We lay still in the king size bed. The lights were out except for a lamp on the dresser three feet away. It could have been a twin size bed with as much space as we were taking up. I lay on my back, my right arm under the pillow beneath my head and my left arm around him.
He was on his side huddled close up next to me. His arm on my chest and his legs wrapping mine. We were both naked and worn out from having sex two minutes ago. I could still feel the sweat from his body pushed up against me. His eyes were closed and I knew he was falling asleep. I just stared at the ceiling waiting for him to roll over to his side of the bed.
“I love you,” I heard him mumble, suddenly. It was the first time he’d ever said it to me.
Without even thinking, I responded. “Oh, God. Don’t tell me that.” I meant it to come out as a joke.
There was only a short pause where I realized I should have kept my mouth shut. I could have just pretended I didn’t hear him. I didn’t have to say anything.
His eyes opened and his brows furrowed. He looked up to me and said, “What?”
“Nothing,” I smiled. “Just drop it there, please.”
“It’s nothing. Just forget it.” I tried to fake a laugh. I knew he could see right through it.
“No,” he continued. “Why don’t you want me to say it?”
I couldn’t think of any answer. I couldn’t think of any way out of this. We had already been ‘together’ for more than a month. It’s not like it wouldn’t have made sense for him to say it.
“I don’t know.”
He just kept looking at me and the words hung there. Neither of us could figure out what to do next.
“Well, I do. Love you, I mean.”
“So what does that mean?”
“What do you mean, ‘What does that mean?’?”
“Well, what does that mean? What’s supposed to happen, now? Is this supposed to change anything?”
“Nothing has to happen now. I just wanted to tell you.”
I rolled out of his arms and got up out of bed. He moved onto his stomach and watched as I walked to the chair across the room. I didn’t sit down. I just stood, staring at it.
“Hey,” he said. “Look at me.”
I didn’t want to, at first. I still didn’t when I turned around to look at him.
He stood up and walked over to me. He grabbed hold of my shoulders and looked directly in my eyes. He was making sure I couldn’t look anywhere else.
“I love you.”
I wasn’t hearing his voice anymore. In my head I remembered everyone else who ever told me that. I heard Jonathan’s voice telling me he loved me. I heard Jared’s voice. I heard Tyler.
“I love you,” he repeated.
“Well, thank you,” is all I could think to say to him.
I had to look away. He grabbed me by the chin and turned me to face him, again.
“I love you,” but it still wasn’t him. It was Robert and it was Cory and it was Joe, now.
“Stop it,” I told him.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
I pulled away from him, again. I walked across the room. I stared at the wall; the floor; the lamp on the dresser. I turned back to him.
“Can’t you say it back?”
And I remembered every time I said it. I remembered saying it to Jonathan. I remembered saying it to Jared, and Tyler. I even remembered saying it to those two girls in high school.
“No,” I said. “I can’t.” I thought about all of the others that I wanted to say it to, but never did.
“So you don’t love me, then?”
I remembered saying it to Robert, even though I didn’t mean it.
“I’m not going to say it!” I wouldn’t be able to bear it if he were to say it once more. I would wonder how many people he’d said it to in the past. I’d wonder if he still spoke to any of them or if the love was fleeting enough for it all to end and he’d never seen any of them, again.
He sat down on the bed. I saw the look on his face and I knew he was hurt. He looked up at me. Then I saw his eyes move down to the scar on my chest and I knew what he was thinking.
I didn’t care. I walked back to the chair and picked up my underwear. I pulled them on quickly without looking at him. I avoided his eyes as I looked around the room for my pants and shirt.
“What are you doing?” he asked me.
“I have to get out of here.”
“Where are you going?”
I found my shirt on my side of the bed. I picked it up and pulled it over my head.
“Can we talk about this?”
“What is there to talk about? I have to get out of here.”
He was starting to cry.
It was such a familiar sound. The crying. I heard it too many times, before. Sometimes I was even the source. I didn’t know how to act then, just as those around me must not have known, either. Just as I didn’t know how to act now.
Any comfort I could give him would be bullshit. Any words I could say wouldn’t mean anything. Or if they did, they wouldn’t mean anything a year or two down the road. His elbows were propped on his knees and his hands were clasped together in the air in front of him. He slouched so that his face was in his arms, and I could see the subtle shake of his crying. I found my pants and shoes. I put them on and walked out the door.
I couldn’t go through all this again.
Oh when I look to the shape of my heart,
It’s separated only by scars
That cut in and cut out
Oh and leave me without
Oh a heart that functions at all.
-Noah and the Whale
Every spark of friendship and love
Will die without a home.