“There’s a love at every corner,” he told me. “You’re on another level for me.”
I had learned over to kiss him and, for the first time since we met, he’d refused.
For him, I was on the level of his closest childhood friend, he continued – whom I had met, along with his whole immediate family, in the intoxicating early days of our relationship.
I now know what he meant, but it’d take me years to fully appreciate it. At the time, I just felt unwanted, unattractive.
I got out of his car, pushed the door shut with a little too much force, and walked away to my car. My skin began to sting from the day at the beach earlier; hair smelled of salt, was rough to the touch, a bit tangled; my pants and top were a bit incongruous. I wondered if that’d played a role in his rejecting me.
He didn’t come after me, and the forlorn dusk in the emptying mall parking lot echoed my internal state.
He and I had ushered each other into adulthood. He’d taken my virginity, taught me to like my body a bit more, sat through and held me tight during my high school graduation. I’d taken him out of a romantic rut, made him want to commit, gave him support as his family situation forced him to quit college abroad where we were and start working for survival.
Ironically, I’d decided to stay abroad largely because of him, and then he ended up having to go back home. I’d let go of an early music career opportunity back in our mutual homeland of Brazil to take entry-level service industry jobs in the U.S. and pursue a college education at the same time, able to cover tuition myself.
Right as I was starting college, we broke up. Although grown-up in some ways, we were still too young and restless.
For a while, we couldn’t let go, though. We continued to see each other unofficially, hopping among the different beds where he happened to be staying during his periods in town.
“…a love at every corner. There’s a love…”
I kept replaying his words in my head as I entered and sit in my car that summer evening, lingering in my parking space long after he’d pulled away from his. I’d followed his car’s rear end with my eyes, its red brake lights at the stop sign, until it disappeared around the bend.
I reached into the compartment between the front seats where I kept a stack of mixed CDs outside their cases. Some were scratched and skipping. All were filled with songs we both liked and shared in our relationship. Most of them, he had introduced me to.
And now I was stuck with more than a hundred songs reminding me of our moments.
I popped in one of the CDs – I don’t recall which – with letters scribbled across it in permanent marker, and closed my eyes. The soundtrack temporarily retrieved me those afternoons and evenings a couple of years back when time seemed to stop.
But it came interspersed with flashes from the more recent afternoons and evenings when part of me couldn’t wait to get out of his bed borrowed from a stranger, and away from his body which now felt like a stranger’s, while the other part of me desperately tried to hang on.
I didn’t understand back then, but I do now. “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I could only ever have him back the way he was, and I guess myself as well, through certain verses in certain songs.
“There’s a love at every corner.”
I turned the key inside the ignition and checked my phone. A few missed calls and messages.
I’d totally forgotten.
I suppressed a tear as I looked into the rearview mirror and renewed my lip gloss, pressing my lips tightly together. My scalp hurt as I tried to brush my salt-hardened hair with a little too much force.
With the soundtrack still playing, I pulled away from the mall parking lot, on to the next date.