Watching: A Drowning
I’ve run out of words. All I can tell you is that the waves beat ceaselessly in my mind, you should be able to save her, you should be able to save her, you should be able to save her. She has always been the shoreline. And I have always been the ocean.She was the worst parts of me, and the best parts of me, and she saw the worst of me, and the best of me, and she loved me all the same. The best I could do was to love her the best that I could, but it could never be the same as her love for me. Because her friendship saved me and my friendship cannot save her.So I let her go. ***I don’t remember why I gave her a book of snowflakes anymore. It meant something to us that I’ve lost to medication, illness, time, exhaustion, and maybe humiliation. I remember that I wrote quotes about love throughout the pages. I remember the book was heavy enough to knock someone out. I remember realizing, then, when I gave her a book of snowflakes under a sticky Floridian spring sun, she did not love me that way I loved her.It took me another four years to come to terms with this. To love her the way she loved me, and to let that be enough.In the end, it was not enough. It couldn't be.***For four years, she’s the first person I talk to in the morning, and the last person I talk to at night. She calls me on the way to horse shows, five thirty or six in the morning and I fall back asleep listening to her voice and the sound of her windshield wipers in the Florida rain. My phone rests on my cheek. She can hear me breathing. She talks to the horses, clucks to them and coos over them and corrects them, and I revel in the fantasy that this is my life. That I get to listen to her work, without her feeling as if she was performing for anyone. I get her tears and her anger and her affection. I get all of it before the sun rises. I forget who I am with her, and for a few years, I think that’s romantic. For a few years, romantic or not, it is enough.In the end, it was not enough. It couldn't be.***She does not lead me on, but every night she says, “I love you.” And every morning, she texts me good morning. When that stops, I miss her. When she stopped texting me good night and good morning, I knew whatever fragile hopeful thing that had grown inside me was gone. It had been a volunteer, the way a flower might reseed itself from one bed to another, and it’d been ripped out by the roots. It does not hurt to kill love this way. One day I wake up, and it aches. And the next day, it aches less. I wonder if I miss her, or I miss the fantasy that it might turn into something real, something tangible.Now, I wonder if any of it was real.***When she almost dies, her roommate calls me. When she almost dies again, her mother calls me. Each time, she is angry. Angry that I reached out in desperation. Angry that I wanted to know if she was alive, or simply not answering my texts because of some unforgivable but unknown slight against her. Angry, perhaps, that I cared. Because caring meant she could not slip away into the darkness, unseen. Angry that I wanted to tether her here.She calls me one day, and I answer on my walk home from work. I’m surprised that she called because she almost never does when she says she will. I tell her that, hoping that my voice is teasing enough not to be taken as an affront. Later, she’ll tell me that she was going to die that night, and she doesn’t, because I was happy to hear from her. We anchored each other, without realizing it.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***“Come here,” I beg. “We’ll buy a little farm. We’ll get broken horses off the track and fix them.”What I am pleading: Come here. Let me fix you. You’re not so broken you can’t be healed. We’ll create an oasis. Somewhere your mind can’t chase you so far that you can’t come home. I will be your home.She says, “Yes. Please.”What she means: Tell me more, so I’ll stay, but I’m not going to come. You know I won’t. Build me your home here, in the texts and emails and messages between us. This has always been enough.What I fear: This has been enough, but now it isn’t.I know we want different things. I want her to be whole. She wants to be untethered. They aren’t the same things. Some days, some weeks, and some months, these things cannot even exist in the same universe. We are light-years apart, and I am shouting, and all my truths turn to ash before they reach her.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***She cannot breathe because of the cold, but she laughs as she jumps on the ice, cracking it beneath her boots. The boots she calls her ‘dyke boots’ long before she comes out. I take a photo of her suspended in midair. She even lets me put it online.That night, I whisper to her in the dark. “Do you think you’re pretty?” It’s such a small, naïve question for something I don’t yet know how to ask her.She considers it. “Sometimes.”The next night, she’s in the passenger seat next to me on our way back from Maryland, late at night. Both of my hands are on the wheel because I’m terrified of hitting a deer. I am terrified of getting into a car accident with her. She seems fragile tonight, and I can’t figure out why.She says to me, “How do you choose to be happy?”I don’t remember what I said. But I’ve never forgotten her question.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***I write her a poem I send to her in an email she does not answer.It ends with,
‘So when she says, Please stayI say, Don’t go,And we mean the same thing.And we leave anyway.’
Years later, I think it’s the truest thing I’ve ever told her.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***She sends me a poem once. She has written it about, or for, her girlfriend. She asks me if she should send. I tell her yes. Because if I was her girlfriend, I would want poems sent to me, the way I sent them to her.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***She is the gray of a harbor morning. Her hands shake all the time, and her nail beds are dark purple. The kind of purple that comes when your body doesn’t know why it bothers to send blood to all the places in your body starved for oxygen.I promise myself that I will not nag her. I will not police her. I am her friend, not her doctor, and she promises me she’s taking care of herself. Her promise looks like three digit caloric diaries. Maybe double digits some days. Most days, even, if I’m not lying to myself.She’s dying.She tells me she’s going to seek treatment. She tells me she’s seeing a therapist. She tells me her fiancée knows. She tells me all of these things. She tells me that she’s finally going to get treatment for what’s been a lifelong disorder now. She tells me, last minute, that she isn’t going. She tells me as if I’m going to understand.I don’t.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***I’ve felt every emotion under the spectrum toward her. I’ve been angry enough to be speechless. I’ve been hurt enough to sob. I’ve been in love enough to be blind. I can’t separate them out anymore. They’ve stewed together too long, now, so everything is love and anger and guilt and pride and affection and fear. Nothing is as simple as it was when we were kids.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***She calls me, breathless and sobbing. In my mind’s eye, I imagine her out in the middle of a field, hip-deep in grass. I have not yet traveled to northern California. I’ll find out in ten years that there’s no such place where she lives. She says, “Talk to me.”My heart pounds in my chest. “What’s wrong?”“No,” she says. “Tell me anything. Talk to me about anything but horses.”So I tell her about my day, my classes, how cold it is, while I listen to her sniffle and sob. I think up a thousand terrifying scenarios. I wonder if she’s safe. I wonder if she has somewhere to sleep that night. Later, I find out that her favorite horse was sold.The one anchor she had in the world.She texts me, thank you for being there.And I text back, always.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***She calls me in English Literature and my phone goes off. I flush, red, embarrassed when the professor’s eyes land on me, and I send her to voicemail. I text her under the desk, in class. Will call you when I get out.She texts back, I just talked to my dad.She hadn’t talked to him in years. I step out of my class, though the professor glares at me, and I sit on the stairs outside the classroom, just listening. Just listening. Listening and picking at the rubber peeling off of my sneaker. It’s like picking off a scab, the way she’s picking off one by reconnecting with someone she’s known only through stories. It hurts. On the walk home, water gets through the bottom of my sneaker and soaks my foot.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***I let go at some point, of the idea of being the center of her story. I had to, in order to survive, in order to allow flexibility and independence and resiliency into our friendship. I decided, in the end, that being her friend was more important to me than being her best friend.Now, I wonder if I made the right choice. If by letting go a little bit, I let her go too much. If this downward spiral, this refusal to hold on, this refusal to listen to me where she always used to listen to me, is because I let go.In the end, it wasn't enough. I wasn't enough. I couldn't be.***She sends me a quote by email that sends shivers down my spine. But I don’t respond. I don’t remember why. I should have responded. The quote, years ago, was about feeling mute and unheard.I thought I was listening. I wasn’t.***I send her a song. Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop.She does not reply.This is a pattern.***“Hey,” I tell her. “Wanna hear a joke?”“Sure,” she says. It’s a worldweary reply. The type of surety that’s heard my jokes before. They aren’t very good.“What does one volcano say to the other volcano?” I pause for a beat, and then start cracking up. “I lava you!”It becomes our thing.Eye lava ewe, we text back and forth.It is easier to tell each other we love each other this way. It is easy to pretend it’s the kind of love that lasts. It is easy to pretend we’re talking about the same kind of love.It wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***I am watching her drown, and I am helpless. I’m not a strong swimmer and even if I went into the water after her, she is making her own waves. She took off her own life-vest. She isn’t in the water on her own accord, but she stays there though she’s too exhausted to keep her chin above the waves now. Now, I am the shoreline, and she’s not the ocean. She’s just a girl, in the sea, too tired to swim, and too afraid to come to shore.We are a knot, tightened by the seawater. We are impossible to untangle, and it cuts our hands to try.In the end, it wasn't enough. It couldn't be.***I know, sometimes, that life would be easier if I could stop loving her. If I could somehow, someway excise her from my life. But I can’t. I won’t. It has nothing to do with should and would and could and ifs and everything to do with who we’ve been and who we are.Love is a force that gives us meaning. I cannot save her by loving her. So this is what it’s like to grow up.This is the shape of our lives: the way we brush against each other, the things we could have been, the things we say, and the things we do not.I love a girl who loves drowning.In the end, loving wasn't enough. It couldn't be.