The fog hangs heavy over the ocean and the cold saltwater coast wraps itself around me like a sweater. I sip a cup of coffee slowly, allowing it to warm me from the inside out, but I find it hard to feel or taste or think anything when my mind is drifting out to sea. My phone sits, silent, beside me. It will stay that way for the rest of the day. I think about carrier pigeons and postcards; I think about telepathy and teleportation. I force my brain to rewind three hours back to the present, Pacific Standard Time.
The day is only beginning, but it feels as if everything is coming to an end.
Feelings make themselves at home inside my body: nerves fill my belly like butterflies, beating themselves against the walls until I vomit; anxiety sits in my chest like an ever-inflating balloon, keeping me on edge until the day it pops; excitement and lies both hide in my eyes; happiness escapes through my hands as I talk and reach and touch. But the awareness of change comes from somewhere deep inside all that I am. It hides in the darkness and runs through my blood. When something in my life is suddenly different, it’s as if every cell starts shouting: this is it, this is how it ends. This is how it has always been.
It happens every time I leave: I always come to the same quiet, confused conclusion where I know whatever I go home to will be much different than what it was like when I left . The feeling is as familiar as the brown couch I’ve come to call my California home, but is hard to call it anything other than unfair when I am here and you are there. As the days roll into one another, it is the little things, the small changes, that start my cells shaking.
I wonder when you started being able to fall asleep without telling me goodnight. How do you not look at the empty space beside you and think of what could be there instead? You are every thought inside my head and I have found myself fighting against oversharing; I have found myself thinking that if I am not worthy of hearing about your day, you are not worthy of hearing about mine. It is childish and regressive. It’s everything I have fought against being since I have met you. What happened to being better? I thought I was better. I thought you helped me be better. But every conversation feels like I am talking to an empty house. I open the door and shout “honey I’m home,” and tell you about my day as I walk up the stairs to fine you’re not there. I accept the embarrassing silence that greets me and settle in alone, thinking you’re not home. Hours later, I find out you had been there all along. You just chose the silence over the sound of my voice.
I used to melt into your mornings like butter on a scone from the cafe that we always go to and you helped me eat two meals a day when I would sometimes forget how. Now the first thing I do when I wake up is think of you and your quiet room. I don’t know when it became more difficult to reach out when all I want is your voice to fill my ear when I am alone; all I want is to see your face through the phone. I want you to want me to fit into the empty spaces of your life and allow me to fill up what doesn’t feel full. I want those feelings to overflow the cracks and crevices and leave no room for doubt. But it is hard because I am hurting and I also want you to feel that, too.
Or maybe that is a poor choice of wording. Rather, I want you to know what it is like to be in my head, thinking of you finding some temporary 31-day girl to fill my place while I am spending 31 days wishing I were dead. It is easy to fabricate truths when they were once true, like when you listed the one, two, three reasons why I shouldn’t date you. I have done this before, where I have come home to a replacement. I have done this before, where I was the one doing the replacing. All I want is for us to be on the same page, or somewhere in the same book. I don’t want 3,000 miles to place us on difference shelves or in entirely different libraries. I try to check in but it feels like you are checked out and I know we both have different means of coping but when you say something is wrong, I will call 14 times in a row until you answer the phone but when I tell you I am turning mine off because I am having a hard time, yours goes off too.
I used to be so afraid of possibility that I would quit anything before it even began, but the weeks are rolling into a month and I am still sitting on the same brown couch where I first learned how to talk to a dial tone. I try to give more love than I receive but is all pouring out of me like a sieve and soon there will be nothing left to give if nothing comes in. I need something more than the forgotten memory of a kiss.
I used to dream of meeting you in baggage claim. I used to dream of the race along the airport floor and the long drive back to your place. I started tossing around the word “love” and how it would feel dripping off my tongue. I started dreaming about a life where I wouldn’t leave, not without you. Now I have nightmares of ex-boyfriends befriending my family again, nightmares of faceless girls brushing their blonde hair in your bathroom. I am covered in sweat when I wake up in the middle of the night and I don’t know if it’s from fear or because I’m no longer used to the hot nights here.
The first time the plane took off I couldn’t tell if it was turbulence or heartbreak but I am wondering if my return flight will even make it off the runway. The Hollywood Hills and LA love songs have nothing to do with what’s keeping me here this time around. It feels more like my foundation is shaking, the earth quaking, and I think the San Andreas fault line might open up and swallow me whole before I can even step one foot on a fucking plane.
The saltwater sweater keeps in the cold; it hides my fraying ends. I am wondering if I will bring back any souvenirs of my time here other than missed calls. It has been 26 nights alone, and I wonder how long it will take me to get used to falling asleep beside you again. There is traffic on the drive back home, and as we sit motionless on the 5 I think about all the different contexts I have used that word for. Home. It is the place I grew up, the place I keep my things, wherever I lay my head at night. I have made temporary homes out of bus stops and bedroom floors, friend’s couches and my car. A week ago you said, “Take my smiles and make them your home” and I have since spent days wondering if I could settle into a person more than a place.
The differences have grown with the time spent apart and my body is shaking with the fear that the home I go back to will be the house of a stranger. You promised a place built out of smiles, but it’s probably plastered with secrets and lies. I imagine inside the bathroom floor is covered with blonde hair from my replacement who decided to stay for more than 31 days. There wouldn’t be a hook inside the door for my saltwater sweater, but it’s okay, I wouldn’t take it off anyway, because right now it is the only thing keeping my shouting cells quiet.
Besides, the carrier pigeons don’t know your address; you took my postcard off the wall. My nightmares stopped happening in my sleep and now I live them out in my head every time I turn my phone off instead of reaching out and making a call.