I drive, gripping my steering wheel, towering electric poles zooming by like lanky giants. The silhouette of a church blows past, and then a green, Germanic house, with its many windows, framed like an octahedron face with black rims. The GPS rings as I reach the corner of Maple Street, and my eyes linger on the cracking sidewalk, snaking its way up to the white fading house. Its front porch is level with the pavement, and I feel my breathing quicken.
The last glimpse I catch is our hands entangled as I see ourselves together, an alternate future, where I hold your hand as we walk out the door.
My eyes linger on the rearview mirror as I catch a glimpse of the glimmering hexagon tiles of our bathroom in its sun glare. The brick fireplace is still covered; a gingerly wrapped birthday gift, it frames the living room like a fading photograph, tea-stained ancient. The last glimpse I catch is our hands entangled as I see ourselves together, an alternate future, where I hold your hand as we walk out the door. It doesn't matter where we are going—to breathe fresh air after a long day at the office or a lazy Sunday stroll. I catch your unfurling hair with the scent of your pink shampoo, and I’m transported, sucked in with a vacuum-like abruptness, to the first time I let myself close to you, heard you whisper you loved me, too, into the crown of my head, before we disappear from view, taking my breath with us.
Two months after the breakup, I try to tell you that I was ready to spend the rest of my life with you. I type and retype words, erase them, and destroy them, and I struggle to recall your face. It exists only in silhouette—my brain’s way of protecting me from those shimmering eyes, moonlight dancing. But I remember the sound of your voice, the way my name fits in your mouth, rolls from your tongue into my palms, clenching syllable sand, and for a moment, I want to tell you I still love you—throw caution to the wind, say fuck it, laughing, giggling, deliciously silly: let’s do this all over again, let’s run into that ocean together, roiling and churning, until it leaves us gasping. Meet me underneath the telephone poles, the street lamps, and the glittering night sky, darling. Let us start over, whisper answers between our kissing pillows, quick! Before the morning arrives to wake us apart.
One small day, you told me you felt like you’d been looking for me. Both of us, feeling our way through countless close encounters until, lit by the flickering lights of apartment windows, we fell into each other, kissing, and sighing, and restlessly giddy. At the very end, I asked you to remind me of the photographs: these breadcrumb memories back to our vapor selves—all light and warmth brimming, overflowing out of us like we just discovered—finally—a way out of stumbling through the dark. You refused.
Remember, I never wanted to perform with you, which is to say I let you close enough to know me.
My mind still dances with tricks of this light, an always unreliable narrator; I do not trust myself. Relentless and stubborn, we used to play this game, remember? Of questions and non-answers, all the way down to our final fragmenting performance. Remember, I never wanted to perform with you, which is to say I let you close enough to know me. I don’t remember the graveyard fog that started to crawl in, creeping in between us until we’re both suffocating in it. You are hazy in these images of us now, my mind working overtime. How do you find a way back to a body that is mist?
Lately, I’ve been having this premonition: I saw myself, in the proliferating smoke of our burning house, aflame and horribly still. You are running far from here, and I sit cross-legged, a burnt match between my fingertips. Our house was getting cold, you see, and my every nerve and feeling is kindling at your shyest request. My thoughts are scattered like ash across the heavens, my memory grotesquely fusing together in a crackling, ember bliss. I’m complicit in my own burning carcass. My mouth agape in this tableau, I mourn the loss of my own mind. I’ve seeded mistrust against my gut instinct, watching the burning house go up with every futile attempt at pacifying its fracturing splinters.
You called me kind, and I broke into tears, eating away at my singed, dedicated flesh. I would’ve been your stars, my love, but one day, they will collapse under the weight of themselves, the heaviness of their core burned to ash; I think, will you still love me then? When I am just wisps of smoke, and vapor body? I tell you, you’ve hurt me, and you give me these anxious excuses, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t ever be there for me in the way I need you. So, I question my own body for asking for fantasies, always believing you first, disbelieving myself, as I watch this shattering house catch fire in an infinite incantation: I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you…
I imagine myself in the house, sometimes, the me that basked in the Floridian summer glow of palm trees swaying. Am I still rattling around in your memory, walking aimlessly through our lingering echoing voices? Do they get enough sunlight, lying on that beach even after the sun has left? Or have they packed their things, quietly in the night, slipping out into the idle car before you could stir awake?
In this documentary I watched the other day, a scientist had spent his entire life looking for a perfect equation, a key to unlocking every conversation that has ever been given to the universe. He believed our voices are but fragments, waves, quiet, distant melodies that, when tapped into the right frequency, would yearn, sing, and hum alive. Later, we find that the universe is too unpredictable, full of its own mysteries and no secret loopholes to reanimate a past self. All those conversations, lost to the cosmos forever.
I realized, months later, that I’ve forgotten the sound of your voice.
I realized, months later, that I’ve forgotten the sound of your voice. As I stare into the oncoming sunrise, on our what-if porch built on rosey daydreams, I don’t fight or clamor or break. I close my eyes and feel me, the self inside your mind, the one that once existed and will never exist again, fade into dust, a golden wash of glittering waves, crashing, somewhere far away from here.
I drive past the “for lease” sign, passenger seat empty, and alone.