Isn’t it funny that when you get what you want, it’s never what you expected, and the longer you wait for it the further it is from all the fantasies that have stood in its place, waiting for an arrival that you never really expected. She knew that before, but realized it fully when he invited her to his house for her birthday.
They had been friends for so long that there was nothing that crossed her path that wasn’t a summoning for him. He would like this, she would think as she scrolled through her Facebook feed, saving pictures to send him in slow moments at work. What he would think of this, she would wonder to herself as she saw something odd and remarkable, wanting only to remark of it to him.
Sometimes he would say something back, but mostly he was silent at her offerings of humor or despair. Every birthday that passed unremarked upon was a bitter disappointment to her. She always remembered his, but if there was a hint in those actions he always missed it. But then he didn’t.
“Come over this weekend. I will make dinner for your birthday, and build you a fire.” She had given up on ever getting that experience with him, but his offer hearkened back to a comment that had passed in silence when she told him she loved fire.
“It’s the way it burns so brightly, and decimates everything in its path,” she had said as she confessed her latent pyromania in what was an intimate moment for her. “It’s the light of unparalleled purification,” but when her passion was met with silence she felt dismissed, and perhaps a little shamed to confess something that was so intricate to herself and obviously so meaningless to him. It had to be meaningless because how else could silence be interpreted?
In the gaps of missing words and passive aggressive rejection, mountains of inadequacy can rise so high that they are impossible to climb. He buried her at the foot of those mountains, only to return with his hand extended and the wish of her secret heart on his lips.
I shouldn’t go, she thought to herself. It’s too little, too late, and then immediately argued for what she wanted to be the truth. Maybe, this time it will be different.
In the end she put her best outfit, and did her hair and make up to hide the hope that still bloomed on her emotional grave, thinking, if he can’t tell how very much I want this, then it won’t matter if he lets me down again. It was a handy lie, one that was always in her pocket when it came to him.
Sometimes, they drank, sometimes only he did, and when he did, his silent lips told her not only that he heard her, but that he revered her. Everything she did was more important to him than anything else in the world. “You are mysticism and religion to me,” he told her once, only to sober and remember nothing of the event. “I could leave this place today, get in my car and drive away leaving everything behind if you came with me. You’re the only thing I need, the only thing that matters to me,” and then the sun rose and the words lived only in her heart, clawing and scratching at all the soft parts of her, digging deep when the silence returned. It was numbing, but not enough to stop the pain that left her feeling foolish for listening in the first place.
“I would protect you,” he promised her, only to leave her wondering that even if he protected her from the rest of the world, who would protect her from him, and his bottled amnesia? She wasn’t without empathy, she had spent most of her life locked up, holding her confessions and truths like lifelines to who she truly wanted to be. Alcohol had once been the key to her prison as well, and so she over identified with a man who could only speak of love when bourbon melted the bars of his cage and let him breathe, but then she had met him, and he deserved better than that.
She remade herself in the image of the secrets she had held, working to take the higher road, to be more kind, to be less angry at all the things she felt life had denied her. She had forged a warrior with armor made from the steel of the love she felt for him, and rolled up in his face ready to show him how to slay his dragons, too. “I’m not the man you think I am,” he told her as he took in her tempered and shining form, before reaching for his bottle, like a genie who did it in reverse.
All night long she had wanted him to wake up and be the man the bourbon made him, because that was the man she thought he was. Instead, as if he expected the intimacy of a meal and a fire to be only a prelude to something else, he had remained sober, and silent the entire evening. She tried to talk to him, offering herself up first, another secret, another intimacy that he could reciprocate, but instead only brushed off, focused on things that she couldn’t see and didn’t really care about.
He was right there, but he could have been on the moon for all the difference geography made, and as she watched him fight with the wood for the fire, first losing the saw, and then his patience with the effort, she could only feel bad. He was giving her a gift, but his lack of preparation and level of effort made it seem like a bother, and made her feel the same.
When he finally lit the fire, she stood and threw her heart into it, watching it burn, and again, he said nothing.
© J. A. Brown, November 15, 2016
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