How to Date Her Like a Sunburn
It starts over sushi on our first date.
My hands shake for messy-haired boys with belly laughs and calloused guitar fingers, and you are a straitlaced aspiring masterpiece. I wish you would stitch instructions into your pocket because the way we sit, I don't know how to relate.
"Lot of ice," I giggle. That's so stupid. What a stupid thing to say.
"Uh, yeah." You study me like I'm a ruined experiment. "So... are you ready for the semester?"
"Yeah! Should be a lot more work. I'm weirdly excited."
"But you're a communications major," you say.
I nod. You remembered.
"Communications majors don't have much work. It's not like it's math or science."
That's obnoxious, but maybe it's hard for you to relate too. I don't want to cause trouble so I shrug and ask about you.
You fire off facts about your major and projects and roommates, and I'm the safety vest silenced into absorbing it. I don't know what to add and you don't seem to mind, so I smile to the beat of your bullets.
I guess this is dating, but I feel more like gum spun through the treads of your shoes.
Midnight air crochets October into football fields and ghost breath by your side.
The metal bleachers ice through my jeans; you chat about your weekend plans. I don't know if I'm invited so I count the wisps of clouds pirouetting overhead. One, two, three, four... what're my friends up to?
"So, um... I was wondering..."
Oh, it's for me. "Yeah?"
"I was wondering... we've been hanging out for a few months and... would you be my girlfriend?"
Oh, crap. What? What?
You're cute and smart and text on time and I should shine for you. I don't know why I instead see us as grass stained children whirling down opposite sides of a hill. What expert am I? I'm alone always. I'm picked last always, and I guess it's my chance. You think it's my chance. Maybe that's enough.
"It's not enough," my heart whispers, but that secret stings of wrong. My heart doesn't know what's up.
I say, "yes, of course."
I'm sure we could be great together. Yes, I'm sure this will be great.
Snow powders the March dirt outside my window like an ex clinging to a memory.
We're cozied on the couch, me facing you and you facing the television.
"You can't make money as a writer," you say. "It makes no sense for you to be in college if that's what you want to do. Are you even taking classes for it?"
"I'm getting life experience." I sought a verbal earthquake yet somehow my words escape as a butterfly bite. Such sweet venom in lieu of destruction.
"Life experience." You laugh like it's the first time. I didn't know I'd made a joke. "There are less expensive ways to get life experience, Sarah."
I pick up and flick through Cosmo. Sex tip, sex tip, perfume sample that reeks like bad decisions, sex tip.
You scratch the back of your neck.
"You're wasting like a quarter million dollars to get 'life experience' and be a writer. You need to be more responsible, Sarah. You're going to have so much debt and you won't be able to pay it back until you're like 60. Do you want to be poor? You need a good job. You can do anything with a communications degree. Why don't you pick something else?"
I slam the magazine so I don't smack you and say, "because I want to write."
I'm not the Girl With the Pearl Earring, but my dreams and I are beautiful as is. I don't need repainting.
Neither of us knows how to unwrap the truth: I'm a spring break tattoo and you're a crisp button-down on Sunday. We can't work.
I stay because I don't know how to do the hard things.
After graduation, you drop a suitcase on your new floor 3,000 miles away. "We'll talk every night," we promise.
Everyday I force myself into adventure. I don't care about avoiding the missing; I care about avoiding that hollowness when I tell you I spent the afternoon relaxing. So I stuff my seconds with bike rides and road trips and apple orchards.
I should avoid it by not calling and I should adventure for myself, but you are a late night at the office and I'm a 2am breakfast. I so want to please you.
For months you refuse to pencil me in for a visit and I still refuse to quit.
Maybe you signed your resignation letter the second you boarded the plane and didn't bother to tell me. I don't know if you told yourself, in all fairness.
Once upon a time I thought if I gave you it all, you'd never leave. You call it off over the phone anyway, and I feel nothing and everything at once.
I used to imagine I had magic beside me.
In the aftermath of us I learned that all I had were Christmas lights in April. We were always dusty and broken and in need of trashing. We were alone always, even when together.
You dated me like a slow sunburn. Warm in fleeting moments. Untouchable and blistering before long. I kept waiting for you to transform into a tan, but all we did was burn. A sunburn I thought I needed.
In turn, I dated you like gravity. I recognized that you'd shackle me, yet over and over I expected to soar. I expected rescue when I recognized only ceilings.
I used to think we could have wound the world in flames if we'd only tried harder. That's a lie. Sunburn was our only word.
Yes, we are better lighting it up alone. I hope you are.