I slipped past my front door, as careful as I could so that I didn’t wake my parents up. I made my way, barefoot, to his pick-up truck. “Hey,” he said, sort of breathlessly, like seeing me had whisked his heart and breath away. But the truth was in the February air, who gave me the cold shoulder; the wind swiftly dying down, still as ominous as ever.
“Hey, you,” I replied, hugging my midsection and wishing I’d brought a jacket. He stood there, however, in his white V-neck tee and branded jeans that cut his earnings as a barista far too deeply, not seeming cold at all. I guess you’re used to it after long chilly nights outside.
He glanced at my neighbor’s car, apprehensively, while my stomach did flips. “Are we going somewhere?” I asked, causing his thoughts to revert from where they’d arrive although that was useless. He’d bash himself up later, when no one was watching, when no one was awake.
When I was asleep, this boy was teaching his sisters’ geometry. When I was shopping for new clothes, he was attending parent teacher meetings instead. He did everything he could, giving up on his dreams just so his sisters could go to college. Even at the cost of his future.
And I, I was planning on leaving him to his own demise so that I could go to college.
It was like the cold, winter air did wonders to my brain; for the first time in months, I could see myself in another light.
But I wasn’t sure whether this was distorting the situation like a Snapchat filter. I was giving up on young love to find a new life.
Was giving up on him wrong?
Was giving up on us so that I could become someone I'd be proud of selfish?
I looked up at him, the silence thickening as our eyes met. It was like he mirrored my pain, my indecisiveness, my confusion. It was like he knew what I was feeling because he was feeling it himself. His eyes were like a storm: captivating but totally out of control. He was thinking.
And then he opened his mouth.
His next words would make or break the thin wire we were holding on to. The wrong words and we’d be falling, drowning in our emotions, giving into the pressure.
“Did they tell you that you’ve been admitted yet?” His words felt like a strike against my face from the blunt side of a sword. It felt icy but scorching hot with disapproval at the same time. It felt like everything inside of me was dying with his words, but with his gaze, like always, it set me on fire.
I continued looking at him, losing myself in him. He didn’t mirror my inner thoughts anymore; his eyes were like the weather after a storm- eerily calm and quiet. “They have.” I replied, my voice clipped and contained, even though I was dying inside.
This conversation we were having wasn’t like us. What happened to the smiles, the tears, the ‘you can tell me anything ’s? What happened to the kisses and the hugs and the promises to never let go. Most importantly, what was happening to us? It was like, overnight, the tides turned and the winds blew fierce and suddenly, I was stuck a million miles away from him and he didn’t even notice.
Or maybe this was the effect of months of frustration and months of no communication. Maybe this was the effect of not paying attention. Maybe it wasn’t overnight, but perhaps the wind played a dangerous game, like a siren, luring me close with promises and far away from him instead. And perhaps, he was the one among the both of us wondering how I couldn’t even notice all along.
Suddenly, all I wanted to do was hug him close and promise fiercely to fix this. I knew it could work, I knew. But even though he was standing just a few feet away, I felt like I was back on that hypothetical ship.
“Which college, then?” he asked, like we were some sort of acquaintances all of a sudden. I wanted us back, I didn’t want this nonsensical conversation that sounded as fake as the tone I used when I answered.
“Berkley said they’d take me in, but no scholarship,” I replied. He furrowed his eyebrows for a minute, like he always did when he was thinking hard or doing math.
“That’s great, although the tuition is hefty,” he replied, like some sort of distant relative who’d come to see me after 15 years.
“A-And far away,” I finally admitted, my voice breaking down.
And his eyes turned glassy.
“Yeah, Cali is far.”
We stayed quiet, so much to say but neither of us being able to say them. It felt so out of place, every possible situation turning out horrible. It’s like the winds settled down, but I was still stuck at sea, far away from him.
I took a deep breath. I needed to do this, even if it turned horribly.
“Why are you here?” I asked, fumbling with my fingers.
He smiled, sadly. “You might hate me… but I’m here to break up.”
And then it was like the waves launched at me. I was drowning, gulping in salt water, breathing in salt water and everything inside me just burned.
Not the way when he looked at me.
I was burning up alive.
Everything about that delicate balance we were tiptoeing around just went flying like a carpet under my feet.
“I just can’t watch you walk away,” he said, not meeting my eyes. “I can’t watch you go do the one thing I’ve always wanted to do. I can’t hear you talk about your new life when all I can think about is how I feel like… like the dust I sweep with my broom.”
I stayed quiet, taking in what he said but I couldn’t understand any of it. All our memories just played quickly through my head while I nodded along.
“I know I’ve always loved you and I know there might be a day when we’ll meet and realize that it’s a small world and that it’s written in our fate to end up together. Or maybe we just won’t meet ever again, and you might be the tale I tell my grandkids.” He chuckled softly, ever the quintessential poet.
I smiled along, my head clearing like I’d just sprung out of the deep trenches I was forced into.
“‘There once was this beautiful girl,’ I’d say,” he said, looking at me, and edging closer. “And my grandchildren, they’d ask me, ‘Was it your grandmother?’ and I’d smile, close my eyes and think for a while.”
Someone else. He’d be with someone else. We’d be apart.
I was the reason why.
“‘No, no it wasn’t your grandmother,’ I’d reply. ‘It was this girl I was in love with, when I was a teenager, before I met your grandmother. She showed me the other side of the world I was missing out on: the secret smiles, the late-night conversation, the warm fingers you held in your hand. She showed me love.’”
We were in love. I was in love. He was in love with me.
I was throwing it away.
“And my grandkids, they’d ask, ‘Well why’d you leave her?’ and I’d smile and just sigh. ‘I never left her. She’s got a special place in my heart, as the one who I first loved.’” He reached me, this time, and he wrapped me in his arms.
I realized whatever he was saying was all in past tense.
We were done. We were broken up.
And I was the reason why.
“And you will,” he told me, his warm breath a pleasant contrast to the chilly air. “It doesn’t matter whether we’ll move on or whether we’ll meet each other again. It doesn’t matter what happens in the future. All I know is that I’ll always treasure you.”
The snow began to fall out of the sky, like some sort of embodiment of our relationship.
And we stayed there, in each other’s arms, watching the snow as it fell. Maybe next year I’d be holding someone else, maybe next year it’d be him in my arms. Maybe next year it wouldn’t even snow.
But the snow fell now and he was here right now. Everything dissolved like a fresh snowflake on your tongue as I watched the snow with him.
And I’ve been watching the same snow since.