I like pictures that make me feel blank. Nothing. Absolutely empty.
It can still be a beautiful picture. Colors. Perspective. Content. It could be the perfect artsy textbook photograph. But I like it when I feel nothing.
When you look at old family photos or pictures from your childhood, you can’t stop the feelings and memories from arising. Your 10th birthday party. Christmas of ’04. Your younger brother chugging your moms wine while she’s not looking at Thanksgiving, which you have made a tradition. All of those memories feed emotions, and for some reason, for me, nostalgia is the most horrid emotion of all. Probably because I know there is no way to have the past back.
Yet, despite my thinking and feeling, I cannot bring myself to stop looking at your pictures. Every time I look at my phone, start browsing online, trying to carry on with normal life, a photo of you pops up like a reminder I’m alive because there is a kind of strange thing that happens when I see you.
I stop breathing.
I literally and completely catch my breath, and it is only after a few moments of staring pass that I realize I’m going to turn blue in the face, and have to remind myself to let the air back into my lungs.
And that’s when the feelings come rushing through.
Exploding through my veins, I can feel every single emotion I once had invading my blood cells and filling my body from the inside out. My heart speeds up. My breathing slows down. My face is blank as I replay every memory we had on the movie screen that is the inside of my eyelids. It started freshman year of college when I got assigned my elective class. The rest of my classes were all girls, being an interior design major, so walking into this class in my pajamas and with a box of pizza for dinner (as it was a 5pm class) I wasn’t expecting anything less than a class of all girls.
I was wrong.
Just behind and to the right of the only other seat available in class…was you. Blonde hair, blue eyed, trouble making you. Slouched over in your desk half asleep like you were just beginning to feel that hangover. This all sounds ridiculous…but I walked in, sat down, and realized I was blue in the face. I sucked in air so fast and loud the people around me turned to look, and I’m sure it sounded like I had just had a contest on how long I could hold my breath. You were a mere arm’s length away.
One day I received an email from College Hall offering me a job; to photocopy my elective notes and place them in a folder in the library where a student from my class with ADD/ADHD would pick them up. I gladly accepted the job and met with my supervisor to fill out paperwork. After signing all the forms, she showed me the name of the student I’d be taking notes for, in case they needed extra help. My eyes scanned the paper and halted to a stop about midway through. I stared for a moment and realized I wasn’t breathing. As if my life couldn’t get more outrageous…the student was you.
The semester flew by. I took notes, photocopied them, and dropped them off each week. You never said a word to me. I’d come to class, sit down in the seat one row up and to the left of you, listen to you crack jokes and talk about your mischievous Jersey past. You were like flames in a fireplace after a winter day outdoors; everything about you seemed perfect and warm, but I knew what would happen if I got too close. I guess I just didn’t realize how badly the burn would hurt. And how long it would take to heal. And how the scar never fully goes away.
I don’t remember what prompted you to text me, but finally after the first semester had ended, the elective was over, and the new year began, you contacted me. We got to talking and you invited me over. If I had held my breath for any longer, I’m sure I would have lost consciousness.
I think when you are infatuated with someone your nerves take full control of your body. That’s why you tremble. That’s why you lose your breath. That’s why you can’t think, speak, or function like a human being when they’re around. I think it’s rather weird, actually, because it goes directly against the idea of survival – if we liked someone and wanted them to like us, wouldn’t our bodies function better than ever? You’d think that was the case. But anyway, my nerves were out of control. Thank God you had a bottle of Jack waiting when I got there. We took a few shots. And then a few more. And then I woke up with the sun in my eyes and a sick feeling in my stomach. Thinking it was all a dream, I rolled over to try and sleep it off.
But I was with you. And you were right there. And I couldn’t get sleep because I couldn’t breathe because I had just spent the night with you and I could barely remember it. So natural instincts…fight or flight? I flighted myself straight out of there as quickly as my body would allow me to.
Second semester continued this routine. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in your room. Wake up just in time for dinner. Shower. Relax. Repeat. Monday through Wednesday I was left to my own devices. Mostly sitting around, holding my breath for the weekend.
The nights are still fuzzy on the edges, but I still remember the important parts; the way you felt against my skin. I remember the smell of your breath, the way you pressed up against me like I’d never have to leave that spot. I remember how the words rolled off of your lips, “What a smoke show,” as my heart almost melted out of my chest. I’d always wanted a guy to call me beautiful, but for some reason this superficial compliment sounded like magic coming from you. I will never, ever forget this blurred string of moments. Even if it kills me to remember, I cannot let myself forget.
As our fire turned from orange to red, I waited for the burn of the blue. It was inevitable, as every fire burns blue…the hottest part of the flames. The closest part to the beginning…and the end.
I said goodbye to you and my freshman year of college on that rainy day in may. I thought it was the last time I’d see you. You were going off to military camp to become my Prince Charming. Really you were going to become a Marine, but I like to remember things this way. I was staying here in this shithole to try and carry on normal life. The middle of the summer rolled around and out of drunken habit, I texted you. Knowing I would probably never see you again, I confessed my feelings like sloppy 4am poetry. The response I got was less than ideal, but nothing more than what I expected. You liked me and all, but you still loved your ex. It was fun and all, but it wasn’t serious. You were flattered I felt that way, but it wasn’t the same. That was the burn of the blue. But little did I know, it was only the start.
Somehow I convinced myself the worst was over and to move on. It wasn’t easy. Maybe I hadn’t moved on, maybe I was just doing a really good job at ignoring it. But not even two weeks later I look down to see your name on my phone. You were coming back to school and we had one more semester to continue what we had. Blessing in disguise? My life isn’t that good.
The school year started. We continued our routine. I didn’t get too attached because I knew you’d be leaving for real this December. You didn’t get too attached because you never do. And I wasn’t the right girl.
Your last night on campus you asked me to stay with you. I reminded myself of my heart and the burn and I hesitantly stopped by after work. You were hungry and I ordered food for us. Anything you wanted, I said to you. I guess I didn’t know how literally you took that.
I went downstairs, paid the delivery guy, and came back to your room. We ate. We drank. We carried on. I, of course, could not catch my breath. I was doing everything I could to hold my heart together. I woke up early that morning and collected my things. You kissed me goodbye and said, “I’ll see ya around, babe,” with a quick smile and the most sincere eyes I have ever seen. We left on a good note. I thought I’d be okay.
I got back to my room and solemnly emptied my bag to put away my things. Something was missing. I turned the bag upside down and shook it. Nothing. I unzipped every zipper and turned out every pocket. Gone. I frantically searched my room, my clothes, everything. Nowhere to be found. I called you, texted you, Facebook messaged you. I thought you just weren’t answering because you were asleep. Wrong, again.
I hauled ass to Campus Safety. It was the only thing I knew to do. I was so torn. So embarrassed. But this was fucked.
By the time they got to your room you were gone. You had taken the car across campus to your brother’s room, where you knew they couldn’t search. It was five days before Christmas and I could no longer afford to buy my family presents. $800. Gone in the blink of an eye. Never an answer. Never an explanation. Never an apology. Drug addiction or not, you took two weeks worth of pay from me and I never heard from you again. And I couldn’t prove a thing. Good thing I’d never have to see you either, right?
Like I said, the burn from the blue of the fire is always the hottest. Always the worst. And after one full semester of beating myself up for loving you and hating you, you’re back this year. Not a word. Not an explanation. Nothing.
Funny thing is, I still catch my breath each time you pass me.