I was pressed up against you at the arcade bar, whispering terrible things in your ear, while your friend sat 8 feet away at the table. It was dark in there, and I wanted you. I keep thinking of all the mornings you’d come over, when the trees were shedding their firestorm of leaves. You’d bring me books and kombucha and we’d talk about Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours on my bed. We talked about watching blazing sunsets in dumpsters and how we’ve never truly felt seen; there was such a kinship in that. You asked me about Kensington and my thoughts on space.

The first time we kissed, I knew it was coming, though I tried to put it off as long as possible. You were on top of me on my duvet, sweater on sweater, while American Football spun in the background. I chugged a beer the moment you left because I had burned for you for so long -late nights on my patio looking at your photos, the drives home from the shop, talking about you over brunch with friends – that the friction ignited an inextinguishable forest fire.

We continued our morning visits, vegan lunches, and appointments for a few weeks, always kissing, always Werner’s Nomenclature of the Colours, always Learning to Love you More and American Football. And then on Black Friday you called and I answered. We sat on the floor listening to records and drinking red wine. And then we kissed, and then I was topless. And then I steered us to my bed, calling shots I didn’t have a right to be calling. And then you left.

I saw you once since then, when I met you at the shop to get Garrett’s machine. I was wearing a knee length dress and a scarf. I didn’t know what to say to you. I didn’t know how to properly apologize in a way that would hold any value. In a way you deserved. So I salted my doorways and deleted your number. I threw your name into the fire, because it was unfair for me to burn for you ever again.

If you only knew how many polaroids I’ve taken of you -in the stable-turned-brewery or surrounded by the salt of the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise- you’d resent me. You’d resent me the way I’ve always felt you have in the last 8 months. You were right, the whole time you were right. But I never felt more beautiful than I did the first morning, the sun shining like a clementine in the sky, driving to brunch, and stopping halfway there to fix your bumper. My hair whipping like a triumphant flag in the wind, my freedom kick in full force. I learned those backroads quickly and they became my home, the smell of Juniper in your driveway, the cow farms down the block. They’re engrained in my psyche.

You dropped me off six doors down so my dad didn’t know. And when I got to his house, I told him I had a secret that no one could know, but I secretly hoped I’d be able to divulge it one day.

I’m sorry I cried outside of the Splintered Sunlight show, when all you wanted to do was see Scarlet Begonias. I’m sorry I cried in your bed and we slept facing away from each other. But do you know how fucking beautiful you are? Do you know how I could hardly handle the thought of it, let alone waking up next to you, knowing you’d never be mine?

On the last day, I sent you a picture of my ass from the other room while you were working, but you were already texting her. And then I left. I flew to LA because I kissed a girl under a streetlight, and, though I meet you in my dreams nearly every night, I haven’t seen you since.

When I met you in the parking lot, the last decade melted away like acid on the tongue. Who’s to say what was right or wrong all those years ago, who’s to say what is right or wrong now. You were tanned and beautiful and sprawled across my living room floor and all I wanted was to ask you to play chess, I don’t know why. Sarah said she could see it in your eyes, their oceanic hue, their naive softness. The way we stood for hours when there were perfectly good chairs just feet away. The way you pawed at my hand in the back of the Uber, your palms rough like a drummer’s. You were trying to bridge the years and the distance that we’ve accepted. You kissed me under the streetlight on Carrollton and I didn’t flinch. I didn’t back away, even though I thought I would.

The next morning, we took a windows-down drive through my favorite neighborhood and you smelled like summer. But this isn’t about you. It’s about me. My feral adolescent heartache has subsided and I understand that just because they sleep with you doesn’t mean they love you. I wouldn’t have been able to do this all those years ago. But I’m so glad I get to do this now.

I’ve tried to become a stranger to lighting people on fire, but I can still smell the burning of the flesh on my fingertips.

The dust on the windowsill sits in piles in the silent house, rumpled bed sheets, like a shipwreck. I am older now than you’ll ever get to be. I parse out my dreams like a dissected raven, hoping for a fledgling of a whisper, just to hear your voice. Since you’ve been gone the trees have stopped shedding, their pollen lies in tufts on the sidewalk like a dead baby bird. You never got to see 30. I drive past your mother’s house every time I’m in town. It’s the last place I saw you. You kissed me against my dad’s Civic in your driveway. Last month I met a stranger at the bar. He took me on a ride on his motorcycle, and the entire time, I was steadfast in holding back tears. The last time I was on a motorcycle, I was clutching your back, leather on leather, as we parted the cornfields of Eastern PA. We got coffee at that place on the river while that old woman played the dobro. I remember the bad times, when I was sitting on the steps outside of the Fenix and you sat next to me, we both stared ahead and you said “being near you is too much for me. I can’t do it.” And we didn’t talk for six months. On every sabbat, I put your picture on my altar. I beg the universe to send me any type of sign that you’re still with me somehow. 

I remember the first time I saw you. You walked in with your suit and cowboy boots, sable hair tied loosely at the nape of your neck. How I choked on my pinot noir the minute we locked eyes. That was an incredibly impactful moment for me, even ten years later. I always believed in the gloaming of my life, I’d find my way back to you, back to Philadelphia. Back to the flowers you put in my hair, when we sang in harmonies around bonfires. I remember I was listening to a Graham Nash song when I found out you died, “Come to me now, rest your head for just five minutes,” and the immediate imperious buckling of my knees that followed. Since then, I have never listened to that song. Since then, I have never wholly stood back up.

I keep thinking of how you kept me hidden in your home those summer months. No one knew where I was, and I didn’t want them to. Even still, a year later, I miss you so viscerally. Your eyes in the morning, like photos of the earth taken from space. The hum of the window unit in your bedroom. Your cat’s tails under the tapestry. All of these things.

I think of the slanted rain outside of your window. How it looked silver against the trees. Having sex in that field under more stars than I’d seen in a long time. Or the time at the brewery with Steve Irwin’s cousin. All of your rings. When you played piano in public. I remember how you sat next to me at the wedding in April and told me about your cats. And three months later, you were making pancakes in your kitchen, while I watched from the barstool. We always shared the same plate. We ate in bed. We watched horror films and fucked and did laundry. It’s taking CBD dabs in the morning and kissing in torrential downpours and how you told me I wasn’t ready. I didn’t believe you. But you were right. I know that now. I didn’t know who I was those summer months. But I did know you were my safe haven. You were my everything.

I was dying my hair when you texted, red dripping down my wrists like a lengthwise cut. It had been three months since I’d seen you, and I knew in the pit of my stomach that I shouldn’t go. But I felt stronger this time. I got in the back of the uber, surprisingly zen. And when I saw you through your kitchen screen, I realized this was the first time I’d ever seen you in warm weather.

“Your hair is short” I said.

“Your hair is red” you yelled back through the screen while Patrick Bateman’s 80s playlist filled your kitchen.

You met me on the front porch and we hugged. I wasn’t coy, or angry, or cool. I ran to you and buried my face in your neck tattoos, you held me tight. I told you I was proud of you. I asked you about everything. Much of the same, you said. I told you about my revelations and my alone and how nothing is sweeter than it. How you’d been on to something this entire time. I should’ve trusted you.

And we cooked. We cooked and we laughed and I congratulated you on your new job and your new apartment. I said a silent goodbye to that house on Indianola because I knew I’d never see it again, and I said an audible goodbye to your roommate Thomas because I never wanted to see him again. You fed me from a wooden spoon, after blowing on the contents to cool them. We took shots. And we ate. We sat across from each other and enjoyed whatever hare brained recipe you concocted, one that you’ll never be able to replicate again.

You told me you smoke cigarettes now, so we went outside. I took inventory of your backyard, I would miss it. You offered me a cigarette from your pack and it sat between my fingers. We sat in silence for a bit, just enjoying each other’s company while the hum of the cicadas ebbed and flowed like waves. And then I had to leave. I was tired, I knew it was the right thing to do. So I called my uber. And when you hugged me goodbye in your driveway, the cracks of asphalt obvious under our feet, I swore you wanted to kiss me. The way you looked at me. The way you brought me back in for a second embrace, even tighter. Just like I did that night at the tattoo shop. I felt it had all come full circle.

And when the uber dropped me off at my apartment, I walked around the block and I fucking cried.

Do you remember the night in the bunkbeds? After we slipped away by the cold ocean, where the beach was as dark as blindness, save for the amber glow of a blunt flickering in the Atlantic breeze and everyone thought we kissed? I think of you there, of the pretzels, of Peggy O and my head on your chest. I think of the roughness of the pool table felt under my thighs. When we arrived, Rachel said she knew this would happen the minute she saw you. And she wasn’t wrong. Was any of it real? Were the dozens of flights east real? Brushing my teeth in airport restrooms, you driving over the curb, with all your rings on. I was so nervous to get into your car the first time. We laid on your carpet in your apartment. You counted the stars on my face. We listened to 400 Lux on repeat while we slipped inside of each other. And on that first morning, you held my hand as we walked through the misty forest, finding ancient Asian statues, basketballs, a cracked swimming pool strewn with leaves, remnants of blunts smoked, and I was leaving bits of my heart, like a trail of breadcrumbs, in all those places I’ve loved you.

In my mind, we are sitting on a balcony in Provence and we wear each other’s companionship like wide-brimmed hats, there’s a certain fanfare in it. In Provence we are drinking Beaujolais and you no longer see the darkened silhouettes out of the corners of your eyes, the ones that keep you up at night. You hands aren’t weathered and the shadows on your cheeks from your eye lashes look like little palm trees. In my mind, I’ve undone the years that have worn you, I’ve undone the let downs, the damage from feeling too much. In my mind you are free.