Cheater’s View

By Christelle Ram

Do you still shiver when New York air touches your spine?

hands reach around your neck?

Do you still dance when you eat noodles and have you given your soul up to that guy up on the east side like you did for me once upon a time?

Sometimes I wonder if you still text my mom, she says you don’t, but I know how close you two became, and I think still to this day you were everything that she wanted for me. I don’t think she’ll forgive me. She still brings up the pie you used to make every Thanksgiving and I’m convinced the cold silences that characterize our phone calls are because she’s mourning the future that I could have had but I really didn’t deserve.

Moms tend to wish us the best, but in typical fashion, I fucked it up. It’s not something that I’m proud, of course, but it’s something I’ve come to terms with.

I’ve probably slept with every decent looking thing this side of the Hudson, but I can’t say anything has compares to you.

I remember how I used to complain those few first few months that we were together. You were always so eager to please. You made me lunch and you made me smile, and I used to hate the way that you stuck around every morning. Your skin was too hot and you somehow managed to stick around way too long. And to this day I still don’t understand. I can’t bring myself to comprehend what you saw within the confines of this soul.

And I’ve had a ball convincing myself that people don’t matter. I’ve had a ball convincing myself that alone is the thing that I desire the most, and you know, most nights I manage to persuade myself just that.

The first couple months after you left, I acted as if you were nothing and that I was missing nothing. You were too skinny and you were too young and you were too mouthy and you liked arguing more than any sensible woman should.

You were everything, I convinced myself in those first couple of months, that I didn’t need.

But it’s been like, what? Three years? Who the fuck am I kidding.

I used to go through our things. I still do, actually. I just figured I should start off talking as if I didn’t miss you because it allows me a bit of dignity. Dignity that I’m losing the more that I write to you. I go through the silk slips you’d leave haphazardly around my place. One or two are still here. You were messy and we got into more fights than I could count over it, but you didn’t care enough to pick up your shit. You spent so much time in my apartment and all we did was sleep and study and you’d leave on the nights when my arms weren’t the thing that could keep you together but of course you’d leave your goddamn clothes on my floor because it’s you and you never bothered looking back after you decided and that’s a lesson that I have yet to learn to swallow.

And you know what’s worse? I keep those slips and those pictures and those poems and the lingerie I used to tear into threads those nights when it was too cold to leave my apartment and those nights you loved me enough to let me put my hands around. By god I hate you and even more that I can’t erase you from my sheets and my skin and my soul.

It’s ridiculous and it’s stupid but I’ve learned recently that it’s hard to get rid of everything that you’ve touched.

I’ve tried, believe me, to erase every mark you may have ever left on me. The scratches on my back don’t remain, but those words you said when you left are still seared into the bits of me that I can’t scrub off.

“I’ll never really be your only girl,” you said with your teary eyes. And I know you hated crying because you’d fight it until your heart had no choice but to spill over in your eyes but you cried anyway— the way I knew you were really hurting. And I knew because your mouth got small and your eyes got big and tears would only run from your left eye until your blatant disregard for involuntary reaction was overpowered and it spread as if it was contagious to your other eye and your cheeks would become wet trails and your voice would catch in your throat and you’d pause, only for a second, waiting to see if I could say something or grab you back and I know you expected me to say, “But it’s only you,”  but I didn’t and I never would because it’s not in my nature. To be honest, it was never only you and though I promised at some point it would be, I never bothered to stop seeing that white girl from the corner of Fifth and Park.  And more so, it would never truly be me if I begged, so I watched you leave. It was early spring and I saw the brown of your hair swirl behind you as you ran down that flight of stairs and I didn’t care because I could still taste your lips and I could still remember your touch and I knew you’d come back because you put up with me, every bit of me, and I thought you’d always keep me somewhere near.

I lit my cigarette and I closed the door and you left and I was so happy. I even invited that girl to warm the side of the bed that was yours for the past three years. I called up that girl I told you was just a friend not even five minutes after you left and I didn’t think you and your soul would stick around… lingering like the smell of smoke you hated the taste of.

Suddenly it was summer and I kept with that thing from the west side and she may have been boring but she didn’t leave her toothbrush at my place; when she was gone she was gone, and I wish the same could be said for you. And I didn’t realize it but I used to turn my head, those first months, as it hit the pillow, first left then right, and I’d touch my chest, the part your head would curl under when you slept and I’d remember your heat and your breath and the curve of your chest and then sleep was gone. I used to blame you for my dark eyes without you knowing, did you know?

It’s been three years and I figure it’s an appropriate time to at least pretend I can converse with you. We were together for three years, going on four, and it was actually the first time we were going to have Thanksgiving at your parent’s house and I was going to try all the foods you used to make fun of me for being unable to eat.

“It’s just food,” you’d giggle to yourself as my face grew bright red and my eyes would water. I grumbled and complained at the spices that you kept in my apartment “This isn’t Liberty Ave, baby,” I’d mumble beneath my breath but you’d keep your shit in my pantry and you’d twirl around and kiss me when I complained until I got quiet.

You knew how to make me silent. That’s something I remember. You knew how to quell the demons in my head, and the mumbles in my mind.

I miss you, is what I’m trying to say, but I’m getting better at handling it.

I’m doing well, though. Don’t get me wrong. I’m successful and I’m working and I’m writing the book I always told you I was never going to get to. But I did and I know if you were here you’d tell me to use more semi-colons and synesthesia, but you’re not here so my writing is as raw and as real and as unpoetic as I pride myself in being. I got the job I always said I wasn’t going to and it wasn’t because of anyone or anything but me.

You always told me something like that was going to happen, but you were also foolish and young and blindly optimistic so it was increasingly hard to take you seriously.

But maybe the shit you spewed just to comfort me wasn’t all nonsensical.

You were right, apparently— I’m brilliant and I’m going places, you know. I want you know. I think you should know.

This letter is never going to end up being sent and I’ll probably burn it, or so I’ll tell myself. But on the off chance that you come back, I’ll be here.