May 20, 2015
For the first time in eight years I’ve taken off two weeks from work. I’m one week in and I’ve begun to get restless which is why I’ve started writing you again, I suppose. This is meant to be a healing time. I had surgery on Monday, nothing serious, but this feeling of pain resolving itself makes me wish I could think of you without feeling the scar.
I realized this morning that we never knew each other when it was cold. We shared the gracious seasons and then you left for a part of the world where winter comes in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was a child living in Alaska. While I sat on the bulkhead and listened to waves with the sun on my neck, I wondered whether the tip of your nose gets red when you’re cold. It made me smile to think of it. I suspect it would be me who would be red-cheeked and drip-nosed while you would remain your elegant self, flying over the snow with your boots from Maine.
I found an old message from you today I thought I’d deleted. You were opening the propane heater I rush-ordered for you when I heard you’d run out of firewood and hadn’t gotten your first paycheck yet. I’d have sent you a steaming bath with a drop or two of ylang ylang in it as you always liked if I could have figured out how to arrange it but that may have been overdoing it. You always brought out the extravagant gestures in me.
I’m tempted nonetheless as each evening I visit the new quail cage I built and gather the tiny eggs they’ve begun to lay. I call them my Rorschach eggs. I sit at my table and hold them one by one, turning them over looking for pictures in the dark blotches on their shells. I’m only delaying gratification. I know I’ll cut through those pretty patterns with a serrated knife and pour their fat little yolks into my pan. I’d love to see your face if you could hold them as I do, still warm from the nest. I eat them all to keep from boxing them up and overnighting them to you at a ridiculous cost.
Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure you liked eggs. Maybe you only took them in the past because it was obvious I thought I was doing you a favor, gathering them fresh from the coop and wrapping them up for you. I do remember you giving a lot of them away to the guys you worked with but I believed you were just a generous person. That might be the truth too. I don’t know. There are a lot of things I never knew about you.
I’ll admit it took me a while before I had the courage to drive past the fire station after you quit working there. When I did, I noticed they’ve put up a memorial for 9/11. Even knowing you’re likely safe in Maine, it made my heart shrink up into a tiny, rock-hard thing in my chest to think of you, so small in your gear, climbing steps to an inevitable end. The part that’s the worst is that I don’t always know whether I wish for that or worry that you’ll find your own fire someday.
May 22, 2015
The neighbors have arrived with their jet skis and their kids for Memorial weekend. I’m hiding out inside with the windows closed, feeling mean and thankful as the clouds pile up and the wind makes it too cold to be on the water long. I’m trying to pay attention to the words on the screen but I keep catching sight of the jet skis, bright yellow, making endless loops on the gray. All year long, nothing moves on that water but the kind of things I want to see, and my brain can’t process the fact that I don’t care about the neighbors or what they do with their vacation days. I know when it gets dark, they’ll start drinking and I’ll have to put in earplugs.
You were celebrating eight years of sobriety the night you first took me home, and I was tipsy from sake. You never judged. I think you liked the taste of it on my tongue. You came twice as often the nights I drank. I didn’t make the connection until you were long gone and I no longer drank either. I still crave sake on spring nights.
I want to tell you that I met someone. You always said you wanted to know when I did. I promised I’d be alone for two years and when I found her, I’d let you know. She wears a blue uniform too, scrubs instead of firefighter gear. I want to take her out for sushi and watch the way she holds her chopsticks. She has slender wrists like you, but her hair is long. She’s seen me unconscious and helped dress me after surgery. Do you think it’s wrong to ask her out? When she left me in the exam room before my operation and told me to get undressed, she stuck her head back in when she knew I wouldn’t be in the gown yet. She doesn’t wear a ring. I wish you could tell me if she’s gay.
I keep telling myself I get rejections a dozen times a week for the essays I submit so what’s one more person saying no, but it isn’t the rejection that scares me. What if she says yes?
I never believed you when you said you didn’t want to be in love but I do now. All week long while I’m healing and there’s nothing to do but sit and think, it’s one step forward and two steps back, imagining our first date and our breakup, Karen in her scrubs and me with my new fear of intimacy.
Kids are yelling at the house next door and I’m trying to remember if I actually showed you who I am when I’m not trying to be nice. Did I tell you how much I dislike noisy children, and most people too if I’m being honest, or was I so in love at the time I forgot the way I’d always felt? Crows have started in, the way they do when an eagle flies over, but they’re only screeching at the kids.
The bones of the crow that dropped from the sky the week you broke up with me are still stuck on the neighbor’s porch roof. There wasn’t a quiet minute for days when it landed there, twitching like it was going to jump up and fly off again. It felt like that bird died over a long afternoon but it was likely over in seconds. I never knew crows would carry on like that, screaming back and forth at each other from every tree in thirty feet until the dead one started to melt into the metal roof and the feathers flew off in the wind that came up from the water that night.
They felt like little broken bits of the darkness flying out of my head, all of those mourning crows. I don’t think I even noticed the noise. I hear them now though. I don’t want to go back to that place where I don’t know how much of the pain I feel is me and how much is the circumstances that surround me. It’s been quiet here for months and I’ve been happy. Not just the kind of happy that means I’m not crying on the way to work every morning anymore or sitting all night in my chair watching the sky get dark over the water without ever moving; I mean happy, singing and moving and breathing, happy. I don’t want to lose that.
So, I sit around reading reviews of the best sushi places in town to impress a woman I’ve only met once and never write the letter inviting her to meet me. Does that make me a coward?
I could say I’m just being of my word. It hasn’t been two years yet, though it will be in four months. I know you moved on in four weeks, but we’ve always been a bit different in that way, haven’t we? I didn’t commit to being alone two years out of spite, or to be better than you, in case you’re wondering. It was a gift to myself, months stretching out where I never have to worry what anyone wants but me. No arguing over where to eat or whose turn it is to wash dishes or the reason I don’t want to have sex tonight. The joke of it is I want it every night these days, or most every night, now that I know what it can be. I only know what it can be for us though, or what it was. I don’t have any way of knowing if another woman will awaken that in me.
And so, I write clever notes inviting a woman out to sushi, asking to meet under circumstances not involving anesthesia, but never send them.
The crows have stopped calling.
Remember the night you broke up with me the first time and you asked if I’d ever lost anyone important to me before? You meant had someone I loved died. I said I’d lost myself, over and over again. I knew it didn’t compare to your loss and you were gracious enough not to say so. Lately I wish I’d asked if you believe it’s possible to ever really keep hold of yourself when you love someone, or do you always get lost somehow.
If anyone asked, I’d say I never really lost you. You’re still as much here with me as you were for the few months we were together. More times than not, I wish that wasn’t the case, but there it is. I tell my therapist you’re like the scar left from an operation that saved my life. You did, in so many ways, but you’re a scar just the same, and sometimes having you here cripples me. I know you wouldn’t ever want that, but it isn’t up to you to choose.
Sometimes when I walk down the driveway after dark and see the way the light from my windows falls in rectangles on the rocks and the cedar walls inside glow red, I remember you gave all this to me. I’d never sit on my beach while sunset colors the snow on Rainier or watch orca in the passage if you hadn’t arranged this cabin for me. It stings to owe you that, sometimes.
I don’t think I’d be writing this if I were able to get around like I usually do. I’ve had my workout routines, my music and the reflection in the mirror to speak to when I wished I could talk to you. For two years I’ve watched my body become what I’ve wanted it to be while I pushed away the words I didn’t get to say to you. When it hurt, I watched my face twist and forgot I wanted to be pretty in case you ever came back again. I thought of the way you could jump up off the floor or run like you never ran out of breath and I’d push harder.
I can’t push now, and it’s so quiet I can hear the other things in my mind I couldn’t hear when I was working or building or pushing. I was afraid of what would be here without all the noise but what I’ve found is a different way of hearing you. I think this is forgiveness. You gave me everything you could, didn’t you? You loved incompletely but you did love.
I know if I ever see you again it will be when I’ve stopped looking for you. I hope that if we do meet, it will be cold and you’ll be in your boots from Maine. I’ll hand you a tissue and we can forget that anyone was lost or that a crow turned to dust outside my window when you left. I will not ask you out for sushi and you will not kiss the sake from my lips but I will be happy.