Feb. 14th, 1992
It's Valentine's day. Today, it's our day. Matthew and I both agreed that there shouldn't be a nation-wide holiday, for expressing love, but I like Valentine's Day and I've made him like it too.
The construction paper is this bright cherry red. The sides of it are lighter like a tide of water has scarred them over and over again, but this is the paper that I use every Valentine's Day. Since 3rd grade, where I proposed my love to Jonathan in the middle of the hallway, until now, Senior Year.
I take out a pair of scissors and start cutting out a heart carefully on the side of the paper. I ponder over the objects in front of me. There are delicate paper roses, piles of shimmering glitter, thick fuzzy daisies, and patterned flowers that I made from old clothing material.
The hot glue machine makes a bunch of thin wires as I glue down watermelon paper roses on the border, then I carefully spread gold glitter in the center. It looks like me but a little confined. Less crazy and extra. Just perfect.
"So who's gonna get that card?" I point at the sparkly card in Macey's hand. She's tall and lean like a branch of a willow tree with sharp grey eyes and dark freckles dotting her nose.
"I don't know. Well, maybe I know. But I don't know."
I stare at her for a bit and she finally cracks.
"Heath." she burrows her head under her jacket.
"He stole the contents of your locker yesterday and the day before!" I half-shriek.
"He's been doing that for two weeks." Her grey eyes are so calm.
"Most kids call him Heathen, y'know?" I grin.
Her cheeks go red and splotchy. I never thought she'd like boys like Heath.
"So, you like him?"
"I like the pleasure of his company. He walked me home yesterday."
"More like stalked you home." Macey likes him. Macey is that type of sweet girl. The one who makes her lunch instead of getting it at the cafeteria. She's the only one who diligently takes notes every single day in class. She keeps all her emotions in like a volcano, most kids think she's a dork, but once the volcano explodes, she's sweet and smart. Sweet girls like her don't deserve a heathen. They deserve Hercules for god's sake.
"Whatever, I like him okay?" Macey snaps.
"Okay." If he does anything to her, I will kill him with my bare hands.
Our principal plays songs of our choice every year. Each couple writes down "their" song on the list and he'll play it. It was hard to choose. Matthew wanted Bed of Roses, but that's slower and more personal. I wanted To Be With You because it's a more "in the moment" song. We picked Bed of Roses.
I walk out of science class and the slow electrical guitar starts to strum. Our song is playing. I smile, looking for him. My eyes dart around until I see him. He's standing with Beth. Her barbie blonde hair is sectioned and crimped. She's wearing a lavender cami top and a green floral skirt. They're a finger length apart.
He leans down, and their lips meet.
Watching him kissing another girl, makes my chest hurt. My body pulsates with electricity and every part of me is hurting so much. I squeeze the card in my hand. Glitter flutters to the ground. My body turns rigid and stiff, like freezing water. Music is usually like medicine to me. But now, it's the opposite. It's the cause of the sickness. Every time another lyric meets my ears, I clench my teeth tighter.
I try to make my presence strong. So Matthew knows that I'm standing behind him. He doesn't move. He keeps kissing her. He looks happy. In love. The same way he looked when he was with me.
The bathroom stall is small. I feel like it's enclosing me. Left. Right. Rectangular grey stalls. Suddenly, it feels like a cage. Every part of me will not open the stall door and walk out. My face is wet and my hands are smudged with mascara and glitter. But I don't want to be that girl. The girl who makes her whole life about one boy. But I'm not. I love Guns n Roses and Sylvia Plath. I love swimming in the evening. I push the stall open and strut out the door. Then I turn around and go back in, hunching my back in the same position.
The bell is going to ring in 10 seconds. I muster all the courage I can inside of me. Then I push the stall open and strut outside. There are so many kids that I feel invisible like a small fish in the sea.
I feel a pat on my back.
"Where were you, all day? I was looking for you!" I turn around and see a tall body towering over me, curtain bangs cover his forehead. Matthew. I try to hide my anger and loosen my stiff body.
"I was busy." I watch my shoes. I want to confront him, but I don't want to at the same time.
"I got you something, it's in my car."
I hear a voice shout Matthew and look up. Beth is running against the parking lot, her body gets closer and closer like the other end of a magnifying glass.
"You didn't tell her?" She reeks of strong rose perfume.
"Tell me what?" I wipe my eyes, which feel swollen. Tell me about what they shared in the hallway?
"I haven't gotten to it yet," Matthew says, trying to make eye contact with me.
She puts her arm in his jean pocket. Then Matthew mutters "We're together."
I stare at him. Now, I'm angry. Not sad. Angry. I want to slap him. I hold it in. I'm clenching my fist so hard that it looks like a watermelon.
"No. No- How long have we been together, Matthew?" she smiles at him.
"For three months." he scratches his neck. I thought I loved him.
"Do you want to go for coffee with me today?" Richard asks.
Richard's nice. He's smart. He's funny. He has a square jawline and round half-moon glasses.
"No." I think of Matthew with his dark blue eyes. I e-mailed him, hopefully, he'd reply today. I wrote about our past Valentine memories and our song. I wrote about how we first met and how I missed him.
"Oh-uhh. Is there someone else?" His smile droops and his posture bends. I feel bad.
"Yes, I have something to do." I close the door.
Then I run over to the computer. I stare at the inbox for a few hours. Not a single new message. Then I hear a beep and rub my bleary eyes.
I click the email.
The first one is mine.
Hi Matthew, I've been missing you. A few days ago, I went to this restaurant that we used to go to and ordered our usual. Pancakes with strawberries and extra chocolate. It was hard to finish alone. Then, Bed of Roses played and I remembered all of our good memories. That day where you spilled ice cream over your white jeans and then your mom thought you had an "accident". And that day where we did karaoke and I had a voice-crack.
The day that we first met is my favourite memory. There was this deal on the big sundae and because I was standing behind you in the line, you asked me to share with you. We saved about 10 dollars and I met you. It was one of the best days of my life.
I don't really remember that.
I scroll down to see if there's more on his email. It's all blank. I sigh.
I've never lived in a place where it's bright and sunny in February. When I graduated college, I had two options for apartments. One in New York, near the Empire State Building. It's a beautiful apartment with big square windows and a big balcony with a view of lights and buildings. My other choice was the townhome in Ohio. It's small and cramped and smells like overcooked asparagus. It's not central, but in a small unsafe town with a small population. I picked to live here because of Matthew. He said he was going to move here, so I bought the first plane ticket to Ohio.
I walk to the mailbox. Every part of me is clammy and my shorts are lined with sweat. I open the mailbox and check inside. There is a shiny silk envelope. I pull it out and rip it open excitedly. On a floral heart, it says From Matthew. I feel myself blush and pull open the letter.
It's a picture of Matthew with Beth. In bright gold letters, it says that they're getting married. The wedding is in four months. I crouch down on the sidewalk and wrap my arms around myself like a shield. I don't care how hot it is. Tears run down my knees and onto my flip flops. Why am I not enough? Why did he cheat me back then? I'm not pretty enough. I'm not smart enough. I'm not good enough.
"Wanna meet me at Burger King today?" Matthew's voice is deep and smooth. It's the first time he's called me - since 1991.
"Oh-" I pause and clear my throat, "Of course!"
I stand in front of my closet, thinking. It's hot outside so I'll wear a tank top and shorts. But it can't be too casual, and not too fancy. What would Beth wear? She would wear a lace top and jean shorts. She would crimp her hair and wear blue eyeshadow.
I show up at Burger King with a lace camisole that I got when I was 15 and jean shorts that my mom sent me in the mail a few days ago from when she was young. I want it to feel like it used to between Matthew and I. Carefree and natural. But it's weird. Like a good song that's over-aged.
"You look good." he's aged well. His jaw has sharpened and his eyes look sharp like two sapphires.
"Thank you." I'm nervous, my feet are hot and my cheeks feel like they're on fire. I rub my thumb against my palm.
I watch him eat his burger. It's a double-decker, with two patties of meat. His hands are covered in ketchup. My stomach growls and I feel its hollowness against my hand.
The tension hasn't thawed but hardened. It's turned into a monologue of his chewing noises.
"Are you sure you don't want anything? This is not like you, you're one of the only girls, I know that actually eats." Matthew asks.
"Is that a bad thing?" Beth would never eat in front of a guy. She would sit and laugh and twirl her hair.
"No-well, I don't know."
There's a long pause between us and I think of things to ask him.
"So, I think we should get back together." Matthew snaps.
"What?" I almost fall back on my chair.
"Well-Beth is divorcing me." There's no tension in his eyes. They are light and filled with ease. His face looks like he told a joke like there is no big deal about what he said.
"Why?" My head is filled with a conglomeration of thoughts.
"I- was- uhh saw someone else. But it was once. She was on this diet and very snappy- so I got bored and had no one to spend time with."
"Oh." He got bored. My cheeks heat up and this time it's not from nervousness. It's anger. I wanted to slap him last time. And now I will.
I get up from my seat. He raises his forehead in confusion.
I feel every part of myself bubble. Like a coke with a mento thrown into it. It's about to explode. The lids about to pop off. The coke explodes.
I slap him so hard that my hand hurts. It leaves a satisfying red spot on his face. I feel outside of my body like I'm witnessing the whole event outside of myself. I stand still, but strong. I look strong like there is no doubt in my head. His face like in a boxing ring.
"I'm over you! I deserve someone better! Better than you!" I scream louder than I've ever screamed before.
Then I stomp out of the restaurant. I feel eyes on me, like bullets pelting through my skin. But I also feel a weight off my shoulders. Like nothing is holding me back anymore. He watches me through the window and I smile a smug smile.
I'm done with him.