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A 17-word love story.



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“Do you think you would forget her?” I asked him.

We were weaving down the sidewalk beside Ponce De Leon Avenue. Him and I were just two small flecks to the cars whipping by— him in a bright green shirt, me in red flats that always garner compliments from strangers.

“I mean, hypothetically,” I retracted a bit. “If you could, do you think you would forget her?”

We’d spent the hour talking about his love story over boxed sushi lunches and water with lemon. That’s always what I do with a lunch break— find a good love story, in book or human heart form.

He talked about her like she was the only thing that ever existed in his orbit. Like he forgot to ever look around to see if others existed. Like she could easily sweep in and take the sun’s place. I mean, the way he talked about her could make the moon jealous.

“You have a good love story,” I told him on the walk back to the office. After he’d paid for the both of us. I really meant to say: I hope it works for you. I know you are struggling to tell her how you feel. I know you might never get the courage. Instead I simply said, “You have a good love story.” The makings of a really good love story.

“I mean, it’s not like Romeo & Juliet or anything classic like that,” he laughed.

“You really think that one is all that classic? We can do better than that.”

Call me strange but I’ve never understood why that story— of all the love stories— is considered a classic. I guess it just doesn’t pull me the way it pulls other people.

“Fine,” he said. “Name a good one. Name a good love story.”

I didn’t hesitate. “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“Favorite,” he said.

“I know.”

It’s been my favorite for a while too, though I never told you that. I just love the premise, the whole idea: One couple. Two individuals. Both facing the turmoil of themselves and one another. Deciding to break it off. The classic pain of losing someone— burning up inside, swallowing you whole. And then them both discovering there was actually a way to get one another erased from their memories. An actual procedure out there that would allow you to completely erase a person from your memory, and leave no traces behind. All the memories gone.

You’ll call me morbid and hopeless, but I always thought there was something too beautiful about the idea of getting to erase someone from your memory. Like, if I wanted to, I could let you go tomorrow. You’d be gone. Classically extinct.

When he talked about her, I thought of you.

I thought of all the coffee bars I’d visit and all the wine glasses I’d hold just to be able to say your name out loud. Even when you became a ghost to me, I still loved to tell people about you. Because you, my dear, were the one who got away. I never told you that but you were the one who got away.

You’d laugh in my face if you really knew that, if I ever got the courage to be honest about that. It was almost two years ago now that I saw you at that restaurant— the one my parents liked so much with all the pasta— and it was your friend who told me my name had come up in conversation between you two that day.

“What are the odds of that,” I said, biting back the tears as I watched you out of the corner of my eye. I hadn’t seen you in so long. You still had that little boy smile. Those teeth. I was surprised to find out I still could cry just from standing beside you in a room.

“I don’t know,” he said wrapping his arm around me. “But I told him you were definitely the girl who got away.”

“Oh, stop,” I laughed. I wanted to say so much more: we’ve been history for a long time. We’re basically textbook. The kind of textbook that is outdated and you can’t even use it in the classroom anymore.

“It’s true,” he continued. “And he agreed. He couldn’t say anything more to me except that he agreed.”

We stood there silently for a second. He changed the subject. Your eyes traced me and I wondered what you were thinking. I couldn’t read your mind anymore.

That would be the first memory to go, I think.

If I could sit in a chair at a doctor’s office and have a man in a white coat tell me I would get to let you go for good, that would probably be the first memory to go: the way you were still able to trace me even when I’d erased myself from your presence.

Then it would be the night in your driveway. All the nights in your driveway. Then the ferris wheel. Then the slow dancing in the middle of the woods. Do you remember that one?

We’d found a secret spot to park the car. We’d go there all the time to just escape from the rest of the world. We’d put the seats down and open up the back of the car so that the stars could come in too.

But that night, as you slid out to drive me home, you reached for my hand and I took it. Tightly.

“Dance with me,” you whispered.

“There’s no music,” I answered.

“I’m playing your favorite song,” you said, pulling me in and humming into my ear.

You moved me around and around that little wooded area slowly.

“And I’ll be better when I’m older.”

You kept on humming.

“I’ll be the greatest fan of your life.”

I never knew the feeling was real: the feeling you could love someone so much that the seams of the sky ripped. The feeling you could love someone so much that you could steal for them all the grace in the world and it still wouldn’t be enough of a gift. The feeling you could love someone so much that you’re suddenly somehow jealous of every step they ever took, every birthday party they ever went to, every patch of ground they laid in without you right beside them.

I didn’t know I was capable of loving you so wide. I surprised myself with every room I let you add into my heart.

I’m afraid of what will happen when I meet someone else.

I am afraid of how we will hold my hand. How he might look into my eyes and see whatever you left of yourself inside of me. That’s what happens when you let a person in: you give them all the permission to either hem you or break you. I think that would be our 17-word love story: We hemmed each other for a really long time, making one another better, and then we broke.

We broke and I still worry about you at night. Because you are my insides. You are my third arm. I stand in empty rooms and beg to say your name just to make the walls jealous that I had you once.

You’re like one of those old retired Beanie Babies floating around a flea market in Alabama. One of those rare ones that only a few people ever know are worth more than their own existence.

You’re all the words I never said. You’re so many words that don’t exist just yet– they’re just waiting for definitions to get assigned to their names.

“Do you think you would forget her?” I asked him.

We were weaving down the sidewalk beside Ponce De Leon Avenue. Him and I were just two, small flecks to the cars whipping by— him in a bright green shirt, me in red flats that always garner compliments from strangers.

“I mean, hypothetically,” I retracted a bit. “If you could, do you think you would forget her?”

“Yea,” he answered. No trace of hestitation stood in his voice. He sounded like surrender. A slow and tired surrender.

“Yea,” I mumbled back. We kept on walking, the sun beating down on the crowns of our heads. I finished my sentence. “Me too.”

I guess the truth is so slow to spill: I would probably learn to forget you too.


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Hi, I'm Hannah

I love writing about all things faith, mental health, discipline + and motherhood. Let's be penpals!


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