I know a man who knew a man who wrote a poem and called it “Having Snow.” What a beautiful thought, I said when I heard, and that was all I thought because that was all I understood it to be. A beautiful thought: the wanting to keep intact something cold and pure and white, something that reflects the morning light, something that puts a gentle hush on your world. A beautiful thought: being unable to keep the snow in your hands from melting, the snow on the ground from freezing into dirty, then frozen, sleet. It was not until I found you, met you, had you, and then lost you, that I understood “Having Snow” as more than a beautiful thought but rather a specific kind of punch to the gut. It was not until I had you but could not keep you that I, who have always been content with the direction of downstream, understood catching a boulder in the water and wanting to be grounded, wanting to sit for a moment and watch the sun dance on the cliffs and valleys of the moving water, but not being able to get a solid grip.
I knew from the day I met you that I would leave you and that it would happen fast, but I wasn’t concerned about it. I am good at leaving, a connoisseur of goodbyes if you will, because I have learned the careful practice of indifference. I have rehearsed detachment and impermanence. “Eventually, everything goes away” would be life’s tagline if life were the type of thing to have a tagline.
In just a few months I would leave the city, go live in a faraway “somewhere else” with little intention and no purpose to return. Knowing this, I invited you into my home and into my bed. Under the pretense of casual, we ate bacon in the morning because I didn’t have any other breakfast foods in my refrigerator. I was brazenly unguarded with you because I am young, so I believe that I am invincible, and because I couldn’t imagine that the mutual attraction was sustainable under an unflattering candid light. I was unguarded because so many others that I thought were like you had passed through my life on so many nameless nights and hadn’t mattered to me so I believed I was tough, too tough for you.
But then you became my 8 am habit and I was breaking all my own rules. I was still counting the days to my imminent departure but my glee was mutating into something more along the lines of dread and I hated this ugly mutation, this silly attachment. The years I have lived here have been colored by reluctance and driven by a want to move on to the next stage of my life, which would take me to the all-encompassing waters of the healing Pacific, back to the California coast I grew up beside, and I wanted that so why, now, do I want you, too?
“What the hell am I doing?” I thought as I dressed for work while you brushed your teeth.
Time disappeared, by which I mean it stood completely still as comfortable days passed into comfortable nights in your company, the muddy heat of summer in Atlanta falling heavy on our sticky skin. Then, I would crack the bottle cap off an expired PBR and the universe seemed to lurch forward with little regard to whether I was ready. Two months, then one, three weeks, ten days.
“How am I going to do this?” I thought as I watched a stranger from the Internet haul away my pretty birch veneer bed on his big black truck. With the forty dollars he paid me, I went to buy three bottles of wine and we drove to your house with all my remaining worldly possessions packed into the trunk of my very old Mercedes whom I had named LT for Little Train when I was still in high school.
Later, your friends took us to a comedy club in Little Five Points and on the way there you rode shotgun your window all the way down and the wind blowing hurricanes in my hair. You raised both elbows above your shoulders to reach your hands back to me. Mine nested in yours and it felt like the only thing keeping me in the car, in such close proximity to you and your raucous laughter, was this point of contact and your grip so tight it hurt my fingers.
We got drunk instead of sleeping on my last night in Georgia and then, in your bed with your head propped up on the pillows and my chin on your chest, I started to cry, which I don’t do and don’t like to do. It made me angry, knowing that I was crying like an unhappy little girl throwing a fit over a prize that was not hers, and I tried to explain myself so you wouldn’t think less of me.
“I just don’t know how to do this, I’m not good at this. You were supposed to be nothing. I was raised in a way that did not equip me well for caring about people because once I care about something I care about it a lot and I never stop, which is exhausting when the things I care about are things that go away, so the best way to go about it is to not care at all even when it’s selfish. But I care about you. You are something to me.”
“I don’t want to be nothing to you,” you say.
“You’re not nothing.”
“I could have loved you. I did not, but I could have, which is almost worse.” I thought as the cab took me away from you in the early morning. First, your cul de sac disappeared behind me, then the gas station that always reminded me where to turn when I was driving to your house. Then, the freeway exits like checkpoints of these years I have spent making a life in this place where I knew nobody and had nothing. This is it, this is it, this is all there was and it has passed now.
A season turned into a month, which turned into a few weeks, which turned into a few days, and then those ended as well and now I am gone, I have left. Now, I am in this new-old place drinking espresso with Brian my dearest friend, my old friend, who does not know about you and will never know you. He tells me that he’s writing a song and that he is going to call it “I Left My Lover in the Old Canal” and that it will be about the time he lived in Holland but had to leave, eventually.
“It may seem counterintuitive, it may even seem a little morbid,” he explains. “Because if you’re my lover why would I leave you? But sometimes you can love someone a lot even if you have to leave for a place where they can’t go. It doesn’t mean you love them any less, it’s not even sad, sometimes love is something to be had and sometimes love is something to be left.”
Let’s just say, for a moment, that I did love you. Let’s just pretend that the “could have” was realized. I can only love you as me; I cannot be somebody else loving you. And having to leave, this endless wanderlust, is something that is a part of me and I would not be the same without it. So let’s just say for a moment that I did love you but I loved you with even the part of me that made it so I had to leave for a place you can not go. Like a mason jar of snow, like the Oudegracht in Utrecht, you were not something to be had.