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“We need to talk.”
Four little words a girl never wants to hear. They are seemingly harmless, but once spoken, they can unravel months of perfect bliss. Break down supposedly impenetrable bridges of trust. Slash and split apart dreams of a naive teenager. And most importantly, tear a young heart into a thousand unfixable pieces.
A very close second is “it’s not you, it’s me”. The greatest cliché of all time. Yes, you love me, except for the fact I talk too much, I tend to be stubborn, and would rather spend the evening on the couch in pajamas with a good book than go with you to a basketball game, and somehow that’s your problem? That makes perfect sense. If you’re going to break up with a person, at least be man enough to admit the real reason. The girl had too many “flaws” and you couldn’t take it anymore. A hard truth is better than an easy lie.
Our time as a couple was reaching its close, I could feel it. As soon as he called me, and said those God-awful words, I knew it in my bones. I begrudgingly agreed to meet him at our special spot, the dock by the lake, at six. A mass of despair and fear grew in the pit of my stomach, eating away at me on the inside. Terror gripped my heart, expecting the absolute worst. Nothing good ever followed “we need to talk”. Not my parents’ announcement of their divorce, not the fifth college admissions counselor informing me of the school’s rejection, and not my boss’ blunt declaration of her letting me go.
I paced the length of my bedroom repeatedly, glancing at the clock every few minutes. It was four thirty-eight. That left me one hour and twenty-two minutes of worrying before my death sentence would be read. My room wasn’t helping matters. Everywhere I looked was a reminder of him. The purple stuffed monkey he gave me was nestled among the pillows on my full sized bed. The mouse pad that sat beside my computer was custom made, a picture of us. The screensaver itself was also another picture. Actually, pictures were everywhere. Proudly put on display in frames, hanging on the walls, sitting on the table next to my bed, stuck to my mirror. On my dresser in a crystal vase was a single, fake red rose. I will love you until this rose dies, he had said. Yeah, right. Even my keychain that hung from the doorknob had a plastic heart on it with his name, with a key-shaped hole in it. He had the key, with my name on it. He’d always had the key to my heart…I guess he didn’t want it anymore.
I looked down at my feet dejectedly, and was horrified to see myself. I was wearing his hoodie, the one with his name on the back. God, it smelled like him. I couldn’t name the heavenly scent, but I loved it. I immediately pulled it over my head, messing up my hair as I did so. My hair. He hadn’t liked it when I cut it, or when I dyed it, or when I straightened it. It looks beautiful natural, he always told me. I never believed him. Maybe I should’ve listened. My fingers automatically began fiddling with my necklace, like I always did when I was upset. I wore it at all times. It was a silver chain, plain and simple, no design or pendant in the center. Why did I love it so much? Because he gave it to me.
I had to snap out of this. Technically, I didn’t know what he wanted to talk about. But from his distant voice, and short words, I had a pretty good idea. I needed to distract myself. I tossed the sweatshirt to my bed and focused on changing.
I removed my oversized T-shirt and replaced it with a more form-fitting, green tank top. It went well with my chemically auburn hair and my ever-changing hazel eyes. My sweatpants were exchanged for a cute pair of skinny jeans. I reluctantly unclasped my beloved necklace and instead adorned a tiny golden cross. I hadn’t worn it in ages, not since he got me the silver one….Focus. Next, I applied some light makeup: foundation, eye liner, eye shadow, lip gloss, just the basics. He hated it when I wore makeup, but I was convinced I needed it to feel beautiful. Lastly, I drew my hair out of my face and secured it with a clip.
My clock read ten after five. Just a little bit longer before I could leave. I sank down into my revolving desk chair, determined to occupy myself on my computer. I first tried Facebook, but I soon lost interest as no one was on, and all my girlfriends’ statuses read “going to the movies with my boyfriend! :)”, “at the lake with my favorite guy (:”, etc. I was happy for them, really, but I couldn’t handle their pleasure when I was in the middle of a relationship crisis. I checked my email, nothing new there, either. I finally went to YouTube and spent the next forty minutes listening to various genres of music, mostly heavy metal to drown out my depressing thoughts.
And then, it was upon me. Time to go.
I snatched my keys off the knob, trying not to pay too much attention to the plastic heart, and plodded out to my Mazda. The mass of dread that had been simmering in my gut now burst back to life with a vengeance. Sweat began to gather at my brow, and my hands went clammy. I felt like a lamb being led to slaughter.
The drive to the lake was short. Our special spot was one you had to walk to, however, you couldn’t drive. I parked my car in the lot, locked it, and hung my lanyard around my neck. I headed west down the beach, choosing to walk on the edge of the water, allowing it to lap at my feet. The bottoms of my skinny jeans were soon soaked, but I didn’t care. The woods on the far side of the beach contained a barely visible path, mostly used by me and him. It was not a well-known path, that’s why its endpoint was our spot. It was overgrown with weeds and there were scattered anthills along it, making travel difficult. I trekked through it anyway, knowing he was waiting for me on the other side. The path finally opened into a clearing, and there was the dock. It was surrounded by sharp rocks, and the waves crashed up to the wood whenever a boat sped past. There were wild flowers growing here and there, and plenty of clover. And there, at the end of the dock, kicking his feet absently in the water was my boyfriend. My love. The other half to my heart.
I approached cautiously, unsure how to proceed. I snapped a twig accidentally with my foot, and he turned to find the source of the sound. His eyes—a lovely, chocolate brown—didn’t light up like they used to when I entered his range of sight. He didn’t come running over to smother my face with kisses, or to scoop me up in his strong arms and carry me around, just because he wanted to. His mouth didn’t curve into a perfect smile. He just stood up silently, sticking his hands in his pockets.
I couldn’t take this. I couldn’t handle the silence, the awkwardness, the distance…Where had the magic gone? Hadn’t we just spent the day yesterday playing in this very lake? Wasn’t last week the time we went to the movies together at midnight? What about the time his parents had gone out of town and he spent the week at my house with me and my family? Or the time we went to the mall in the city and he almost died of embarrassment in Hot Topic from bra shopping? Where was the guy who fit into my family like a glove? Who spent Easter with them at my house even though I wasn’t there? Who came to visit me when I was sick? Who brought me cookie dough, my most favorite thing in the world, in the middle of the night, just because he could? The one I shared everything with. The one who knew me better than anyone. The one who knew my flaws and failures and loved me anyway. Or at least I thought he did. I needed, I depended on that guy.
Who was this stranger standing before me? He stood with his shoulders slumped in defeat, hands still pressing into his jeans’ pockets. His bare feet shifted uneasily. His hair was tangled and his face unshaven, the way he looked after a hard night of little sleep. And yet he still managed to look just as appealing and attractive as the night we went to homecoming so many months ago…He had been in a suit and tie, face wearing a stupid grin anytime he saw me. We had danced like no one was watching. And when he dropped me off at home later, he had given me my first kiss.
And now, for some unknown reason, there was a change in the air. An invisible barrier between us. He was not present, not really. Just his body inhabited by an unwelcome alien. I hate this.
“Hi,” he mumbled.
“Hey,” I responded, drawing closer. We were now both standing face to face, on opposite ends of the dock. Might as well be opposite ends of the universe. The mass in my stomach had a huge growth spurt at the moment, pressing into my lungs, making breathing difficult.
“You look nice.”
“Thanks.” Just get to it already.
“Um, I’m not really sure how to say this…” his hand slid out of his pocket and began rubbing the back of his neck. Nervous habit. Great. So it was bad news.
“You can tell me anything, you know that.”
“Well, you know my friend Alexis?” Oh God, he cheated on me?
“I was talking to her this morning. She told me something…Um, well, she said she kind of is in love with me.” He refused to look at me in the eye.
“What! She knows we’re dating, why would she say that?” I was completely shocked by this turn of events.
“I don’t know…but I can’t get her out of my head…I think I might be in love with her, too…” Major mass swell. Totally cut off my ability to breathe. I felt a cold knife slice into my heart. Everything I knew and believed had been a lie. He didn’t love me, he never did. How could he? If he had meant anything, he would’ve turned this slut down flat.
“What about me, us? Doesn’t that matter?” I couldn’t believe my ears.
“I love you. I’ve never doubted that.”
“You can’t be in love with two people!”
“Don’t tell me that, because I am. I know this is horrible timing, with your parents and all, but there it is. I just want you to know what I’m thinking.” The knife stabbed in deeper.
“Why the hell would you tell me that? What good does that do? Are you asking permission to date us both? That’s not happening, you have to choose!” Pure rage coursed through my veins.
“I can’t choose, don’t you understand? It’s killing me inside, but I can’t.”
“Yeah, I can totally see that.” I meant it sarcastically, but it actually was true. He still wouldn’t meet my gaze, and he looked awful.
“Please, Hannah…I’m just trying to be honest, because I love you…”
“Don’t give me that crap! If you really loved me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation!” Tears stung my eyes. I whirled around so he wouldn’t be able to see. Not that he was looking anyway.
“I do love you…” he suddenly was right beside me, putting his arm around my shoulders. I almost recoiled, but instead I leaned into him, trying to suck in his warmth to counter the sudden, cold chill in my body. I felt his hand rubbing my arm soothingly, letting me cry. I smelled his wonderfully delicious scent. How could this be happening? We had been perfectly happy for nine months, and now he wanted to drop me like a sack of potatoes just because some girl showed interest in him?
That was when I yanked myself out of his embrace, revolted by his touch. “You have to choose. I won’t live in a constant state of competition with her.”
“But I love both of you…” Another stab of the icy knife.
“Who do you love more?” This was it. His ultimatum. My life would never be the same.
“I…I don’t know…” Stab.
“Seeing how this is such an impossible decision, that’s pretty much an answer in itself.” I start to storm off.
I ignore him. I march all the way through the woods, down the path, up through the beach, across the parking lot, and into my Mazda. I crank up the radio extremely loud and peel out of the lot. Tears are still streaming down my face, making the road hard to see. I slow down, trying to pull myself together. He’s not even worth my tears. But I cry anyway.
I cry because I know he’ll never look at me with love in his brown eyes again. I cry because I know he won’t call me his baby anymore. I cry because I won’t be able to cling to him and have my fears melt away when my parents fight. Because he won’t come pick me up for dates in his shiny red car. Because we won’t go to any more dances. Because we won’t stay up talking until three in the morning just so we don’t have to say good-bye. Because he won’t sneak up behind me, grab me by the waist and whisper “I love you” in my ear. Because he won’t protect me from the evil serial killers in scary movies. Because he won’t hold me in his arms until I fall asleep.
I reach my house and bolt to my room before my mom can ask questions. I don’t want to talk right now. I collapsed on my bed, hugging his hoodie, breathing its amazing smell, and holding my little monkey to my chest. The knife jammed deeper into my heart with each passing second, as the reality sunk in lower. None of my friends were available to come help me in this time of grief; they were all hanging out with their perfect boyfriends. The kind that didn’t break hearts. That didn’t toss you away like garbage. My phone buzzed periodically, each time a text from him, asking if I made it home safe. I ignored him. Maybe it was better if he thought I died. Then he might feel guilty for throwing me out. I murmured his name over and over before sweet escape came as I fell asleep.
I woke a few hours later, face blotchy and eyes bloodshot. I went to the bathroom, washed my face, and returned to finally answer his texts. He was probably freaking out by now. Good.
“Yes, I’m safe. Unfortunately for you.”
“What do you mean?? I could never wish you dead.”
“Then you wouldn’t have to make this apparently hard choice.”
“Hannah, it is hard. You don’t understand.”
“I understand that I’m not good enough, that this Alexis is obviously perfect, so if you’re going to break up with me, just do it already.”
So I was right. He did think I wasn’t good enough. Well of course I’m not. I’m not that pretty, I have no musical or athletic talent, and I’m too fat as well. I knew I needed to lose weight…Wait, no, no, no! I shouldn’t have to change myself for a guy! Take me as I am, or watch me as I go. Then why did this silence of guilty admission slit my heart in two?
“It’s not that. It’s not you, it’s me. You deserve better than me.”
The knife was gaining more control; it was now chopping my heart into tiny pieces. Unfixable pieces.
“I don’t want anyone else! All I want is you. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“I want you to be happy…”
“You loving me with your whole heart would make me happy.”
“I honestly can’t do that…”
Mince, mince, mince. I was falling apart. This had to be a horrible nightmare. Why can’t I wake up? When will this end? When will I wake up and realize I had only fallen asleep in his arms, and he’d be smiling at me, watching me sleep, and then kiss me and tell me it was only a dream. I pinched myself. Wake up!
“Then we need to break up.” I sealed my fate with that text. If he really wanted me, he would say so, now or never.
That was it? That’s all I’m getting? We spent nine perfect months together, growing in friendship and love and it was all gone with one word. I felt like he had just poured lemon juice on my poor little heart pieces. It stung and burned and hurt like hell. How could he be that willing for it all to go away?
“Hannah, before I go, can I ask one thing?”
Oh, sure, you just tore my heart to shreds, but yeah, I can do you a favor.
“Can we still be friends?”
Turns out, that lemon juice was really gasoline, and this last text was the match. My pathetic broken heart was ablaze with fury, hurt, and an overwhelming sense of loss. I thought back over our relationship. All our dates, our adventures, our hanging out with friends, our cooking dinner together, our snuggling on the couch, our kisses…every look…every touch…every single memory…