I’m the one who sits four seats down from you in lecture. couldn’t help but notice you today. we met eyes for a second until you broke the contact. maybe come make dinner at my apartment tonight?
I’m one week out. She came this morning and took everything, even the notes. Now I’m scouring the apartment, looking for something that might still smell like her, or have her tiny script on it. Nothing. She took her IKEA hamper, even though I still had clothes in it. I open the fridge, hoping for a half-drunk bottle of water that still had the touch of her lips on it. She took everything she bought, including the Heinz ketchup. She doesn’t even like ketchup. I look under the bed, in the bins on the top shelf of the closet. I find a bit of comfort in the bathroom, the only place in our apartment where she has failed to scrub her existence from tangible memory. There’s an old prescription bottle in the back of the cabinet under the sink; I smooth my thumb over her name on the plastic orange container.
“Okay,” I try speaking out loud for the first time all day. “Let’s do a shower.” I sound stupid. Maybe that’s why she left me. Everything about me is probably why she left me, but I like trying to parse it out myself, figure out the breaking point. It’s easier to think she left me because I always leave clothes on the floor, because my hands are clammy, because I told her that Jake kissed me at the company’s holiday party. She did get mad about Jake, which made me laugh, which made her more mad, which made me nervous. I remember the fight like it was two weeks ago. Because it was two weeks ago.
“You did what?” she asked, green eyes flaring already.
“He kissed me. While we were leaving, he just grabbed me,” I shrugged.
“Lehna, what? Did you kiss back?” She put her fingers on her temples, brow furrowed like she was thinking hard. I don’t think she was, though.
“Greta, I’m gay,” I told her, like she didn’t already know. “Come on. I love you.” I reached out, and she shrank away from me.
“I know. I know you do. It’s hard standing on the pedestal you put me on.” She sighed, and I looked at her expectantly. I knew she loved me, or I thought she did, but she didn’t give me the satisfaction of the words.
“Greta? It’s me and you. There’s no pedestal—” I began, but before I could continue she stood up and stormed out the door. But she came back an hour later with a bag of limes, mint, soda water, and a smile. “Mojito night!” she said. I figured she was over it.
I think she really was over it, though, which just confirms the worst. She didn’t leave because I did something she didn’t like. She left because I am something she didn’t like.
I had so much fun last night, staying up with you just talking until the sun came up. I didn’t go to sleep until three the next day. still thinking about your lips. see you on monday.
Four days out. “Well, honestly, it’s better that she’s gone,” Cara tells me over brunch. I’m eating a hardboiled egg because I don’t deserve better.
“Parts of the apartment still kind of smell like her, if I really stick my nose in them,” I say, not really listening to Cara.
“I don’t know how you stayed with her so long. She was insufferable, Lehna. She was awful. She had a Smiths tattoo on her ribcage, for Christ’s sake!” Cara is right, she did—well, she still does—have a Smiths tattoo. She loved Morrissey.
“I’ve got the 21st century breathing down my neck,” I whisper, remembering how it felt to brush my fingers over the smooth ridges of her ribs, kissing the first letter of every word.
“That’s a fucking stupid quote!” Cara says, pissed on my behalf. “I’m sorry, am I going crazy? How is that a good lyric? It’s not even a good Smiths’ song.” I’m still not listening. “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” is echoing in my head. Cara’s right—it isn’t a good song. I don’t care.
Cara’s poached egg bleeds all over her toast, the charred rye absorbing the yellow like a sponge. I wonder if the yolk could ever be taken out of the toast, if the toast could become bread again, if the bread could become yeast and flour and salt and water again.
“I mean, were you guys ever really that happy?” Cara asks. I look up sharply.
“I’d never been happier in my entire life. You don’t get it, you’ve never been in love, not like this. She wasn’t just beautiful, she was enchanting, she was … she was Greta, that’s what she was.” I don’t want to snap at Cara, but her words are fingers in my fresh wound.
“Well, yeah, she was enchanting. That’s the point, Lehna. She, like, beguiled you.” Cara keeps trying. She’s a good friend, the kind you don’t want at a time like this. Good advice is useless when you want to keep doing what’s bad for you.
“I don’t need your grand theories about my relationship, thanks.”
Cara raises her eyebrows but drops the subject. She starts talking about an upcoming writer’s event that she wants me to come to, but her words are drowned out by my same crappy, unending thoughts.
I saw this persimmon tree on my walk home so I picked you a few. I remember you said that persimmons taste like sunshine and honey and I want you to eat them and think about me like I’m sunshine and honey.
On day zero she says, “I just don’t love you, Lehna. I don’t know why I was trying to convince myself that I did. What I’ve figured out, what Sara has helped me figure out, is that I had been searching for someone who had the same baggage as me instead of finding someone to carry it for me.”
She tells me this with an air of finality. Sara is the new girlfriend, though I didn’t even know I was the ex-girlfriend yet. In the back of my mind I register how bad Sara’s advice is, because putting all your shit on someone else isn’t the recipe for a healthy relationship. Sara writes poetry, though, so it makes sense that she’d give shitty advice.
I try to work with this stupid metaphor despite myself. “Gret, just because we have the same baggage”—we don’t, first of all—“doesn’t mean I can’t carry yours for you.” I reach my hand across our little two-person dining table. Her fingernails are painted dark green.
“I should’ve known you’d be difficult about this,” she sighs and looks down. “My horoscope told me to look out for people trying to prevent me from making progress.”
“What did mine say? Not to let go of the ones that I love?”
She gives me a pained look and mutters, “You are so textbook Pisces it’s actually ridiculous sometimes.” I consider asking which fabled astrology guide she’s so keen to fit me in, but it’s not the time or place. And anyway, that would probably seem “textbook Pisces” to her.
“This just seems very sudden to me, Gret,” I start, words balling up in my mouth. “I love you, and I think that you love me. I get that sometimes things are confusing and maybe we forget along the way how we feel, but we’re for each other, we’ve said it time and again and it’s true!” I’m fumbling my words.
She interrupts, “If you noticed anything at all you’d know it’s not sudden, at least not to me. I’m sorry you feel that way. But I can’t hold on for your sake.” My stomach ties itself into eight different sailor’s knots. This is not just another fight.
“It’s like, in ‘Wuthering Heights!’ With Catherine and Heathcliffe, that quote, the … we’re made of the same soul stuff, Greta.” I try so hard not to cry, but it’s pointless. I do, and she’s uncomfortable, but leans forward to gently touch my hand.
“Lehna, that’s a novel. This is life.”
“I will do anything to make you stay. Anything you want. What do you want?”
“I don’t want anything.”
Greta tells me she thinks she has a star inside of her, her energy, her something. Greta tells me that I am killing her star, that I will make her a supernova and eventually a black hole. Greta tells me she is leaving me—it’s final. Her phone starts buzzing on the table. It’s Sara. Sara’s poetry collection was apparently just published by an independent publisher in Chicago. It’s called, “while I was saying it I wished that I weren’t.” That night when I order it online, I laugh because maybe if she wished she hadn’t said it, she shouldn’t have published an entire fucking book of it. I laugh so hard I choke, and keep laughing until I cry.
happiest halloween morning! I’ll be back by six or seven, the show might go late but I’ll try my best to make it. remember to get candy just in case the hansen’s kids knock. they’re so precious I could cry. makes you wonder about someday, doesn’t it?
Day one. Today I won’t change out of my sweatpants or wash my hair, or really do anything. Cara calls to check in and tell me to eat. Greta left last night after we talked. Sara came to pick her up on her motorcycle. I hate Sara because she’s a cooler queer than me. She has tattoos her friends gave her of daggers on her thighs and carnivorous plants on her biceps. She’s tall and thin and model-like in her sexy androgyny. Sara is the kind of edgy but non-threatening queer, the kind magazines feature to seem modern and politically aware. Sara spent a year in Berlin, and she got into Berghain every time without a problem. Somewhere in the back of my mind, or maybe the front of my mind, or really all over my mind, I wonder if Greta loves Sara because of these stupid things she is and I am not. Greta wants the flash and fire of long nights out and cigarettes at 6 a.m., not Joni Mitchell albums and tea. Maybe I have it all wrong, maybe I’m using an old model of Appropriate Gayness. I forgot to update my operating system. I bet Sara has no bed frame, I bet Sara’s mattress just sits on the ground. But I love bed frames, I think as I lie on the bed.
Greta’s things are still here. I pick up her comb and stare at the bright blonde strands dangling from the plastic rectangle. I consider eating one strand. Love makes us do crazy things. I don’t eat a strand, but because Cara told me to eat, I eat 11 applesauce cups and then sit on my bed and listen to Greta’s records. Greta says she listens to vinyl because it makes listening to music more special, more of “an event.” I think it’s kind of stupid, but here I am. Once, I found her the British version of the Beach Boys’ single “God Only Knows,” where it’s the A-side and not the B-side. She says that was the best thing I ever did for her. The best thing Greta did for me is love me. I think. If she did.
I don’t know when she’s coming back. She ended our conversation last night with, “I’ll come back soon. To get my things,” which was promising in a doomed kind of way. I couldn’t wait to see her again, to try and convince her to stay.
I suddenly realize she could come at any moment, and I am already playing the part of the deserted girlfriend, desolate and greasy and clutching the remaining traces of her, so I throw myself into the shower. My stomach is bloated from all the applesauce, and my eyes are still puffy from crying, lying under the striped cotton sheets, alone for the first time in two years.
Greta’s shampoo smells like coconut. She said she needed special shampoo for curl definition, so I bought it for her. I squeeze the pearlescent, viscous liquid into my hand and slather it into my hair even though she hates when I use it. The smell is familiar. Suds well up between my fingers, and I scratch my head over and over again until I feel something like clean. I see my body, alone, reflected on the glass of the shower door. I remember the showers we would take together when we first moved into the apartment, hot water glistening on her skin and kissing her collarbone and the soft underneath of her arm down to her fingertips. We would get out of the shower and, shivering, dripping—wrap towels around one another and sit next to the window and decide what we would plant in the garden we did not have.
In the mornings, when I left before her, she would stretch her arms out to me and arch her back and half-whisper-half-whine, “Don’t leave, stay here and kiss me,” and I’d think in my head about how I didn’t have to stay because there she’d be when I got home. And then there she’d be, when I got home, belly up underneath the dining room table trying to fix its loose leg.
I get out of the shower and crouch on the bathmat with my towel wrapped around me like a cape. I find that 2 p.m. is quite possibly the loneliest hour of the day.
please try to understand where I’m coming from. I know words can hurt and I’m trying my best to say how I feel. remember that honesty is important and I wouldn’t say these things if I didn’t care for you. I want to be the person you see in me, for both of our sakes.
Greta knew definitively that she was gay after her third boyfriend told her, “Greta, maybe you’re gay,” as a joke after he watched her kiss their mutual friend at a high school party on a dare. It had started with that special teenage boy breed of lechery, boys intrigued by women together after their first forays into the lesbian section of Pornhub. Greta, ever impressionable but also host to a voracious curiosity, caved into the boys’ dares and tentatively kissed Ella, a volleyball player four inches taller with a body that Greta had always been drawn to. She’d always figured it was just envy, but when Ella tucked a long black piece of hair behind her ear before they kissed, Greta realized envy was not the word for it.
Fifteen-year-old Greta, three beers in and still reeling from the rightness of the kiss, broke up with her boyfriend later that night. He did not connect the dots. Afterwards, she snuck back into her house, quietly tiptoed past her parents’ bedroom door, and laid down in her clothes. She couldn’t sleep for hours.
I know I’ll only have been gone a few hours by the time you read this, but I miss you so much already that my ventricles may burst open in want for you. three days without you is three days too long, can’t wait to be back in your arms. my mom called this morning to ask one more time if you please could make it. I’m asking the same in my head but I understand, love.
Three weeks out, and I am very drunk. I know this for two reasons. First, because Cara saw me stumble on my way to the dance floor and told me, “Lehna, you’re very drunk,” and also because I’ve had five drinks in the past hour and a half. It’s Friday night which means “Girls’ night,” which means Cara and the others drag me to a bar so we can all pretend I’ve been functioning for the past two weeks since Greta packed up and left.
Cara is worried about me. She’s trying to meet my eye across the table, and when she finally does I try on a winsome smile but it feels more like a Novacaine grimace. I consider telling her I’m fine, but this would only solidify the fact that nobody thinks I am fine. Which makes sense, because I’m not. But still. I get up to go to the bathroom, plagued by nausea and a general feeling of regret.
I remember getting drunk with Greta in our last few months at school, when we were first dating and telling each other we were in love. She was always much better at it than I was, downing drinks like they were Diet Cokes (a thing Greta would never, ever put in her body). She’d spike her health food smoothies with gin when we went out. She’d wear expensive diamond jewelry with sweatpants.
I loved all of these little things she did, so silly, so entirely her. Now, in the bathroom of the bar, staring at my reflection in the dirty mirror, they begin to feel very stupid. This feels like progress to me, and I promptly vomit in the sink.
I’m sorry about last night, I shouldn’t have lashed out. I know you were only trying to help. it’s just that sometimes your love feels like it’s beyond me. we’re both only human. i’ll be home early tonight and we can talk about it more.
It’s been a month. One month. Cara tells me, “Don’t look to your right.” I look to my right, at the woman putting dried fruits in her grocery cart. It’s Sara.
“What?” I try to play innocent, like I don’t know who she is. As if I hadn’t bought her book and read every poem and tried to work out which ones were about Greta and when they were written and how long were they together before Greta decided to clue me in. There was one poem that particularly irked me because I think it was about me. And it was bad, which is frustrating because if I’m going to be written about I would like it to be done well. The entire collection was sort of awful, though. Most of the pages were more blank space than words. The longest poem must have been 75 words. I think most of them are about Greta, even the ones about waterfalls or the ones about Sara’s mother or about being gay. The one about me was short and cloying and pitying.
do you notice
her halting touch
is your intimacy still intimate?
you must see her lips,
smell me on her,
but you still refuse to
what you will not admit is there.
I have no idea how Sara got published. There’s a poem in the book that is literally just the word “poem” over and over again in the shape of an infinity sign. The poem that is ostensibly about me is accompanied by a rudimentary drawing of a sink with the faucet on, which probably means something to Sara but means absolutely nothing to me, because I didn’t minor in poetry at Reed College.
I watch Sara pull down the lever on the machine that grinds nuts into butter right in front of you. Almond butter. Greta loves almond butter on whole grain toast with honey drizzled on top. Sara has it all in her cart. Cara and I get flats of blueberries and enormous mangoes, and I pretend that I am unfazed as we go through self-checkout. At home I eat the mango and suck on the flat pit and contemplate burning Sara’s poetry book in the fireplace.
there’s something up with the kitchen sink, I couldn’t figure it out on my own so I called the landlord to call whoever, and someone needs to be here between five and seven but I really really can’t so could you do it please?
It’s been three months since, and Cara has just set me up on a date. I told her several times that I would be unpleasant but she insisted that three months of moping was too long, so I’m sitting across from this girl, Noor, in this awful coffee shop where you sit on sacks of beans instead of chairs. I drink tea. She’s really beautiful, but I’m distracted. I’m thinking of what Greta would think of this place, if she’s been here before, what she would have ordered. Almond milk latte with extra foam. The thought comes before I know it. Noor ordered a latte, too. I try to remember if she asked for regular milk or another kind. I wonder if she drinks a lot of coffee or if this is just a convenient date location. I wonder if she likes cloudy weather, or if she wears a lot of dresses like the one she’s wearing now. Does she listen to The Smiths? Maybe she writes poetry, or drives a motorcycle. Does she have a bed frame?
“I don’t know, I just think that persimmons are an entirely underrated fruit! The kind of tall round ones are mediocre, yeah, but the little flat donut ones? Amazing!” I look up. Noor and I are talking about fruit, for some reason. I remember letting the persimmons Greta picked go rotten in the fruit bowl.
“Yeah,” I say, but I’m really noticing how she has strangely beautiful knees.
“They taste kind of like sunshine.”
“I was going to say honey,” I say, “but I totally get what you mean.” She twists her hair with her hands and puts it up in a bun on top of her head.
“I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t really like strawberries,” I can’t stop looking at her. I think of dried persimmons and cream cheese and a pair of hands I can’t quite place. She raises her eyebrows in disbelief.
“No way. You’re lying.” I tell her I’m not lying, and she laughs. She’s got a hiccupping sort of laugh, and I think of all of the places that I might hear it in the future. I imagine all of the ways we are going to hurt one another.
when I come home we really need to talk.