People You Loved Who Weren’t Me

lesbian love story fishing boat ocean anna pulley

I’m on a fishing boat crossing the Black Sea and all I can think about is you. Or rather, all I can think about is your father, who you said was murdered on a fishing boat, that the whole crew was murdered actually. I thought when you told me that, it meant something.

Just like I thought it meant something when you invited me to your apartment to make fruit salad before the Halloween party. We cut up pomegranates and someone took their shirt off so it wouldn’t get stained and it was probably me because I am that obvious.

I dug my fingers into the messy fruit, letting the juice run down my hands and arms and wishing desperately that you would lick them clean.

But you didn’t.

Instead we went to the Halloween party, then I drove a drunk girl home to Skokie. Then you invited me back to your apartment and made me watch two episodes of The Ali G Show. After, I wrenched the remote away from you, but I still did not kiss you. Instead, I asked you, matter-of-factly, if you wanted to have sex with me. You said you weren’t sure.

We kissed and it wasn’t great, but the moment was and I climbed on top of you and tried to run my fingers through your hair, but couldn’t because it was too thick with curls. I flung my glasses across the room because suddenly everything about me seemed like a barrier between us.

Put your mouth on me, you said.

Say yes, I begged. Say yes anyway.

Eventually you stopped me. You said it wasn’t right. You said that a lot in the eight months we were and were not sleeping together. And I said this time I would never speak to you again, the weight of my promises dissipating before the words even left my mouth.

Afterward, when I could not find my glasses, you said you loved blind girls, which was the closest I got to a declaration of love from you.

I thought if you would never love me, then I would fill you with the words you never felt.

We had one perfect day together, buying beechwood sheets at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and laying on the couch while you watched football. Maybe we ate something too, probably you cooked for me, which you often did – exotic things, with produce I didn’t even know existed before you came and plucked them easily from shelves and bins, as if these things had always been there, next to the Granny Smiths, and I was just too blind to notice.

You weren’t very attractive, except you had a boy’s ass and tiny hands that I adored and didn’t care were covered with warts. You finally burned them off, when you fell in love with someone who was not me, who carried you across state lines and didn’t burn for you the way I did, like liquid nitrogen. By that time, I really wasn’t ever speaking to you again, not because of my own doing, but yours. You kept your promises where I could not.

The night after we fought over your ex, I thought that would surely be the last time we ever slept together. You called and I wanted to hurt you. The way you hurt me – effortlessly. Then I begged my way back into your bed.

You said you had a fever and I said, That’s okay, and that I would just come over to sleep.

You said, Okay, so I put a coat on over my penguin pajamas and walked the two blocks to your apartment.

I could smell your illness as soon as I walked in and it didn’t repulse me. I wanted it to enfold me because it was warm and tangible and you. Slowly your hands traced circles on the fabric near my outer thigh and you were turned on, despite the fever or maybe because of it, and you fucked me like you were trying to snuff me out.

The morning you left me forever, you asked me what I wanted for breakfast – eggs, bagels, toast, yogurt, mangoes, orange juice, tea? – and I couldn’t decide so you made everything and I ate and drank every last drop. I must’ve known that I would never get anything from you again. After breakfast, I skipped home and texted at least three people about our reconciliation. I was so happy for those two blocks.

You read me stories and poems about people you loved who were not me and it made me love you even more, so I wrote too and filled whole books with the words you never felt because I thought if I stopped, even for a minute, the loss would become unbearable.

At the tacky Christmas sweater party, I took pictures of you looking in every direction except towards me. You wore a dark blue sweater that you often wore that wasn’t remotely tacky and when you left that night without touching me, with all the other guests, I jingled the bells attached to the cats holding Christmas presents on my sweater and burst into tears.

Some other night that was nowhere near Halloween, we put on costumes and went dancing. Your ex was there and I drank too much and tried to kiss you in front of everyone.

You said I was too much.

You said I was all over the place and left me there.

I don’t remember much else, though later you told me I propositioned someone you loved who was not me. I do remember getting fucked by a girl named Martha in the bathroom and being excessively proud of it. Martha took me home, not you, and we fucked again and I faked a hundred orgasms to spite you. Then she left her glasses on my end table and I don’t know how she drove home without them. A few days later, she picked them up and we had the kind of conversation that strangers have and I never heard from her again.

I bought every book you recommended and every CD. I bought them because you loved them and I thought if you loved them then I would love them because I loved you.

Over Thanksgiving, you went home to people you loved who were not me and I had dinner with your ex – takeout because we both couldn’t cook. We tried to get drunk, but each bar we went to was more depressing than the last, so we gave up and went back to our empty apartments alone.

When I picked you up from the airport, you gave me a pair of socks, and I again thought that meant something.

What’s your favorite color, you asked and I thought you really should know that by now, but said red, anyway. The socks you gave me were not red, but purple, and you said, It’s the best I could do.

When we weren’t sleeping together, I hated seeing you because you looked happy. I felt you owed it to me to sulk a little, at least. But you were charming and funny and you kept writing stories about people you loved who were not me. So I wrote terrible poetry about you, where I called you Goldilocks because I thought you’d hate being feminized. And I read books about zombies and serial killers to frighten myself out of loving you. Only then I dreamed you were dying and it was my fault so I stopped reading and began listening to Evanescence for 6-8 hours a day.

I sang and danced in front of the warped mirror from Target in my bedroom, endlessly on repeat. For a few moments during those days and days of Evanescence, I forgot about you. And I’ve continued to forget about you more and more, with different music and lovers and in different time zones and seasons and countries.

Only sometimes, like now, on this fishing boat on the Black Sea, with my lover of two years, I forget that I’ve forgotten about you and remember how I once knew a girl who filled me with words.

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