“It was so clear to me/ that it was almost invisible.”
I need you to say yes to me once more. I need to spend the afternoon on your couch, my body draped over your body, binge watching Party Down all over again. I need to spend the night in your bed, my head on your chest until we reach the point of sleep and I let you be. Instead you say, “All I know is that I want to talk to you. Can’t that be enough for now? Can’t we leave it there?” and I say sure, fine, because I no longer trust you, because not hearing from you is better than hearing from you. Because you are a net loss.
I am your pet and your lover. When I lie on your couch in early autumn, my hair wet from your shower, my body in your clothes, my head in the divot of your bare chest, your lips meeting my scalp, I recall the Rumi poem my ex-husband recited at our wedding, “When the night sky pours by it’s really a crowd of beggars wanting this.” This, I think, this we have now.
“Guy I’m dating”—what I say when I don’t want to say boyfriend even though when you had surgery back in November and I accompanied you to the hospital and the receptionist inquired after our relationship status, you said (for the first time) “girlfriend.”
“If we keep on like this I’m afraid I’ll fuck this up irrevocably,” you tell me one Saturday morning in January. And that seems mature of you even if I’m crying on your shoulder. “I want you to know that I’m scared to lose you,” you say, “but I would rather let you go now and see how you feel about me when the trees are in bloom.”
In this one we’re lying on the grass at the sculpture garden upstate, the amber burn of sunset over Lincoln Logs fit for giants.
In this one I am crying over dim sum and neither of us knows why.
In this one I watch you wander out of general anesthesia, your eyes magnified with wonder.
In this one I lie underneath you, my knees against your chest, and understand that I could love you.
In this one I lean against the metal railings at a park in Chinatown and tell you—now that it’s over—that I do.
In September you ask me to be at your surgery in November. I move my class, tell my family I’m not coming home for Thanksgiving. But by October you’re not so sure. “I don’t want you to feel like I owe you anything,” you tell me. I almost walk away from you, from your mechanized heart, your robotic approach to give and take, but I want you to believe in the Disneyland beyond the gates of your need. “I don’t operate that way,” I tell you. “I don’t walk around with a ledger.”
“Guy I’m dating”—what I say when I don’t want to acknowledge that this might not go anywhere, that despite this hospital time (“Something you will always have,” a friend tells me), we could end this today or tomorrow or late next week. We could walk into March but not out of it. It’s the new year and anything is possible.
After you 360 in early November, saying, “Of course I want the girl there,” and I am the girl, and there is the hospital, everything falls into place. You always want to see me. You always call. Everything is always. After your surgery, lying there with tubes up your nose, you ask me to hold your hand, tell me there’s no one else you’d rather see. I spend the week in your studio, wrapping you in Saran so you can shower, standing in line for apple and caramel pie, cooking in your kitchen and hosting Thanksgiving. Because we’re adept cave dwellers, because we pull down the shades and curl into each other, because we find some sort of domestic bliss in being fake-married for seven days, I think we can do anything.
“The reason I wanted to see you,” I say a week after it’s ended “is to tell you something I’ve been saying in my head since November.”
“I’ve been feeling that too,” you say.
Three words + your (full) name:
In the morning
Late at night
While I’m waiting for the F train
The moment I step into the January air
At three am on a dance floor in Soho
Over dinner in the LES with someone new
I play the line, or the line plays me.
Repeating what I said to you on that Sunday afternoon in Chinatown,
Repeating what you said to me.
I want you to fall in love with me now, my eyes glazed, lids swollen, face naked. I want you to want me in my sweatpants and my cotton underwear. I want you to beg for my blotchy skin, my cheeks raked with tears and the forward edge of last night.
I want it to be October when you pulled at my mod, sleeveless zippered dress, my arms in the air as if you were the parent and I were the child. I want you to peek at my lace thong, to tell me you’ll rip it off or slide it down slowly. I want you to say, “You are too good to me,” to take in my body as I sit upright on your lap, naked except for the scalloped magenta that you still haven’t removed. I want you to say, “Your body is pretty perfect.” This is the best compliment you will ever give me and so I will need to hear it again and again. I want to lean into you, to rest my chin on the ledge of your shoulder, the one they would operate on, the one that would bring me closer to you before it brought you farther away.
“Guy I’m dating”—what I say because I cannot, will not say boyfriend, because this is the first time the two syllables have knocked out their soft sounds on my tongue since the man who was to become my fiancée then husband then ex husband was still my boyfriend.
You ask me to stay another night and then another, and you have cause because after I leave you unravel like so much thread. But four weeks after you said you couldn’t do this anymore I ask if you meant what you said when you said revisit. I keep asking that. I know I should stop. I know I should leave you alone, give you the space you said you needed, but I can’t stop pecking at the one word that holds me to you.
I think we have different understandings of what that meant, you say. Who can time change? Four months, six months, a year? And would you want someone to wait for you if you didn’t know what you wanted?
Oh, I say. So give up on you entirely and say goodbye forever.
No, don’t, you say, but we already know that you never mean what you say.
“Guy I’m dating”—what I say because what if boyfriend means something? What if it speaks to more than what we have?
Fragments drift through my thoughts like fake snow in a snow globe, the flake of “I love you” oozing by the flake of “I don’t know what I want.” These two never meet, never cancel each other out. I don’t understand how they exist in the same childhood toy. I want to shake it, to see what dream will create itself underneath the white plastic wafers. But whatever molded scenery we could find inside this world-in-miniature the ingredients would be identical: your consistent inconsistency, your tentative yes, your cowardly no.
I’m the one who stays put, who digs my feet into the ground, who says what if you’re worth it? What if you and your broke ass body are worth it? And maybe that’s out of fear, out of what do we do if we don’t say yes? I know how to glide through less-than-perfect but the glide is built on promise, a scene underneath the snow. It’s too early for that, but how do you time sentiment? Where is the stopwatch on hope? Shh, I tell myself. Don’t, please don’t I say to the mirage of our future, the world where we still say our, but no one listens anymore, me least of all.
Rumpus original art by Kara Y. Frame.