Forehead Kisses

Forehead kisses are…

Like going to bed at 10pm on New Years

You mean well, but it just didn’t happen.

It’s for highschoolers love struck, day dreamers.

Who believe it means something it isn’t:

A promise.

 

But forehead kisses are not a promise.

They’re safe.

And promises are anything but

Promises are all packaged as a gift with a detonator as their bow.

Easily set off by the gentlest of wrong moves.

Ready to count down in red flashing lights and destroy

everything in sight.

 

Forehead kisses are easy.

Those are grocery store 5.99 flowers.

Those are lighting a candle on a night stand and calling it romance.

Those are tentative coffee dates that never

even got put into your iPhone calendar.

 

So when your lips stake a flag at the place

between my eyebrows where canyons are

carved from years of suspicion

And you say “I have to go after her”

I know what that means:

almost.

 

You almost loved me.

And I almost believed it.

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Snapshots

Kindergarten:

“How many of you know how to ride your bikes?” Mrs. Hodgenson asked our class. Every hand shot in the air.

“Keep your hand up, if you can ride your bike without your training wheels.” Slowly, my hand went down, a deflated balloon. It was the only hand not raised.

My dad took the training wheels off that night and set them on the dirt. My dad held the seat of my bike as I pedaled trying to maintain my balance, “I’m going to let go now.” I felt his hand leave. I pedaled a short ways, lost control, and hit the ground. My face scratched slid against gravel. My side ached. I sat up, my bike toppled over next to me; I wiped my cheek with the back of hand, blood smearing across my pale skin and got back on my bike.

First Grade

A boy in my class told me he knew how to turn girls on. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I did understand he was being weird. I didn’t say anything. “You just do this”, he took his fingers and slowly ran them up side of my leg. I told him to leave me alone. When we went back in from recess, I told my teacher that he touched me on the playground. She told me not to tattle and sent me back to my desk.

Second Grade

I asked my teacher to begin a creative writing group for me. She said if I could get three other students to join she would stay after school with us once a week so we could write stories. That afternoon, Paige, Robin (my first crush), Tim, and I stood in front of her door. We spent that year writing a book about a bumble bee that traveled all over the city.

One day before our parents picked us up, Robin asked me to be his girlfriend. I broke up with him a few days later for lying to me.

A few weeks later, Tim called me to tell me his Dad had committed suicide. “I just needed to tell you,” he said.

Third Grade

At open house, I received my progress report from my teacher Mrs. Copeland. My parents let me open it up, when I did, I started to cry. My mom carefully took the paper out of my hands, Mrs. Copeland knelt down on one knee and asked me what was wrong, I had good grades, she said, there was nothing to cry about. My mom looked down on me, “This is her first B.”

“In?” My dad asked.

“Math” Mrs. Copeland went on to explain what I struggled with.

It was the first time I felt like I disappointed my parents, but it wouldn’t be the last time I got a B in math.

 Fourth Grade

My teacher asked me to help another student with her poem about cowboys. Each of us had to write one so it could be entered into the annual Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering Contest.  When I sat down to read her poem with her, I realized it was terrible and I didn’t know how to tell her. I re-wrote her intro for her and told her to add on to it. The poem I entered that year won state.

Fifth Grade

Mrs. Fiddas the children’s choir director at my church asked my sister and I to stay after class. She pulled both of us into her lap. She smelled like flowers. She said, “I love you girls. You know that right?” We nodded. We loved Mrs. Fiddas too. “And I pray for your mom every night.” I saw tears in her eyes and rested my head on her shoulder and wondered why God created cancer if he didn’t know how to cure it.

Sixth Grade

            My mom came into my room before bed to talk. She sat down; I knew that meant she was serious.

“We need to talk about Robin.” I sat up, my back propped against the wooden bed frame that had belonged to her as a little girl. She explained to me that Robin’s dad had been shot and killed. It was an accident.

When Robin came back to school, I asked if we could talk, alone. I told him I was sorry. That’s all I knew to say.

“We have to move to Atlanta my mom says.”

I spent the rest of the year looking at Robin’s empty desk and wondering if there really was such a thing as accidents.

Seventh Grade

My mom got me up for school, but today was different; she told me I needed to come to the living room. She was frantic. The news was on. My mom never watched the news. Something was wrong. I watched as the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Smoke billowed up on the screen. The newscaster was crying. My mom was crying. Our phone rang. It was my Dad calling to say My Uncle Frank, who lived five miles from the towers,  was OK.

Eighth Grade

 Paige pushed me against the wall in the girl’s bathroom and demanded I let her do my eye makeup. I told her mascara made your eyelashes fall out. She said, “But you’ll be pretty until they do.” I gave in and she did my eyeliner, slathered on the mascara, and pulled a contraption out of her purse that she claimed curled eyelashes. I didn’t feel like myself, but I got ten compliments that day, all about how pretty my eyes were. That night I asked my mom to buy me makeup.

Ninth Grade

Joe asked me to be his girlfriend. He kissed me under honeysuckle vines and it was the first kiss I had that didn’t leave my face wet with spit.

His dad passed away that summer from cirrhosis of liver. The week before he died, his yellow-colored hand clutched mine and he pulled me down to him, “Take care of my boy” he said and he kissed me on the cheek. But like the Bible says, the sins of the father are the sins of the son and I was not a savior.

Tenth Grade

Mrs. Franco came to our school for her first year of teaching. She had just graduated from the University of Arizona. She was pretty, young, and had no idea what she was getting herself into. We didn’t even have a teacher sponsor for student council. No one wanted to represent our class. Our last sponsor had quit half way through our freshmen year and our Freshmen English teacher swore he wouldn’t come back to teach until we had graduated. He kept his promise.

Mrs. Franco became our class sponsor, the NHS advisor, and our favorite teacher. She asked me what I wanted to be one day when I got out of high school, “An English teacher.” I told her. She smiled, “I think you would be perfect for it.”

Eleventh Grade

            My best friend started dating a boy who kidnapped her bright smile and infectious laugh. I begged her to leave him, she wouldn’t. That summer she asked if I would come to the gym at school to hang out with her while she watched him play basketball. When I got there, they were already arguing.

“Bitch.”

“Why don’t you do something already?” She screamed, tears streaming down her face.

He raised his fist. I stepped in front of her. He stopped. I didn’t blink.

We stared at each other. Stale mate.

He turned, punched the brick wall, and walked out of the gym.

Twelfth Grade

            My Uncle Frank passed away from a tumor in his leg. The cancer had spread to his brain and caused him to go delusional; complications from chemicals he had breathed in from September 11th the specialist said. I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye, he didn’t remember who I was anyway. It was the only time I had ever seen my dad have tears in his eyes.

My mom passed away on a Sunday. I called into work, the voice on the other end belonged to one of my classmates and demanded to know why I couldn’t possibly come in; I could hear her roll her eyes.

“My mom died this morning.” I didn’t wait for a response. Click.

Mrs. Franco held me back after class the next day, “What are you doing here?” She knew what happened. Everyone did. Perks of a small town.

“I’d rather be here than at home where it happened.” I told her. She hugged me.

I graduated that year in the Top Ten with enough scholarships to put me through most of college.

My dad paid some money that we didn’t have to give me an ad in that year’s yearbook. He handed me a folded up piece of paper. I was supposed to turn it in to the yearbook staff so they could print what he wanted the ad to say.  I read it before I handed it to someone in yearbook. He wrote, “…You have shown strength in the midst of adversity.” That night on my drive home from work, I cried.

 

 

           

 

Memoir Chapter 1: Ray Charles

This was partly my fault. I knew that. These tears and pain were half, maybe even more than half my fault, which infuriated me. I should have known better. I was twenty-two, sitting in my apartment complex, alone, crying over a guy. Hadn’t I learned my lesson yet? It wasn’t my first heartbreak, nor was it the first time I had cried over a boy. I had cried many tears over boys, especially those who didn’t deserve it. There was Robin, a master tether ball player who moved away in the sixth grade. There was Clay, a green-eyed Mormon who had never taken notice of my four year crush on him; there were all five of The Backstreet Boys when I read the article in Teen Bop about the band breaking up.

But this time; these tears were accompanied by the feeling of defeat. That’s what made this time different. The hopeless romantic in me was taking her last breaths of air, the young girl in me had begun to curse fairy-tales, and the young woman in me had given up.

“You know Ray Charles, right?” My dad’s voice, tinted with a slight New York accent flooded through the phone and into my ear. I had called him in desperation, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling this time. This time, it really hurt.

I sniffled, “Yes.”

I didn’t know what my dad was getting at. His advice always involved some sort of reference to a movie, a quote, a piece of history.

Once, I came home from work and told my Dad I had seen my childhood best friend at the store where I worked. She came in while I was opening to show me her engagement ring. Her boyfriend, who I introduced her to, had proposed, only she had stopped talking to me months prior, suddenly and without reason.

“I saw Sarah at work today,” I told him and explained the announcement of the starting of her new life.

“What did you say about you guys losing touch?”

“Nothing,” I said sheepishly. My dad took pride in the fact that he never avoided anything no matter how high the tension.

“Nothing will come of nothing, my dear. Do you know what that’s from?”

“No,” Again, I replied sheepishly. I knew it was going to be something my dad’s private education from New York, would make him think I was supposed to know. Arizona Public Schools never did quite meet his standards.

“Shakespeare. King Leer.”

“I haven’t read that one yet.”

It wouldn’t be until my senior year in college, sitting in my four hundred level Shakespeare class, that I understood exactly what my dad had meant that day.

“Look up the song: You Don’t Know Me by Ray Charles and listen to it.”

My dad went on to talk about the biography of Ray Charles while I typed with one finger into the search engine of Youtube. I sniffled again. I hit pay.

“Are you listening? Listen to the lyrics.”

“I’m listening.”

The song was about Ray Charles falling in love with a friend. Only, she never knew because she didn’t really know him at all and Ray Charles was not about to admit the feelings he had for this girl in fear of losing the friendship.

The song ended.

“You see? Man, that was always one of my favorite songs. Isn’t he amazing?” I smiled, I could hear my dad smiling as he reminisced about his younger days.

‘I’ve always liked Ray Charles,” I said, but I still wasn’t sure what my dad wanted me to get out of the song. I hit play again.

“Good. Now, stop crying. Listen to that song and cheer up. It’ll be OK and in a few months, I’m sure none of this will matter.”

I knew I needed to just get over it, but it wasn’t as simple as just getting over someone. It wasn’t just the ending of a friendship or a relationship; it was the concept of relationships and love in general. This had been the last break in a long string of disappointments, chained together with the rusty links of lies and let downs. I sniffled, wiped my nose against my sleeve, said goodnight to my dad, and hung up the phone.

I pulled my flowered quilt to my chin I rolled my eyes at how this frilly linen had cost me ninety dollars and then rolled my eyes again at how stupid I was to still be listening to this song. But, I couldn’t figure out what my dad was trying to tell me, what Ray Charles was trying to tell me. I wasn’t in love. Was my dad trying to tell me that I was?

I was tired of crying and thinking. My neck slowly tipped backwards and my head lightly hit my headboard, my eyes opened to the bumpy, white, drywall above me. I took a deep breath and hit play again.

That was the night I gave up. My dad’s advice was to move on, forget, listen to Ray Charles. I did. I did listen to the song, but I had already chosen to stop trying to understand. I wasn’t heartbroken, I was defeated. The young woman in me had put her foot down, the little girl in me was pouting, and the hopeless romantic in me, well, she was missing in action.

I slammed my laptop shut, “Fuck you, Ray Charles.”

Cracks in the Foundation

A plastic white chair
Spinning through the air
On the Fourth of July
hits her in the shins.
He’s drunk again.
“I’m leaving” she says.
My best friend just a haze down the concrete steps before I turn to you
What the fuck?

He laughs and stumbles away.
I stand there staring at the cracks that crawl up the side of your house.
Before I can decide to chase after her
Or maybe get in and leave with her
Her car starts and she’s gone.
I stare through blurry vision
Looking for answers in the cracks in the
Foundation.

I walk inside.

Not really looking for you.
But looking for something
That will fix the cracks in the foundation.
I walk through the kitchen that is either painted yellow or just yellow from the nicotine stains
And find myself at the side door that leads me back outside.
I open it and I am met with your mother’s face.
She swings the door open wildly,

cackling

drink spilling.
But she freezes when she sees me
I wish I had been hiding my eyes
But now she knows
And we just stare.
Exchanging a secret.
And now I know what carved the permanent furrows in her brow
And I know why she sits in the back room filling it with smoke as she opens another pack.
And I know why some days she doesn’t come home.
And I know why she punched the mirror in her bedroom.
And I know there’s no fix for the cracks in the foundation.
And now she knows.
She says “He’ll end up just like his father.”
And then she hugs me.
It’s the first hug she’s given me in two years.
And I breathe in the nicotine smell from her shoulder and close my eyes.
As it chokes the tears I’m holding back.
And I know what I have to do
Because I don’t want to be anything like the woman who holds me now.

Fool’s Gold

When I was nine I dug for treasures in my back yard: five acres in the dessert.

Seemed like a vast land of buried secrets.

I found old socks

Cattle bones

But I wanted to uncover something

That would tell me

Yes, there used to be something here.

Something wild, and mysterious, and beautiful.

And you discovered it.

One day I uncovered a black garbage bag.

It was filled with gold trinkets:

Stars, bells, and hearts.

Small crystals.

And diamonds.

As I retrieved them one by one

From the black bag

I realized they were plastic.

I looked at the window that overlooked my backyard.

The one by my mother’s computer desk.

I squinted

The blinds looked different.

She was watching.

It came together for me and as I looked through the treasures, I imagined my mother peeking out, smiling.

At 30, I still dig for treasures.

I dig in the backs of my memories.

In the creases of my heart.

At the bottom of a glass of wine.

Secrets grow like wild flowers and I pick them all.

And transplant their roots to my pages.

And see if my pen can find its way through their mazes.

I still search for god in the desert and now and then I pick up a trinket and turn it over and over between my fingertips trying to see the beauty beyond its otherwise,

Worthlessness.

Believe Her

The first time a boy touched me in a way I didn’t want him to

I was in the first grade.

He slid his finger tips over my hips and down my legs, like he was about to taste test icing off a cake.

When I told the teacher, I got in trouble for tattling.

That was my first exposure to the idea that it was easier to punish women for using their voice than rein in inappropriate male behavior.

In second grade I received constant love notes from a boy. The feelings were not mutual.

After trying to let him know I didn’t like him back, asking him to stop sending me love notes, and ignoring him, I finally crumpled up one of the notes and threw it away while he watched. He told on me.

I got in trouble for being mean.

“He just has a crush on you. Be nice to him.”

That was my first exposure to the idea that what a boy wants is more important than how I feel.

In seventh grade I walked down the hallway to get a drink of water. A boy came out of the bathroom and pushed me up against a wall.

Classes are in session, someone will come out into the hallway.

But the hallway remained empty.

He tried to kiss me and failed.

My hands pushed against his chest, my face remained turned, my eyes pleading with every doorknob of every classroom.

He groped my breast, I shoved him as hard as I could, and walked back to my math class.

This was my first exposure to sexual assault.

I told everyone I was supposed to tell.

And when the grown ups asked me, a seventh grade girl, if I wanted to press charges, I said no.

Because in seventh grade being embarrassed for telling on someone outweighed being able to understand the repercussions of not pressing charges: later, the next year, he would go on to rape a first grader at her bus stop.

That was my first exposure to the guilt of womanhood.

It is a guilt that I still swallow down to try and bury in the heat of my stomach.

It is a guilt that still pin pricks behind my eyeballs.

It is a guilt that rolls upward out of my throat, aches against my tonsils, and grips at my tongue, and becomes a silent scream as I clench my fist and pound it into the cushion of the couch-

every time I turn on the news.

 

 

 

Different

This past week was my husband’s birthday, so here’s something I wrote years ago that’s  a little glimpse into how and why we fell in love. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Different

Jeff

“Give it to me.” His voice was sharp; his eyes had lost any emotion. I wished he would just take the CD right out of my hands, but he needed the satisfaction of knowing he had made me hand it over. I stared at his palm out stretched toward me and reluctantly placed the CD in it. His fingers closed around it and he started up the stairs to his house. I followed closely behind him, embarrassed and slightly afraid of what was going to happen next. Softly closing the door behind me, I watched from the entry way as he walked quickly through his kitchen and into the laundry room. There, his mother sat, playing a game on the computer while smoking a cigarette. The scene was no different from any other day.

“Mom, Shannon has this country mix CD, but she doesn’t want it anymore, do you want it?” Right then, his sister came prancing out of her bedroom, “I want it!”

I stared at the wooden floor.  It was just a CD, I told myself, trying to turn down the anger that was boiling inside of me. But, it wasn’t just a CD. These were my interests, the things that I liked, something I had grown up with, a part of me, and he was simply handing it to someone else, because it didn’t fit in with his likes, his agenda. He controlled me down to the very CDs I owned and I let him.

His mom accepted her so-called gift, appreciatively and asked her daughter to play it from the stereo in the living room. I sat on the couch, listening to what was no longer my music. He walked back into the living room, smiling, victorious and looked down at me. Sad, brown eyes looked up at him and pleaded for some kind of understanding or apology.

“I’m not going to sit here and listen to this shit.” He turned around and walked back out the door.

I jumped slightly when it slammed shut.

You 

Road signs flashed by me, I wasn’t paying attention to them, I wasn’t the one driving. It was my car, but you had taken the wheel. We were talking, we hadn’t stopped talking, a continuous conversation that had gone on for days. We had lost sleep talking to each other, so much sleep, that I don’t think either of us really knew what day or time it was. We just knew we were driving. We were in auto-pilot with the world that surrounded us, we had become so wrapped up in each other, in conversation, we had to be in auto pilot. There was no focus left for anything else.

I stopped the conversation, “I love this song.” I turned the volume up. Colder Weather played through the speakers of my car. Neither one of us spoke, we just listened. The song ended and you started our conversation from before, I stopped you.

“Sorry. I love this song too.” I turned it up again. Brantley Gilbert’s voice took over whatever we were talking about.

“I like this song too.” You kept your eyes on the road, but I looked over at you. I hadn’t known you listened to country music until that moment. It surprised me and made me smile.

I turned the volume up a little more, not just for you, but for myself.

Thomas

I knew he was going to kiss me. We had been drinking. We were alone. We were tired. It was dark. It was the exact circumstances he needed. He was going to go for it and despite everything I knew I was going to let him. I shouldn’t have, but I was caught in a weak moment and he knew that. That’s why he did it. He had erased the possibility of any sort of rejection, something a damaged ego cannot handle. His hand reached out and grasped mine, pulling it to his chest, I think he wanted me to feel his heart beating, but I was too busy thinking about how I knew what his next move was going to be. He would use my hand for leverage to pull me to him…I knew it. He would lean in…I knew it. He wouldn’t change his mind at the last moment; he rarely thought twice about his actions…I knew it.  We kissed, but I wasn’t thinking about the kiss; I was thinking about how I knew this would happen. How I could have stopped it and I didn’t. I was thinking about how I knew better, because I knew him, and I knew he wasn’t going to stop this. He wasn’t strong enough to stop it. So I had to. I pulled away.

“I’m sorry.”

I knew he was going to say that.

You

You had forgotten your sunglasses. In my hotel room. We had been drinking. I knew it would happen. This is when you were going to go for it. You were going to kiss me and I had about one minute to decide if I going to let you. There was a part of me that wanted you. I wanted you to kiss me. My heart pounded as I walked up the stairs to the hotel room, that’s what my heart wanted, but my brain…my brain whispered, remember? Haven’t you learned anything? I had messed up an entire friendship already. I couldn’t do this. You pulled the candle out of its holder on the wall and chased me down the hallway to my hotel room.

Laughing, I ran like a child completely engulfed in her imaginary game. In a way, it was somewhat fairy tale-like. You had shown up just when this girl had given up on love and it’s, while seductive, seemingly impossible, story lines. Just when she had lost hope, hope had arrived making her laugh and chasing her down the hallway with a candle stick. The only problem was I still hadn’t decided if  fairtytales were based in any sort of truth at all.

The flirting intensified as you pulled me to you, wrapping your arms around me, tickling, me. I was laughing so hard I could barely speak to you, my mind was in a daze and I closed my eyes and let you hold me and I laughed.

I fell against the bed, you leaned over me. I saw the look in your eyes. I knew you were going to go for it. I knew you were going to try to kiss me. Your face was close, your laughing slowed, I held my breath…and you stopped.

You stood up, I sat up. We we’re still holding each other, I pushed you, playfully. You smiled and you started speaking, maybe about sunglasses, maybe about fighting with candlesticks, I’m not sure, because all I could think about was how bad I wanted you to kiss me. But you didn’t.

As I handed you your sunglasses, I looked you in the eyes again. You wanted to kiss me…right? Were you waiting to say goodnight to me? I wasn’t entirely sure what your next move was.

You took the sunglasses and walked to the door.

“Good night, Shannon.”

David

“Stop being snarky,” I said. “I feel like I’m having an argument with one of my students.”

He contradicted himself with nearly every sentence and never really knew what he was arguing for. He argued for the sake of arguing and then became pissy and childish when I pointed it out, using loosely fabricated insults, which rarely were any sort of zinger.

“Why do you always use that kind of vocabulary? Because you’re an English teacher or something? It’s like you think you’re better than other people.”

I defined snarky for him. It didn’t help the situation.

It wasn’t supposed to.

Sentence by sentence I pulled his argument apart, “Is that not what you just said?”

No answer.

“It’s a simple question. Did you not just say the following…”

No answer.

“Yes or no.”

“Yes!” He screamed at me.

“So then, how can this possibly be true?” I recited back to him word for word his contradictory statement. He glared at me and I could almost see the hatred for me in that moment. He hated that I was right, he hated that I wasn’t affected by his loud vocals, he hated that I hadn’t given up and most of all he hated that I had forced him to look at the holes within his own argument. The holes within himself.

“Fine Shannon, you’re right. You’re always right, because you have to be. Isn’t that how this works? Everything you say is always perfect, but nothing anyone else does is ever good enough. You want to talk about truth? That’s the truth. Nothing is ever good enough for you.”

He stormed out. I watched him go. I sighed and wondered if there was some truth to what he said, was there anything good enough for me?

There had to be, it just wasn’t here.

You

Your face was inches from mine. Your eyes shined with worry and a hope for what you wanted to hear, “I have to be with you. I need you in my life. There’s no other option for me. I need you.”

My heart pounded. I needed you too. More than I needed the very air I was struggling to breathe in at that moment. But it meant something I had entirely written off. Something I wasn’t sure how you felt about. It meant heartache and work, it meant taking a chance, and I had been through enough chances. I had given enough chances. I had given too much of myself and had nothing to show for it, but walls and tainted opinions on love and relationships.

“OK. This is what it comes down to,” I said. “We can either get into a relationship and it would be long distance and if things are working out we can talk about moving closer together. Or, we leave here, and we leave this behind and we stay friends and we’re going to still have these feelings for each other. Or, we can stop talking.”

You kissed me. Hard. I sunk into your pillows. The palm of your hand flattened against my cheek and your fingers curled into my hair. You pulled away from me and your eyes darted around looking at every inch of my face. Were you searching or memorizing?

“What? What was that for? You didn’t even answer me.”

“Because I love how you break things down. You just take everything apart and then you’re like ‘this is what it is.’ You simplify and it’s so attractive. I love that about you.”

Jeff 

 I opened up the note in my English class. Small capital letters in blue pen sprawled across lined paper. I read quickly through his explanations and confessions and then right there, on this piece of paper he had written that he loved me. More than a friend he said. He had feelings he tried to bury, but couldn’t.  My heart jumped slightly, but then it began to sink. This isn’t how I wanted to be told. Not in a note at the start of my English class. We didn’t even have this class together. I looked up; the teacher wasn’t paying any attention to me. I looked back down at my note. I folded it back up into its perfectly structured square. I wanted to keep it, but there was a part of me that was angry at it for being the proof that he didn’t love me enough to just tell me to my face. Isn’t that what love is? Being so overwhelmed, you just have to say it. Right then?  Right there? I pulled out a sheet of paper to begin writing him back, confess my feelings for him, say ‘I love you too.’ Because that’s how I felt, right? I was about to open up those doors and walk through the threshold that signified the next level of our relationship. I looked up one last time; make sure there were no eyes on me. There wasn’t, but there were notes written on the board.

I wrote those down instead.

David

I was sifting through a clothes rack at one of my favorite stores. He cracked a joke, I think trying to impress the friend that had joined us for the day. I raised my eyebrow and cracked a smile, and responded with my own joke. He threw his head back in laughter, this time my joke was OK, but mostly because, his friend laughed too. As I pulled a blue button up off the rack he wrapped his arms around me and said “aw, I love you.” My hand gripped tighter around the hanger of the shirt I was holding against his back. I swallowed and then I felt myself roll my eyes. He had the courage to say he loved me, but just weeks ago didn’t have the courage to make this relationship official. Maybe, he didn’t mean he was in love with me, but that’s not something you tell your “girlfriend” if you didn’t actually mean it.  He was testing the waters. I was disappointed that he couldn’t find it in himself to tell me seriously. Probably, because he didn’t really love me. I looked around, clothes and random women shopping, a clothing store playing the latest hits. This was the easiest place to say something like that, in an-almost-kidding-sort-of-way, in a department store: an open space. In front of a friend, in case there was a negative outcome.

I pulled away and looked him in the eyes searching for whether or not he realized what he had said. He did, he understood the words, not the meaning behind them.

“I’m going to go try this on.”

Thomas

I was laughing because he had insulted me, but that was OK, I liked the banter. I got him back most of the time anyway. But this time, I just said, “I hate you.”

My back was turned and arms wrapped around my waist and then words I had not prepared for fell against my ear: “That’s funny, because I love you.”

I turned to face him, he tried to kiss me. I let him. I let him, because that was better than the alternative. There was no urge in me to say those words back; in fact, there was no urge in me to kiss him in this moment. But, I let him kiss me, so that I didn’t have to respond. I felt panic. Not love.  I closed my eyes in an attempt to make him and this moment disappear. What had I gotten myself into? I was afraid to be confronted with a conversation I was not ready to have.

If I pulled away, I might have to say, “That’s not how I feel…”

or “what do you mean?”

or “Maybe we need to talk about this…”

I was shocked. I was worried. I was desperate.

I never said it back.

You

Your eyes passionately looked into mine. I was thinking no one ever looked at me the way you did. I could feel you seeing right through me, if I tried to lie to you right then, you would know before the first word escaped my lips. I was mesmerized by you and the way you your eyes pierced into me. It had been days of spilling our entire souls to one another. I had never felt closer to anyone, no one knew me the way you did. I followed your eyes as they followed the curves of my face and the turns in my lips. I watched your chest move up and down with each breath you took. This moment was silent, still, and perfect. No one else existed, no one else mattered. We had each other and somewhere in that weekend between the long talks, the laughter, and the silence came the realization that, that was all we needed: each other. Your brown eyes met mine, and for the first time, I saw my whole life.

“I need to tell you something.” You said. Your voice shook and I knew you were nervous. I was too. I wasn’t entirely sure what you were going to tell me, I wanted to think that I knew, but everything about you had been different. I had given up on trying stay a step ahead of you and instead, I had fallen into you, I was completely lost in you and at the same time had found myself, right here. Right in this moment. Your lips parted and you took a deep breath, my body froze.

“I think I love you.”

For the first time, I needed to say it back.