By Allison Futterman
You come to my dorm room holding your pants in your right hand. In your left is an iron, and a jacket is crisply folded and draped over your arm. I realize this is your ROTC dress uniform. You pull out a roll of iron-on fabric tape from your backpack and ask me to make a hem. I’ve never done this before, but I’m actually flattered by the request.
This is the kind of thing you would ask of a girlfriend, not someone casual. I move everything off the small desk to make room, and lay out a towel to go under the pants before I iron them. This much I know to do.
My roommates are out, so you lie down on my bottom bunk, waiting for me to finish. When I walk over with the pants, you pull me onto the bed, making the most of a rare moment of privacy. Normally, this would happen off campus, at your place. Your roommates are never around, and you have the luxury of your own room and a full-sized bed—where you inexplicably use an unzipped army sleeping bag as a blanket.
“Why?” I ask.
“Why not?” This seems totally normal to you, which makes me think maybe I’m the first one to stay over. At least I hope so.
You try on the pants, in anticipation of an upcoming military formal. “You sure you don’t want to go?”
“Why, would you actually dance with me?” I ask, knowing that you’re somewhat reserved. My mind wanders, imagining us dressed up and walking into the event. When a good song comes on, I drag you grudgingly onto the dance floor. In my mind, I can hear the music change and see us moving in closer for a slow dance.
“Maybe,” you say. “You’ll never know if you don’t go.” And then a slight smirk and a small laugh. You’re a serious person, and it’s good to see you being a little silly.
I know instinctively that if I go with you, it will be a turning point for us. A step forward. But I need a slight push to get there. Don’t give up so easily. I really want you there. That’s all it would take. But instead, you drop it.
At that time, neither of us knows what will soon happen. That I’ll hastily pack all my belongings—and be driven away by my boyfriend from home. Never to return. Back to the dysfunction, the darkness, and the misery. Every mile will take me further away from my chance at freedom and normalcy, and closer to the suffering that will eventually take years to rid myself from.
“I know you’re going to leave me for some college guy when you go away to school,” he would always say, but I couldn’t imagine being with anyone other than him. I’ve never even been on a date with anyone else—never kissed anybody besides him. Until you.
Since we first met, you’ve known about him, but he doesn’t know about you. That’s the only way it can be. He’s too volatile and jealous. And I worry about our safety, yours and mine if he finds out. I already feel guilty putting you in this position.
There’s no drama with you—you’re the opposite of him. Calm. Measured and cerebral. Impressively smart. Very driven. At times, a little detached or aloof. But there’s also warmth there. I’ve seen your thoughtful and caring side, and I don’t understand why you fight it so hard.
It’s the way you always walk me back to campus, even when you’re tired or busy. It’s how you kiss me goodbye at the crack of dawn when I stay over and you have to leave early. “Sleep. We’ll get breakfast when I get back.” It’s you pushing the sleeping bag around me, making sure I’m not cold.
When you let your guard down and I feel the closeness between us, I think: maybe. Maybe if you’re like this more often. Maybe if you actually say the words.
You’re not without passion, but only in carefully chosen moments. Not when it’s your scheduled workout time. Not the three mornings a week when it’s unthinkable for you to be a minute late for ROTC. Even when I bring you sandwiches and snacks at the library for a study break and try to temp you to leave, it doesn’t break your concentration.
“Tonight,” you say. Translation: not now. And even though I’m disappointed, I admire your focus.
When I call to tell you that I’m leaving and not coming back to school, you’re seemingly unmoved. “Whatever,” you say. Or maybe it’s “Do what you want.” There’s a slight edge in your voice, that if anything I would describe as annoyance.
You don’t ask me not to leave. You don’t tell me there’s something…someone here that’s worth staying for. Perhaps this is too much to expect from a college boy. I can’t sense any emotion in you. If my leaving makes you sad or angry or upset, it doesn’t show. I wonder what the rest of your day was like. Was it just business as usual?
I know it won’t be long before someone replaces me. I see them looking at you, flirting even when I’m standing right there. You never flirt back, but once I leave, that will probably change. And this drives me crazy, even though it makes me a hypocrite.
You only know this version of me. The one here and now. The normal one. The fun one with friends and confidence. You wouldn’t even recognize the other me. The one that’s dragging me back to a toxic life. I don’t want you or anyone else to know her. I don’t even want to know her. I hate her.
You button up the jacket to your uniform, and your muscles fill out the shoulders and sleeves. I’m momentarily left speechless by how good you look. Years later, I can still see it clearly. How badly I wish I went with you.
Allison Futterman’s creative nonfiction, flash fiction, and poetry have been published by a variety of literary journals.