by Rachel Tanner
Rachel Tanner is an Alabamian writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bad Pony Mag, Longleaf Review, 8 Poems, Memoir Mixtapes, and elsewhere. She tweets @rickit.
A Few of Our Alternate Universes
1. I pass you in a mall somewhere in the Midwest. You smile kindly, as cute strangers do. I blush, not realizing I’m staring. We both go on with our lives. I buy some ankle boots that are on sale and I have a dream that night that you are watching me put on the boots before our monthly date night. We’re tired and going to the noodle place down the street. I wake up and forget about you within half a week.
2. We meet at a bar that is in walking distance of both of our apartments; neither of us is drinking. We both want the last karaoke slot so we decide to sing “Islands in the Stream” by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers together. It’s sweet. It’s a scene from a movie. We leave together and get a hotel room because neither of us wants someone so temporary attached to our homes. We don't ask about each other’s lives. We fuck. We leave. That’s it.
3. You lightly chuckle and tell me that you are definitely your mother’s child. I have never met your mother, so I don't know exactly what that means. I’m assuming your mother is someone who leaves the toilet seat up no matter how many times I tell her to cut it the fuck out, since that’s who you are. I could hear you laughing in the living room the last time my ass fell in the toilet bowl. You're a smart dude; you've gotta be doing this on purpose. I hide your glasses the next morning as revenge. I’m cackling because you’re freaking out. It’s not a good prank. We yell at each other for an hour then make out, because what else are we supposed to do?
4. We do our best but we can't love each other in the right ways. I don’t know what you want. I don’t know how to carve a place in your life that fits me. You get up so early in the morning and you say it’s to get work done but it feels more like you’re intentionally inverting our schedules as a way to avoid me. It feels like you want to let go but you’re too scared to see if either of us will survive a crash like that. I can’t do this anymore, though. Not like this. Not with you. Not knowing how we were.
5. We romantically unravel in front of each other, all of the time. We sit on the floor drinking Grapico that I brought you from Alabama because you've never had it before. I make up worlds for us to exist in and you don't think it’s weird. You understand that I spend too much time in my head and it gets lonely in there so I bring you along with me sometimes. You think my jokes are funny and I am continually stunned by the fact that I get to come home to you every day. You. Life before you either didn’t exist or didn’t matter. Jesus Christ. Just look at you. How did I get here? How am I this close to happiness?
6. Within the first half hour of our first date, you tell me Lorde’s Melodrama isn't a masterpiece, so I tell you I have to use the bathroom but instead I just leave and go bowling alone. You text me three times before giving up.
7. You love me but you don't know what to do. I keep lying. I keep hurting you. I’ve stopped going to therapy but I don't tell you about it. Instead I tell you I’m doubling up on appointments. Instead I go hold hearts that don't have expectations like yours does. I crawl into bed beside you at 4 AM smelling like mouths that aren't yours. You don't say anything. You hope I grow out of it. You give me space. I pull the threads of every kindness you show me as far out into the night as they can go; I take what's yours and make it bleed. I ruin you in ways no one’s ever heard of. I leave you for no one and nothing in particular. I leave you to drown in my rain.
8. I razz you for being a comics nerd and you razz me for being a music nerd. I relearn to play clarinet for the first time since my nerve damage and you decide to learn guitar at the same time so we can play together. We last two weeks before we give up and play Nintendo instead. I beat you in “Mario Kart” and I gloat for days because a nerd like you should be better at video games.
9. You are so boring…oh my GOD please stop making me always be on top. Sometimes I'm exhausted and just want to be the one who lays there. Seems like common sense to me, to switch it up. Everything you do annoys me because I haven't orgasmed in months or maybe it’s because my mom won’t stop calling. You’re clipping your toenails on the couch again. We’ve talked about this. We have talked about this SO MANY times. Do NOT walk away from me while I'm talki--
10. We make each other playlists. We write each other poetry. We’re the annoying couple everyone hates. It doesn’t even feel performative; we just genuinely want to be this close. We walk with our hands in each other’s back pockets. This isn't sustainable. Is this sustainable?
11. The specifics of how I die don’t matter. It doesn’t matter how long you watched me grapple with darknesses you recognized but couldn’t reach. You mourn. You find love again. A different love. A bigger love. He has all the good parts of me and almost none of the bad. It was worth knowing and losing me, in order to find him. I was worth it.
12. We’re at a party, fading into a crowd of millennials trying to forget they’re millennials. Nobody looks happy and neither do we. You accidentally bump into me and say sorry. You're drunk. I’m drunk. You lean in for a kiss but I push you away. My fiancé grabs my hand and pulls me back into my life.
13. You fly down to see me. You text me from the taxiway and ask if it’s okay to hug me and maybe kiss me when you see me for the first time. I tell you yes. The first word out of my mouth when you walk up to me is yes. I say yes for days afterwards, still baffled by you, this gorgeous man who cares so much about my consent and comfort. I say yes to a different question a year later and move across the country to be with you forever. We say yes down the road when the social worker calls us to ask if we have room for a fifth child. I say lol yes when I read you this out loud and you ask me if I know how cheesy it sounds.
14. I dump you when I meet JC Chasez from NSYNC and he falls in love with me. You understand. The three of us go out for dinner once a month and you wish us the best.
15. Despite our efforts, our kids are sort of bratty. I'm worried that you and I are both too emotional for this. You bring me a glass of wine after our daughter calls me a “useless bitch” for the third time this week. You smile at me and rub my back. Everything will be okay. Love will make this okay.
16. I never knew you existed. I am happy in my lack of you. I am not broken from trying to trace the outlines of a person I will never know the shape of. I don’t ache prayers to a just-in-case God that you are somewhere safe and warm. This is the ideal situation. This is the only way I won’t hurt.