By Jennifer Ly
nothing good starts in a getaway car
I’m still trying to figure you out. I still talk about you in bars, to strangers that I’ve just met because my friends are sick of hearing of you, a man I barely knew but left his fingerprints pressed against the skin of my neck, the impression of your impression of me slid permanently on how I would look at myself in the mirror for years to come, even when I’m sure you don’t remember how it felt when we kissed. When we first met, I was just out of a job and lingering around the edges of an existential crisis, four years of my life gone into a career I no longer wanted and the foreseeable future mired in the shadow of a looming pandemic, September 2020; in hindsight, that winter would be the worst of my life, dealing with your ghost, my grandmother’s loss, a friend’s suicide, the mounting death toll from COVID, the dark, sweeping depression that felt like years. I would not be the person I am today without that winter, but I wish I was. I want to go back to who I was, before you.
the water filled my lungs
The first piece of writing I ever got published was about you. You were one line in a piece about my ex-boyfriend, that guy I told you about, but I still think about that line all the time when I write anything else. That piece is the last time I’ll ever write about him,
but I still find you in every single page of mine, all my insecurities bled over the still image of your face, blurry, I forget what you look like, I look you up on Instagram every time to remind myself. I wonder if you ever read it – if you recognized yourself in that one line, or if that moment simply lives with me, forever, and never even graces your
mind. I have to write about you to get you out of my mind. Some version of you must care.
all the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
Sometimes I worry that the guys I’ve dated will find out I’ve been writing about them on the internet, but then I remember that most guys I date don’t read. When we first met, you told me that you’d been reading some self-help books, finance textbooks, one fiction book your ex-girlfriend gave you that you haven’t had the heart to start or to throw away. I thought that was romantic. Now, almost two years later, I realize that it was a warning sign, flashing bright red, and I closed my eyes against the sight, let the afterimage of you burn itself into my mind, flicker and burn in the darkness. I’m over her, though, you said,
or maybe I imagined you said – her picture is still on your Instagram, baby girl is the caption, and I wonder about her, now, what she’s doing, if she wants her book back.
the world moves on, another day another drama
When I started writing, at 11, I began with fanfiction. I used to be ashamed of this – pretended that I didn’t know what people meant when they talked about shipping, about Tumblr – but these days, I wish I was that person again, that I hadn’t squashed her down
into the hidden corners of myself and of the internet. I want to love something that much again. I want to watch a show and wonder what-if and dream of scenarios between characters, in alternate universes, in songfics, where lyrics would be randomly incorporated through the story, would they still fall in love if they were in high school
instead of a magic boarding school, would this group of friends still find each other if they were in space instead of an ancient Japanese land, would they kiss this time and not break each other’s hearts? My definition of love keeps shifting as I grow older – no longer all-encompassing, but now it’s that my boyfriend texts me before he goes to bed, handing me my preferred mug even if he didn’t have to – but I think the foundations are found in the fan-fiction I read and wrote growing up, oh, love is two people falling in love because they want to, they choose to, and in each story I tell, I make it happen. Even ours. Even though you didn’t want it.
i want to wear his initial on a chain around my neck
You said once, after it all, I used to date a writer. I wasn’t aware that we’d been dating – you specifically told me that we were not dating when we were together – that was something you reserved for other girls –
we tell stories and you don’t know why
When writing about you, I think of how a colleague jokingly or seriously, I couldn’t tell, said to me once that I was writing about my exes so much that I was turning into Taylor Swift. It’s not that serious, I said, but then I started to wonder if Taylor Swift was taking it seriously or if she stares at herself in the mirror and wonders what that boy from 2020 thought when he saw her, and tried to put that feeling into words, despite knowing that she’ll never really know and it’s all conjecture, and at this point – what does it matter what he saw when he looked at you, besides the fact that it meant something to you, that
you could put pen to paper and immortalize how you felt in that moment, that fall, that time? Let it go, my colleague said, let them go, as if I haven’t. Sometimes I think of you and wonder what you look like when you think of me, if you ever do, and wish I was able
to paint, or draw, immortalize the way I can still imagine you between the pages. It is a sickness and an antidote and I’m not sorry, you live on here, you live.
Jennifer Ly is a Vietnamese-American writer from Los Angeles. Her work has been featured in Hobart, the Daily Drunk, and others.