As the sun sets, my eyes close to this world, opening to one I might’ve known with you. Stepping from the wrinkled fabric of my body, I am clothed once again in the skin of my youth…
We were young and under the impression that our ideals would feed both our dreams and practical needs; if not now, at least eventually. The heat and light of a Southern July sun made the belief all the more real. You walked through the too tall grass as I imagine a lion would: stealthily, easily, carelessly, the sunlight haloing around you. All words were gone from my mouth in an instant, but you had extra to spare. And so goes the story of our meeting.
The summer kept us alive that year. Parties by the poolside, cocktails on Linwood Avenue, dinner with anyone well-to-do, you seemed to gain the invitations coveted by the elite. Always you asked me to join you. “You are the most important person in my life,” you would say in a way that unraveled my cautious disposition. Following along, I believed you. I liked the feeling of walking in on your arm and watching you captain the crowd with your aloof familiarity, the counter of your coolness and charm, like you could be anywhere else, but had chosen this place and time, these people to be a part of your present moment.
It was later, the crowd tucked into their own secret things, that I saw you unveiled. The charm and surety of self, dissolving into a whisper, you would reveal your heart to me. “He is only a child.” I would sometimes think. “A little boy still searching.” Maybe I should have listened to myself before so many defenseless nights and so many breaths shared in between had bound us irrevocably together. But my own naïve understanding of love would not let me leave you alone to fend in the world of soulless men.
I remember the first time you told me what I had felt all along. We were driving home from some late night adventure. You were in the passenger seat, full of courage and strong drink. Your fingers traced the tops of mine before closing around my hand. I felt your eyes embrace me. Glancing from the road I caught a glimpse of your face, a half smile that parted when you spoke, “I’m in love with you, you know.” I didn’t know what to say to you. “You’re the only girl I’ve ever really been in love with. You’re the only girl I’ve ever said that to.” I didn’t know if you were telling the truth or letting the imbibed murmurs speak for you. I want to go back there sometimes, pull the car over and kiss you. But even in my memories, I can only do what I did then. Drive on.
At home on your front stoop, we would recount the memories we had made (as if they were coins or items of clothing, but much more precious) over and over until they were bound within the folds of our minds. Skinny dipping at midnight in a pool we’d snuck into, dancing in the Lerner’s garden, driving too fast on back streets. Our laughter filled the sky, competition for the stars. Your hand would rest on my knee, my head on your shoulder. But soon your thoughts would turn to wanting more. More money, more love, more recognition. Always, you had drank too much so I would help you to bed and wrap my arms around you, feeling the rise and fall of your body’s breath between dark and dusk, letting our dreams fuse us together.
My heart was full, packed with the world of you. Then, morning would come bringing sunlight and clarity; the fear that our togetherness would not last forever. Fighting reality with my entire being, I held more tightly to you driving myself mad with desperation. I questioned your motives, analyzed your words with deft precision, eyed the people in your life with scrutiny. You reassured me that I was your only love. But your words sounded hollow, hanging in the web of my doubts. “You are diffident.” You would say. “Diffident, defensive, and rude!” Those words I believed. They seemed more real to me. I tried to stop. I tried to reason myself from the narrow, shaky limb of paranoia, but it was too late. You did not want to make amends. And I watched, as if helpless, while you and I slipped through my fingers.
“I’ve met someone.” Your words were the saw cutting me down. “She will help me get where I need to go in my career She will help me get more.” I could feel my breath leave my body. “I don’t really love her. But we, you and me, are no more.” And all of my bones cracked as I landed on unyielding ground.
My fear had met reality. They were the same. You buttoned your shirt and adjusted your tie, spraying on your cologne you looked at me, the last look between us, “I’m going out.” It was the finality of our existence. I sat in your floor, tears eroding my hot cheeks, breathing you in for the last time: the weight of your presence, the rough, familiar feel of wooden floors we’d danced on most every night in bare feet, the sound of water dripping in the kitchen that made us think we could try our hand at plumbing and the note on the counter still reminding us to call a professional, the empty glass holding salty taste of your lips from your nightly drink, the smell of your body and mine still mingled on your sheets, I could almost feel your heartbeat. Picking myself up, I moved with surprising agility, through the thickness of the air and walked to my own house where I began removing every reminder of you. Two boxes labeled “thrift store” now held the mementos of our life together.
A few days passed and I was able to walk in the sunshine again. In a few weeks I was eating. The months following found me able to sleep, even if alone. And soon years were going by with an ever dulling pain. I would think of you sometimes, less often with the passage of time. My life had become one of contentedness. No emotional highs to match my life with you, but you had slowly drifted into the past, part of another existence. I married a friend who had loved me for years. You knew him, Adam. I thought of you only a little as I said “I do.” We never had children, but our nieces and nephews made the walls of our house feel like a home when they were there.
I saw you several weeks ago. I think you may have seen me. I was leaving the market as you were walking in. Our eyes met briefly and the same feeling I’ve always had when I see you wrapped around me again. You were with a young woman. She was holding your arm. She looked like you. “Dad, are you alright?” I heard her ask. You leaned in to whisper something to her and she turned abruptly to look at me. “That can’t be Ruth.” She said, leading you into the store. I smiled to myself. I have thought of you every day and night since, hoping to see you in my dreams but they will not bring you.
Closing my eyes tonight, all of my years cascade around me like an ethereal curtain, the outline of a figure walking as if waiting on the other side. I would recognize that familiar profile even if I were blind. My heart racing with hope, I reach out my hand; I notice it looks the same as it did the day I first met you. I pull back the fabric and there you are. Your arms are around me before I can say your name. Your lips dance across my face. We cannot stop laughing. I feel myself let go of life and breath and all that came in life before. At rest, at peace...at last, home.