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(What Used to Be) A Good Thing
In the beginning, we were like John and Yoko.
All of my friends loved her. She was smart, sweet, funny, and friendly. It wasn't a secret that I had liked her for a while, and none of my friends discouraged my pursuit.
It wasn't until after we began to date that her "real side" was presented to me.
One friend predicted I would end up in an “undesirable situation” (though he put it a bit more explicitly), while another had something so unpleasant to say that she chose to keep it to herself.
Of course, I didn't believe them. She told me she loved me and that was enough. I wasn't going to let anything ruin that.
Two years after it ended, I sat in the classroom where it all began, talking to the teacher that we had shared all throughout middle school.
"It's so great for you to come and visit," she said, sitting down after getting her class started on some vocabulary assignment. "How's high school treating you?"
"Pretty good," I said. "A little rough at first."
"Just a big change," I said. I didn't bring up the fact that three weeks into my freshman year marked my return to being single.
"How's everyone doing?" she asked, referring to our gifted class that had gone unchanged throughout all three years of middle school.
"Some are here, some are there. The ones I still talk to are doing well. Michelle and Carla both go to my school, Jamie's at East and Tommy's doing early college. I don't know about the rest of them."
"What about Lindsay?"
I stopped cold. I didn't like to talk about her. Whenever she came up in conversation, my face would flush and my skin would burn. A wave of rage would wash over me, and everything happy in my life would be wiped away.
"I really don't know," I stuttered. "We don't speak anymore." I looked up at the vocabulary she had put on the projector for her students to copy, and vaguely remembered writing the same words as Lindsay sat across from me.
"Any particular reason why?" Having her for three years created a bond between her and her students, so that she became like a mother to a lot of us.
"Nothing important enough to bore you with," I said, suddenly feeling the need to leave and cool down so she wouldn't see the hurt I had been able to bury behind my eyes for so long; the same hurt that threatened to show itself now. I let my hair fall over my eyes, trying to hide my sullenness. "Would you like anything from the vending machines?" I asked her.
"No thanks," she said. A student got up and asked her a question, and I walked out of the room without a word.
I walked down the hallway that I had walked down daily from the time I was eleven until I was fourteen, dreading a test or coming up with an excuse for why my homework wasn't done or looking for her--
I pushed Lindsay out of my mind and walked a little faster and around the corner, looking over my options as I reached the machines.
"You know, I love the red one, Carson--"
I shook her voice out of my head again and returned my gaze to the soft drink logos printed on the buttons. I decided that none of them sounded appealing, and walked back down the hallway toward the classroom.
The hallway hadn't changed a bit. It was long and narrow; only four students could walk down it hip to hip, which made class change unbearable. The walls were white stone, and a mural of a knight sitting on a horse was painted on it about halfway down. The ceiling was blue steel, ridged like Ruffles chips.
I reached Mrs. Keefe's room and opened the door. I walked in and the sound of Lindsay's laugh stung my ears like a wasp. My heart flew to the back of my throat in a half-second, and my legs briefly lost contact with my muscles.
There she was, embracing Mrs. Keefe. Her wavy blond hair hung down, covering her shoulders.
My legs awoke and I walked over to retrieve my backpack from next to where they stood.
"I should get going," I said, grabbing my bag and trying not to make eye contact with Lindsay.
"So soon?" Mrs. Keefe asked. "You just got here!"
"Lots of homework tonight," I stammered. My face had started to get hot. I turned around and walked out of the room.
My pace quickened as I neared the hallway that led to the vending machines. I was nearly there when I heard an angry voice call my name.
I turned around and saw Lindsay standing in Mrs. Keefe's doorway. She began to walk toward me. I turned back around, and she called my name again. I stopped.
She walked toward me, her heels clicking on the floor.
"What the hell is your problem?" she demanded.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said. I didn't remember doing or saying anything to incite an argument, but I had obviously offended her.
I wouldn't look at her, only the wall in front of me. "These walls seem like a softer white, don't they?"
"I get there and all of a sudden you have homework? Is there a problem?"
I looked at her. "What's the problem? Would you like me to stay?"
"Not really, but I thought we were past this."
"Then why the rush?"
I began to pace around in a circle. I dropped my backpack, and stayed silent, trying to put my thoughts into words. She had hurt me worse than I had ever been hurt before, but that was two years ago. I had never been able to say what I wanted to.
What did I want to say? What did I need to say?
"Do you know what you did to me?" I asked.
She rolled her eyes.
"Don't do that," I said, sternly, angrily. It surprised her. I had always been so passive toward her - to everyone - but I had had enough. "You really don't know, do you?"
She was silent.
"You don't remember how every word that left your mouth from the very beginning was a complete lie?"
"You said so yourself. Do you remember that? When you told me that you had faked every word you ever said to me?"
"I was only trying to help you," she said, matter-of-factly, but her voice softened when she said "I couldn't take it anymore."
"There you go again!" I said, throwing my arms up in the air. My face lit up into a huge grin, as I stood in front of the geography classroom we had shared so long ago. "You always make yourself out to either be the victim or the good guy. You did it then and you're doing it now!"
I lowered my arms and slumped down against the wall. My voice got quieter and I slowed my speech.
"Do you remember that night we were texting until I fell asleep? When we were joking about how when I got my license I could come pick you up and we could take a 2 A.M. trip to IHOP? That line in that song: 'And we'll have Halloween on Christmas'. Whenever I hear it I remember how spontaneous and fun you...were."
She was silent.
"You told me you slept better on nights we talked before we went to sleep."
Silence flooded the hallways, disrupted by my shoes squeaking on the tile as I stood up.
"Who does that to someone? Who makes them feel important and then tells them that it was all a lie?"
This time the silence really angered me, and I broke it. "I'll tell you why. You needed a self-esteem booster and I was the boost. You wanted attention, and that's what I gave you. Then when you didn't need me anymore, you left me. No explanation, just the feeling that I had done something wrong, and nothing else.
"Do you know how long it took me to get over that? How long it took me to realize that I hadn't done anything to ruin the best thing that had happened to me? How long I spent agonizing over every little detail and trying to figure out what I did wrong? And then I find out that it took you no more than two weeks to find someone else? Icing, Lindsay. Icing."
A tear fell from her eye.
"I'm sorry," she said. "It wasn't my fau--"
"Why can't you just admit that you messed up? That you messed me up?"
All of a sudden she looked different. Her expression didn't change, but I saw the old Lindsay for the first time in a while. The one I had fallen in love with. I felt guilty for snapping at her.
She stepped forward and held her arm out. She clasped her hand around my wrist, staring at it.
"I'm sorry," she said.
I looked at her and everything came rushing back; that dopey feeling that I had felt so long ago that had betrayed me in the end; the feeling that hopped across the road and got hit by a car and spent the rest of eternity rotting in the gutter. I had finally, miraculously, begun to sprout back to life and had been nearing the chance to dash across the road to the other side.
I had almost crossed the road when she leaned in to kiss me.
I jolted back. "No," I said, shaking my head. "No, no, no."
After a moment I looked up at her. "What are you doing?" I demanded.
"He left me," she said. "He left me and it was the greatest thing that could've happened to me." She stepped forward and held my hand, a big smile across her face. Her teeth glowed in the innocent smile I had fallen in love with and had tried so desperately to replicate as often as I could. "I realized that you were the one for me."
"I--I want to make things right," she stammered. "I was wrong, Carson, please--"
She leaned in again, and I ducked under her arm. I picked up my bag and walked around the corner.
She followed. "Carson!" she said, loud enough that the classrooms around us could hear it.
I walked back to her. "I'm not doing this, Lindsay."
"I was wrong," she said. "I made a mistake. Please--"
"I'm not doing this again," I said angrily. I turned and walked away.
"Don't you dare walk away from me!" she screamed, like a child who didn't get her way.
I turned around slowly. Her face was red and contorted. Her fists were clenched. I crept towards her, getting almost up to her face. I was a head taller than her, even with the heels, but the sound of her deep breathing made her seem bigger. She was staring straight ahead at my chest, not shifting her gaze in the slightest.
"I have every right to walk away from you," I said quietly and controlled, but through gritted teeth. "You broke me. Do you understand that? I was so in love with you that it's ridiculous. You took that and messed with my head and made me think we had something.
"You lied to me. You took me, made me feel like a complete idiot, and then threw me into the trash without a second glance and now you say I have no right to be angry with you? You're out of your mind. You changed me, but I didn't change that much."
In that moment, a sense of relief washed over me, wiping all the negativity away. Everything that had been building inside me all that time was out -- all that had I needed to be said has been said. I had no reason to be mad anymore -- I didn't need to waste my time on it.
I turned, walked down the hallway, down the stairs, and out the door. I never spoke to her again.