When I tell people about it now, they ask me why I never saw the signs. Like those color blindness tests teachers would hand out in elementary school, my friends assume the red flags were obvious to everyone but me—a neon-colored glitch on the screen of my life that I could not, or would not, comprehend. I disagree with that perspective. My relationship was made of many shades, and I saw them all. The disconnection lay in the fact that no one told me red, when mixed with other colors, looks a lot less like blood and more like something harmless, something pink and bright and ethereal. No one told me that in certain lights, it can even look like love.
I met him at a party, although I knew him beforehand from a creative writing class we shared. Around our small campus he had a name that carried things—whispered rumors, girl’s reputations, and above all, confidence. That was his strength, I think, the ability he had to wrap confidence around his wrist and wear it like a watch; he was gravitational in that way, always conscious of the pull he had on lesser bodies. To others this attitude may have come across as cocky, but as a new student still trying to get my feet on the ground, his surety attracted me. He had friends, and he had status, and to me who had none of those things, he was powerful.
So when he asked me to come upstairs for a drink, I followed without hesitation. When he locked the door to his room, I pretended not to notice. But I couldn’t ignore what he said next.
“So, will you still make out with me, even though I’m drunk?”
His words shocked me—I laughed. When he didn’t, I quietly explained that I barely knew him. He smiled easily. “That doesn’t matter.” He said. Factually, like it was one of his critiques in class—a note on a misplaced comma, a red pen circle around an error. Poor word choice on my part. Lucky that he was there to correct it for me. “C’mon, just kiss me” he said again, and so I did.
In the weeks following this encounter I would often visualize myself in a hospital room, clothed in white and scrubbed clean, my old skin scraped raw and born again soft and new. Yet even in my imagination I would be overwhelmed by the temptation to scratch, to rip, to scream until the dirtiness I felt still moving within me had dissolved into my bloodstream. No use, though—the handprints he left on my body are not gone, only submerged; they live beneath my skin to this day. They crawl and wriggle and sometimes when it is dark they wrap around my throat and tap a reminder into my flesh with their clammy undead fingers, a Morse code signature that whispers to me “I am still here, and I am still here, and I am still here”. Ensuring that I will never forget the claim they have on me. The gravity.
A minute after it started someone pounded on his door, searching for beer. I made an excuse and ran out, but even as I was moving through the doorway I barely knew what I was running from. After all, hadn’t I gotten what I had wanted? Hadn’t I said yes?
Maybe I was colorblind, at least in a sense. If our relationship was a spectrum, I looked only at the lighter side. Yet even now, years after I’ve left him, I find myself spending hours sitting on my bed and wondering: what do you do when they lock you in. What do you do when they open a window. When there are flowers on the table and a hole in the wall, which one is the truth?
The next time I saw him, he’d forgotten all about me. Or, more precisely, he had forgotten the entire evening, me included. “Did I show you a good time?” he asked me later. I thought about his hands on my shoulders, pressing them hard—too hard—into the back of the couch. I thought about the way I felt, running out the door. I looked up at him. “Of course you did”, I said. He smiled. “Why don’t you fill me in over dinner?” he asked, and I agreed.
When he picked me up, he was sober. We started dating shortly afterwards.
Lydia Gregovic is a Brooklyn-based writer and former English major who has often relied on writing to shade in the many gray areas of her own life. Previously, her work has appeared in multiple local and national publications including Austin Woman Magazine, Bumble and Virtual Zine. You can find her on twitter at @LGregovic.