I knew him first by words and then by voice and I built the rest of him in my mind with patchwork. The hands that tentatively trace patterns on my skin now are not the phantom hands of my imagination. They are real and attached to what feels like a stranger and for this I punish him by pulling away. I punish him for crimes he has yet to commit and for circumstances that were beyond his control. I am broken. I am pulled apart at the seams and shedding stuffing slowly and for this I am no good for anyone.
We are awkward and at odds with each other, always. We bicker and when he teases me I chafe and turn away. We run out of things to say and we walk in tense silence and I can taste our mutual disappointment heavy in the air like smog. I am not how he wants me to be. I was closed off before I walked into baggage claim and accepted his thoughtful flowers. I don’t remember the last time I received flowers, let alone from someone who took the trouble to remember my favourite kinds. They begin to surrender to the heat almost immediately and I take one of the red-orange tulips and preserve it in the Elizabeth Hay hardcover he presented me with. I am collecting memories already because I have purposefully attached an expiration date to this exchange. I have my escape route planned and I try not to hurt him, this man that I care so much about, until I absolutely have to.I balance my heart and his and I sacrifice the one and then the other and I take no prisoners and keep no regrets.
We have lost our footing and our sweet banter and our silliness and we are wrong all wrong but for a handful of moments here and there which make me wonder. Which make me question if I have acted in haste or for the wrong reasons. He will read these words and twist them in his long fingers and bring them up quietly with a hopeful look in his bright blue eyes and I will hurt him more by not knowing what more to say. For giving him this uncertainty and weighing it heavy on his tender chest. For admitting to this hard empty ache in my own and knowing there is no answer and no solution and no redemption for us here in this soulless city.
We are strangers in every place but one. When I place my glasses carefully on a lounge chair and wade into the turquoise water. When our hands meet underwater and fit more carefully into the other. When features blurred the world is quilted in softness and I feel at ease again. Here we craft a fragile world together. He cleans it daily with a pensive look as he watches me or stares into the depths or into the space behind my head. Sometimes he smiles and I live for these moments when he comes back down to earth and meets me in our playful sea. When he entertains me with a redneck monologue or he laughs at my jokes or he listens to my stories or he admits that maybe just this once I might be right. When he catches my feet underwater and pulls me toward him and I slip away even though I don’t want to, really. But, feel I should. I watch him from the corner of my eye when I’m sure he doesn’t notice and I worry at how skinny he has become. I worry that he isn’t eating and I worry that he won’t have anyone here to remind him to. I worry that leaving him this early will damage him, and I, and both of us together. The choices that we make and the consequences we live with as the water dries slowly on our skin.
So, I tell him all the things he doesn’t want to hear and I keep him at arms length and I prepare what I hope is the softest of all possible landings. For him. For me. For this fledgling relationship that vastly underestimated my issues and the restlessness that I can’t seem to escape. I look toward a long road and another plane and a great open field and I am terrible and hateful and worthless and guilty but for the life of me I can’t help but feel above it all, everything else, a crippling sense of relief.
I don’t know. I don’t know and I like not knowing. I’m sorry, don’t hate me.