"Cathal," by Edie Sunday.
June, 2011: The green room was dark and smoky and I don't remember meeting Cathal. He looks at me often and something inside of me tells me to stay away from him.
January, 2012: James's apartment is cold like death and it's the last time I ever see Catha I. The last words I ever say to him are "get the fuck away from me."
I have written this story so many times. It's never right. It never conveys the true majesty of the pain. It is almost something to be worshipped-this pain. Some days I feel it like it's still happening. Other days I could swear that it never happened. This story is fragmented, broken, cloudy at best. But it's my story, and I will tell it to you in the only way I know it: Glimpses. Tiny vivid memories. All of it washed over with a warm bath of intoxication, substance induced but also a different kind of intoxication. Something poisonous pulsing through my veins, and through his, too.
It is my twenty-first summer on Earth, and I am possessed by a dark, manic energy. I spend my nights back at Oxford trying to drink myself away. Alone, I write and I drink and I try to kill everything inside of myself. Being alive has become unbearable.
I travel a lot. I am searching for anyone left alive in this world-this world that has turned black and rotten. It's like living in the underworld. Things are not as they seem.
Shortly after we meet in Dublin in the green room, James and Cathal invite Danielle and I to come stay for the weekend with them in Cork. We are in Oxford, running away from or towards something. We can't know yet. Within a matter of days, we book a cheap flight to Cork.
I can remember the day we arrived in painful, nearly pulsating detail. We get to Cathal's house early in the morning-he's left us a key and we've been up all-night traveling. James and Cathal aren't there yet and we nap until we hear the door open. We are welcomed kindly. We all have a smoke on the back porch. James is charming and I am not afraid of him. I keep my distance from Cathal. He is insecure and unassuming. I am not sure if it is disinterest or fear.
This weekend, time slows down. Danielle has a crush on CathaI. He doesn't reciprocate. James and I kiss a couple of times the first night and I realize I am not drawn to him after all. Nonetheless, two kind and charming Irishmen show us how they live, the places they love, and treat us like gentlemen would. We feel like we have made the loveliest friends.
We drink, dance, laugh, cook traditional Irish food. Cathal's self-deprecating humor grows on me. He keeps us laughing at all times, and James keeps us dancing. At times, finally, I feel a lightness of being that left me long ago. Relief. At other times the darkness comes, hard and fast, and I must be alone. I take to Cathal's room alone (he has given it to us for comfort and he sleeps on the couch) with my journal often. I write that I want to die. I try to force tears but they will not come. I am so heavy inside; I feel like I will fall right through the surface of the earth into its core.
It is Sunday-midday, and I have just had a fleeting but powerful urge to die. These urges come often but this is a new intensity. I emerge from Cathal's room after I force my shattered self together again. This has become a routine, but a taxing one. I always feel as though I am walking through the world just barely glued together-pieces of me are slipping and sliding off. The glue never dries. I can't catch them all. I just let them go at this point.
I go to the backyard to have a smoke. I don't know that anyone notices me. Yet suddenly someone is sitting next to me on the tree trunk I've chosen. CathaI looks at me sweetly-a look that says he knows. For a moment, I wonder how he knows. And then I don't need to. It doesn't matter. He knows, and he is the first and only person to know. A rush of calm comes over my body and mind. I have been found. He picks a purple flower-an Irish weed-and hands it to me. I press it in my journal.
A few hours go by-hours I've long since forgotten-and then we go out for one last hurrah before Danielle and I are to leave in the morning. We drink and drink; dance and dance. I feel weights falling off of my body in every moment. I am free. Momentarily, but I am free.
I go to the bar to get us a round of drinks. The drinks come and I turn around. Cathal stands in front of me and he looks like he is about to jump off of a building.
Let me make this clear: I can never forget that look in his eyes-an absolute innocence, he is afraid but determined. He has not kissed many women before, this I know. He kisses me with such desire I feel his teeth clank against my own. We kiss for minutes. It feels like hours and seconds all at once. When we finally pull away we smile; the soft smiles of two lonely people who have just found a kindred spirit.
I, broken and fucked and desolate in my own existence, am found.
The rest of the night is a blur, but I know that I feel safe and loved-a feeling I have never known. We stumble home. Cathal and I hold hands.
I wake up in his bed with his face next to mine. His face was sweet in a way I cannot convey. Now I know it was the sadness. Sadness is sweet; comforting; promising. His sadness matched my own.
We spent the night embracing, nothing more. And this is the moment that kills me-this is the moment that I am over, the moment I die and no longer have control. I don't know it then but I know it now. He is looking at me, the kind and intense look he has been giving to me all weekend but that I've only just noticed. He has been watching me-feeling me.
The look is sad, too. I am not sure why he is sad in this moment. He pulls me in gently and we kiss again-only this time it is softer. We kiss again and again. I do not want to get out of his bed, out of his embrace. The tenderness I feel for him nearly makes me sick. Maybe it's the leaving. It's everything.
He looks at me the same way when we say goodbye. A look of longing. Maybe he knows something I don't know (he does). I am nauseous and confused and somewhat in love and before I know it I am back in Oxford. This night I don't drink myself to sleep.
I think of CathaI. I think of speaking with him. I think of how we fit together. Our love for the same things. Our fucked up darkness-his Irish guilt and my American shame.
We keep in touch through the internet. It's difficult because Cathal, in all of his self-righteous specialness, does not like electronic communication. It hurts my feelings at times but at the end of the day I understand and my longing for him only grows. He promises to make it up to me-his being repulsed by electronic communication (because it's not meaningful, he says). I arrive back in America in August and by September a ten-page letter arrives. It's from Cork, Ireland. Cathal did what CathaI does-insisting upon his own authenticity-and hand wrote me a letter that stays locked away in a drawer to this very day.
The letter is not a love letter. It's a get-to-know-you letter. He is trying to know me. He is trying to let me know him. The letter is like a diary: He writes to me every day for a week about what he is doing, what he is thinking, all of it. I break over this letter. I crumble. I hold it in my hands in disbelief. I take to writing him back immediately.
He says, "So, we come to the end of my letter. I hope you didn't have to endure too much Irish tedium. Now, the rest is up to you. How are you. WHO ARE YOU?? The letter is a shared, secret place to reveal what you want, so long as it's truthful. .. "
I do the same that he did-I write him a letter in the form of diary entries. I include my favorite photograph I've ever taken. I send it with a smile on my face. I share those secrets (truths) he asked for.
But days, weeks, and eventually months go by. CathaI never receives the letter. It's at the post, and he never picks it up. I never know why. I call the post so many times. They keep telling me, we have the letter, but no one will pick up the letter. It's going to be thrown in the trash.
I am crushed but he doesn't let me go entirely. He calls me when he's drunk and tells me to come back to Ireland. He tells me about all of the things that we'll do-romantic things. He is so repressed in life that when he drinks he explodes the way that I do. I know these calls are meaningless, deep down I really do. But I want so badly to believe I can feel safe and loved again. I long for his embrace so badly the pain becomes physical. All I imagine is being on that hill with him. He understands my pain. Together we will feel okay.
Danielle and I do book a trip to Ireland in December. We're graduating college and we've got student loans left over and we don't care. She and James now have a blossoming romance. We plan it all. We are supposed to stay with CathaI because he has a house and James has a small apartment.
CathaI calls me the night before I leave for London and he is drunk. He is always drunk. He rambles on about taking me to this hill to watch the sunrise and talk about everything in the world. He is still charming even when he is drunk. He doesn't believe he is charming, but he's got my heart in his hand. He tells me he can't wait until I arrive. That we're going to have such a fantastic time. He'll never know, but imagining being with him on those hills kept me from letting go of life.
Reality. Cathal never responds to me after I arrive in London. We still catch our plane to Cork. I am hoping that something is wrong with his phone. But I am wrong. We arrive and James tells us to come to his apartment and that we can stay there. He hasn't heard from Cathal in days-he's just disappeared. James suspects he'll turn up eventually.
Days go by. The hole inside of me grows larger. What the fuck am I doing here? We run into Cathal in the street downtown Cork. He acts like he doesn't know us. A 9uick hug and he runs off. James is confused. He says he doesn't know why Cathal is being so strange. He says Cathal is strange in general, but that he has not seen him act this way before. Even James's brother comments on it. We all sit around the apartment and try to explain what's happening. I still don't know what happened. Inside I am dying. Cathal, person I believed was my friend, person I anticipated being in front of me in the same way. Simple and happy. But he is nowhere to be found.
But here is what did happen, what I know happened. Here is the breaking. Here is damage that has felt irreparable all of these years. Here are the small moments in which I died (and when I say I died I mean a part of me died, and the death was like suffocation):
CathaI finally shows his face for New Year's Eve, 2012. He comes out with us. He stays as far away from me as he can. The night is torture for me. Danielle and James are happy. I am cold, cold, and so alone. Cathal's presence makes me feel like throwing my body into the river. He will not look at me. The person who once came towards me in a truly kind way makes all efforts to have nothing at all to do with me.
We walk home from the bar and Cathal comes back to James's apartment for the first time since we have been there (a week). I've been mad at him on the walk home. I was drunk. I push him into a wall and say what the fuck is your problem. He says no words. He kisses me and that is all. Then, he pays me no attention whatsoever. I sit, for hours and hours, watching Cathal smoke cigarettes and listen to the Pet Shop Boys. I am waiting for him to transform, back into the person who made me feel so safe. He never does.
At one point he says, "I guess we should go to bed then." I am confused but I oblige. We go to James's brothers bed he's left for us. The room is dark and cold, but not the kind of cold I know. It's a wet cold. It wraps itself around you. I feel a sense of dread.
We lay down next to each other fully clothed; shoes on. There is no sweet kiss, no soft embrace. No sad and longing eyes. We stay far away from one another. At one point, he lets out a sigh, rolls over towards me, and kisses me and it's so empty, so cruel-this kiss-I almost can't breathe. If a kiss could kill you, my heart would have stopped beating.
But it gets worse. We keep kissing (I am weak, I keep hoping some of that old tenderness will come back) and eventually I start to unbuckle his pants and my own. I am desperate. How can I call him back to me? He says no. He turns me down. But then he forces my hand onto his dick and I go through the motions. It's quick. He covers his face when he comes.
And I break again. (How many times can one break?)
We don't talk. We lay in silence. I can't remember most of the night because of the agony, but I did not sleep. Dripping with cold sweat, strange and uninviting dark room, cruel man beside me who I do not know at all. At times, I still hope he will turn back into the person I had known in June. But I know he will not. Mostly I wish, as always, to disappear.
He wakes before the sun comes up and puts on all of his clothes. I ask why he is leaving so early. He says because he needs to. I am curled in a ball, praying for my own demise, and he leans down and kisses me on the cheek-as if I am too dirty to kiss on the lips, or as a gesture of pity. I break again.
I start losing track of time. I am nowhere and nothing. I see him one more time before the end. He comes and watches one hour of television with us. He leaves. I walk after him and ask why he is leaving, and he says because he has to and to let it go. He raises his voice. It's not the last time.
The next night he comes over again. We smoke a cigarette together on the back porch and I tell him I'm sorry if I've done something to make him feel like he has to like me or be with me. That I just want to be his friend. I have no other feelings for him. I just wish he'd allow himself to be happy and have a good time with us. He says that he does not have any romantic feelings towards me whatsoever and he is fine so to stop going on about it.
We go inside and he waits a couple of minutes and then goes to leave again. This time I break, but I break open wide for all to see. I say something along the lines of, "Are you fucking kidding me? You invited me here. I have already relieved you of the pressure to be anything but my friend. Can you not stand to spend more than a moment around me?"
And then he breaks, wide open for all to see. He screams at me in an accent so thick I can hardly understand what he says.
CathaI: "M, I've never come this close to hitting a girl before."
CathaI: "You don't fucking know me."
I sob and crumble into a ball of bones on the floor. CathaI: "Don't get down on your fucking knees."
CathaI: "I have never felt anything for you ever."
CathaI: "I'm not fucking staying with you."
CathaI: "I'm not a miserable person. You do not fucking know me."
CathaI: "I hate your intervention Dr. Phil shit. You don't fucking know me. You are nothing to me."
Crying, gasping for air, saying I just want to go home, please, please, I just want to go home. He walks over to me. I can see his shoes. He bends down and says my name softly, and then, "M, don't leave. You don't have to leave over this."
And I scream, "fuck off." And he does. He leaves. I think we both broke that night.
But the part of me that he broke, crushed, smashed, decimated, degraded, destroyed is still as he left it.
We are ghosts to each other.
CathaI, will I take this to my grave?
This story, written by Edie Sunday, was first published in the 2nd issue of Unvael Journal. Edie is a photographer and writer currently living in Nashville but wishing she was back in Texas.