An Entry from Birch’s Journal

I wrote this as a sort of exploration of a character from a longer work, “Letters.” I’ve posted some excerpts from it on this blog: An Excerpt from Letters, or “After Her”; A Second Excerpt from “Letters”; “Letters,” A Third Excerpt.
I’m not sure if this is strictly canon, but it’s something close.

I met Rin’s husband today.

I felt an odd sense of guilt about the whole thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have. I don’t know. They’ve been married for, what is it? Four years now? And I hadn’t met him yet. It’s not right of me. I should have made more of an effort to get back to Michigan. I should have tried harder, or asked Van in a better way, or something.

I guess I’m being unfair to myself. Van just… wouldn’t let me. He wouldn’t let me come to the wedding, or go anywhere he didn’t want me to go. That’s not my fault. Not completely. I’ve got to get out of this mindset of blaming myself for everything. Van trained me to think everything bad that happened was my fault, even when it wasn’t. It’s hard to break conditioning like that.

I’ve seen pictures of Tomás, of course. I knew he was handsome. Green eyes, great hair, a wonderful smile. Van was attractive in a sort of sculpted, ice-cold way. Tomás is attractive like a warm summer day. I’m not going to lie, when he smiles, it makes my heart flutter a little bit. He’s a very nice-looking man.

Wait, why am I comparing him to Van? I try not to think about Van at all. Some days, I’m successful. Other days I catch myself doing things like that: measuring the looks of other guys against his, or comparing their behavior. Sometimes I think, “Van wouldn’t like me doing this,” and I’ll pause what I’m doing for a moment before I remind myself that it doesn’t matter.

Van didn’t like that I moved back home, but that doesn’t matter. I did it anyway. Sometimes it felt like there was so much about me that he didn’t like that I wondered why he wanted to keep me with him at all. Now I think that was just his way of controlling me, because he was a possessive asshole. He meted out affection and rewards only when I was doing just exactly what he wanted me to do, and no other time.

Ugh. No. I don’t need to write any more about Van. I’ve got pages and pages full of him, and those pages and the years of my life that he filled up are enough. He doesn’t deserve one thing more from me.

I met Rin’s husband today, and I got to see Rin for the first time in years. God, I’ve missed her. We’ve texted and called each other and stuff, but it’s just not the same. We had a big, dramatic hug that belonged in a movie. We sort of ran together, and maybe we hit each other a bit too hard but it didn’t matter, because then we were hugging and I was crying and I never wanted to let her go, because I didn’t even realize how much I missed her until right then.

Then I sort of realized I’d forgotten that Tomás was there, too, and I thought about the fact that we hadn’t met, and I apologized to him and gave him a big hug, too. I guess that was awkward. We don’t even know each other, but I’ve heard so much about him, and I know Rin loves him and he makes her happy. He stiffened, at first. I don’t think he expected a hug. Then he hugged me back, and with such… Commitment? I don’t. There’s a word for it that I don’t know. He gave me a real hug. That’s what I mean.

I don’t know if I’m making sense. Maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s just me who reads this. Still, I feel like I need to describe it right. Do it justice. He hugged me the same way Rin hugs me. It was just like hugging her, honestly. You only get that hug from people who care about you, that sort of relaxed, firm hug, where there’s no tension of discomfort and you can feel their body give into yours a little bit. It’s not the sort of hug you give to someone you just met, but that’s how Tomás hugged me.

It made me want to know him. I feel like I already know a lot about him, because Rin has talked about him so much over the years, but you can’t know someone from a secondhand description, no matter how you might try. It just doesn’t work that way.

I… Well, let’s start with this. I haven’t felt attracted to another man since, I don’t know, a few months after I started dating Van. I can’t say I was really attracted to Van in the end, either, but I still felt like I wasn’t good enough to be attracted to anyone else.

I think I have a bit of a crush on Tomás. It’s not a good thing, and I know that. He’s straight and he’s married to my best friend. Still, in a way, it’s kind of a relief. I’ve had this worry buried deep down inside that Van killed the part of me that let me have crushes. There’s this little spark, though, that I haven’t felt in so long that I barely recognized it at first, and I feel it now when I think about Tomás, and his smile, and his hug. It’s not right, but I want to feel it again.

— B.C.A.

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