My heart spluttered as I realized something wasn’t right. That’s when I saw it. The little look in her eyes, the way she held her hands on my neck; stiffly. We were as far apart as two children dancing, who still didn’t know how to be nice to the opposite sex. She held her face away, as though staring off into the distance, but it wasn’t a distance in my direction. It wasn’t a vision of some far-off future that I would be in. Or would be able to appreciate.
I told myself I was wrong. I didn’t let my smile falter one bit, and instead of thinking about her face that was now almost twisted in pain as we danced, I thought of all the times I had seen her smile. The look on her face when I remembered her birthday. The grin that crept across her features whenever she realized I had played a stupid joke on her that she still totally didn’t understand. The acknowledging show of teeth she made whenever I conceded defeat on a debate point, more because I didn’t want to fight with her than anything else.
Eventually, as we swayed back and forth, no longer in sync with the music or with each other, she turned to me. Her face was as beautiful and perfect as ever, her light make-up matching perfectly with her dress, but her red lips were turned downward into a frown, and before she uttered another word I already felt the color drain from my vision.
“I’m sorry...” Suddenly, the world around me was black and white. The small disco ball the DJ had brought with him reflected stale gray light that was reminisce of old, depressing movies without any talking. “…it’s just not working…” There was the knife, plunging into my flesh like a stone dropped in water. Every muscle in my body strained to keep the ripples from showing. “…I need a best friend right now…” My mind stopped functioning at that point. Autopilot took control and kept me going, kept my hands on her waist and my body rocking back and forth to the music. “…not a boyfriend…” That phrase penetrated my stupor. Not a boyfriend. Then why was I here, why had I been grasping her hand like she was a lifeline that I would never let go of? Why hadn’t she told me before now? Why had she left me stranded alone in a sea of faces I didn’t know and never would know?
“You understand?” she asked. I nodded my head and said it was okay, and found myself speaking more to myself than her, trying to convince myself that the world hadn’t just frozen to a stop.
“I’m okay. I’ll be okay.” I could see in her face that she doubted my words but at that moment I needed to believe in them for my own sanity. Life was suddenly dull again. My sunshine had just been eclipsed forever. My fingers were cold because they still remembered the warmth as strong as any heater. My hands dropped to my sides as the song ended. “I still love you. I want you to know that. I’ll be anything you want me to be.” I could only tell her the truth and hope she responded in some way that softened the blood.
She didn’t. With sad eyes and without a best friend’s hug Genevieve watched me walk away. Like a bullet in the stomach I felt like I was bleeding out as slowly as possible, doomed to die only after suffering the worst pain of all for a return of nothing. Blackened and burned on the inside from a fire that raged spitefully I felt God leave me like he left Sodom and Gomorrah. I felt the miracles of the world vanish like parlor tricks and I felt all my pain of a world I had left behind come crashing back down on me like a one-way train.
Lying in bed that night I understood that nothing would ever be the same. I wasn’t sure that I could ever go back to how I was. I wasn’t sure that I would ever forgive God for flooding my lungs like he said he’d never do again. I wasn’t sure that I was ever going to be able to look at Genevieve again without feeling the same old wounds open up and bleed like fresh cuts from bathroom razors. I didn’t know if…if I could ever forgive myself for causing my best friend pain, because as much as I wanted to die I couldn’t stand the grimace on her face that was still in my head.
But I knew I loved her. I knew I’d feel warmth in my body every time I thought of her smile to the day I died. I knew I’d never forget the words “I love you” even if she changed her mind. I knew I’d never forget the feeling of her hand in mine. I knew very little, but I knew that I loved her, and that had to be enough. The pain was crippling, and my memory had to be enough. Enough to make me believe that tomorrow could be better.
And it was. The fact that I can write this story proves that even the worst pain will fade, and that love will stick around if you let it. It proves that when I get married one day, I’ll still remember her, because she’s irreplaceable in the most profound sense. It proves that even if my heart dries up and dies, my life will still have meant something because I managed to capture beauty in Genevieve if only for a fleeting moment. This story, it proves that a bittersweet toast to love could be the greatest speech you ever give.
That love will be the greatest emotion you ever have the chance to give.
And to receive.