KOURTNEY GALLO is a contributing writer to Renaissance Magazine. She grew up in Ridgewood, NJ and currently attends Duke University.
"You don't seem, well, happy. Tell me truthfully. Why do you always fake a smile?"
I reddened, in anger. In embarrassment. Who the fuck was he to unveil my secret. My smile is like the one most give to a camera - big, toothy and fake; constant responses to please someone's, "Say cheese." I looked at the ground, trying to gather my thoughts so I could give a kickass, bullshit comeback, but I could feel the truth running to the tip of my tongue before I could catch it.
"Is anyone ever truly happy?" That was it. Just like that I began my tirade. "Seriously, doesn't everybody have these great expectations for themselves that can never be fulfilled. The athlete who trains his entire life to be no better than a soon-forgotten name in the local high school sports section. Or the girl voted the prettiest in her high school yearbook, but never believes it so she spends her entire life starving - binging and purging herself to be someone she'll never be. And unless you're a knight who rides a white horse, instead of the typical college frat guy who's only interested in the number of girls he can fuck by the time he graduates, you'll have to deal with the fake smiles if you want the goodbye fuck."
I turned to walk away, wondering if I had really just said all of that. I let him inside of my mind. Did that mean something? "Who the fuck are you to judge other people's happiness?" I didn't stick around for the rest of it.
I started to run, trying to avoid a confrontation I never intended to deal with in the first place, ran the entire way back to my dorm, in my plaid skirt and three inch Steve Madden platforms - the ones I can barely manage to walk in. But I ran and fell into a smooth stride, probably because running was the thing I had spent more than half of my life doing, literally. Three-inch platforms, my old Saucony's or my barefeet, it didn't matter. I could always run. Run away, Kate, just run far away.
He really got to me. Better now, no attachment after only a few months of basically mutual horny experimentation. But his hands weren't rough and quick. Instead they rounded the curves of my body so slowly, with a hint of feeling, that made me reciprocate his touches. When I said stop, which wasn't often necessary, he pulled away, rolled on his back, and laid right beside me with his subtle stare. Did I actually lean over and crawl into his arms and bury my face in his chest? Let's pretend you didn't, Kate.
Out of breath, I ran into my room, slammed the door, blasted my stereo and crawled into a ball in my unmade bed, trying to force myself to believe that he wasn't the one who was going to make me happy. But somehow I could still feel his tongue in my mouth, his lips kissing my scared tears away. I could still hear his voice, bumbling, "I think . . . well, like . . . no I do, I know . . . um . . . Okay, I'm just going to say it. I think I - no I know, I love you."
These were the words I had been waiting to hear my whole life, words seldom spoken to me, even by my parents. In fact, I could count the times I've heard them on one hand. I love you's weren't heard after I was eight, when for some odd reason my parents and I stopped the good night, I love you, kiss. Now an "I love you" twelve years later. Why? "No you don't. I mean why?" "Forget I said it." "It's forgotten." I lied. How do you forget those words? Truth, I think I might have loved him too. But he knows you too well, Kate. It's time to run.
I woke up to the ringing of the phone. I knew it would be him. He can never go to bed angry. Frustrated, I grabbed the phone and mumbled a hello.
"I need to talk to you. In person."
Flustered, I didn't know what to say. I didn't want another confrontation. "It's two o'clock, Owen. I'll call you back in a little while."
I never called him back. I just couldn't deal with it now. I needed to think for a while. Even though I maybe - possibly, okay probably - loved him, it didn't matter. He didn't love me. Why would he love me? It wasn't sex. Growing up in a Catholic family, praising the Virgin Mary since I was two, meant something to me that not many guys could understand. And even though Owen wanted to have sex, he would stop before I could doubt my virginity. "I'm sorry," I would mumble. "It's just that I - "
But before I could finish he would kiss me and bring me closer, whispering, "Ssh. I just want to hold you." Yeah right. I wondered what would happen if we stayed together for more than a year with no sex. I don't think he'd be saying he just wanted to hold me. In fact, I think he would be fucking some trampy sorority girl, probably one with huge boobs, big, dark lips and wore a tight, lycra body suit like she celebrated Halloween every night. His side dish. He would keep me around because he "loved" me but just had needs that I couldn't fulfill. Spare me the details. No one ever loves the virgin for long.
The phone rang many times that night. I lost count after twenty. I felt bad but I just kept telling myself it was for the best. He could have his hot, wild sex with the trampy sorority girl and I could live my sad, pathetic, lonely life without him.
I got up early and went for a long run. I ran down Post Road, across the bridge to the "star field." The huge, grassy knoll was like a haven for the night sky. On the clearest nights the stars and moonlight would illuminate the entire field. As a kid I had this telescope and astronomy book but I never cared to know the facts or see a few stars through some binocularized view. Instead I settled for the lawn or the driveway, lying flat on my back, thinking - about my new pink, Huffy two wheeler, my irritating retainer, my combination, about an upcoming track race, my anticipated first kiss, my biology homework, Jay's phone call, the prom.
Owen introduced me to the field on our first date, not knowing about my love for the stars. That night, the sky was brilliant, as if each star was twinkling on a perfect piece of navy velvet. We just sat there together, watching, with the occasional, almost whispered, small talk. I remember my heart beating so loud, I was sure he could hear it. I didn't know what we were doing there, why I was there, or why he wanted to sit there with me of all people. I would just keep staring at the sky as he asked how many brothers and sisters I had, what my father did, what my major was. Then he caught me offgaurd, asking me why I didn't look him in the eyes, not even for a minute.
Eye contact. I hate it. Knowing that someone is looking at you while you are looking at them, and not being able to see yourself. I don't know what I look like at that exact moment. Maybe I have a piece of broccoli stuck in my teeth or a little sesame seed. Or maybe my lipstick has run outside the lines of my lips. He can see me and I have no idea what he sees. Plus, I knew the moment I looked at him, he would kiss me, the inexperienced, Catholic school girl, and he would drop me just like that. What I didn't realize was that the kiss would still happen, it was inevitable because we both wanted it. Unexpectantly, he took my hands, pulled me to my feet, and kissed me on my forehead. Because I had been looking at the ground, it was the only place his lips could reach. "Look at me," he pleaded. So I pretended to, looking into his eyes but staring so hard that I didn't even know what I was staring at. Then we kissed. He didn't push me away or laugh or anything like that. Instead, he kept kissing and kissing me. And I kept kissing and kissing him. I didn't want to run away from him but instead, I wanted to keep kissing him in the night light. Then we just stopped. I opened my eyes and saw his eyes staring back at me. They were the most beautiful blue eyes; the color of a Carolina sky on a crisp fall day.
After our first night there, Owen and I went back numerous times, lying on our backs, thinking - about what we were going to do with our lives, why people go out and get so drunk that they can't remember who they are, and my own personal thought, why Owen wanted to be lying there with me.
"Have you ever had sex?" My question took him off guard. Here we were having some deep, in depth conversations and I brought up sex.
"Yes." That was all he said. I wanted to know more.
"Well, you can't just say yes and leave it like that! How many times? How many girls?" I was trying to hide my agitation, but the disturbed nature of my probing questions gave me away.
"Calm down," he laughed.
"I am calm. I just want to know."
"Well, have you ever had sex? I just want to know." A smart-alec reply. He got me. I didn't answer because he knew my response. I screamed virgin. "Listen," he said, as he turned on his side. "I had a one night stand with some girl my freshman year here. She was just some girl. It was stupid and meant nothing." He leaned over and began kissing me. My mind was racing. Did he use a condom? Who was she? Why did he have to sleep with her when I won't even give him a blow job?
Tired of reminiscing, I ran back to my dorm and showered. When I walked back in my room, Owen was sitting on my bed holding my stuffed sheep. "What are you doing here?" I was so pissed, basically because I looked like shit after I got out of the shower but also because he was there, on my bed.
"Look, Kate, I'm sorry for what I said but I don't think we really had a fight, right?" I knew he was right. I mean, it was basically two rather rude verbal exchanges. I ran away before it could get worse. "Kate, I just wanted to know why you seemed so unhappy. I never really see you smile. Just tell me, please."
I began to fear what I might say. I wanted to tell him the truth but didn't want him to know any more of me than he already knew. But I was ready to explode. "Take a look at me, Owen. Why do you want to be with me?" I didn't want to cry but my voice was beginning to get shaky.
"What do you mean, what do I see? I see you."
"No, I know what I see when I look in the mirror and if you see the same thing," I was crying. How could I let him see me cry over something so trivial? I tried to compose myself. "If you see the same thing, than I don't even know why you are here."
I turned around and faced the wall, trying to wipe away my tears but I was sobbing and couldn't stop. I felt him press up against me, wrapping his arms around my waist. "I love you." He said it so confidently, it scared me.
"But - " He interrupted with another "I love you" before I could try and convince myself that he didn't. He kept saying it over and over.
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