History is not, as they say, written by the winners; it is won by the writers. So I sat in an empty apartment clicking through my Facebook profile pictures and deleting the ones with his face next to mine, curating a story in which he was not a character, changing the image of my past.
“I don’t know what you see in him,” a friend told me once over coffee. “He’s not smart, he’s not funny, he’s not interesting, Kate,” and the thought settled into me somewhere, like sand in an oyster, to be worked over and over.
We build idols, it seems, that we think we can handle. They say that they adore us and in exchange we offer sacrifices. Why else would the Israelites have built a golden calf and not a bull, at least, or a dragon?
“We love him because he first loved us,” reads Romans, but also, less piously, a chorus of disappointed girls.
He was not particularly tall and not particularly good-looking, though his smile was disarming and he had nice eyes. He was alternately attentive and dismissive; he was stubborn; he was spoiled. And this is, of course, how I recall the story, ameliorated as it is by time.
The story has already been through several re-writes. When I first caught his eyes following me and the reddening of his face when I spoke, I told myself it was the start of something immense, something beautiful.
When our togetherness had calcified into habit and his words of affection were stiff and forced, the stories I told were more desperate, more grasping. I tried to fit him in the back pocket of my dreams.
“That’s not me,” he told me stubbornly, and I thought I resigned myself to a different kind of life. I used to picture myself at the altar, his hand lifting the veil, my head upturned. I could picture the kiss, but not the words that came before it.
“Say nice things to me,” I pleaded with him once in desperation.
“You’re beautiful,” he told me, which had once been enough, back when he was the first to ever tell me, “…and smart?” I felt myself slipping away, all the parts of me that he didn’t understand, all the pieces I never gave him because he couldn’t or didn’t want to carry them.
It’s been a year at least since I clicked through his Facebook photos but I would still know where to halt—in high school, where acne still patterns his face and his hair is so long that the ends curl up. I would keep in front of me this image of a boy with braces, bug-eyed and suitably small-looking. I would be embarrassed but not apologetic. Everyone makes mistakes, mine just lasted two years! Ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha.
He disappeared from my Photos folder, from my Facebook news feed in a way that was not anger or impulse as much as house cleaning. I knew I would not want anything else from this man, who hated poetry and puns and car games on road trips, who was bored by world news and thought racism wasn’t as big a deal as they were making it out to be.
(Notice how I weasel out his worst to lay before you? Notice all this time how self-consciously I’ve made my case?)
I think I told him once, “Be careful, you’re dating a writer.” Perhaps I only wished I did.
I can say I did. It would make the story better.