It’s So Tempting, Isn’t It?
I was trying to help when I told you what I saw him do. How he slipped his hands into her back pockets to bring her close. An intimate repeat performance of their run-in under the mistletoe that they played off as a funny accident and satisfied with a peck. But he doesn’t make mistakes. In the one dark corner of the holiday party full of bulbs and candles and light, he convinces her that he’s going to leave you.
I was trying to help when you two started dating and I had some follow-up questions. How you cheated on his ex in the copy room. The hyperventilating machine spewing hot air that reeked of plastic as you kissed and groped and said hi between breaths like you’d invented all this. The whispers. The secrets. The hot-breathed promises. How you adjusted yourself to seem more attractive to him. Stopped wearing your hair up. Started dyeing it a lighter shade. Grew it out so it was past your shoulders. Small adjustments until you were unrecognizable and his.
I was trying to help when I showed you who you used to be. How you sliced off pieces of yourself and served them up as signs of your delirious devotion. The weird bobbles and knobs that made you uncomfortable and became lodged between you and him. But those are the parts that reach into the right people and connect you. The bonds that will make you feel like the lightning strike that morphs sand into glass on a beach. And you’ll remember how you were this magnificent, many-colored weirdo until you got too tired of waiting around for the things you wanted from life when you could tweak yourself and have it all.
We wanted movie love. Love at first sight, love when it was hard, love that lasted. We wanted someone’s hand on our lower back to thaw us like we’d never been hurt before. For soundtracks to start right before the big kiss. The kiss that would alter our brain chemistry and transform us into the kind of women who believed in true love, soulmates and fate. We wanted to gaze into their eyes and imagine every permutation the night could take—oh, the things we could do if we had time—and be elated with all of them. We wanted destiny and mood lighting that didn’t feel cheesy or forced. We wanted passion that made our arm hairs stand on end. For their oxygen to be our oxygen. Our triumphs to be their triumphs. We wanted our toes to curl, our backs to arch, our hands to grip the sheets as if we were about to spin off the earth. We wanted to mind meld and split like an atom and braid our bodies back together. We wanted to run away sometimes because we were scared of how much we would throw away for one more touch, one more graze. We wanted to excise the parts of us that knew better, and act on instincts that led us to reuniting under a tequila-soaked full moon because everyone acts weird under a full moon. We wanted excuses that worked and didn’t give our guilt monsters new heads. We wanted to get cheated on and forgive because the love was so crushingly huge that we couldn’t breathe without it and who doesn’t make mistakes? We wanted every step to be a step in the right direction, on the path that was meant for us, leading to the greatness of our lives. We wanted it all to be real, tangible, thrilling. But we knew better. We knew that movie love was invented to sell tickets. That great love was out of reach, and epic romances only happened in stories. Stories that created a hunger and temporarily satisfied it before leaving us more empty than we were at the beginning.
After Justin Torres’s “We Wanted More”
Center Stage and All She Can Hear is Her Mother’s Voice
“Whatever happens,” the dance teacher says, “don’t stop.” The girls are dressed like PG versions of Playboy Bunnies. All fuzzy white ears and pink leotards. Yanking on the hems of their costumes. They nod. One girl is slumped over on the floor and covered in constellations of chicken pox like the night sky, sloppily slathered in pink calamine lotion. Her mother dolled her up with dark eyeshadow, red lipstick and rouge framed by her short blow-dried hair. The mess is all the girl, and she’s focusing on what she can control.
“Dance of the Reed Flutes” begins. There’s a lag on stage, like the scene hasn’t loaded properly with everyone’s hands at different positions. Pigtails bumps into Braids and crashes onto her butt. Braids stops and rubs her arm. The collision’s impact ripples through the group, spreading stasis. But the chicken pox girl, our girl, keeps dancing like her feet will catch fire if she stops. She’s not more graceful than the others, hasn’t memorized the dance better, doesn’t even like the music. She’s there, pox-ridden, because of her mother. Our girl will make her sorry. One by one the dancers drop off until she’s the last one. The lone ballerina poorly pirouetting and goofing off for the cringing, twittering audience.