My thumbs rub against the worn edges of the photograph, a small smile creeping onto my face. The lingering scent of chlorine and the bendable edges of the polaroid take me back to that night. It’s hard to believe that that was us. My smile is wide enough to showcase all of my teeth, the skin around my eyes is crinkled, something that I used to despise, until you told me how much you liked it. The pads of my fingers trace over the scenery: an unmade bed, mismatched pillows thrown all over the ground, two teenage girls. It looks as if they don’t even know that they are being photographed, they are too captivated by the other in that moment. I see myself in the bed...and yet I don’t. I see a girl whose rosy cheeks glow, whose green eyes shine bright. I look up to the mirror in front of me, puzzled. I see the damaged remains of that girl. My typically flushed cheeks offer only a hint of pink and my olive orbs are frosted over. Looking back to the picture, I behold my companion. I fight off a grin as I see her ridiculously curly blonde hair tied up in two misshaped buns atop her head. I shake my head as I pull the photograph to my chest, laying back onto my comforter as the flood of memories urges my eyes closed.
“Oh my gosh...I look ridiculous Gabrielle.”
I cover my mouth with my hand to hide my loss of composure. “W-What are you talking about? I think you look adorable.” I smirk as I weave her fingers with mine, tracing my rose-colored nails over her rough skin. Looking up at her, I can feel a warmth fill my body. I look at her the way I look at the stars: from afar, and with an unsaid love of the mystery that I see. She is staring into her handheld mirror, lips agape and upturned from the silliness she sees reflected back to her. She doesn’t notice me, silently appreciating her being. I could sit like this for a long time, I think to myself. My face loses its color and the warmth is replaced by the bitter cold of loneliness and four pale blue walls. My eyes slowly open as I set down the photograph next to me, experiencing the same pain that I felt back then. Betrayed, broken, and lost.
My mind is racing, but I just want quiet. I lay my head onto my pillow, hoping that closing my eyes will hush the screams of memories that lurk in the shadows of my mind. Silent tears fall down my cheeks and burn my eyes. From the chaos, reveals a single memory. A chilly October day, but the first day that we had spent as a couple. Our day started early: eight in the morning. I hear a blaring noise from my phone. My eyes blink open and I groan; who dared disturb the princess from her slumber? I recognize your name on my phone screen and manage a small smile before answering, “Hi there,” I manage in a scratchy voice. “Aw, were you asleep?”, she teases, “I've been up since six, bug. Get up, get dressed, I'm coming to get you in a half hour.” I slowly arise from my cocoon of blankets, yawning loudly, and stretching like a cat in the morning sun before making my way into the bathroom. This is how my weekend mornings have been starting for a few months now. Fifteen minute showers, five minute breakfast, and ten minutes for getting dressed and putting on a few coats of mascara. I hear a car horn out front and rush out the door, saying goodbye to my mother in passing before hurrying into her car. Taking a deep breath before turning to face her, I offer a full smile as I look across at her. Her long blonde curls are pulled into a confusing mess of darkened ringlets as tiny water droplets fall down like rain onto her shoulders. Her bronzed skin makes her blue eyes stand out against her freckled cheeks, touched with a hint of pink as she grins over at me. I take in the suffocating scent of chlorine as I close my eyes and lean into her, tasting peppermint for a short minute. Pulling away from her, I look back at my house, getting farther and farther away before completely disappearing from my sight. The events that followed still remain a blur of laughs, quips, and various stops at fast food restaurants. Now, all that is left is the loneliness festering inside of my heart. All I know for certain is that I am missing that warmth since she left; I can feel it: After you have been without something for so long, you begin to think that you can never be whole without it again. And to this day, I have sworn off peppermint chapstick.
My eyes have never let me tell a lie. Anyone who is close to me could see through my pathetic attempts at smiles or, “I’m fine’s.” The first relationship that mattered to me was ended over text. I got nothing more than, “I think we should break up.” at a party that was supposed to be our first night out in weeks. I received this text as I laid on a couch, sprawled over my best friends, cheeks stained red and feelings of warmth in the pits of our stomachs. I quickly left the room and pulled open the first door that I saw. I sat down on the stone steps leading down into a stranger’s garage, trying to make sense of you as I shivered in the cold. But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t understand it.
I have always seen myself as the supporting character in my life: the dutiful daughter, the caring friend, the sensitive girlfriend. Without you, I felt misplaced, like I had lost my purpose, my role. So I turned to my pen. I filled journals, notebooks, and even napkins that I have kept to this day. I wrote poems in search of an answer that I could never quite reach. I was a heartbroken mess until one morning in early January. Sitting in front of my window, the sunlight washed over my tear-stained pages, the dark ink dripping down the crisp paper. I stopped mid sentence, writing about something that made my misery appear like a beautiful tragedy, when I realized that I was tired of being sad. It had taken me months to get over myself; I was the one dwelling in the past, living in a life that was no longer a picture of the present. The world hadn’t changed, I had. I had lost my bitter feelings towards you, but I was reaching for loose ends to perpetuate my suffering. Time stopped and I realized that I had the ability, the desire, and the need to move on.
I believe that I have moved on, but that doesn't mean that she does not still occupy a space in my brain. She lived there once and I am not in the business of eviction just yet. As long as I can savor the good memories for what they were, she will remain there. I am not someone who can forget about my past and I have learned to embrace that. The pictures and videos of us remind me of a simpler time; I see only clouds of giggles and sincere smiles. Losing you meant losing a part of me, but I have gained so much more from being strong enough to pull myself back up.
Was it love? Perhaps I’ll never truly know; my friends and family certainly don’t think so, but the yearning that I feel for that familiar warmth is rooted deep within my soul. My loving words are carefully stored away; you would never understand the depths of my adoration for you. If a writer falls in love with you, you will never be forgotten; your soul will drift within the worn pages of notebooks and journals, your words, possibly faded, will be tattooed onto these soft pages. My loves and losses are cataloged for personal remembrance; perhaps one day, I will find another to share these memories with, but for right now, they are a story yet to tell.