“Don’t move,” she says. Her brown eyes darken as she studies the lines of my face. I shift slightly on my side and focus on the shadows behind her head. Portishead vamps softly in the background. Her pencil strokes and scratches along the page.
It’s easy to sit still these days. There’s an old movie reel in my mind, flickering through scene by scene: The click of heels. A remembered kiss. A broken glass. The scent of clean laundry. The back of his neck. Dishes…dishes…must do dishes. How many cigarettes do I have left? Why did I have to say that…?
I can feel my expression change with each thought. Lips part, muscles stretch into a smile, a slight blush, a frown. I think about something and my eyes start to well. I quickly blink it away wondering if she noticed.
My best friend was here for the weekend. She’s leaving in an hour but wanted to sketch me first. This trip was something we both needed—time together where we could just be—sit in silence, understanding each other, no explanations.
And yet, it wasn’t easy. It’s never easy with us. We’ve been living in our heads since we were girls—sitting on the sidelines, crafting ideal lives from things we’d read in novels, seen in movies, heard in songs… We thought—think—of ourselves as artists. It’s our justification for why we’re just a little bit different, a little bit more confused than the rest…
I’ve always thought of her as my other half: a little quieter, a little more practical, a little less impulsive. In high school, she and I used to call each other “IG.” It was short for Ideal Guy, and it came from the idea that we each pictured our ideal mates as male versions of each other. She was my IG and I was hers.
I got mad at her this morning as we walked down the street to get brunch. You see, she met the love of her life four years ago. Sara and I were with her that night, and from the beginning she fought it. For months she pushed him away and questioned her feelings, too scared to admit that this person was really the one for her. Until she realized that he was…I still remember the night she called me and said excitedly, “He’s the IG, Ale…I found him…”
But she’s unsure again. Restless. It’s terrifying meeting the love of your life when you’re only 18. She explains to me that even though she knows she’s going to spend the rest of her life with him, she’s scared. She’s worried that she may have missed out on something. “I never had the chance to be like you…to just be free…you can date anyone you want, do whatever you want. You have so much fun. Your whole life isn’t already decided…”
I felt my face grow warm as she said this. Something ached inside and my voice cracked as I spoke: “What you two have is the one thing that I want more than anything in this world. I would trade all of it—all of it—for just a little bit of that.”
As the words came out, I realized just how true they were. I’ve never had an anniversary. I never had someone to come home to. No one has ever been in love with me. My longest “real” relationship was just under five months and that was nearly four years ago.
“I’m tired,” I told her. “I’m tired of disappointments. It chips away at you… You give a little bit of yourself each time until it just starts to feel like nothing or no one will ever be able to fill that hole. I may have a lot of great stories, but it really doesn’t add up to much in the end.”
She thought for a moment and said, “Yes, but you only say that because you don’t know what it’s like to have always been in a relationship”
“And you say that because you don’t know what it’s like to have never been in one…”
We were silent for a while, each thinking about the other’s situation. Each realizing that we would never fully comprehend. I know she’s in pain. I know she’s scared. But it’s still hard for me to really understand what she is feeling. It felt like we were looking at each other from opposite sides of the mirror.
“I just think that you’re one of the lucky ones,” I said finally. “What you guys have is so rare and so beautiful…I just don’t want you two to risk it for something that I know from experience isn’t worth it…”
We sat in silence for most of the meal. I watched people walk by, sipped my tea, and thought.
“It’ll all work out,” one of us said at one point. We nodded, but a mood had set. We stayed mostly quiet as we paid the bill and walked back up to my apartment.
“Can I see it?” I ask her when she finally puts her pencil down. My neck is stiff from holding the pose for so long. She hands me the sketch book and I study it for a moment. A pair of large dark eyes stare back at me from the paper.
“It doesn’t really look very much like me,” I tell her after a couple seconds.
“Yes it does,” she says. "You just can’t tell because it’s of you.”
I look at the sketch again. I recognize bits and pieces, but as hard as I try, I just can’t see what she sees…