Contest #121 shortlist ⭐️

Reflections

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write about someone giving or receiving a gift.... view prompt

8 comments

Contemporary Inspirational Sad

TW: Brief mention of suicidal thoughts


We had been dating for three years before we decided to end it. It was mostly mutual, or at least that’s what we agreed to call it. I hated his red couch, and we sat there with stiff backs and fidgeting fingers. It was his home so he felt more in place than I did. My heart never settled in the crooks and angles of his muddy studio apartment. Isolated from the rest, the couch’s vibrant nature was meant to “spruce up the place” but I think he forgot to realize that when everything looked so dead, putting something with life as a centerpiece just made it odd and forged. 

He hated that I hated it and would never stop talking about it. It was a gift from an old ex, someone who’d be a fiance if I hadn’t become the other woman before they settled on a date. We started off with so much drama I wondered when it became so stale. 

“I think we should break up,” he said after I gave him his present. It was a pure silk tie because I didn’t know what else to get him. It was rushed and last minute and I only thought of it when I picked up the catalogue and glanced at the cover. 

If I knew he was going to break up with me on his birthday I wouldn’t have bothered with a gift. When he opened it, I saw in his eyes the past three years flip through the folds of his memories. 

“So what do you think?” He asked when his eyes drifted back up to me. Had the flashback stopped or was he still stuck there?

“It’s mutual,” I replied with the nonchalance I’d only seen on fashion runways. He got me a ticket to one for my birthday last year but bailed when he’d found out he had a child with some other woman. The cheating wasn’t a surprise but it stung sitting next to an empty seat.

“Do you want to stay over tonight? You can sleep on the couch. I would, but my back has been killing me lately. I told you about that, right?”

Then he was gone. Where he went I’m still in the dark about that to this day. He just got up and left my life through a fire exit, through a door I knew existed but forgot about because it initially didn’t seem that important to remember.

He was married a few weeks after that and then divorced, then married and finally bought a fancy sports car. Sometimes I look through the blinds and watch him speed donuts in the parking lot, black smudges left behind that I’d stand on top of the next morning. How we ended up living in the same apartment complex seven years later wasn’t that alarming. I felt he’d be in my life forever because he wasn’t the one I’d always dreamed of. He wasn’t even the one I’d settle for. He was the one I complained to my mother about and then slept with when my mother died. He’s the one I never fell in love with but I could picture us in a big white house together, burning it to the ground after a messy fight, and then rummaging through the ashes for the car keys.

There was something so intoxicating about his failures that when he crashed the car I threw a party. Why no one showed up was beyond me but he finally broke down and knocked on my door at three am and we slept together in my bathroom. He was drunk and I was depressed so the next day we mutually shared a “it never happened” attitude about it. 

Four months later, at some gathering we both were invited to through a shared friend, he fell in love with me for the first time. I couldn’t reciprocate and I hated myself for it because besides him who did I have left? 

“I feel like I just got to know you for the first time. Like we just met each other. Hey, why don’t we start over? Whatdya say? I know there’s history but doesn’t that just make it better?”

“Did you ever get rid of the couch?” I asked and flitted my eyes like Betty Boop.

“I sold that for a fix.”

“I never knew.”

In fact, there was so much I didn’t know. I discovered a version of him that was ingenuine--half-truths and the holes patched up by lost dreams of my youth--but it made me happy and that’s all I cared about. Sitting on my couch with my legs swung over his lap and my hands high up in the air with my mind. I was happy and high and I couldn’t even enjoy it because I knew we’d reached the top. Eventually, we’d tumble like we always did, like I was destined to, and I’d be sick on the bathroom floor with a bottle and every regret I wanted to drown. 

It wasn’t cute this time around because I was reaching my late thirties. Lifting my head from the toilet, there she appeared. My seventeen year old self stood in the doorway in shock, choking up in sickness and clinging to the door frame in horror trying to catch herself. Eyes wide, she couldn’t look away even though all she wanted was to clamp her eyes shut and turn around sprinting in the other direction. She’d seen the future and I wonder now even if she decided to end it, would I be sad?

“You never really loved me, did you?” he asked, holding a black box limp between his hands. The catalogues weren’t too different from what they used to be, though striped ties were out of style now. Little fancy designs were all the rage. 

We’d repeat this circle and I felt everything had whirled around me while I stood glued in place. Had I ever felt guilty for not trying my best with him?

“We were meant to deserve something better than this,” I told him before he grabbed the gasoline he kept in the cupboard and started pooling it around my living room. 

I ended up in court and he walked away free and I was to blame. 

It was years later that I looked outside my window again and watched the snow falling gently over the world. Memories flood like they tend to do and destroy the barriers that we put there thinking they would protect us through some desperate reasoning. When they all break and I’m covered by emotions I see an image that makes me so violently ill I shake with tears. 

Snow angels in the backyard with the boy next door, my first love at seven. Grandpa standing over us with a camera. Packet-made hot chocolate and runny noses and scratchy scarves scrunched around my throat. Crying and laughing at stories Mama and Grandma shared about the ones they’d lost. The kiss I shared with Malcolm in the closet before I ran away in embarrassment under the safety of my grandma’s knitted sweater. I heard from a cousin Malcolm was now a divorced divorce lawyer and began balding in college.

I walk through my life and collect pieces that had fallen, molding them to fit again. There was never a breaking point for me, I could cross well past the line but I didn’t and that was reason enough to continue. Closing gaps and reopening boxes of hurt I’d packed away to let them fit into the picture too. 

I sit here now at my kitchen table and shuffle through the journals of my life, some half complete and some filled to the brim with notes and doodles and angry scribbles. One was half burnt and just like that, I’d lost six months of my life. The rest of them managed to survive the fire. At one point, I remember wanting to burn them all myself. 

His funeral was an odd sensation. I had managed to pick up my frayed parts and mend them. I’d waited long enough to see it come together but I don’t think he ever got to and that made me sob the most.

 She opened the door again and I came face to face with her, and she looked over at his body and contemplated. She didn’t know him as I did yet. This time, I’d let her reach out and latch on to my arms. She’d cry though she wouldn’t know why, and I would hold her and let her. 

She would cross the threshold and walk into her future. I would make sure there would be a box for her, one she’d open and smile at the warmth blanketing her. It would be so worth it, I promise, little girl.

November 25, 2021 18:28

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8 comments

Kevin Broccoli
17:45 Dec 09, 2021

Some of the details here are so striking. They're going to stay with me. Thank you for writing this.

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Sarbjeet Kaur
17:44 Dec 12, 2021

Thank you for reading this and for your feedback! I really appreciate it! :)

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Cathryn V
04:22 Dec 06, 2021

Hello Sarbjett, There's so much I enjoyed in this piece. Right from the beginning, this grabbed me: I hated his red couch, and we sat there with stiff backs and fidgeting fingers. It was his home so he felt more in place than I did. My heart never settled in the crooks and angles of his muddy studio apartment. Isolated from the rest, the couch’s vibrant nature was meant to “spruce up the place” but I think he forgot to realize that when everything looked so dead, putting something with life as a centerpiece just made it odd and forged. ...

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Sarbjeet Kaur
17:44 Dec 12, 2021

Thank you so much!!

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Suma Jayachandar
16:20 Nov 29, 2021

What a strong voice and vivid imagery! Great story!!

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Sarbjeet Kaur
19:15 Nov 29, 2021

Thank you so much for your comment!! It really made my day! :)

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Amanda Lieser
04:51 Dec 13, 2021

Hello! I really enjoyed so many aspects of this piece! My favorite line was: There was something so intoxicating about his failures that when he crashed the car I threw a party. I think you did a beautiful job of creating a reflective piece. I wanted to meet this narrator, talk to her, and dice more into her story. I also love how you gave us the theme of people weaving in and out of our lives. The fact that you focused on the detail of the couch is great. If you have a moment, please consider reading and commenting on my piece “Plan B,” I...

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Sarbjeet Kaur
16:14 Dec 03, 2021

Ahhh thank you so much for the shortlist!!!! This was such a wonderful surprise!!!! <3

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