Remember that weird and wonderful South Park episode (from long, long ago) that starred Robert Smith of The Cure? Remember how Kyle declares The Cure’s “Disintegration” as the “best album ever?”
Well, this piece began while listening to “Disintegration.” I’m not going to argue with Kyle’s assessment, although “Wish” probably had a bigger impact on my youth …
As you grow older, you grow more real.
Time exacts you. It etches in your skin.
I’ve read each scar. I’ve held each hand.
The burdens that you carry have kept you thin.
But I miss the girl where a woman now stands.
Please hear what I have to say, my love. Hear how it all began.
You were homesick when I met you, uncomfortable in your clothing. You said your room was haunted. The bed was cold, and shadows spilled out of your closet.
I did my best to pretend I believed you. But I’d seen my share of ghosts before, and I could tell yours came from within.
You paused after you looked into my eyes, and then said they were bluer than any sky you’d ever seen.
“Well, let me tell you, they’re blue for you, sweetheart,” I said. “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever set my eyes upon, and I know you’ll have to leave. But if you don’t have to, please don’t leave yet.”
I tried to maintain my confidence as I was greeted by a momentary silence. It was heavy and bursting at the seams. Sometimes our whole lives are defined by a few precious moments. I suddenly felt this weight.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately,” I said. “I’m only 18, but I think I know all I want to know about it. I was in love once, and it changed me. I hated what it did, though. Most people talk about how love makes them feel complete. Makes them a better person. Well, love made me feel separated from myself. It made me feel dependent. I don’t ever want to feel that way again.”
I was being honest in my haste to make conversation. But I was also trying to get you interested in me. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to take my silly confession and make it work in my favor.
“You want to know what I know about love?” you asked. “Love is like a box of chocolates.”
You giggled. I was relieved.
“But,” you added. “I know what you mean. I’ve been there, too. Love is not always a constructive thing. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it tears us apart.
“I have to go,” you said. “It’s those shadows I was telling you about. I have to keep moving.”
“I could go with you,” I offered. “I could scare them off.”
“No, you can’t, silly. You’ve got to stay here. Break some other girl’s heart with your war on love.”
You pressed your lips against my cheek, and I’m quite certain my temperature jumped by 10 degrees. You smelled soft, like rose petals. My heart contracted as you pulled away and turned to leave.
“We’ll see each other again,” you said as you looked me in the eye. “I know it.”
You were right, of course.
I saw you a few days later, sitting on a large stone by the lake. My heart felt like one of the rocks you sent skipping across the water’s surface. I was confused by my inability to ignore you. I didn’t even know you, and I could already feel myself changing, adapting to what I imagined might be your desires.
I suddenly found myself taking more of a liking for Tom Hanks because I was certain you loved “Forrest Gump.” I’d been to a local rose garden to see if I could find your scent. I had spotted the small “Pixies” tattoo near your wrist and purchased “Trompe le Monde,” thinking that if I couldn’t fool the world, perhaps I could at least fool you into thinking I was a big fan of the band.
As I approached, you grew larger and larger. I saw wings emerge from your back.
“Angel or demon?” I asked myself, unable to shake the bitter taste of love I’d acquired at an early age.
Once I reached you, you were quite still — and quite human. Despite the chemical reactions you produced in my mind, I suddenly realized that you were my equal. Nothing more and nothing less.
You smiled as you laid your eyes upon me, and I felt compelled to divulge everything. I cringe at the thought of it still.
“So let me confess,” I told you nervously. “I want you to break my heart. Tonight. Tomorrow. Next week. I don’t care. I want to savor every tiptoe of your tongue upon my lips and know that with each step we approach the unpredictable end. I already told you I don’t want to be in love, but with you I somehow feel safe. Safe to be stupid. Safe to dream a little dream and then awake with disappointment as I realize that it was nothing more than that.”
Instead of fluttering away in fear at this suggestion from a man who was still a relative stranger, you sat and looked me up and down.
“Can you at least give me a little time to decide if your heart is worth breaking?” you asked.
“I’d offer to break your heart as well, Celice, but I’ve got a feeling it’s already broken,” I replied.
With that, I could feel your vision begin to blur, and I watched tears stream down your cheeks. It was those ghosts within you again. You pulled at your red sweater, but those shadows were much deeper and couldn’t be peeled away.
I placed my arms around you and squeezed. I wasn’t about to offer to save you. I didn’t know yet what I was fighting. But I could offer comfort. I could offer warmth.
“I just want to stop thinking,” you said. “Can you help me do that? Can you help me forget how fucking stupid I am? Keep me thinking about the present. Make me look toward the future. If you promise me that, I promise I’ll break your heart. It won’t be us forever. It will be us for now, for however long now lasts. If I sense you losing yourself, I’ll end it. I’ll end us.”
“Now” expired nine years ago — after four years had passed.
I did what I could to place you in the waking hours. From the distance of dreams, I tried to bring you to the light.
But the shadow of that boy’s body kept growing larger in your mind. And then it started talking. I knew this because you had conversations with it at night.
“I want to see you,” you whispered to this unseen entity. “All I ever see is darkness. I want to see your skin. Can you smile? Are you warm? Every day, I see your body laying lifeless. I see the gravel pressed into your hands. I don’t need you to remind me. I won’t forget. I swear I won’t forget you.”
But you would never discuss these things with me. You had once confessed what had happened that night when you were a 16-year-old driving home, but you would only share the cold, devastating facts. You said it was your burden to bear, and you didn’t want to talk about it.
I would plead otherwise.
“You’ve got a light inside you, Celice. If you would talk about this guilt with me — with someone — I know you could get it under control and the boy would give you some peace. But you keep yourself so airtight that no light gets in or out.”
You didn’t break my heart.
I recognized myself in you, and I sought to bridge the gap between us in order to be whole. I admit it: You made me complete in your own way.
It was your love of melancholy, rainy mornings and aching music. It was your whispers in my ear after a night of drinking. It was your fear of getting lost in the past and not reaching the future.
But our faults appeared with time, and the black bones were exposed. I think it was our familiarity with death that made our demise seem natural. We knew that foundations rot, that all things must pass.
Since then, I’ve written stories all over you.
I held your hand at your mother’s funeral. I kissed you when you bought me a box of chocolates on my 25th birthday. I gave you a ride home when your car battery died in downtown Savannah.
You have been a source of light for me, even though you struggle to see that light within yourself.
But the passage of time concerns me. While you are close to my heart, you are increasingly far away from my head. You are sinking into the sea of life, and I’m afraid that, one day, I’ll never retrieve you. I fear there will be a day when you won’t be able to retrieve yourself, either. That girl who fought to see the future will succumb to the past.
The shadows will have won, and the darkness will endure.
If that comes to pass, who will remember the best of you?
Who will remember the girl where this woman now stands?