1. I sit in the cafeteria of the university I used to go to, reading and re-reading the message she sent me. My friend looks concerned but she has to leave for class. Philosophy of Sex and Love. She wishes me the best.

2. “Joe, you’re a great guy and I’m sorry if you feel like I lead you on— that was never what I wanted to do. I just wanna to explain myself a little. I’m not ignoring you or not wanting to make plans with you, it’s just a stressful time right now. But I need you to understand I probably don’t want what you want right now. I’m not looking for a relationship or anything like that and being asked out on dates kind of makes me panic a bit. I’m not saying I don’t want to hang out, just that if your intentions are to date me, it probably won’t be working out that way.

3. Sorry.”

4. “It’s totally ok, I completely understand. I kind of knew what I was getting into from the get-go and that the odds were always kind of stacked against me. I think you’re a super cool person and I really enjoyed hanging out with you, so I don’t think it was a waste of time or anything. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, I realize that I might have been trying to push you towards something that I felt like I needed and you didn’t. And for that, I’m sorry.

5. ‘Message Read.’

6. I never understood how I could feel heartbreak and relief at the same time. It was like I had suddenly lost a hundred pounds, but somehow that hundred pounds was my heart and, oh god, why is it still beating like that? My tea goes cold. In the cafeteria, a light goes out.

7. A long walk to the bus stop. A shadow on the sidewalk stops me.

“Hey Joe, come with me,”

“No,”

“Yes,”

“Yes.”

And so we go. We. Us. Him. And. Me. I, one and only.

8. The wait is lonely. The bus is lonely. I do not yet know if I am lonely too but I think I might be. If not now then definitely soon. People don’t talk in the dark and the bus is dark. Two long lines of blue light trace down the ceiling of the bus and I wonder if this is the road I’m supposed to go down. The not-quite-neon road carved in the darkness of a Wednesday night in November.

Maybe I am lonely.

Maybe I’ve always been lonely and just never noticed until now.

9. I walk through the door and I begin to strip. First of cloth, then of skin, then of bone and blood and then I slip into a bath drawn in the dark. And I think that it is here, only here, right now, that I can safely think about it. Here, cradled in the arms of Deep Poseidon within my porcelain coffin. A burial at sea, of sorts. An ancient ritual made modern. But I do not die. Not even close.

I feel strong, actually. Like I’ve discovered something of myself here in my bathroom with all the lights off. Is this what sensory deprivation does to you? Is this sensory deprivation? Am I depraved enough? An unrelated question, but can you tell me?

I feel strong, like I said. But only until the water cools and the lights turn back on.

Then I shiver.

10. There’s a lot of empty space here. Let me show you.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

 

Surface thoughts.

Surface thoughts.

Surface thoughts.

 

Surface thoughts Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  I think I am lonely after all Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface thoughts  Surface

16.

17. A gasp for air.

18. Surface from the sea of black misery in which you were submerged, Joe. The water was warm and familiar for a while, a hug from an old friend but definitely not a lover.

19. I can’t tell if I’ve been sleeping without dreaming or dreaming without sleeping. Love does funny things to you, but I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it. I think I want to though? I have looked at those messages so many times now that I’m not entirely sure I ever read them at all. Not truly. When I read them again, I can see the subtext. The subtle meanings and hints and suggestions. Everything she meant to say but couldn’t. And I realize how much I missed. And so I decipher/despair.

20. “Joe, you’re a great guy,”= “Joe, I might’ve fucked you,”

21. “I’m sorry if you feel like I lead you on—that was never what I wanted to do,” = “You were too stupid, too pure,”

22. “I just want to explain myself a little. I’m not ignoring you or not blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, stressful time, blah blah blah,” = “The very reminder of your existence makes me dread being in any kind of close proximity to you. You disgust me.”

23. Do I really need to do the rest?

Yes, of course I do.

24. “I probably don’t want what you want right now.” = “I want what you want but not with you.”

25. I can’t bring myself to do this.

You really can’t bring me anywhere, it seems.

26. …

27. Again.

“I’m not saying I don’t want to hang out, just that if you’re intentions are to date me it probably won’t be working out that way”= I don’t want you but I see some Aristotalian utility in your friendship so I’ll keep you around on in a cage of hope (because hope keeps the fools heart from ever truly breaking) just in case I feel bad about myself. And I’ll tease you and tease you and tease you with vague implications of sex that never comes, just like you, so that you stick around until at last I release you from your cage because I’ve found someone I really want to shove inside me and—“

28. “Jesus Joe, who broke you?”

29. “Huh?” I ask, pulled from my reverie. I am at work, it is seven in the morning in the dead of cold November and the sun has not yet risen. The sound of children and adults tittering and chattering about small, pointless things fills the room like elevator music only I’m not going anywhere. My coworker, Faye, is shooting me a concerned look. Everyone else is distracted, oblivious to the fact that I seemed to have slipped between the seams of the universe for a moment and got lost in that cosmic space between the bed and the wall. You know the one. But I’m back now, at least until I slip away again.

“You’ve been spacing out, dude,” she says. “You okay?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine, just thinking about some stuff,”

Bullshit she thinks, but she can’t say that around the kids.

“Okay. Well, let me know,”

“Yeah,” I try to engage—try to be present because my job demands presence but the mind wanders and soon I’m back between the bed and the wall. It’s quiet here, almost silent. My stomach twists into gordian knots and I don’t know if it’s because I skipped breakfast or because I’m dying.

30. ʇı ʇnoqɐ pɹɐǝɥ ɹǝʌǝu ı pǝıp ǝɥs ɟı

ǝɯ puıɥǝq buıpןınq ǝɥʇ ɟo sʍopuıʍ ǝɥʇ sı ǝǝs uɐɔ ı ןןɐ ʇnq uɹıɐɔ ǝɥʇ pǝןןɐɔ ǝʍ ʞɹɐd pǝuǝʞɹɐp ǝɥʇ spɹɐʍoʇ ʍopuıʍ ɯooɹpǝq ʎɯ ʇno ɹǝǝd puɐ ob ı ʇı ʇɔıpǝɹd pןnoɔ ı ɟı sɐ punos oʇ pǝuɹnʇ ʎǝɥʇ ǝɹoɟǝq ɹıɐ ǝɥʇ uı spɹoɥɔ ןɐɔoʌ ɹǝɥ ɟo suoıʇɐɹqıʌ ǝɥʇ ǝsuǝs pןnoɔ ı ɟı sɐ suǝddɐɥ ʇı ǝɹoɟǝq spuoɔǝs dn ǝʞɐʍ ı ʇɥbıu ǝɥʇ ɟo ssǝuןןıʇs ןooɔ ǝɥʇ uı ɹǝpɹnɯ ʎpooןq sɯɐǝɹɔs ʇuǝɯʇɹɐdɐ ʎɯ puıɥǝq ʞɹɐd ǝɥʇ uı uɐɯoʍ ɐ

31. The words stopped making sense 25 parts ago. They shift and churn and blur.

“Joe, I lead you on. I’m never sorry. That’s what I wanted to do. I just want myself a little. I need you to understand, I don’t want you. I’m not looking for a relationship, I don’t want to hang out. Your intentions make me panic. You were never what I wanted to do.”

32. Was it me? Was it me? Was it?

Me?

33. It was.

34. I was.

35. I am.

36. “It’s totally ok, I completely understand. I kind of knew what I was getting into from the get-go and that the odds were always  kind of stacked against me. I think you’re a super cool person and I really enjoyed hanging out with you, so I don’t think it was a waste of time or anything. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, I realize that I might have been trying to push you towards something that I felt like I needed and you didn’t. And for that, I’m sorry. “

37. ‘Message Read.’

38. There is no lonelier combination of words then “message read” except maybe

“I need you.”

39. ‘Message Read.’

40. I need you

41. ‘Message Read.’

42. I need you not.

43. ‘Message Read.’

44. I need you

45. ‘Message Read.’

46. I can’t seem to tell which is worse.

47. “I’d really rather not, Faye,” I say to her. We’re getting coffee or sushi—the details are fading. “She broke something in me.”

“Joe, it’s been two days—“

“47 hours actually. Give or take,”

“You went on two days, get over her,”

“You don’t understand,” I say, but she does.

“I do,” she does. “Big tits, dark hair,”

“It’s more than that,”

“No it’s not,” No, it’s not.

“…”

“Look, Dinah’s great. A bit weird, but so are you,”

“No one is weird like me,”

“Just do it. It’ll be fun and good for you. For both of you,”

“Faye,”

“Joe,”

“Fine. Fine,”

“Excellent, here’s her number,”

“Just like that?”

“She knows you’re going to text her. I told her you would,”

“Faye, Jesus. What if I don’t?”

“You will,”

“Will I?”

“If you don’t, you’ll wallow in self-pity and write something absurd and melodramatic,”

“Don’t be ridiculous,”

“Joe,”

“Fine, I’ll text her,”

“Good. What are you writing now?”

“Nothing.”

48. “Hey there this is Joe, Faye’s friend? She gave me this number today and said I should text you so this me texting you, haha :p”

49. ‘Message Read.’

50. Hi Joe 🙂 I’m Dinah. Faye’s told me all about you,”