Rap, rap, rap.
Forming a fist to knock on Caleb’s door took every ounce of energy I had. My hand was noticeably shaking as it levitated in the air in between taps. My heart; a metronome with the thud of a sonic boom. Sickness was finding its way up my gastrointestinal tract as I attempted to make a pact with myself, promising not to cry upon seeing Caleb’s face, surrounded by gray blond hair and contorted into a half-smile.
I heard foot steps and something fall to the ground.
“Wait!” the breathless voice I knew so well called out.
“Okay,” I said, trying to inject some kind of congeniality, some familiarity into my reassurance. Instead, it came out sounding strained, like a parrot trying to imitate a three year old.
“Shit, he knows it’s me now,” I realized.
Three seconds later, the door creaked open. Caleb’s long, bone white fingers curled around the door’s edge and he rested his head on the door frame. That head, so full of wicked dreams, spiteful thoughts, obsessive decencies. Love for me.
“Violet,” he said, as if to remind me who I was. He drew out the “v” sound, as he typically did, like he was hanging on the ridiculousness of my existence. I didn’t know what to say, or how to begin explaining how sorry I was, or how much I hated him for making me feel like I was a subhuman species, intent only on raping and pillaging hope from the nubile brains of impressionable young men.
I went with the safe, superficial option: “How are you?”
“Oh, you know, just feeling like shit. Nothing new. You know, just being depressed and hating everyone and everything. It’s great. Really great. How about you Violet? How are you?”
He wasn’t really asking how I was, but rather suggesting that I was responsible for his current condition and that he didn’t care how I was. It’s likely he presumed I was only there for selfish reasons. I didn’t know why I was there, to be honest.
“I, um, I don’t know. Can I come in?”
“Yeah, I don’t care. Whatever.”
It had been a while since I had been in Caleb’s apartment but it looked remarkably unchanged. Even the pile of laundry in the corner of the living room seemed to be in the exact same soiled order. There were half eaten bowls of cereal on every table I could see. Empty water bottles covering the floor made the place look like a recycling center had exploded somewhere nearby and the fallout had landed in Caleb’s apartment, which also happened to smell like cheap red wine and mold. I noticed a story I had written for him when we first started talking regularly sitting on his coffee table, with certain lines crossed out.
“Hey, I remember giving that to you. Why did you write on it?”
“I crossed out the lines I didn’t like.”
“What? …Why? You told me you loved that story.”
“Because I realized that you’re full of bullshit Violet. That story you gave me was just another example of you trying to be sly. It was full of sexual innuendos. I thought you gave it to me because you liked me and trusted me enough to read your writing. But now I know that you just wanted to fuck me. Don’t get me wrong, your writing is impeccable. It’s too perfect though. Like you.”
Never before had Caleb ever used the phrase “sexual innuendos” or the word “impeccable”, at least not in conversation. I suddenly felt jealous, imagining him laying in bed with some generic literature major while she kissed his neck, whispering things in his ear like “Oh, Caleb. You are heaven sent, you cherubic incarnation of all that I have ever desired. Be mine”
“Well, you figured me out Caleb! You’re right, I have no soul, no feelings, no emotions. I just fuck anything I can and then run away before I start to feel attached. You were no different. I told you the night we slept together that it didn’t mean anything. It still doesn’t mean anything now. So you can just stop whatever you’re doing because it’s not making me want you anymore,” I said, surprised at how much conviction there was in my voice. It wasn’t because what I said was true, but because I had rehearsed these lines on boys before Caleb and in my head when I started to feel like I had been taken advantage of.
“You’re crazy. I don’t know why I care so much about you, cause you are obviously out of your mind. You’re a nymphomaniac. You’re a sociopath.”
Again, he was speaking words I thought he didn’t use, making them sting even more. The Caleb I knew made fun of psychoanalysis babble and preferred to keep speech comfortably colloquial.
“I’m so sorry, Caleb,” I said as the tears I had been suppressing surfaced as if the water main in my face suddenly ruptured. It didn’t take long before I was crying so hard I was dry heaving, wiping my snot on the hem of my summer dress. Caleb just stood there, looking down at me with a smug look plastered on his face, like he was afraid to pity me.
“I…I…Caleb, I don’t know what I’m saying. I just know that I probably didn’t mean what I just said. Because obviously, obviously, I care about you or I wouldn’t be here right now. I made a mistake, Caleb. I made a huge mistake. Problem is, I don’t know what it is I did wrong yet. But I can feel it, I did something terribly wrong. I don’t know if I lied to you or if I lied to myself. But last night, when they couldn’t find you, I felt so guilty. Responsible for you drinking, especially. You didn’t even touch wine before we started hanging out. It’s like I made you into a monster. A really, really sad monster who likes to do things out of character. I’m sorry…..I’m….(sob)….so…(sniff)…sorry. Please, please don’t do this. I think I love you or something,” I half spoke, half slobbered. I wanted to say more, but I couldn’t focus on anything besides Caleb’s eyes which were starting to turn red.
“You say one thing, then do another. You tell me something, then contradict yourself five minutes later. You tell me you just wanted to fuck me and then you tell me you love me, Violet.”
“I know, I know, I know.”
“No, you don’t know. This is one of those times where you really don’t know.”
“I just know I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”
“You just don’t like the way it feels because you don’t have the control anymore, because I’m not rushing back to you the minute you say you love me.”
“I made mistakes, so many fucking mistakes. You’re the only person who I can actually talk to. You know? When I say I love you though, I really mean it.”
“Do you understand how confusing that is to me? You tell me you mean everything you say; that honesty is your policy. So when you tell me I’m just some sad, depressed little boy who likes you too much- you mean that. When you tell me you love me and that you need me and that I’m an amazing person-you mean that too? You can’t feel both of those things.”
“But I do! And I never mean to hurt you with anything I say. I just, god, I don’t know Caleb! I know that I dream about you every night and then I wake up and try to convince myself that you don’t mean anything to me. But then something like last night happens and I can’t keep lying to myself. You mean a lot to me.”
“Then prove it, Violet. Stop acting like you feel nothing because you somehow think that makes you better than everyone.”
I was stunned into silence. Both Caleb and I didn’t believe in the concept of souls or extra sensory perception. But, in that moment, it was like Caleb looked into my soul, spotted my weakness, reached in and poured hydrochloric acid all over it, making every single one of my fears bubble up and intensify. To say I felt alone is more than an understatement. I felt like I was the single most evil human being to ever exist and that I didn't deserve to even entertain the thought of Caleb forgiving me. That I didn’t deserve to be sitting in Caleb’s apartment which suddenly looked like heaven. That I didn’t deserve the memory of Caleb breathing on my neck while he slept, the dark circles around his eyes somehow lightening in the orangeish light of dusk.
“You deserve so much more than a neurotic,” I said, getting up to leave.
I desperately wanted him to try to stop me from leaving, to grab the back of my neck and start kissing me. Instead he just stood exactly where he had been standing the entire time, with the same look still plasticizing his emotions. The redness in his eyes had faded.
He said nothing as I turned the knob of the front door.
He said nothing as I closed the door behind me.
He said nothing for three months.