“Can we talk?” Sarah’s text turned Mark’s stomach inside out. It has been at least a year, and it seemed to him that he had just gotten over her. He sat down on the bench, outside the campus library. A few moments, and his mind was overwhelmed. The wind picked up, and several leaves blew off the tree he was sitting under, but he didn’t notice.
The levy in his mind broke, and that night, the last night he saw her, flooded his memory. It started with his best friend Frank, and a difficult conversation that no best friend wants to have. Frank broke the news: Sarah had slept with her ex.
There, at times, is an irony to relationships. Mark felt as if he was drowning, in fact something in him died that day. Yet Sarah didn’t want Mark to leave; she never wanted to hurt him. It was as if, her ex lured her out to sea with the sweetest song only to let her drown. Mark did not know that she hated herself. It was a mistake, but in her eyes, she was the mistake. After the break up, she spent nearly a year concealing the cuts underneath her shirt sleeves.
Still looking at his phone; he tried to make sense of this intrusion. Now what? What could he do? If he texts her back, then would he fall again for her Siren song? He should tell her to leave him alone. She has done enough damage. With each passing second, he grows more resolute. He is not going to let her in. He will cut this off right now, and he types, “I don’t want to talk,” and he hit send. It was done.
It was thirty seconds, maybe a minute at the most, and his phone buzzed: “Please, I’m so sorry.” He was irate; he started muttering, “If she wants to talk, okay, I have a few things to say to that bitch!” He could hardly control himself. It was no ordinary rage. It was the rage of emptiness, the rage of betrayal, and the rage of fierce loneliness, that to a half closed eye, could be mistaken for something entirely else. He could hardly slow his fingers down slow enough to type: “fine go ahed talk! better yet how bout u go ahead and fuck urself.”
She didn’t reply.
It was four days, before he realized. Four days of sickness. Was it an ulcer? He didn’t eat. His stomach did feel better when he drank milk. His best friend dealt with the brunt of his frustration on the first night, and they both agreed, that he will absolutely not talk to her. He threw up twice. It had been a year since the breakup, why is he sick?
He had been hurt before, so what was so different? It was a new kind of hate. However, he is not a contemplative, and certainly not a philosopher; he is just a college freshman. It question was more like an intuitive whisper, as distracting as a repetitive drip-drop in the basement of his mind. A whisper, this week especially, he was content to ignore. Between classes, he filled his head with screaming rock music, and kept his I-pod head phones in with the intent of ignoring the world.
It was Thursday night, Mark went to bed early. His roommate would be studying at the library to roughly 1 am. His roommate left his computer on, and the screen saver was just enough to keep him up. He, half curled on his side, faced the wall next to his bed. With the covers half over his face, he embraced the quiet in his room. He knew pain almost unreal. He actually missed her.
Friday was a blur of classes, projects, and even eating more than a few bites. In fact, it was right after dinner. Alone in his dorm room, in a moment of weakness, because he wanted to be weak; he sent her a text. They would meet at the park in an hour.
When he got into his car, he cut down with the thought: “you are falling for this again?!” He pushed it aside by giving him the excuse that he was going just to talk. He slowly turned the music up. With each red light and with each turn, the tension grew. He thought of what it would have been like; when her bastard of an ex pulled Sarah close. He thought of his hands unbuckling her pants, and he remembered why he was so harsh. She gave herself so easily to him, and after he was the one who put the time in. He was the one who listen to her problems. He was the one who bought her flowers and gifts, and he even bought her prom dress, because her parents couldn’t afford it. After all of that, she cheated. He needs to be mean, he reasoned, because it is good boundaries. She is just going to hurt him again. She is a cancer, and he knows he needs to cut her out of his life. She is a flashing lure, which this fish will swim by. She is song on the crescent wave, which this sailor will ignore. It has come down to this; she is a grave, and today, he will leave a flower and walk away.
He hurried to the spot, and he was there alone. The sunlight was fading, and its tangential touch covers the grass with gold, yet this is the spot where he will say good bye. The quiet wind carried a flame red leaf and softly laid it before his feet. This is what made him look up. This is what made him look skyward to see the mural of dying leaves burning bright and letting go! When he looked down, she was there.
Her eyes were soft. She looked wore out, and ready to hear the worst, ready to feel his hate. She didn’t say anything, because in this quiet, all excuses and apologies fail. In her silence, she gave her heart to him, because she wanted him to crush it. Anything to make up for what she had done. In this quiet, Mark saw her, for who she really was. A passivity in her downward glance that signified change; Sarah was different. This time, in the fading evening half-light, they both knew that the other had held on. He felt why his hate was different, because in that moment, he cared.
She was statue still, with the grace of a ruined angel. He moved to her, and brought her head to his chest and his arms pulled her in. His hand, for the first time in over a year, felt her hair. Her hand clenched the back of his shirt, like she never would let go. And, the silence was broken with healing, when they realized that their hate was love, and together, they wept.