Monday, 21 June 2010

The Way You Look At Girls

Brought to you by jenni_talula and the word 'chair'. For this one I was given special dispensation to write a longer story, which oddly made it more difficult to get started.

The Way You Look At Girls
Her chair is empty. I stare at it every morning, over breakfast. A breakfast that gets increasingly undramatic. I just can’t be bothered with home-made Eggs Benedict, Florentine, Montreal (depending on fridge stocks) when there’s nobody to be impressed and thankful- and she was, every morning, even after 15 years. It was always the most delicious thing, just what she wanted to eat. She loved that I cooked for her, I loved that she loved my food.

I suppose part of me hopes that if I look long and hard enough at where she should be, were she was at this time every day for all that time, she’ll be there again. Or at least, I might be able to imagine she’s there. But she isn’t coming back.

I hadn’t guessed her truth until she told me. We were best friends for a long time. I was so caught up in my own angst I hadn’t noticed she was going through the same thing.One day, she broached the subject. She said she’d noticed the way I look at girls. Told me I looked at them like boys did. Said she knew, because that was how she looked at them, too.

We were two sides of one coin. 17 years old, our bodies and minds raging with love and hormones. All our dreams for the future had each other in them. Most people don’t live those kinds of dreams, the ones about staying with your first love for the rest of your life. But that day, there in my bedroom with the posters of Take That and Boyzone that I had up to keep my parents happy (with the obligatory copies of ‘Oranges are not the only Fruit’, ‘The Well of Loneliness’ and ‘The Rainbow’ hidden under the bed, and pictures of girls taped to the inside of my hope chest), still in our deliberately haphazard school uniforms, we kissed and I felt as if all those dreams were possible. I didn’t have the nerve to tell my parents. It turned out I didn’t need to. When I finally broke down one night over dinner and made my tearful announcement, I expected them to go spare. They just traded looks and Mum told me they’d guessed as much, and asked me if I was seeing anyone. They were delighted when said yes, and told them who.

Mum still tears up whenever she comes round to the house. Dad is all stony silence. None of us knows what to say. They’re not sure whether or not to talk about her, and to be honest, neither am I, so we dance around the subject, awkwardly. There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s so big that it’s hard to move. When they’re not around, it’s still there, and it crushes me. Some mornings I wake up, and realise I never slept, just lay on the sofa in a daze, watching overnight TV. I only notice when the children’s cartoons come on in the morning.

That last morning, she praised the breakfast, but there was almost no tone in her voice. She’d been snapping at me for weeks. I knew something was wrong, sat by her, took her hand, asked her to tell me- insisted, in fact.

She cared about me very much, she said, but… she fell silent, trying to find the words. It was only then I realised I’d be wandering around with the Sword of Damocles above my head, and had been for a long time, if she was finding the words I thought she was.

“You remember when we got together? When I talked to you about the way you look at girls?”

“I remember”

“I’ve been looking at girls that way again, for a while now.”

She told me other things, but thinking about them is like pushing needles under my fingernails. By the time she’d finished talking, I knew I was never going to see her again.I let go of her hand, and the next two days are a blank. I know she packed her bags at some point, packed, in fact, boxes and boxes of things. I know because she took everything of herself with her, leaving a hole just big enough to be filled with the elephant in the room. When I came back to myself, I was lying in the foetal position on the kitchen floor, howling.

Nobody else saw it coming. Or if they did, they don’t dare say anything.

I’ve been given cards for The Samaritans, for psychiatrists, psychologists, gay singles bars, dating websites, and friends of friends who might show me a good time- obviously I’ll be attracted, aren’t people like me attracted to everyone without a Y chromosome?

A couple of friends, friends because of knowing each other for a long time rather than having things in common, have nervously given me leaflets about those centres where they ‘cure’ you. I’m almost tempted. I’m sure no man could hurt me like this.

Everyone’s afraid of what I might do. If I’m honest, I am too. It’s only human to be afraid of the unknown.

Maybe I’ll call one of the numbers. Maybe I’ll even read the leaflets about the ‘cure’.

Maybe I’ll get drunk, and stay drunk. The elephant in the room could be pink.

Maybe I’ll move back in with Mum and Dad, and try not to think about her every time I look at the little single bed in my room. Maybe I’ll still be there in 30 years, caring for them both, lonely and martyred.

Maybe I’ll travel, meet new and exciting people, and never really let any of them get to know me.

Maybe I’ll just wake up, try to remember to breathe, and stare at her chair, every single morning for the rest of my life, hoping that one day, if I wish hard enough, she’ll be there. Or maybe, if I’m really lucky, tomorrow will be the day when I can look at girls again the way I did when I was 17.

© Ellen Couch, 2010

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