She cocked an eyebrow and slammed her hands on her hips, and I knew exactly what she was thinking.
“Okay, to be fair, when we were eight and you planned our wedding, I was at the age where I hated girls. You can’t hold that against me.”
She quietly chuckled and rolled her eyes. I loved that. I loved when she laughed, even though it was so quiet. It was the closest thing I had to her voice.
“See that? We have this thing where I know what you’re thinking without you even talking. You’re my best friend, Maggie. If dating you means spending every night in this house with you, then I’d be the luckiest guy in the world.” I combed her hair behind her ear. “So I’m going to ask you one more time: will you be my girlfriend?”
She shook her head, laughing, but then started nodding and shrugged. I could hear the words she didn’t speak so clearly. I mean, whatever, Brooks. I guess I’ll date you.
Message fully received.
We moved over to her bed, fell on it backward, and I pulled out my iPod for our first official couple song. “Fever Dreaming” by No Age. The song was loud and fast-paced, everything a dating song shouldn’t have been. I was going to switch it, but Maggie started tapping her fingers against the bed. Then her foot started tapping against the floor, and my fingers and feet followed her direction as the drums kicked in. Seconds later, we were standing, jumping up and down, rocking out to the music. My heart was racing as we stood so close to one another and jammed out to the song. When it was over, our breaths were heavy. Maggie reached for her marker and wrote on her board.
I played the song again, and again. We danced, and danced until our heart rates were high and our breaths were short.
Our timing was so great that night.
Our timing was finally right.
Every day that passed with Maggie felt right.
Every hand hold felt warm.
Every kiss felt real.
Every hug was perfect, except for when they weren’t.
It wasn’t often that things weren’t perfect between Maggie and me, but if I was being honest, some days were tough.
Dating Maggie was one of the best decisions I’d ever made, but that didn’t mean it was always easy. Even so, it was still always right. The more time I spent with her, the more I noticed the small things no one else noticed about her—like how the sound of running water made her flinch, or how when someone touched her when her back was turned, she’d jump out of her skin. Or how when more than two people were in a room, she melted into the corners, or how sometimes when we’d sit and watch movies, tears fell down her cheeks.
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
Her fingers grazed her eyes and she seemed surprised by the tears. Wiping them away, she gave me a tight smile and held her anchor necklace in her hand.
Then, there were her panic attacks.
In all my years of knowing Maggie, I’d never known about the panics.
She kept them hidden, and to herself. The only reason I knew they existed was because some nights I’d sneak into her room for a sleepover. Sometimes she’d fall asleep, and she’d twist and turn so much I swore her nightmares were going to give her a heart attack. When I woke her, her eyes were wide, horrified, as if she didn’t know who I was when I touched her.
She crawled into a ball and covered her ears as if she were hearing voices that didn’t exist. Her body was covered in sweat, her hands trembled, and her breaths were heavy. Sometimes her fingers wrapped around her throat and her breaths were short and erratic.
Whenever I tried to dive deeper into her mind, she pushed me away. We’d have fights where I was the only one shouting. Fighting with someone who didn’t fight back was worse than fighting with someone who threw chairs. You felt hopeless, as if screaming at a stone wall. “Say something!” I begged. “React!” But she always stayed calm, which only pissed me off more.
It drove me mad, trying to discover what was still eating at her all these years later.
It drove me mad that I couldn’t fix her hurts.
I’d dated quite a few girls before her, and it had always seemed easy. I figured if I had things to talk about with them, that meant we were a match. If we liked the same hobbies, we were supposed to be together. I never struggled with not knowing what to say in my past relationships; we always talked, sometimes for hours. When it came to silence, it always felt off. I was always searching for the next thing to say, the next conversation.
It wasn’t that way with Maggie. She didn’t respond to words.
During her most recent panic attack, I figured out how to help her. Before, when I screamed at her, demanding for her to let me into her head, it never worked. When I begged for understanding, she pushed further away.
Music would help. Music could help. I knew it could. Music was the one thing that always helped me. As she sat on her bed crying, I shut off her bedroom light and turned on my iPod, playing “To Be Alone With You” by Sufjan Stevens.
It didn’t help her the first time it played, or the second, but I sat quietly, waiting for her breathing to come back to normal.
“You’re okay, Magnet,” I’d say every now and then, unsure if she could even hear me, but hoping she did.
When she finally came around, the song was on its eleventh loop.
She wiped her eyes and went to grab a piece of paper, but I shook my head and patted a spot on the floor beside me.
She didn’t have to offer me any words.
Sometimes words were more empty than silence.
She sat across from me with her legs crossed. I shut off my music. “Five minutes,” I whispered, holding my hands out to her. “Just five minutes.”
She placed her hands in mine, and we sat completely still and quiet, staring into each other’s eyes for five minutes. The first minute we did it we couldn’t stop laughing. It felt a bit ridiculous. The second minute, we snickered some more. By minute three, Maggie started to cry. By four, we cried together, because nothing hurt more than seeing her eyes so sad. By the fifth minute, we smiled.
She released a breath she’d been holding, and I let go of mine.
It was freeing to feel so much with someone who felt it too. It was during those moments that I felt I learned the most about her. It was in those moments that she learned the most about me.
I hadn’t known you could hear someone’s voice so clearly in the silent moments.
Brooks never asked me about my panic attacks again, and I was happy about that. It was something I wasn’t ready to talk about yet, and Brooks understood. I knew, though, if there was a day I was ready, he’d be willing to listen, and that meant more to me than he’d ever know.