I fell in love with Luke when he pulled me off the dance floor and kissed me. He came up to me, asked me what my name was, and then all he said was, “Natalie—it fits you. You’re inspiring me. I’m inspired.” I thought it was just some bizarre pick-up line, but then I let him grab my hand, I let him take me over next to a window, I let him kiss me, and by the time the kiss was over, I was in love with him.
That’s what it was like with Luke. Everything was immediate, everything was passionate. He treated the world as if it was simply an extension of himself, loving it and always pushing it to its limit. He would point out beautiful cloud formations and trees with pride, as if he had taken part in their creation. And he wasn’t lying about the inspiration, either. He had me sit next to some flowers and read Slaughterhouse-Five, and after an hour and a half he showed me a finished watercolor.
“Why is there a cat next to me in the painting? You don’t have a cat.”
“It fit there.”
“Why did you have me read Vonnegut?”
“I wanted my two favorite things to be in the same picture.”
This was at the beginning. He would spend hours painting, always pictures with this little black and white cat in them, a cat like my sister used to say the neighbors had, and he would always just say that it fit; he was always so convinced that I would look at the paintings and not be able to imagine them being so complete without the cat with the white chest. And when he wasn’t painting, he was always doing, always caught up in the moment, and whenever he would see me, his face would light up like I was the sun, like he loved me and he hadn’t seen me in years. He did love me. He loves me. I’d sleep in his bed and he’d wake me up early kissing me, telling me that he loved me. I have to believe that that hasn’t changed, even when everything else did.
He stopped painting. He starting sleeping all the time and when I’d come in he’d only give me a small, fleeting smile before his face fell back into whatever darkness had come over him. I’d try to kiss him, try to put my hand under his shirt and down his back to elicit some kind of response, but I’d never get anything.
“Luke, is it me? What’s up?”
“I still love you, Natalie, but not now.”
I got him a stuffed animal of the cat to try and cheer him up, but he just ran his hand over it once and then looked at it miserably. I wanted to help him. I still want to. I don’t know how to.
We went to dinner at his parents’ house and his mom pulled me into the kitchen while she was washing the dishes.
“He talks about you like he loves you, you know,” she said to me, putting a dirty plate under the stream of water.
“He says he does,” I replied. “I just—I want him to be happy.”
“It’ll pass,” she said, with the attitude of someone who knows because of experience after arduous experience. “Wait a little bit, it’ll pass. He’ll come back to you. He always has. He just needs to—stabilize himself.”
I fell in love with Luke, but then I look at this shadow of the man who said I inspired him staring out at me from behind heavy eyes, and I don’t know him. What kind of person would I be if I left, though? My life isn’t anything like what he’s gone through. And anyway, I can’t leave. His mom says he’s always come back—and I can’t stand the thought of him kissing someone else awake early in the morning when he does come back.