CW: Brief description of sexual violence and trauma from a survivor’s perspective.
[NONFICTION] Letters to Loves Lost
You were the first, but you weren’t fresh, weren’t new. You were the leftovers of a friend who you dated for years but never made it past bra-level fumbling. I was different. I let you fumble your way down my stomach, up my thigh. You were late nights in cars, parked at the beach. The first time we had sex, the condom fell off in the middle, so we decided to be done (you only had a pack of three).
When we visited your grandpa, at a farm in the middle of nowhere Iowa, I ate lettuce and cheese sandwiches the whole weekend– your grandpa didn’t know how to feed a vegetarian. One day, he took us out to his car to play a tape. This voicemail is the only recording I have of your grandma’s voice, he said. As we listened to her talk about cousin Amy and the weather that weekend and did you remember to buy milk, we all cried, but we didn’t talk about it after. That night, there was a thunderstorm, and you and I snuck out of our rooms and fucked in the coatroom.
When I told you my period was late, we were sitting under a tree by a Catholic church. I was blowing my nose on leaves. You said it would be okay, you would start working, skip college; we would make it work. I didn’t have the heart to tell you it would never come to that.
When we left for college, you didn’t want to do long distance, but you hoped we could still hook up when we were home for the holidays. We can be each other’s Plan B, you said, and I said no, it doesn’t work like that.
When we broke up, you said that day under the tree was the most beautiful you’d ever seen me.
You were the son of a pastor. We met back in high school band when we were both dating other people. I smoked my first cigarette with you, late one summer night, out on the docks. American Spirits– the blue kind. Your best friend taped them way up inside his closet, to hide them from his mom.
You were all things velvety, earth-toned, incense-scented. By the time we started dating, we were long distance, but it didn’t bother you. You wrote me letters, read out loud to me from philosophy books over the phone. You took me to a jazz show on Christmas day. You kissed my neck until I shivered.
I was at your first-ever solo show, at a shitty little coffee bar in the suburbs. Onstage, argyle socks peeking out from leather boots, curly hair in your face, you were a character in a Wes Anderson film, and I was behind the camera.
You were too good to be true, and then you said: I’ve been dreaming a lot about my ex. You didn’t want to get back together with her, but you needed time. Three months later, your voice was all over the radio, and I switched to CDs in the car. Three years later, we spoke again, and I still loved you.
One year later, you were engaged to a smart and beautiful Christian girl, and I was still an atheist.
You were never my type, but sometimes a rebound lasts two years too long. You looked sort of like George Harrison, and that was enough. You broke up with your long-distance girlfriend to pursue me. In the beginning, you were more committed to me than I was to you, which I liked. It felt safe.
You wore shorts too late into the fall. You wanted to be a DJ and get a lot of tattoos, but you were worried about what your parents would say. You loved rollercoasters. You talked so much, you’d forget to ask how my day went. I almost broke up with you the day we fought about male privilege. I began to wonder what it would be like to date a girl.
You liked eating me out, which made me feel powerful, but you also liked to initiate sex while I was asleep, which did not. (You owe me the $700 of therapy it took for me to admit it.)
I wasted the bulk of my college years on you, and then, when I graduated, you didn’t want to do long distance.
Not even try it.
Not even temporarily.
Even though you loved me.
When we broke up, you said you couldn’t put your feelings into words, but you’d write me a letter explaining everything.
Apparently, the words never came.
You were my supervisor at the coffee shop, even though you were two years younger. You were glasses and freckles and grins that felt like inside jokes. I was a depressed senior, newly single and about to graduate. You were a sophomore still finding herself.
You were self-deprecating and the sweetest person I knew. You listened to me, really listened, in a way that was different from the men before you. We’d smoke weed together on my back porch and talk about metaphysics, a topic we knew nothing of. When Sean and I broke up, I invited you over for wine, and you showed up with a bottle of UV Blue. At work the next day, I shit myself a little bit, but I never told you.
That Halloween, we sat in my kitchen, hiding from the Rubix Cube and Hamburgler making out in the next room. You said I have something to tell you: I’m really gay, and I really like you.
We were each other’s first girlfriends. We went on dates to vegan restaurants and brought our own candles. We wore flannel shirts and watched campy horror movies. We slapped each other’s butts at the coffee shop when no one was looking.
For a few weeks, it was perfect. Then I was crying, saying I’m sorry, you deserve so much more than I can give right now. I was working three jobs and three majors and having panic attacks. In one month, I would graduate and move home. We can do long distance, you said, but it was all too much. I’m so sorry, I kept saying, and you wiped away my tears, even though you were crying, too.
It’s you I miss the most.
Rachel Fettig is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer living in Minneapolis, MN. Rachel’s work has previously appeared in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Illumination Journal.