(Ed: This is one of those on which I hit "publish" when I meant to hit "draft. It's appropriate, because it's about all of the things I've never seemed to learn by heart. I'll probably never stop doing that accidentally, either.)
You walked up to me at work and said meet me in the back, that it was important, that it meant more than pizza sauce (because you always knew I needed backstory and context, that without it I would not cooperate) that it was going to be okay, don't worry.
I probably scowled and bitched at you for mildly inconveniencing me but it was different from your usual voice and approach so I finished ringing up the pizza and hurried more than I might, usually, at a request from you.
You. You. Complicated, counting on my red pen to fix your essays and your heart because that it what I knew to do, your green and the brown of what you called my "eyes, your eyes" to make me help you feel a little bit better about the expanseless future in the house just up the way.
I sat in the flimsy chair directly in front of you, essentially between your legs. You had made it so there was nowhere else to go. I remember how it felt right now, how it made no sense and how yet everything was clear, my hands in my apron pockets, fiddling with the spare change and pens and broken cigarettes I couldn't smoke in your presence, your teensy, endless legs around me.
You can meet the same person several times over. I know that now. I was learning that then.
You hugged me from behind. You asked me how much I'd made in tips. You told me that I smelled good, like I always did, combining words you'd spoken before in different orders, like a foreign language. You asked me what night I had free, in spite of the codependent calendar of our group of friends that we both knew by heart.
I barked out days although I knew it was a bad idea. Where would we go when we went all of the same places all the time? And why? I could only ascertain that you wanted to kill me, I guess, send me headlong into the Dumpster in my brain's back parking lot. So we dove straight from clocking in on the same night to incredibly awkward in the back room, to the table at the place where you'd told me through a bottle that you loved me best (I don't know why. That couldn't possibly be true.)
This after years of trading just the kind of love you find in beers out of bags and lyrics on paper, and the deepest of whatevers at whatever bar. But maybe that was what we knew? Maybe you saw a sign. Maybe you freaked. Maybe we were so far past the line of true love at that point that the machinations didn't work anymore.
(I will always allow myself to think the last thing was true, loss of everything else aside. It had been years. It was not just my weight that changed, and so changed everything. I was all of a sudden someone you could picture naked. I had wanted to expect more of you.)
You didn't take all of the best of me. You were just first.
And anyway, it never happened.
You can put Bringing On the Heartbreak on your stereo and fix your eyes just so, shaking your head because you did end up to be a gypsy of a sort and sometimes you think the pretty isn't such a lie, no matter what the years have indicated. You can shimmy up the skirt that finally fits and scrunchy up the hair that has always (let's be honest) been an asset. You can buy your own beer, get your own ticket scanned and ask Joe silently to fix whatever this bastard did that he did, and he will do it. He is an obedient ghost in the record machine.
He is paid a lot of money to do this for you. It doesn't really matter that he doesn't really mean it in the way that it applies, because he wouldn't know your face in a crowd of thousands. But he'll do it anyway, every time you press play, and if he helps you in the process, so much the better. You will mean it in that moment, and pretend that he does, too.
You will also remember it always, like it or not, and most helpfully, now, what it didn't mean is less important, even if it's never been this clear.