I had gathered bits and pieces of the Story of You and X Together. But the first time he spoke to me about you I was waiting for an order of gnocchi, fidgeting with my hair and the hem of my shorts.
X had just poured our wine. I was twisting the stem of my glass, sloshing the eight dollar red back-and-forth. He took a sip and laid his thick, rough fingers on my arm. I smiled.
“Caroline is moving back to Austin next month,” he said, taking in a deep breath. My smile melted and I looked at him, tilting my head to the side with the confused look of a pet trying to understand English. “She is moving in with me. I feel like I should let you know, because we’ve been spending so much time together lately.”
He made a toothless half-smile, his eyes looking moist and forcedly large, like an amateur actor trying hard to convey real human emotion—this is a look that I have memorized by now, two years and two months and some odd days since the night he took me to that cheap Italian restaurant, where I slowly rotated the stem of a wine glass and pushed outgrown bangs behind my ear to keep from running away.
“That sounds awesome for you,” I said, frozen into a disinterested monotone.
The night wore on.
I woke up, watched his neighbor’s big fat cat try to climb the thick low branches of the tree outside his bedroom window. As X lay sleeping, I tiptoed out.
Caroline, I imagined you often over those next few days.
I found you on the Internet, pictures of you. All-American, you looked to me—tan, fit, with such a big smile. I imagined you, with your blonde hair, your recently earned Master’s degree, and your seemingly unwavering commitment to loving X despite the distance of several states and an entire calendar year. I felt small, young, clueless, and cruel when I thought of you.
I would daydream about you looking out at his neighbor’s big fat cat– I imagined you in morning light, smiling your All-American girl smile before turning over to face X, your X.
I imagined him helping you carry your cardboard boxes into his room. I imagined him laying your hanging clothes on his bed—your clothes rubbing against sheets still covered in particles of me—then he’d push his hanging clothes down the rod in his closet, pick your hanging clothes up and, removing the fingers he had once laid on my arm from underneath the wire curves of your hangers that had travelled with you over four state lines, with the click of wire against wood, your clothes would now be hanging in his closet. His house would also be yours and I’d be gone.
And there you two would be, in my mind, embracing in front of a newly gender-mixed closet, my detritus on all of your All-American girl’s clothes.
But– as you and I both know– that is not exactly what happened.
I can admit to you, Caroline, that there were moments when X and I were a couple that I still thought of you. I thought about how you loved him so long, over such a distance, and that you came back to him, only to lose him to me.
Sometimes I felt guilt when thinking of you. And then I’d tell myself: You didn’t even know her, if she was so sweet, so dedicated, smart and fun, then he would have stayed with her. You won him over, because you’re you, Mary. He chose you.
I felt big then. I felt grown, wise, and worthy.
Now, over two years after I first heard your name, I’m sitting here, alone, thinking about you again.
I’ve gone back and back and back to him despite the presence of countless other women—I’m sure we’re all on each other’s clothes, in each other’s lint catchers, our cells all clumped together in a sisterhood in spite of our competitive loving for this man who is always already adding someone else to his collection of women. And this someone else will look out at that same big fat cat; she’ll even eventually hear the name “Caroline” or “Mary,” and she’ll think that she’s winning, that she’s won, that we just weren’t nice enough, clever enough, loving enough, dedicated enough, funny enough, fun enough, woman enough, smart enough– just not enough enough– to keep him.
Caroline, I want to tell you that I am sorry that someone else has felt the pangs of worthlessness and cyclical abandonment that accompany knowing X. But more importantly, I am sorry for ever having felt better than you.
I used to imagine you only in relation to him– like we were moons existing in orbit to his earth. But now I imagine you as a person, maybe even the type of person who would have said something snarky like, “enjoy that (ha!)”, when she heard about me, smiling wide, holding X’s hand and thinking that his wanting me was the beginning of something great.
–Originally written on June 14th 2012