This One Is on You – a Short Story by Veronika Foer

(written in 2018)

It’s been five minutes since you pulled the car over, though I couldn’t tell if you were too enraged to drive or too hurt.

If you were mad at yourself or me?

If you were sorry or sorry for yourself?

I’m looking at you and must realize you’ve become a distant mystery.

I used to be able to read from your face how you were feeling.

 When your eyebrows were slightly drawn together there was no point in trying to get your attention; for you were thinking and focusing on something as if it was the only thing that mattered. At times you would look at me this way, and back then I used to get insecure. Wondering if I did something wrong, and you’d say how it was the opposite in fact. From then on, I knew to feel loved every time you looked at me this way. you ensured me you were simply so awestruck by who I was and grateful for the time we got to spend in the presence of each other.

 You tap your right index, middle, and ring finger on your knee nervously when you’re impatiently waiting. Though when you’re nervous or worried, you tap them in a different rhythm. 

And when you’re overwhelmed in social situations, for instance when you met my parents for the first time, you make sure to keep your hands hidden or occupied. Sometimes you’d hold my hand just a tad tighter than you usually do and immediately my hand would squeeze it encouragingly.

 Other people would never know that your heartbeat quickened, but I could tell by the way your ears turned a darker shade of red due to your increased blood flow. When you smiled, I knew whether you meant it or if it was just a courtesy.

I knew when you were putting on a brave face for the world; for I could see the glimpses of worry in the complex shades of grey and blue around your iris’.

 Frequently you try not to laugh too hard because every so often you get insecure about your slightly chipped tooth that no one will ever pay attention to. But you never listen to me and try to hide it anyway and every time I catch you do that I smile; for I remember the one lazy Sunday, two weeks after we made it official when we were cuddled up in your warm grey bed sheets and you told me how your father took you to a baseball game for the first and very last time.

 Your eyes lit up as you told me in detail, as if you were that five-year-old kid again, how you saw the baseball fly out of the field straight into your direction; and somehow as a kid, you thought to catch that ball meant saving your parents marriage, meant ending the blaming on yourself for the endless fighting. So you jumped up from your seat and tried your best to catch it: and you did! You did catch it. 

 However, you had lost your balance and fell over the seat in front of you: that’s how you chipped that tooth. You also told me how crashing down and nearly breaking your nose that very same day, couldn’t compare to the pain when you saw your dad pack up and leave a month later.

 For weeks you blamed yourself, for weeks you wished you could go back to the baseball game and relive it all; first, having your dad come into your room with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen on him while holding two tickets in his right hand and a baseball glove in his left one. The entire car ride to the field, his eyes were vividly gleaming with excitement as he was talking about all the baseball games he had watched with your grandfather whom you’ve never met, for he had passed away when your own father had only been seventeen. Usually, your father would never mention him, but that day he did mention him most joyfully.

 Even after the accident happened and you were taken into the emergency room, he wasn’t mad at you for making him miss the rest of the game. Instead, he was joking about how surly one day you would be a baseball star with that kind of commitment to catch the ball. 

 Perhaps, we wouldn’t have met if you had pursued such a career.

From the day your dad left, you hadn’t seen him fifteen years but when you did, you two made up and the baseball that you always kept next to your bed when we first met, now belonged to your father as a reminder of happier days.

 Though right this moment, as you were talking my ears drowned out your familiar voice and I caught a glimpse of your chipped tooth and I didn’t smile. Nor could I speak, for I had said enough when I said “I know.” out of the blue, over the sound of our favorite song on the radio, in the small space of your car. 

And I hate the fact that I didn’t have to say more for you to know exactly what I meant.

 That’s when you pulled the car to the side of the road which was surrounded by idyllic evergreen’s and distant mountains as the sky was slowly turning all shades of orange and lilac.

Throughout the time you stuttered up excuses, somehow the sky faded into a dark blue with stars shining through thick grey clouds. You had stopped the engine a while ago and our warm breaths had caused the windows to fog up as the stinging cold was separated only by the frame of your car. 

Every other time we would have drawn small, temporary masterpieces onto the steamed-up windows with our warm fingertips and dried them on the shirt of the other jokingly, just to give us another out of a million reasons to laugh. Old jokes never failed to reignite new sparks with us, but maybe I was wrong all along.

“Goddamn, say something!” your usual soft husky voice turned loud and thrived of frustration as you slammed your hands against the steering wheel, dragging me back to reality from my mind’s melancholic journey of how I used to know you.

Another car pulled up behind us at one point. A tall dark figure approached your window and I could tell in your eyes you were sorry for lashing out on me like that, though the time to let me know was occupied with the kind stranger who was asking if everything was alright if our car had died down and if we needed help at all.

Our worried faces forced smilies, and polite “no, thanks everything is fine” quarreled out of our lungs: and I wish we were telling the truth but we were not. 

Ultimately, the headlights of the other car driving off woke my tired eyes up and once again and I could see you clearly in the fading light for a second. I could see the way you were beating yourself up internally. And I knew what you did should hurt more than seeing you hurting: but it didn’t.

My cool hands finally reach over to your folded ones in your lap. Instinctively, your warm hands take ahold of mine the second you feel how cold they are. Every other time I would let my hands melt into yours comfortably and smile because you had the patience to freeze for a little just so we both could be warm.

But not this time.

I had to admit to myself, that my mind had not comprehended a single word you have said. Not a single one. How did any of these words matter anyway? When actions have already taken over the grace of communicating between the two of us.

“Do you hate me?” you ask, and my lips ironically curve into a smile as tears start to roll down my cheeks. Your hand reaches up to wipe them away, though my own stops it from succeeding at the intention and guides it back to your lap. Instead, my hand finds its way to your freshly shaved face. Never have I touched you like this while crying, usually, I would draw your face in gently for a kiss. 

 But now, every time I look at your lips I cannot help but to imagine them on another.

Your familiar body, with the body of a woman that is not me. The intimacy shared in-between your cozy grey bedsheets that we used to spend hours in: talking, admiring, loving.

“I could never hate you.” my lips tremble: not from the cold, nor from crying but from finding the strength to form a single sentence. The words fall from my lips and echo in the car, yet they feel foreign. For me, knowingly hurting you had always resembled tearing a small piece of my heart out. It used to be the same for you before you demonstrated very vividly that this feeling must have had changed some time ago.

How could I tell you that no words could fix what has been spoken through bodies and engraved in silence?

 Maybe, if you had just told me what you had carried around with you for weeks; if you wouldn’t have let me comfortably fall asleep in those exact same grey bedsheets, my words wouldn’t be missing right now. But you have been calculating every single one of your movements, of your words, of our moments.

You thought this whole thing would go away and the guilt would fade away if you would just spend enough time with me again; as if what you did would be buried deeper into oblivion and she would be cleansed from your body with each of my touches, each of my kisses, each of my ‘I love you’s’.

Yet lies can overshadow the truth only for so long; her scent remains on your bedsheets and on your skin. No one had to tell me about her, my heart had sensed it and sparked a conflict in my mind between wishing for it to never have felt the truth or to be wrong.

With a sign, I drop my hand from your face. Why was falling in love so easy, and hurting too: but mending so impossible at times? How would we ever get home, if we both felt too much; too hurt; too confused to take ahold of the steering wheel or even the leading role in this conversation. 

We have not moved since purple turned into dark blue and I wondered how it was possible to feel so stuck in such a fast-moving world.

 Quietly observing you, I didn’t know if I wanted to dig deeper into the mystery you’ve become or stay on the sidelines and take the exit route.

You made a conscious choice when you decided to trade our years for a couple of hours with another; and I hate you for constantly whispering into the cool air that you still love me, because I do love you deeply-, but if you love me how dare you put the consequences of your decision onto me so heavily? You expect me to tell you if it’s fine or if we should let go of us for good, even though you should have thought about this before inviting another into our bed. For maybe then, I wouldn’t feel what I’m feeling.

Anger, frustration, hurt and every emotion in between puddle up in my mind and I withdraw my hands from yours. My body leans against the window for comfort; for support, as I prep my elbow up on the thin edge and grace my thumb and index finger over my sensitive lips.

Expectedly, you look at me and I still don’t know what to tell you besides the fact that it’s getting late. 

These soft-spoken words vanish into little white clouds in the cool air as you nod and pull yourself together; turning away from me. 

At once, you turn the key; the engine starts and heated air blows into the inside of the car, the headlights enlightened the street we usually only see during daylight; the beautiful landscape vanished into the darkness, only visible when the headlights expose all of its veiled colors for us. The thought of moving, moving from this place, moving on has my heartbeat quicken and yet you don’t start to drive immediately.

Never have I done anything to harm you intentionally, and here we are with you crashing down grey clouds and heavy storms towards me when all I’ve ever wanted from you was nothing more and nothing less than loyalty.  

“I do love you, you know?” you say, and all I can think is: I wish you would have said you were sorry instead

This one is on you, yet you let me carry the weight of its consequences.

-END –

Veronika Foer

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