I’m not worried

So he’s turned up with a girl!

I don’t know who she is, never seen anything like it before. Not ‘it’ as in ‘her’. She’s not an ‘it’. She seems…I mean she’s trying and that is a start, isn’t it?

Oh, don’t worry about me! I don’t care. Why would I? We’re not together. We never were actually together, so I’m not like…upset upset. I’m just…surprised.

Because I just never imagined- I guess I thought he was a bit smarter than this. I never imagined that if he wanted to make me jealous or get back at me, he would be so cliche. And for the record, it hasn’t worked. Like I said, I don’t care. I just think it’s a bit on the nose.

Most people, when they like someone, act nicer to than usual, laugh longer at their jokes, come up with dumb reasons to touch them, to talk to them. But we were never like that. So I just never expected that he’d try something like this. Do something like this…to me.

Because I just don’t care! It doesn’t bother me at all! I mean, you have to laugh, don’t you? We all know he still likes me. He told me he loved me less than a month ago. 24 days ago. Or something. Does he really expect anyone to believe that he got over me so easily? It’s wild. It’s…almost psychotic, right?

So I don’t care. I just think it’s unfair to this poor girl. This, probably, very sweet girl who’s gone to all the trouble of putting on a new set of eyelashes, and a new set of nails and a fresh lick of spray tan.

Spray tan. Really? It’s 2019! I can’t believe he thinks that a girl like this, a probably very humble girl in every day life, would make me feel any kind of way. Would make me storm up to him and act hysterical. It’s just so passé.

Like her shoes. Look at her shoes. How could I be mad about a girl in open toed shoes with feet like that? If anything I feel sorry for her. Like, how sad and how sweet that she’s gone to all this trouble for my sloppy seconds?

Can I even call him that? He was Chloe’s sloppy seconds that I regurgitated. So does that make him sloppy thirds? Thirsty thirds? I don’t even want to know.

Maybe this isn’t even for me. Maybe it’s for her. Maybe she’s like a ‘make a wish’ person or something. Poor thing. Poor, poor, probably fine, thing.

I’ll go over and say hi. That’s the Christian thing to do. Just introduce myself. Nothing big. Don’t want her to feel uncomfortable. I mean, none of this is her fault. This dear, dear creature in a cheap suede jacket. I’m not going to go over there and say ‘Hi, this man told me he loved me 24 days and 8 hours ago and now he’s trotting you out like a prize horse to- what? Intimidate me? I haven’t been intimidated since I was 6. If you want to get back at me you both need a better get-up than this.’

I mean, it’s pathetic, right? This whole thing is just…pathetic.

Shut up, they’re coming over. Act like I haven’t been talking about them for 10 minutes-

OMG!

HI!

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Circling the Drain

When something is forbidden, it gets an undeniable allure. But you don’t really want it; what you want is the act of getting it. The breaking of a rule, the courting of a taboo. That’s what burrows inside of you. The risk.

Some people are stronger than the impulse; some people are not. There is no shame in it. It’s a fact of life. It’s like how some people have brown eyes and others have green, or blue or grey. Some people like danger and others do not.

He liked the danger. He liked the secrecy. He liked the unease, the constant looking over his shoulder, the lies, because he had nothing else going. His life had hit a wall and he wanted to shake it up. Then he found me, saw me as an opportunity to destroy everything he had built to this point. A self destruct button in slinky satin dress.

The problem is: I liked him. I liked how he made me feel, how he spoke, how he behaved. His eyes. So I guess to an extent, I liked the danger too. I liked how the danger made him excited and eager, kept him on his toes. I liked what the danger did to him but I didn’t like what the danger did to me.

Eventually it caused a gulf between us. But if you asked him, he’d say that I just got bored of him. Got over the game.

He doesn’t understand. He could never understand. Because that’s a self awareness that can’t be taught. If you know yourself then you know what your hang ups are, the drains that you can’t help circling. I know myself. And now, I know him.

He liked the danger and I liked him. I liked being liked by him.

Circle

It’s a very tight group. Only four of us at the core, I’d say. The girls come in at the next layer. One is a sibling, a few are exes and two are almosts. The next layer is friends of friends. People we see once in a while, but never really check in with. After that I stop counting. Filler for dance floors really.

Naya was in the friends of friends layer. She was my ex’s friend, in fact. We used to spar a lot, and after I ended things with Chloe- amicably I’m proud to say- the sparring turned into banter.

I’m not sure when the banter turned into flirting. It was probably a night when Chloe called in sick. There was this forbidden energy which I know I gravitate towards. You can’t get with her, that’s your ex’s good friend.

But the more I thought about it, the more I rationalised it. Chloe was my college ex. At college, you make quick, haunting decisions. I’m not sure I’d ever really liked Chloe. I just saw people coupling up and didn’t want to get left behind.

But Naya never coupled up. Don’t get me wrong, she was definitely seeing people, just not anyone in the circle. She didn’t like to shit where she ate.

She told me that often. When my hand would hover over hers, when I leaned in a little too close, when I told her I wanted her. She could disconnect from the moment. It didn’t matter how much she wanted me back, she could see how it would and she didn’t want it to come to that.

I, on the other hand, have no such self control. The more she resisted the idea, the more I entertained it. Why couldn’t we just try? I’d ask. A try is not final. A try is not even really a start. It’s a taster. What if we had a taste and it turned out that we tasted rotten when mixed together? I tried to downplay it, but the more time that passed, the more I knew I wanted more than a taste. I wanted her to be mine.

Our goals were mismatched from the beginning.

I don’t like to say I wore her down. It wasn’t like that at all. I just showed her what I would give her. I started taking myself seriously so that she would take me seriously. I started going to things just so I could see her. It was wild, maybe even pathetic but it endeared me to her. She would lean on my shoulder in the cab and I would whisper in her ear how special this was, the thing growing inside of us.

One day we just left the bar together. I hadn’t been there long. I was late actually and when I got there she finally looked at me differently. She seemed relieved, relaxed. She told me to meet her outside, and as she spoke she tugged on my shirt. She did not have to tell me twice.

As we walked, my heart was skipping beats. My hands we sweaty. I was so happy and so scared because maybe this was my one shot. But she has been right all along. This wasn’t a taste. This was everything. The beginning of the end.

Soft

He’s walked around the room three times. He’s not wearing a shirt and it makes him seem younger, less menacing and more agitated. Like he’s been hurled out of bed by a force he doesn’t quite know but recognises.

‘I’m tryna tell you how I…feel.’

I watch him from the bed. The dawn sunbeams warm the skin that pokes out from the duvet.

‘I’m tryna make sure you…see me.’

He’s still thinking. If I wasn’t still a little drowsy, I’d cut him off and put him out of his misery. But watching him walk back and forth is almost hypnotic. Like a chain swinging back and forth or the gentle tap tap of a pendulum desk ornament.

‘It’s not easy for me to put into words just how much I…care about you.’

Then stop, I think. I don’t need him to overwork himself, stretch himself out on rack of his own invention. I just want him closer. Draped across me like an expensive fur. His taut flesh soft enough to stroke. My marble statue come to life.

‘It’s almost like a…mental block. A heart block. You know?’

The rhetorical question hangs for a second then melts away in rhythmic steps.

‘Take your time.’ I say and my voice is as thick and heavy as my drooping eyelids. He stops. Looks at me. Approaches the bed with the caution of a lion tamer entering a suspiciously quiet cage.

‘What do you want?’ He finally asks.

Honestly? I just want him to spit it out. As it is: Clunky, Half formed, Unfinished. For, as much as his agony is tantalising, it is also infectious. I can feel my heart-rate gradually increasing. I’m starting to think I might be lying in one of my nightmares, and this how thing is going to escalate to the point where we don’t recognise each other anymore

But then he gets back into bed. His soft curls sink into the pillow.

‘Can you feel it?’ He asks, ‘D’ya get what is I’m tryna…express?’

I’m not sure how to respond. I’m not sure if I can, even is I did know. I reach a heavy, limp arm out to him. Feel the prickle of the fine hairs on his chest rise at my touch. I’m definitely feeling something. But I’m not sure if it’s peace or defeat.

‘Why must we…put labels on things?’ I ask searching his troubled face ‘It’s a feeling. Do we really need to put it into words?’

‘If we can define it, we can fight it.’ He whispers.

‘Do we need to fight it?’ I purr back, tracing his central veins with my finger. I reach his neck and feel his pulse; the subtle thrum of his heart. Nothing has ever seemed so clear and so painfully obvious.

‘You are mine and I am yours’ I whisper. I press my wrist to his lips as sleep takes me again. I am not sure he understands what I’m getting at, it but he clings to me with the relief of man who thinks he’s said all he can say.

I’m not going to ask

The dance floor is crowded and I’m already sweating. At the far end of the bar, I see a huddle of my good friends. Max is wearing a nice shirt today. Rose has curled her hair. They’ve all made an effort and I’m wearing the same old bomber jacket I always wear because I realised something this afternoon. None of it even matters.

They beckon me over. Loudly maybe, but I can’t hear over the music. I do my best to look nonchalant but it’s already three in the morning and I don’t feel like doing anything other than curling up in my bed with the woman who doesn’t want me anymore.

I know she’s here. And it’s just a matter of time until I see her, until we’re together again. I was nervous earlier, even giddy but now I’m just filled with dread. What do I say to her, if I get the chance? And how do I talk to her without bursting into tears?

I wonder what she’ll be wearing.

Once I’m with the others, I’m passed around like a new puppy. Hugs. Kisses. I swear someone ruffles my hair. I feel like a spare wheel tonight and a circus animal, carefully handled and not at all necessary. But they pretend they’re excited because I stuffed myself into this bomber jacket and came out of hiding.

I can’t even remember the last time we were out like this. All the times before, I was wrapped up in her. Wrapped up in how to get with her, get her home. I was a man on a mission and I never got to savour any of this. The camaraderie. The gestures. The way Max and I can communicate with just a look. The little things. It’s the little things I miss about her too.

I have to admit it’s a struggle not asking where she is. It’s a struggle staying focused, keeping my eyes on the person I’m talking to. I want to enjoy this story about Lexi’s prick of a boss. Or at least pretend. But it’s coming off as overly interested as I lean heavily on the bar and incline my head ever so slightly to take in not just her, but the rest of the room. If she is here, is this how I want her to find me? Lexi touching my arm. Playing with her hair.

I yell at myself in my head. What is going to think if she sees me seemingly flirting with Lexi? Is she going to think I’m okay? Because I am not okay.

What if she’s not here?

Look, I don’t care. I’m not bothered. I’m just here to see my friends and have a good time and who cares that it took me four hours to leave the house? The point is I did it, and it doesn’t matter that the thought that got me out of the door, finally, was of her. How she smells. The sound she makes when I kiss her neck. The way she grips my hair when-

None of it matters. I showed up. That’s the point. I showed up and she didn’t.

So I win. Right? I win.

But as the music swells, and the bodies move away from the bar onto the dance floor, it’s taking everything inside mennot to ask, not to scream at the group that has gathered here for the sole purpose of abounding this issue ‘WHERE THE FUCK IS SHE?’

I need her.

I can’t help it.

Not just tonight, I need her all the time and it’s selfish of her not to show her face. Not to give me something to fall asleep to tonight.

So selfish. She’s so fucking selfish and if she were here I’d tell her.

Once we were in bed together. Again. Like it ought to be. I’d tell her.

For sure.

I’m not blaming you

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the girl. Some people can’t control who and when they are. That’s probably a good thing, probably even helpful. But for the rest of us, people like me and you for instance, we know only too well the darkness that dwells within us. The anger, the sadness. And we know what that can do to people. Seen it ravage the people we love. Seen it scare away the people we love.

I just think if you can’t get a handle on it, you shouldn’t go out into the world. It’s not fair to the unsuspecting, spreading your vile disease.

Maybe I don’t count as the unsuspecting because I know what she is. It doesn’t change the fact, though, that it scares me. Not because I can’t face her, should I have to. Not because I think, if we met in a dark alley, only one of us would come out alive. But because I don’t want to. Does that make sense?

Because without proper care and thought, a lot of self check ins and journal entries and meditation, I would be the same. So what I’m saying is, it’s not safe for me to be around her. I can barely keep a lid on all of my own issues. What I don’t need is someone coming along- a truly shitshow of a person coming along- and tempting that stuff out of its precariously secured jar.

Now, I know that’s maybe not the right thing. I know the right thing would be to befriend her, observe her, guide her really, to the place where we are. Able to keep ourselves intact and go about our day without everyone knowing how much vitriol is below the surface. You see a person drowning, and your supposed to help, right? But, the thing is, I can’t swim. I’m just not in a position to do that. I’m not able to save myself and save her too. And no matter how many times you say ‘oh, but she’s different now’ is going to change that.

Sure, you can say ‘well, that says more about you than her’ and you’re probably right. But have you ever heard the phrase: ‘you have to think about what’s right for you’? If I don’t show up for myself, make decisions to look after myself, who am I really helping? If I go on this trip and blow up, if I go on this trip and am miserable the whole time, I’m not doing anyone any favours. I’m screwing it all up, and it seems like you’re going to have enough chaos without me coming apart and adding to it.

So call it selfish, call it self care, I’m not too fussed, but I cannot be involved with this. I’ve spent too much time thinking of other people. I gotta start thinking about me. I gotta start doing what’s best for me.

Traffic light

At the crossing, I waited for the light to turn green.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Sacha has already crossed the road and was now crossing back to me.

I didn’t say anything

What the hell are your waiting for?

The road was quiet. I didn’t even need to come up to the light, I could have crossed anywhere I pleased. But that wasn’t the point. I was taking advantage of the mundanity. Pressing the button, watching the WAIT sign light up, patiently looking at the red, then the amber. It was familiar and new at the same time. More vibrant and powerful than I remembered. Then suddenly it dawned on me.

I grew up around here.

Then you know you can just cross the bloody road when there’s no cars!

He marched off and I followed, quicker than before. More excited.

Around the corner. Here. that’s my primary school!

I pointed at a red brick building, something from the Victorian era. Slate roof. Iron railings. One of the bay windows on the third floor noticeably replaced because Tyler Williams has kicked a ball through it in Year Three.

Congratulations. Sacha said, unamused.

Did you grow up around here?

Yeah.

Yeah, it made sense. Those trainers, I had seen them before on many boys. In the playground, on the benches at the back of the dog park that my mum had told me to avoid. I’d seen them hanging around the off license, stubbing out roll ups. Kicking some poor boy’s head in because he’s strayed too far from his postcode.

Do you think that’s why they put us together? I mused, looking at those trainers as they sped away from me now.

Sacha stopped and turned abruptly.

We are not together. He growled. They placed us in the same neighbourhood because it’s a familiar neighbourhood. That’s all. There’s no ‘together’ here. Do you understand? You’re on your own. I’m on my own. We are all just on our own.

I don’t know why it hurt me. Maybe it felt like a rejection, like a truth I couldn’t utter. But it hit me like a gut punch and all I could think to do was hit him back.

Then maybe I should go on my own. You didn’t want to come anyway. So go. Fuck off back home to your flat and your pasta!

Oh, I will! And no need to thank me! It’s not like you’ve derailed my afternoon.

What afternoon? Eating tinned tomatos and broccoli? Sounds like a hoot.

Better than slitting my wrist or whatever you were going to do.

You’re an arsehole.

And you’re a spoilt bitch.

Then go!

I’m going!

He turned back in the direction of the house and swept past me.

Then a drop of water hit my face.

Oh my God!

What?

Did you just spit at me?

Spit at you? Do I look like the kind of guy who fucking spits on people?

Another drop. I touched my face.

What is that?

I told you, didn’t I? I told you. Hurry. Up. And now it’s raining.

It’s raining?

It’s bloody raining!