At first we met in secret places. We were both single and hungry and stupidly young. Clutching at first things, pressing the life out of them as if they were olives. Sweet fruit on our lips. A stain.
We kissed and it was inexpert. In hindsight the kisses were less than special, possibly the worst I would ever have. Love stolen in the lounge room with my sister lurking somewhere close outside. Our hands shook, our tea jiggled in the cups. We pretended of course that we had been talking whilst my mother was in the kitchen. But our fingers smelled of sex and once, or twice our lips would be glistening with the taste of each other when she returned.
This wasn’t the first love but it was close. We practiced swelling up with emotion as we used to practice holding our breath in the deep end of the pool. We pushed and jostled each other because we were still fresh from the schoolyard and its habit of trading aggression for care.
There was that time at the drive-in, all fingers and tongues and damp almost-sex. So close we came so many times. Later, in my room, alone, he paused at the edge of consummation, refusing to go over with me when I was ready to fall.
I took this personally, this lack of penetrative sex. The first crack in the veneer, ever-widening. Weekends with him in my room and this last, unexpected dimension throbbing like a bomb in my ticking chest. Free university condoms perished in a bowl by the bed. It was the end of us.
One weekend he visited and it was all the same but it wasn’t. And then it was over.
There is no such thing as a mutual decision. One heart is broken. It becomes some cruel race to see which one survives and which one does not. I took it all at a pace and moved along without him. I looked back only once, years later. I wanted an answer to the question that remained. Sex, then, finally. Nothing better or worse than any other sex. No startling revelations.
One thing. This, I remember. When we were still shrugging the schoolyard off our clothes. We were just playing, chasing, punching, rolling, till I was tired with laughing and stopped for a moment to rest against a wall. She was there, my sister, always prepared to take one leap further than the rest. A handful of ice and summer and sweat-flesh. He and she rolling on the ground where only moments before he and I had been, rolling.
I stood back at their wedding, witness, called to sign the deed and it was all there behind the awkwardness that had formed over the intervening years. The memory of bad kisses and average love. A history. And me, uncomfortable, within it. She told them all. A speech that dredged up the guilt of hearts broken, tears shed. And set the tone for the rest of it.
I stand near his casket with a complicated mix of everything. I remember that time I made love to a girl on the couch beside him. Him and me in the past tense. The drugs turning him into a shadow of himself.
“Last night? Did I?” and his lazy decompressing nod. This pressed like moths or petals beside the moments when I could not bare to be by his bedside.
“Remember when?” He would ask and I would shake my head, practicing forgetting whilst I left him there and made tea.
“I always loved you.” An echo he would take to the grave.
Now. This confession. There is always one of us who will love more. The lesson that echoes in my brain. A lesson I forget and forget until I will cut my stomach open and tear the guts out of me with my bare hands. Knowing I will never learn. A nail in the head.
“I will always love you. I will always love you.”
Someone take that hammer out of my dumb hands.