I want to be soft, malleable. I want to change for the better.
In the summertime, she used to pick me up in her car. She talked about the Beatles like they were her father, and drank cheap coffee. She always made time for me no matter the position of the sun, and it was during these humid hours when we chased the burning horizon that I realized she was infecting me —
That she was inside of me.
At night, I’d lay awake in bed, my sheets damp and my mind restless. The thought of her clung to the interior of my skull like wet clothes to skin — suffocatingly opaque. I wanted to know what she was doing. I wanted to know where she’d been. In my absence, did she still chase the burning horizon, or did she drive somewhere else? What did it mean for her to be alone?
Was it the same as what it meant for me?
Toward the end of summer, she’d told me she was moving away for college. We’d taken a liking to calling each other shortened versions of our names, and I never told her, but I’d write them down in my journal at home — not with any predetermined disposition, but just to see them together … see the letters side by side, like tiny mirrors of ourselves.
Putting them down on paper gave me a false sense of control and security — that if, and when, she was to leave me, I’d be able to physically turn back time to the days when we were together.
When she did eventually move, I doubted the permanence of the situation. Hugging her felt normal. Kissing her cheek, hands, and neck felt routine. Even as she settled into her car, I never once thought that anything would be different. I imagined I’d go to sleep that night and wake up to her parked outside of my apartment with a cheap coffee in her hand.
But that never happened.
And as the days stretched into weeks like overgrown ivy gnawing into ancient stone, she began to speak to me less. My phone rarely rang, and my eyes barely closed.
At night, I’d find myself staring at previous pages of my journal as if it were some portal that would bring her back to me. When I mentioned her distance to my friends they offered me no comfort, and instead, reminded me of all the other times I’d mistaken friendship with a girl as a summer fling.
“But we kissed,” I said.
“Girls kiss girls all the time.” One of them returned.
Their words became a pendulum inside my head. In the absence of the sun, I’d lay on my back, still sweating from the heat, and say them aloud to myself.
“Girls kiss girls all the time. Girls kiss girls all the time. Girls kiss girls all the time.”
Back and forth, my neck would sway on the cushion of my pillow. Desperately, I’d wonder how true those words were and why, although I felt them to be a lie, I still believed them more than the thoughts inside my head. Then I thought about my childhood, reading magazines, and taking online tests until my eyes bled tears. For a brief instance, I wondered if something was inherently wrong with me — if all the hatred that boiled in strangers’ chests toward my feelings was substantial in some way.
I hit my mattress. I hit it again and again, cursing the fraction of time where I let myself believe I was broken. But then, I thought of her.
I saw the light pouring onto her face from the window beside her as she drove, beautifully broken — unbodied rays of the sun speckled across her tanned skin as if she were a blank canvas. I remembered wanting to tell her how she made me feel then. I remembered feeling like I was the light on her skin, that I was composed of fragments and her existence was the glue that brought those fragments together.
She’d once told me that viewing myself this way was dangerous, that if I viewed myself as incomplete, then incomplete I’d stay. She often spoke this way, like she was from the future, and I was a stagnant point for her to find her rest. She helped me realize all of the things about myself that hadn’t changed since birth — that I felt comfortable in my own discomfort, and pursued people I knew weren’t likely to stay.
I didn’t mind it when she said these things. At least, not when we were together. Her words landed more softly whenever I was able to see her face.
But now that I couldn’t, I lay in my bed, my skin damp and my clothes sticking to my body. I stared at the texture of my ceiling. I thought about what my friends had said. I thought about what she had said, about me and my brain — about my search for companionship and how that compared to everything else in my life.
Then, I thought about the horizon. A bright ruby red melted into a tangerine, which then sank into a soft pink. We drove toward it like an answer. We drove toward it as teenagers not yet ready to become adults. How I wished I could’ve understood that then.
I remembered looking over at her. Some song by the Beatles played softly beneath the sound of the tires on the pebble-littered road. And seeing her then, felt like I was looking at myself.
“I want to be soft, malleable.” I said to her, “I want to be able to change for the better.”
I’ve been writing for over 14 years and find myself recollecting certain events more than I find myself creating new ones.