Wake up, and he’s there, inches away from my face. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. The sun coming through the windows and I can clearly see he needs a shave, little bits of gray finally becoming more apparent. The old acne scars and the way his eyelashes seem to be waving. I’ve always loved his nose. His arms curled up to his chin, a little dribble from his open mouth, his eyes are still beneath his closed lids. I can smell his breath and it isn’t very pleasant.
I don’t turn away.
it has been long enough and the fury has subsided and when i think of you I no longer cry out in my head that nothing is as it should be. Nothing is, of course, as it should be but that is something we live with now. We accept things. We rearrange. We pull the couch out a little over the carpet stain and brush our hands off on our khakis and go on about our days like nothing happened.
We go on about our lives like nothing happened.
And what is heartbreak but the refusal to do that? - the worry that accepting it will make it not count anymore. I’ve lived enough now and thought enough about living now that I never want to see the sentences, “it was a mistake,” and “oh well,” within a paragraph of each other again. My official stance is that people my age abuse the idea of voluntary lapses in judgment and if we ever want to move forward we must do things differently; we must not shrug off mistakes but unpack them and map out cognitive patterns for future divergences from the mean.
My answer is always to make a list. I can’t accept things until I’ve seen that I can live with the whole story, until I can live with the truth of someone and still keep them under the carpet:
1. The first thing I wrote down was, “the way we laughed at your phone lit up in your backpocket- and why did we?” You were up ahead and we were all drunk and walking past warehouses, laughing and tripping over each other and we pointed and giggled and I hugged her and yelled out to you and you came over shrugging and shy and they sent us off like it was our honeymoon, our first night together in the same town.
2. is too hard; we’ll come back to it. We’ll end with it.
3. It was unseasonably warm or else that’s how it felt, to finally have him near me after all this time.
Platonic late-summer weather. Sunny with a cool breeze. The kind of weather that made you say, “My god it’s nice out;” made you remember all the times you had this kind of day before and had thought the same thing- “This is perfect. How exactly would you describe perfect weather? Because this is it.”
Those were unfairly beautiful days.
The disparity of expectation between the chooser and the chosen I believe is the idea that someone is giving you a chance; that someone is giving you a break, that you are stepping up to the microphone for the Thanksgiving Day pageant to tell the parents that it falls every third Thursday in November not as a reward for being handsome and articulate but because the teacher wants her play to be a success.
It was kindergarten and you were chosen for being charming, for saying the right thing. You were chosen because you were someone people wanted to listen to, to watch.
So you can’t get on stage and forget your lines. There are consequences. There are understudies. There is sitting alone in a dark room and crying until you lose your voice and your balance and you drag yourself around corners of city blocks crying to your mother because who else is left to listen? Who else really thought this was a good idea to begin with?
It seems that you can’t just stand there and smile back at the audience to thank them for letting you be up there. They won’t let you stay. That wasn’t what this was.
You’ll cry when you realize it, that you weren’t chosen because they loved you, you weren’t chosen because life was about favors and opportunity and luck— you were chosen because you were beautiful and charming and you had something they wanted.
So when you got up there and wanted to sit quietly for a little bit, when you loved him too much and you forgot all your lines and you couldn’t believe you got the part and you overthought it and you worried that the center could not hold, and you cried and you held on tightly,
5. I want to remember how I hugged his forearm, how holding his hand wasn’t enough.
how your arm hung so gracefully around my shoulder and mine slinked around your waist and how we felt formidable walking down the street like that together. Formidable. There is no other word.
how I felt like that’s all we did was take on city blocks like that, like they were our to take, how on the last day I untangled myself from you, and oh, I was so worried. We held our coffee— your redeye and cigarettes and my latte, my ‘milkshake’, and I asked you if you would call me, would we still talk?” my voice got tiny and blubbery and of course you said, of course, and you held the back of my neck the way only a man you’re in love with can do the right way- a way that sends shivers up your spine and blankets you in a wave of security at the same time.
2. leaning against a brick wall, flip flops, old jeans, chewing gum, staring up at tall buildings and then down to me as if to say, “You shouldn’t have”
as if I was the entire city, or at least that i held the keys to it. We meant the same thing to you, I think, and when you decided to leave it you decided to leave me. And it is fitting that I was left crying in it, all over it, my city, you done from it, you saying dismissive things about it to me when you couldn’t come out and tell me that I, too, was dismissed.
I never felt the need to defend New York to you; like the moon or the ocean, it either moves you or it doesn’t, but it doesn’t need anybody sticking up for it.
But what I’m trying to remember, what I’m trying to accept, is that when you got here I flitted around the room and squeaked and jumped and ran to the elevator and swayed nervously, bounced on my heels and leaped through the lobby, i really did, i really did do all of those things, I worried I’d be so nervous I would hesistate, but I bounded, really, out the door.
And there you were, a quick sharp turn around the doorway. I saw you first and I smacked you in your side with the back of my hand and before you looked down I hugged my head to your chest and you put your arms around me and I was shaking and nervous— i think we both were, and then I reached up and kissed you on the mouth and squeezed you to me again and then we pulled away and I just remember that twitch on my mouth, that half smile I kept trying to keep down but couldn’t contain, so that I kept laughing every few seconds for no reason, kept making jokes so that it was appropriate to laugh and to smile and to gesticulate wildly with my arms outstretched and to laugh and yell and defy everything that has ever happened to either of us, ever.
What is it about life that makes us, that makes me, feel like something or someone will come along and say, here. That someone will come and wave their hands around and you will know why everything has ever happened to you and you will feel grateful for all of the pain and suddenly be the person encouraging your friends to open their hearts to love because, look, it happened to me.
And you were here and you were here with me and my hands shook as I moved my hair out of my eyes and we said little and we said nothing and we looked around at the street and then back at each other and then laughed and smiled and then I squeezed you to me again and come to think of it, that is most of what we did the whole time we were together.
I think of you now and I still cry out that I love you; sometimes it’s gone but sometimes it’s all I can do but whisper it over and over like a mantra. When we talk now those are the words that scroll behind all of my thoughts, i love you i love you i love you i love you, i want to inject them into you, to punch you in the face with them, to show up at your door and scream them at you while you walk away because, really, why did I come here?
And I debate the truth, the worthiness of that compulsion- the compulsion to love, no sterner stuff- near-daily. I watch my feet as I walk to the train and I weigh my options. Do I love you or do I love everyone? Do I love the right parts of you? All of you? The worst of you? Did I fight hard enough? Do I come back to you because you are familiar and you are a blank, faraway slate that I can talk to and yearn for? “Is it real?” is the ridiculous question you cursed me with and something I think about late at night, still to this day, as part of me is glad to be free from the insanity and to have regained perspective and to be independent of your whims and your bullshit and the pressure I felt to convince you to care about me, and then part of me hears your voice and wants to be your companion, wants to come home to you, wants to hit you with the back of my hand into old age. Part of me thinks we are for each other and part of me thinks I am pathetic, a fool, too proud, too faithless, to let go.
Instead of mapping out new cognitive territory I made an old emotional list.
It was a mistake.
uggghh….this made me ache. i wanted to click the little heart over and over and over.
i love your heavy lidded eyes: blue, gray, green. the laugh lines gathering against your lashes. your straight, slanted nose, it’s deliberate point, how you don’t know how you broke it. freckles exacerbated by too much sun, not enough screen. i love your pink lips, the perfect bow they shape. when you bite them. your superhero chin, it’s point and cleft; you could be batman. your jaw, so sharp it could slice diamonds. the stubble that scatters, scratches at me like sandpaper, makes rough love to me each time i kiss you.
i want to see you age. witness the crow’s feet turn to wrinkles, the freckles spread and blend. the scruff turn salt and pepper, the lids grow heavier. i want forever to see how much you love me in every expression it takes.
He often said he missed me. I believed him, then.