You can find Kayleigh on Twitter @kayjayshree. Kayleigh’s favorite fizzy drink is Dr. Pepper. Kayleigh knows this is blasphemous and can only apologize.
Image by Adrian Brenner.
BY KAYLEIGH JAYSHREE
His hands tapped the steering wheel, offbeat, casual. Laughing as he mocked your playlist because you had control of the aux. You thought you saw a deer run across the road, but it was dark, and you weren’t sure. Driving through the tunnel and felt like you were both being swallowed. You had a rule about holding hands in public, but the car was a strange liminal space and nobody else was on the road, so he sometimes stroked the inside of your wrist.
Your only friend was calling you, the ringtone blaring on the stereo. The moon twinkled as a backdrop; you forgot to put your phone on silent. It wasn’t like he’d punish you when you got home, but he would withdraw, disconnect, ignore, a whiteboard scrubbed clean. You turned the music up, letting the noise cradle you, knowing you would be alone in the living room when you got home, silence for company.
Yours said “Bigmouth.” His said “Louder Than Bombs.”
You had some cringey banter in the course group chat. Lecture halls were a source of anxiety as you sat alone, always. He was with the social butterflies. You thought he was special. Different. You saw him draw flowers in the corner of his notebook and felt creepy for watching. Sometimes he’d ask you for a pen, but he’d never give it back. He probably forgot.
You followed music like some people follow football, painting your face with glitter for concerts, shoving past sweaty six-foot men to get to the barrier, right at the front. You’d never met anyone with the same music taste, someone who obsessed over bands, their guitars, their stories. As much as you liked music, you pretended you’d never had an emo phase. That wasn’t cool. That was the wrong type of outsider.
You both matched shirts a few times over the first few weeks of uni. You shouldn’t have mistaken that for something in common.
He invited you to a nightclub a month after you started talking. You fell over and he laughed. You were always insecure about your own laugh, but he said it was nice. You were wearing a top he called slutty but in a playful tone that made you ignore it.
“People say I look like young Bowie,” he said.
His hair was greasy, and he frowned when he spoke.
You didn’t see the resemblance.
You stopped for cocktails on the way and stumbled into the club. The club stank. Most people seemed older, the mysterious third years who seemed to always wear boots and drink craft beer. The nightclub chairs sank under your weight as you danced to “I Am the Resurrection.” On the bus home, you called yourself a loner. He gave a cold smile, and you registered it before you threw up on his shoes.
He hated standing at the barrier. You told him you hated it too, that it was for fangirls. He offered to prop you on his shoulders, but you both knew he wasn’t strong enough. The singer played harmonica, and before him, you would’ve screamed and taken pictures, but instead you ignored it.
He encouraged you to quit, to use nicotine patches, or to forget the cravings. Sometimes you’d sneak outside and get a puff from a stranger.
You reached for his hand, and he pushed it away. You wanted to sing the lyrics into his mouth, to kiss between songs, to mosh for the first time because you were scared of doing it alone.
He spun you around once by the merch table but kept looking to see if people were judging him. At the time, you wished you were as self-aware as he was.
Ian Curtis cried on a speaker in the curry house you stopped at after the concert. He said he hated how curry smelled on your fingers. You thought about how he hated everything that made you Asian, but he still had an Asian fetish.
new zealand wines
His hands in your lap as you fell asleep, drunk on New Zealand wines, watching reruns of The Simpsons, the laptop lighting you both up, a blue dream. This is how you wanted to remember him if you ever broke up.
You never officially broke up, and he made sure you remembered him. Not like this.
the first time
You said to yourself, over and over, this time doesn’t count, nothing happened, I was topless, he wasn’t, I was in control.
You didn’t want to admit to yourself that you lost control, had no control since you started getting serious. You waited, still on his lap, in his grasp, in his silence.
Ignoring it was the only way you could stay with him. The first time you realised his pleasure mattered more than yours. The first time you didn’t cringe when thinking about the word pleasure. Your halls stopped feeling like home. Your skirt stopped feeling like yours
His comment about the size of your nipples, oddly enough, brought you back.
Insult as apology.
You wore your shirt at the beach. You weren’t muscular, but it clung to you in the right ways, and I wasn’t ashamed to stare. I had to cover up, thanks to numerous offensive tattoos I got over the summer. You avoided them when you stroked my body. The beach was empty; I looked for a chippy and couldn’t find one.
My stomach rumbled. I was getting pudgy. You noticed. We probably looked strange, going to the beach and being so modest.
We ran together to the end of the cliffs, and you taunted me, saying you were going to piss off the side. You picked a rock for me but I threw it in the sea, laughing. You sighed. We blasted music that was released that year. It was cold, raining, mid-October. Still, I applied sun cream to your feet because they were sensitive, the part of you that tanned the quickest.
I talked about when I was a flower girl, and I kept running in front of cars. You didn’t engage; you were still angry with me about the rock. I thought about how I felt like that sometimes, wanting to chase cars and then run away, waiting for someone to pick me up and take me home.
I was dressed as Jim Carrey from Ace Ventura. The outfit where he pretends to be fucked up to get into the mental hospital. A year later, I’d be a patient. No, the irony wasn’t lost on me.
You went as Bowie, in a floral shirt from a supermarket, your ginger hair brushing your shoulders. You didn’t want to do the typical thing, with the lightning bolt. Everyone said you looked so much like him, but I still didn’t see it.
We danced in your house where walking through the hallway felt like you were being choked. I would later move in and feel the same way. I showed you my unusual skill at Connect 4 and you said you were proud of me.
I stumbled into a framed picture of your brother. He lives in Australia. I asked about your childhood, and you flinched like I punched you. I tried it on with you, and you said I was too drunk. I smoked someone’s cig and you smacked it out of my hand.
Everything felt glued together. You called me pretty for the first time, and I felt like I existed, but only to you. We’d been together nearly a month.
Someone smoked a bad joint and pinned me to the floor. You fed me pieces of bread while I sobbed in the living room, Drake playing.
I hadn’t told you that I was mentally ill. I hadn’t told you why I moved so quickly from my hometown, with one friend, without remorse.
Looking back, I guess it was obvious. I wouldn’t say I looked vulnerable, but I was always skittering around my madness, making it more palatable for you. You’d joke about crazy women, not knowing I was one of them.
We watched films with men in strait jackets, listened to lyrics like I’m crazy for you and you never noticed I was uncomfortable. I took my medication in the bathroom, drinking the tap water, trying not to choke. I’m surprised you never caught me, never tried to look, never thought there was something wrong.
In the traditional narrative, I was supposed to be the abusive one; dramatic changes in mood, unstable personality, losing sense of reality. The worst thing I did was steal your slippers.
I finally told you. We were cramped inside someone’s pantry, and your hands were up my skirt. You didn’t seem bothered, unaware that if I snapped, our relationship was over. You asked if I was on pills. I told a half-truth.
I cried. You held me, in a similar way that I would hold you during one of the last times. Shh, you said, whispering me well. A bead of sweat dropped from your forehead down my nose. You said that you loved me. I believed you.
I hate that after all this was over, I was the liability. I’m the one that can’t be trusted, that had to make new friends. There’s some version of me out there, the version you told your friends that’s smashing up cars, laughing in smudged mascara, cutting off dicks. Part of me doesn’t mind that, wishes that was true.
1. I didn't like you as much as I said I did.
2. I never read the poems you pinned to my wall and said would make me smarter.
3. Our relationship was defined by its absences.
4. The calls after I dumped you were the only signs you'd ever cared.
5. I wrote you three letters and burned them in your old frying pan.
6. Your writing was better than I said it was.
7. Your music was worse than I said it was.
8. I was offended when you told me to shave.
9. You could've told me to do anything, and I would've done it.
10. I'd be lying if I said I never wanted to see you in pain.
the last time
When I was younger, I used to close my eyes, take three steps forward, and open them again. Sometimes I’d cross the road with my eyes closed and when I opened them, it was like I was in a different world. I liked the feeling of disorientation, of being disconnected to everything around me.
I tried it a few times when we were together. After the long drive, before I opened the car door, I closed my eyes, and when I’d opened them, you were already inside our house. I hurried like a housewife, holding your bags.
The last time, you were with me in a way you promised you never would be. When my eyes were closed, it was like I was dead. I opened them when you went to clean yourself, and I wish I had forgotten the journey, the traveling, the moment I moved through time.
I met his mother a week before we broke up. She cooked a Sunday roast. He didn’t tell her I was vegetarian. He always surprised me; he was so angry at my littering, but he still ate meat. Whenever I have dinner with middle class parents, they always talk about Educating Rita. It’s like something I do makes them babble about anything working class they can think of.
His brother wasn’t here or in any of the pictures. I was scared to mention him. I don’t know what he did. I don’t want to know.
The gravy slopped around his chin, dripped onto his shirt, freshly ironed by his dad. I dropped a fork on the floor. The clatter interrupted our conversation, and his father said, be careful, but I knew he meant, don’t do it again. When his father spoke to him, his hands shook. It would be easy to say he was like his dad. He was much worse.
my body, your body
My body has a habit of failing me. How could I love something I do not own?
After kissing, I looked in the mirror and became him. We had both shaved our heads. I wondered if he touched me to feel an aspect of himself. My teeth grew into ones shaped like his, canines, no fillings. I turned, and my breasts fell off like slabs of dough. Time paused as I admired how my bare chest looked. My eyes caught the light and shimmered into octopus ring blue.
The floor shifted as I squashed into a ball, born again. My stomach rumbled, and I let out a weak, pathetic cry. I was him, but there was no me to take.
I was a micro pig on a lead, given up for meat when I became too fat. He’d never dated a big girl. I never considered myself a big girl before him. Now I do. Big enough to crush him.
My legs were shaking as I walked up to the pub’s boat-shaped stage. He said slam poets were narcissistic, so I stopped performing when we were together. The pub was silent for me while I spoke, not because I was good but because they were all supportive, polite. My friend’s family were from Dublin, and this was the first time I came to see her since she moved back. I didn’t talk about what he did. I hadn’t told anyone.
People clapped. Someone came up to me and said congrats. She looked exactly like my cousin. I secretly hoped I had family here too, that I could move here, never see him again.
I smoked my first cig in a while outside and told my friend what happened. She said two words. Those words were enough.
I often wonder what he thought about before he called me, his feet at the edge of – hills, telling me he wanted to jump. He said he was guilty about what he did, and he couldn’t bear it.
I didn’t want the details. I didn’t want to speak to him again. The weirdest part is that I kept his first voicemail, listened to it before I went to sleep. Something between enjoying his pain and missing his voice.
I thought about the hills, the dark rocks below by the too calm sea. Separate islands trying to meet. I know he was lying about wanting to jump now. But I still think about it.
He called me four times that summer, the same reason every time. I answered each one.
dancing with my selves
Last night in Ireland and my friend tells me there’s only one gay bar in Dublin. I don’t believe her. How can a place this gay not be profiting from it?
I don’t believe in fate, but three songs come on that he used to love. I have downed three Jameson and ginger ales and it’s made me feel more nauseous, not less. What do you get when you bring one fresh drag queen and two bisexual fat girls to a gay bar? A fucking good night.
I think about going to the zoo earlier that day and finding out that we’re in the middle of an extinction period. I can’t even pronounce the name of it. The existential dread makes me think, fuck it.
The music is making my ears hurt. I still want to call it “his music.” There are three girls in the back of my throat. Each wants to sing along. One wears a honeyed crown. The second is covered in ring shaped bruises. The third is a cartoon falling down the stairs. I realise I need to stop being silent for once.
I think, petal up, woman. And I do.
I scream along to the lyrics, my throat burning in its own roar.
Is it fucked up that I still imagine a happy ending? Young Bowie and me, holding hands amongst the sweaty fayre crowd. His ginger hair is shaped in a mullet, longer than I’d ever seen it, and my black curls trail down my back. He pressed flowers for me and we visited – hills on the outskirts of our town, dared each other to enter the creepy stone building.
We go on beaten down dodgems that we are barely old enough to ride. Bumping each other, the violence acceptable, encouraged, even. I don’t want to think about the car, the beach, the first or any of the times. I think about saving him, finding him before the poison spreads, before he became whatever he was.
We end the night early and wait for his parents to pick us up. He is holding a plastic bag with a goldfish inside. I stole two blue balloons from the entrance, which in turn were stolen from the local McDonald’s. I close my eyes and he held my hand, knows exactly what I’m doing. The silence isn’t threatening, or the promise of something worse. It’s comfortable.
I look up at the clouds, thick and pink, unaware of the past. I still have both of our balloons. I let them go before we open the car door, watching them skitter, dash, fly.