Tethered - Photo by Zoe Oppenheimer

The world is suffocating tonight. It’s gasping for breath. It’s drowning, drowning in a chipped china bowl of sugary-sweet regret.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I’m dangerously close to flying untethered, I think. It’s the unequivocal truths that keep me grounded. What I know is all I have left.

I know who I am, at least on the outside. I’m tall, and my hair is long, and blonde, and it swirls in every breeze. I have freckles, scattered around my face, and a mole under my right eye, and my smile is the slightest bit crooked. Once, you told me I look like melted sunlight. I can’t remember what I said next to you. Something about stars, maybe. Or the moon.

I know I don’t want you to run to me when everyone else is gone, but that doesn’t stop me from loving you. I know I’m your last option, but I can’t help but give in. I’m hopeless. I’m a husk: a me-shaped cutout for you to suck the love out of.

Knowing things hurts, but it keeps me from flying away.

I’m cold out here, and lonelier than I have ever been. I’ve given you it all: everything that was inside of me, gone, just because you needed some love. I’m empty, I think. Hollow.

And you’re rushing toward me, long-legged and faultless, beautiful and cruel. There’s no time for hellos, because there’s something hard and broken in your gaze.

And then you’re kissing me. And everything I’m trying to convince myself fades softly away, replacing itself with the deep, horrible urge to stay.

Your hair is damp, like you’ve just taken a shower. You smell like peaches and cinnamon and your lavender shampoo. Your skin is soft and brown and everything about this moment is lovely. It’s a snapshot for the dictionary definition of perfect, and it’s so simple, just kissing under the soft gaze of the stars.

And it’s so, so wrong. Because I can feel the moon staring at me, judging me. There’s no use being angry, because I know it myself, and that knowledge swings me back into reality, into the truth.

I can’t be your secret love. No matter what I tell myself, I know you mean more to me than I ever will to you. If I’m your silver, you’re my gold.

But in this strange, hazy light, I can’t think straight. The world is sleepy, and dimly lit, and it fools me. It makes me think you want me.

I’m a coward. We both know that, I think. So I stand there and I take it. Each kiss is like a punch in the gut. A soft, beautiful punch in the gut. Because I know that after tonight, I will never let myself have this again.

I hope that the right time will come someday. I do. But for now, I’ll be willing to let this “love” die. It hurts to realize it, but I need to. The only half-okay thing I can do now is walk away from all of this, from the kisses in the dead of night and the crying phone calls and all the text messages I’ve sent, packaged and stamped with read receipts, and your dangerous allure.

A cool breeze flutters through the grass, tousling my hair and giving me chills through my maroon hoodie. I wonder if I look like melted sunlight now. I don’t think so. There’s nothing warm about any of this.

And I’m dreaming of, and hating the thought of, the day when you call me, crying, and you beg me to come, and I say no. And I’m dreaming of, and hating the thought of, the day you show up on my doorstep, hair uncombed and mascara a mess, ready to use me like a cheap, not-particularly-sticky Band-Aid.

And I’m dreaming of, and hating the thought of, that day, the day when I’m able to look you right in the eyes and say, “I don’t want to just be your solace, to run and cry to. I can’t be your ‘secret love,’ if that’s how you treat me.”

And I’m praying that when that day comes, I won’t back down. Even when you’re bawling, mumbling lies about how much I mean to you and how you can’t live without me. Because I know those are lies, we both know it. I love you more than you love me, and that means we’ll never be right together.

But here, now, your hand is running through my hair, and I’m afraid. I’m afraid because this light blinds me to what’s important, and I don’t want this to be obscured again. I don’t want the stars to fool me into thinking this is love.

Because the truth is so clear it hurts. I’m not yours, and I never have been. I’m just your second best, your handy backup option. I’ve been pretending, but this was never real.

I don’t pull back. I don’t say it to you, that I can’t be your secret lover, that this is just a sham, an exercise in imitation. But I know it now, and that’s more important.

Here are a few facts tethering me to the ground:

I have long golden hair, freckles, and a crooked smile.

I’m wearing a maroon hoodie and standing in the cold.

I can’t be your second best, the one you call when the others are gone.

I won’t keep sating myself on a love that’s always been artificial.

I’m going to go home when we’re done here. Maybe I’ll take a shower, put on my comfiest pajamas. And I’ll sleep better than I have in weeks.


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