“Why?” the boy asked, his voice betraying the tears he was stifling “Isn’t this good?”
“It is. Or it was,” I answered. “But I know how these things go. You’ll get attached. I’ll get stressed out.”
“Why would you get stressed out?”
“Because I know I’ll never be able to fully reciprocate.” I looked at the boy in front of me. I considered his jet black hair, his dark brown eyes, the way they often said more than his mouth. I wondered how far he’d go for me, or if he had still come if he’d known I was just going to break up with him.
“It’s not reciprocation I’m after,” he says, his frustration bittersweet to the taste. “Can’t you just let me love you? I know deep down in that frigid heart, you understand you need to be loved. Let me do that for you.” He placed his hand firmly on mine. “Please.”
“You say that now but wait till a few months, maybe even a few weeks. These things… they get messy and I just can’t afford to mess around at this point in my life.” I dragged deep into my cigarette and slowly sighed out pregnant clouds of smoke.
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” I continued, pulling my hand from beneath his. He looked up from where he sat, his eyes welling up, seeking mine. I looked at him with a cold expression, the one you use when you stare into traffic in the middle of rush hour. The cars blur away as another boy is ushered out of my life.
“You don’t know that. You don’t know this.” He takes my hand again and brings it closer to his chest. “Don’t you feel this? Doesn’t your heart beat the same way?”
“Maybe it used to,” I said as I swigged the last of my beer. “But it sure doesn’t beat that way anymore.”
We went back to his place. One last fuck, he proposed. For old time’s sake? I indulged him. You see a house burning down and you figure you might as well light your cigarette. As we lay in bed, sweat and smoke imposing in the room, I thought of the boy that I held in my arms. Our legs were tangled like vines. His head was resting calmly on my arm. His hands played through my forest, his fingers intertwining with the strands of my hair. If I closed my eyes, I could say it felt like I was home.
And I started to miss him even though he was still there. He was a good kid, big heart, and a decent fuck at that. I knew he could find someone better than me at the snap of a finger. And yet there he was in bed with me wishing he could stay in my life. Why couldn’t I let him in? Why was I pushing him away? Maybe you can only get hurt so many times before you start believing none of it’s worth it. Maybe you can only get your heart broken so many times before it stops beating like it should.
“Why does it hurt so bad?” he asked, warm tears flowing onto my naked chest. I held him closer until I felt his bones crushing under my weight. Until it felt like I could breathe in all that he was.
“If I had a heart, it would be hurting too.” I felt a sort of bluntness in the middle of my chest. Maybe this is what they call a phantom limb.
I woke up in the middle of the night and got dressed. I watched the boy as he lay in bed sleeping. He looked so peaceful, so pure and devoid of darkness. I don’t remember if I was ever just like that. He asked if my heart could still beat the same way. Maybe it used to, I answered. Maybe once when I could still feel. As I walked through the city, the buildings cloaked by night, I closed my eyes so I could hear the cars rushing past me. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, they wailed. Another day, another love, whooshing down the drain. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. This is my lullaby. The cars, the city, they keep me from thinking. They swallow the words I cannot spit out.
Maybe it used to, I said to him when what I really wanted to say was Save me.
Postcript. Seven years later, the boy still thinks of him often. The scent of Gudang Garam reminds him of the man he thought he could love forever. But forever is such a long time, he’d soon learn. It’s a promise he’d make to a string of boys who were just as hopeful as he was that summer.
♫: Leona Lewis | Run (2008)