Old Rivers Run Deep

So, here we are, again – in the old, dark basement bar where you used to serve drinks on weekends, and where I used to run through the money I made working night shifts at the cylinder factory by the vacant airport. Of course, on nights you were working, you’d give me my drinks for free – even when I’d order two Cuba Libres for me and another girl I was with. Yeah, that’s the kind of mindless prick I was back then, and the kind of kind-hearted and naive soul you probably still are today. This low-ceilinged place is still filled with the same old mouldy smell that would cling to our clothes and hair and make our bedrooms reek at least two days of every god-damned week when I still lived here. You’re talking to your friends now, and I’m talking to mine, and when our eyes meet across the crowded room, we give each other a brief, covert smile and look away. It’s been five long years now since the last time you’ve let me into your warm bed. It had been my birthday, three months after I had broken up with you for the second time. I had been knocked down in a stupid bar fight, and we had both been drunk beyond repair. The next day, I lay in your bed with a bruised cheek and the worst hangover since probably last Tuesday and waited until your family was out of the house, so I wouldn’t have to see them on my walk of shame home. When I think about how often I have disappointed your parents, whom I loved more than my own back then, I already know how stinking drunk I’ll be later tonight.

I run into you when I buy a round of gin and tonics at the bar for me and my drunkard friends. You say it’s good to see me. Yeah, good to see you too. Yeah, I’ve been back in the country for half a year now. No, I won’t tell you that one of the main reasons I left four years ago was you. You’ve just been on holiday in Morocco with your boyfriend? Well, isn’t that kick-me-in-the-balls fantastic. No, I haven’t met him. But I sure as hell hope he’s a good man.

This morning, I found a collection of my old Moleskine notebooks in my parents’ attic. In one of them, I have written that I hope that one day you’ll find a better man than me. I wrote it more than nine years ago, only two months after we met for the first time. Well, technically, for the third time, but you know I can’t recall the first two times because I was too damned wasted. But I hit on you all three times I met you for the first time, even though I still was with another girl back then, so I guess you could think of it as some messed-up, drugged-up version of romantic destiny. How I won the heart of the hottest girl in school as a pimpled, ne’er-do-well eighteen-year old is still beyond me. Anyway, I still hope you have found a good man now. Someone who doesn’t ring at your parents’ door at three-thirty at night when he’s dead drunk and before he’s even ever met your parents. Well, I guess you’re not a seventeen year old virgin who lives with her parents anymore, anyway, but you get the point. I hope you’ve found someone who doesn’t fall on his knees in front of you to sob his heart out over his drunken self-hatred and self-pity and general drug-fuelled self-involvement. Someone who doesn’t emotionally manipulate you. Someone whose main means of communication isn’t make-up sex in besieged house-party bathrooms and cars parked in dark back alleys. Someone who chooses a cosy night on the sofa with you over a bottle of vodka in some shabby club and the foul breath of some plastered chick on his neck. Someone who knows what a god-damned lucky bastard he is to have you while he has you.

Yeah, I have to get back to my friends too. Yeah, sure, hope to see you again soon. Before you turn around, your gaze fixates on mine for a painful instant too long. Is it disappointment I can read in your eyes? Or is it pity? As you walk away, I have to force myself to stay put. I’ve always been drawn to you like a mosquito to a glistening gas lamp in the damp night of New Orleans, knowing full well that your touch would singe my flesh to the bone. I think the worst thing I have ever done to you – and that’s saying something – is that I’ve never let you be a real person. For me, you’ve always just been an idea – back then you were my pretty, kind girlfriend I’d like to brag about, and today you are the one that got away, of whom I tell the same old boring stories over the last round in dirty old dive bars. In the end, I guess I’ve never had any real clue who you actually are.

When I buy a round of shots at the bar, I see you leave with your man. He looks like a nice guy and has a kind smile. But then again, my I’m-doing-fine smile has become quite convincing over the years too. Take care and may all your dreams come true. In another life, I hope to see you again, and I hope I can be a better man for you. But if love was truly selfless, I’d hope you never have to meet me again, in this life or any other. After another round of cheap drinks, I get into a pointless shoving fight with some drunk moron that is quickly broken up. Old habits die hard when the barman’s your friend. An hour to forget later, they shut off the music and turn on the lights, and the bouncer kicks me out of the bar; it’s still the same bulky guy who used to be in love with you when you still worked here. How many damned times do we have to play this silly game? I light my last cigarette and wander aimlessly through the streets that I know too well and that I feel the urge to run away from again soon. The asphalt is wet from the summer rain and reflects the warm light radiated by lonely street lamps underneath misty skies. Beneath this old town, a system of murky underground rivers runs through a dark maze no one ever enters. As I sense the black streams fed by rain water rush angrily deep below my feet, my wicked heart is pumping tainted blood through my veins. If you walk these streets tomorrow when the sun shines again, maybe you’ll feel the dark water below you too, and maybe you’ll know that my heart is still beating somewhere, still beating for you.


(Memmingen & Munich, July 2018)

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