ALL THIS TIME

“You’re crazy, you know that?”

I just rolled my eyes and continued eating. There was no point in answering anyway. No matter what I tell my friends, they’d still think that I am crazy. I guess that’s the reason why we were friends anyway. We were a crazy bunch, all with their own eccentricities which oddly worked quite well together.

Melissa, one of the closest friends in the group just stared at me blankly for a while before speaking. “So? You’re still doing that waiting thing?”

Everyone else in the table seemed to suddenly get interested with my answer. I guess that is one of the perks of being the only single person in the table. I am the constant third wheel, or fifth, or seventh, depending on how many are there of them with their partners and all.

For some reason, they often treat me like the kid they have to give away in marriage, and like most parents, my love life is one of the major topics. I guess that was expected since I haven’t been in a real relationship for awhile.

“Who even said that I was waiting?” I said, my mouth still half full with tempura. We were at a Japanese restaurant for what had become a weekly “meeting” and for some reason, my non-existent love life had been the sole topic since we arrived. It’s funny, actually, since they seemed more bothered about my being single than I was.

“Oh come on! You’ve been pining…”

I started zoning it out every single word Melissa was saying after the first two words. It takes a lot of practice to do that, especially with my friends but I’ve long gotten the hang of it. We’ve been friends for years, college friends even. Being with them almost every single day do give you time to develop such talents.

The thing is, they never stop talking about anything and everything under the sun, and so, instead of telling them to shut up which would not stop them anyway, zoning out was way better.

“You’re not even listening, are you?” I caught those last few words enough to grin a little. I guess they do know me well enough. Melissa gave me her usual dagger eyes but I just smiled.

“Just let him be. It’s his choice anyway.” It was Andrew this time. “It’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s old enough to make his own decisions, you know.”

“No truer words have ever been said! Thanks dude! I knew I can always count on you.” I said, laughing. Melissa just stared at both of us blankly.

“You know I always got your back, brother, no matter how crazy you are.” Andrew said, ignoring Melissa’s glare altogether. I was sure that he would have hell to pay when they go home. Nothing major though. They have been together for more than eight years now, married for two.

“He’s thirty-two,” Melissa said, scowling. “He should at least be in a real relationship by now.”

“Why?” I asked. “It’s not like my sperm has an expiration date like your fallopian tubes. And speaking of which, shouldn’t you be worrying more about that?”

“I’m already pregnant you dimwit!” Melissa exclaimed, silencing everyone on the table.

My jaw dropped for a while after hearing the news before I started literally jumping for joy. It would have looked a little over the top to some but that was normal for me. I like kids and for some stupid reason, I like hearing people telling me that they are having kids.

“And here I am, not really surprise that he would react this way,” Andrew said in between chuckles, watching me walk towards Melissa and forcing her to let me put my ears on her tummy. I just rolled my eyes. Andrew knew everything about my life and of course, he wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Melissa protested for a while but gave in anyway. “God! You’re annoying!” She said with a little laugh.

“Annoyingly handsome, adorable, and really cute to boot!” I said before, making a face before turning my attention to her still flat tummy. “Right, baby? You call me Papa Handsome, okay?”

Hearing my own voice say those words gave me a little chill. It wasn’t the first time I’ve said those words.

“And we still wonder why he is single,” Celine, one of our other friends, said making everyone else on the table laugh. That brought me back just in time.

I don’t mind, really, being told that I act like a kid, I mean. I do act like a kid most of the time and it doesn’t bother me at all. Besides, it’s only with them that I can act out like that anyway without being condemned or ridiculed.

I was still on my knees, baby-talking with Melissa’s tummy when my phone rang. Melissa’s eyes rolled when she saw that it was you. I’ve been meaning to ask her why she hates your guts but I was sure that I won’t like what I would be hearing so I never did.

Standing, I gave Melissa’s tummy just one last light tap before walking away and answering the phone. The minute I did, I heard you crying. I didn’t even get to say hello. I gave out a sigh before saying anything.

“You got dumped.” It wasn’t a question. You didn’t even answer and just continued sobbing. I let out another sigh.

“I’ll be there in 30 minutes.” I said before hanging up.

I went back to my friends to tell them that I was going ahead. They didn’t really like the idea but they didn’t ask me to stay. They knew it would be futile.

The drive to your place took just about twenty minutes and I wasn’t really surprised when I saw you still bawling over your broken heart on the couch.

I didn’t say anything. I went straight to the kitchen and started making coffee. If you wanted to cry over it all, then I’m not going to stop you. After all, it’s your feeling. It’s not like I can really do anything about it.

I was already on my second cup when you came into the kitchen, your eyes puffy and all red from all the crying. Truthfully, I was already getting tired of listening to your sobbing but I stayed anyway. It’s not like you needed me. You just didn’t want to be alone and I’m stupid enough to make myself available for you most of the times.

“Are you done being stupid?” I asked as I pour some coffee on another mug. You didn’t answer. I guess I was being pretty harsh but from experience, I know that sweet-talking you and sugarcoating everything just makes it worst.

These kinds of things, I have learned about you over the years, right from the day that we have started going out. Even after we broke up, you’d still come running to me. And as always, I didn’t have the heart to say no.

I should have gotten a degree in Psychology in college instead of literature and film. If that would have been the case, then I could at least charge you every single time. Too late for that, I guess.

“Why are you being nice to me?” Your voice was just above a whisper but I heard it loud and clear. I almost laughed right there and then. But I saw how hard you were clutching the mug, your fingers turning almost white. This was no time for laughing or kidding around.

“Because I did this to you.” I said bluntly. “And no matter what you do I would always feel responsible for everything. I’m not being nice. I’m just doing this for my own conscience.”

You gave me a half-hearted smile in response. For a while there, I wish that you didn’t. I will never stop comparing this type of smile that you give me now to the one that I used to see you give me when we started dating. I wonder if I’ll ever see you smile like that again.

I miss your innocence, the way you seem to be always so naïve about everything. I still remember those times when you would suddenly just come up to me out of nowhere and tell me that you love me. In all honesty, it was a little annoying before, how you followed me around, and how you always tell everyone that you would do everything just to make sure that I fall in love with you.

Our first mistake was being stupid enough to let something happen between us. The second was thinking that we could actually make it work. Then that was followed by a parade of mistakes that even I didn’t think was possible. By the time we both admitted that it would never really work out, you were pregnant. And everything just went downhill from there.

“You don’t have to do this. You have nothing to be guilty about.” I didn’t have any answer to that. This was, after all, the first time that you ever gave me some kind of absolution from all the things that happened between us two.  For years, you have been blaming me for all of it, how I ruined you, how I took away everything from you.

“Please say something…”

I let out another sigh. That has become a habit for me as well. It gives me about a few seconds to think first before blurting out what was in my mind.

“That’s new.” I said. It was the safest thing I can think of. You gave out a hallow laugh as an answer.

You took a quick sip from your coffee before responding. “I guess you’re right.”

The silence that followed was deafening, but I got used to that as well. Thinking about it now, that was all we ever had between us after our kid died before he was born. No, we didn’t blame each other; there was no shouting, no crying, no dramatic interlude between being together and finally breaking up. If we have had something in my mind then, we both decided to keep it to ourselves. So, just silence. The deafening and heart wrenching sound of emptiness.

“I didn’t have a miscarriage. I had our baby aborted.” I stiffened a little when you just went ahead and blurted out those words. Not that I didn’t know about it. I have known it all along. It took me awhile to get my mind wrap around it. I even hated you for a while, to be honest, until I came into terms with the fact that I was partly to blame for it too.

Averting my eyes, I settled on staring at my own cup of coffee. It’s been five years but somehow, it still feels like it just happened yesterday; the pain of hearing that you were in the hospital, bleeding and almost dying, and then the talk with the doctor after, it’s still clear in my mind up to this day. I have never forgiven myself for that. That’s why I stayed, that’s why I never left.

“I’ve always known.” I said. “Why do you think I stayed beside you this long?”

I can feel your eyes on my face but I kept staring at the mug. I didn’t have to look at you to know that you were really surprised to hear that. I at least knew you that well enough.

“And you chose not to hate me. That’s cheating.”

“I cannot hate you when I was the one who drove you into doing that. You were in love with me and I took advantage of that just because I was lonely. I was a giant prick. I still am. I thought that I could fall in love with you and took the chance without even thinking of what could happen if I didn’t. I’m actually still wondering why you put up with me all those times.”

The words came out like a crashing tidal wave. I don’t know what exactly came over me but it feels like it was finally the right time to say those things out loud.

“Your sense of guilt is really annoying.” You said with a laugh. That made me look at you and I was really surprised at what I saw. You were smiling, an older and wiser version of the one you used to give me, but it was a real smile nonetheless. It didn’t quite reach your eyes just yet but it was almost there. That’s when it hit me.

“You two didn’t break up.” Again, it was a statement, not a question.

“No. He wouldn’t let me. He said that he would wait as long as he needs to. He said that he would wait until I would have the courage to finally give up on you. That scared me. You were that one dream that I thought I would never give up, the one dream that I gave up everything for. And you never really made it easy, you know. You stayed. Even when you didn’t have to.” There was a long pause after that.

“I guess, all these time, I just really can’t let you go. I knew you love me; you wouldn’t have stayed if you didn’t. I also knew that the love you had for me wasn’t exactly the love that I wanted from you. But I have made myself believe that it would be enough. You see, I have given way too much already to just give you up. Besides, I knew you would never leave unless I asked you to. So I trapped us into this prison for years. You were too kind and as I see now, I have both loved and hated you for that.”

I just sat there, listening to you, wondering if there was really something that I should say or do.

“I feel in love with a dream and I didn’t want to wake up.”

“I was a nightmare.” I finally said. You just laughed.

“You were a mistake, but never a nightmare. And you would always be that mistake I would willingly commit over and over again.”

There were no words coming into my mind after that. I didn’t expect any of this when you called earlier. I thought I would just come here and listen to you rant and blame me just like before.

“Do you love him?”

It took you awhile before you finally answered, “I do.”

There was nothing more to say after that.

I emptied my mug and rinsed it before putting it back inside the cupboard. Then, I took the key to your house out of my pocket and placed it on the table in front of you before walking out the door.

You didn’t ask me to stay like you always had and I knew right there and then that this would be the last time that I’d ever set foot inside that place.

The painful jabs that I feel on my chest were making it hard to breathe but I kept walking anyway. I needed to be as far away from you as possible because if I didn’t I’d go back there and ask you to take those last two words back; I’d let myself be selfish all over again.

Maybe now I can really be as nice as you have always thought I was.

When I reached my apartment, I wasn’t even surprised to see Andrew waiting for me. He does know me well enough. One look was all it took for him to understand what happened.

“You finally got dumped.” He said. I just nodded.

“And she doesn’t even know what exactly she did…”

I just nodded once again.

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