By Avery Finch
I’m leaving Killeen today. I’m not coming back. You asked to see me one last time before I left. I can’t do that. I told you when you asked why I agreed to start seeing you, despite everything. Like most things, desire is stronger when unsatiated.
While we were friends, I felt conflicted. Like I was your mistress, which was perhaps more wishful thinking than reality. I felt guilty for flirting with you, despite your regular mentions of your girlfriend. But you kept asking to see me anyway. Sitting on bar stools and facing each other, knees touching. Looking at you for a long time and you just looking back. You leaning on my shoulder and you holding my hand holding my hand holding my hand (Do you remember that? We were at a late-night sushi place. I hate sushi, I worry about overfishing and mercury, but I pretended to like it because you liked it. I told you I had never really been on a date, even a dinner date, and I looked down and you were holding my hand). Through it all though, I was fascinated. I had never felt so seen, and still wanted to be myself.
Remember that friend of your girlfriend who got roofied just a week before we stopped talking? I thought it would be safer, among our kind, so I got drunk at the gay club. Really drunk. I don’t remember how she found me, I just remember dancing, and then, there’s this girl kissing me against a wall. Someone cheered us on. I don’t remember leaving, getting in a car, getting to my room even. Did she hold my hand, pull me towards the door? Did she have to lead me down the stairs, careful so I didn’t trip? Did I lean against the wall when I got too dizzy? Did she try to open the door with her foot as she led me out? Did someone else hold the door on the way out of the club? Did she thank her? Walking out, people may have thought we were different things to each other. Gal-pals, girlfriends, strangers game for a one-night stand. But they all saw two girls, which meant they looked away.
You would just say things. How you had never lived on your own. How you had this recurring nightmare about getting married where you stepped into the aisle of the church and your heels stuck to the floor no matter how hard you pulled, and then you would start sinking. How you had never left Texas, had always wanted to move away from here, be a marine biologist or a bioengineer, live somewhere on the coast (except climate change made maritime real estate a bad investment so probably not), how you would write me letters when I left for New York in six weeks. Real letters, like with paper and ink and pressed flowers and photographs and drawings.
And you were drunk, but not that drunk, right? And people tell the truth, they say what they’re really thinking, when they’re drunk, right? You wanted to tell me these things, you wanted to touch me back like that too. When my hand would linger on your shoulder, your arm, run through your hair, and you didn’t stop me, you didn’t say no. You wanted it too. I’d drop you off at your girlfriend’s house and wait for you to open the door, so I knew you were safe. Then I would stand in the doorway of my own dark room feeling dirty. You were just drunk. And I was taking advantage of you. Just because I never kissed you, touched you somewhere your father wouldn’t, didn’t mean I wasn’t taking something. It didn’t mean I didn’t think about it.
The past couple of weeks have turned me into a monster, into someone I don’t recognize. I get home and without realizing it I’m slamming cupboard doors, stomping from the counter to the stove. I sleep on the floor. I made a space just big enough for me, put all my blankets directly on top of it, surrounded it with couch cushions, pillows, chairs. I draped a tablecloth from over the window to the corner of a chair, so it looks like a sail, or a flag. When I lay down in it, I pretend I’m inside a hollow tree somewhere very cold, or in a cabin of a spaceship nearing Alpha Centauri and I won’t be alive when we reach it, but I see it stretching towards me. Mostly though, I’m on a raft in the middle of the ocean where nothing else lives, a dead zone. It’s less The Raft of the Medusa and more Medusa’s raft. Perseus is gone and my head is gone, but I’m still alive. I am alive but I am not human. I don’t want to be human right now.
I don’t know what she thought when she finally got off me. Do you think she realized then? Standing in the doorway of my dark room. Do you think she knows? Do you think there’s anything for her to know? It feels like a myth. It’s a stereotype. It’s not really like that. It’s a metaphor, it’s an origin story, it’s not real.
I hate her. I hate her because she carries her cup by the rim at a party, walks with her keys between her fingers through parking garages, with her finger on a button on her phone that’ll call the police if she releases it. I hate her because I know exactly what she was thinking when she found me. She’s drunk, but not that drunk, right? And people tell the truth, they say what they’re really thinking when they’re drunk, right? They do things they really want to do when they’re drunk, right? She wanted to kiss me. She wanted to take me home. She wanted it. She didn’t stop me, she didn’t say no. She didn’t push me away. She wanted it too. I hate her because she is probably desperate for love. I hate her because in her attempt to find it, she took that kind of love from me.
What happened was that one day your hand was on my arm, and we were stone-cold sober. Then I realized three things. None of which were the reasons why I told you I wanted to stop seeing each other. The first was that you were attracted to me. The second was you really would never do anything about it. The third was that we would only do things with plausible deniability, and it would hurt me badly, and then, I wouldn’t love you anymore. I ended it because that was the only way that I could keep loving you. Now I can’t even do that.
My mom has called me every day since I told her. Yesterday she called me to ask if I wanted anything specific from the grocery store, or if I wanted her to make a certain meal. She texted me this morning: a picture of my bed, freshly made, with the dog that is somehow still alive on it even though he’s too old to jump up there and he’s not allowed on any of the furniture. I told one friend the night of, crying, still drunk, and they stayed on the phone with me as I fell asleep. They slept on my floor, next to me, for the three days after just in case the girl tried to come back. I cried as we took down Medusa’s raft, piece by piece. They said nothing, let me lay down in it one more time. Took pictures of it from every angle, sent them to me. We got pizza after. There are different kinds of love, and in the absence of one type, I have at least felt the others that much more.
Now I’m leaving, and I’m not thinking of her or it. I’m thinking about you. I’m thinking about how you wanted to see me, just one more time. If I saw you again, that would be the end, goodbye. I can’t have that. I wanted to write this letter so I could leave something unfinished, undone. This way, I will never know if you read it, I will never know how you reacted, what you did with it. What is unsatiated is strongest, and what I need to feel strongest is hope. Not that I’ll be that person again (I might always be a little monstrous). Not that you’ll leave with me, but that I might be someone who can feel the way I felt with you. Like I had never wanted to be somebody else. You don’t have to do anything; you just go and live your life the way you want to. It’s all in my head and out of your hands. But if you do read this, there are two possibilities.
One is closure. You read this and feel what you feel about it and throw it away. Maybe you’ll be sorry for me and hope I’m okay. Maybe you’ll hate me for being so selfish, for dropping this letter in your lap and leaving without looking you in the eye. Maybe you’ll be happy I’m gone, because you know I needed to leave, alone, to get better. Whatever it is, you have your life stretching before you and you’re not sinking, it’s vast and unknowable and pulling you towards it like the ocean. In that case, all that needs to be said is goodbye. Don’t reach out to confirm. Don’t say anything else. It ends here.
Or. You want to leave it open, too, you don’t want it to end between us, and if you choose that, then we get to my last request. My turn.
Call me. Don’t text. Leave a voicemail if I don’t pick up. Tell me you love me. That you want to know me better than I know myself. That you are fascinated by me. That you feel like I already know you. That you don’t want to be somebody else when you’re with me. That you left her, and you left Texas, maybe even the country, and got another degree, or got a job down the street from me at some point, but didn’t see me, not once (isn’t that crazy?). That you built something for yourself, and you didn’t think about me at all, sometimes. But sometimes you did. Let’s build a fort on the beach and turn it into a house. Let’s have house parties even though we hate parties, just so everyone we love can be in the same room together. Let’s make the house into a boat. Let’s push it into the sea and set sail. Let’s write letters to each other from across the galley. You can write them in the crow’s nest because you get seasick. Let’s cut open fishermen’s nets. Let’s become pirates. Let’s sabotage oil rigs. Let’s create a renewable source of energy out of seaweed that’s ten times more efficient than oil and coal. Let’s stop climate change. Let’s go back to land and fix something else. Let’s never stop writing letters. Tell me you’re outside my door, just ring me in. I’m right outside. It’s cold and I’m tired. Just let me in. I’m right here.