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.
“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.
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.
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 knew he was going to say that.
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.”
“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?”
“It’s a simple question. Did you not just say the following…”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.