There is a version of my life with you at the centre. In this reality we sit, my head on your shoulder, your arm around me, our legs tangled like vines.
There is a version of my life where you have made me happier than I have ever been. I don’t believe in God, never will, but I can sense someone kind and loving is watching over me.
There is a version of my life where, single, lonely and just out of high school, our fates and our hearts match up for the first time. We find ourselves naked and writhing on my bed until passion and questions and confusion spill from us onto my new, white sheets. Where we talk rationally about what just happened, make a decision and stick to our guns. We plan to grow old and fulfilled in each other’s arms. Where we sit together on an old couch we bought for our first place so long ago, a picture of us and our two children hanging over the TV we watch together every night.
There is a version of my life where your friend Lisa is just your friend Lisa. The sweet young woman you dated for two months back in high school. A girl with an inviting smile and ocean eyes. She likes me, but I am made uncomfortable by her presence, as if it hasn’t always been there. I tell you, embarrassed and exhausted from my secret-keeping. I tell you that as soon as I put hearts beside your name in my contacts, she got prettier to me. Your kisses muffle your chuckle. Your confusion is overruled by understanding. Pinky-promising fidelity in our early twenties is so dorky, I cannot help but laugh. Your first big promise to me, and it’s over something that would never happen, anyway.
There is a version of my life where you and Lisa are talking more than you and I do, and I can see the shadows at the edge of my vision. But I trust you two, and I don’t want to believe the lies I once told myself. You get busy more and more often: caught up at work, or so you say. Sometimes, we don’t even have dinner together. The loss of the ritual eats away at me, and I can’t tell if your apologies are sincere. Then you ask me to dinner last minute, on a weekday. I hurry to get my dress and makeup on; the whole situation just seems off to me. You shuffle at the table after I order the chocolate ice cream - it’s my favourite, you remind me six or seven times. I poke at it anxiously until I see something shiny. For a fraction of a second, guilt rattles through me, but it’s replaced by giddiness as you get down on one knee. A year and a half later, my dad is sobbing when he sees me walk down the aisle. Lisa’s wedding speech has me snorting with laughter. We save up just enough to honeymoon all over Europe, and it’s the best trip of our lives.
There is a version of my life where our kids call Lisa Aunty Lise, and her kids come over almost every weekend. She brings the ice cream in the summer and the cocoa in the winter, and she gets them teddy bears, Hot Wheels, and even a Game Boy. Where she comes to our children’s graduation in a charming green dress and her husband sports a matching suit. In this reality, Lisa loves us, and we love her, too. She and her husband visit even after the kids have left the nest, eating fruit salad on the couch they helped us move into our first place together, and reminiscing about the effort.
There is a version of my life where you and I are dancing together in our first apartment. The soundtrack is ridiculous but unforgettable. Our movements, close together, spinning, laughing as we lean in then back out, are silly and wonderful. By some weird twist of fate we have never danced together before. It isn’t awkward until our inexperience slips between our feet and I trip. The wine glass I’ve left on the couch we just got does its own pirouette, and my drink ends up all over the cushion. The red looks like a murder scene on the cloudy white. My heart breaks and my cheeks are instantly moist. I have ruined so many firsts, all at once. When I tell you this, you tell me I’ve made everything infinitely better and point out the shape of the spill. Five tendrils pouring out from a large circle, like a handprint.
There is a version of my life where you and I, and eventually our kids, spend decades together high fiving this stain as we walk past.
I believe in that version of my life, like I believe in happy endings in kids’ books. I can see it when I close my eyes, even if it hurts to look.
In reality, I loom over you and Lisa like a storm cloud. Most people call her eyes oceany. I call them harlequin romance eyes, and I see her looking you up and down with them in my sleep. When I don’t loom, I linger, and when you ask about it, I huff. When the storm hits, you ask if you’re supposed to stop hanging out with her, and like thunder, I tell you yes.
In reality, I see your password over your shoulder as we plan a make-up dinner downtown. Your cat’s name. I’m charmed. But the second you go to the bathroom, I leap across the couch to grab your phone and scroll through your messages. When you return, I shove the phone in your face, and ask how many seconds it took to start talking to her again. You start to cry, which I’ve never seen before, and the fact I did it to you is a rock in my stomach.
In reality, you cannot give up a best friend for jealousy over something that never happened. You can’t stand lying, and you can’t stand making me sad, and you will not stand for the guilt I weave from thin air.
In reality, jealousy isn’t healthy, and my inability to take the blame is toxic. It lingers on our blankets, making us sleep back-to-back. It seeps into our dinner conversations - they end either in screaming matches or deafening silences. It fills our apartment and we choke. You offer second chances, therapy, and kindness, and I bat them each back in your face.
In the true version of this story, we argue for weeks about it, until suddenly, there’s less than nothing left to say. We sell our wine-stained couch on Kijiji, and you’re out of our apartment within a month of my sneaking through your phone. Lisa deletes me off of all social media. You and I only speak to say happy birthday on Facebook for a couple years. I write and rewrite so many apologies, but they don’t count when I press backspace. In my mind I beg you to take me back. But in my heart I know you deserve better. Eventually, we stop talking altogether.
In reality, I’m hollow in a way that isn’t sad. It’s just not the same. I’ll find someone, someday, supposedly, that will quicken my heart and lighten my step. That’s what I’m told, and that’s what I hope. I will stop thinking of you. I will stop looking out my window towards your neighbourhood and wondering if you still think of me this way. I will stop sighing at my own naivety, for allowing this thought for the tenth, hundredth, thousandth time.
Someday, I will stop writing love letters to the future I set on fire. Someday, not today.