When I am 19 there is a night when my boyfriend and I dance by candlelight in the basement of my parent’s home. I’m home from college for the weekend. I’m wearing a purple dress and he’s brought me red roses and I don’t have the heart to ever tell him that I don’t like them because isn’t that what romance is supposed to be, dinner and roses and dancing, our faces shining by candlelight, nothing else in the world but the two of us? Except that I’m not that girl. I’m not ever that girl.
And in the memories I have of us from our years together it isn’t this one that holds the most meaning for me. It is the night we spent in a friend’s living room trying to be quiet as we stole ice from the freezer and brought it back to where we had been sleeping, the nights after gaming when he’d crawl into bed wearing the Zubaz that always made me laugh, it is the pizzas he’d bring to me after the ends of his shifts that we ate while sitting on the floor. It is the thermal weave of his favorite grey shirt that I can feel even now, even if I can’t remember the feel of him at all.
It is the night too when I drive teary eyed to his mother’s house and bang on the window but he won’t come out and so I just sit there for a while crying on his lawn, this too, like some scene from a movie, John Cusack with a boom box, only nobody is alright in the end. Also too, my 20th birthday, when in the car I tell him it is over but all I really want is for him to beg me to stay. I just want him to ask me to stay.
In the fall, another man tells me that he wants to try and get an ex-girlfriend back. He’s freshly back from a guy’s weekend at his cabin and “They all agree I need to talk to her” he says. He’s excited and nervous at the same time, plotting out what he’s going to say, his own big romantic gesture. I try and counsel caution, encourage him to consider what will happen if she says no. “If she says no,” I say, “please tell me you’ll do her the kindness of leaving her alone after that. Please just let her move on.”
I’ve never met her, but unlike the friends at the cabin, I already know what she’ll say. All she had wanted from him were normal human things, to know if he was going to show up for dinner, to know that he was just going to show up at all, to know that he could be counted on. If it had been a week, if it had been a month? But it’s been six; she’s seeing someone else. All she can do is say no.
He says that he loves her, but it isn’t in any way that I’d want to be loved. And isn’t that the problem I’ve always had with the grand romantic gestures? That in their heat-of-the moment nature the heart they consider most is their own? “Are you what’s best for her,” I want to ask him, “do you even know?”
I believe in apologies and I believe in closure, and in that sense I want him to say what he means so that he can move on. But still, I think of that night when I sat in the car on my 20th birthday. I think of that face, looking at mine, of his face, giving nothing at all away, not anger, not sadness, just the blankness of nothing. I think of how I had wanted him to beg me to stay. And I think too, of what a kindness it had been that instead, he had let me go.