I once knew a man who cared for everyone but himself. He would walk to the ends of the earth for his friends, but he wouldn’t do a thing for himself. And people tried to make him care about himself, I tried to make him care, but it was hopeless. I wasn’t sure he knew how to care for himself and that made me sad. And he couldn’t wrap his head around how that made me sad, and I never expected him to because I knew how he was.
He was selfless and he thought that made him good. But he would drink his problems away and couldn’t understand how that hurt me, too. He would invite me over to watch over him while he drank and I tried to get him to stop, but it was no use trying because he did what he wanted and he would never listen to me if the advice was about his own safety.
And I cared for him. I cared for him more than I’d ever cared for anyone. And he knew that, or at least he knew part of that. I cared for him because he was good. He had good intentions, at least usually or when it came to his friends.
And I tried for so long to write something for him, but I could never get it right. Because it’s all so complex and I could never put it all into words. Maybe if I was given more words, I could explain what it is I feel for him. But for now, I’ll say I care.
Eloquent, but not with you.
I could never tell you how
much you meant to me or
how much I love to see you.
With you, I’m distracted by
your eloquence and the way
you carry yourself like you
matter. And you do, and it
distracts me. I’ve never met
someone who matters like
you do. And I think it scares
me how little you know how
important you are. And you
and I listened.
I talked, too
but you only heard
what you wanted.
You heard me when
I was disinterested
and when I was upset,
but you didn’t hear
the love I had for you
and all the admiration
I once felt
And it’s still there
but you never wanted that,
I met a man once who talked like everyone was listening. He had straight brown hair and big brown eyes. And when he spoke, people listened. And I listened, too, but I didn’t want to. He looked at me one day like he was seeing me for the first time.
From then on, he talked to me like I was always listening. And I still didn’t want to, but how could you not? And I was young, only just eighteen. He was twenty and didn’t once think about his future. He would talk to me and I would listen.
He told me about how he got his license taken away and I ignored the red flag. He lived ten minutes away and I would pick him up in my old, beat-up Saturn. And one night specifically I remember we were out late after work, somewhere between 11 pm and 1 am. And we were at the convenience store down the street from his house and I still didn’t realize he was trouble when he went out of his way to go into a full-blown politics talk with a stranger who stood outside the convenience store the whole time we were there.
I remember overhearing the stranger say to him, “Who’s piece of shit ride is this?” and he said it was his friend’s car. I laughed at the time, but I remember thinking I wish we were more than that. And I can’t believe I ever wanted that.
This twenty-year-old actor who only wanted one thing and he got that from me, and he cared for a week or so, but then ghosted. And this eighteen-year-old unsure of their place in the world let him take whatever he wanted because it was summer and that’s what you do when you’re eighteen in the summer.
And at the time I remember I didn’t think he was taking advantage of me because I wanted it, too. But really, I just wanted to feel like I mattered.
It was the smell of spring that brought me back,
it was the heat radiating off the gravel.
It was the first time I remembered how to smile
after my final breakdown last winter.
It was the feeling of knowing things will work out
despite not knowing how to get there.
It was the relief after the weight in my chest lifted,
I’ll be okay and nothing can stop that.
I’ve had this goal since I was seven. Who can say that? I’ve wanted the same thing since I was in the second grade. And some days it feels like I’m barely any closer than I was back then. Of course, that’s not true. I’ve started and scrapped countless novels that just didn’t work or had some flaw or I got bored of. And every time I scrap a novel, I feel like I’m back in second grade again, the only book I finished being one I wrote about the boys in my class. It was three pages long and in the end they all turned into vampires. It seems that ever since then, I haven’t been able to finish anything but a poem. And half the time those don’t even feel finished.
But it’s fine, I tell myself. I’m only 22. There’s still time to write a full-length novel. I should cut myself some slack, writing a book is hard work. It takes years for most people to finish a book, and not to mention I’m still in school. And there was a point where I was going to give up writing altogether. Which now seems insane to me. When I’m writing is mostly the only time I ever feel like I’m truly accomplishing something, like I’m genuinely happy. And I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
Sometimes when I’m pouring my coffee, I like to imagine I’m a server at a small diner in the middle of nowhere. I’m getting that table of four their coffee first thing in the morning. They’ve clearly been up all night. Their rugged attire and laid-back attitudes had me assuming they’re musicians. No one around here had ever seen them before.
I brought them their coffee and asked if they were ready to order. The one wearing a leather jacket and smelled strongly of cigarettes turned to me with a flirtatious smile, I made another assumption that he was their lead singer.
“We’re ready.” He said kindly. I couldn’t make out his accent, but he definitely wasn’t from around here. It sounded southern. But this was upstate Maine, three hours from the nearest city.
I took their orders and their accents became more prominent. It was southern, no doubt. Maybe Kentucky or maybe Texas. I asked where they were from.
“I thought you’d never ask.” The charismatic lead singer said with a grin much too big. I didn’t trust him. He reminded me of my ex who would go on vacations with his friends and come back with more notches on his bedpost. I know it was unfair of me to assume this of him, but when you’ve been burnt like I have, it’s hard not to.
It was early. We had just opened. The rush hadn’t yet begun. Around here, the rush doesn’t start until 8. The table of four were the only ones in here besides a few older folks at the bar.
I watched the table of musicians talk among themselves. The radio being right next to me, I couldn’t make out what they were saying. All I could hear was melodies and an off-tune voice. I realized I never knew if they were musicians. I just assumed. I always assume. It’s how I stay safe.
This is just a little fictional piece I thought of this morning while making coffee, based on my bad habit of assuming things of people before I get to know them.