“You want to get out of here?” Hunter asks.
My head feels light and slightly hazy from the orange flavored beers I’ve been consuming. A part of me longs to stay because I know our friend, Chase, won’t come with us if we leave. It’s hard to tell sometimes how much Chase even likes us and there’s an odd comfort in that. It’s what I expect, and it keeps me in my familiar role of constantly seeking approval. A part of me also wants to leave. Parties are not my thing. Being lost in this crowd of unfamiliar faces doing and saying mainly disgusting things, is not my idea of a good time.
I suddenly imagine myself down by the ocean, walking that tightrope where water meets sand, feeling the icy cold splash against my legs and then subside to tingling warmth. The white froth of the waves will massage my toes in that fizzling way I like. Sitting on the shore with wind whipping my hair around my face, it’s easy to map out endless constellations and feel the energy of the waves surging within me.
I agree. Hunter smiles.
He likes to be alone with me, and I notice those subtle sighs he lets out when other people interrupt our time. Just like the way I notice his eyes linger on mine a moment too long. I love those eyes. They’re this beautiful grayish blue like a stormy ocean covered in fog. Seeing that in nature always makes my heart swell like a tidal wave, and I wish I felt the same when he looks at me like that, but I don’t. It’s not his fault. Everything about him radiates kindness and security, but every time I feel this strong impulse to run. Every time I want to hide and never see that face again.
Maybe a small part of it is that I don’t feel beautiful enough for that type of admiration. I’m not a masterpiece to gaze at in awe like a museum painting. I’m more of an everyday object like that bench under a tree in the park. Its paint is peeling, chewed gum wads are stuck to the bottom, and it never sits as comfortably as you like. You look at it and think that’s a good place to read for a while because this environment is stunning, but then you sit, and you shift, and you can’t quite get it to feel right. That might explain it all. He sees the potential, but not the reality.
Sometimes, I wonder if maybe he feels the same. He isn’t traditionally beautiful in any sort of way. In fact, he is the body type that often gets ridiculed and picked on. I worry my lack of interest will confirm any doubts that he may have, because I don’t believe any of that personally. When I look at him, he looks only too good to be true. His eyes pierce through me, his smile soothes me, and there’s something captivating about his whole essence. I’d never want to make him doubt himself for a second, but I bet I will.
Together we walk away from the party. Complete nonsense gushes from my chapped lips with each step. I have no idea what I’m talking about. The words aren’t to communicate anything. They are to keep him from talking because he might say something that I can’t handle. Lies that feel real to him, but that I know are not. Despite the emptiness of my chatter, he listens to each word with importance. Perhaps he thinks they might contain clues to what is going on in this labyrinth of a mind I have. Why do I always invite him places, and then quickly invite other people to join? Why do I talk to him so easily online, and then avoid him in person? Why do I act like I like him one moment, but then act like I’d rather be with anyone else the next? The constant push and pull of my waves. It’s confusing, and logical to think I’d have the answer, but I’m not sure I do. What it comes down to mostly is that I feel so afraid. Relationships don’t work well for me. All I’ve known are friends who betray my trust, and boys that lie. I don’t believe there’s good in anyone, but I only see the good in everyone. If he doesn’t let me down, then I’ll let him down. It’s how life works.
Once we’ve made it to the beach, I risk a glance in those brilliant eyes I cherish so much, and quickly look away. They’re too powerful. They say far too much, and none of it is anything I’m ready to hear. So, I dart ahead, leaving him alone in the dark. The sand chills my bare feet as they sink into it. The weight, though small, is enough to create resistance. The sound of the waves crashing is like a lullaby that softens my gaze and fills my soul with energetic warmth like bolts of electricity coursing within me. The waves recharge me, and I feel more alive than anywhere else. I spin around under a black sky speckled with white glitter.
“I always look for the brightest star. When I find it, I stare at it a long time to make sure it’s not a plane. Every time I feel like all this time has gone by and it’s a star. I’ll relax, admire it, and then it’ll start moving and be a plane! It doesn’t make sense, but it always happens.” More of my utter nonsense. Does he think I’m crazy? Everyone does. I jump onto a boulder. I love the sleek, slimy feel of the boulders. So much life lives on them. All those snails lined up. This is their apartment complex. Layers and layers. Rows and rows. Some have pool access and other’s have a sky view. I climb higher onto bigger rocks.
“Hey, I think you should come down from there.” Hunter’s voice is shaky. He is genuinely scared. At first, I laugh at this, but it makes sense. I’ve been drinking. I’m not at all drunk, but with my strange thoughts and off behaviors he probably tells himself I am. Being drunk is a more logical guess than the truth. I’m acting off because I’m so nervous I can’t think straight. I’m bold, fun, and exciting because I want to impress him. I also want to make him as scared as I am. This motivates me to climb higher. My arms are thrown out to keep my balance as I walk across thin pointed tops. Years of experience leaping from rock to rock on beach trips with my family have grown my confidence, but he doesn’t know that. Each leap I take to him might be disaster. That pleading, terrified look in his eyes reassures me. I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m not the only one who knows there’s a chance of injury at every leap.
This is all a test that he’ll never pass because he doesn’t even know he’s taking it. Even if he passes, I’ll always know I’m failing. How can we move past that?
Finally, I stop moving. Before us stands a large bridge with lights so bright they cancel out the stars. The bridge is named Hope, and it’s one of the most popular places to kill yourself. There’s a chance we could see someone doing it right now. I look down and try to shake my mind of these morbid thoughts that eat away at it. All anyone wants is hope but hope is a faraway star. Always in sight and always out of reach.
Yes, a part of me thinks that being with someone so good is what I need. It will cancel out all the bad like those lights cancel out the stars. It’s not easy though. Something inside me has carefully laid down bricks around my heart and slathered the mortar to hold them in place. This thing worked efficiently. It built a foundation, used guideposts and a level. It’ll take a wrecking ball to knock it down, and he could be that but I’m not ready for it.
There’s no hope for us. People always scoff at the phrase “it’s not you, it’s me.” However, I truly wish he knew that. It's all me.
Hunter scrambles up the rocks. With each movement, his body remains bent over. His hands are out to catch him if he slips. Those eyes are filled with uncertainty, nervousness, and apprehension. He is not a rock climber like I, but he doesn’t want me to be alone. I can see the huge risk to protect me, and I want to throw up. My stomach is a crashing barrel wave. I don’t deserve this.
In each action and each word that he has ever said to me, I know that one day someone is going to feel like the luckiest person on earth to have his love. For me, I will fight it with a sword in hand like it’s a monstrous beast. I’m not lovable and this can’t be real.
“Please, come down.” He laughs nervously like he is trying to hide how much he cares. “It’s kind of cold. Maybe we should go inside.”
“I want to go to the lighthouse,” I say.
“We’re not allowed in there. It’s private.”
“No one will know.”
“Uh, I think we should go back.”
I never want to leave the ocean. It’s current runs through me connecting us in a way that I’ve never felt with a person and likely never will.
He steps closer, and I step further away. Does he not feel the distance between us is as vast as that sea?
“You can go back. I’ll stay here.”
“I’m not leaving you here.”
“I like being alone.”
Finally, it looks like something within him is breaking. I will leave his heart shattered across the shore to make that smooth sea glass that everyone adores. One day someone will pick up those pieces and put them back together into a work of art, and life will be nothing but beautiful for him.
He may want to build a hope bridge to connect across the ocean between us, but either my waves will knock it down or my cargo ships will keep it cracked open in two.