Ophelia never really loved me, and I guess I always knew that. I wanted her to love me back, so much so that I never ever told her how I felt because I was so sure she did not feel the same way. I guess some things are just too pure and hopeful to give up on, you know?

Making love in the afternoon with Ophelia, up in my bedroom
I got up to wash my face and when I come back to bed someone’s taken my place
Ophelia, you’re breaking my heart, you’re shaking my confidence daily.
Oh, Ophelia! I’m down on my knees, I’m begging you please, to come home.
this image is lovingly lifted from a opheliavodka.com

She herself was neither pure, nor hopeful; she said so herself. She was a proud slut, furiously independent and wantonly sexual, and existential to her core. She said she didn’t believe in anything, because everything was ultimately a let down. Caring meant being hurt, loving meant she had to leave. Come to think of it, maybe she loved me after all because she did leave, more than once, and then just once more, for good.

I used to sing her, she hated it, but she tolerated my off key rendition of ‘Cecilia’ by Simon & Garfunkel. I would swap out her name for Cecilia’s and croon it to her at inopportune moments, in public, and in front of our friends. I think it embarrassed her, to have that sort of playful attention, but she was too brassy and proud to let on. I taunted her with that song like a school yard chum, but inside I was relishing the line “making love, in the afternoon, to Ophelia …”. I would never have dared joke about that in any other context, but I could have easily played it off if I had been confronted. I never was, I don’t think she was ever listening that closely. She’d sigh and roll her eyes, plug her ears like “la la la I can’t HEAR you!” and I would persist, an adoring pest, too afraid of her to ever make a move, too afraid of my own heart to talk myself into it. Luckily, or so I thought at the time, she made the first move, and the next, and the last.

I had been her pathetic footman for the whole summer, always at her heel, overlooked and overly accommodating, I held her sweater while she squatted to piss in the alley behind a delicatessen when she was drunk, I held her heavy dark hair as she vomited the sickly sweet bottled cocktails she procured by flirting with older men outside the liquor store. I held Ophelia’s name under my tongue like a secret, like a sweet lozenge, sucked and dissolved slowly, like time-release love for my foolish heart. Ophelia’s sophistication delighted me, and she seemed to have leaned into our burgeoning adulthood faster than I; she wore her 19 years with flair and guile that felt out of reach to me. We were dumb kids, thrust into adulthood, wanting all the perks of freedom with the security of home. Ophelia resisted the notions of comfort and care, she was like a wounded bird, spitting in the eye of anyone who tried to clip her wings or showed too much affection.

I had survived my first year of university and then spent the summer under Ophelia’s thumb, escorting her to house parties in dubious neighbourhoods, snapping a convincing picture of her for her fake ID. My father told me, “Son, she’s a bad seed.” after Ophelia had stopped by after midnight, drunk and stumblebum, waking my parents. I didn’t disagree, but she was like a drug – I found her fascinating and more than that, I felt more fascinating with her.

On that night that she showed up too late and too drunk, I awoke to the door bell ringing repeatedly and the thudding footfalls of my father. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I would know her voice anywhere so I clamoured into some clothes and scrambled to the front hall. My father was non-plussed and my mother was clutching her robe closed in the hallway, shaking her head. They tried to like Ophelia, but I think they saw the destruction in her that I could not, and her arriving, unannounced at midnight, did not help. My parents wandered back to bed and left me to deal with her, so I took her hand and led her to my room where she flopped onto the bed and started to cry. Unsure of how to help and unsure if my instinct to hold her was selfish or taking advantage, I stood beside her and said useless things until she pulled me down into the bed with her and cuddled, cat like, against me. I lay still, hoping she would nod off quickly so I could extricate myself to the arm chair in the corner and let her sleep it off. Her tears subsided and she wiped her face on my chest.

“You’re my only friend, Sam. The only person in the whole wide world who loves me. You do love me, right?”

Her voice was smaller than I had ever heard it, tentative, slurred with liquor. My response thumped in my chest and obscured my words. I lay there, silently, my eyes closed, hoping I wouldn’t have to answer. I felt her move beside me and felt her mouth on mine, her hot, sweet breath and a determined tongue. I was startled and I pulled away, confused and uncomfortable with her intoxication; it felt wrong, even though I wanted her quite desperately. She kissed me again, this time more earnestly and I relented, allowing her skinny frame to pin me to the mattress. She clamoured over me and sat up, laughing and swaying.

“We just kissed.”

“We did,” my heart was pounding.

“Are we going to fuck?” Her tone was aggressive, I was too tired and too heartsick to play her games. My hands found her hips and I slid her off of me. The look on her face was one of pure betrayal.

“I thought you wanted to fuck me?”

“Ophelia …”

“What? I’m not hot enough? Smart enough? Not bourgeois enough?”

She gestured wildly around my decidedly middleclass childhood bedroom, replete with stacks of text books on feminist theory and political science. She was drunk and hurt and I was so lost in love and pity for this beautiful, broken girl.

“So your morals are stopping you? Is that it? Don’t want to slum it with a street rat like me?”

“Street rat? You live in the same subdivision as me …”

“Do you or do you not want to fuck me, Sam?” She was standing now, beside the bed, clutching the wall to stay upright.

“Let’s just sleep, okay? You can have the bed and I’ll …”

“Do anything but fuck me. I get it. I’m out of here.” She darted from the room and slammed the door, thudding footsteps down the hall and out the front door, unceremoniously slammed.

I didn’t hear from her for the rest of August. I tried to reach her before I went back to school, but she never replied. I sat with the memories of that night, sick at the thought that a drunken kiss and slammed doors might be the culmination of years of unrequited love.

I packed my car for school and drove west through the colourful foliage of September and fell back into the routines of academia and allowed myself to smother thoughts of Ophelia with the rigour and suffocating focus of my studies. Thanksgiving came and went, my trip home was not filled Ophelia as it had been in the past. I saw her sulking in a grocery store line, a can of cranberry jelly in her hand, dejected youth dripping from her. Our eyes met and she looked through me, I looked away to the cashier presenting me with my bill, and when I looked back, she was gone. My first thought was to wonder if she’d stolen the can. Back at my parents’ house, I locked my bedroom door and beat my cock raw, furiously missing her, wishing I could reach her, knowing she didn’t want to be found.

I drove home for Reading Week in February and Ophelia was not on my mind at all, not until I pulled into the driveway and saw her trudging across the yard. She saw me and bolted, leaving deep footprints in the snow, nearly falling, scrambling away. She ran and didn’t look back. My mouth went dry and I didn’t call out or follow. I had reconciled her silence and absence those many months but still it hurt me not to try.  As I dragged my bags up the front stoop I saw an envelope tucked under the doormat, the three letters of my name in what I presumed was her scrawling cursive. I tucked the letter into my pocket and didn’t read it until that night, safe in bed, the very bed she’d kissed me in. I read it fast, skimming, afraid to sink into her words in case they brought the loss of her to the surface. I read it a second time, this time savouring it, and a third time, just to feel nearer to her.

I’m leaving, Sam. I’m going to NYC for a job – it’s shitty. but it’s something. School isn’t going to happen and maybe your parents told you that my parents are splitting up. There’s nothing left for me here, just like there wasn’t for you.

I’m not sorry I kissed you.

O.

I lay in my bed, watching the snow fall out the window, willing myself to be angry, instead of sad, coaxing myself to tear her note to bits. The anger never came, just the cold sadness as I closed my heart to Ophelia, not because I wanted to but because I knew that I  wouldn’t hear from her again. Eventually the room darkened around me and my mom knocked softly to call me for dinner. I slid the thin envelope between the pages of a book and put it back on the shelf, a memory for another day, for a time when my heart could bear the brevity of her words.

Was it love? Was it really ever so delicate and magical? I can’t recall, these decades later. I do know that every love since Ophelia has lacked the singeing pain of that one clumsy kiss. Now, twenty-some-odd years later, her letter feels brittle and inconsequential in my hands, until I reach that last line: I’m not sorry I kissed you. This is as close to being loved back by Ophelia as I will ever be and from time to time, I need to feel that. My life has moved in so many directions, all of them away from the mythos and magic of her, but sometimes, on late winter nights, I thumb through the book that holds her words and I read them and I watch the snow fall, and I wonder, how we might have loved one another, if only she had been able to let us.

5 thoughts on “Ophelia”

  1. “I held Ophelia’s name under my tongue like a secret” is a beautiful line. My Ophelia was called Charlotte and I felt everything Sam felt, and the memories can still nick me if I don’t handle them carefully. I very much liked this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *