I found your girlfriend’s mixtape. It was between the seats in your car. The plastic case was cracked, and as I picked it up, I wondered where she’d found a cassette tape. My mind said Radio Shack, but my gut whispered Urban Outfitters.
You were in the gas station, buying cigarettes for you and an Arnold Palmer for me. I slipped the broken case in my bag while watching you talk the cashier into believing your fake I.D.
When you opened the rusty door, the smell of diesel hit me in the face. I leaned my head back and took a gulp from the glass bottle you handed me. The lemonade was too sour, and the tea was too sweet. They didn’t mix like they should have.
Last night, I had to sneak into my brother’s truck to listen to it. Out the screen door quickly in a long T-shirt and hipster panties, I tiptoed across the hot driveway barefooted. Slowly, I turned the key in the ignition and loaded the mixtape into the tape deck. Before I could prepare myself, Etta James’s voice poured from the speakers and tears poured from my eyes.
I listened to 73 minutes of music with my bare thighs against the hot leather, until there was nothing left in me to lose. And here I was this whole time thinking I was the one who loved you.
She picked songs like stars out of the sky and painted a picture of her naked heart that of all people, she chose to hand to you. And you have the nerve to smoke cigarettes with another girl and tell her you were barbecuing with your dad. You blow smoke and she breathes it in because she’s not afraid to let the murderous parts of you inside her temple.
She’s an angel, you’re a bastard, and I’m an idiot.
You told me her perfume was your mom’s new laundry detergent. The next day I looked for it at Target, and that makes me hate myself.
There are parts of your laugh that have seeped into the walls of me and grown like mold. You kill the flowers with your poison and ask me why I’m upset. Like you have no idea it’s you that’s weighing me down. Not your girlfriend’s heart in a broken case, wiggling around inside my purse. It’s you.
So I went to Starbucks today. The bell rang when I opened the door, and the first thing that hit me was the indie rock flowing out of the overhead speakers like a ghost leaving a resurrected body. Then over a bottle of whipped cream, your girlfriend smiled at me. My heart grumbled like the stomach of a hungry child because there was nothing in it to feed me. It sank low into my ribs. I knew that when I left, she would feel the same aching emptiness.
Without thinking, I reached over the counter and took her hand in mine. I squeezed her palm, turned it over and put the cassette tape in it, wrapped her fingers over the broken plastic, and looked into her eyes. I saw it leave her. Everything. All at one time. It was like seeing someone lose their religion in a public restroom; too many things to say, not enough clean air to breathe.
And give her a little credit. She knew. She didn’t just make “Skinny Love” track number eight because she likes the melody. Your girlfriend loved you, and you’re so stupid you had your head in the water while her heart was hanging above the noise. You thought she couldn’t see you and she knew you weren’t hearing her, even when she begged you to listen on repeat.
I gave your ex-girlfriend back her heartstrings today.
She cried while I walked away.
All I could think about was how much I like Bon Iver too. And how much I would miss her, even though I know that doesn’t make any sense, I still felt more akin to her than I do to you.
Isn’t it funny how pain can tie knots in ropes of different frays?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.