He came on easy, the first one. At the time, I would’ve said: like something romantic and mostly cliché—a sunset, waking up in the morning on your own, a nice buzz from the perfectly slow-sipped cocktail; now, three years later, miles moved on, and I’d say: like a disease, equally cliché and perhaps, in this fucked up world, equally as romantic. I remember feeling relieved when he walked in with his girlfriend way back when, the first time I saw him. Not relieved—who feels relief at the sign of another dead end—but it took some pressure off of meeting him. I look into the corners of every man I meet for that glimpse of something I’ve never really seen before, and their pressurized hand-holding meant I could maintain a safe distance. They holed themselves up in his room for those first few days, and afterwards he emerged. That was how we really met, him homesick and lovesick and me already judging him for it.
He told me, months later, he remembers a moment from the first week we worked together. He was speaking to someone else about this mash-up and tried to find it on his laptop. I started playing it because I already had it on mine. I thought I was being friendly, breaking the ice. He thought I was kind of an asshole. I love this story now, a memory of a memory, three times all wrapped up in one: that first week; those months when we were confessing memories like that; and now now, whatever now this is that I’m remembering it.
I’ll spare myself the recounting of other memories, having memorialized him in writing in a million other ways, least of all the poems and the prose and the songs, and most of all the journals. I’ll make a longer story short. In a couple months, we had worked our way into each other’s brains: him in mine was quiet, pleasant, a nice thing that could’ve been and wasn’t, me in his was something he couldn’t bear to pass up, so he didn’t. The letting go of each other got reversed, but that’s not this story.
I’ll never forget the moment he put his hand on the small of my back. I tried to mute the chattering of my spine–I thought he still had a girlfriend. He didn’t. It still probably wasn’t right.
The learning process: we do something once, we begin to pick up on its details. We begin to understand it. I consider myself a very fast learner, an efficient one. So the second time, this last time, when I walked into the room, sat down, and met your girlfriend, the relief should’ve been a clue. The good thing about the learning process is that we always continue to perfect it. The bad thing about the learning process is that we always continue to perfect it.
There were about two days when I didn’t like you. It was the same sign, but it was his the first time, so I don’t count it. I generally don’t like firsts. First dates, first days, first classes, first times, first fights, first losses—I’d rather already know it all. Maybe I’m only an efficient learner because I hate being a learner. Maybe I only love learning because I hate learning. He was the first of many things that I won’t bother recounting. You were the second. I thought maybe I’d have learned by then. I hadn’t.
The second time around was like a bad dream that I’d had before: just as quiet, just as nice, how I felt for you. But with him, the first time, it was all I had. With you, the second it began to sneak up on me, I knew I was in trouble. Knowledge of that feeling—the niceness, the pleasantness, the quiet—somehow only served to render those adjectives opposites. The niceness was nice, just like it was the first time, but it perfected itself into something that wasn’t niceness. The pleasantness was maybe only pleasant in the ignorant glow of that first time; the second time, it was some cubed and mangled version of pleasant. Nightmare niceties.
Sometimes, just a nightmare though: quiet, pleasant, nice. And thank god, you passed like one, a nice and pleasant nightmare—there and seemingly endless for an evening, but gone in the light of day and so trivialized by that sunrise. I passed through your life like a tempest, though, and wrecked the ship you stood on. Well, that’s not quite fair to me. I was the last crest on a tossed deck, the hit that snapped the broken board in the hull; I couldn’t help what I was saying with my eyes but I said nothing with my words or my actions. You said it all for the both of us, when you were still moored to someone else, and I should’ve known what a nightmare that’d be.