Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ignored Expiration Dates Amongst Souvenirs and Holiday Cheer

We sat down at the tiny cafe table, angling our hips away from each other but still managing the occasional knee bump or foot graze.  My fingers were inconsolable, tapping against the paper cup, worming underneath the cardboard sleeve, and picking at any anomaly with each fingernail.  You smiled at me, and I winced.  I tried to cover it up with closed eyes and a half-smile, but the half-smile was hard to keep in tact with my eyes closed because the ball of fear and tears and memories welling in my throat fed on the darkness.

I shook my head and opened my eyes in time to see yours staring back at them.  You were grinning in the same way as the time when we buried our legs in the sand so the bugs would stop biting them, or when the rainstorm had us soaked and piled on top of each other for warmth in the back of your friend's SUV.  I couldn't stand to see you so happy to be there, so I averted my eyes to the cup in my hands and watched the whipped cream disappear into my hot chocolate.  Shit, this was an awful idea.

Then came the portion of our evening for mean-spirited questions, for answers formed from words carefully chosen and quietly released, for dialog.  Because with you and me it had always been late night talks about 1996 Nickelodean programming or lists of animals that have defied evolutionary norms to stay around, but talking about "us" had been carefully avoided, and we had missed our chance because there was no longer an "us" of which to speak, only a "you" and a very separate "me," and that day a "me and him" that I wasn't prepared to discuss and you weren't anxious to leave alone – a screaming example of everything that we had never been neatly packaged into the word I never let you be, graced with the time I never gave you and the patience we never had.

You had long since become an image from my past that I tucked into my suitcase for emergency self-esteem, a souvenir from days I left behind for a reason but had the odd experience of falling back into every now and again by virtue of geography and school calendars, so you and I persisted past our expiration date and on that day were left with stale conversation and a bitter aftertaste.

By the third round of interrogation, in which I hesitantly revealed a few details you begged for but didn't actually want to hear, my fingers were desperate to avoid your skin but kept landing too close because the tiny cafe table seemed tinier. The hot chocolate had lost its heat, the flavor of the whipped cream now an assault on my tongue, which paired with the assault on my ears was finally altogether too much.  The bells on the door sounded with a cruel holiday spirit that reminded us both how lonely the afternoon had been.

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