He should have stopped calling because I couldn't have called him back. Some part of me wanted him to dump my stupid ass on the curb or wave me off without looking back. Something in me wanted  to hate him for not being a prick. It made me want to hate him because (I knew with this scary certainty) he loved me and I was the one who couldn't change

I know it doesn't make sense but I was certain that it wouldn't work from the start. I was sure he was just playing with me or I was misinterpreting his open friendship, that this was my just my hopes deluding me - teasing me with possibility that would not be. 

We were singing in the car when I realized that I was in love with him. I think I didn't believe I deserved to have it returned.  I felt exposed and weak when the rough of his face met mine or when his hand touched that hollow spot in base of my throat. His open hand was uncertainty and fear and quivering and butterflies and sweetness and warm and warm and... some unknown element when it closed on mine.

Was I somewhere in his head? He always looked directly at me and I knew he saw all the things that I saw in the mirror and hated. He saw the acne scars on my face, my bad haircut, my stupid mouth and my clothes that lacked any appealing style. It was as if didn't see me like I did. It was my bitter salvation, burning under my skin and my heart pounding terror... warm. I was terrified of how intense it was.

His face was like proof of God to me and I was afraid to inhabit any space within that perfection. I saw the looks he got from other guys; I knew what they thought. I thought the same goddamn thing. It scared me that he could unwind me with his smile and I would spiral to the floor at his feet.

I tried to fight with him so I could, for a moment, dislike something about him.

It was so daunting to stand next to him. I orbited his perfection, tried to occupy space with him, I wanted to flutter around him like a moth.  The hardest part of it all was the terrifying knowledge that he wanted me to touch him - he wanted to touch me.

The first time I met him I lost my breath; he took me completely by surprise and I still can't remember a thing that I stammered in that meeting.  He was forward and friendly and attentive. I don't remember giving him my phone number but he called me that afternoon.

"You feel like getting something to eat? I'm buying."

It's funny, most of the time I don't have a problem talking to people on the phone.  I couldn't say anything coherent to him except a lie "I have plans." This was a lie that disintegrated with his persistence.  I finally agreed - enthusiastically reluctant. I didn’t want him to know that I couldn't think or breathe correctly when he was around or how badly I wanted to be there with him. I was dizzy, damn it, breathless and trying to figure out how to separate my brain and desire from my body so I could have a conversation that didn't include so much mute nodding. I realized, when he was around, that I blushed constantly.  Sometimes he would just look thoughtfully at me as if he were trying to figure out something mysterious about me - and I would close.

That first night, when he walked me to the door and I fumbled with the key to my apartment, his fingers touched the back of my arm and I felt this soda pop fizz rising up my spine. I turned and leaned against the door when he pressed his hand against the side of my face and kissed me. I pushed him back and smiled, looked at the throat of his shirt while my face burned. My lips burned.

I told him "I don't do one night stands" and thought Damn... I need to breathe. I wanted to stop the permanent blush on my face. I wanted more of the taste of his mouth.

"I don't either." He moved his hand and pulled me forward by my shirt collar. His hand slid across my skin and it felt good.  Something about the way he touched me, something about his fingers... reminded me of  warm milk and my grandmother's quilts and hot chocolate and cookie dough ice cream and curling up on the couch and silly homemade cards and Pez and sparks on the doorknobs and warm and warm and warm... something about his hands reminded me of home. My god, I needed to be there.

"I have to go inside." I inhaled the way he smelled and forced myself inside. It was so difficult to leave him there.  I wanted the feel of his hands on me and the press of his body against me but I couldn't open myself to him. Guys like him just didn't like me... how could they? I was unremarkable, unchangeable, ugly...

He called me that night as I got ready for bed and we talked until 3 am. He called right when he got home to ask if I had a good time. He wouldn't say goodbye so we just kept talking.  I didn't hang up either - I was interested in anything he had to say.

I kept wondering why he asked me so many questions about my life. Why did he let me talk so much? Why was he happening to meWhy did I want to tell him everything?  I wanted him there to touch but it was easier to speak when he wasn't. Every time I spoke I felt compelled to blurt out what he did to me.  It made me angry and embarrassed that he could play such havoc with my mind.

All night I stared at the muted TV and pretended he was one of the mundane faces I saw on The Learning Channel. He was just a homeowner on Trading Spaces helping Doug take down a ceiling fan; he was just a team member on Junkyard Wars hammering out metal frames to make into something new; he was just some guy on the infomercial hawking Oxyclean. He wasn't this perfect thing. He wasn't this perfect thing looking at me.  He was just a voice that made me feel warm and electric.

I spent two weeks on edge, in fear, each time we got together (practically every night) it was the same. I pushed away and looked at something else to see if it reflected his face.  I tried to recall the feel and the sight of him while he stood right where I could have it - for free- he was right thereWhere was I? Why didn't I just look at him?

He took me to some secluded park in Worthington and I spent the entire drive staring out the window while we talked. I fogged the glass with my breath to mask his reflection and tried to picture his face in my mind. I felt the air around him, hot and heavy beside me, as he drove.

"What's wrong?" He took my hand. I let him but still looked away. His hands were warm and warm... and...

I wouldn't look at him.

Instead, I smiled and stared forward, aching to see him out of the corner of my eye. "Nothing's wrong. I'm just... looking around." I hated lying but it was a compulsive reaction. I had to lie. I couldn't change.

He caressed my hand with his thumb and this made me want to turn and look... not too long! I wouldn't look at him. If I did he would see that I loved him. Did he know? Did he know what he did to me?

So I stared at our hands on the seat bedside me as we drove.

We sat on top of an old picnic table with peeling green paint and he snuggled close to me. Under that pale gray afternoon we watched maple leaves, the color of flames, spiral to the ground around us. I felt his breath on my face as his arm slid across my shoulder and his hand moved up the skin on my neck...  snow cones, popsicles, dilly bars, caramel candy, snicker doodles, oatmeal cookies, cinnamon toast, banana bread and warm and warm and warm home... came up and touched the curl of my ear. He pressed his forehead against the side of my head and touched my neck with his lips. I was goose bumps and pounding heart and soon afterwards I was lips and kissing and tongues and want and want. I was grateful that I could kiss him with my eyes closed. If I opened them then I couldn't have looked away.

This wasn't a melting, it was a shattering, a great wall of ice that collapsed around me and I could feel the emotion welling up stronger in me, filling my eyes with tears. So, I shut them tight so I couldn't see...he might see it there.

We went back to his place and he sat on the couch with his knees across my lap.  We watched Survivor and he sipped orange juice and I ignored the TV. I wanted to touch him so badly that it made my fingertips burn. I was intensely aware of his legs across me - at his bare knees-  and... I couldn't look at his face... I put my hand on his knee, moved it softly and he smiled. I saw his lips move out of the corner of my eye.

This was what I feared - this desire, this feeling, this comfort.  Wasn't this kind of intensity supposed to be fleeting?  Wasn't the voice in my head supposed to be fading?  My heart pounded so hard that I was certain he could feel it on my skin. Why was it pounding?

That was when I knew that it was too late to stop- I fell. I had no right to be in there; I had no right to feel his hands on me, those fingers, that warmth and his skin. I lifted my hands away from his legs and realized I had no place to put them that wasn't on him - and it was perfect. He leaned forward to kiss me.

"I don't know what to do with my hands." I said this into his mouth while kissing him and he showed me where to put them. My eyes were closed. 

He wanted me to look him in the eye but I couldn't - he held my face on either side with his hands, tried to force me.  Then he told me he loved me while I stared at his perfect mouth. The words came out and I answered him with closed eyes and silence while, inside, I screamed with joy, screamed with fear.

Later, as I fled back to my apartment, I could smell him on my clothes and skin and I understood. I knew the feeling his fingers and kisses brought. I knew it... from Christmas morning and Thanksgiving day and birthday candles when I was six and watching scary movies with my mother and singing with my sister and jumping into the lake with my cousins and my grandmother humming while she kissed me goodnight... I knew what it was.  It was unconditional. It was that real.

This revelation made me pull the car over and I hyperventilated until I broke down, sobbing. Headlights blurred past and semi-trucks shook my car with their whipping roars. I hid my face in my hands, terrified of going home or going back. If I went home I knew I wouldn't see him again.

I went home. I didn't call him back. I didn't answer his calls. I couldn't look at him.

My apartment was so fucking quiet with his voice only in my head and on my machine.

My fear, that he would just keep calling, was right. My heart was breaking but I couldn't help it.  My answering machine clicked off message after message and each one was punctuated with "why?" and "where are you?" and "please call me back" and "is this because I told you I loved you? I'm sorry.". I turned up Red House Painters to drown it out because I couldn't stand to listen to my failure in silence - I couldn't stand listening to him apologize for loving me. I turned up the volume - how could I possibly change? I made promises to the voice on the phone, saying: "If he just calls a few more times I'll answer it... if he calls one more... one more.... if he comes over, then I can tell him, then I'll be sure it's real. it'll be OK to accept this...maybe... why didn't he just give up? Give up!... don't give up."

His voice in my head, taste in my mouth, hands on my skin... please give up... was it so much easier to be afraid?

He didn't give up.

He came to my door and I saw his shadow through the glass and curtains of my living room window. I crept to the door and stood with my hand touching the doorknob. I could feel it move with his hand. My only remaining connection to him was that locked, shifting bulb. I kept my hand touching it because I had to feel something he moved in this world. I think he saw my shadow through the curtain because he spoke softly - intimatly.

I couldn't see his face though the door, could I?.

"I don't know what I did." He said. "I just need to talk to you for a minute, OK?"

I gave him silence and the doorknob shifted again, testing, hoping... sparks on doorknobs...

"I just have to say that I know what I said probably scared you and I'm sorry. I don't know why I react to you like I do but I feel differently when you're around." I could hear his hand sliding down the door and feel the pressure of him leaning against it. "I never know what you're feeling. You never show anything to me so I never know if I've said something wrong or not. I just thought..."

I finally looked through the peephole and it was dark where he pressed his head against it. I couldn't see his face. I the door shifted with his weight again.

I couldn't see his face!

"I just wanted to say that I love you. I don't care if you don't love me back- no, that's a lie.  I want you to love me back. I just don't know if you do.  The other night I thought you did. I thought that I was right. I thought you were holding back and were afraid. I know you don't know what to feel sometimes. You don't even want to look at me sometimes and I don't know why. I don't know what I've done. I need to know that you hear me now."  He paused and seemed closer to the door.  It was as if he were whispering in my ear. "You said you don't do one night stands and I'm telling you, I don't either.  That's why I thought that what happened actually meant something to you." There was more pressure and I could feel his weight lean in as I pressed my face against the peephole. "I wanted you to love me. I thought you might." The weight receded and the doorknob became lifeless..

I saw the darkness fade and reveal his face in a rounded fisheye distortion. It fused his dark eyebrows, drew his blue eyes into drooping smears down his face, stretched his nose into an ostrich beak and turned his sleek chin into a globular mess under a wide, cartoonish mouth. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen - if he were an ugly man I wouldn't love him any less. His beauty had nothing to do with his face. I stared into his down-turned eyes and realized that they contained the same thing as mine- fear and insecurity. I realized that I was fulfilling both of our worst fears by pushing him away.

I unlocked the door and twisted the knob.  He stared at my feet and I took a step forward and made him look at me. He closed his eyes for a second and then opened them.

I held him at arms length and, this time, I took a good look... I was gazing up at at medusa, a basilisk, a titan, a god, the sea, the earth, the sky, the moon, the sun... we were sprouting wings and metamorphosing and speaking in tongues... he was home and I was rest, he was salvation and I was revival, he was heaven and sanctuary and revelation and I had done it...

...I was changed.

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