My friend is like a hummingbird, flapping her wings eighty times per second. Her voice goes up an octave when she talks about him and her words spill out of her like flower petals on parade.
The symptoms of first love, or lust, or wanting, or whatever it is.
She tugs on my wrist. Jenny, you should meet him, she says.
I don’t want to meet him.
He constantly grooms himself—a perfectly manicured bedhead. He swaggers, a man-boy in too loose jeans. His voice is rough and husky, like a deodorant commercial. His eyes appraise her as she touches his arm.
I know how this ends. It happens the same way every time. The earth hurls itself around the sun. Waves crash headlong into the shore. First love blooms then withers.
Some say the world will end in fire. Some say it will end in ice. Their world will end in words—acid words.
Her, covering herself up to hide their stings. Him, pretending he doesn’t notice. That it’s okay that he speaks to her that way, with his mouth curled up in a half smirk.
Him saying: Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.
Him meaning: You are wrong because you took offense.
I could try to tell her he doesn’t deserve her, in the tactful ways that friends can.
I could ask questions: Do you like being with him? Does he make you happy?
Or I could just tell her the truth, that he’s an arrogant asshole who doesn’t deserve her. That people who puncture your smile don’t deserve to see it. Either way, she won’t listen.
He intoxicates her. Her eyes go liquid when she sees him. He tells her she can’t act. She’s wanted to act since middle school. Ever since she played Rosalind in the seventh-grade production of As You Like It—a young woman in love and running away. He tells her that she enunciates too much, or not enough, or that she’s too loud, or too quiet. Her shoulders slump but she keeps touching his arm.
He’s chipping away at her dream. Dreams are so fragile, existing in the hypothetical, like the after trace of a smell (probably lilac).
I’ve seen this before with my older sister. My friend isn’t the first one to have done this or have it done to her. My sister did it too.
My sister, wrapping herself around her first college boyfriend. Her Facebook is plastered with their pictures. Her arm is looped around his waist. Her eyes shine out of the photo—Portrait of a Sister as a Young Lover. She giggled too loudly whenever he came near.
He cheated. He gave her roses afterward. Like a bunch of dying plants could help. She pricked herself on one of the thorns.
Then she screamed at him until her throat was hoarse. He sent her a breakup text. Coward. I’d paint her as a weeping Madonna. Crying single perfect tears. But no, she didn’t cry like that. She cried messy red wet sobs. Her face scrunched up like a tissue.
I wanted to storm her castle and take her away to binge watch Netflix and eat popcorn. I wanted to rescue her from her Prince Charming. Swing down on a rope and make everything okay again. But she shut the door in my face.
First love dies, like a flower slowly turning to mush in a vase, its petals browning around the edges. Its stems go slimy and its leaves fall off, landing silently in the water. I know how this ends.
My parents were this way too before they divorced. My sister learned it from them. They taught her thorns were normal. They aimed them at each other across the dinner table every night—perfectly targeted.
Did you want to make something?
No, I’m exhausted. If you’re not willing to make something then don’t complain about the way I do it.
Well, honey, I was at work.
Mom was laid off three months ago. She carried everything home in a cardboard box. Dad’s computer malfunctioned, making him late for an important presentation. His boss yelled at him in public. He came home and yelled at Mom. I retreated to my room and put my music on.
The split happened, two houses, two sets of rules, two sets of things to remember not to say: Mom’s new boyfriend drives a Jaguar, Dad doesn’t give me a curfew.
Mom’s boyfriend doesn’t want to commit. No one who drives a Jaguar ever does. There are searching looks: Are you sure you’re okay sweetie? Too old to be called sweetie. Young enough to feel the snakes in my stomach. Insults passing over me in the night. Thorns grazing my ear. Averted eyes.
Dad doesn’t come in the house when he picks me up. He doesn’t come within ten feet of it like the house is infectious and he could get a disease if he gets too close—ex-wife’s disease. This is how it ends.
Why would anyone start this? Is it that they don’t know? Or that they do know and they don’t care? They peel back the layers of their hearts like petals dropping off a flower and for what…the chance to be loved?
Everyone wants the chance to be loved—even me. Everyone wants that flower to put down roots and grow up towards the sun. I’m sure someone has this—a loving partner who remembers to water them and make sure they’re getting enough light. I’ve seen a little bit of this. I’ve seen couples holding hands as they walk down the street. I’ve seen them smiling as they look at each other. They’re like reflections—wavering images of the real thing.
The quicker my friend ends it the better it will be: amputate the infected limb and cauterize the wound. Before it turns septic.
But I don’t tell her that. Instead, I tell her I’m sorry he’s making her wait and that he’ll probably never arrive. I tell her to yell at him and I know she never will. I can’t break up with him for her. I can’t choose my friend’s, or sister’s, or my parent’s boyfriends.
I can’t be the white knight, galloping forward on her steed, sword shining as it slashes the air. My sword has grown rusty and I have no steed. Besides, they don’t want to be saved.
I can only sit on the sidelines, with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, and watch. Hope that whatever damage they do to themselves that someday, (maybe years later) they will be able to pick up the pieces. Pieces like shards of broken plate, to be handled carefully in a napkin and placed in the waste bin, out of sight.
I don’t have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or an anything. I’ve put my flower away, in a greenhouse with lots of water and light, where it can be protected. Where the wind and the frost can’t reach it and it can stretch its roots down into the soft sweet earth.