“I can’t handle this,” was the last thing he said to me before he disappeared through the doorway and left my life forever.
I stood there with a blank mind and tried to comprehend what had happened, where it went wrong, where I went wrong. Looking around for a moment, as if the particles dancing in the light of the window would spell out the answer in the dust they leave behind, I took a breath I knew would loiter in my lungs for days. It tasted like the second-hand smoke my father always warned me about.
I knew the smell of his cigarettes would linger on my sweater for a week and on the sofa for a month no matter how many times I sprayed it. I won’t go near either, avoiding them like fourth-grade cooties. Thinking back, I realized that what he had been saying wasn’t that he couldn’t handle this, us, whatever we were, what he was really saying was “I can’t handle you”.
I couldn’t help but believe that despite all the Nicholas Sparks bullshit romance movies tell you, that perhaps all relationships were just a simple case of who gives up first. As I fell asleep that night, I kept trying to decide which option was worse: giving up on someone when you swore you wouldn’t, or waking up to find that they had already given up on you.
I spent the next afternoon on the rooftop of Robert’s apartment, sipping leftover Sangria and listening to the city below. Once I’d told him what happened, I could almost see the ‘I-told-you-so’ ready to slip from his mouth. He laughed as I threw a pebble at his head, which, of course, with my lack of aim and hand-eye coordination, would’ve missed him even if he hadn’t moved.
“He’s an idiot, a complete and utter idiot,” Robert concluded.
“I mean, I’d like to blame it on timing and say that it was a wrong place, wrong time kind of situation,” I said while staring out at the city, my legs dangling off the roof, “Maybe if we’d met later on in life, things would’ve worked out differently.” A long pause stretched on between us until Robert spoke again.
“I cared a lot once,” he admitted dryly. “I really shouldn’t have though, she was a bitch, but that’s beside the point.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“What always happens in high school,” He replied while he knotted his fingers around each other, “I fell in love and she didn’t.”
“But it’s the classic tale of horny teens I’m afraid.” Smiling crookedly, he continued, “Anyway, I learned that caring a lot for those who don’t give a shit ruins people. Heaven knows it ruined me. So now I don’t care for much at all. I like to work in extremes like that. Adds a bit of spice to my otherwise painfully mundane existence.”
“That’s a little too philosophical for you, don’t you think?” I smiled.
“Just call me Plato,” I laughed for a moment before it died in my throat. When he spoke again, I almost missed it, his voice getting swept up in the breeze.
“The thing is,” he confessed, half glancing at me, “if you’re going to let someone in that you think will make you happy, you have no choice but to understand that it’s going to hurt like a bitch if they don’t.” I didn’t say anything for a while, every time I thought of something to mutter, it seemed to get lodged in my throat.
“You miss him,” Robert said quietly, “Don’t you?”
“So much,” I mumbled into the wind before clearing my throat of the leftover words, “But I’d swallow poison before I’d ever admit it to him. It’s just, I almost had him, you know?” I said quietly. “Almost loved him. Almost fell for it all.”
“What a shame almost is.” He exhaled against the wind while slinging an arm across my shoulders and taking a swig of his Sangria.
© 2015 Reef Magazine