A booth at our old restaurant, chipped paint cracking on the wall, light bulbs too new to dawn a flicker, and you on the other side of the table, staring at me from behind the drink you hold to your lips. You glance at my beard; at the man I have become. And I stare into you, that black hair falling on a familiar, unfamiliar face time has smoothed so nicely into beautiful.
In the time you’ve been away, I’ve done many things. I learned to write, how funny, that you should be the one to stick like silk to the webbing of my words. I wrote about you many times, I did, left little hints that only you could pick out. In the afterglow of all the setting suns, with the days slipping more firmly into the scarlets and purples of the night, I stood on balconies and wondered if the sun was setting nicely for you and your life. I stared into mirrors and wondered if you loved your reflection more than I loved mine. So I used my writing to say the things I couldn’t say to you anymore. I used old photos and letters for inspiration. Some days the writing came easily; other days my words felt broken, like I was building them on fractured foundations. I tossed aside hundreds of journal entires. I got tired of textually tricking myself into thinking that you would come back. And some days, I almost forgot what you looked like. Those days were the worst.
Since you have been gone I have seen the world. I’ve held a bottle of wine in one hand and Paris in the other, so punch drunk, so moon drunk, speaking English to the French; and the coast of Barcelona, the sand, the tapas, the sangria and the days wandering through charming alleys and streets packed with signs and billboards I couldn’t read. I thought I was dancing with you at a music venue in Shoreditch, careful not to spill my drink because it cost more English pounds than I was willing to lose to the floor. This girl had your eyes. Her body like yours. So slender. My arms could have gone around her more than once. But it wasn’t you, was it? No. I thought I saw you in a London train station – they call it the Tube, I’m sure you know – wedged between the crowd. She had her back to me but I thought it was your back. I wanted it so badly to be you. I squeezed my way between the people, rushing to this girl who should have been you. And the whole time, the entire time all I wanted to do was catch up to you so I could say here’s the world, and you and I are still in it.
I’ve cursed you many times for leaving too fine of an impression on me. It’s not fair that your indentation is pressed so firmly into my mind so that it blurs women into faces that will never be yours. It’s normal, I suppose, to see you in songs and newspaper clippings about fashion, in menus at Italian restaurants, at red lights while my car is idling on memories, at the grocery store when I’m buying asparagus. That’s normal, right?
I pretend that great novelists have penned you into their masterpieces. Like this line from Anna Karenina:
The place where she stood seemed to him a holy shrine, unapproachable, and there was one moment when he was almost retreating, so overwhelmed was he with terror. He had to make an effort to master himself, and to remind himself that people of all sorts were moving about her. He walked down, for a long while avoiding looking at her as at the sun, but seeing her, as one does the sun, without looking.
Being here with you, at this restaurant, I’m reminded of things I have forgotten: those nights, years ago, with your shirt straps down to your elbows, because I put them there; the field on the outskirts of town – so dusty – where we hid our relationship that was so clean, like fine china too good for an ordinary love feast; the oil derrick in the corner of the football field that we said we’d climb but never did; a drawing you gave me once, with a nice house in the background, the fence I would build someday when we were older.
We’ve been at this booth for an hour. This restaurant feels like the credits at the end of a good movie: so many people around us, names I care nothing for, the only thing I can think about is the impact your brief motion picture just had on my life. How nice it would be to spend my jar of coins on a little more time with you. Nickels for another laugh. Dimes for that look you pair with a smile. Another funny idea: come with me. Anywhere.
It’s getting late, though. Go, if you must. But how dare you, to linger in the doorway, one hand preventing the door from closing on me and you. How dare your mascara eyes, and the hair spilling over them. How dare your lips. How dare your necklace falling into your shirt. How dare the yo-yo years for rolling us in and throwing us out.
So make up your mind, girl.
I promise I’ll react accordingly, and do what I can with this rubble love that keeps slipping through my fingers…