I’m not nearly articulate enough to explain the long, winding, bloody road that led to Chase and me falling out of merely fucking and into actual love. It’s been several years, and only the emotions remain vivid. I’m sure I’ve rounded out some edges and blurred some lines in my mind to make it more tolerable, romantic, or passionate. The details have begun to fall through the cracks; it’s now easier to forget that Chase’s death put an end to the possible rekindling of our relationship.
In our small Mid-Michigan town, we’d known each other since kindergarten. He was part of the charismatic, confident, and athletic clique. I was not interested in him during our time together at school. I was an outsider with a maximum of three friends. I didn’t party in high school; I read. He passed his classes on athletic merits alone and had a penchant for pulling pranks. Once, he left an unopened carton of milk from lunch in his locker for several months before “accidentally” dropping it in the hallway and causing a massive stink explosion. I felt too cool for anyone in his circle. In my eyes he was a boy, and all of the novels I cherished spoke of men.
But when I discovered after graduation that he was a true study in contrasts, I was hooked. He was a jock who’d cry during his favorite song, a popular guy who preferred solitude, and a womanizer who fell in love with me so hard that I still haven’t recovered.
I remember obsessing over Chase, despite how casually we began. It was the thrill of not being able to predict his moods, actions, or words. Too many times, nearly every, I had watched guys spill themselves all over my welcome mat like it took no effort to take such a risk. But Chase? I had to chase him.
He was a fun drunk, and he was often drunk in the beginning. I responded to his booty calls religiously. I would send him texts that went unanswered for long periods of time. I got lost in the black hole that was his attention span. I gave him the best sex that I knew how and I asked for nothing in return. No commitment, no dates, and no damn cuddling. I reveled in his humor and his use of my body. For the first time, I found myself truly excited by a guy because he lacked predictability.
It was fascinating to peel back his layers and see how broken he was under the façade that a small-town school had painted over him. He possessed a childhood more complicated and tragic than most, and he was nowhere close to beginning his own healing process when the two of us began. His mother had gone missing, and was a schizophrenic. His father was present, but absent – too burnt out by the four sons and their affinity for trouble. The only loyalty that Chase understood concerned his three brothers, and that resulted in co-dependent relationships and an unbreakable bond between them.
At nineteen, we weren’t looking for romance; instead, we laughed together in the face of falsely important societal cliques that had once ruled our lives. But for all of the difficulty, doubt, and disaster that preceded and dominated our doomed love story, it really became one hell of a romance.
But this isn’t a love story; everyone has one of those.
“Ow. Shit,” I said, panting and adjusting my perch on the bathroom sink. Where I sat, the small bit of porcelain creaked ominously. The faucet was digging into my lower back, but the pain wasn’t enough to make me want to stop. He was too hot: hard and fast and lovely and wrong and all encompassing. My shorts dangled from one boot-clad foot. Every time the right angle was struck, the shorts flailed a bit in the air. The party outside felt very far away in the small house, muffled behind two doors. Chase’s father surely would have been pissed if we had broken his sink, but it had survived our drunken activity.
When done, we stumbled back into the heart of the excitement in the garage, laughing against each other’s mouths. As we filled our cups at the keg I said something dry and cutting and typical of me. Chase guffawed, and instead of replying in kind, blurted, “I love you.”
Even though he was supposed to be some sort of asshole, I was the one who laughed in his face when love was mentioned. The following day, Chase claimed that the evening was lost to a booze-fueled blackout. I never brought up the slip.
Six months later he told me that night hadn’t been forgotten, and he had meant the alcohol induced confession. I found that I could say the words back with honesty, and more than a little pride; I knew I was the first to steal his heart.
Nearly three years of a tumultuous relationship ended not for lack of passion, but due to an overabundance of substance abuse. Chase had become comfortable following in his eldest brother Stefan’s footsteps. He sold and sampled popular narcotics like Oxycontin and Vicodin while Stefan was locked in prison. It was a classic case of the stupidest brand of loyalty, and I couldn’t even pretend to tolerate it.
After a fight one afternoon, I left his house and got on a plane to Austin. I spent the weekend there, ruminating. It didn’t matter that I had changed him from the guy known for hooking up at parties to the guy with a live-in girlfriend. It didn’t matter that our friends deemed us some sort of romantic anomaly due to overcoming our vast differences. When I came back from Austin, I packed everything I owned into my Chevy Malibu, and left his house for good.
I was out one night when I ran into Chase’s identical twin, Cam, at a bar. The easiest way to tell the two apart was apparent: it was much easier to make Cam grin. The breakup was still fresh, and Chase and I hadn’t yet progressed from his anger and my guilt into anything remotely resembling friendship.
“How is he?” I asked Cam, knowing I’d get a straight answer.
Despite his smile Cam said, “He got sober after you left. But when he realized you weren’t coming back…”
The sentence didn’t even deserve an ellipsis because it’s so complete.
One day that summer, my friend Dusty had a beach party. It had the tone of an accidental class reunion, like most small-town gatherings did after graduation. My shoes were lost in the sand, but I wasn’t concerned–I held a cold, somewhat full beer in my hand. Josh, my companion, was a guy that wasn’t old enough to get into a responsible drinking establishment. He hovered by my side, scared to stray. He fell into a conversation with my latest ex, Justin; they discussed a mediocre local band they both knew.
Another figure wandered through the sand and joined our trio. A familiar flutter of anticipation assaulted my stomach. It was Chase, still chuckling at something Cam had called after him. He glanced at Justin, then me, then Josh. He pulled a serious face when he realized he was the third conquest of mine to be standing in our circle.
“Look out. She’s a goddamn heartbreaker,” he told Josh, who laughed and threw an arm over my shoulders.
I scrunched my nose at Chase, a sassy reply, and his face broke into a grin. It was inseparable from the ones he tossed my way after a particularly good orgasm or a well-timed bit of snark.
Swallowing my beer was difficult when I realized that grin was reserved for me.
Two years later, I was selling shoes to middle-aged women at the mall in the same small-town where Chase and I had grown– together and apart. A local sixteen-year-old girl and a perky woman named Misty were my counterparts for the day. Business was slow; everyone had shied away from Christmas shopping in fear of being out on the road in the heavy snowfall.
At the end of my shift Nicole, the teen, followed me into the backroom on the pretense of checking my bag for stolen items, as per the company policy. In reality, she was only checking her text messages. I flicked my own phone to life, frowning when I saw that I had a missed call from Tyler, an out-of-state friend I knew through Chase.
I glanced up and took note of how much wider Nicole’s eyes appeared at that moment. Her phone was clutched in her hand, her fingers were frozen on a reply.
“Chase Walker is dead.”
Knowledge, especially gossip and tragedy, buzzed around our town quicker than head lice through a classroom. Everyone knew the Walker family: four sons raised by a single father, all incredibly talented athletes, each stumbling down the wrong path in their own ways.
It took me nearly an hour to drive home in what had become a blizzard. Every time I felt close to crying I reminded myself that I wouldn’t be able to see the icy road, so I didn’t. By the time I pulled into my driveway I had plenty of texts, mostly condolences, and some rumors about Chase’s death being an overdose. We all knew the rumors were true, but hesitated to paint them as more than speculation.
An hour later, Dusty braved the storm and pulled into my driveway, to whisk me away for the night. I slipped into his car and shook snow from my hair. Dusty was silent. He was too smart to ask how I was doing, and like me, a bit allergic to emotions.
“It should have been Stefan,” I said, instead of any sort of grief-laced lamentation.
“Yeah, it should have been,” he agreed, instead of forcing out a meaningless platitude.
No one at the funeral looked at me like I could have prevented any of it from happening. In fact, no one looked at me, except for the occasional pitiful glance for the only girl Chase had loved. Cam’s words were wedged in my head, But when he realized you weren’t coming back. No one needed to say anything at all.
The Halloween a few months before Chase’s death went very poorly for me. I could count on two fingers the amount of nights I had spiraled out of control and into angry fighting, crying, and fleeing. So when my favorite holiday turned out that way, I called Chase, well after midnight. I expected him to be having much too good a time to answer.
He more than surpassed my expectations; he showed up at my place, sober. He sat on my bed, attentive, and listened to me recount the completely menial fight I had that night. Our discussion quickly dissolved into better topics, and I found myself laughing like the nineteen year old I hadn’t been in quite some time.
The whole time we sat there talking, I wanted to reach across the six inches separating us, the six inches that might as well have been equal to a thousand fucking miles, and just touch him. But I didn’t. I felt like it could have been the scariest thing I’d ever done. I had a sense that round two of our relationship would have no expiration date.
To love is to lose, and to lose is to, well —
But love doesn’t begin that way, otherwise only the truly masochistic would participate. It’s true, though, no matter the beginning, that the endings all seem eerily similar. Denial, anger, and resignation all swarm around the rubble of a failed relationship, often far longer than the relationship itself existed. Death doesn’t always interrupt the process of getting over someone, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
It happened to me.
“He knew you loved him,” everyone says after the story inevitably slips out. But no one is burdened with the same sun-warmed memories of mornings with him, always spent after a never-ending night. We laughed through our budding hangovers and refused to keep our hands to ourselves. And no matter how many times the words “I love you, I love you, I love you” fell from my lips, I could see his doubt. Chase never felt worthy of anyone’s love, and mine was no exception. Our story lacks a resolution.
So I let time wash over the open wound of what once was; I let it build a layer of misremembered good times and dulled-down bad times. I make myself cope with having so much more to say to him by finally saying, with utmost honesty, that just because I was a loser and he had been on the homecoming court, we never would have had our happy teen movie ending.