Monday night I meet Matthew at Earwax. I haven’t seen him in a week. He was on the east coast visiting my best friend Laura. They met while she was visiting this summer, and long distance love developed.
He’s being silent and moody. Obviously stewing about something.
I try to ask him questions about the trip. “What did you do? Do you miss Laura now? Were you happy to see her?” His responses are brief.
Something is going on.
“Matthew, are you mad at me?”
He scowls at me. “Were you hanging out with Ryan while I was gone?”
Before I can answer, he adds, “And don’t try to lie to me, because I know you did. My friend Colleen saw the two of you walking around on Milwaukee yesterday.”
Oh fuck. “Whoa…listen. Yes, I did hang out with Ryan yesterday…briefly. Our friend Mark was leaving town. But that’s it, I swear. Nothing happened. We’re not getting back together or anything stupid like that.” I don’t add that Ryan called me at work this morning, asking me to come over to his apartment tonight.
He slams his cup coffee down on the table. “What the fuck? Why are you speaking to him?”
I take a deep breath. “Matthew, it would be ridiculous to think that I would never talk to him again. Don’t you think, at the very least, we have to discuss what happened? I mean, of us had a lot of unanswered questions that had to be resolved so we could move on with our lives.”
He won’t even look at me. “You don’t owe him anything.”
“I’m not saying that. But don’t you think I had things to get off my chest, too?”
He lifts his head. “Amanda, he wasn’t there to find you unconscious on your fucking rug. He wasn’t there when you got your stomach pumped or when you were covered with tubes and wires. You mumbled his name over and over. And you weren’t even awake! He doesn’t deserve that kind of love from you. And you know what? The whole thing WAS his fault. I’ve seen him pushing you toward this for months. It’s all fucking games with him.”
I don’t know what to say. I just sit there dumbfounded.
“Don’t give me some ‘we’re trying to be friends’ bullshit, because guess what? He’s not your friend. I am you friend. And Nate and Cheryl. And just about everyone else in this world is more of a friend to you than he will ever be.”
“Matthew, I’m sorry. I really planned on never seeing him again. But it’s a small neighborhood. And you know, I’m glad I talked to him. I NEEDED to talk to him.”
He’s just shaking his head.
“Look, I don’t forgive him. I probably can’t forgive him…ever. But I’m sorry, I just can’t stay away from him. He needs me in his life.”
He stands up. “That’s fucking ridiculous. RIDICULOUS.”
I swear all other conversations have ceased in Earwax, because everyone is watching us.
“Matthew….please sit down, “ I whisper.
“No, I’m leaving. You can decide: it’s either me or Ryan in your life. It seems pretty obvious to me that I am the one who cares about you, but I guess you need to figure that one out on your own. Call me when you’re ready.”
And with that, he walks out the door.
I stare into my coffee, feeling no less than 20 pairs of eyes on me.
Fuck…I’ve known that something changed between Matthew and me when I was in the hospital. All of those days alone together…and he IS the one that saved me. I know this. No one else would have held my hand and read aloud to me from the newspaper and made up silly songs to distract me from the true gravity of the situation. I cannot lie: I love Matthew. But not in a romantic way. And I feel like it’s moving toward that now.
And then there is Ryan. Everything Matthew said is right. He is not a true friend to me.
He’s constantly pointing out my flaws, bathing even the sharpest criticism in an “I’m only saying this because I love you “ light.
He never asks me anything about myself. And I am afraid to tell him anything particularly private, because I know he will use it against me.
I cannot imagine him saving me that night . He certainly wouldn’t have survived an evening in the emergency room, much less the following days in the critical care unit. And I doubt he would have gone back to my apartment to find a bra for me.
But there is something about Ryan, something that draws me to him. It’s like we’re sharing a skin now. When we are apart, half of everything inside me is exposed to the outside world. I try to cover myself with layers of clothes, but I’m still too vulnerable. And the pain of my missing skin–a phantom skin, I guess–is agonizing. I cannot sleep or eat or smile or laugh….at least with any level of truth.
When we are together, I feel stronger. Once again my insides are tightly packed away. The pain is gone and sleep is possible.
Being with him brings me neither great joy nor comfort, but at least my survival is somehow guaranteed. And I’m free from the agony of separation.
I rummage through my bag for quarters. I toss a few dollar bills on the table. And then walk out to the nearest payphone.
“Hey, Ryan…it’s me, Amanda. Um, is it cool if I come over for a while?”
And then I bike over to Humboldt Park. I refuse to think of the consequences of this action. I cannot think about Matthew and his ultimatum. I will not consider the feelings of my other friends. The weight of these thoughts will only reduce my velocity.