breakup

More Than Words

His hands were the first thing I noticed about him.

He was sketching, brushing feather-light pencil lines effortlessly across the page. One of his hands commandeered the pencil while the other scratched nimbly at the nape of his neck. They were beautiful. Whatever was on the paper in front of him was beautiful, too.

I stood for a while, just observing, until it occurred to me that what I was doing was a little bit creepy. So I edged in front of him, clearing my throat. “Do you mind if I sit down?”

He looked up at me, startled that someone had the audacity to disturb him at work. But his eyes met mine and softened a little around the corners, a wordless gesture that gave me the confidence to slide into the seat across from him. I half expected him to tell me to get lost, that he was concentrating and needed to be alone, but he just went right back to his drawing like I’d never interrupted him at all.

Anna Karenina was calling me; I had almost sixty pages to read before AP Lit. Yet I was going cross-eyed reading about Levin’s domesticity, and my gaze kept shifting unwittingly toward this quiet boy and his expressive hands.

After a few minutes of staring at my book with utter futility, I surrendered to my curiosity. “What are you drawing?” I asked, quietly enough that he could ignore it if he wanted to.

He didn’t, though. He didn’t look up, but he answered me, pausing between strokes and biting his lower lip. “I’m not sure.”

“Well, it’s nice,” I said, letting the conversation fade to silence before speaking up again. “I’m Sophie.”

He cracked a knuckle. “Adam.”

When the bell rang, he finally looked at me. The corners of his mouth twitched into a smile I hadn’t expected as he extended his hand across the table. The heel of it was shiny with graphite, the pads of his fingers dented from holding the pencil, but his grip felt like a promise. “Very nice to meet you, Sophie.”

***

The next time I sat down across from him, I didn’t bother asking for permission. He was eating an apple, tongue darting out every once in a while to catch the juice that threatened to escape from his mouth.

“Hi, Sophie,” he said with a genuine grin.

“Hi,” I replied, blushing when his eyes lingered on mine for a little too long.

We didn’t talk much. He drew, I read – Anna Karenina, Great Expectations, A Clockwork Orange. His drawings were strange and smudged and haphazard, but they were all equally lovely. He made the kind of art you’d put in a museum in hopes that someone would be smart enough to understand it.

I jokingly asked him to draw me one day. He laughed and said he didn’t really know how to do people.

“You never had to do portraits or anything?” I asked, wincing as I recalled my pathetic attempt at a self-portrait back in the fifth grade.

“I didn’t say I’d never done it.” He brushed his forehead absent-mindedly. “I just don’t really know how.”

“What do you mean?”

“People are tricky,” he said. “The thing about people is, you can get them wrong. This,” he gestured toward the paper in front of  him, “nobody is going to tell me this is wrong. With people, it’s different.”

I agreed with him, kind of. The self-portrait I made in fifth grade was definitely wrong. But I didn’t believe someone like him could draw anyone less than perfectly. Maybe he was just seeing them the way nobody else could.

***

“I wish I could draw,” I confessed one day as I watched his hands at work.

He laughed. “You can. Anyone can draw. It’s one of the first things babies learn how to do.”

“Yeah, but I wish I could draw like you. You know…” I trailed off. “Well.”

I was waiting for him to say something encouraging, because he was that kind of person, but instead he reached into his sketchpad and pulled out a folded up, slightly torn square of paper. He hesitated, rubbing it between his fingers for a couple of seconds, before handing it over to me.

He stopped me before I could open it. “No,” he said simply as I tried to unfold a corner. “Not right now.” So I slipped it in my pocket and didn’t say a word.

When the bell rang, he disappeared before I had a chance to say anything else.

***

The next day, I kissed him.

I didn’t plan it; I didn’t even consider it ahead of time, I just sat across from him like I always did and opened The Picture of Dorian Gray. It took me seven agonizing minutes to realize what he was doing.

“Is that…what are you drawing?” I asked incredulously as his pencil strokes became rounded, fluid, detailed.

“I’m trying something new,” he said.

“I can see that.” I rolled my eyes. “I mean, that. That’s a person.”

“Yup,” he replied without taking his eyes off the page.

“I thought you didn’t do people.”

He shrugged. “Figured it was worth another shot.”

The person – the girl – took shape in front of my eyes. Angular chin, slightly downturned mouth. Eyes a little too far apart. Feathery eyelashes and bold eyebrows. A slight dusting of freckles on the tip of her nose.

“Me,” I breathed. “You’re drawing me.”

It was both fascinating and terrifying to watch his capable fingers trace my likeness across a piece of paper. No one would mistake it for a photograph, but he was capturing something that was decidedly me, and I knew I had been right the first time I asked him about drawing people. He saw things the way that nobody else ever could.

When he finished, he held it up for me with a sheepish grin, and I smiled back while something warm and heavy spread through my entire body.

“Did I get it sorta right this time?” he asked, nervously raking a hand through his hair.

“Sorta,” I said breathlessly in the seconds before my mouth was on his.

***

He kissed like he drew: carefully, skillfully, and a little selfishly. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that he loved that way, too.

The first time we said it, we were sitting under the tree I used to climb as a kid. I told him about the time I fell off the fourth branch and broke my arm, and he drew me a little cartoon – a tiny upside-down freckled girl, her mouth curled into a surprised “oh!”, dangling from the fourth branch of a towering tree. I laughed until my stomach hurt and kissed him until my lips tingled, relishing the feeling of his wonderful hands as they roamed across my back and shoulders and face.

“I love you, you know,” I whispered to him when we were catching our breath.

“I love everything about you,” he whispered back, running a finger along my jawbone. We laid there under the tree, our limbs tangled together, until the sunset started to spill across the sky and we remembered the rest of the world.

***

“I never looked at that note you gave me,” I told him one day while he was cooking dinner.

“What note?” he asked, scraping a diced green pepper into the saucepan on the stove.

“That folded up piece of paper. The one you handed me, and acted really cryptic about, and never mentioned again.”

He smiled knowingly. “I wondered why you never said anything about that,” he said before starting to hum his favorite ABBA song.

Neither of us mentioned it again.

***

I found him again at our five-year high school reunion. He was sitting on a barstool, his heel tapping on the leg, sketching on a napkin. He hadn’t changed at all.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” I asked, gesturing toward the seat next to him.

“Sophie,” he said, letting his eyes crinkle a little as he half-smiled. “Hi.”

“Hey,” I said back. The silence enveloped us like a blanket, warm and familiar and comforting. Being around him always felt private, even when there were a million other people in the room.

“You know,” he started after a few minutes, “I didn’t…I just, I mean -“

“I know.” I rubbed my thumb across my bottom lip. “You don’t have to say anything.” To tell the truth, I didn’t really want him to. It was easier this way, without words. Words can never really mean everything they’re supposed to.

“I’m glad you’re still drawing,” I finally said, squeezing his shoulder as I stood up to walk away. “You really are amazing.”

I could have let him talk. There were plenty of stories I could have told him, about the rambunctious high school English classes I was now teaching or the incredible man whose ring I was wearing, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Our relationship wasn’t about words and sentences and conversations. It was about feelings and instincts running wild, smudging the lines in a picture nobody could figure out anyway. We were art, and art was messy, and the artist never got a happy ending.

That night, as I unfolded the fraying piece of paper I kept on the nightstand by my bed, I was glad I hadn’t let him say anything. I ran my fingers over the fading pencil marks, the ones that knew me before I knew him, and I saw all the pieces of him he didn’t want me to see. “Art is the lie,” Picasso once said, “that enables us to realize the truth.”

His drawings had always said more than he ever could.

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NEDAwareness 2014: Breaking Up With ED

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been in a relationship.

(Big apologies to my tenth grade “boyfriend” for this statement. No offense, you’re a great guy, but I don’t think you quite count.)

I can’t pretend I know exactly what it’s like to go through a breakup, although I think the experience is different for everyone. I’ve watched friends go through them. I’ve watched my little brother go through them. I’ve watched overly dramatic television characters go through them. They’re sort of inevitable. Most relationships end. But they don’t all end the same way. Sometimes things deteriorate of their own accord, when two people realize they’re just not as compatible as they thought they were. Sometimes someone falls in love with somebody else. Most of the time someone gets hurt.

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which ends tomorrow, I’m going to share the closest thing I’ve ever had to a breakup. I’m going to talk about ending my relationship with my eating disorder.

My ED (which I not-so-affectionately personify as “Ed”) was manipulative and charming. He wasn’t smart, but he was clever. He made me completely dependent on him and used that mercilessly to prey on every ounce of confidence I had. It was a tumultuous, violent, and abusive relationship, and the worst part was that he wasn’t some separate entity. He was a part of me. Leaving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I loved him, even when he was horrible to me. I loved him when I decided I had to let him go. I still love him. I think I always will.

I think about going back to him sometimes. When my life gets too difficult and I feel like there’s no one else I can rely on, all I want is to lean back and have him catch me. How sick is that? I know that all of his words are empty air and that he lives with the sole purpose of destroying me, but I still feel better when he’s there.

Does that sound familiar? I think it might. It’s a breakup. Not a romantic one, but a breakup all the same. When I’m drunk and sad, I’m in danger of “texting my ex,” except for me, that means giving in and using disordered behaviors. Sometimes all I want to do is call him and I need my friends to come over and talk me out of it. I have a box of stuff that reminds me of him – too-small t-shirts, diet cookbooks, running wristbands – shoved under my bed where I won’t be tempted to look for it. It’s been a year, and I’m still not over him.

More and more, I’m realizing that’s okay. Maybe I’ll never be over it. Or maybe in another year, I’ll laugh at the fact that I just said that. I don’t know. What I do know is that we have every experience for a reason: to learn something. Relationships end, but each one teaches you something about yourself you didn’t know before. Every mistake leads the way to better mistakes, and every bad relationship leads the way to great ones. If anything, you learn not to stand for anything less.

I’m not going back to Ed, because I know I deserve better. But I wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t let him break me. Being knocked down was the only way I figured out how to stand on my own.

Break up with Ed. Get out of there. Love him, miss him, yeah, that’s life. Just don’t go back. Something better waits for you on the other side.

All the Times I’ve Never Been Kissed, Part 1

kiss

I’m fifteen.

I ask you out, because I’ve waited three years for you to do it and you never have. By phone, of course. I make the call from the downstairs bathroom, the only place I’m sure no one will hear me. I’m pretty sure you’ll say yes because we played floor hockey last weekend and I crushed you, and then afterward you got me a piece of cake and smiled that smile that made my insides shiver and told me you liked the way I french-braided my hair.

We go to a school dance together. I wear a beautiful cobalt dress that I bought for $10 and you wear a shirt that’s the wrong color blue. I don’t care, I say, but it makes me sad because we don’t quite fit. When we slow dance, I am painfully aware that I am taller than you. We look over each other’s shoulders. We do not speak. When you drop me off at home you ask if I want to be your girlfriend, and I say yes.

As you leave I wonder why that doesn’t make me happy.

Over Christmas break, you invite me to your house for dinner. I am not expecting very much from a sixteen-year-old boy in terms of culinary skills, but you surprise me by serving me a cheeseburger on a candlelit table right next to your Christmas tree. I think you can tell how impressed I am by the way I keep meeting your eyes over our water glasses. As we are clearing our plates, I reach over and touch your arm and say thank you. We are both startled by the gesture. I hold my breath as I feel our heartbeats swelling in unison, every nerve in my body going up in flames.

Later we watch a movie, your arm draped stiffly over my shoulders. I am uncomfortable but do not move because I am afraid you’ll remember that you’re touching me. I am torn between the buzzing in my skin that means we are close and the stinging in my bladder that means I have to pee. Ultimately I decide to pee.

When I break up with you in the English wing after school, I give you a quick hug to let you know it’s not your fault. As I watch you walk away I realize that’s the closest thing to a kiss I’ve given you in four months.

A Farewell to Boost™

Photo on 1-25-13 at 11.09 AM

My dearest Boost™ Complete Nutritional Drink,

It is with great pleasure that I announce our official break-up.

We’ve traveled a long road together, you and I. Our relationship was complicated, but you were always reliable. Every day between the hours of 10:30 and 11:30 am, I would reach into the refrigerator and grip your chilled, ergonomic bottle in my hand, feeling reassured by your unwavering presence. I would peel the crackly label from your cap, almost always ripping part of your nutrition label (which was okay, because I pretty much had it memorized anyway). I would shake you firmly and unscrew your tight crimson cap, watching as the thin layer of froth bubbled down. I would go through the agonizing process of trying to make one of my many colorful straws rest inside you without it floating to the surface, splashing me with liquid, and plummeting from your stagnant mouth. Each day the process repeated itself with comforting accuracy. We had a rhythm, supported by weeks of experience, and it was beautiful.

But I don’t need you anymore.

Look, it was nice while it lasted. I recognize that, and I’m grateful for everything you’ve been able to do for me. But I think it’s time we both move on.

You see, I’ve grown pretty used to your thick, chocolatey, plastic-ey flavor, and every once in a while I might think back to you fondly. But you carry much more than that when you glide over my tongue. You taste like being sick, like failing; you taste like giving up. You remind me of the bitter disappointment of noncompliance and the frustration of refeeding. You are a punishment. My relationship with you has been nothing but a rebound from the terrible abuse I inflicted upon myself. Sure, that’s not your fault. You simply exist, and what you have come to mean to me is a result of my own experiences, not your purpose. But I know that with you in my life, constantly reminding me of the ways I’ve let myself down, I cannot move forward. So as I rinse the dregs from the inside of your curvy 8 oz. bottle and toss you into the recycle bin for the last time, I feel a sense of beautiful release.

I’m replacing you with a slice of pumpkin bread or a Pop-tart, an apple and peanut butter or a Luna bar. I don’t know what exactly it’s going to be; it will probably be different every day. All I know is that I don’t need you to be there for me anymore. I’ve got relationships in my life far more important than ours, and it’s time I allow them to become healthy and strong. Your chapter in my story has ended and I owe it to myself to start a new one.

Goodbye, Boost™. May our only encounters be glances stolen across the grocery store aisle, until I am old and toothless and need you once again.

Lots of love,

Gwen