”
“You’re telling me.”
He led the way to the upstairs where we went into what I assumed was his room. I felt the weight rise in my chest. I hadn’t been in another man’s room since Will and I moved in together. But I trusted Tyler, out of all the men slinging their drunken arms over me last night he wasn’t one of them. In fact, I had never even had a real conversation with him until this morning. I took a deep breath. Everything was going to be alright. I knew how I was going to handle things later that day. I knew that I had learned something this morning. I had to relax and ready myself to let go.
Tyler was about to sit on the bed when he hesitated.
“Hey uhh, were you sleepy? Because you can sleep if you want, I can go grab the computer chair.”
“You can still sit there, I’m just going to lay down.”
“Fair enough,” he shrugged.
He grabbed a controller and laid his back against the headboard. The bed was really big but I still found myself curled up towards the edge like a modest little cat. I heard his game start up and he commenced playing through. I finally realized how tired I was as my body sank softly into the mattress. He nudged some blankets towards me and I curled them around my shoulders.
“Thanks,” I said.
He crossed his legs and immersed himself in the television screen. I started dozing off, recollecting Will’s text messages from last night. Our phone call started to play back in my head. I fell asleep quickly and almost instantly began to dream. I saw visions of concrete columns and large stone walls. My path was illuminated by a dim trail of light, casting my shadow on the towering boundaries. I followed it and followed it. I saw flashes of Will’s silhouette running, but always out of my reach. I kept chasing him for miles and miles through the maze of stone. The sound of my footsteps echoed back to my ears as a thundering reminder of how alone I was. Each time I felt like I could grab him, my feet would fall out from under me and I would descend through a sudden hole in the ground. I ran around and around like this for what seemed like an eternity. The repetition sent my senses into a pulsating frenzy. The chaotic crumble of another stone disappearing from beneath my feet finally flung me into the real world. I entered consciousness again with a heavy thud.
“Hey…?” I heard Tyler say softly. Will’s voice played beneath it, still reaching out from the chamber of my dreams.
I felt the tears waiting behind my eyes. A concerning hand landed on my shoulder. Without invitation I rolled over pitifully onto Tyler’s stomach.
“Oh—uhh. Okay? Are you alright? You were twitching.”
“I just…I’m really tired. Fell asleep too fast and my brain is….isn’t working right.”
“Just slow down for a minute, relax,” he placed a hand on top of my head. “I had a lot of bad dreams too back then.”
I laid silently right beneath his chest. He didn’t caress me, nor did he start cooing in my ear. But he ran his fingers through my hair twice to reassure me before he wrapped his hands around the controller again. He nudged me slightly, signaling me to move back a little. Part of me was glad he didn’t want me laying on him.
“Just sleep,” he said as I rolled over.
I curled up again and my feet met with his. I flinched slightly.
“Today will be a fresh start. I promise. You just have to reset first,” he said.
I closed my eyes again, hoping that my dreams would surround me with Will’s bittersweet memory instead of those dead walls. I forced myself to imagine us in picture-perfect scenes so that maybe my brain would latch on to the ideas before I fell asleep. I pleaded silently in my head. Perhaps by some blessing I’d be in his arms again soon. Perhaps this would be the last time he pushed me away.