Breathe, breathe in the air,
Don’t be afraid to care,
Leave, don’t leave me,
Choose your own ground.
Don’t be afraid to care,
Leave, don’t leave me,
Choose your own ground.
“I want to break up.”
If she was a wall of glass, he had just shattered it. It felt as if he had just hit her over the head with a brick. Her mouth went dry, as the tsunami that was about to come took all her water. Her throat seized up into a tiny o, barely enough room for air, surely not enough air to expand the knot that was forming in her stomach.
“But why?” She managed to push the words out through the narrowing tube.
“No reason, just bored. I have to get to class,” he got up and walked away.
She sat in the quad with the empty lunch tables and didn’t even try to walk to biology class. She stared in disbelief at the long flat topped building in front of her and hoped no one was looking as she put her head on the table and felt a wave of grief work its way up through the muscles of her body. It stopped in her throat. She stood up and walked into the building, past the long rows of lockers and in through the open door of the classroom.
She glanced at the teacher as she headed to her seat, and perhaps in that glance the teacher saw everything because he did not admonish her for her tardiness. She put a layer of plastic over her gaze and pretended to pay attention as thoughts of the last three months flooded her mind. She tried to figure out what she did wrong? Why was he bored?
She was 15, when she met him in sex education class. The format of the seating had half the seats on one side of the room for the girls, facing the other half of the seats, where the boys sat. She was seated across the room from him, and she wanted him, bad. There was something about him that was worldly for a 16 year old. He had an air that was way beyond his years, a confidence in his stride. She did everything she could think of short of asking him out, to get him to notice her. Her opportunity finally came with the Christmas season and a little piece of mistletoe.
“I have some mistletoe,” she gave him a flirty smile and her eyes twinkled up at him. She reached the mistletoe over his head and he leaned in to kiss her. They locked lips for what felt like forever.
A couple of weeks later, after an eternity of waiting, he called.
“What’s up?” he said. Her stomach fell through the floor as she heard his voice, and her blood got thick. They spoke for an hour or so, but it was not likely that she did much talking because she had a bad case of tongue paralysis.
“Do you want to go up to the snow?” he asked her out, and the next day he took his mother’s Volvo and grabbed his best friend, and the three of them drove up to the snow. She was glad his friend was there, because the two of them filled the conversation, and she didn’t have to think of things to say, which was good because the tongue paralysis had grown worse.
The next week, she started going home after school with him on the bus. He lived in a condo complex on the other side of town, with a pool and a rag-a-tag gang of friends. Being a natural alpha type, he was the leader of the gang, and they would all congregate by the pool and smoke bad Mexican pot from across the border. Occasionally his mother would let him provide the crew with Strawberry Daiquiris, and they would all get really drunk and stoned and stare off into space while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
One day, they found themselves alone.
“Let’s go up here.” He showed her a ladder in the garage that went up to a loft that had a mattress. It was dark, and there were no windows. She followed him up the ladder and lay with him on the mattress. He began to kiss her, and her body responded in ways she had not known yet. It was as if someone had removed her blood and replaced it with fizzy honey. She throbbed in desire for him. How could she know then that the intensity of that feeling she was having, him rubbing his body against her, her throbbing desire, would never again be as strong with anyone else? Ever?
“I love you,” he sang along to the Wings song as he stared into her eyes and cupped her face with his hands. And then he said it again, “I love you.” She believed him with all of her heart. There was not an ounce of suspicion that he didn’t mean it.
“I love you so much!” Her body answered, as he lay on top of her, kissing her over and over again, as the words ‘Breathe, breathe in the air’ fell over her ears burning a memory into her brain that would last a lifetime.
“Spend the night with me,” he implored. She lied to her mother about where she was going, and she spent the night with him that very Friday.
“This is foreplay,” he said as he took off her clothes and tenderly touched her body, which at that point was more nervous than full of desire. At some point he put on a condom and pushed himself into her. Her eyes widened, she screamed in pain, he got out. “All that desire was for that?” She wondered how the human race could possibly exist if THAT was what sex felt like.
But the next morning, she wanted him again, and they tried again, and this time he stayed. During the next month, they spent every spare minute together, having sex at every possible opportunity.
“Look, they left a joint for you.” He discovered it on the mantle at the house where she was babysitting after the little girl was tucked into bed. They mixed a drink from the liquor cabinet, smoked the joint and had sex on the beanbag chair while the words, ‘Breathe, breathe in the air’ played over the stereo. The parents of the little girl didn’t ask her back after that night.
“Your cousins are asleep, they won’t notice,” he slipped into her while they were camping along the Colorado River one weekend. And that’s where they were when the condom broke.
“My period is late,” she explained one day a couple of weeks later. His eyes widened.
“Be sure to weigh yourself everyday, and not until after you shit,” he advised. Her period started a few days later. The next day, as usual they were hanging out with the gang having lunch in the quad. The bell rang and everyone got up to go to class. She leaned in for a kiss, but instead of kissing her he said,
She was sitting in biology class when her chin started to quiver. She barely made it home before the tsunami, and when she got home, she threw herself on the bed, buried her head into her pillow and started to sob. She sobbed and sobbed for three days. What she didn’t know then was that a part of her died that day he broke up with her; an innocence that would never return.
Her heart ached as she spent the next two years watching him get with anything blond that moved.
30 years later, he sent her a letter and apologized for his lack of regard. “I was a shit back then,” he said, “A walking hard-on.” She reflected back and wondered why she never noticed before the imprint that he had left on her. Had she really been trying to repair the damage by getting with bad boys again and again? She reflected over the men: her domineering ex-husbands, the crazy men that needed fixing, the men with marriage trouble who chose her to ‘dally’. And finally, she wondered if he was a part of the reason she wasn’t really attracted to anyone who could not hold their own ground. After all, she had chosen her own ground, again and again, and could certainly no longer be accused of being boring.
“I’m sorry.” He said again as they chatted on the phone talking over old times. “I’m really sorry for how I treated you, you were a sweet girl and you didn’t deserve it.”
A tear formed in her heart, and it warmed the empty spaces that she had forgotten. The scars that she thought were sealed bled slightly, and though she had forgiven him already, 30 years before, his words kissed the bleeding wounds while he spoke them, and all she could think of was, Breathe…
For Mark...thank you.