I used to think this was about your friend, but now I know: It’s about you. It was always about you, and some dark undertone. Those cryptic texts, reading, “Come over, I’m sleeping.” Always a double meaning. You were a monster dressed like a knucklehead, wearing a sock-monkey looking hoodie. Just chubby enough to be inconspicuous.
I can hear your friends saying it, in the back of my head: Fuck the funny girl. It’s funny to fuck the funny girl. The feminist one. That blonde lit-chick who’s always drunk and too happy. Fuck her. Fuck her, man… You were the only one I didn’t want to fuck, and then you became all I thought about: How did you do that?
I’d heard of Charisma, capital C. Though I’d never totally understood what it meant until you, because: Charisma convinced me to like you more than your friend, the cute gullible one, the one you used to hurt me vicariously with. It was Charisma that convinced me you were never really all that guilty of anything. Charisma un-convinced me of your being kind of un-feeling. Charisma was what left me longing to kiss your eyelids—
And you’re kind of a monster.
Is that too harsh?
You used to call your ex-girlfriend the “R” word whenever you’d get jealous—which I heard was a lot—and that’s monstrous for more reasons than just one. And me? I longed to do something, so gentle. I longed to kiss your eyelids. What does that say about me? What does it say about Beauty from “Beauty and the Beast,” if she, theoretically, fucked and fell in love with an animal?
Sublimated Stockholm Syndrome.
I feel like this is kind of like that.
Is that too harsh?
I don’t know, but there are psychological studies that show people like you were made to destroy people like me, and I’m hardwired to let you. A relationship dynamic they call the Empath and the Narcissist. Although, I prefer the Charismatic and the Romantic. Because—Charisma did it. Because it sounds better. More like the enchanter and the enchanted. Because they say you’re built to destroy me, and I kind of like it.
I want you to know I kissed that guy in front of you on purpose. I kissed him like he was you, which was open-mouthed and a lot. I want you to know the worst part, when my friend told me you didn’t take your eyes off me, all I wondered was: Did he look hungry?
You came up to me, like some innocent lamb, “I just thought you were cute, and I wanted to talk to you.” You were laying down the trap, a cry for empathy. This was a few days after my friend refused to give you my phone number. She texted back, 1-800-YOU-WISH, instead. I thought it was so funny; I took a screenshot and made the conversation my Facebook cover. Apparently, you took it personally.
“Oh, come on,” I said, “No one knows it was you and—you have to admit—it was kind of funny.”
You didn’t even smile, which should have been the first clue—but empathy. You walked off sulking like, “I just really wanted to get to know you.” And being a hopeless romantic, I took the bait. Later, at the door, you caught me on the way out, “Come over, have some drinks. You can bring your friend—my friends are coming too.”
My smile didn’t feel consensual, like: Who does this chubby dude think he is in his pea coat, Edward Cullen? But something about the way you weren’t afraid to look me in the eye as you asked… How your voice didn’t shake and stayed soft and even… It implied that you knew exactly what I didn’t know I wanted. It convinced me to say it,
“Okay. We’ll come over.”
My friend found it unnerving that you left your house with candles burning. “You shouldn’t do that,” she said, “that’s so dangerous.” And you just laughed like, “Eh.” So confident that house fires were tragedies meant to touch other people, never you. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure you’re the kind of guy who could watch a home go up in flames and still keep a straight face. Still speak softly, like: Baby, tragedy just doesn’t affect me. It’d sound so warm and buttery, nobody would care that you’d just admitted something awful.
“What are you sacrificing tonight?” I asked, because: Burning candles, everywhere. Your bachelor pad reeked of pumpkin spice. “Basic bitches,” you shot back. And I laughed, realizing something about your appearance had shifted. I was looking at someone I liked. I whispered to my friend, “I’m finding him attractive. I don’t get it. I’ve never found him attractive.” She said, “He’s cute, just go with it.”
You made us vodka-cranberries with ice in blue glasses, and we went with it. We raided your bedroom. I picked up a red bottle of Lacoste, “You wear my favorite cologne,” I said, “that explains a lot.” My friend took the bottle from me and smelled it for herself. She agreed, “That explains everything.”
Judging by your room, you were predictable: white walls, no posters, no clutter… Clothes all tucked away. Lubriderm, Old Spice, black beanie—only the essentials were on display. But then my friend spotted the hooks screwed into your doorway. “Sex swing?” she asked, gesturing.
You just smirked without explaining. You hung the thing up, and I laughed, asking questions about it like, “Purple leopard? Really? Your choice?”
“Just sit in it for a second.”
It was one of your many commands that sounded like a suggestion, so I sat in it. I was surprised by how comfortable it was, and something about you looked satisfied before my friend added her two cents, “My heroin addict ex had a sex swing. We were only seventeen, and it was his idea. He was a legit psychopath. Like, he smashed his own windshield in with a pickaxe…” I didn’t think twice about the coincidence, because you looked me dead in the eye. And, at the time, all I saw was my own longing reflected; a mutual magnetism. Meanwhile, my subconscious was screaming every “moral of the story” I’d ever learned about falling victim to this form of flattery, like: Looks can be deceiving.
We were outside next to the garage with your friends one wall away—blowing lines of cocaine off a tool bench—when you went in for the kill. I was staring at you, staring at me. The moment was one between prey and predator. A moment of do or die masked in all the lusty feelings of a bad pop song. You grabbed my chin gently, and I realized your hands were smoother than I’d expected. “You’re so pretty,” you said, “I don’t get it.” And I heard my own confusion coinciding with the beat of my heart as you leaned in, like: Do I want this, do I want this, do I want this…Until you kissed me, and I fell into you, like some hungry mouth I’d mistaken for a warm nook.
I was confused, and I liked it.
Confused, you kissed me up the creaking stoop steps, through the flimsy side door, and around the kitchen cabinets. Past the clock ticking half past three, and against a giant mirror scaling the wall in your living room.
I imagined you winking at your own reflection, over my shoulder, right before you took my hand and led me up the stairs to your bedroom, where you scooped me up and laid me down, easy. You slipped my black skinny jeans off, pulled my black crop top away… “I just want to kiss you,” I said, confused, so confused. “This feels like a trap. I just want to kiss you…” You were already naked, pulling my legs apart like the wings of a butterfly.
You said, “Please, I just really want to hate-fuck you.”
After that, I shrieked, “No!” and closed my legs. I turned sideways, just out of reach—giggling—even though it hadn’t been a joke. “Please,” you said, pulling me back, and bringing me closer. Leaning in to kiss me between confused giggles.
“This feels like a trap,” I said, once more, as I let you in and wondered how you did it: The cologne? Too much vodka? That look in his eye that says: I want you more than anything? How he can convince people to give away what he’s going to take anyway? Is he charismatic? Is that what this is?
You buried your face in my hair and sighed, “I hate that I like you.” Then your arms swallowed me whole and we laughed until the sun crept through the blinds. We laughed because—sleeping with you didn’t even feel dirty! It felt kid-like, and kind of funny. Like we’d both been expecting wolves and instead everything was turning up kittens. I admitted, “I used to think you were a horrible person.” And you admitted, “I used to think you were a self-obsessed bitch.” So how? And we kept laughing—and biting, and wrestling—just trying to figure it out. Until the birds chirped and I forgave you for convincing me to go back on everything I believed.
“I was wrong about you,” I said.
You wrapped your arms around my ribs. You squeezed me as you said it, “You’re so small, I could break you.”
As a little girl, monsters fascinated me. I had shoeboxes full of plastic cobras and tarantulas. I was excited to go to the Cleveland Zoo solely for the Komodo dragon and albino crocodile. I’d ask my mom to fast forward to the end of Fantasia; to the part where a mountain transforms into Satan and his minions, because it was my favorite scene. When my parents watched documentaries about murderers, and death row, thinking I was too little to understand, some confused part of me always felt for the psychopath. I remember always worrying: What if he didn’t mean to?
I understood how Harry Potter felt when he realized he was carrying that little bit of Voldemort inside. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re aware of those small slivers of evil in yourself, followed by the terrible anxiety that you can’t always control them. It’s an insatiable fascination with the dark, and not trusting yourself as a result… I have a feeling this was why I liked you. I have a feeling when you caught my heavily lined eyes, you already knew, I was born loving people like you. Wayward young woman love ambiguous dudes…
In other words: you’re a “bad” boy, the “dark triad”—a sexy combination of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. My friend asked you why you had to switch high schools, and you said, “I just didn’t belong there.” Later she filled in the blank for me, “So basically he had some behavioral issues.”
Your hobbies include playing with your friends like puppets, lying your way to women’s bodies, and getting a rise out of me. Like that one night at your house, when you and all your friends were hopped up on cocaine, and I was sitting on the floor by the couch, misty-eyed and vodka-drunk. You said, “Cat, reach underneath the cushion to the right.” I did what you said, without question, and felt the killer-shock of cold steel against my hand. Then I pulled out a Glock, heavy and loaded, with my finger on the trigger.
Your friends jumped back, “Dude, don’t let her do that. Why are you letting her do that?” I didn’t look away from the pistol, but I could sense that you were grinning as I stared in awe. Trying to decide if what I felt was terrified or powerful. “Bring it over here,” you said. And I got up, pointing the thing at myself the whole way over. I handed you the gun, and you took it apart. Slid it open and removed the cartridge in the numb mechanical way one does something they’ve done a thousand times before. Meanwhile, I just stared, my eyes wide and my mouth agape. Trying to understand the weight.
It crossed my mind that this might all have been a perverse fantasy I made up inside my head: Maybe he’s not so scary, or bad. Maybe I’m romanticizing a common douche bag, just another “fuckboy.” But then, I wondered: Why am I kind of afraid of him? Why do I dream of him? Why do I feel so invaded?
Once, at three in the morning, you texted me, “Come over, I’m sleeping.” (An order-statement that translated as: I don’t want to sleep alone.) And I drove through the cold without waiting for the ice on my windshield to melt. (A blind act of loyalty that translated as: I don’t want to sleep alone either.) There was a light on in your kitchen window, and you left the door unlocked. I crept into your room where you invited me in, underneath the covers. You wrapped your arms around me, and tried to sound sympathetic by cooing, “God, you’re freezing.” And I didn’t know how to respond, so we kissed to fill the silence. Once you’d fallen asleep, I examined your face up close. It was just on the verge of aging—only six years older than mine, but something about it seemed too jaded for twenty-nine. You reminded me of a gargoyle.
Right then was when it happened. When I first longed to kiss your eyelids.
I remember, I wanted to take my finger and trace what would become crow’s feet because, to me, they looked beguiling and daring—like spider webs, or cracks in a sidewalk. I wanted to lean over and kiss those weathered spots; leave invisible lipstick stains on your temples. But I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I fell asleep with my cheek pressed against the skin of your back, too afraid to wake up face to face. Something about looking at you had broken my heart, and I became haunted by the idea that you were un-hauntable.
That night, I dreamt I was a child scanning the horizon from the attic of a dilapidated house, aware of a snake on the premises. I was desperately searching for you, wanting to warn you about it. But I never found you. I only ever found the snake.
In the morning I woke up sweating with my cheek still sticking to your back, and you didn’t kiss me before I left. After that, everything I did, everywhere I went, felt like an attempt to escape you, and I don’t know why because you never exactly did anything—
I just looked at you too closely.
Being infatuated with you quickly became like that overdone saying: No matter where you go, there you are. Except, instead, it was more like: No matter where I went, there you were. And it pissed me off, because I was trying really hard to forget anything had ever happened between us. But the more I tried to forget, the more I felt myself dwindling from a so-pretty girl-woman you wanted to hate-fuck, into the desperate little girl from my dream.
It was like I was scanning the horizon from a dilapidated attic that doubled as a metaphor for my intellect, wondering: Why me? Like I was examining my life in relation to yours through binoculars, and from a bird’s eye view: I know I’m safe up here, but I’d feel a lot better knowing that snake wasn’t out there. Why me? Why my lawn? Why did it come here?
I convinced myself you were cold and calculated—out to get me. I clung to the memory of your cute gullible friend, the one I used to date. The one you used to hurt me vicariously with. I remembered how it’d always been you whispering in his ear: Get her to come over, buy her a drink—now ignore her. I want you to avoid her. I convinced myself your underlying motive had always been: He can’t have her, because I’m the one who wants her. I convinced myself that it was you,and it had always been you. And it backfired because it only made me want you more.
No matter where I went there you were.
When I fell asleep, on my friend’s couch, in a college town forty-five minutes away from home, the thought of you crept up on me. The night away had been so fun; I thought I had forgotten… But I shut my eyes and there you were. I felt your name pulsing through me, like the alcohol in my blood. Like psychic postcards, I heard myself thinking: I wish you were here, I wish you were here, I wish you were here…
For three consecutive Saturdays, I tried to exorcize the thought of you through the mouths of other guys. I blacked out and kissed strangers, hoping the restless thing that you had awoken inside me would transfer to somebody else. Or, at the very least, go back to sleep. But every time it backfired. Every time I kissed someone else, my desire for you grew. I heard myself thinking: I wish he was you.
After all that, I decided to step up my game. Not only would I kiss a guy, but I’d go home with him too. But the moment I was in the moment with somebody else, I’d realize the moment was not—because he wasn’t you. And it’s a strange feeling when you realize that even your blood is missing someone. I swear, my circulation slowed down the moment another guy touched me. It was like the little red cells floating through me were making a statement, saying: Sorry, he just doesn’t do it for us. Where’s the chubby inconspicuous one?
I was haunted by the idea that you were un-hauntable! Every time I entertained someone, or something, new, one half of me wondered: Can he feel me thinking about him? Does it bother him? But the other, more logical, half of me knew that you didn’t. And it shamed me for hoping that you were affected, like: Stop it. He doesn’t give a shit. You’re smashing plates and creeping through doorways he knows nothing about. And even if he did, he’d just burn the house down. That was how I thought of us: I was the burning house, and you were the straight-faced arsonist, returning to the scene of the crime. He doesn’t give a shit about what haunts the house, I thought, it’s about what damage he can do from the outside…
Cold! You’re so cold!
Or at least, that was the lie I kept telling myself. Until, finally, after so many failed attempts to escape the thought of you, I found myself confronting the actual you. I waltzed right up to you, and said it like the desperate little girl infatuation had turned me into, “Why are you so mean to me?” And you didn’t look puzzled or taken aback; you didn’t hesitate before you shot right back, “You’ve been mean to me.” And I felt like screaming: BUT IT’S NOT THE SAME! I felt like throwing a temper tantrum: WHY DO YOU GET TO BE SO CALM WHEN ALL I WANT TO DO IS KISS YOUR FACE OR TEAR IT OFF?
And only then did I begin to consider it—
Maybe… I’m a monster, too.
Maybe he’s not the straight-faced arsonist returning to the scene of the crime. Maybe he just happened to be passing by and now—he doesn’t know how to look away. He doesn’t know what to make of this house who’s so desperate to burn herself down. Maybe he doesn’t know what to make of her when she comes at him with her gasoline and box of matches because, these things have nothing to do with him, and still, against all reason, he finds himself wanting to make sense of them…
I was probably just projecting.
At the beginning of this confession, I can admit, perhaps, I was a little too harsh. I can admit that, perhaps, I played into the role of the victim a little too much. See, I forgot to mention that ours was an even playing field: I’m not dumb or weak or innocent, and we both know it. So, I’m admitting I’ve been unfair.
Exhibit A: “I used to think you were a horrible person,” — “I used to think you were a self-obsessed bitch.”
There’s no right and wrong in this dynamic. There’s just wrong and wrong, and our initial conclusions about each other were true. So, I had to cut entire sections from my first draft, because the entire premise was: You used me, you asshole! And there was never any admission of wrongdoing on my side, like: But I used you, too. The main point I initially wrote about was, verbatim, “You want me like you want a trophy that you can treat like a paper napkin, and I want you like I want the piece of me, that you took, back.”
This representation was so false and one sided I felt like I was a sociopath just for writing it—which, I know, how ironic.
You took nothing from me, and I gave nothing to you. At best, we are each other’s ugliest reflections, and at worst we are each other’s most perverse projections. Now I just want to barf all over my keyboard, because: How not romantic. This is all just compensation for the fact that: I didn’t get what I wanted. This is all just me trying to force you into the shape of exactly what I wanted. So, I’ve got to be fair and say: If you’re a monster, then I’m a monster, too. I’ve got to be honest and admit: You and I was never some badass fairytale between two wolves.
We were just broken, two broken people. Two lonely monsters who wanted to remember how it felt to be kittens. And, for a night, we reminded each other. And then, just as quickly, forgot how it felt again.
I ran full force into the crack of dawn, my black boots pounding down your driveway. The cerebral Beauty who, theoretically, fucked and fell in love with an animal. And you shut the door behind you, retreated into your bachelor pad. Just another dude who could say he fucked the funny girl.
Now, I can’t help but ask myself: What’s missing? And the only answer I keep coming back to is: Your side.
See, I can say I’ve made this whole thing up, and still, I feel like I’ve put words in your mouth. But that’s all I can do, really. I can only speculate as to what your side might’ve sounded like, and that means putting words in your mouth, inevitably, like: I wanted to fuck her. I mean I thought she was cute—hot in the right light, always kind of feral-looking with her raccoon eyes and busted sneakers, just mousey enough to be inconspicuous—but she’s so annoying, like, she looks at you dead-on and smiles when she shouldn’t, and you realize there’s something there that you can’t touch, so you want to fuck her, like—who the hell is she to know so much?
I know I’m putting words in your mouth, but regardless of the accuracy, or inaccuracy of my assumptions, they remind me to consider you, and all the things I forgot to mention about us.
I forgot to mention that when I told you I found your gun unsettling you said you’d put it away, and I was the one who insisted, “No, I like it.” I forgot to mention on a night when you made me cry, you tried calling me—a few times. And I just watched my phone light up with your name until it didn’t anymore. I forgot to mention, once, you called my name and, out of pride, I just stared back at you with a straight face, like I didn’t even know you, until you said, “Never mind.” I forgot to mention the night I grabbed your hand; how, when I felt the limpness of it, I loosened my grip, and then, the moment I was ready to let go, you decided to hold on. And all night we did that. This confused pattern of letting go and holding on.
I forgot that you weren’t a constant monster. You were also the guy who laughed until the birds chirped. You took a chance on me the same way I took a chance on you, and I can’t blame you for all the ways this love has backfired, because: You’re probably hurting, too. Because I never considered that you taking the gun apart might have been an act of despair, that what you were always trying to say was: I never meant to hurt you. I never considered that, maybe, you told me to grab the gun and fork it over out of longing and desperation—not some twisted need for control. That you asked me because you knew, I was someone who would. You convinced me to love you because, you knew—I would. And I don’t know what must be so broken in a person to convince someone of something so false—and simply because he can—but damn, you must be aching all over in a way that I’ll never comprehend.
And I’m sorry.
I’m so sorry.
I should have kissed your eyelids.
Cat Olson is an aspiring writer living in Jamestown, New York. Currently, she is a receptionist at a hotel near Chautauqua Institution. She received her B.A. in Creative Writing from Buffalo State College in 2015. Her work has appeared, or is upcoming, in Elm Leaves Journal: Blues Edition, the ‘It’s Not Personal’ column for Bust Magazine, and The Swamp Ape Review.