*Details have been slightly altered for privacy. Excerpted from Naomi’s upcoming book, Time Below the Surface.
I remember I used to write him love letters I’d never send.
Or maybe they were more like grief letters. Writing to the ghost of a person who was no longer in my life—haunted by his memory everywhere I went. I’d write about the things I did that day and how I wanted to tell him about it. I asked him how his sick dad was and whether work was busy. Did he ever finish his courses?
At first, I did think about sending one of the letters. But time went on and the more I wrote, the more I realized these messages weren’t for him, they were for me. I thought at first I needed him to know all these things—how angry I was, what he’d done wrong (what I’d done wrong), how I could have been everything for him and he let me slip through the cracks. But you can’t make someone hear you when they have their thumbs in their ears, not willing to listen.
There is so much that goes unsaid in relationships. It’s like we can’t be honest with each other until enough time has passed that it doesn’t even matter anymore. There were so many moments in the aftermath, looking back, that I wished he could have said to me, This is hard and I can’t do this. Instead of pulling away until we found ourselves looking at each other through a Skype screen realizing that it was over.
Maybe it’s easier to not say the things we want to say because we’re scared of what then will really happen. Like “I feel you are pulling away from me.” Or, “I fell in love with you and I thought if you loved me too, you’d want to make it work.”
But I also came to realize that love is not simple. Two plus two doesn’t equal four in love’s equation.
I remember when we first met. It wasn’t a fairy-tale love story; it was a story of two humans meeting each other at a bar after one-too-many tequila shots. And we fell (nearly) in love over the course of a summer, only to have the relationship fall apart just as quickly.
I remember how the morning after that night, we lay in bed all day together. My back was pressed into him, our hands outstretched against the blue mattress. I looked at the way his rested on top of mine, words in Thai tattooed along the edge, and I wondered what they meant. He traced the line of my spine with his other hand and I could feel his soft breathing against my neck. I wanted to turn around and press my lips against his but something in me held back. Instead, I pulled his hand up and inspected his fingers, trying to find secrets in his skin. He kissed my cheek and pulled his hand away to pull me closer into him, and I hid a smile between kisses.
I remembered seeing him across the room that night: his green jacket, dirt-blonde hair, and then the two of us laughing as we tossed back drinks, and next thing I knew we were limbs and lips wrapped around each other, and something about it all felt like home.
You are lush, he said and kissed me all over.
What does that mean? I asked.
He laughed. Geordie way of saying you’re hot as hell.
I blushed after he said that and felt my cheeks get hot, and I did that thing girls do when they don’t really know how to be complimented, and covered my face while smiling. Stoooop, I said. He kissed me again. We talked, sweaty, under the covers, for hours.
I can still see him with his hands behind his head, leaning against the backboard as he told me about the time he got arrested. And I told him I was a writer. He asked me what I wrote about and I said mostly short stories. I told him about the one I wrote for my writing class about a speech therapist whose ex-boyfriend was beheaded by ISIS. He said he’d like to read it sometime. I asked him about the arrest, but he rubbed his hands against his cheeks and said he felt naked, I laughed and said, You are. But he meant in the exposed kind of way. He kissed me and half his hair fell over my face and tickled my cheek before he brushed it back with one hand, and I wanted to take a snapshot of that moment and remember him in this way forever.
Though it was a first encounter, something in me knew it wouldn’t be our last and that things would never be as they were then.
The sun had long gone down and we hadn’t moved from the bed. The curtains had stayed shut all day and the only reason I knew time had passed was because of the shifting shadows on the wall.
What does your tattoo mean? I asked.
Blue-eyed man, he said.
I laughed, thinking he was joking. Oh, really?
Yeah, I got it in Thailand and I just told them to give me something in Thai.
Well, they picked something very literal.
I played with his fingers and then held his hand between my own; his were so large, one of his hands was like two of mine.
Sometimes, when I look at my hands now, I see the shadow of his tattoo inked along the edge of my own palm. As time went on, my skin became painted with tattoos as others came and went—marking their own imprints on my skin.
I used to be so afraid of relationships ending, and maybe still am. But I’m now realizing that they all end, in one way or another. And that fear we have comes with our attachments and our expectations of what love is supposed to fill within us. There is always a lesson learned from an ending. A new path forward. And if nothing else, it sure makes for a beautiful story.
Years later, I think about how there is no dual meaning to the mark that he left on me; he was once there and now has become just another part of my history.