Creative Nonfiction

We’re laughing, singing to the radio, and watching the mountains fly past on either side. There’s five of us squashed into the same vehicle, but we’re happy. We don’t care if our voices are loud, and terrible. Peter smiles at me, with that innocent smile of his, and I know that there is no greater joy in this life than to love and be loved. 

Then his hand strays from the steering wheel to rest in the space between us, and suddenly my mind curls in on itself as I remember a scene so parallel to this one. 

It began when she broke his heart. She left him for Luke, and Erin wanted to die. I liked Luke, until then. Erin fell into a dark depression, and everyday wondered if life was worth it. I couldn’t stand to see my friend like this, and it pissed me off that no one else in the friend group seemed to care. I had to do something. I had to make him happy again. This desire to save him created a sort of damsel in distress scenario in my head, and suddenly all I could think of was Erin, and his pain, and how he didn’t deserve this. I wanted to spend more time with him, and to be with him. 

In November, I found the courage to tell him how I felt about him, and couldn’t help but write about it. 

I can’t believe I'm doing this. I cant believe im doing this. I’m gonna be sick. I’m so stupid. I’m such a teenage girl. I thought I was above this, but clearly I am not. How else do couples form? I'm so sick of subtly. I’m going to tell him I like him. A lion must leave the pack of certainty if he wants a pack of his own.

Is this what success feels like?!

Only, it’s just like before. He acts like we’re still just friends. It’s for the best. But I’m still happy. 

Apparently, he felt the same. I thought I might explode from happiness. I began to hold his hand, and get into the same fandoms as him, just so we would have something to talk about. 

In January, I kissed him on the cheek. 

A few weeks later, he kissed me on the head. 

In February, our lips met. 

Erin never wanted to talk about his depression, though I was comfortable talking about mine. All he talked about was video games, and cartoons. I didn’t mind. I just wanted to talk with him. When we did have serious talks, they were over text. We couldn’t bring ourselves to talk face to face. We were cowards. Such cowards. 

Sometimes we passed her in the hallways. Every Time he saw her his grip on my hand loosened. I tightened my hand around his, hoping I could bring him back to the present, but he only recovered as soon as she was out of sight. 

He was all I could think about, day and night. Did he love me? He only said it in response to my confessions. He never laughed at my jokes. He never took interest in my interests, the way I did in his. He never complimented me. On the contrary, he thought of himself as better than me in every way. He was a better actor, better swimmer, better at math. And he loved to talk about himself. He never tried to read my stories, never said he liked my drawings, never told me I was beautiful, or that I made him happy. 

On the second date after he kissed me, I knew he wanted me to kiss him. It was my turn to initiate it I suppose, though the kiss was the only thing he ever initiated. I didn’t want to. I was scared. It made me nervous. But I wanted to at the same time. I just wanted to be loved. I just wanted to keep Erin alive. 

I saw them one morning. How could I have not noticed before? The thin red lines. And was my obsession with him stemming from thrill or fear? If he wasn’t depressed, if there were no scars, if he had clean wrists, would I love him? But I almost cried when I saw it. And I thought, maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever been capable of this much sympathy before. How could he hate himself? He was great. He was so funny, confident, and athletic, and not afraid to show his emotions. Even though he was a guy. Well, he didn’t know how to cry. He told me. Funny, how I almost cried for his sake, when he couldn’t. And he listened. At least, that’s what I thought. 

One day, Luke asked me what the best way was to take butter out of bread. Why? Did he like me, now that I had sort of gotten over him? I could feel my insides getting warm when he talked to me, because he was so funny, and we got along so well, but I didn’t continue talking to him after that. Erin was right there. And he was my responsibility. 

Erin walked so fast to get ahead of Luke. Luke and I almost glanced at each other at the same time, but not quite. He had this expression on his face. Erin was trying to keep up with his friend...I think. Did something else happen with Luke and Erin? Why was Luke so talkative all of a sudden? What was this? I didn’t understand, but maybe I can get Luke and Erin to talk to each other. I haven’t seen that happen in so long. They used to be best friends.  

Love is a curse. But no matter what happens, I love him. I have to protect him from the world, including himself. 

If you could go back to her, would you?

He said he liked me. Twice. But actions speak louder than words, and he’s been so silent for so long. It's her. He says he still kind of likes her, and that's why it seems like he doesn't like me. Will he ever forget her? Will he ever take the initiative? Is there any hope for us? I hate watching her and [Luke] smiling at each other, or, like at the concert, holding hands and leaning on each other like it was the easiest thing. It made me sick. Sick that they could be happy and love each other so easily without a third party between them. And that they were the third party between [Erin] and I. When I held his hand his grip was so loose, it was as though he only held it there out of pity and obligation. I don't understand.

Will it always be like this? Will I always be so obsessed over someone who barely cares about me? I want to stop thinking about him, but that's all I can think about. I keep telling myself to just stop taking initiative for a while, until he does. But i can't bring myself to wait long enough, and during that period of time, he never invites me to anything, or talks about much. I can't tell anyone how I feel because it just sounds like I'm a whiny brat, and even if they do understand, they might try to tell me to leave him, and I’d rather die than see him get hurt all over again. I can't just leave him when I know I’ll come back anyways. It's his depression. It's his youth. He needs time. I keep telling myself these excuses, just to reassure myself that there is hope, but I can’t tell if there is.

He doesn’t need me anymore. Is that why I feel so useless?

In her haste to make him happy, she forgets how to be happy herself

Then the news dropped. He was moving to Washington. 

Another news dropped. I was moving to Utah. 

I’ve never been more heart broken. I wanted to get hit by a truck. I wanted to be saved from this fate at the last second. I’d lived here for five years. Five years of overcoming shyness, of standing up for myself, of finally making friends - gone. Back to ground zero. And there would be no Erin to hold my hand when I left, to pretend he loved me. 

It was May. One of the last times we’ll ever hang out, and he knew it. I was hoping his dad would be in the house, and he was, but then he left to go grocery shopping. I was terrified of what my parents would think. They’d kill me. But then again - wasn’t death what I wanted?

We cuddled, and watched movies at his house. That’s all we ever did lately. And all he ever wanted to do was makeout. I wanted it to, but not as much as he did. I told him we should restrict ourselves to three seconds. He said he would. We didn’t.

He kept moving closer to me on the couch. I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable being that close. I could feel his hand on my jaw, trying to turn my face towards his, but I resisted. I had to breathe at some point. 

“What do you want to do now?” he’d say. 

“I don’t know.”

“We don’t know if we’ll get to hang out like this again, and I don’t want you to have regrets when you leave.”

I didn’t say anything to that. He clearly wanted something from me that I would not give. I was shaking, panicking at the thought of what he wanted. He knew I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, though he never respected it, or even feigned interest in joining. He knew my standards. Did he know I was already pushing the limits of those standards? 

When he noticed me shaking, I told him I felt nervous, and I didn’t know why. In response, he only held me closer, told me that it was okay. That only made it worse. This all felt so wrong. 

“I love you,” he said. It was the only time he said it without being prompted. And that’s when I knew he didn’t love me, not really. I could tell by his heavy, uneven breathing, and the way he suddenly couldn’t stand being even an inch apart from me. He only said that because he wanted something in return. Something I refused. 

At last, he took me home. When he drove, he put his hand between us in the car. I held it, more out of obligation than anything else. But wasn’t that the reason he always took my hand? We didn’t say much to each other. He used to drive me home everyday, and no matter how many times he did, I never felt safe in that car when we were alone. 

It took three days to drive to Utah, during which I felt free for the first time in ages. I could breathe the cool, mountain air, and go on dates with whoever I wanted.

But for some twisted reason, I still missed Erin. It took about a month to get over him. The tipping point was when I got a text from my best friend. 

“He didn’t treat you right.” she wrote. “He never respected you, or anything you said, and honey, you deserve better.”

At last, my mind was opened. Of course it was true, why couldn’t I see it? Everything that had happened in the past seven months clicked, and suddenly I could see Utah for what it was. Freedom. There were people here that truly cared about me, and people I really loved. I didn’t need to be in a serious relationship. I just needed friends. Friends like Brooke, who taught me that “You are not obligated to love anyone.” And had it not been for Erin, I never would have seen it.

We’re laughing, singing to the radio, and watching the mountains fly past on either side. There’s five of us squashed into the same vehicle, but we’re happy. We don’t care if our voices are loud, and terrible. I look at Peter’s hand, resting between us in the car, and I think of how different it was when it was Erin. And I hold it. Not because I want to be wanted, not because I feel obligated to, but because I want Peter to know what he means to me. We drop everyone else off at their homes, until it’s just us in the car, and I feel safe. He smiles at me, with that innocent smile of his, and I know that there is no greater joy in this life than to truly love and be loved. 

February 10, 2020 05:35

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