I promised you I wouldn’t be like her, that night when we drove across town and back, trying to borrow a few more minutes just for the two of us. You drove, you talked, you cried, but only a little.
And I promised.
She’d clung to you, dug her nails in deep and held tight, even when it hurt you. Maybe she even liked it, liked making you feel something about her, even if it was pain. She felt herself falling, sinking under the weight of herself, and so she tried to drag you down with her.
I think she really did love you. And you loved her too, though never the way that she wanted. She was your best friend. And when she became discontent with just that, she knew all of the ways to make you hurt. You broke her heart so she broke yours.
And I promised you I wouldn’t be like her.
That was the first time I truly saw you, saw the truth hiding behind your eyes. I know it was on purpose, to let that truth come through, because I know that you are very good at hiding. I’d known you for years — or at least, I thought I knew you — thought you seemed like a pretty cool dude, ran into you at a party and conclusively determined that, yeah, you were a pretty cool dude. We started hanging out more and more, getting to know each other, though I was really only getting to know a shadow of the real you, a tracing, a projection. But that night, that drive, that talk, the shades were colored in, and you became more than just a name and a face. I held that close to me, the knowledge that you trusted me and I trusted you. We were friends, truly, pure and simple. We promised we’d stay that way, too.
Knowing you is a double-edged sword. I get to see all of the pieces of you, the beautiful, the hilarious, the awkward and adorable, the driven, the opinionated, the world-shaking you. But I also see the things that cause you pain, the moments when you beat yourself up relentlessly for one mistake, the frustrations, the feeling that you’ll never be good enough. I see the things you think you’re hiding from me. Sometimes I wonder if I see things even you don’t see.
I know you still think of her sometimes. Your eyes become hollow when certain songs come on, you trail off in the middle of thoughts. You complain of freezing on a hot day and boiling in the cold, and I know it has to be her.
And so I distract. I’ve always been good at that. I make you laugh or think or play or wish. I try to guide you away from who you used to be, when there was a her instead of me. I bring something out of you that’s special, and you don’t have to tell me it’s selfish of me to think that because I already know. You become different, when we’re together, like there’s some mask being peeled away to reveal the pure, unblemished you. Like that drive all over again.
We understand each other, deeply, fundamentally. Our brainwaves run parallel, our voices are tuned and harmonious. The air of friendly competition keeps us forever striving to be better, and yet each win is celebrated, congratulated, on both sides. We are inseparable, sometimes, and sometimes being with you is just so easy it feels like floating, lucid dreaming. Everything seems harder afterwards, walking or thinking or breathing, it doesn’t click the same way.
But then I make a joke, or a reference, or point out something with childish glee that catapults you back years in time, takes you away from me entirely, and I reminded that’s how you felt with her. Before everything. So no matter how special I think we are, I know we're not. No matter what I am or what I mean to you, she was first.
When people raise their eyes at us in public, bring up the question we’ve come to expect — “are you two together or something?” — we lock eyes, smirk, shrug. “Or something,” we say, and then we laugh and I have to pretend it doesn’t hurt, just a bit.
But you’re better at pretending than I am.
Do we have the same smile, her and I? The same laugh? The same hand reaching for something it can’t have?
Was she glued to your side too, constantly brushing your arm, intentionally unintentional?
Do I scare you?
I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to be the next “her.”
I wish we could go back to that drive, sometimes. Back when things were simple and I didn’t feel this way because I know I shouldn’t, I know it would be so much easier if I didn’t. But maybe I’ve always felt this way. Maybe you weren’t the only one lying to me.
I am afraid of the way I’m falling into your eyes, your touch. I find excuses to brush my hand against your hair or your chest or your arm or your cheek. And your hands reach for mine, too, but I know it is not the same, I know exactly how you feel about me. You will never be mine. Maybe because you are hers. Or determined never to be hers again.
I won’t say “I’m not perfect,” because that goes without saying, and it’s unfair. It’s unfair to you to have someone toss your feelings to the side and shovel their own down your throat, I know that’s exactly what she did and I know that hurt you. But we would be so good together, I know we would. You have to know it too. Why will you never give us a chance? Why can’t you move forward, leave her behind? What sort of hold does she have on you, still, years afterwards? Are you going to live your life afraid of her? And what better way to leave her behind than to move forward with someone new, someone who cares about you, someone who would never hurt you like that. I want to be with you because I…
I promised you I wouldn’t be like her. But as I fall in love with you a little more each day, I’m afraid that she is exactly who I have become.