subject line: last words.


pittsburgh, pennslyvania 

I was drinking that night because the alcohol in my system was the only way I was going to have the courage to say what I needed to say. We’ve never been simple—I’m terrified of everything, and sometimes I wonder if you even know what “fear” is; I’m content sitting in on a Saturday night with a book and a cup of tea, but you’re the center of attention at every bar or party or street you walk into; I’m responsible for unknowingly breaking hearts, and you’ve managed to date every girl in the area that leaves you broken. The one thing I can confidently say we have in common is the fact that neither of us are very good at saying the important things. That night, though, I knew I needed to say it.

We sat next to each other at the bar, surrounded by friends and strangers, but I barely noticed anything except the way your fingers brushed against mine and drifted mindless in circles on my wrist, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Like this was the way things were always supposed to be; like we’d fallen together accidentally and realized that this was what all the people in love had been talking about. You made me so aware of how fast my heart was beating against my chest and the way my name sounded when it fell off your lips. The more I drank, the less nervous I was about the things I needed to say, but as we both finished our last drinks and you offered to walk me home, I just wanted time to stop. I had no idea how we were going to play out—if the concept of “we” was even real or something that I had fabricated in my head—and as much as I wanted to run away from it all, I knew that if tonight was going to be our last night, I was going to have the last word for once.

”You do these things, and then you leave.” I whispered as you kissed my forehead, after you asked me what was on my mind. I never answer that question—the “what are you thinking about” question—and you know that, but that night, my heart was speaking without consulting my head or so it seemed. You looked at me like something had broken inside you; the way you looked the night you broke up with your latest beautiful girl. I never wanted you to look at me like that, I was supposed to be the one there to help you pick up the pieces; I never wanted to do the breaking. That’s when we sat down; my dorm was just up the hill, we could have kept walking in silence and let that be my last words, but instead, we sat and more words spilled out.

We both said a lot of things on that staircase that night. I told you the things that had been on my heart for the last three months—the ways you had hurt me, how I still cared through it all, and the fear of you leaving—and you held my hands in yours as you made promises so fiercely it took everything in me not to cry and ask you for forever. I had been holding this love and fear and hurt inside for so long, and finally, it was out in the open and it hung in the space between us, wrapping around us in the cold April rain. If I could have kept us in that moment, I would have, but instead, I promised you tomorrow—and in that promise, the rest of my tomorrows. Those were my last words.

But you couldn’t let me have the last word, that’s just not you. No, Ryan, you always get the last word. As you helped me to my feet and kissed me one last time, you said those words that I’ve only read in love stories. With that final kiss, the words “I love you” followed and the look in your eyes promised that you meant it. I watched you walk away then, not knowing it would be the last time; not knowing that those really were the last words.

Instead of love and letters and days together, you left me with broken promises and a heartbreak worse than any of those girls gave you. When I said “you do these things and then you leave”, you thought I meant you leaving for the Navy. I knew I couldn’t change that; no matter what I said or did, you were going and that was something I was proud of. No, when I talked about you leaving this is what I meant. Leaving doesn’t just mean walking away; there could have been letters, phone calls, or texts. But when you leave, you leave; you take everything away and you don’t look back at the mess in your wake. You leave texts unanswered; you make it impossible to send letters; you don’t let me say goodbye.

Ryan, I would have been fine if you wanted to walk away; if you didn’t want to start the next chapter of “us”. If you wanted to leave. But you left me with promises and hopes and unsent letters. You did the one thing you promised not to do—you left, really left, me—and I don’t know how to pick up these pieces alone. But worst of all? You still got the last word. No matter how hard I tried or how many drinks I finished that night, you still got the last words.