Saturday night, while planning a Relief Society lesson for the next morning, my body aches intensified to the point of distraction. I was coming down with something and decided to take a break for some ibuprofen.
I felt the chill from the lower part of the house with each step I took down the stairs and coughed to relieve the tickles from my chest. I reached the living room with old green couches and heard voices from the kitchen. As I approached, I expected the ordinary—one or more of my eleven roommates with maybe a few of their friends visiting.
When I looked towards the back of the kitchen, I recognized him immediately sitting in one of our black-backed wooden chairs at the kitchen table. I felt something beneath my ribs, something like my heart rolling over or kicking. He hadn’t seen me yet, and I continued walking to the glassed-cupboard to my left, the old carpeted kitchen floor thumping each time I stepped with my heels. My fingers tingled from what felt like an electric shock that came with the sight of him. He was so familiar; I knew where the creases of his face lay better than the girl he was visiting did. My right hand shook uncontrollably when I grabbed for my purple botanical mug. And when I went to the sink for tap water, I studied the increasing water level in my cup.
Rounding the refrigerator to get to the pantry, I had to face him, and our eyes met.“Oh, hey,” I said with a half-smile. And I got some satisfaction from knowing that he knew what my real smiles looked like. “How’s it going?”
“Hey, Aly,” he said. I wished he would leave.
When we first started dating a year ago, the girls across the hall, the ones he was such good friends with, told me in secret how he was “really into it this time” and “so happy.” I remember the first time he came over to watch Amelie with me and sat so far away on our tan couch. I remember the green, pocketed coat that he wore the night he told me he liked me and wanted to date. We stood outside my apartment door on the third floor, and all I could do was quickly nod my head and offer a closed-lip smile.
I remember the night he invited me over to an apartment to watch The Breakfast Club, and when I sat close to him, he grabbed my legs and draped them sideways over his.
I remember how every time he’d tell me he thought I was beautiful or that he was happy, his blue eyes would blink slowly, and I’d feel his truth.
I remember the blue robot shirt he wore as we stood on the chip isle at Broulim’s, when he told me he loved me and immediately called it a Freudian slip. I remember hoping he meant it.
I remember when he danced with me in the kitchen over conference weekend and dipped me after I bit into a hot dog. I choked, and we laughed. I remember when he dipped his tortilla chips in sour cream.
I remember when we laid close on his plaid couch, and the sun streamed through the blinds hitting the wall in stripes, and he told me he loved me. His arm was under my neck; I looked at him like I didn’t believe him; “Not with a big L yet, a little l,” he said. I knew I loved him back, and I was so safe.
He'd carry me when I asked him to.
I remember when the Rexburg fields were tan and dead from winter, and everything looked gold. The sun was out, and his friend Miranda took pictures of us walking down the railroad tracks, standing on the SEED building, and kissing in front of the railroad crossing sign. I remember Miranda saying to him, “Man, your kids are going to be gorgeous.” And for a minute, I let myself imagine. I never got to see those photos.
I remember when he let me touch the stubble under his chin and above his top lip. I remember when I’d grab his sides and he’d cringe and laugh. I remember when he used my acrylic paints to color a cartoon picture of me that he drew. I remember when we saw Bedtime Stories at the cheap theater, and he repeated Adam Sandler’s “For free?” line days after. I remember that my hand felt small in his. I remember seeing him parked in the Hart parking lot at the end of the walkway, waiting for me in the snow. He’d get out to hug me, before I got in. I remember walking in the cold, trying to jam both of our hands into his green jacket pocket.
I remember the night before we both had to leave for the semester. He laid under the dashboard of his old Chevy sedan, while I laid on the front seat-bench, because we both couldn’t fit there, and we talked until 3:00 in the morning. When he dropped me off at my apartment, I watched him from my third floor window. He smiled up at me as he walked in the snow to his car and got in. I waved to him as he drove away. I was confident we’d last through the summer.
I swallowed my ibuprofen in the pantry and waited for my hands to stop shaking. I said nothing when I quickly rounded the refrigerator to get back to my room, where I played a song on guitar and choked at the chorus.