“Hi Sarah, this is Claire. Is now still a good time to talk?”
This story is not about that Sarah – it’s about the other Sarah. Well, really it’s about two other Sarah’s. I guess that’s a good place to start: the first thing you have to understand about Sarah is that there’s two of her.
They’re very different, as people go. One is a pale brunette with long wavy hair and dark eyes. She has a nose shaped like the curly part of a snail shell, and I’ve never met her, although we attended the same school at the same time. The other Sarah is pale too, with a round face and light eyes and short dyed-blonde hair that’s always tucked behind her ears, out of the way. The first Sarah is straight; the second Sarah is not. The first Sarah is dating my ex-boyfriend, and the second Sarah is dating my ex-girlfriend.
It’s hard to remember when I became aware of either Sarah, but I know one came first and then the other, like an echo. The first one, the gay one, I learned of last summer, when the girl I was quickly falling for mentioned that she was dating her, too. “This girl” was her first label, usually followed by some complaint. “This girl is introducing me to all her friends.” “This girl is moving a little too fast.” Eventually, she grew a name.
“I broke things off with that girl – with Sarah,” she told me on my fire escape one night. We were sitting side by side, our Dr. Marten boots pressed up against the grille. It was a weeknight, very late. We’d been on several dates, and at the time I think we both anticipated going on more, a string of perfect dates stretching out indefinitely. After she told me about Sarah, we stood up and made out there in the dark, above everything.
Then, I think it was weeks later, although it could’ve been just a couple of days, I met that girl. Sarah was different than I’d imagined her: more boyish, less pretty, more fun. I sang karaoke duets with her to bury my pulsing panic, which built as she and the girl I felt feelings for — feelings, fuck — disappeared to the bar together over and over again. We finally paid and left and I turned around to catch the girl’s eye but she wasn’t there so I raced back into the bar and found her standing in an alcove with Sarah, one arm propped against the doorframe, their faces just inches apart.
She said goodbye to Sarah and followed. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I could barely hear her over the sound of blood rushing in my ears. “I don’t know,” I said. “I think I’m jealous.”
From then on, I don’t think I was ever un-jealous, even when she asked me to be her girlfriend at a fancy dinner in a fancy jacket with fancy roses and a card; even when she kissed me on the subway; even when she told me how good I was for her, how much she admired me, I’d close my eyes and see her in the door frame, leaning into Sarah. “We never even had sex,” she’d assure me. “And when we kissed she had these, like, saliva ropes…gross, right?” It was gross, but it didn’t help. I wonder about that sometimes: did she get over the saliva ropes?
I learned about the other one through the subtle clues my ex-boyfriend left on social media: a scenic photo he’d tagged her in, a trip they’d taken together, and finally, a picture of her peering into the white light of a window with the caption, “Sarah.” After that the photos came thicker: a picture of her with his best friend’s toddler, photos of them together on weekends, on birthdays, on weekdays.
It wasn’t jealousy, exactly. Instead, I felt like the girl in The Lovely Bones who dies but stays in limbo, watching her loved ones move on. The hole was filled, the transition complete. I was finally superfluous as he’d been for me for months, years maybe. But a thing that’s unnecessary can still be missed. And I do, sometimes. But this Sarah I’m glad for.
I know what you’re thinking, but we didn’t break up over my jealousy — I buried that too deep for her to notice, most of the time. When it did surface, I’d get the same saliva-rope reassurance while she pulled farther and farther away down a tunnel of her own self-reflection. Her texts arrived hours apart, and then days. She stopped kissing me in public, or holding my hand. We went out for brunch with my mother, and she paid, joylessly.
It was the tunnel that finally drove us apart, she at one end and me at another. She’d been doing “a lot of thinking” and realized she couldn’t give me what I needed, wanted, deserved. After all, she’d broken up with her former girlfriend just weeks before we met — we’d moved too quickly. She didn’t mention Sarah.
Sometimes, I imagine myself in a room with the Sarah’s. We’re getting coffee together with a kind of conspiratorial intimacy. We sit down, and we talk about the people who’ve left their imprints on us (me) and who are still leaving them (her, and her). And they ask me for advice. I’m the wise one in this scenario, nothing like my raw and stupid self. So I listen to them, and I smooth their feathers. “He just does that sometimes,” I tell one Sarah. And to the other, “Here’s how to pull her back when she’s far away.” And I know that, if they weren’t both Sarah – if the universe hadn’t been quite as heavy-handed with its symbolism— I wouldn’t bother.
Far away in Texas, Sarah’s voice comes through the phone. “Sure,” she says. “Now is fine.”