Two Steps Forward

When I have exhausted my voice and my words run dry, my aunt is silent. I stare at my wine glass and my eyes slide to the empty bottle on the counter. I think of the last time I was drunk on wine in this house; Thanksgiving, miserable over this same boy.

Without a word, my aunt’s arms circle my shoulders and she pulls me close to her chest. In a sharp wave of homesickness I find myself missing my mother, but I swallow it. I am nineteen and too old to miss my mom.

I am nineteen and probably too old to be this lovesick.

“Grace,” My aunt murmurs into my hair and plants a kiss on my head. “I know he means a lot to you, and he seems nice. But sometimes –”

“You meet the right person at the wrong time,” I whisper and then hiccup. I wonder how much wine I actually drank, and realize this is the second night in a row I have gone through a bottle. My thoughts flit for a moment to Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Kerouac – all those prolific writers addicted to one substance or another. An old fear blooms in my stomach but I push it back down, I can deal with that some other time.

“And the thing is, Grace.” My aunt adds, she pulls away from me and wipes my cheeks, “No one is worth this much work. Marriage takes work, commitment takes work – but friendship? Early dating? Has any successful relationship started with this much stress?”

Has any successful relationship started with ultimatums? I wonder. I already have an idea of the answer.

I swallow and whisper: “I – I know this isn’t a movie. But I still don’t understand why he – why he won’t –” I don’t want to say fight for me. But I wish he would say something. I wish he would give me even the slightest indication that, if we were no longer friends, he might be upset. I wish he would say something to tell me that I matter to him, that he wants me, that he cares about my part in his life.

“What does he say?” My aunt asks, “When you tell him how you’re feeling?”

“He’s just –” I shake my head and wipe my eyes again, “He’s sweet and everything – he says that I need to do what makes me happy, what keeps me healthy. But he doesn’t …” I trail off and we are both quiet.

I add after a moment, “I feel like every outcome is going to hurt.”

“Maybe,” My aunt admits, “But which one will hurt less? Feeling like you’re stabbed in the gut every time you hear from him and face your reality? Or learning to let go of something that – very likely – won’t work out?”

“But what if it –” I stop, I can’t even fathom that reality anymore. That what if we work out. It just doesn’t compute in my head. I can’t imagine the two of us ever existing in something healthy, in something serious, in something long-term, in something right.

My aunt folds my hand into hers and rubs the back of my palm. She squeezes and my eyes shut. I am ever-craving this physical intimacy, these soft touches and warm pressure. But of course, when it came down to the wire and I tried to be intimate, every expectation I had crumbled.

“Grace,” my eyes open. “This heartache is not anyone’s fault – but no boy is worth this much shit.” I laugh and she adds, “You’ve talked for an hour and a half about pain, and I don’t want that to be your college experience. You’re running hot for him but he won’t commit, and maybe that’s what’s good for him and what he needs and that’s fine. But the fact is you deserve someone that will do what he won’t – that will go the extra mile for you. Or, extra eight thousand miles. Grace, you don’t want someone lukewarm,”

My voice chokes, “But what if there’s no one else?”

My aunt laughs, “Oh baby, you’re nineteen. Of course there will be someone else. And if there’s not? Are you telling me Grace Thompson isn’t awesome enough to run an epic life solo?”

She stands up and collects our glasses, crossing around the counter and to the sink.

She puts them in the sink but doesn’t turn on the water. Instead she turns back to me, thought etched into her eyes. “Grace, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s something there.” She says at length, “But it’s not right now. And if it’s two or four or ten years from now, then let the future worry about it.”

This is part of growing up. My mom told me when I called her, wrestling feelings for someone you cannot or should not be with, this is all normal Sweet-Stuff.

For the first time since starting college, I find myself truly deeply homesick. Not for any particular place, but for my mom. For my dad who will say, “this is ridiculous – just make friends and work on school, don’t worry about partners right now.” And for my mom who will give me a huge hug and tell me that my life is not ending at nineteen. For my sister who will say boys aren’t worth my time and for my brother who will say, “I can’t help much with emotional stuff Grace, but do you wanna play Mario Kart?”

I kiss my aunt goodnight and go to ‘my’ room in the house which is technically my cousin’s room but of course my cousin is grown and lives three hours away and has her own family.

I turn the light out and appreciate how dark this room gets, how comfortable the bed is. I lie down and can still taste the faint outline of wine on my lips. I close my eyes and pick up the shattered remains of my heart, and gently begin to piece them back together.

I touch the old scars and swollen lines as I struggle to make my heart into something whole again; It will take some time, but it will get there.

This isn’t the first time it’s been broken.

But it always hurts more when I break it myself.

-Grace T, April 2018

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