Forget About Us

July 14, 2019 Manhattan, USA

The author struggles to reconcile her unexpected attraction with her preconceived notions of love.

Illustration by Lily Fang

We met in the summer, when I had just turned 21. I was visiting a friend interning in New York City, and at night, we went to a club in Meatpacking with a rooftop, amazing view of downtown, not-so-amazing view of Jersey, and tiresome disco music.

My friend took it upon herself to wing-woman for me. Soon enough, we were chatted up by a white “finance bro” who, when we ignored him, asked if we spoke English, as if a language barrier was the only plausible explanation for our disinterest. He was accompanied by someone who looked more like a loose acquaintance than a friend, taller and darker-skinned with curly black hair and quieter demeanor.

My friend, seeing how the second one caught my eye, led the finance bro to another area of the club, leaving him and me alone.

We chatted for a while, and I realized how different we were: he was from the Bronx, dropped out of college, and now worked as a filmmaker and video producer. Meanwhile, I had Midwestern origins, elite college status, and pre-med plans. 

“My mom would love you,” he joked.

A breeze left me shivering in my crop top, and he pulled me into his arms, my head against his chest. His fingers tilted my face upward and he kissed me, soft and gentle, but with a stroke of unexpected boldness, I leaned into him for more and deepened the kiss.

When we broke apart, he said, “You have such soft lips.”

“Thanks, I exfoliated,” I mumbled.

We laughed at the absurdity of my unsexy reply and moved to one of the couches that had just been vacated. Between our kisses, we talked about seemingly everything. He made me guess his race, and when I picked Latino, he said he was actually Vietnamese, taking pleasure in my surprise. He told me about his nice aunt back in Vietnam, his abusive father that he hadn’t talked to in over a decade, and his Catholic upbringing and lapse in practice. I shared about the places I’ve traveled, my depression and anxiety, my own faith, and my uncomfortable relationship with my body. Never before had I been so vulnerable so quickly, but his own honesty and dark, earnest eyes loosened my tongue.

Time flew by, and before I knew it, we had to leave. I reluctantly turned away from him and rode the elevator down again while he stayed in the club a while longer.

For the next week, I tried to put him away in a corner of my mind, but my fingers itched to contact him. Finally, against my better judgment, I did. Over the next few months, we occasionally exchanged flirty messages, even called a few times to whisper meaninglessly to each other. Every moment we spent together filled me with an inexplicable warmth.

***

I met him again at the same club nearly half a year later. He said he didn’t dance, but he smiled as I tried to swing his arms and pull his body into my rhythm. We went to the rooftop again, but it was too cold to stay. We came back inside, kissed in the stairwell, on the dance floor, against the window facing Jersey, and finally decided to take the train uptown to the place I was staying.

We fell into bed, and time became measured by touches and kisses—though never sex, of that I was adamant. Much like our first encounter, we augmented our physical intimacy with conversation and vulnerability. He told me more about his past, about the father who had also been an alcoholic and permanently scared him away from drinking. This made him want to be a good dad, if he ever became one. I also admired how he took care of his mom, who couldn’t really take care of herself.  

Around four in the morning, we fell asleep, wrapped in each other, in blankets, in the darkness of blackout curtains that he said were an essential part of city life. His skin, his body—slim but not skinny, strong but not bulky—and his face when he slept were so soft. It was the first time I had spent the whole night with someone in the same bed. 

***

In the months that followed our second meeting, my attraction to him hummed in the background of my mind. The more I tried to understand it, the more confused I became. My plans in love and romance were to find a “nice Christian boy” who fell neatly into my preconceptions of love, but he shook up these plans. I couldn’t pin down the source of my attraction. Perhaps I was intrigued because he was so different from me — though that felt almost like an uncomfortable brand of exoticism. Maybe it was because we had shared so many breathless intimate moments, but I also knew that I was capable of intimacy without the stomach-tightening desire that I felt for him.

Regardless, I continued to crave his texts and his calls, eyes lingering too long on his Instagram posts of street art and fashion, seeking any avenue to be a little closer to him. I was too scared to call this “love,” because this didn’t look like the “love” that I was expecting, so I dismissed it as “infatuation” despite that it had lasted nine months across over a hundred miles.

***

The last time I saw him was when I visited New York in March. Immediately after I solidified my plans, I texted him to let him know I was coming—and then, still staring at my phone, I realized that I had let this go too far. I knew, deep down, that I was wasting my time, that any thought I entertained of being more than a hook-up to him was a thought wasted. My growing feelings for him bore an edge of desperation and dissatisfaction, because I believed we were too different to stay together. While I wanted to find true love and settle down, he loved his freedom to do whatever he wanted, with whomever he wanted. 

Even more alarming was the recognition that my attraction didn’t just boil down to lust. I’ve lusted before, but in lust, I have never craved someone’s voice and time as much as their touch. I have never wanted to hear their life stories and shoulder their pains without judgment. I have never clung to them as if I’d sink without them.

So I resolved to end things with him, much to the relief of my friends who had dealt too long with my angst and lovesick blank stares, who agreed that these feelings could never develop into a relationship. 

He showed up at the doorstep of my Airbnb in the afternoon. We went to my room as I chatted nervously, but the words died in my throat when we fell onto the bed and each other.

When we stopped to enjoy the feeling of simply resting together on cheap slippery sheets, I ran a hand through his damp curls.

“When are you coming back to New York?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I don’t know where I’ll be working next year, and then…” The words were too heavy for my tongue to hold any longer. “This will be the last time we see each other,” I blurted out.

“Why?”

“I think about you too much.”

"Then forget about me,” he said. “Find someone who makes you happy.”

How could I forget about him? How could I forget about someone whose presence had shaken up my entire being? Tears of fear that he would be a forgotten memory, of frustration that I couldn’t put to words what exactly he was to me, spilled over. He gently wiped them away with his thumb, cradling my face in his hands.

“You remind me a lot of my first girlfriend,” he said. She had also been hopelessly attracted to him, and he was ready for sex, though she wasn’t. But — “You’re going to think I’m a bad person” — she left the city for a weekend, and he lost his virginity to a classmate who became his second girlfriend after his first broke up with him when he confessed.

The point is, he continued, he wasn’t good for me. He couldn’t wait for me, and the last time he tried, he cheated on someone he truly loved. He didn’t want to get married; now that he had established a secure sense of identity, he wanted the freedom to pursue his happiness.

Yet, even after hearing all this, his arms still felt like home to me. I was never under the illusion that we could entertain the thought of a relationship. He valued untethered independence, which was too whimsical to provide the stability I crave.

The sun was setting, so I pulled him close and wrapped my legs around him.

What am I to you? I thought, but didn’t ask. The answer was pointless, anyway.

We dressed and headed out to take the 6 together; he would get off a stop before I did. He held onto the pole on the train, and I held onto him. He was unusually chatty as we headed downtown, but I couldn’t hear his words, only his voice, trying to ingrain it into my memory forever above the sound of the train racing along the tracks.

A stop before he had to leave, I leaned into him. The hunger returned. He grabbed me and pulled me close and I hated how our coats kept us from crushing our bodies tighter against each other.

“You’re incredible,” he whispered. “I hope you enjoy your life.”

As the train pulled into the station, he pressed his lips to mine one more time before he stepped away. My arms fell limply at my sides. He stepped onto the platform, and he turned to smile gently and wave one last time. Then the doors slid shut, and he was gone, the thread holding us together severed as we drifted farther away in a city of millions.

I didn’t want to be that girl crying on the subway, so I let my tears stream down my cheeks before trying to dab them away inconspicuously with my sleeve. But in that train car of New Yorkers with eyes closed and earbuds playing a dozen different tunes, I needn’t have worried about being noticed.

***

On the bus ride back to school, I fell into a restless and exhausted nap. I had music playing in my ears to drown out the sound of the road, and somewhere along the blurred line between consciousness and sleep, one song stood out to me.

I wish I could tell you how it feels to need you...
I can’t take it, the 
Aftertaste of the 
Love we make when you’re 
Lying on the bedroom floor
(Aftertaste, Whethan)

Even when the taste of this fleeting love was fiery and sweet, the aftertaste was like bitter salt. 

I sent the song to a friend who had been with me through the entire arc of this story and knew of my last encounter with him. A few minutes later, my phone buzzed; she had sent me a song in return. 

I know it hurts sometimes but you'll get over it 
You'll find another life to live 
I swear that you'll get over it.
(Life Goes On, Lil Uzi Vert)

When I stumbled off the bus and into my dorm, I stripped off my clothes and stepped into the shower, turning on water so hot it scalded me. I closed my eyes and washed away the last traces of New York City and of him from my skin.

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