You know I’m always here if you need to talk, so I’m going to tell it to you again, the way I always do. But first, like always, you have to promise me that there’s still no regrets, all right? I know this is the only way either of us are going to get to sleep, but you need to promise it to me again. Alright, so, for the hundredth time: Yes, I could have been the best boyfriend you ever had.
I could have been the boyfriend who got up two hours early every day to make you breakfast. You would never have to put the coffee on or stir a bowl or whisk an egg. I could have made the bed as soon as you got up, standing with a corner in each hand just waiting for you to leave the room. It would have been like a magic trick. One minute it’s a wreck then you come back from the bathroom and presto, the perfect bed. We could have had hospital corners. We could have had pot roasts and steamed vegetables. Sweaters and children and children in sweaters.
Maybe that’s not what you would have wanted though. I could have been the boyfriend who barely shows up even when I’m around. I could have spent all my time talking to other men, could have pretended you were one fish on many lines. I could have been an incredible multi-tasker. I could have lied to you about them, developed enormous castles of lies as intricate as they would be transparent. Or I could have told you all about them, the other men, the ones in whom you would both recognize yourself and find creatures impossible to imagine. You might have wondered if I had a type, you might have wondered how you fit into all of it. I could have kept you guessing either way, kept you always on the back foot. You might have liked it, honestly. Comfort kills excitement.
Again, promise me no regrets. But, I could have, and I know you’re getting sick of hearing it, but just in terms of the bedroom I really could have rocked your world. I could have done contortions and hand-stands, danced at the foot of the bed. I could have worn masks and harnesses and popped pills and chewed through your palms. I could have called you by your dad’s name or crawled over hot coals. I don’t know what goes on in your head. But I could have.
Don’t think I couldn’t have done things the old fashioned way, though. I too crave sustained eye contact. I don’t mind holding hands or taking a hike. We could turn off the lights, pull up the covers and silently couple like they used to in the old days. I could have been the boyfriend that meets your parents, compliments their festive gourds then happily concedes to sleeping in a separate room while we’re under their roof. I could have forced a smile in a posed photo for the Christmas Cards and when your parents looked at it they would see me as a part of the family, not just the guy who was fucking their son in December.
I think that could have been what you wanted, and I know I’ve told you before but we could have done it. We could have grown old together, the fire of youth slowly fading to the crystalline hum of devotion. We could have watched each other grow slowly more and more fragile, our hands thinning to paper but still finding themselves clasped together at dinner parties where we shuffle and tremble around a family who barely know us. (We wouldn’t need them to know us, because we would know each other.) We would still see in our waxy, loosening faces the handsome young men we used to be. We could have had a history to look back on and slowly be consumed by as we lost more and more of our grip on the present.
Who knows though, I could have died young. I could have been swept up in a rogue wave, or murdered by the same random hand of fortune that brought us together. You could have kept your grief like a locket, like a brand across your chest. I could have haunted you, gone but still echoing in the way you see men when you see them. I could have been a figure your hands would still trace in empty beds, a voice you would still hear coming from another room but that you could never find again. The pain, though it would feel like death, might give you some perspective. Who says that the things that happen to us aren’t good.
But maybe we would have taken care of ourselves. Drank smoothies with only farm fresh vegetables, done cross-fit, hiked up and down canyons and run marathons. We could have driven each other to ever greater heights of performance. Gone to therapy twice a week until we finally had our breakthroughs, then held each other crying big cathartic tears. We could have drank exquisite wines in moderation, and I’d have quit smoking for you-- hey, it could happen!
(I know you wouldn’t ask me to recite this all to you again if it wasn’t an emergency. Really, no hard feelings. More than anything, it’s nice to talk, even if I’m the one doing all the talking.)
We can’t forget that I could have gotten worse. And yes, I know that you know that I mean worse than I’ve already been. I know it’s hard to imagine, but try. I could have come home drunk every night, screaming again. I could have smashed every lightbulb in the house with a shoe like the man you loved in the play. I could have ranted and raged through the night, crushing a pack of cigarettes in my fist while explaining for the hundredth time that you’ll never understand me: that of course I contradict myself; I am large and I contain multitudes. I could have been wrong in every fight, or at least more of them.
I could have been Marlon Brando or Clark Gables. I could have dressed in period accurate costumes, swept up a spiral staircase either into or away from your arms. I could have thrown my palm across my forehead in lamentation or in ecstasy. I could have fainted dead away at the sound of your voice. I could have been any song, any painting, anyone in any film. I’ll confess: your reference point for these things always confused me.
I could have made grand gestures, written you the poem from 10 Things I Hate About You, sang the song from 10 Things I Hate About You, given you two kids then died in the home of an Olsen twin like Heath Ledger, star of 10 Things I Hate About You. But I also could have kept everything to myself, kept it all between us. I could have kept you like an ember pressed to my chest, slowly burning me from inside out until all the world could see me transformed, blazing like the sun but never quite understanding how.
You know, I’m sure, that we’re getting close to the end. That I’ve almost said everything I need to say to make it possible for me to say what you really called to hear. But before I can say it, you need to know that I’m aware that I could have been all of these things. I was some of them, I was parts. I still am, in ways. I was, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, myself. And I know you don’t want to hear it, but I’m sorry I couldn’t be someone else. Not for you, not for me, not for anyone. I can seem to change like a bed of flowers or an exuberance of coral. I flourish and bloom, but which is really the tree: the leaves in Summer or the branches that are still there when Winter comes.
I know I’ve gotten out of hand. Let me get back to what you’re calling to hear. Honey, I could have been the best boyfriend you ever had, but we both know at the end of the day there’s a gulf between could and would that all the bridges in Paris couldn’t span. Not even close. So try not to think too hard about the past. We made a promise, right: no regrets, and I’m trying as hard as I can to keep that up on my end. But that said: honey, give me a call when you get tired of talking, because we both know you’ve got my number, and like I always tell you: where I am, it’s never too late to call.