His palms are sweaty. His eyebrows are too thick. He says my name wrong. He’s too short, I’m taller than him in my highest heels. I hate his hair, he never cuts it, he never combs it either. He listens to music too loud. He exercises too much. He spends too much money. A lot of it on me. Again, I stumble on the list of bad things. That’s what I’m supposed to do to forget him, remember all the bad things he ever did, all the things I hate about him. I can’t remember where I heard this, probably from one of my friends. They all had endless (often conflicting) advice after I left him, this seems to be the only thing that stuck. It’s not working though.
When I start to think ‘I hate his teeth’, then I remember, I loved the way he kissed me. Slow or fast, it was always perfect and he always knew when. He says my name wrong, but I love it. I love the way it sounds in his Hausa accent. I love correcting him and making fun of him for it. I love that it’s different from the way everyone else says it.
My highest heels are 6 inches high. He’s tall enough. His body is perfect. Toned but not overly muscular. His skin is very soft. His hair is the thing that attracted me to him. All good style and perfect skin, but his hair is a mess. The contrast intrigued me. Still intrigues me. His music is my music. We listen to music too loud. He turned me into a runner and running changed my life and my body. The last thing he bought me was a ring. Plain and silver. It wasn’t a promise ring or an engagement ring. It was just a ring because I love rings. I loved that. My ex was too afraid to buy jeweleryso I wouldn’t get the wrong idea about his level of commitment. He isn’t my ex. The only reason he ever has for doing things for me is that they make me happy.
I twist the ring and reach for my phone to call him. Then I remember, I don’t have his number anymore. I deleted it, then he deleted me off everything you can delete a human being off. Now I had no idea what he was doing. What is he doing? I always knew. Always. I have no more pictures or videos or memories, because in my anger I didn’t think I would need those things. But I do now. If only to prove to myself that it was real. We were real, he was real.
I remember the last day. I wish now that I knew it was the last day. We had gone to dinner and had lazy sex and watched re-runs of Friends that I loved and he hated. We were lying down and he was holding my hand and just as I was laughing at something Chandler said, he said ‘I love you’. My heart actually stopped beating. I was suddenly very scared because I know he meant it. I wanted to rewind and erase it but I knew he wouldn’t let me. ‘Ekene?’, he turned me around to face him. I didn’t want him to see my eyes because I knew he’d see the fear. ‘Ekene, it’s okay. We’ll still be fine. Nothing has to change’
I smiled. ‘I know, stop overreacting and you know you’re lying anyway’, I said turning around and putting his arm around me. I knew then it was over. I know he knew too because in that moment, we were as close as two people could be physically but there was already a depth of space between us. After an hour, I got up to get dressed. ‘Aren’t you going to stay?’ ‘No, I have to go to work really early tomorrow, you know how I hate leaving from here’. He watched silently as I picked up all my bits of clothing from the floor and put them on. I leaned over to kiss him. ‘I miss you already’, I called out as I left. I waited until I was in my car to let the tears fall.
He knew the deal. I was honest. It would all be perfect as long as he didn’t fall in love with me. We could be exclusive. We could be whatever, just as long as he didn’t fall in love. For a while, it didn’t look like he was going to. At first I planned things meticulously. We could never talk on the phone for more than 20 minutes. Then one day he kept hanging up every 19th minute and calling me back, so I relaxed that rule. Then we could only see other once a week, but I was sick one week and he came to take care of me and that rule went. Then no sleepovers, but one time he came over really late and after the kind of sex we had, it seemed unsafe to let him drive home. Eventually I relaxed and we talked for hours, all night sometimes. Sometimes we lived together for weeks and sometimes we didn’t see each other for some time and it all worked. It was so effortless. Until…
I feel like I should explain. Why is love the deal-breaker? I don’t know. I’m 28 years old and love has always ended anything that meant anything to me. My dad walked out when I was 4. His last words to me were ‘I love you’. When I was 17, my first boyfriend said he loved me and then broke up with me 2 days later. I still can’t explain why. And so it started. A series of ends that started with ‘I love you’. What I hated most wasn’t necessarily the end of the relationship. It was the fact that I was everything to someone in one moment and then we were barely friends the next. The older you get, the more impossible it is for your ex to be one of your best friends. I couldn’t stand it. He knew all this. I told him really early on. I wanted everything except the love bit. He seemed fine, he had never been in love and didn’t get why he would start now. Until he did.
I missed him so much. But I couldn’t stay and admit I love him too. I couldn’t let the feelings make me crazy. The feelings always made me crazy. Paranoid. Unattractive. Till the end where whoever I was with completely hated me. Could not remember the person they fell for. Even if this hurt, I wanted him to remember us perfect.
But I missed him so much. I miss him so much. Missing him is a worse feeling than when it ended with everyone else. Anyone else. I don’t understand it. I wonder what he’s doing.
The sound of my doorbell wakes me.
I open the door and he’s there. I wonder if I’m awake or dreaming. He looks rough.
‘I miss you. I really do miss you. I have never felt like this before and this? Us not talking because of some stupid rule?…’ He puts his head in his hands. ‘It’s been a year’, he says taking my hand and pulling me towards him. ‘it’s been a whole year. Heck, it’s been over a year. That’s longer than you’ve ever been with anyone. I can say it or not say it, but I miss you’.
I don’t believe what he’s saying. They always say things like this, but he’s holding me and I’m crying because I didn’t think it was possible to miss another human being so much and I wish he’d called, because now that he’s here I can’t think about him not being here. I’m so scared my feelings will destroy us but I’m more scared that this is a dream so I hold him tighter. ‘I know how crazy you are’, he says as he strokes my hair, ‘but you know how bad I am at fighting, I’ll ignore it until you’re normal again, I promise’.
Because I’m scared to move too much, scared to end the moment, I pull him down to sit on the floor in front of my door. So we sit there, just holding hands until he says it again ‘I love you’. For some reason, I’m not scared this time.