8.29.2016

Sweetness 2.0

[A few months ago, though I had long said I never, ever would, I deleted two pieces from my blog. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time but I have regretted it so, so much. While one of them is gone forever, one of them isn't completely lost to the ether: it was a piece from New Years CD 2005, and honestly, though posting it sent my life on an odd and fateful trajectory, it wasn't that good. It should have sounded something like this. Enjoy.]

I nearly didn’t recognize him; I took a step or two right past him while busy tracing the lines of his face in my failing memory. But then he said hi and I turned to meet his eyes, took a step back, tried to transpose my memories of him of twelve years ago onto the very real man before me to see where they fit, and before I could remember all of the reasons I didn’t want to wrap my arms about his neck I had already done exactly that. And then there we were, us on a dark sidewalk, only hugging because that’s what you’re supposed to do, our eight years of radio silence was suddenly punctuated by his palm on my back and my cheek near the softest parts of his naked neck that still smell like irresponsibly long, dark nights and late, drunken phone calls placed from my fire escape recline. 

We fell back in fearlessly, in that way that is so assuredly going to expire. We laughed at possibility because there was seemingly none, but then the what-ifs began to climb about us and the indefinites bloomed beautifully but probably poisonous; fear had crept to us so slowly that we hadn’t noticed it until it was all that was left, and we were alone with it. Together. 

A few years before I met him, I was shy and only twenty, and I lived in a breezy Portland flat with hardwood floors and a walk in closet. And there, just a few weeks before I fucked off to some Roman suburb I let a slight blonde into my bed whom I thought would be inconsequential, though it would be years before I couldn’t quite remember the placement of a rich, brown mole on her left breast or the smell of her collarbone. 

Within a year I had followed her to Florida. I flew across the country and landed at MIA with a messenger bag and a huge rolling suitcase and took a cab to her tiny canal-adjacent studio in the very northern echelons of South Beach. I knocked on her door, flung my arms about her shoulders, smelled her salt and sweat. But her collarbone, once enticing, only smelled like a time that had long passed even though she had come so recently.

I quickly found an apartment. Got a job at the type of Miami nightclub you never see on television because they’re past their primes. That girl moved to New York. I stayed in Miami a few years traipsing about South Beach in flip-flops and sometimes, even, climbing into the bed of another slight blonde--a strawberry blonde--who kissed me like she was blooming beneath my lips. She smelled like violets and lowered her eyes from mine when she smiled; her skin was so fair that my thumbs left brief pink ovals near her hipbones. I’d carefully untie her orange bikini and toss it next to my white one on her terrazzo floor, and I’d twine my fingers inside her hair while her mouth parted, her eyes grew wide, her legs split gently. 

I wish I didn’t remember never telling her that I loved our dawn-break talks at least as much as I loved tasting her from tip to tail, at least as much as I loved her heat-damp body curled next to mine. But I didn’t, tell her I mean, and she took my silence as disinterest or possibly as a brazen rebuff, and soon she was dancing all night with a brassy Argentinian girl who wore heels and painted her mouth in a flourish. 

I left Miami and returned to my hometown where it was cold when it rained, and I missed the steam that rose from the pavement when the storm clouds cleared and I missed my white bikini that I had worn like a uniform. But then I met a man who missed something intangible just as much as I missed Miami, and he whispered to me in the long dark and tasted every inch of me like I might a slight blonde. He’d twine his fingers inside my hair and kiss me like he was desperate, like he had to have all of me at once; he’d bury his face into the softest parts of my naked neck, nipping them with his teeth. And then he’d shuffle me home in the mornings with the same reserve with which I was only too familiar. And so, to punctuate that, one morning he stood with me on a sunny sidewalk, he smiled and bore through me with his shiny blue eyes, and he told me that he would never love me.  

And I smiled back because I knew it was more than I deserved.

I never told her that I would never love her, but I may as well have. She knew it just as sure as I knew how easily I actually could. And I get it. I would tie my bikini back around my ribcage and leave her place coolly, never letting myself fall asleep in her bed, I’d wait until I’d rounded the corner to let my mouth break into a wide smile; I’d save my words of her for my friends at the pub rather than her own heart-shaped face. And when she dropped me I assumed for years that it was the very same rejection that I had so rightly anticipated, and not, as it was, the self-fulfilling prophesy of my own design.

In our new iteration, he and I spent most nights with our limbs intertwined, his teeth again known to bear gently on my neck, and it all seemed so funny when he would whisper to me in our new long dark wherein that was possible: "I love you, I love you. I love you."

But we couldn't seem to remove ourselves from them, the before-us that swore so vehemently and so silently that our charm would be stripped if riddled with responsibility; we compared each other to versions of ourselves that are long gone and were disappointed with who we'd become. We wondered why it all felt so hard. 

“Yes, please,” he said when I curled next to him beneath my sheets, placed my head on his shoulder, felt his arm snake around me. Brought my face to his neck, closed my eyes, inhaled. 

“Mark, you smell exactly the same. I mean. Like twelve years ago.” And he did. He smelled like all of those nights when nothing mattered, when I feared losing nothing save some vague idea of self. Yet I clutched him like I didn’t know what I would do if I couldn’t, like I’d snatch it all back and do it over if I could, like I could reinvent that sunny street corner and put new words inside of that carefully choreographed smile that I wore. 

He laughed and reminded me that he doesn’t have a sense of smell.

There’s that thing when you’re showering with lavender soap and you remember bath time as a child. When you are reminded of the city library by an old book brought before you, it’s spine held in your palm, when you’ve drawn a hand to split it gently.

I wondered how this can be when I spent so much time within his effluvia and unable to disconnect myself from the ensuing flood of memory; I couldn't imagine how I would feel if saltwater didn’t leave me nostalgic or violets regretful. There are things that I remember of him back then—him jaywalking across the highway to the bar, him snorting a line of cocaine from the cover of a volume of erotica, and even him, as I first laid eyes on him, some five stories down in an orange vest—but the times that I feel like I felt with him back then are when I realize that he smells the same. 

No matter what we’ll still have those first few years when we never thought to say much out loud, we’ll still have those eight where we didn’t speak at all. And suddenly we were left with all the sidewalks of my fair hometown on which to stand and try to never say never, on which to resist transposing all of those extinct versions of us onto each other, because we couldn't do it over, we couldn't erase it. And we couldn't have any of it back. 

By the time I was not quite twenty-four I had tired of being shy, and it was late enough in the year that it was just starting to get cold, and my best friend and I, from our perch on a fifth story balcony, saw a group of people approach the front door of the building.

“Him,” I told her, pointing out one of them, “by dawn. I promise you.”

And it’s so funny to me now how someone I thought would be so inconsequential ended up capturing so much of me; funny how many years have passed and I've never been able to not be moved by the smell of his collarbone.

The temperature was starting to drop in Seattle, and I was restless in a way I couldn't explain to him. I felt defeated and small when I shivered in the wind and when he asked me what's wrong my best answer was "it's cold here."

I hate the cold, but I've suffered winters in New York and Berlin; I can dig in. Get through it. But inside "it's cold here" was everything I'd be giving up to spend the long dark winter in my rainy hometown; the days were getting shorter and he increasingly withdrew. I was increasingly resentful of what I was missing: the heat, the humidity, all of the balmy cities of America that I could be braving the winter from within. And the benefits, those of being within his effluvia, were decreasing by the day: he was more reserved, less affectionate, wary. And then one cold, damp night mid a long talk he told me "I can't do this," and I stopped him there, noting that we were done talking.

Mark went to work in the morning. I lounged about his living room in my underwear and bought a plane ticket. When he returned home I could see so plainly on his face that he would do it all over if he could, but we couldn't do it over, we couldn't erase it. And we couldn't have any of it back.

The day before I caught my plane, I hung a black puffy jacket in his coat closet as it wouldn't be accompanying me to the balmy south, and hung there when I opened the door was that orange down vest, that very same one he was wearing the day we met twelve years earlier. It's a bit dirtier now, less colorful. More worn, maybe like he now: his hair is overtaken with grey, a few more creases around his eyes.

"Miranda," he told me, "I'm in love with you, but there are limits," and I told him, Mark, that's a fucked up thing to say to someone. I said, Mark, why do you have to qualify me. I asked him, Mark, is this forever? "No," he told me, "No. That's impossible." 

"I'm leaving," I told him, "and this. This is what seems impossible."

I wonder what that will be like when some indeterminate amount of months pass, when I'm again pounding down some urban sidewalk to meet him, anxious and angry. When he says hi, when my eyes meet his, when I fling my arms around him. Whether this radio silence will be worth it and how deeply my knees will buckle when he places his palm in the small of my back. I wonder how fast these months down south will fall away when my cheek is near the softest parts of his naked neck; what might flood back when I inhale.