Comfortable (A Kind of “Dear John”)


Too many people talk about being safe like it’s a bad thing–vanilla, predictable, workaday, everyday, bland.  That last thing, you take issue with: in your best and worst moments–which, if you’re honest, often overlapped–you were never bland but explosive, a kind of creative fire that, maybe, only comes a few times in a lifetime. You find someone, and maybe you don’t like each other too much…but you work.  His words, your mouth. His heart, your hands. His stories spill out of your fingers like a kind of old magic, and maybe it is, because how else could you explain why it’s so easy to read his feelings and then, later, climb inside them?  How there’s a sense of rightness that comes when he admits, once you’ve turned in your lyrics, that you’ve written down everything he’s wanted to say?

This is an unlikely muse, but when you’re in the middle of making it’s not like you could care. Something new and wonderful comes out with every confession you wring from him, and it makes you feel…special to understand.  Wanted.  The two of you move in a two-part rhythm that fits like your favorite pair of heels: even the discomfort is familiar and broken-in. Your lyrics, his melody. You’re lyrics, and he’s melody. Sometimes, you clash–the meanings blur and diverge and converge almost unwillingly–but even then the effect is spectacular: raw and honest and sometimes you get confused, “Did he feel that, or was it me?”

Knowing all that, was it any surprise you’d get attached? Not the sort of attached you usually get because you are a her and he is a him. No, this is different, and all the more addicting for it. You aren’t in love, but everything else is there.  One time, he sends you an audio track of a verse-chorus riff at nearly the exact same time you send him a new set of lyrics…and the two match, melting into each other as if you hadn’t been in two separate places, thinking of two different things, at the time of their inception.

With no one else did you have what the two of you had. One played musical lines so distinct that you ended up writing in his voice, instead of your own. Another was so swallowed up by your melodies that even when you were his harmony you still seemed to take the lead. With him, you managed to tell a story that was at once completely yours and also totally his, and everyone–everyone who right now says he isn’t good for you and that you should just leave–does not understand the magic of finding someone who gives you just that: independence without the risks, raw honesty without the vulnerability.  Safe. You repeat the word over and over and over.  Safe means more than perfect or flawless or stellar or earth-shattering.  Safe is warm, and you can crawl inside it.  Safe is words spilling from your fingers like an incantation.

Safe is him needing you until the day he didn’t.

You don’t tell him that you know what he’s tried to keep secret. You know that he does cry, that he gets scared, that maybe its those shades of him that remind you of yourself that make it easy for you to be his voice. He can’t sing, he grinds out of gritted teeth, and you wonder why would he ever have to if he has you? You can. He doesn’t know how to feel, sometimes, but you can do that for him too.

Sometimes, you hear a song and can’t think of anyone else to share it with.  Sometimes, you see herbal tea for lung complaints and you have to stop yourself from reaching for a box you don’t need, because you know who does.

You aren’t in love. You don’t have to be, you discover. On the day it’s clear that he’s going to stop needing you–not now, but soon enough–you shudder and shake and break down like your world has collapsed. Nothing will ever be safe again, and you know it. Nothing will ever be this easy and broken-in, like the counts of a bluesy slow-dance.  From here on out, everything will be a fight, and you know it.  You don’t like pain, and you shy away from what makes you hurt too much, but you walked right into this.

You’re scared that from here on out, you must needs learn to be on your own.

Even now, the words are his.  Even now, you are singing everything your pride can’t bring you to say: go, but stay. I’m moving on, but I’m not. I will fight, but I’m giving up.

Your friends promise to find you other people. Friends. Jam with them, write with them, find your own music. It’s thrilling–you’ve never really had something that was yours before. You are excited, but you’re not, because you know that he already knows what your key is, and after all this time you don’t know if you still can write without his heart coming out of your hands.

Our love was,
comfortable and
so broken in…

You were not in love.  You are not in love.  After all these years of falling headfirst for people, you are discovering that love is not a prerequisite for getting your heart broken.  There are shards of glass in your chest, cutting spirals into your lungs until every breath feels like a wheeze and there is iron in your mouth and salt burning your eyes.

Safe was oxygen. You’re not sure if you’re still breathing.

You know that starting from now, you will never feel safe again. Vindictive, for the first few weeks, maybe.  Tentative, for many months after that.  Collected, in a year or so.  But safe will be a distant memory, the magic of helping bring into the world someone else’s truth distant and faint.  You let him borrow parts of you, you realize: your hands, your heart, your mind.  You entered his story and swam around in it, and that water was warm and familiar. A baby’s first ocean.

You’re not sure you’ll do much swimming after this.

He sends you a song, and the lyrics are everything you would sing, but when you try to learn it you can’t. You cry. The words are ashes in your mouth and you wonder how a love song could make you feel so devastated even if you aren’t in love. You don’t have to be. You just have to be no longer needed, no longer the well-worn part of a reliable unit.

You’re okay with letting go, just…you’ll miss being comfortable.



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