Jordan Seman is a currently a junior at Middlebury College in Vermont, studying Comparative Literature and Psychology. She enjoys writing poetry and short stories in her free time, both in Spanish and English. She is originally from Denver, Colorado.
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One spring night, I sat next to him on a tattered couch. He was twenty, and I was barely eighteen. He wore a mustard-yellow T-shirt and I could smell his vodka-and-fruit punch breath as he sang along to a Bob Marley tune. He tap-tapped his bare feet on the sticky floor beneath us. True love that now exists is the love I can’t resist, so jam by my side. I fingered the rips in the couch. He interlaced his slender fingers with his black mop of hair. His long, arched limbs clumsily crossed over each other. He was tangled.
He spoke in languid sentences of ambiguities, mixing alcohol slurs with chirping enthusiasm. He completely ignored me, but caught me staring at him across the room when he got up to pour another drink. He carried himself with awkward ease. He curled his crooked toes as they touched the cold of the tile floor. He finally turned to me, before going to his room, and the emptiness behind his green eyes convinced me of the feeling that he was more alone than I, more lost.
I felt young that night. I hated that. He revealed his taste for philosophy, spitting out butchered Foucault and waiting for his friends’ nods of approval. I looked at my watch, as if waiting for that moment when I would finally belong there. When I could spend a night in his dirty sheets, and go to class hung-over. I was convinced that February had stolen something from me, bitter about the leftover three months of high school. I wanted the freedom of him. I wanted the still point of his dizzying mind.
Later, when we spent more time together, I yearned for the blissful ignorance that came from not knowing him. There, within those paint-chipped, stained walls, we were just kids. Our exuberance filled and refilled red solo cups. Our minds emptied of all else besides the dizziness of stale beer and overplayed lyrics. We were potent and untouchable.
But this feeling melted, like a sickly-sweet strawberry Popsicle. Near the end, which neither of us quite saw coming, I knew that he had forced maturity onto me. The maturity I felt I was so entitled to. I was wrapped in an oversized raincoat, supposedly protected by my youth but still wet with splashes from those solo cups. He left me with the same emptiness behind my eyes that I always found in his, without ever intending to.
Our relationship felt like some sort of ecstatic accident. There was something about him that made every aspect of us feel aloof, unplanned. He awakened me to a sort of passion that felt fleeting. I only saw him on weekends, when he would pick me up in an old Subaru that reeked of pungent fast food and weed, but I thought about him constantly.
He would go weeks without calling me. I felt anguish akin to someone’s hands pulling me apart like clay. But when his name finally lit up on my phone, I would ignore him. I wanted him to wait on me. If he waits for me, I thought, it means I’ve won. It was a constant game of indifference, but I was too vain to realize that it was wholly one-sided.
I intentionally sought rushes of pain, of emptiness. Then I would give in to him. I would beg my mom to let me borrow the car and drive 30 solitary minutes just to hold his hand. I sourced my own grief while he silently begged me to understand. I ignored the fact that he was always “a little too buzzed” to come pick me up. That he slept through my calls while I waited in my car outside his house. That there were empty bottles littering every surface of his bedroom. I prioritized my suffering because he protected me from his, as he slipped deeper into an abyss of blue.
He used to give me crushed restaurant mints from the bottom of his coat pocket before kissing me. Whenever I stayed the night, we would brush our teeth side-by-side in silence before crawling into bed together. I liked to taste the coolness of his tongue. We spent most of our time backtracking, discussing the same things we had dozens of times before. We watched Little Miss Sunshine three Fridays in a row.
He told me I was a “good girl.” He warned against the college lifestyle, telling me it was foolish and destructive. I rarely delved into the why. Whenever I left, he would lace his fingers through my knotted tresses and say, “It was good to see you.” I’d feel flickering warmth crawling up my body, but just squeeze his bony hand a little harder.
He felt most comfortable in silence, I knew. It was a superficial kind of wordlessness that we shared. It wasn’t grown from the ease of knowing each other, but from the pure weight of the hole he was drowning in, the one I felt scared to dig him out of. We often sat together as saturated, fuzzy movie scenes played on the TV. He’d pull softly at the downy white hairs on my arms. At commercial breaks, we would exchange weak giggles. He’d move his face close to mine, and soon enough I would be under him, enveloped in his cigarette smell and his breathing.
He was my first, but I never told him that. That summer evening, we sat at a red light in customary quiet. It was late. Music played at low volume from the radio, a man’s voice. It was a song I liked, The Airborne Toxic Event, and my mute lips mouthed the lyrics. The curl of your bodies like two perfect circles entwined/ And you feel hopeless, and homeless, and lost in the haze of the wine. The light changed from red to green and I suddenly felt his damp hand on mine on the center console, a hint towards his hands on my hips and breasts in his dark room later on. I was cripplingly nervous. I shivered in my green sundress. I shivered again out of it.
Later that summer, I saw Alex for the last time in the backseat of his car. Our tangled limbs touched and I was reminded of that first night, watching his slinky movements from the tattered couch. I shifted into him like a misplaced key and felt the same sense of loneliness that I always thought I could still in him. When we finished, he dropped me off and was gone. The engine sputtered out of the driveway, headlights exposing me for a final flicker of a moment. I saw him look at me. The floating dust in that yellow beam of light mingled with the mustard of his T-shirt, the old cream slippers he wore as he trudged across the tile floor. A strand of my sandy hair between his slender fingers. The piss-yellow beer in the bottom of his cup. It was one of the only times I felt bare enough for him to know me.
Two weeks went by without a word from him. I went into protective mode. On a sweltering Sunday he texted me nine words. I’m leaving tomorrow. Not sure when I’ll be back. I responded: I’ll see you after. I thought I had won. I knew that it was over. I cried but felt ambiguously relieved.
I didn’t see him again. I went to college. I took a philosophy class, experienced a hangover, belonged. He became a shaking shadow. I didn’t miss him, but I also knew that he didn’t miss me. I thought it cruel.
And then three weeks ago his name popped up in my inbox. It was the first time he had contacted me since leaving for rehab almost three years ago, the only message I had received since those nine words. You were the last link to any sort of light in my world, and I am forever grateful for that. You deserve better than what I gave you. You deserve someone who’s emotionally available and open and honest. I hope you know that.
I did know that, but it was still nice to hear him say it.