I Wish You Would Stay, But I Know That You Won’t


I wish I was the girl that everyone turned around to look at when she walked in the room. It’s such a petty thing to want, but when you’re only trying to get one person’s attention, you have to cast a very, very wide net. If I could hold everyone’s gaze, then I could probably hold yours. If I were a model, so much of what I said would be so much more compelling. The mistakes I made would have been just that much less of a death sentence. Almost any character flaw is rendered bearable, if not vaguely adorable, when possessed by someone who is also in possession of a stunning beauty.

The first apology I wrote to you — the first of the dozens that I never sent — was written when I still imagined that this would all blow over. I thought that I couldn’t hurt people the way I had been hurt, that I wouldn’t lose someone who would go from lover, to enemy, to complete stranger. And though we were still in the enemy stage back then, I somehow knew that it would be the stranger phase that would cut the most acutely. There would be a time when we would pass each other and pretend that we didn’t even see the other one, and that would be for the best, and I never wanted that day to come.

It has come, a thousand times over. And I have thought of inviting you to coffee one day, person to person, just to settle it all once and for all. My friends might look at me strangely, pull me aside, ask me why it even matters to talk to you years after the fact, but they don’t understand. They have never known what it means to be eaten raw from the inside with an emotional debt left unpaid — or maybe they do, but have learned to numb the feeling.

And truth be told, so have I. To a large extent, I never even think about you anymore, but when I see your name on a computer screen or hear it roll off the tongue of a mutual friend, it still has that lemon-zest sting that it did on the very first day. To know that there is someone in this world who hates you, to know that you have broken a heart and left it to bleed for the rest of their romantic life, is a terrible reality. I assume that things have gotten better — I know you have dated, I know you have moved, I know that you’ve done a thousand great things with your life which have nothing to do with me. But not one of those things was hearing me say, in a way you cannot mistake for anything else, that I am sorry.

I wish you would stay, if I invited you out for that mythical coffee that we always plan with our exes but which so rarely happen. I know that you wouldn’t, though. I know that you likely would not even show up, or would punctuate it abruptly after saying the one or two nasty things you had left in your arsenal. And maybe I should pity this, take it as an example of your immaturity or inability to see the bigger picture of things. But in love, there is no bigger picture. There is only the thing that happened, and how much it hurts, and how it ripples through the rest of the love you experience. I’m sure there are still days in which the last waves of what we had radiate through your most happy, placid moments. I’m sure they still have the ability to take root somewhere and rot out your complacency.

Memories have a way of doing that, and I’m sorry.

That night that I saw you at the party, and you looked away, I knew that I would never talk to you. I briefly wished that I was that pretty girl, so that you would have been forced to stare if by nothing more than your own primal propensity for beauty. Everyone pretended that the other wasn’t there when they were talking to us individually; the whole room knew that our elephant was one big enough to point itself out. Not a single person asked me if it was weird that you also showed up, because they already knew it was. I guess you can sense when there is unfinished business between two people, even if you barely know who they are.

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