subject line: stairwells.

 

holden, massachusetts 

I don’t know if you were just too handsome in a suit or the elements were already set in motion for a perfect storm that night. But you danced. You danced with me and held my waist the whole time. And that was always my hook, line and sinker: that I would fall for a boy who danced at weddings.

You kissed me hard in the stairwell. I felt like one of those rebellious 19-year-olds in the movies. I was too good of a girl to get caught. “We won’t get caught,” you whispered, pulling the zipper of my dress and drawing me in close. I never felt safe before until you started talking. We laughed about what the cameras probably saw, the show some hotel security guard probably got from the two of us that night.

We didn’t sleep until the sun came up. I kept wondering if you would be there when I rolled over. So I kept my eyes open. And you kept yours on me. I should have never worried that you’d slip out. You should have worried more that I would. I’m slippery. I’m the real ghost in all the love stories I’ve ever lived.

Something about you and October tied me into place that month. Something about how you held my hand in the middle of Sears and took me to see the Christmas trees two months early. Something about how you beat me mercilessly in mini golf and then changed the score just so I could boast. Something about how we sat at that counter at the ice cream shop in the town you grew up in and ate pumpkin ice cream. Our knees touching below the counter. You kept squeezing my hand to remind me you were there. I was just so captivated by the way you talked so effortlessly with the owner at the counter. You made that woman feel like the center of the universe. I was surprised to find I was happy to share you with a stranger. Your mother raised you well.

But it’s been four years. I’ve counted. You still reach out every holiday. You still remember the dress I wore, and the way it looked when I twirled, on the night we slow danced surrounded by couples who’d figured out how to love each other for some human portion of forever. It’s been four years of my own fear. Fear that you’re just a story I like to tell. Fear that I was meant to let you go years ago and I still haven’t deleted your number because it’s not Christmas until you tell me to have a merry little one. Fear that everyone tells me the most important thing to find is a man who loves God the way I do but you’re the only one who ever listened to my questions and entertained me with deeper ones. The only problem solver I’ve met. You love numbers and I think it’s irresistible. You’re the smartest thing I’ve ever encountered and you don’t even think God is anything but a stream of consciousness inside all of us. But I talk to him at night. I swear.

All we have left are stupid jokes. It’s just stupid jokes because we are 16 hours and a song about Boston away from one another and I’m scared to find that is all that keeps you from putting a ring on her finger. And I’m scared you’re going to think of me when you’re 90 years old. That we will both think about the stairwell and the midnights and the pumpkin ice cream. I’m scared I’ll end up with someone who won’t see me enough to ask me questions. I am a question. Every angle of me is a question and you’re the only one who ever kept me that way, kept me as the anomaly I always wanted to be—never once turning me into some sort of answer.

I want to place all the fear on you. Strap it to your back. I want to claim to be the girl who doesn’t love you as much as you love me. I’d rather you have regrets than me. Sad to say I’ll do my best to keep you holding on while I wash you away like the sand that comes home with you from the beach, stuck to your ankles after you’ve kept your feet in the ocean for too long.

You struggle to think God even exists. You think it’s distance that keeps us apart but it is really just that: you struggle to think God exists and I can’t live a lifetime without prayers before dinner. I laugh at the ceiling, hundreds of miles away from you, sweet boy. I laugh because, regardless of how we’ve ruined one another by standing in one place, there’s still a city called Boston that keeps you and all our stupid jokes safe— and that’s all the proof of God I need to sleep at night and start over in the morning. This time thinking, “he will wash away soon. He will wash away so soon. One day I won’t love him so much. One day I’ll forget I ever did.”