We had whiskey kisses and broken dreams, long nights and hurried hands. It felt like we were rushing nowhere fast. You always made my world spin and my breath come short. I could never tell if I liked the feeling or not. I’ve never liked being out of control, and that’s what you made me; unhinged. I felt like that fractured wine glass, you know, the one that had cracked in your hand the night there just wasn’t enough wine to ease the ache in my chest? It held together as you sipped slowly in the heat of a summer night, as you cupped it carefully between your hands, knowing that it might break at any moment. I felt ready to shatter as your tongue traced bloody gems from a crystalline rim. Steady, firm and sure. Everything I wasn’t, everything I’m not. I turned away, unsure why it hurt so much to watch you.
Shadows creep long and deep across a distant ceiling in a familiar room. I can feel the pressure of the moon through thick curtains and the taste of summer storms on my lips. The floors creak in the heavy silence and my heart rattles shallow in my chest. I wish your steady breathing could counterpoint the emptiness, but sprawled limp in the center of my bed, I realize you’ve never laid claim to either side of this lumpy, old mattress. I can’t even recall what it felt to have you lie at my side, or picture our bodies in relation to one another through long, sleepless nights. I throw an arm across burning eyes and wonder if everything I’ve felt, everything you were, was just a jagged sort of dream. I fall asleep wondering if you would have preferred being closer to the window or the door.
My front porch in the rain reminds me of your side long stare through the steam of our long winter showers. When tiny drops of water would catch in your heavy lashes and I couldn’t stop myself from pretending they were hidden tears. I watched them condense on your stubble darkened cheeks, tracing the line of your jaw, and resisted the impulse to brush them aside with the pad of my thumb. Your eyes turned from mine as if you understood that, from time to time, I was the one who hid tears in the burning waterfall.
The shower is the safest place to cry.
Eyes closed on impulsive night drives, the faintest scent of ocean water on a teasing monsoon breeze as I savor the sizzling spice of desert rain. I wonder, as I breathe long and deep, what it would be like to reach blindly out across our seats and find your hand with mine. To methodically entwine our fingers with obvious purpose, pressing my palm to yours and feeling the unique dips and ridges that I want nothing more than to memorize. Even then, I knew I was living on a fleeting wish, a wavering dream. I won’t risk it, not tonight, not when I still need the promise of tomorrow, I’m just not ready to let this go, to give up on the idea of you and I. I want to see at least one more sunrise with the hope of us in my breast. So I watch the hazy, blinding rainbow of traffic lights reflect off the distant lenses of your face and let myself pretend a little while longer. I pretend I’m not the only person who feels this tentative, hopeful tether between us. I dip my fingers into the racing wind and ignore the insistent feeling that moments like this will always remain few and far between.
I try to remember how many times I’ve sat here, just like this, in the darkness outside your house with tears drying on my face. Two? Four? A dozen? Sometimes I think I dream it, I’m having a hard time with reality right now, everything feels so strange and distant these days; most of the time I’m not even sure of who I am. All I know is that I want to tell you about the tests they did today. About how scared I was and how my arm still aches like all the blood really is gone. I feel sort of numb all over, and it’s frightening, I’m terrified and I can’t admit it. I can’t admit it to anyone but you and you’re gone. I just don’t know what to do anymore. I want to tell you how, when I felt sick and dizzy during the tests, that I thought of that time, out in the field, when I felt unwell and you gave me your water bottle and had me lay in your lap. You brushed the hair out of my eyes and pressed the ice from your lunch box against the heat of my face until I felt real again. I want to sit at your desk and play video games with you and pretend, for just a few hours, that rather than months, I have years. I don’t want you to hold me, I’d probably disintegrate or something, I just want to see your face and to hear the soft treble of your voice. I swear, that’s all I need.
I think you’d let me in, if I walked up that winding path and knocked on your familiar door. If I came to you bearing the tears I never let you see, I think you’d usher me inside. But I don’t want that. As badly as I want you, as much as I miss your presence here, with me, the last thing in the world I want is your pity. I guess I’d rather die than make you feel sorry for me.
The light switches on in your bedroom, and I drive away feeling a little emptier inside. I don’t drive past your house again.
It’s not the same.
You’re sitting across from me and it feels all wrong. I stare hard at the lines of your face; the one’s I thought I knew as well, if not better, than my own, and feel the shift between us like a plane in sudden turbulence. We aren’t the same people. Your smile doesn’t come as easy and your eyes slide over my face as if they can’t quite decide where to rest. I can feel your fear and your shame so strongly it nearly evaporates the lingering bitterness I’d borne with me over the long weeks of my recovery. For the first time since we met, I feel pity for you.
I pity your lack of resolve, your inability to comprehend and understand your own feelings and emotions. I empathize with the words I know you want to say but you can’t quite bring yourself to voice. I finally understand, watching you sadly over the brim of my glasses, how two people who had once been so ingrained in one another’s lives can step outside of everything they had shared and have nothing left behind. The entirety of the desert we were both born to lies between us, hot, barren and dry. I think it’s probably the saddest thing I have ever come to know.
It’s the last dying breath of everything I had clung to and it trembles through the crowded room like an invisible shock wave only I can see. It’s the most painful and simultaneously most freeing feeling I have ever felt. I stand up and you look alarmed, like I might yell and scream at you, throw water in your face or hit you. I can see that you think you deserve it, that, if I berate you, maybe you can finally feel absolved. Instead I say how nice it was to see you, that you look well, and that I’m glad you asked me to come out today. But… this is no longer a place I want to be. It’s time for me to move on and let go of things that were never really there.
I bend down and kiss you on your cheek, trying to forget what it felt like to step into your welcoming embrace, trying not to linger. As I pull away, I think, for a split second, that you are crying, until I realize the moisture on your face is what I left behind. A final, bright part of myself. Embarrassed, I clutch my purse to my chest and seek the fresh air and sunlight, suddenly sure I’m suffocating. I don’t turn back, afraid of what I might see. The tears dry quickly in the heat of an Arizona sun and I find I can breathe a little deeper.
I saw you for the first time in several months yesterday. It has been more than a year since we last spoke. You were coming out of the building across the street from where I work, walking fast with your head lowered against a strong autumn wind. You wore a shirt I had once picked out for you and I smiled a little over the memory, relieved to find it didn’t hurt like it used to. Watching you, I realize that I’ve built a life without you and I’ve finally found my own means of strength and stability. I consider, with a bitter sweetness, all the moments in my past that are filled with snapshots of you and I. There are hundreds, thousands maybe; years and years of them, filled carefully away. I had hoped, then, in those early days, when I was almost entirely someone else, that my future held much of the same. But I think I knew, even from the start, you were only meant to play a passing role in my life, to stop in, shake things up for a while, and step back out. I know I’ve grown through you, not just because of the pain and heartache, but through our special companionship and shared feelings. You will always be special, even if I no longer want, or need you in my life.
Across a deserted street I wish you the best and I hope that maybe, just maybe, I helped you grow a little too. That you will remember me someday with a sort of soft, grateful, fondness and that I can be a person you never regret knowing.
You look up as you open the door to your car, face turning instinctively in my direction, and I wonder if you know it’s me. I smile a little to myself and go back inside.