by Sam Yager
I asked what was wrong. You never said.
I begged God to let me understand. But all I ever understood was the pain of being left behind while you left footprints in the mud and I sank further and further into what I couldn’t see, what I’d done wrong, or what I hadn’t done wrong, or what I hadn’t done right. I couldn’t tell what you meant when you said you were leaving.
I called after you, but the footprints got farther and farther away, and you never turned your head, and the rain matted your bleach-blond hair to the back of your neck, and for the first time the cowlick disappeared.
I didn’t know what to do.
I expected things to go differently, as you can probably tell. And they were going differently until I mentioned that I wanted them to go differently, and then they went as they went and they didn’t go the differently I wanted them to. I was tired of the apartment, you see, and the mold in the cracks of the walls, and the smell that something had died and the fear that the old man living below us had killed it. It had been five years of it, five wonderful years, but five long years and I had expected things to change and then they didn’t change, they never did, not until I told you I wanted them to and I stood there and thunder clapped in the warm summer air and lighting flashed and I saw the cowlick that wasn’t there.
I found pain in my chest I didn’t know was there, but it spread. It spread like a flood through my lungs my heart my ribcage, it filled me with fluid and I couldn’t breathe. I’ve had pneumonia before but this was worse.
I gave up that night. I gave up everything you had left and I gave up everything you had given me. I gave up the apartment with its mold in the cracks of the walls and the smell that something had died and the fear that the old man downstairs had killed it, and I gave up the life I wanted to change before you walked away. I changed it. And I changed it without you.
I held my head high, and I got a new apartment, downtown this time, amidst the bustle of the city, where all the motion and sound and activity would distract me from what I didn’t want to think about. And soon I didn’t think about it anymore. I could no longer see the cowlick, or the bleach-blond hair, or the fingers you cracked when you were bored, or the tongue-in-the-cheek look of concentration when you weren’t bored.
I imagine that maybe you think about me sometimes. Or maybe you don’t. But sometimes I imagine that you do, because it makes me feel good, it makes me feel like the winner. But everyone feels that at some point in their lives, don’t they? The need to be the winner in the breakup, the one who handled it better than the other. The one who moved on quicker. And maybe if you think of me more than I think of you then I’m the one who moved on quicker, even though you’re the one who left.
I jeopardize my sanity sometimes, I think.
I kick box now. It’s good exercise. I think you would like it.
I’m listening to the thunder clap again, but it’s been another five years. It’s different thunder now. It’s different lightning. And not even your matted down cowlick is walking away from me this time. I found someone who isn’t going to walk away like that. I think he could be the one. The one that you turned out not to be.
I mustered all the strength I have to tell you that. I moved on, but it’s still hard. It’s always hard to admit to yourself, and even harder to admit to others, especially the one that once mattered the most, that a part of your life that was so significant is over, and has been over for a long time.
I noticed you on the street that time you didn’t think I did. I noticed you, and I noticed that you noticed me.
I opened some long lost emotions that day. I saw you for the first time in so long. I forgot how much I liked the cowlick and how much you mattered to me. But what surprised me the most was the fact that you no longer mattered. I felt nostalgia, nothing more.
I painted my apartment the other day. I painted it baby blue. You never let me paint it anything but white, but I like blue better.
I question a lot of decisions in my life, if we’re being honest to each other here. I question the decision to move out of that apartment sometimes, but usually I come to the conclusion that it was a good decision. I don’t think I would have let you go if I had stayed. I hate the smell of dead things. That old man really scared me.
I reorganized the bookshelf too; you always made me organize it in alphabetical order, and I sorted the books by color. It looks nicer now.
I saw you again one time, after the time you saw me. You didn’t look at me, and I don’t think you knew I was there but this time I didn’t feel anything nostalgic. To be completely honest, I felt relief. You were with a girl and I was glad I wasn’t that girl. I remember thinking that that girl might get her heart broken by you, but she might not. There’s a lot of possibilities in life, and I can’t make choices for you. Just don’t hurt her too badly, ok? She probably doesn’t deserve that.
I took your favorite hoodie. You forgot it. I don’t plan on ever giving it back to you. It’s comfortable.
I understand now what it’s like to leave something behind you, something you thought you’d never lose. You did it once, that stormy night when your cowlick disappeared and I was left with an idea of you that wasn’t you at all. It took me longer to give up that idea of you than to give up you, the real you. I left you behind, I think, when I moved out, I just hadn’t realized it yet. I thought you were still with me then, I thought you’d come back. You didn’t. I’m glad you didn’t.
I value so many things you taught me, don’t get me wrong. I value the way you taught me to laugh with my whole heart and sing with my whole voice, I love that you taught me how to swim the butterfly stroke, even if I still can’t do it right, I love that you taught me that I don’t need you to learn new things.
I waited for you to come back for a long time. I need you to know that.
I examined the vase you made me once in that pottery class you took so many years ago. It’s not very good. Pottery is not your calling.
I yelled at God once. I was nine years old and my mom told me I couldn’t wear my cupcake pajamas to Sunday Mass because it wasn’t respectful and God deserved more respect than that. He did. He does. But I was angry. I yelled at Him, I thought it was His fault my mom never let me do what I want. I almost yelled at Him again when you left, but I’ve grown a lot since I was nine. It wasn’t God’s punishment to me. You were His lesson to me.
I zipped up my jacket on the night you left me, but not until after you left me. It was pointless; I was soaked through by then. I don’t own that jacket anymore. I got a new one, and it has buttons, not a zipper.
Sam Yager is a sophomore at Brigham Young University, studying English and Creative Writing. She trips on the stairs about four out of five times and thinks tacos are God’s greatest gift to mankind.