(Originally published in Leonardo Literary and Fine Arts magazine)
I think you are absolutely stunning and I would like to take you out to lunch. Maybe just text? (222) 555-3082.
I unfurled the folded index card out from its wedge in the door handle of my tiny white Nissan and felt my stomach curl into itself. Was the universe just trying to mock me?
and now this. This was the cherry on top of the constant bombardment. My shaking legs carried me across campus until I stumbled to the tiny white haven of my car, only to be met with someone’s pick-up line haphazardly stashed, like a secret, in my door handle.
Was this supposed to be cute? I wondered. Was this supposed to make me feel better? Is the idea of someone watching me climb out of my car supposed to turn me on? Have me yearning and falling all over myself to text him?
I traced the fading grey indent of the ink scrawled across the paper. Whoever he was, he’d traced a shaky smiley face underneath his number, but in that moment it just felt mocking. Sardonic. Don’t I like that he watched me wiped away my tears? Don’t I like that he watched me re-apply my eyeliner after crying it all off? Don’t I like having his eyes on me? Or just yours? Doesn’t this make me feel better?
The crooked, faint squiggle of the face’s smile only invaded my privacy. It dragged off to the side and sharply down, almost as if he was projecting his anxiety into it. Looking at the expressionless dotted eyes, I sat there in awe at the sheer ridiculousness before bursting in tears. My shoulders shook weakly with laughter, but tear after tear rolled onto the index card. His smiley face rubbed away until nothing was left but a blurred smear of blue ink. Erased.
I threw it aside and barked out a laugh before slumping over the steering wheel. The past hour kept spinning itself endlessly through my thoughts. Your bright blonde hair caught the sunlight in rays of gold while your dark red beard framed your face and cradled your relaxed, easy-going smile. Dark blue aviators concealed your stare, but I could still feel your eyes licking flames down my spine.
Despite the distance between us, your shadow effortlessly towered over me like always. I was suddenly on the inside of fogged glass and unable to escape; a fading firefly bashing against your glass jar. Your footsteps echoed after mine as I ran inside the glass doors of the library and, just like that, I was frozen. I turned around to face you, waiting.
You appeared in front of the glass, wild eyes searching until you met my gaze. They hardened to a cold, dead stare when they met mine. What were you thinking when you saw me from behind, ponytail bouncing with each step, faster and faster when I realized you were trailing me? What did you think when I pressed my phone to my ear and tugged my jacket tighter to me? Did you like my dress? Could you remember complimenting me on it inside the airport gift shop all those years ago? Could you spot the dog tag dangling from my neck, and how you’d left it behind under my nightstand? Could you even remember anything? Did you want to talk to me? Repeat how much you missed me? Would you tell me how much you wanted to talk to me each night while you sobbed in bed?
Would you think to apologize? Would it enter your mind at all? Would you apologize for the death threats? The suicide threats? For leaving dried blood, snot and tears caked on my dashboard? For the sexual assault examination I needed? For the lies and nightmares? For the fear drenched like ice in the frosty sinews of my bones? For the flashbacks and nightmares rotting me from the inside out?
Would you think sorry is enough?