By Bam Mitchell-Wilde
We were in her bed, one of my legs tangled in the sheets, the other sticking out in the fresh air. The rain outside rattled the windowpane and made distant rumbles on the roof above us. I watched the drops rhythmically pounding on the glass and felt myself drift from the room and then back into myself. Her room had that musty tinge of old incense, reminding me of my mum’s old flat. She was sitting up against the backboard, looking down at me and smiling slightly. I looked away, glancing at the door, and then at the peeling edges of a poster for a band I’d never heard of.
“Hey,” She said, idly teasing the knots in my hair with her fingers. I smiled. This was nice. She was nice. Kind, and with a cheeky grin that I’d always found endearing. She had been in my circle of friends the whole year, and I’d always thought how in another world we could be good together. So this must be a good thing. I liked her a lot. Why didn’t it feel like a good thing?
I could just stay here, stay with her, be happy. It made sense. People want to be happy, that’s the whole point.
“Hi,” I replied, clearing my throat a little, and sitting up. She reached for my hand, so I gave it to her. It felt nice. It did.
“You want breakfast? I’m gonna make some tea.”
How did this happen? How did I let this happen? Yesterday we were all at the beach, having a good enough time. I had managed not to talk about my ex all night. Because we were broken up. Yes, broken up. So why had I arrived that night straight from her house? Her house where she spent the whole afternoon berating me, digging into me for not complimenting her outfit when I came in. I thought how I didn’t see why I should seeing as we weren’t together anymore. But I kept that to myself. That’s how it was, at least she was mine. Although I guess not really anymore. I can be happy, can’t I? Please God let me be happy.
I looked up at the girl sitting up next to me. She was beautiful, tanned skin and dark eyes that were always slanted in a way that makes you think she’s up to something. Only now they were warm, properly warm, and open. She had let me in. She had sat and chatted with me, the whole night, taking my mind off it. Both of us fuzzy with alcohol talking about stuff we wouldn’t usually be able to talk about. It had happened naturally, knees bumping, and then our hands intertwined. And we walked back to hers and she hadn’t once made me feel inadequate or stupid. And we had sex, really really good sex. And I wanted to be happy so bad. We could be happy together.
Her brows were furrowed now, I had been quiet for too long.
“Yeah, breakfast. Let’s do it.”
I eased myself out of her bed, twisting from the sheets, and put my pants back on. I couldn’t find my t-shirt, but the heating was on, so it wasn’t a big deal. She walked towards the door. I followed behind her, reaching out to touch her waist, but pulling back my hand before we touched. What are you doing? I thought, though the voice didn’t sound like mine. You know you won’t stay with her. You and me, we’re meant to be together.
I felt nauseous. Let’s stay here and be happy, I told myself. Don’t go running back to her, you’re not good together. It’s not worth it. But I don’t deserve to be happy. I don’t need to be happy; I just need her to be happy, happy and safe and alive and not doing anything reckless.
I looked at the back of her head. The Other Her. The one that could be my escape. The one who wasn’t trying to manipulate me, the one who I knew had liked me a little bit, the one who would have me if I asked, the one who I fucked in my self-hatred on my special sabotage mission.
She had barely said anything, we were having tea now. She glanced around the room, chewing her lip. It was a nice kitchen, the vintage-looking wallpaper reminding me of indie films. She seemed like the kind of person who doesn’t mind silence. Or maybe she sensed I needed to think, or that I already had one foot out the door.
If she didn’t know, how long would it take her to realise? I shouldn’t have even stayed for the tea, but I didn’t want to just leave her like it was some one-night stand. Because it wasn’t. I did like her; I did want her. In another world.
Fuck, I hate myself.
It was a one-night stand. I had used her. I had clung to her as an escape, so just for a second I could remember that I was lovable, or at least likeable. I could feel my mobile phone sitting upstairs on the bedside table. Waiting for me. I had turned it off. Last night that had seemed like a good idea, an act of defiance, blocking off any messages that could poison me and make me compliant again. Now it had gone eleven in the morning and I knew what I was going to find when I turned it on. And inevitably I would have to go and explain myself to her, and apologise a thousand times for not calling and never, ever, tell her that this happened because I cannot have her death on my hands. She needs me. At least she needs me.
The day we broke up I was immortal. I had broken free. I had actually done it. Sure she screamed and cried, and made threats, and decorated my face with a deep gash on my brow, painted by the lamp she threw at me. Just because she loved me though, and she was desperate. I told her I’d had enough, that I couldn’t live like this, that my friends had given up on trying to help and now just looked at me with half pity and half annoyance at my weak will.
I had ignored her for three days. My dad bought me a new brick phone and a new sim, so she couldn’t call. He told me to throw my old phone away. I kidded myself putting it in a box in the cellar, saying I could use it once I was over her. It was a better phone anyway. It didn’t make sense to just get rid of it. So I kept it and left it turned off in that box for those three days.
I went out with my friends to the beach and to bars. I got a new haircut and I avoided the songs that reminded me of her. I even bought a pack of cigarettes because maybe it’d help me relax and even that is a better addiction than her.
But it’s hard. It’s hard when you know she’s there at the end of the phone and you know she’s messaging you probably fifty times a day and you know if you just turn the phone on she’ll be there waiting for you and needing you and I mean why do I need to be happy just as long as she’s happy as long as she’s happy and safe.
So I went to the cellar. I went and I looked at the box with the phone in and I punched the wall hard so that my knuckles bled because that’s what I deserved for unlocking that phone and reading through those messages which I did and I got a sick relief out of it that I had given in, why fight it? She always wins she knows you inside out you belong to her you know it.
I looked up from my tea and glanced through the corridor at the red painted door. “I should…” But I trailed off because I didn’t want to say it. I didn’t want to admit that I was too weak to stay and let myself be happy.
She was smart. “I thought you guys broke up?” She was still smiling but it was tense, and her eyes were narrowed again.
“It’s more complicated than that.” What a line. I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself.
She nodded. “She doesn’t love you man; she just wants to own you. It’s toxic.”
She can own me, I thought. She can own me I am hers I am nothing without her.
I managed an “I know.” Staring at my hands and gripping them and stretching the skin of my knuckles over to my fingers and back again. The nausea was coming and going in waves. My tea sat luke-warm in front of me, I had barely touched it. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. I was going to be in so much shit. I was going to be in so much shit I just needed to get it over with. I needed to see her and be screamed at and humiliated and made to feel like nothing because then we could get to the forgiveness part and I could relax a little. A little. I wanted a cigarette.
“I do like you,” I muttered, lifting my eyes to meet hers for a second before letting them fall back down. I was slouched so far into the chair I thought I might melt into it.
“No, don’t do that,” she said, she was pissed now I could tell. I’m a piece of shit. “You can’t have it both ways.”
I was squeezing my fist so hard that my forearms hurt from the effort. I needed to leave quick. Downing my tea, I stood. I was still just in my boxers, only where I had felt sexy this morning, I now felt exposed and dirty. She glanced at my body in spite of herself, which only made me feel worse. I caught her staring a little too long at the bruises on my stomach and excused myself to go upstairs.
She said it couldn’t hurt because I was strong so I should just tense and stop being a pussy. She said she was only playing. She said it was only because she was so passionate about us. The first couple of times didn’t hurt, I tensed like she said but she wanted it to hurt, didn’t she? So she kept doing it until my muscles got tired and I was screaming for her to stop but she didn’t but then she was so sorry always so sorry, it wasn’t her fault she said I’m ill she said but still so sorry.
I made a beeline for the bathroom and threw up in the toilet. It was just bile by then. But that’s ok. Then I couldn’t do it anymore and I crumpled to the floor and I sobbed as quietly as I could but I still sobbed because why couldn’t I leave her and I was in so much shit and she was going to hurt me when I got back and I was scared but maybe I deserved it.
The other she, the nicer she, pushed the door open, and forgot her anger because I was in need but even then I felt bad because was I just emotionally manipulating her? I stopped her from her feelings by taking over with mine.
She put her arms around my head because I was clunky and tall and that was the only part of me that she could fully envelop in her arms, and now I’m lying here and I’m crying so hard and it’s phlegmy and gross and I can’t stop because I’ve started and it won’t stop.
“You don’t have to go back to her you know? You can leave her for good.”
I almost laugh when she says it because the idea seems so foreign to me. Who am I if not hers? I exist to keep her alive, to love her unconditionally. She’s trained me well for it. It could definitely be worse. Probably. I could be a bin man or something, or homeless, or dying. Dying would be fucking great right now.
I stop crying. I am so exhausted. I fold further into her body. Maybe she’s right, maybe I can stay away. There’s no logical inconsistency with me existing in a world that doesn’t involve her. But swelling in my gut I can anticipate the pain I’ll have to endure in a world without her. And I’ll never get over her. Surely not. That seems impossible. But I’m here right now with someone else, not her, someone who isn’t going to throw things at me or tell me how worthless I am.
Maybe if I just stay here a little longer, maybe see how I feel. I push my head further into her and close my eyes. Maybe.
(Graphic courtesy of Izzie Armitage)