You could have been anyone. It was a body in a bed I craved. Something to curl into at night, brush shoulders with at dawn. You could’ve been anyone, and you were. Even now, your face is a blur of shadows and muffled sounds, lightening to blind eyes.
I’m sorry for what I couldn’t keep in the smoke of you. I was thrashing blindly in that soot, and it turned me all to gray.
I don’t remember much of those months, but they throb behind my eyes in disfigured shadows. We will always be strangers. I don’t think we could bear to know each other- a mess of symbols in the air if we tried. Your resentment for lack of understanding, my morality a string running through my bones; I fling my wiry limbs in a tribal kitchen dance, a pretty little puppet of hopes and wine. You won’t remember me, or I will be the last of the remembered. But for every lie told, here’s the truth:
I have trouble with the waking. The turning, gnawing beat of morning as it inches up my toes and thighs and naval. I have trouble remembering the reason for the day, thoughts dipped in sleep like chocolate-covered madness. I pull at myself in every which way, at the body and bodies that I turn over onto, that are feathers peaking from the mattress from where those memories used to lie. But I’m pitching onto the curve of wakefulness, and I could only ever do this alone. Today, I awake in little tufts of nausea- for what I conceive as sins but refuse to condemn myself for. I imagine a haloed figure taking me by the hand and telling me it’s alright, we’ve all been there, just forgive yourself and let go.
And I long to do just this- to abandon all ties to the people I’ve known, the bodies I’ve embraced out of boredom or ill-restraint. I yearn to be everyone’s stranger. To go home and wrap myself in aloneness and let that be okay, enough to fall asleep with before dawn creeps through the curtains. But I know that you’ll text me today, and he’ll worry if he should, and by the end of all our tangled spinning, I’ll be waking up again with faint traces of this. Doubt.
You were beautiful once, I remember in spells. Feathered by the horrors of humanity, you falsely glided as preservation singled out for divine purpose. I recall sunlight streaming through a window, onto the arc of brow and bone and lips. Within our first embrace, I was abruptly fragile, a swooning corseted wallflower leaning dramatically against a parasol in the tearoom. I felt ridiculous, to be so susceptible to another person by any measure, large or small, at any moment of every day. Protruding at attention, the veins along my neck anticipated the first syllable of your name, uttered in hushed forgetfulness.
You were exactly who I thought you’d be. It was incredibly disappointing. I fit my head into the imprint yours left behind, addled thoughts of what word was whispered here, what breath taken there. You have no scent until you’re wrapped inside of mine, nose burrowing into a tangle of hair at my neck. I don’t remember human things, just your shadow falling across the kitchen floor, a syringe cap tossed into the dusty cavern beneath the couch. An inexpensive watch slipped off a tanned wrist and plunked atop my expensive computer.
I recall carelessness and conceit and the childish snaking of your foot along my calf, your tongue along my temple, your fingers along the ridges of my rise-and-fall chest. You pull the covers over my vulnerability and kiss my jaw as you leave. I wonder to myself in this space you keep unfolding what color your eyes are in the light, what color mine are in your memory.
The truth is, I lie to cover what parts of me you haven’t seen- the only pieces untainted by the truth of you, of us, of all that’s broken in between. The truth of this moment is that I’m tired. No, everything isn’t fine; my joy curls inwardly, stifled and trembling. You didn’t do this, but you didn’t help. So I am grown, and this is what it means- to be bendable to you and all others. If this is so, I wish to be innocent. I wish to fly above the rafters in tangle-sheet pride. I wish you wouldn’t touch me like I wanted you to.
I don’t want you to. But still I wait halfheartedly for a flash of screen that no longer excites me. The sight of your name in those tiny block letters fills me with dread and contempt. But I wait anyway because you’re crossing the bridge and approaching the gate, and in about one and a half minutes, you’ll triple text me you’re arrival as if I’m prone to ignoring it.
I twist my keys around my finger in anticipation and down my breakfast of gas station wine. I know you’ll smell it on my breath, a set-up for your ritual judgment of my drinking because I know feeling superior turns you on. I imagine in cold subtleties the way you’ll respond to her fervent messages, angling your phone behind my ass as you kiss your way to my shoulder. I cough into my glass and frown. I can’t help but compare you to the others and them to you, and the spark of the wires crossed in my brain leaves me wishing you hadn’t asked to come over.
Here. At gate. Cold. Hurry. Where are you. Cold.
I linger in the kitchen as I always do, gathering what small pleasure I can from the sparing moments in which you wait on me in the February chill. When the smile blooms on my lips, it’s then I comprehend how much I hate you. The walk to the gate is deliberately slow, as my phone continues to ping with your annoyance. When I descend the steps in twos, you look up in greeting, burrowing your hands in the jacket I gave you when we still liked the idea of each other. We don’t hug, just walk in companionable silence until we reach my door.
I hurry inside. Taking a furtive sip of my courage, I finger the rim of the glass as I put it to rest in the sink. You slink to the fridge, duck your head in to examine the contents, and hover there although you see nothing appealing. You’re comfortable in that frame of dim light, a brief respite from facing my pale shadow, it’s quiet reign over the silence.
You close the fridge with an exaggerated sigh, and I wonder if you can see it on my face- that everything inside me is exploding- the fragility of my limbs slowly swelling to the surface. This moment of respite so familiar it makes me cringe. You shrug your broad shoulders, mumble something about a lack of food, and approach me with expectation, hollowing out my reserves of confidence. I know then that nothing has changed, that my false sense of apathy is entirely useless; you wear your affections as you do the coat I gave you- as a symbol of warmth and possession slung around my shoulders until you grow cold and ask for it back.
“What’s with the frown?”
I melt all traces of thought from my face and place your hand where it fits best- at the curve of my waist. You smile lazily and pull me in, eyes darting to the bedroom before you start prodding my clothes in suggestion. I smile like it’s a chore; like it’s an answer to a question I posed the moment you walked in. And I let you kiss me.
But the truth is I don’t want you anymore.