They sat across from each other in a vacant diner at midnight, high out of their minds, and pancakes in front of them. The pancakes, had the couple been sober, were bad. They sucked. No one comes here and orders the pancakes, especially not in the middle of the night. But to them, two stoned 21-year-olds, they were the best pancakes they’d ever had.
The man, tall, about six foot, unshaven, stomach just about reaching the table in front of him from where he sat back on the booth, made a joke about the pancakes and the woman, despite her best efforts, laughed. She didn’t think the joke was funny, in fact it might’ve even been the worst joke she’d ever heard, but she had the social obligation to act like she cared about him.
And he thought she cared. He was so certain that she cared because he lied so flawlessly whenever she came close to catching him. He was so convinced no one would ever catch his lies; he’s been doing it his whole life, at this point change his name to Lyin’ Brian. And she didn’t want to believe he would deceive her like he did. He was so nice, and so caring, how could someone be so heartless?
So, she had her suspicions and he had his bad jokes, and together they had bad decisions. They both thought they were made for each other, how silly that seems to them now. Because when it came down to it, she could only manage a laugh with him when she smoked, and he could only exist in the world when he did. And what kind of life is that?
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.
I remember the night that I realized I was going to be okay. There’s been a few nights like that, but this one was special. I was driving. It was at some point during the lowest part of my adult life. I remember I was driving; I was nineteen, and I didn’t know where to go, but I needed to be distracted. I remember I was about a half hour from home and I came across a beach I used to go to with my ex who lived in that town. Not the ex that had broken up with me a few weeks prior. An ex from what felt like a lifetime ago.
I remember a song was playing. I was in my old car. It was a convertible, but I had the hood up. I usually did and it made sense that I did because it was February on Cape Cod. It was cold. I had the heat blasting and I felt warm.
I remember the song that was playing. I remember the lyrics resonating with me. I remember sitting at the beach after sunset, and I nearly cried. I didn’t know what the world was going to throw at me, I didn’t know all the mistakes that were to come in the following year that could’ve been avoided if I just didn’t date my ex that came next.
I didn’t know what would happen and if I would be happy again soon, but I knew I would be someday. I remember snow started to fall. I didn’t even know it was supposed to snow. And I remember I made a playlist of all song that reminded me of my ex who broke my heart more than anyone ever had, and I remember thinking I’d never be the same. And it’s true. I’m not who I was then, I’m better.
And I knew at the time that I was in a bad place, I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew I was. But I also knew I’d come out of it as I had time and again. I didn’t know when, but I knew I would.
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.