The heart can be a tricky thing to understand. Discerning between love and longing, lust and unwanting isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Here, two short stories from two different perspectives mirror the heart’s fluctuations, juxtaposing the feelings of abundance and absence that can come with them.
“We Are Only Women”
I was always sure that feminine pride was a concrete construct: solid pillars of rules and codes. Do’s and don’ts, rights and wrongs. Questions with unquestionable answers. Naivety is a beautiful thing.
I was not prepared for the twilight of anguish in which black and white would dissolve into shadowy pockets of ambiguity. I could’ve never imagined that mere happiness would become such a precious commodity, that mighty pillars could be ground to dust–nothing but a bleak apology left behind. And a star, somewhere way off at the edge of the universe. A tiny dot of light, but visible. It’s reachable once time has done its job: eroding pride, eroding memory.
Perhaps pride and clear memory have never been good bedfellows. We have those frames we prefer to keep in the drawer, layered with dust. Leave a little to the imagination so that we may keep on loving our loved ones as we imagined them to be, before we saw more than we wanted to.
And we pray they will do the same for us.
Our own failures are more easily forgotten. It’s necessary for a healthy mind. We learn to smooth over the peaks of guilt and shame that stab at the surface of our consciousness. Survival of the forgetfulest. We feel instead the guilt of our loved ones, equally painful but quenchable with forgiveness. A woman’s guilt is the guilt of men, and the guilt of women for loving them. The guilt of loving our friends, who love their guilty men more than they love us. Their men who cheat and deceive and grovel in remorse. We used to mean more than those men, but no longer. We are only women, weak and humble. —Sarah Thomson
“I Play With Men’s Emotions”
“I play with men’s emotions,” I told him as we sat across from each other on my bed. I’ve collected a slew of lovers the last few months since I found a home in this big dirty city, and I get scared the list will grow longer than the pages my journal has space for me to write about them in. I don’t sleep with them, which sometimes annoys me, but I really explore their interests. I find what makes them tick, what makes them feel special. I want to make them feel special.
Malik tries to kiss me and I ask if he’s hot because my room is small, my window is smaller, and my heater is screaming as loud as I want to. I push back to bring in the last bit of winter’s cold into the room, drawing a little distance between us. I can breathe again.
Can he tell I don’t want to have sex with him?
He is more sexual than I imagined. His online messages and persona—which I realized is just that, a persona—is in contrast to his understanding of me; I’m the vessel and he’s a carrier. Truthfully, I was playing along via text the days before he came to New York. I told him all of the things I was going to say and do and say and do again to him. All of that talk must’ve filled the space between us on my bed while he coolly lay there analyzing me.
He tells me about his last trip to California and the ways in which it allegedly transformed him and I’m thinking about Griffin who was lying in his place not much longer before, arguing with me about whether or not God exists. Or about Cody and whether we’ll fall in love a decade from now, too caught up in our own foolishness to care about the world.
Or Wen. Or Daniel. Or all the other men I was too lazy to write on this line, and too lazy to stay in contact with.
I’m not sure where my fascination with men comes from. As quickly as I become fascinated and enamored with a guy, I lose interest and move on to the next morning after. Obviously this has led to some not-so-nice words flown in my face, and even harsher realities exposed about my habits. But I keep playing this game. I keep playing myself. And my bed feels bigger and bigger each time. —Mark Robert