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People call boys like him heartbreakers. He's the boy mothers warned their daughters about. He's the reason Daddy keeps a rifle at home and sits on the porch late into the night. He's the boy that girls can't resist despite those heart-wrenching tales their broken friends tell them. Girls will call him a player. They say he's a jerk. “He manipulates everyone.” But given a chance, they would date him in a heartbeat.
They say he's heartless. He's broken hearts. He doesn't care. They call him cruel or selfish.
He was my best friend. When did we start recognizing that I was a girl, and he was a boy, and when did we start feeling as if girls and boys can't be best friends? We live right across the street from each other, yet we are a world apart.
I still remember when we were kids and everything was different. I remember climbing trees with him. I remember catching bugs with him. I remember making flower garlands with him. I remember when the boundaries between genders didn't exist, when boys and girls can be just friends. More importantly, I remember when his family was whole.
I remember when his mother would pick flowers us. She would chase after us until we fell, face first, into the grass. When did she stop? When did she start watching from a distance, a sad smile on her face? When did she start to be confined to the prison called a bed?
I remember when his father was home. I remember when his parents were happy. When did that stop? When did his father start to disappear for months on end, returning only to yell at them about hospital bills, electricity bills, bills, bills, bills?
When did everything break?
When did this carefree, loud, active little boy become this burdened teenager? When did his laughter, once genuine, become heavily with sarcasm and contempt? When did he start feeling the pressure to be perfect, to support his broken family?
He's never serious about girls because things are a little too serious at home. He's wasting his time fooling around because he's terrified of growing up. He doesn't want to have a deep relationship because he's afraid to fall in love. He doesn't want to find the right one, he doesn't want to love her and lose her.
Even when he finds the right one, he'll be terrified of those three words. He will be unsure of himself. He won't want to lie to her, so instead, he will hurt her. He doubts her, he questions her love for him. She'll be tired of being hurt over and over, she'll get tired of being constantly let down. She'll cry herself to sleep night after night, and eventually, she'll leave.
He'll feel that he was right all along. No true love exists in this world. But he'll be disappointed. Deep inside, he would had secretly hoped that she was different, that she was able to see past his abusive words to his scars, his pain, his brokenness. He wanted her to realize, twisted as it is, that every hurtful word was an expression of his love. Yet, at the same time, he'll be relieved. She's free of him, free from him, unlike his mother, tethered to the bed, dreading yet anticipating her husband's return.
He'll go back. Back to hurting others, back to wearing a mask of superficial frivolity, back to lying to himself, to the world. Back to breaking hearts because he wants others to feel as broken as he is.
He's lonely. He's the sun, holding great power over others, but desolate in solitude. The girls are Icarus, flying too high, too close, falling because of their curiosity and ignorance.
The doorbell rings. I look out my window toward his house, and see an extra car. And through a lighted window, I see the silhouette of a man angrily throwing vases against the wall. I walk to answer the door.
When did I stop being a friend? When did I become only a confidant, a shelter when his home is breaking? Why is it when everything seems fine, he forgets about my existence? He shouldn't seek reprieve here, I can never find the words to comfort him.
He terrifies me. He, of the shattered family, of the unrepairable heart, of pressure I can't begin to comprehend, he who was once my closest friend, had changed with time and unpredictable circumstances. If his mother had not fallen ill, would he be like this? If I had had the courage to persist in being his friend, would he be like this?
He's a heartbreaker.
He thinks that as long he's the one hurting others, he isn't the one being hurt. His injuries are more severe than the pain he's inflicted on others.
What about me? What about the girl who is sitting next to him on the couch, watching him cry? What about this girl who is at a lost for words? What about this girl who looks at him and truly sees him, who understands yet can't relate? Am I, who carries both my own burdens and parts of his, not hurt? Do I, who longs for the past, longs for him to be happy, not count?
In a completely different way, he's breaking my heart too.