The first thing I could think of to say sounded spiteful, but it was too late to take it back. The rest of the world was quiet, and my voice landed between us with a thunk so loud I could feel it reverberating through my feet. The moon and the stars were lapping at the windows, and I so badly wanted to jump into them, push open the glass and free fall into the dark warmth of the night. You spoke, and I tried to listen, but my mind floated away, and I couldn’t catch it -- it felt like a balloon let loose on a sunny day, seeking the heat of the sun with single-minded fury. I wanted the clouds to soak up my body, for my skin not to feel so tight. You left because you couldn’t catch me, which didn’t surprise either of us; your eyes echoed relief instead of a loss. After I was alone, the pitch black of the room stuck to my skin and I pulled the comforter over my body so that I could soak up its warmth and think about you.
The memory of me is probably better than the reality. When it was finally over, I could see the release of the scars you carried across your back. You could exhale, leaving me the smile I loved like the last rite to my soul. I can still remember the way the grass felt underneath my toes the first time I met you, so solid and vibrant. Your eyes looked bright with sunlight as you handed me my shoes from where they sat at the base of a tree in the park like it was a perfectly ordinary thing for you to do. Your voice curled itself into my bones and I could recall it for days afterward, so clear and low. I wanted to call you, but you hadn’t given me your number, which was probably a good thing because I would have scared you off.
At night, I imagine you – your t-shirt tight against your chest, the beginning of a beard on your chin, the shade of your hat across your eyes that made me want to swim in the hollow spots of them. You called me four days later. When I picked up, I tried to sound calm, but my heart was beating, and I wondered if you thought I had been running before I answered the phone. After we started dating, I told you about that and the satisfied look in your eyes made me hungry.
I knew we wouldn’t last the first time I met your parents. Your mom took one look at me and saw everything; I was crumbling even then. When she kissed me on the cheek to say goodbye it felt like a slap. I cried in the car on the way home and you couldn’t understand what I was upset about. You called your mom afterward and I could hear her tell you that I was nice; neither of us believed her. You held me and put your lips against my hair and told me it didn’t matter, but I could feel your body stiffen when I moved to kiss you.
After that, we moved in together. We couldn’t decide whose couch from college to keep. Yours smelled the most like beer though, so we decided to toss it. When we dropped it off at Goodwill, you looked at it like you were parting with a dear friend. As we left, I almost told you to turn around and get it, but for some reason, I didn’t and instead stared straight ahead and let you drive us back home in silence. You hung photos on the walls using those command strips with the Velcro. I moved our mismatched furniture around and made piles of books on the end tables in our bedroom, arranged by size and texture. Your mom came over and ran her hands across everything, handing me a set of dish towels on her way out the door.
I like to think of us like that. Setting up our life together, choosing where to get take out from, debating whether the milk in the fridge was bad or not. I imagine the scratch of your beard on my face, the way it left my skin red and chapped, how you joked you were marking me as yours. I imagine the steady cadence of your words as we lay in our bedroom listening to the train rattling the glass in the windows. I imagine the crystal quality of your eyes laughing at me as I used a sharpie to draw patterns across the baseboards of our living room until we were surrounded by flowers. I like to remember myself as eccentric instead of as disappearing, instead of hearing the desperate way that you called my name as if trying to keep me tethered to the ground.