It was teeth chatteringly cold the night you came over with Elizabeth’s lipstick across your nose. I remember wanting you so badly, it felt foreign. You were drunk and small and your tie was loose. And I felt like crying when you walked in the door. You’d taken my mess as your own and I didn’t know how to receive that. I sent you a photo of a pill bottle, you talked me to sleep. Two days later, when it was just the two of us, I knew I loved you. I knew I’d never really stop.
I find myself steeped in October once again. I think of how I genuflected at your bar. Or the years before with the purple wine and Modest Mouse, where we fell into piles of leaves. I wonder what you’re doing, what you’re really doing. You’re a teacher of children. You’re a father of a cat. You’re a city dweller now. But the last time I saw you, I was in a rental car in the driveway of your parents’ house in the suburbs, my legs entirely made of liquid. And you were begging me to stay. But there was too much gin and too many Replacements songs, and too much DNA swapped on your childhood bed. I couldn’t in good faith stay the night. And I think you knew that. I came with my pockets weighed down by lemons and limes and I left with my chest just as heavy.
The first time I lied to you, I went to the play with Matt. It was December and I was so thankful my truck had 4 wheel drive. I see your pictures now and wonder how you managed to keep me for so long. Was it that I needed you to tame me? Or that night out front of your work when I couldn’t move my feet? Or the way you softly spoke your S’s that melted me like mid-march? I think of myself back then, I think of you at the foot of my bed and I don’t know those people. I wonder if I ever really did.
I always forget that other people also have the in-betweens. The ones you can’t quite shake. Their legs across yours in a beach house basement. Their hand brushed against yours on a December afternoon, the pale sun a halo over their head. Their eyes in the morning. The older one who moved you, the younger one you kept secret.
I have so many in-betweens. Great valleys in the plains of my story. The ones who wouldn’t make it into the final draft of an oral telling of my life. But for a moment in time -there was nothing more solid, or more sure than sunshine- they would upset the order of my life and cross the borders of my heart.
Without a second thought
I sent your Capricorn sun
to the gallows in exchange
for limerence and third chances.
But everyone after you was just
a different iteration of the space
you left behind. Their names on my
phone screen like shallow etchings
on forgotten headstones.
We could’ve had a place
on Vine Street, and filled it
with cats, a wedding
beside the willow, a hundred
more years. Instead I sit shiva
with my feral, adolescent heartache.
I salt my doorways and sheet my mirrors,
and try to remain gentle with myself despite
this inherent vice.
She said, “Everybody loses
the thing that made them,”
And I’ve grieved for you for so long,
you feel like folklore.
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.