We didn’t meet in any of those romantic comedy, “it’s a funny story” kind of ways. We didn’t even find each other attractive until months into our dysfunctional relationship. I’m surprised that I am even writing this given our unromantic, spark-less beginning.
Stories like ours should have started like a whirlwind romance — two lovers meet on a chance encounter, fall into a deep, passionate affair, but unfortunately find that they don’t have much of a connection outside the bedroom. If I could rewrite our story, it would start a little more like that, watered down to a more realistic, collegiate level — then our ending probably would make more sense, then I probably would have realized what was wrong between us long ago instead of replaying the story of us over and over again in my head desperately trying and piece together why exactly we couldn’t work — why we’d never work.
Instead, our story started a little like this. When we first met, I was on the prowl for some meaningless hook-ups with some similar seeking frat boys, and you were so happy in your stable, perfect long distance relationship with your beautiful girlfriend. We were opposites, to say the least. We wanted, looked for, and expected completely different things. The only thing that brought us together that night was the one commonality we shared — we both needed the same thing, company. It was the first day of orientation; what person in their right mind would pass up a potential friend, right?
Even as we trudged slowly down frat row together, our conversations felt rehearsed, exhausted, and a little forced. The first house we stopped at you excused yourself to call your girlfriend as I embarrassingly continued to dance alone. Like I said, any rational person would understand if our relationship ended there — but it didn’t. For some reason we decided to hang out again and again —and then everything changed.
Over the next several months, you broke up with your girlfriend, I started to look for something more meaningful, and we came to find that we found friends in each other that we never thought we could. You were the first person I’d come to about everything; I was the first person you would talk to at the end of the day. We were in a really good place before it got complicated, before we realized we wanted to tear off each other’s clothes but at the same time keep our relationship perfectly the way it was. But of course, curious, adventurous, and thinking “why the hell not?” — we tried it, and it was so much fun, until all of a sudden in one swooping moment, it wasn’t anymore.
Holding that disaster of a relationship in our hands, we realized it was as good as broken glass —better left broken then hurting us as we try to piece it back together. Maybe we should have known that it was fragile from the start, but it was all too little, too late.
I could blame you for never getting over your ex-girlfriend, still planning a future with her despite the years you know you’ll spend apart. You could blame me for having commitment issues and a tendency to chase desperately and then run away immediately at the first sign of intimacy. I could blame you again for thinking that you’re really just too good for anyone, but then you could blame me again for being too jealous, too needy, and too emotionally unstable all the god damn time. We could keep blaming each other forever, but we would always end up at the same truth: it’s not that one of us is singularly incapable of relationships, it’s that together we make a volatile pair.
Separately, we are perfectly normal parts, but together we can’t seem to make a whole. Like two puzzle pieces, no matter how many angles we try and fit at, our picture never turns out. The flaws and gaps in our attempts might never be understood, but the important part is that they are there, and that no matter how hard we try, they won’t go away. Even the smallest wounds are marked by scars, and our cuts are no exception.
I want you to know — I need you to know — that you are perfect the way you are. If I had a checklist, you’d mark every box. I wish so much that you and I would fit. Us not working had nothing to do with your failures or my incompetencies; each of us is set and ready and perfect for someone, whether we meet them tomorrow or five years from now. It was never you or me — all along it was just us.
So you stay the perfect you, I’ll stay the perfect me, and we’ll stay perfectly apart in our journeys to find the other half that makes us whole.
I couldn’t be in my house. I needed to be alone. Somewhere outside. I wanted to sit outside as the sun set, completely left to my own thoughts and the hum of nature. I was feeling frantic — unable to relax. I had just spend an eight and a half hour workday sitting at a desk, staring blankly at a computer monitor, answering the phone when it rang (which was under ten times), and reading. Despite the fact that I just sat there from morning to late afternoon, I was exhausted. Hungry too, after my lame lunch of a yogurt, some blueberries, and the last of my pretzels from the day before. I got lost on the way home, still unfamiliar with the route to and from my new temp job. And to top it off, my boyfriend and I got in a ridiculous and unnecessarily heated argument over where to go to dinner that night. Frustration drove me to tears, caused me to lose my appetite, and created an uncomfortable itch inside me to just GO somewhere. Utterly alone.
I sat in my rom and rolled a joint, determined to make it a decent one. I then pulled on a sweatshirt and a pair of leggings, rinsed my face and wiped away my dripping mascara, and headed out the door.
My town bothered me because there was nowhere to just sit outside, especially to watch the sun set. There were some spots deeper in the woods, but I would never dare navigate those by myself, especially in the dark. After driving aimlessly for awhile, I pulled over on Lake Road. I drove along this road hundreds of times throughout my life in my town, yet I never stopped to actually walk through the small patch of trees to the reservoir. But after pulling over and shutting off my car, with lighter and joint in hand, I walked the several yards to the water’s edge.
The reservoir was always a beautiful sight while driving alongside it, regardless of the time of day. But being on the edge, and having a 180 degree view of water was breathtaking, especially with the coral pink staining the sky on the other side of the reservoir. Everything was so open — I felt like I could breathe. I stood there in silence for a few minutes, looking out at the expansive body of water. There was a perfect reflection of the clouds and sky in it. I looked down at the water right in front of me and could spot little fish in the shallow areas. Still standing, I pulled the lighter out of my pocket and unclenched my fist to expose the joint. I sparked the end, let the paper burn down a bit, then placed it between my lips. With the first deep inhale and exhale, I felt a release. As if in that cloud of white smoke that was dispensed out of me and into the fading light was filled with all of my stresses, worries, anxieties from that day, the whole week, my entire general life that looked like it was being led in no true direction. That one exhale made me feel lighter, more at peace with myself and everything around me.
That was exactly what I needed. Nature and its greatest gift to quiet my buzzing brain. The overwhelming feeling that I had only minutes before about work, my stubborn boyfriend and his childish approach to an argument — all of it went up in smoke. Still puffing on the joint, I guided myself through trees and overturned fishing boats to another clearing near the water. There wasn’t as much space there, and as I made my way back to my original spot I noticed that the light was fading quickly. But for once, my dominating fear of the woods, darkness, monsters, everything and anything, went to another place in my mind altogether. I sat on some roots in front of the water and continued to smoke, holding clouds deep in my lungs until they felt they would rupture, and then the smoke would come out in violent bursts of an exhale. I heard a small splash in the water, and saw ripples dispersing a few feet away. I sat there calm, squinting through the smoke that was unraveling through my parted lips. There it was again, this time to the right of me. Once I narrowed my eyes and looked closely at the surface of the water, I saw them: hundreds of bugs. And then a fish hopped up, breaking through the water’s sheen, its dark skin glimmering in an abrupt instant before disappearing again. I watched for them, anticipating where they would appear. I even smiled to myself, wondering which fish was winning when it came to snatching bugs out of midair.
The sky continued to darken as I sat. I could hear a car pass behind me every few minutes, but with the trees blocking their view, and where I was sitting down on the edge, they would never see me, or suspect I was even there. I was halfway through the joint, sitting placidly, my mind at ease, deep in a meditative thought, when I heard something. Dog chains? A man’s voice?
I froze, my hand with the burning joint down by my side.
“Who’s there? Huh? Who’s out there?” For a second I thought someone was speaking to me. They must’ve seen my car and pulled over. Was it a cop? That’s when I realized someone must be speaking to their dog. That was the same tone I used to get my dog all curious and excited when I knew my Mom was in the driveway after getting home.
Shit, please don’t come down here. Please don’t come looking. As my mind raced and my body tensed, I frantically stubbed out the joint. Don’t be a fucking moron, I thought to myself, and threw it out into the water. If someone comes down and asks, you just came here to be alone and collect your thoughts, I reassured myself. That was the truth though, wasn’t it? Why does smoking weed here have to be taboo to so many people still? I needed to unwind, a release, and unlike many people, I didn’t want that release through a glass of wine or a stiff drink after work. It’s sad to know the truth though, that if a cop, or just a common passerby saw me emerge from the woods to hear that excuse, noting my puffy, red eyes from crying (mostly) they would believe me. I sat there frozen until I heard the footsteps and chains withdraw.
My heart was racing. I was suddenly furious at the fact that there was nowhere I could sit to be alone for more than twenty minutes. It was such bullshit that I couldn’t sit outside somewhere, alone and undisturbed.
Get the fuck outta here, my head finally pulled me back. You’re sitting alone in the dark woods near a man and a dog. What if he comes back? I crept up through the trees, my car in sight parked off the road. When I saw no one near me, I ran to the car, stabbing at the unlock button, my house key between two of my knuckles. As I got to my car door, I looked up at the road ahead of me, and sure enough, about fifty yards away was a man with his two black German Shepherds. I put it all together. My car parked on the side of the road at an odd hour. A pungent smell of marijuana smoke rising through the trees. I’m sure those damn dogs smelt it in a second, police-trained or not.
I thanked myself for my tints as I started the car and pulled away, driving right past him. I looked at him with my eyes but didn’t twist my head in his direction. He was saying something, and for the split second I was next to him I heard him yelling but couldn’t make out the words. Ithought I saw a slight smirk on his lips, too. I drove away in a high huff. Like he fucking owns those woods. Like it affects him who’s down there before the sun fully sets. I wanted to sit in peace for at least thirty minutes, away from my house, from everyone. To be comforted by the life and calmness of nature, while I got high and cloudy and distant — which was exactly what I needed. What happened to minding your own business? Fuck you guy, and your dogs. What would you have done if they sniffed me out and led you down there? Sic ‘em on me? A 22 year-old girl with a college bumper sticker on her Honda? Sitting on the water’s edge watching the sun set with her eyes puffy and swollen from tears (mostly)? Fuck you guy.
We all go through it, we all understand that there is a time where you just lose yourself. Some people lose themselves in friendships, others in alcohol, parties, and, to put it plainly: Life. I think one of the most tragic ways to lose yourself is to do so with someone you gave your entire world to, and that’s why I’m writing this right now. This letter is to the lost part of me. The part that is slowly being rediscovered. So bear with me as we rekindle some of the wonderful things about yourself, because you need to remember who you were before them.
Do you remember when you were so full of life and you had a sense of humor? No care in the world is what some would call it. No guards, no walls, just pure wholesome happiness. Somehow now when you sit in a room full of laughter, you don’t even crack a smile. Can you recall why? It’s important to know how you lost this part of yourself so you can prevent it from happening again in the future. Do you recall that time when you were sitting in a room with some of your friends and they made a joke that made you laugh so hard you couldn’t help but cry? But you looked over across the room and they gave you a look, and if looks could kill, you wouldn’t be alive… and it wasn’t even that the joke was bad; but part of them just didn’t want to see you happy if they weren’t the one causing that happiness. And that was the beginning of your loss. You suddenly started being fearful of the purest bliss in life. You stopped doing it out loud and kept it on the inside and only you can tell how quickly that became extinct.
You lost your sense of self. Your identity became whoever they wanted you to be. The way you talked, the things you wrote, the way you dressed and expressed yourself, and your passions? Well, they faded too. And for some reason, that was okay with you because you loved them, and you thought that it was okay to compromise yourself for someone else because that’s how you thought love worked. But that’s not love. That’s wanting love. That’s forced love. Love shouldn’t change you. You should fall in love with someone because of who they are and they should fall in love with you for the same reasons.
Now that you have stepped outside of where you were and you look back, you realize you lost more than your laughter. You lost everything. Friendships that were once strong, your sense of wonder, even your opinions on trivial matters were no longer your opinions. They became shaped and molded by what he thought they should be.
But if you don’t listen to me ever again in your life, listen to me now.
You need to find those things again. Dig deep. Take them and everything that you became with them from your mind and remember what it was that made you smile when you would wake up. Was it just the mere thought of being alive? Was it the sight of your family and friends? Was it singing at the top of your lungs, or dancing around your room without a care in the world, even though you really couldn’t dance at all? I can’t tell you. But you can. Just trust yourself. Believe in yourself. I’m sure there’s some hesitation because you have gone so long without making a decision for yourself. But you can do this.
Now the question comes up, and you’re not sure how to answer it: were you ever in love? Possibly. Did you love them? Of course you did. And you always will. You gave them your most intimate moments. They were your everything and the fact that they were your world didn’t help the fact that you thought you were in love. That’s something that most people fight for. If I were any other person I would tell you that it was worth fighting for and you shouldn’t have left. But what you endured during those years, were things that no one should have to go through. It takes a toll on your self-worth.
And what most people aren’t able to understand is that you loved young. You were both young, and it didn’t last. And that’s okay; don’t allow anyone to judge you for that. You did everything that you could do in order to save it. The point of this letter is to let you know that even though you loved young, and that love is now over… and even though you might have walked away with a blurry vision and a damaged identity you should learn that there’s nothing more beautiful than learning, growing, and finding yourself all over again. Especially once you realize that the person you REALLY are is actually pretty great, no matter what they used to tell you.
Of all the memories I have of being 19 and having an affair with my best friend’s dad, the one that I think about most often is the first blow job lesson he gave me. He loved oral, both giving and receiving, and he wanted to make sure I knew how to enjoy both.
“For most guys truly good head is a once in a lifetime thing. If you know how to do it right a guy will remember you for the rest of his life.”
He said this to me before we really started anything serious, we were in his bed after sex just talking, and he was going on about the value of good oral.
The idea intrigued me greatly, most of my friends hated giving head — or at least hated doing it for more than a few minutes. I was interested in approaching the whole thing a bit differently. I didn’t want to hate doing something the guy I was with loved. It seemed like a source of endless friction. I wanted a kind of explosive partnership that was much more intentional about mutually being the best for your partner than passively hoping for their infallibility.
I don’t like the middle of the road, if I was going to do something at all, I wanted to do all of it — be the best at it, or at least take it to it’s farthest end and experience it fully. Why be a bear at all if you’re not going to be a grizzly? When I was younger I denied myself cream and sugar for a long time, until I learned to love the taste of coffee without it, and now I’ll never need cream or sugar. When something is good for you, you just have to learn how to love it.
All this to say, he wanted to give me blow job lessons, and I was ready to be a very good student. I knew that not every man was going to like what Steve liked, but I figured it would be easiest to adjust from guy to guy when I at least knew one really well. Like how learning your second foreign language is a lot easier than learning your first.
One afternoon I was packing an overnight bag to meet Steve at his lake house when he texted me:
You’ll learn about blow jobs tonight. Come very hydrated.
I grabbed a water bottle and sipped drank it on the short drive to the lake house. When I parked I saw he was waiting for me. Seated on the porch with his back against one of the cedar posts, reading something, or pretending to read at least while he waited for me. He looked so handsome like that.
“How’s school?” he asked. I laughed, it was funny to him that I was a student, that I was so much younger than him. It turned me on as well — and I couldn’t tell if it was his pleasure at the situation or my own curiosity about someone with a few decades of experience on me.
He poured us some wine inside the house and I drank nervously — he always made me nervous, it was part of his charm. Even when we just talked he stood closer to me than a person normally would. It intimidated and excited me. I took a step back and hopped up on the counter, he stood between my legs and kissed me, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me into him tightly, making the kiss more urgent than casual. I wanted to lay on the counter and feel his weight on top of me right then, but I knew that wasn’t his plan for the night.
“Can we just have sex first?” I asked, a bit breathless from his advance and finding an irresistible urge inside me to get a quick fix in.
“No…” He moved from kissing my mouth to my neck. “It’s good to delay gratification a bit. It makes it better, you’ll see.” It was impossible to see how he could be right, but all I could do was try to persuade him through other means. Maybe if I started to rub his cock he’d be overcome by the same lust that was making my brain fuzzy. I reached my hand down and felt him, he was definitely hard. But he merely grabbed my hand and deposited back on the counter.
He made us cook dinner then. I’ve never seen anyone look so sexy while dicing vegetables but I couldn’t think about anything else. Everything was sex. Chopping vegetables was sex. Stirring a sauce was sex. Watching his mouth while he drank wine was sex.
I was quiet while we ate. I preferred to stare at his mouth and hands and fantasize about the place on my body I’d put them rather than make polite conversation. As if he could read my mind he was patient with my silence, the corners of his mouth turning up when he caught me lost in thought, my eyes focused on him.
I placed my dishes by the sink after dinner, expecting him to tell me we had to clean up first, too. But I felt his mouth on the back of my neck, his arm reaching around me stomach and pulling me backwards into his body. He reached one hand forward and cupped me between my legs and I felt myself coming undone with anticipation.
“Let’s go upstairs.”
He brought me to his bed where he sat, and I kneeled in front of him. He looked so loving when he looked at me.
“You should always start playfully. Don’t be too quick at it. You should act like all you want in the world is the guy to cum, but you’re not in a big hurry to get it over with. Run your tongue around the edge of the head, especially on the underside. And then when you start taking it in your mouth, hide your teeth behind your lips.”
I did all these things for a moment, it felt a bit disjointed but I noticed his hips writhing a bit and it became more natural, more fun. It wasn’t my first blow job, but it was my first time trying to do something specific, or even trying really hard at it.
I tried to remember what he said and smiled internally (something someone told me about coming off as having a good time once) before running my lips up and down his shaft, pausing at the tip to lick my way around it and then taking more of it in my mouth, swirling my tongue around it when I slowly pulled it out.
He stood up then, and steadied my head between his hands while he helped me get the rhythm down, pushing himself in and out of my mouth.
He stopped me while I was catching my breath and lifted my face with a few fingers under my chin. “Men want to admire your face while you’re doing this. You look so good with my cock in your mouth,” he pushed himself back in my mouth, watching me intently as he pushed himself in and out again. He must have been right, I’d never seen his face look like this before. He was so focused, even if just to memorize the moment.
“Curl your tongue, make a snug bed for my cock.” “Cup the balls. Don’t play with them separately, but as a unit.” I followed his instructions.
All of this is, I guess, considered a warm-up. When he’s really ready to start Steve told me coordination is important. I needed to move my mouth in sync with my hands so it felt like one thing was happening instead of two separate things.
“See if you can catch your breath while you still keep it in your mouth. Just relax your lips over just the head and pull on it, breathe through your nose.”
I tried this and it was unexpectedly easy — but probably because I knew he was expecting me to stop and test this out.
“You can always ask a man what he likes you to do. I like to get deep inside. I want to feel your throat. It mimics sex, but it’s more relaxing. And more exciting.” I was nervous about this part, but the good kind of nervous, because I knew I’d be happy I did it. And he made me feel very safe. I took him back in my mouth and allowed him to move his hips forward while holding me in place. This is where I discovered my own trick, when I resisted my urge to back off, I found my mouth suddenly filled with my own saliva. My body produced more of what I needed when I pushed it to the edge, and I suddenly had lube for my hand to run up and down his shaft.
He wrapped his hand around mine and showed me the speed and firmness he liked, keeping his other hand on the back of my head to keep us in sync, every few moments removing our hands and hitting my throat with his cock.
“When I speed up, it means you’re doing a good job. I’m getting closer.” He told me, as he speed up our routine.
He told me that some guys like you to go until completion and others just want to warm up for sex, they want the act of finishing inside you, it’s a primal instinct. He was of the latter persuasion.
“When a man says he’s about to cum, keep doing what you are doing, and if he is guiding you, let him take over. He knows what he needs.”
I removed my hand from his cock and ran them up and down his thighs to signal that I was willing to do this. I looked up at him as I suddenly felt salty precum in my mouth. He was looking at me intently, pumping in and out of his mouth. I struggled not to move even though his groans were really turning me on. Finally I felt him break rhythm and push himself deep inside my mouth, depositing his semen down the back of it. It was always a bit difficult not to gag with the surprise of a guy cumming in your mouth, but since it was so far back, it was easier as it was already being swallowed by the time I realized what was happening.
He fell back onto the bed behind him. “Goddddd Adrienne, you’re already very good at this.”
This wasn’t the last blow job lesson, we usually practiced before sex from then on, but they got quicker — which I took as a compliment.
The truth is, you were better. I was always trying to live up to you. I admired you ceaselessly, and I strived to make you jealous. We were two girls with dreams too big for a small town, constantly trying to one up each other, to live faster,
I didn’t tell you how much I loved you, because that would have made me vulnerable. I was too insecure to let you know.
Faster. The rest of our lives couldn’t come soon enough. We drove recklessly on backroads late at night. We lied to our parents, got drunk in basements. We talked about our dreams; about the lives we’d have when we finally got out of here.
There was that night that we lay in the back of a pickup truck, looking up at the stars and singing “Yellow” by Coldplay.
(I can barely listen to Coldplay now. All of their songs are about you.)
But that wasn’t us. Carelessness was an act.
(The act that killed you.)
We slaved over our college applications, and I knew that you were the only one who understood my drive, my need for perfection.
Yet you were more than that. You left cupcakes on the hood of my car after school. You made handmade gifts for our teachers. You were a better person than me. Really, truly better.
When we both got into our dream school, the competition was gone momentarily. It was just us, best friends, clutching each other and laughing/crying in my parents’ kitchen. We celebrated with frozen yogurt.
When I decided to go somewhere else instead, I can’t deny that the idea of no longer living in your shadow was a factor in my decision.
You were happy for me, of course. We each had our own new world for the taking.
Our conversations after we both left are full of exclamation points, detailing the perfection of our lives. I wonder if you were exaggerating the way I was.
In one of my classes last semester, we defined a trauma as an event that splits you in two. I split everything in my life into before you died and after.
I feel like I should say the day you died was a blur, but in truth, every second is seared into my brain, an endless loop.
The text from my mom early that Saturday morning didn’t mean much. I was exhausted and hungover, and I fell back into an uneasy sleep.
Sure, you’d made a mistake. But you’d be fine. We were young and invincible.
I remember exactly where I was in the park, hours later, when I stopped running, when I reread the next message over and over. No.
I sat numbly through breakfast. No. I Googled incessantly in my room. No.
“It doesn’t look good.” Cue the screaming into my phone, the collapsing onto my dorm room floor. He is there in an instant, holding me, out of breath, his hair wet from the shower and skin damp from sprinting through the August heat.
The moment you died, I was trying to eat dinner with my friends. I was focusing every ounce of my attention on my black bean burger when my phone rang. My mother’s voice didn’t even sound like her own.
I needed air. I pushed my way outside. I sat on the curb. Silence.
My fingernails dug into the Styrofoam container full of leftover sweet potato fries on the way home. I held it together; the crying, screaming, gasping would come later.
The sun was setting over Nashville, and I didn’t understand the world was still turning.
I didn’t tell you how much I love(d) you. How much I admire(d) you, that you made me the person I am. In life and in death, you are(were) one of the most essential parts of my being.
For months after your death, I lived in constant fear. Fear of death, yes, because for the first time in my life I was aware of my own mortality. But also fear of happiness. Every time I laughed, I was ridden with guilt. How could I be happy? How could I ever enjoy the things I’d once loved, knowing that you would never take another breath?
Now, I am finally realizing that I didn’t die with you. The truth is, I am here. I am breathing. And every instant — every maddening, exhilarating second of the life I’m living — is for you. For the girl in the pickup truck, staring up at the sky, singing softly,