The first thing I want to do is call my sister. But I don’t. I just stare at the picture.
My stomach rises up to my throat, then it drops down to my feet and drags everything else along with it. But I don’t feel like crying. The pain isn’t anything new. I’m just a little bit more aware of it than I had been a few moments before.
Sometimes I think I have days when I don’t think about him.
But I don’t think that’s true.
We were supposed to get married, this little voice in my head whispers. It was supposed to be us.
But it’s not.
Those words reverberate through my mind.
It’s not. It’s not. It’s not.
So, it was her birthday today. They traveled. They drank. They kissed. They took this adorable little picture that all of their friends liked and commented on and sang the praises of young love, happiness, and a new life.
I’ve never met her. I bet she’s bubbly and kind and always smiles, just like in her pictures. I bet me and her would become good friends.
Him? I can’t stand him. We always argue and can’t find a thing in common and never hang out anymore because we’re not really friends because I care way too much about everything in his life, and it’s annoying to both of us, and he doesn’t get it and I get so angry at him because he doesn’t understand.
I take in a deep breath, and I like the picture. I comment some basic little congratulatory phrase that she probably won’t even read.
My insides have settled back into their places. They should. It’s been a couple of years. I’m not going to tell anyone about this. No one knows my secrets but my siblings, but they’re not going to find out about this either.
“Ya know, pain is really good for your writing,” Jay once told me. I can remember his lips smacking from that gum.
“But I don’t even want to like him.” I argued. “I want someone else. Someone better. I can’t even figure out why I would like him.”
“I’m telling you, it’s for your writing. You’d always wanted a good writing career. You know how David only wrote Psalms when he was in trouble? People don’t really write when everything’s good. And even then, it’s not like it’s good.”
I hadn’t known how to explain myself. It wasn’t like that. I thought I always wrote the same. Good days. Bad days. All those little days in between that I can’t even remember. My art wasn’t affected by my emotions because I portrayed the world onto my art. Not myself.
Is that bad?
“I’m not the same as David,” I finally said.
“But it’s the Bible,” he whined. “Go ahead and try to write a poem or something.” Jay grinned at me. I could see the massive wad of gum squashed between his teeth. “I bet it will be your best one. Everyone will love it, and you’ll feel better. Just like David.”
That was the last time I’d talked to my little brother about this. Part of me wanted to think that he’d understand one day, but the other part of me hoped that he never did.
Besides, he’s just a kid.
Macy’s more understanding, her and her stitched up little heart. Social media was probably just a scrapbook of bad memories for her.
We used to listen to each other complain, and then I realized it was complaining. Useless, miserable, futile complaining. It did more harm than good. And it was annoying, like we were trying to comfort each other while also competing for who was most miserable.
I still listen to her, but I resolved that I would never complain to her again. I’d never complain to anyone again. Putting sadness out there only makes it grow.
I was going to keep mine inside, to swallow it and make it disappear.
But, it’s been years.
I know about how he used to like me. I know about how he tried to pressure me into confessing it because he was too scared to say anything first. I know about how he used to talk about me, how he always set girls up with the people that I might have dated so I’d never end up with them, how he tried to try to date other people to get over me because he was convinced he wasn’t good enough. His friends told me, and I had laughed and pretended not to believe them, even as they pushed me to talk to him.
I wanted him to say something first, to like me so much that he had to confront me, maybe not even say anything but just kiss me. I wanted him to fight for me. I wanted a reason to like him.
I remember his stares.
I always thought we were soulmates, that somehow we would end up together.
I’m looking at other pictures, at other happy couples, at beautiful single people, and I don’t really care. I’ve never really cared about being with anyone but him.
We’ve never even dated. Never even held hands. We’ve never done anything but stare at each other from across the room.
He looked so happy in that picture.
I wonder if he’s really happy, if he really feels the way that he talks, the way that he looks in this picture where he’s staring at her.
Because he still stares at me.
Published in The Iris Review, Spring 2018
Photo: Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn