by Trevor Eichenberger
Alex, when my therapist calls you my ex, I don’t correct her. Even though we never dated, and you would never call yourself what she calls you, it still seems an appropriate title for someone I am now without. To call you just a friend would be putting it too simplistic and not capture the complexities, like calling the heart an organ when it is more of a muscle mass of tissue and arteries and veins responsible for pumping blood and providing oxygen within the body. I’m not calling you my heart, Alex. I can’t live without my heart, but I can live without you. If you are anything, you are a lung, and losing you just made it harder to breathe.
There are paintings hanging in her office that look like the type of paintings done over wine. The prominent color in all of them is blue.
I try not to call you by your name. Names carry power. They make you real. Instead, I call you by your pronouns. Something indistinct. He or Him, but recently, you’ve started going by They/ Them. I’m trying to make you indistinct. When I say your name, I remember everything about you. The patch of gray in your otherwise black hair. The songs you played in the car. Your musky cologne that you wore like gravity.
You are harder to forget with a name.
You’ve changed me, Alex. My therapist records what I tell her has been altered: trouble falling asleep, a poor appetite, tearfulness. You’ve even changed my dreams. The most vivid ones always have you in them, and I’m always chasing you. The location changes, sometimes I’m chasing you between aisles in grocery stores and other times between corn stalks in an endless field, but it is always the same dream with the same urge to say something to you (don’t ask me what it is that I had to say. I only remember the urge and subsequent disappointment of unfulfillment), but I can never reach you. You turn the corner and disappear behind a cornstalk or aisle, and I have to look for you all over again. The dream repeats like this.
Alex, you never liked Sigmund Freud, but he once said that “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” I believe that. Since you are in my unconscious now, there is a road to you that I will never reach the end of. You’ve changed me inside and out.
Sometimes, I just want to smash my phone against the ground. This usually happens after I see one of your posts on social media. My therapist calls this a trigger. You smile in all the pictures, and you are never alone. You are with friends, ice skating or at the beach. You are doing everything that I hoped that we would do together and doing it so happily without me. Sometimes I wonder if you are dating any of the guys that you are pictured with. That is enough to make me cry and spurn them, even though they are strangers. I know it’s selfish, Alex.
I would have swiped right just based on your smile alone, broad and flashing the whites of your teeth like a picket-fence. You had the type of smile that made me feel safe. I had never seen teeth so straight and white before, but your dimples are what sold me. They crinkled near the corners of your lips. I thought if I dipped my thumb in the small depressions, it would sink in like milk.
When I read your profile, Alex, I was surprised. You were the first person I had come across to have “feminist” and “intersectionality” in your bio. However, I was more surprised when we actually matched, and I thought for sure it was an accident. You see, guys like you, tall with too many abdominal muscles, never swiped right for someone like me, who is just tall and all bones. Our bodies didn’t compare. So, I messaged you as a test, and you once again surprised me when you responded.
Alex, you were easily the most beautiful profile on Tinder, but I should have swiped left. It was all over once I saw your smile.
We were long distance for about six months, with you in California and with me in Nebraska, but it was an exciting and hopeful time. Alex, most of the guys that I met on Tinder fizzled out in a couple of weeks, before anything could really happen. They had all been dud takeoffs, and they stopped messaging me once they realized that I wanted something more than a hook-up. With you, I felt there was a real chance at blowing up into a volley of colorful sparks.
Miles didn’t matter when we had Skype. We talked for hours, usually about how our day went. There was a time difference of two hours between us, and by the time we would start the call, the sun would be all yours. No matter how mundane our conversations were, you always focused on me. I never had someone hang onto my words.
Sometimes, I would stumble on what I was saying until I blushed, suddenly self-conscious that I wasn’t making any sense. I was auditioning for a role that I had never played. That only made you smile. If we talked about anything important, it was usually about feminism or queer identity. That’s why you were coming to Nebraska at the end of the summer, to continue your education on those topics at the university. You were pursing your passion. Anyone who listened to you talk could tell that you were ardent. You had a specific look when you talked about them, the kind of look someone would use when they were trying to see behind the sunset.
Alex, you always said you looked forward to meeting me, and I said the same for you. We were perhaps most intimate when we were hundreds of miles away
Feminism started out as an idea and so did you. An idea is easy to love.
That summer, I had a babysitting job. It was easy money, and it gave me plenty of time to plan out our future in my head. I’d imagine that we had a kid, even gave that hypothetical child a name. If I was dreaming of a boy, I named him Noah—after my dead brother. If I dreamed of a girl, Audre— after our favorite poet and feminist.
The kids that I watched loved to paint. They would show me their colorful scribbles that were always one animal or another. I would imagine that our child was an artist, and that our refrigerator doors were covered in their paintings. We would have a house in the suburbs. You, a psychologist with your own practice, and me, the poet that I always wanted to be. I even imagined a dog in our future—a golden retriever named Lucky.
My mind liked to wander to this dangerous place.
The first time you came to see me, we went to the Homestead. You said you wanted to see B______, so we went to the place where the city started. You wrote in the guestbook, “Queer and Here,” and I admired you for that. I spent my whole upbringing here trying to hide that part of my identity; I’d been called a fag while still in the closet, and I didn’t want to give those bigots the satisfaction of being right. Yet, you had been here for less than an hour and already in all your queer glory. I never felt prouder to be queer in B______ than when I was standing beside you, Alex.
We walked the nature trails in August heat, the shade provided no comfort, but I didn’t say anything, not wanting to cut the walk short. I wanted to prolong time with you. As we walked, I noticed you had a particular step, almost like a limp. I thought it was cute. There was an abundance of monarchs out, and you told me how during reproduction, the male forces the female to the ground after he picks her from the branch like a leaf. He pins her down, dragging her during the process.
This is how it feels like now, Alex. You have fucked me over, and you're dragging me by the abdomen.
It was easier to lust after you in the shower, rather than beneath the bed covers. I didn’t have to fear my parents, or brother who I shared the room with, intrude through the doorway and ask what I was doing when it was obvious enough. You were always my clandestine pleasure, Alex. When the many hot drops struck my skin, I took relief, lathering some fruity body wash all over myself. I worked the chest first, guiding the syrup across my small perked nipples, and then I travelled down to the erect penis. With the right hand rubbing the phallus and the left hand massaging the testicles, my thoughts went to you and your naked body hardened from all those years of CrossFit. If I closed my eyes, it was easier to believe that my hands were actually yours, and you felt me up until my penis wept.
Alex, we never did anything like this. You didn’t even kiss me, even though I would have gladly and excitedly kissed you.
The first time that I dreamt of you scared me. It happened on the first night after I moved into my college dorm, and we were both finally in the same city. I only remember that I saw you, not where we were or what we were doing. You just stood there in the dream like a sculpture made from sand while the wind carried you away grain by grain until you just vanished. The dream was brief, but I woke up with sore, wet eyes. Alex, that wasn’t just a dream of you, it was a premonition.
The coffeehouse down the street from my university became our spot. We would come here on a Saturday or Sunday when we were both free and do homework together over a drink. Everything we did here became a routine, from what we ordered (you always got a caffe latte, and I always got a mango smoothie) to where we sat (on leather-cushioned stools that looked out the wall window). Even the silence between us became a routine. We chose to pay more attention to our work, rather than to each other. It wasn’t long until coming here felt lonely, like I was sitting next to a stranger.
…………………………………………………………You……………………………………………always………………………………………………… said………………………………that………………………………communication……………………………was…………………… …………………………the…………………………most……………………………………………………………………important……………… thing………………………………………………………………………………… in………………………………………..a……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. relationship.
I would walk back to my dorm from the coffeehouse and cry afterwards. I didn’t handle my emotions well, not when the future that I had all planned in my head wasn’t happening the way that I expected. I always thought that once we were in the same city, we would only naturally become closer. I never accounted for the silence. It would take days to here from you again. Even a simple Hey, what’s up became sporadic.
I was afraid that you were beginning to lose interest in me. That I had been right all along. Our bodies didn’t compare. You would tell me that school had been keeping you busy, but Alex, I had your notifications on so I would know whenever you posted on social media. You would post those pictures that made me want to smash my phone to the ground. It took a group effort to make me feel lonely. I would ball up on my bed, craving some distraction.
That’s when I would go on Grindr, to make myself desirable to some equally lonely daddy. Once I found him, we would chat a bit before exchanging nudes. They would complement the roundness to my ass, sometimes offering money for the chance to penetrate it. I didn’t want their money though. I just wanted to feel needed and not so alone.
Alex, you didn’t mean to get my hopes up. Blamed circumstances for getting in the way.
When messaging you Alex, I follow these rules:
1.) Use LOL to make him think you are happy, and everything is OK.
2.) Ask him if he wants to go to the coffeehouse or to see a movie. You don’t know when he will respond, so keep your weekend free, just in case.
3.) If he doesn’t respond to you within a week, send him another text. Something like Thinking of you or I miss you.
4.) Remind him that you are waiting for him in the politest way possible.
When I went back to the coffeehouse that we frequented together for the first time alone, I searched for you. I even sat in the same spot as all those other times and ordered the same drink. I expected it to feel different, sitting there alone, but the loneliness felt the same. The last few times that we had been there together, you brought along a friend. It was your way of saying, Don’t mistake this as a date. You always paid more attention to her, and I spurned that friend. Never you, though. I was desperate to remind you of the love that I had for you. The last time we were at the coffeehouse, I gave you a necklace. One that I made with gold chain and a stone I found from Mt. Rushmore. I had put it around your neck, and you said you normally don’t wear necklaces, but this one would be an exception. You called it beautiful, and I conflated my creation with myself.
Alex, I wonder if you still wear the necklace. Do you remember the boy who made it?
My therapist says there aren’t any pills for what I’m going through. She recommends journaling.
I’ve kept every text from you, every receipt from the coffeehouses that we’ve gone to together. I’m holding onto these things in order to hold on to you. I’m hoarding you, Alex, and it is crushing me. I have all this clutter taking up space. These are the only memories I have of us. Proof of something, although I’m not sure what they prove. Proof that I’m overly attached? Proof that I am not over you? Proof that I am still in love (with what, an idea or the man)? Would I love you without the proof? We never took any pictures together. Maybe that would have made things too real.
About the Author
Trevor Eichenberger is a queer Midwestern writer. He is currently enrolled at Nebraska Wesleyan University where he is pursuing a BA in English. His work has been featured on Allegory Ridge, CatheXis Northwest Press, and Impossible Archetype.