Shades of love. Shades of heartbreak.
I’ve never known anyone named Alice. I have an inkling that if I did, it never would work out, anyway. Though the thought of being in a Wonderland sort of intrigues me, I think I like the idea of Neverland better. Flying always beats out falling, as appealing as the rabbit hole may have ever been.
“So this is love? That’s a lovely thought. You have to care for it to keep it together.” A song by Azure Ray—given to me on a mix CD by an ex—relates much more to the present than it does the past. I don’t have much experience in breaking hearts, or at least I don’t think I do.
But maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe I shouldn’t have started texting someone else, or talking to them on the phone, or writing a story about them. Maybe you were right about what was happening, or what was going to happen. Maybe I didn’t see it. Maybe I did and didn’t care. Does self-preservation count as an excuse? Maybe I was scared that we weren’t going to work out, like the rest of them didn’t work out, and I was trying to create a back-up plan. Maybe I was ruining everything. Maybe I did ruin everything.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
When we first started dating, I didn’t exactly disclose the fact that I was weird about sleeping away from home. You had to find out the hard way.
After we took a trip together to Bed Bath & Beyond to get you proper sheets (Pure Beech Jersey was all I’d sleep on, and yours were so old and scratchy), we went back to your place and laid down on them.
Before I knew it, it was almost midnight. I didn’t turn into a pumpkin, but I had a panic attack because you wanted me to sleep over, and I didn’t have any pajamas or a toothbrush with me.
You suggested we go to Walgreens down the street to find a toothbrush and some boxers or underwear to sleep in. When we got there, there were only cheap looking granny panties and little boys’ boxers. I had a mini-meltdown there. We walked back to Waverly Place, holding hands, even though I was freaking out.
I cried onto your new sheets, left in a huff, and took a cab back to Harlem.
I’m sure you were very confused, but then you learned: we had to plan these things in advance.
“I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU!”
It echoed through my head like thunder every time I looked at you. But I was taking things slowly (for me). I was going to wait to tell you.
After your friends visiting from Birmingham left, I came over for dinner. I didn’t plan on sleeping over, so you walked me out to get a cab home. As you were closing the door after I got in, you said it.
A moment later, I got a text: “Shit. I didn’t say what I thought I said, did I?” I probably responded with some sort of emoticon and then told you not to panic. It took every bit of self-control to not say it back that day, or the next time you “accidentally” said it, three days later.
It happened, eventually, post-coitus, like it does most of the time.
The last time I was home, my mom reminded me that you wanted kids. She sees you as the vessel for her only goal in life: grandchildren. I make it very clear, most of the time (except when thinking about cute names like Paisley or Waverly—ones that you hate) that I don’t want any.
She told me that we cannot get married or compromise on something like this. She said you shouldn’t have to suffer because I am selfish and don’t want children. I’m convinced that she is ready to get rid of me and take you in, because you’ll give her what she wants.
I don’t want to think about babies. I want to think about your baby blues.
So many eyes I’ve loved have been a shade like this, but yours are the babiest and the bluest.
Bleu de France
We talk often about “going back to Europe.” You went backpacking during your semester abroad when you were 19. I went the summer after undergrad with my best friend, who dragged me to every single World UNESCO Heritage Guide “must see” church, rock, and garden.
I imagine us staying in a lavish hotel, eating all the bread and cheese and chocolate croissants that Paris offers. This is in my dreamland, where you aren’t deathly allergic to dairy. We would stroll past the Eiffel Tower at night and admire the way that its lights sparkle.
When I squint, the white lights flickering on the Eiffel Tower would make it a blurry Christmas tree.
The grass in front of it would be soft and dewy. We’d, of course, have brought a towel to sit on so we wouldn’t get our pants wet. I would make you take a forced-perspective photo, making it look like I was holding the Tower between my thumb and pointer finger.
That’s the way I imagine it, anyhow.
Between the two of us, we own nine Apple products. Neither of us jumped on the wagon in 1998 when the G3 was Bondi blue, though. Neither of us had a Mac anything until after college.
Now, we won’t have anything else.
Now, we won’t have anyone else.
I have fleeting thoughts, maybe once every other week that tell me, “This isn’t going to work out. End it now.” Maybe it’s because I’ve never known anything else. Maybe it’s because I am sick of hurting you unintentionally. I hear it constantly in the back of my head.
End it now.
End it now.
End it now.
In previous relationships, I listened to those fleeting thoughts. But this time, I’m trying not to be self-defeating.
I’m trying. I’m trying not to be, as they say, so blue.
Before you made me erase every trace of ever being involved with other people before you, I had “known” someone whose favorite color was cerulean. She was a friend of mine from college who I got drunk and hooked up with in New York. This was post-nervous breakdown from my relationship previous to you, but pre-your existence.
Whenever I came across a cerulean blue crayon (which happened more often than you’d think), I took a picture and sent it to her. It was just something silly.
But I’m not allowed to do it anymore.
This was the color of the seats in the train we rode to Long Island, the day after Halloween. We’d only been dating for a month, but I figured it was all right if you met some of my family—my cousins.
They loved you immediately, of course. I paraded you around like a freshly groomed Pomeranian to anyone and everyone who would meet you.
I think they call this “The Honeymoon Period.” I will forever call it the “Cornflower Blue Period.”
When you stare at the sun for more than a moment or stare at a light for too long and then close your eyes, there is a blotch that is sort of like the sun or dots that are sort of like the light or an inverse of the reflection.
They are all cyan in my mind’s eye.
When I look at you and close my eyes, I don’t do it for long enough to see dots or an inverse. I always want to open them back up to look at you again.
Deep Sky Blue
One of the first things I told you about your eyes were that they looked just like the eyes of the guy with AIDS in that one TLC music video.
It was meant to be a compliment, but obviously you didn’t take it that way.
Maybe because he was dying of AIDS. But I swear, he had the most striking eyes. Even if they eventually faded to white and he died.
“Don’t go chasing waterfalls,” I sing to myself when I think about it.
The first night we ever met, I was wearing a plaid dress. It was blue (this very shade) and black. You reference this in a poem you wrote about losing your virginity.
I don’t remember what you were wearing that night. It still upsets you. To be fair: you don’t remember what you were wearing that night, either.
I do remember this, though: we held hands at the bar, spoke like we’d known each other for years, my best friend said you had perfect hair, I offered to walk you back to your apartment after a pitcher of sangria, you asked me to come up, we cuddled on your bed for a minute, and then you turned in and I kissed you.
That’s more important, I hope.
Is there another way to describe this other than “iconic”? The answer is no. You almost never hear “Tiffany Blue” stated without “iconic.”
I had been lusting after the key collection for over a year. In particular: the tiny, silver key necklace that was being advertised at every bus stop in the city. Our first Christmas together, a mere four months into our relationship, I flew down to Alabama on Christmas Day to meet your family.
This was the day after you told them about me. The day after you came out. I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous, but I was also so excited to see where and how you grew up.
I was greeted by a stocking full of candy, almost as tall as I was. They wanted my “first official Christmas” to be memorable. I didn’t mention that I spent Christmas the previous year in the Hamptons with my ex and her family. I didn’t want that one to count as my first.
When it was time to exchange presents, you handed me a small box. It was wrapped perfectly. You always wrap things perfectly. It’s something that I both admire and envy about you.
When I opened it, I’m sure my eyes grew uncontrollably large because it was that iconic Tiffany Blue box. Inside was the exact key I wanted—the smallest silver one.
My real first Christmas, the Alabama Christmas, was one of the best trips I’d ever taken.
I almost never slept over, at first. Not because I was weird about it (even though I was), but because I babysat up near Columbia and it was a hike from your tuna can of an apartment in the Village.
However, things were going sour with my roommate. He lost his job and then insisted that our rent suddenly went up without written notice. I became annoyed with him and started sleeping downtown with you more and more.
After catching him in lie after lie (he said he was at Columbia and Julliard getting two different degrees, had brain cancer, was two inches taller than he actually was, etc.), the phony rent hike was the last straw. Between that and the bills I never got to view but had to pay, we figured he stole about $3,000 from me. I couldn’t afford to move into a new place of my own, so I gave him two month’s notice and began slowly moving into your apartment after your roommate gave it the go-ahead.
A bold move for only having dated five months.
Our second Christmas together, you came to visit my family. I bought you a Claddagh ring with a sapphire in the heart. I hid it in a new purse that I bought before I picked you up from the airport.
When I told you to check out my new bag, I didn’t mean check out the inside. You meant well; you were pulling the tissue paper out so that I could use it.
But then you found the little box.
I had a meltdown.
It didn’t fit you, anyway.
I was going to wear it, but it was too small for me. So now it sits in our jewelry holder next to various necklaces and a bracelet made out of antique spoons.
When your brother got back from boot camp, he proposed to his girlfriend. They’d only been together for six months, and had only been in each other’s presence for three of them. She was a sophomore in college and he had dropped out to join the Navy. They call this the “Boot Camp Blues.”
At that point, we had been together for a little over two years. We’d both graduated from our masters programs with 4.0s.
Your mom gave Brad the diamond for the ring and said she wouldn’t stop him.
I couldn’t help but think that if you wanted to propose, she would have had a heart attack.
After we left New York, we drove down the East Coast and moved in with your parents. It was only supposed to be for a month, but it turned into two, then three, and then five. While the vacation from the hustle and bustle was welcome, after five weeks, I was ready to kill myself.
I didn’t realize what a commitment it was to decide to move out of a city with someone, to another city. In New York, everyone moved in together. It was a Darwinian way of life there—you had to do it to survive. But moving in with your parents and then deciding where to go from there? In hindsight, that was a big deal.
You began to lose weight. (You didn’t have weight to lose.) You were stressed or sick or stressed and sick and nervous. I could feel every bone in your back when I hugged you.
I became depressed and bored in your tiny hometown with a mere 3,000 residents. The closest Starbucks was 15 miles away. I had very minimal freelance work to keep me busy.
We never called it “lesbian bed death” until you read that stupid book one of my friends gave me as a gag gift in college. I had never read it, but it was called something like The Lesbian Love Companion.
There was a chapter on open relationships. You read it out loud. You always harped on the fact that I had been with several people, and you had been with none. I’ve never thought it mattered, but you have always wanted to “catch up.” I told you that you should, if you wanted to, so you didn’t resent me years down the line.
You mentioned maybe wanting to make out with this girl you knew in Birmingham. She had contacted you after you created the LGBT support group for your Southern Baptist college. I didn’t know how to feel, but I didn’t know her or what she looked like, so it didn’t bother me as much as it probably should have.
This song asks if I’ve ever been alone in a crowded room.
All the time, I think to myself.
At least, I used to be.
Air Superiority Blue
You never made out with her, but you became good friends with her and chatted with her on the phone every now and then.
One night, right after we had moved to Denver, she called you in a Klonopin haze. She had nearly overdosed.
I finally wondered: who is this girl? Instead of being negative, like I usually am, I decided to be an adult and befriend her. You told me all the time that she wanted to know me, anyway.
I sent her a Facebook message. I told her that she wouldn’t always be so sad and feel so alone and that if she ever wanted someone else besides you to talk to, I’d be happy to be there.
That is when I finally saw a picture of her. And we started talking more often.
The day before you started your new job, we painted our room. I had visions of a grayish-purple. You wanted a light blue because both of us grew up with light blue rooms.
I wanted a change.
After much deliberation, we settled on what turned out to be a very pastel purple. It was a stretch to call it periwinkle, but that’s what we called it. I liked it, but I think you secretly hated it.
You never said anything, though.
Federal is the name of the street you work on now.
Before we moved out here, I had a really nice job already lined up. As we were moving out here, it fell through. I was panicked about work already, and now I was really in a tizzy.
I applied to every single job I was remotely qualified for. Except for one marketing position. You called dibs on applying for it, knowing I was more qualified and would have probably gotten it over you.
You got the job even though you had no interest in marketing. You were just waiting for a teaching position or to get into the PhD program you had your heart set on.
I was stuck freelancing, and had too much extra free time on my hands. When I wasn’t working on random copywriting gigs, I tried to fill my days with working out, baking things, cleaning, watching full seasons of television on Netflix. I even sometimes got high in the middle of the day, just to try and distract myself. It’s no excuse, but sometimes I think about what would have happened had I gotten that job, or any job.
I wonder if “the incident” (you call it cheating) would have never happened.
Polar Ice Blue
That winter, I spent a lot of time at the park. It was cold and there was goose shit everywhere, but it was somewhere I could be alone. It was a break from arguing. It was somehow peace of mind.
I wanted to join the White Polar Bear Club.
In order to join, you must stand in a corner for 30 minutes and NOT think about white polar bears. Ironic process theory says this is nearly impossible. Goddamn you, Leo Tolstoy.
My mind has always been filled with white polar bears: things I’ve never done, or things I want to do again. People I miss or want to see. People I don’t even know. People I want to know better.
I want to be able to stand in a corner and not think about them. I do, really. But it’s difficult, you know?
I imagine each wrinkle on my brain as an arbitrary obsession. I want to go here. I want this tangible or intangible item. I want to know him or her or them. Also, I just lost The Game. I’m losing The Game every five minutes or so. I want Leo Tolstoy to lose The Game. The Game is ironic process theory.
Is this about mindfulness? Training the brain? Is it a first world problem with not being content with what you have? Restlessness? Too much free time? I don’t know. But I know this: the ticking clock keeps getting louder and louder. It’s like being the narrator of “The Telltale Heart,” except under the floorboards are just more polar bears.
I get in my car and turn on the radio. All I can think about are polar bears.
I drive a mile down the road to the park (why didn’t I walk?) and all I can think about are polar bears.
I’m sitting by the pond, watching dogs hunt squirrels and all I can think about are polar bears.
Don’t talk to them. Don’t engage them. Don’t even think about texting those goddamn polar bears.
My train of thought is interrupted by pigeons cooing or mating a few yards away. Directly in front of me is a sign that says in red, bold letters: WARNING. THIN ICE.
Sounds about right, doesn’t it?
The sun goes behind a cloud and I can feel my wet hair on my shoulders. I should’ve worn my North Face. It’s in the car, but I’m lazy. Days like today, I like to be uncomfortable anyhow. It’s a good distraction. Days like today, curly hair turns into icicles.
I began to write a story based upon a line I heard somewhere: “I knew you’d be lovely.” I also was trying to create a fairy tale-esque theme, which at the time seemed totally arbitrary. It was the first time I had written anything new in over a year, so I was really excited.
When I started writing, I didn’t realize what I was doing.
When I finished, I realized what I had done.
One day, I received an accusatory text message from the girl who was not you. It said, “Does B. have anything to worry about?” I stared at the blue bubble for a minute.
I knew what she meant, but in my panic about having to admit that, indeed, you may have something to worry about, my response was something along the lines of: “I’m not sure what you’re asking. What am I supposed to say to that?”
And then she asked it outright: “I need to know why you’re writing this (beautiful) story. Your intentions. Do you have a crush on me?”
I panicked again. I told her I didn’t think so. It meant yes. A few hours later I received another text after asking why she wanted to know if I had a crush on her: “I like you.”
My heart started pounding. I hadn’t felt this way in a really long time and it felt so spectacular and horrible at the same time. I read the text 100 times before responding. I knew, right then and there, that however I decided to respond to this text message from a girl who was not you would change the course of our relationship.
“I was really hoping you’d say that” (or something along those lines) was my response.
And it all went downhill from there. You did have something to worry about.
It was often after midnight, in the hours between 1:00 and 5:00 in the morning that I would feel the guiltiest.
You would be sleeping next to me, snoring a little. Snortling. Curled up, facing the other wall with your butt up against me. I would be having an anxiety attack, unable to sleep, reading my text messages a million times before deleting them, compulsively checking my email or Twitter or Facebook or trying to distract myself by tiring my eyes with a stupid word game, working on writing that story in the Notes application of my phone.
I knew it was wrong.
But nothing felt right that month.
I went home for a week because we were fighting a lot and my mom said she needed me there before she moved. I flew to Florida and went to the beach with my best friend and sat by the pool and didn’t eat and cried a lot. I talked to the girl who was not you a few times and I really liked it until I thought about what I was doing and I couldn’t believe I was doing this to you, doing this to myself again.
When I came back to Denver, I had a panic attack when I got off the plane. I couldn’t look you in the eye. I couldn’t look myself in the eye.
We got takeout on the way home and sat next to each other on the couch. When you asked me if I missed you, I began to sob.
Air Force Blue
While I was home, I joked with her about rerouting my flight to Birmingham. It would have only cost me $2.50.
On April Fools’ Day, I called her and told her that I was halfway there; I’d taken my mom’s car and would be at her front door in three hours. She believed me, and said, “Well. I guess there’s no turning back now.” She didn’t realize it was April1st. We were both disappointed, but relieved, when I said I was just kidding.
I still wonder why I didn’t actually do it. I mean, I think I know.
I used to have a box of photo booth pictures from college and grad school. I’m not sure if you got rid of it because I was kissing other people in those pictures or if it was lost in the move. Or maybe it’s somehow home with my mom in Florida.
I have my suspicions, though.
You wish you could erase my past, but I can’t take it back. I can’t take back how many people I’ve dated, or the fact that you’ve dated very few people. I can’t take back your religious upbringing and the guilt attached to it. I can’t take back the fact that I came out eight years before you did, so I had time to experience what dating and sex and relationships and all the things that most other people experience in college.
I can’t take any of it back.
I’m not sure I would do it, even if I could. Is that the same sort of not-wanting-kids selfish? Or an entirely different type altogether?
Eventually, I came clean about what I had done. After we cried all of the tears that could possibly have been cried, you looked through my computer and my phone. It became your compulsion for a few days. You had to check to make sure I was “behaving.” You had to scrutinize every last exchange. You always have to know everything, which confuses me because I’d rather know nothing about your past.
I’d never been so mortified in my life. I wanted you to just break up with me, so that I could avoid the humiliation. I wanted to move on from this. From her. From us.
You tried to slap me across the face, but my reflexes were too fast and I stopped your hand.
I wish I hadn’t.
There was an Ikea pillow you buried your face in and cried into while I stood there and felt our world crashing down around us. A map of the world was embroidered on it. Your tears stained the Atlantic Ocean and part of Africa.
You call her up. You tell her voicemail that you hate her, she should go kill herself, how could she do this to you, how she is so immature and sub-human, how could she tell me she had feelings for me, how how how why why why.
You text her right after, saying more or less the same thing.
She responds, telling you that this isn’t her fault; I was writing this story about her and that’s why. That’s why. She says she isn’t even gay. She says even if she were, she wouldn’t be interested in me. She throws me under the bus.
Now two things hurt here.
She is wearing a shirt this color in almost every dream I have of her, which is more often than I’d like. In my dreams (and sometimes my nightmares), she takes the place of people who have been in the scenarios I am dreaming of. She’s with me in high school, here in Denver, she’s my college girlfriend; sometimes she’s in New York, talking to people she’s never actually known.
Teal is always somehow a part of whatever is going on. And she is always smiling.
I can’t stand it.
Art by Yvonne Martinez.