All the Ones I Didn't Love
I don’t miss him, but what I do miss is sitting on the cold sand of the beach in October, when the wind shivered my young bones, and I would huddle against him, burying my face into his cigarette, scented pullover. He would cross his arms for his own warmth, with a Marlboro Gold hanging from his blue lips. He never wore a jacket and even after all this time, this is the only way I can remember him. The jeans he frequently wore, the pair that belonged to his ex-girlfriend, the one he got pregnant, the one whose name was etched into the bedside table.Those jeans that hung from his hips, accentuating his emaciated body. He was too skinny for a man so close to thirty, but then again, sustenance wasn’t a priority.
He smoked plenty of cigarettes and the evidence remained in an ashtray by his bedside. Dozens of butts spilling over the ceramic dish–he chain-smoked when he couldn’t sleep. This happened most nights: I would be asleep, frozen still in his sheets, when I woke up to the sharp noise of a razor blade scratching against the shard of the dirty glass of an old, broken vanity. He’d sniff and huff until his body finally halted the violent trembling. On the nights I awoke to the incessant noise of his drug addiction, I was more distracted by the souvenirs of her around the room than the skeleton hanging from the edge of the bed, surrounded by the smog of his cigarettes, wiping the stained blood from his nose.
Despite his attempts to scratch her name from the oak table, it remained pristine in her longhand. I hated her. Her name and how it sounded when he spoke of her, so cavalier. The sound of her name, Clare: harsh and jolting. I hated that she had his abortion and I hated that someone came before me. There was this envy that encapsulated me and each mentioning of her hung in the air, wafting like something gone sour. I coveted the intimacy they shared, which he would often unfold to me in small anecdotes and quips. I can envision their relationship so vividly; he was twenty-one and she just sixteen, riding in silence from the clinic, partaking in a deep, rooted misfortune that would bind them together for life. I hated the poetry he wrote about her, reciting it to me as if I were a pathway to healing. Only then did I realize I was his made a vehicle, just like the OxyContin, to facilitate the cure of his loneliness.
But I never loved him and I knew I would never, either. Even though I was a mere child of twenty to this grown man, I knew better than to let my soul fall into his trajectory. My heart was impenetrable to the words he whispered to me before bed and the touch of hands when we sat on the beach, but I still could not help but to hate Clare. I could have hated any number of the women he had strung around throughout his years. It could have been his most recent ex-girlfriend, the one with a flagrant chest tattoo who cheated on him in their own bed. I could have just as easily hated her or the young mother he fucked around with behind her partner’s back. I might have been able to hate her. Yet, it was Clare that my animosity wrapped around so tightly. One of the reasons was because of her empyrean beauty, dainty and elegant but mostly it was because she was solidified in his mind forever and although I never loved him and never would, I wanted him to think about me as he much as he did Clare. I wanted to be the one he lost, the one he wanted so badly, the muse for his bad poetry.
When I met Luke a year after Zach, I was wholly enthralled by him. Like Zach, he was fair haired with eyes just as light. Luke was traveling the United States in an RV with his two best friends, the three of them from Australia. In a Chicago bar, we met and were swept away in a night of sloppy, drunk kisses and artificial conversation. Nothing was meant to develope but in a desperation to fill my own loneliness, I let him into my world. Late night phone calls with bad reception as he discovered the interior of the land, depicting places I, a native had yet to discover. It all made him seemingly adventurous and spontaneous, but underneath his wanderlust lay the bones of a restless and miserable man. Luke frequently told me I made him feel sixteen again – naive and curious, burning and desiring. The number of times he used this phrase equates to the number of times he told me he loved me: five times. I could describe each time in great detail. The first, under the weight of a comforter in a bungalow. It was 2AM, and I shouldn’t have been there with him, but for that summer I abandoned everything for something that later amounted to nothing more than fleeting chemistry, for someone who amounted to nothing more than a name floating in my contact list. I had skipped work in order to see him and stealing my parent’s car, I would drive around with him at night. I wouldn’t come home for nights at a time, I ignored my friends, I had damaged relationships for someone who would forget about me once the summer ended. The duvet draping over our pale bodies, a temporary fort built from make-believe love and cotton. He whispered slowly and my heart stopped, not from erupting adoration, but the realization that something that felt so monumental was happening to me, and I was scared.
The third time was in a train station in Oregon, the bustling depot crowded with commuters and backpackers, eager for the familiarity of their office or the novelty of someplace new. The noise of suitcases rolling on marble and the echo of train whistles from the platform went unnoticed as we said our goodbyes. It was his last day in the country. Conflicted and confused at the state of my feelings, I cried the two hours it took to arrive to my next destination of Seattle. The fifth and final time was a transatlantic text message that held the same weight as the affair itself. He made me feel sixteen again, too. He made me feel a teenage naivety that I initially found to be endearing but eventually calls were unreturned, texts left unread, and the absence of his presence, whether virtual or not, had fostered an incredible hurt. I had wondered how one could love you one day and the next, simply not. The lesson I learned was essential: that people don’t always mean what they say. As I think of him now, seldom do I wonder what he is doing or how he is. I wonder if ever went to medical school or if he ever moved away from Melbourne. I wonder If he kept the sweater I gave him or if he really did mean it when he told me he felt sixteen again. Instead I hold within myself the anger of being so trite and for giving him the time and energy I should have reserved for someone else.
But there is one I could have loved; the one who hated his smile, a curve that was by no means perfect but one I tried so hard to unveil. The one who, on our first date, pointed out that when I’m excited about something, I spit when I talk; and he could not figure out why he liked that about me. Jon was perfectly mundane with an office job and resume that included high school baseball player and fraternity brother. He was All-American and wonderful; he loved his grandmother and spent Christmas Eve preparing seafood alongside her and his big, Italian family. I could have very easily loved him because he offered stability and warmth, and he was solid. I could have loved him because he was all those good things I wished for so long to have in myself: satiability and kindness. Yet it is no wonder how he could not love me–I was so fiercely loyal but dispiritedly lost. At the time I had believed that I would willingly do anything for Jon even at the stake of my own heart. To give someone else so much power over your being is dangerous, especially as a young woman. I wanted him so badly and so completely despite that I possessed no identify of my own at the time.
I could have loved him, but he never gave me the chance to, and despite the fact that it has been dead longer than it had ever lived, I wonder what I could have done differently. I think of the ways I went wrong whenever I drive past Sushi House or hang up the blue dress I wore on our first date; the first night he grabbed my hand on a crowded street. In his hands, mine felt small and dainty, it was nice to not feel so hulking, not so tall and awkward. It felt like we fit together as he guided me through pockets of people wandering the sidewalks, never skipping a beat on the conversation. He would ask me about my day or my family, wondering about the books I read or what made me think, and I was so sure I was falling in love with him, slowly and fully, because he was finally a person who was curious about me, seemingly invested. I think of reasons it went wrong when I hear a Beach House song or when I’m wandering Wicker Park with my friends, both nervous and excited to walk into a bar, half hoping I would stumble upon him again drinking a Goose Island Green Line. Maybe he would see me in the lowlight of that dive bar, illuminated by the neon signs of domestic beer and flashing dart boards and realize that we fit together just as well as I knew we did. I am always met with strange faces in each place I enter.
I wonder if he didn’t love me because I kissed him first, or if it was the relentless need to hold his hand while we rode the ‘L’. I wonder if it was because I had bad tattoos and green hair, and even though it hurts all over again to think about, I still hope that maybe these were the things he liked about me–these things he maybe could have loved. I dream about him a lot. Sometimes he is sitting at a booth at the cafe I work at, other times it is less realistic, where he is just a floating fragment, a phantom. No matter what form, when the idea of him visits me at night, I wake up feeling nauseous. I don’t ever mind it, though. It is the most tangible thing he left me with.
What went wrong has always felt like my fault, that I was either too much or not enough for him. That he was embarrassed by my impetuous behavior or uncharmed by my sense of humor; and as we began our demise and fell through the complicated and confusing dance of our feelings, of this trial-run of a relationship, I had tried to mutate myself into what I thought he would want. I’ll never know if it was my self-sabotage of reconstructing myself for his supposed benefit or if the crux of our failed courtship laid within the fact that he had realized, much too late, that I wasn’t someone he fully desired. Whatever it is, I am henceforth vowing that I will never think of the reasons it went wrong again.
If I have learned anything from these boys, to the ones I didn’t love and to the one I might have, it is that we give the right pieces of ourselves to the wrong people. We use our vulnerability to help us achieve this intense, sought after love only to realize that we are revealing our deepest selves to those who don’t deserve it: to those who break us. In vain, we force things to fit together and fret when they break beneath our force.
I often wonder if I’ll ever be in love. I try to mask the vulnerability I feel, the fear that I’m not wanted and don’t deserve love. I act as though this is part of my meticulous and mastered plan, that I am safe and content within the loneliness that fosters itself inside me. In truth, I’m afraid I will walk the line of unrequited love for the rest of my life, that I will be alone. I know I’m young, I know there is time, but I have missed out on so much of young love. I never had the prom date, I never had the old t-shirts of a high school boyfriend coated with cheap cologne, I have never known the recklessness and passion of love. I don’t want to miss out on love in my twenties, too.
I imagine I’m in my thirties somewhere and it will happen out of the blue, out of nowhere. I’ve always been told that it happens when you’re not looking, so perhaps I’ll act blind. After all the waiting I’ve done, after all the misdirection and hurt, it will be a whirlwind and worthwhile, because it has to be. Why have I always been left out of love? Often it feels as if everyone around me has found the counterpart to themselves. Any wedding invitation in the mail gives fruition to the sinking of my stomach, the fear that love will never happen to me. No creator would purposefully make someone so lonely, there must be a reward, in the form of a great love that will make up for those who have wounded me. I have put so much of my desire into this ideology of love. I hold hope within me, I wear it around my neck like jewelry; hope that love is everything I have imagined since my girlhood. That partnership is comforting and safe, satiable and endearing, and that I am not a lost cause for love.
Monica McGarry is twenty-four and a senior at Columbia College Chicago. She is immersed in CCC’s Non fiction creative writing major. After graduation in May 2019, McGarry hopes to pursue her love of literature and writing in an MFA program and eventually work in publishing. When not reading, either academically or for pleasure, McGarry’s pastimes include crossword puzzles and hiking