The Hopeless Romantic
I've stuck by Aqsa's side since we were both little. We've pretty much always relied on each other, so my feelings for her naturally grew over the years. This might be because I’ve never had anyone care about me as much as she does, though when I really think back on it, I’ve never had too many people in my life to begin with. It sounds banal, I know, but I’d even go so far as to say she is my life.
As an adult, she's done well for herself … for us, actually. We grew up together, and when she got her first job out of college, I moved to San Francisco with her. Despite my being a little younger, we’ve always been compatible because I was quick to mature, so it felt like the right move. But if I'm being completely honest, I really didn't have any reason to come to the city other than the angst I felt from imagining a life without her.
And she knew that.
I’m really just a privileged bum because I’ve never had to worry about supporting myself. I don't want to say more or I might shame myself into productivity. But then you have Dante, who's like this overachieving community hero, always making me look bad. He's fit, athletic, strong and proportionate, plus he chases after "bad guys" for a living ... he's literally a narc. Sorry, but I can't ever see myself doing that. My design—short and fat with stubby legs—simply wouldn’t allow it. Plus I’m not sure how I feel about sticking my nose in other people’s affairs. I could always find something more fulfilling, like helping children or people with disabilities, but then Aqsa wouldn’t get any time with me, which is the reason I'm even here in the first place.
I have to say, though, living with her turned out to be way different than I had imagined. I always thought she was unreasonably finicky, so I was surprised to learn just how disorganized and messy this girl turned out to be when left unsupervised. She only does the dishes when it’s time for our next meal, which wouldn't bother me if she wasn’t constantly on my case for health and hygiene and all these other things she doesn’t do herself. And when I do retaliate, she just gives me this look — like the very idea of expecting anything better from me is a long shot. I find it all very condescending.
The only times Aqsa ever bothered tidying the place up was when Shir would come over. That's a silly name and I refuse to see it any other way, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was really nice to me. And really, really nice to her. He’d make her smile in a way I’d never seen before. But then again, I’d never really seen her spend time with boys other than myself. Even back in Santa Barbara, she was always studying by herself or reading, so this side of her was new to me. The effect this guy had on her was unmatched: she’d just keep smiling silly even long after he’d leave. But I couldn’t get myself to like him because I viewed him as a threat to my only source of happiness. The funny part is he knew exactly how I felt, like guys tend to in such cases. He knew better than Aqsa herself. Yet, he was always respectful toward my place in the household. He never overdid it with the whole “I guess we’re gonna have to be friends now that I’m over all the time” shtick. He was just nice, which made things really difficult for me.
Especially when he stopped coming over.
Similar to how I’d never seen Aqsa as happy as when Shir was around, she took on a whole new temperament, crippled by dejection, once his absence became a constant. Did I scare him away? I'm still not sure what happened, but I remember finding it tough to wrap my mind around how loving someone could bring a person so much pain. I do, however, know this much as some who truly loves her: I'd never let her slip into that state. At that time, however, it would’ve been insensitive for me to try and take Shir's place. Realistically, I don’t think she'll ever allow me that place in her life. The thing is, she’d say “I love you” to me all the time, but I’m pretty sure that’s because she thinks I play for the other team. She’s convinced that Dante's my boyfriend, and even when I snap at her, she doesn’t stop referring to him as that.
It’s probably just the air of possibilities San Francisco breathes into its inhabitants, but that’s just the poetry of the city; still doesn’t mean anything is possible. If it did, then someone like me—short and fat with stubby legs—would be the sole recipient of Aqsa’s affection.
Still, I’ve never lost sight of what’s truly important. Just one look at that girl and my self-worth goes into remission. What really hurt me, though, was that I wasn’t able to do the same for her. She always used to talk to me ... well, actually, talk at me, but she likes that I’m a good listener (I usually just blank out most times because of my fleeting attention span). Eventually, I started to believe that the change in her behavior wasn’t just about a boy, though that’s most likely what prompted it. She went from chirpy to lethargic within days and kept calling in sick till she stopped going to work altogether, just to lie in bed all day.
Plus she stopped taking her pills.
It wasn’t long before I noticed the scars on her wrists turn longitudinal, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I was quite ambivalent about the whole thing till last morning, when I was forced awake by the sound of the bathtub spout having been left on for what felt like over an hour. A thickening stream was trickling out of the bathroom and into the corridor. I could barely see a thing because of all the steam, and probably because sunrise was still miles away. The bathroom door was open, so I poked my head inside. Through the blur, I could see Aqsa lying in the tub with boiling hot water evenly spilling over the rim. Contrary to her initial state of hibernation, she’d been sleep deprived of late. I could see it in her eyes: tired and frail, staring blankly at the ceiling. Between her thumb and index finger, shivering feebly, she pinched tight a safety razor. If that dingy music she'd been listening to was an image, that would be it. Those god-awful lyrics started playing in my head and it was all I could hear over the sound of neglected water flow. Then, just as I was beginning to assimilate the situation, she noticed me standing there. She looked at me for an entire five minutes before saying anything.
“Well shit, who’s gonna feed your fat ass then?”
Aqsa calmly stepped out of the bathtub and began walking toward the kitchen, dripping wet and still unclothed. I followed. She cooked the diced chicken from the night before with some eggs—an unanticipated upgrade—and stuffed it into a bowl, then gently placed it in front of me. For once, I didn’t feel the urge to eat but still proceeded to in acquiescence, faster than I ever had. My immodest appetite had clearly given her a sense of purpose. I didn’t look up even once, though I could tell she was staring at me the whole time. She sat up in a fetal position inches away from me, her head tilted sideways and resting on her knees, around which her arms were wrapped. I sensed her hand reaching toward me. As she ran her fingers through my hair, I stopped eating but still didn’t dare to look up.
“I love you … you know that, right?”
It had been really long since she’d said that to me, but it felt different this time. I had given her the strength she couldn’t find elsewhere, yet I didn't find comfort in that like I usually would. For the first time ever, I wished that she would in fact find that strength in someone else, or better yet, in herself. Because a few years from now, she won’t have someone like me—short and fat with four stubby legs—to look out for her.