Memories – Summer Institute Workshop Writing

  Dear John,

  My favorite memory is of your tears. I know it’s probably horrible to feel that way, to have your favorite memory be one drowned in pain and choked on loss. I know it’s even worse to have that memory twined around a someone you love.

   But, try as I may, I can’t help it.

  And I have tried, believe me when I say I have tried.

   I have tried walking across the stage and receiving my diploma. The look in my family’s eyes of pride and the feeling of relief that I had done it; I had succeeded. I was a graduate.

  I have tried holding my younger sisters, looking into their small faces and seeing features of my own. The knowledge that I was not alone in this world, of a family, a story growing.

  I have tried holding my grandfather’s hand, his skin like rice paper draped over ancient bones. Hearing his last coherent words echo “I love you, be careful” before slipping away into the night of his own mind.

   I have tried and I have tried but it’s still there, replaying on an endless loop in the back of my mind, occasionally leaping to the front, causing me to miss an exit on my way home, to trip over a step I’ve walked a million times, to forget the words to a favorite song. It blankets my eyes and the world dims.

 You are there.

  I am there.

  And it is silent.

  I know there were sounds around us. I know that airports are places full of noise. The brief but constant bursts of car horns and the whistles of traffic attendants as the doors open and shut at the entrance. The low rumble of suitcase wheels on smooth marble. The squeaks of walking shoes carrying well-worn travelers to destinations unknown. There should be voices, phones, music, droning announcements of arrivals and departures, delays.

  I know these things happened. I know this because I know airports. I know people and machines and their shared tendency to shun silence and replace it with life and action and noise. But when I look at that moment, really look at it, there was silence.

   There was you.

   There was me.

   And you were crying.

   I had waited while you checked your bags on the other side of the polyester rope, the first taste of separation turning sour in my mouth.

  It wasn’t for forever. We’d only be separated for a few months, four months, but that was enough. Enough time for you to forget me, to find someone else. Someone blonder, prettier, more clever. I thought about how those four months would turn into a lifetime. Our life together felt like a dream and like a dream, you would wake up the second your wheels touched home and I would fade away to a feeling of mild confusion as you shook off sleep and began a new day. I created a list of my own inadequacies and checked each one off, rationalizing the reasons for which you’d forget me in an attempt to settle back into the angry, depressed, alone person I had been before I met you, finding comfort and protection in my own familiar pain.

   I had never been comfortable around men. It still fills me with dread to be alone with them. Fight or flight activating with the shutting of a door or a raised voice. The ones in my life have always been less than ideal, regardless of what ever definition you attach to “ideal”. Clawing at money, sex, power, ripping me to shreds in the process. They’ve always wanted something from me and when it wasn’t given freely, taken it anyways. My own issues took turns adapting abuse and neglect to be seen as acceptable forms of treatment, masochistically shaping how I saw myself into something to be hated, used, discarded. Why should you have been any different? Why should you have seen something different?

  It wouldn’t have surprised me if you had just turned and walked past me. I would have been fine. Not initially. It would hurt. It would have hurt a lot. It would have hurt probably more than anything had ever hurt before, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t have been able to make you love me and that fact alone would have been enough to survive on. It would have to be. I would resign myself to cutting away that piece of my heart. A sacramental amputation to stop the festering of my being. Forever scarred but adjusted.

  When I was with you, I felt like I was waiting for a hammer to fall and shatter the perfect picture that we had created. The one of a woman with laugh lines and a man with eyes like clear blue pools. You gave me those lines, faint as they may be, in just three months after we met. You never once let me be sad, never once let me feel alone, never once let me feel afraid and unsure and anxious about myself or my dreams. You took my dreams and mixed them with yours to create a future and a reality that we can both achieve together. I could tell you anything and you would listen, truly listen. You woke me up each morning and started the day by telling me how much you loved me and how I’m beautiful. You held my hand every step of the way through the greatest darkness of my life and made me feel like I was normal. Better than normal, I was extraordinary and beautiful and smart. I was important. I was worth something. I was worth everything and you have never stopped, not once have you stopped reminding me of it every day.

   You went above and beyond, literally crossing oceans to see me, and for some reason I still felt like I was temporary. I was a fleeting moment in your life. A small shadow on the grand scheme of things. I truly believed that the moment you were handed your ticket, you would be done with me, shed what ever was between us. You would forget nights full of shared peanut-butter ice-cream and “Buffy” on the TV. You would forget sitting outside the Whole Foods, holding me so I didn’t drunkenly fall into the bushes after I went over my one shot limit as we waited for our Uber. You would forget slowly swaying together at the Rock-N-Bowl, moving not too off beat to the music, but just enough to make it obvious how bad I am at dancing. You might even forget mutually FaceTiming our parents to tell them we got tattoos and my annoyance at your parents liking it and my parents deciding then and there that New Orleans had corrupted me and they should have never let me go out of the state unmarried and with a member of the opposite sex. Everything we had experienced would be lost to the passage of time and I would hold the pieces close to my heart as you moved on.

    I was sure of this.

   But then you turned, ticket in hand, and looked at me with those eyes, those cobalt rimmed irises heavy with something I recognized in my own feelings.
Pain.

   Tucking the ticket into your back pocket, you looked towards the security queue. It was a ticket-only checkpoint. You must have thought that I would be able to go with you to the gate until that moment, but I couldn’t. What ever you did next had to be on your own.

   You turned to me and furrowed your brows, not looking me in the eyes but instead focusing all your attention on the floor beneath our feet. Closing the gap, I slipped my arms around your neck and pulled you into me, feeling your arms return the embrace around my waist.

   I cherish the memory of the warmth of your skin and the feeling of your body shaking softly as you wept. You buried your face into my hair and I felt the tears fall like soft rain.

   I wanted to cry and, in truth, I did cry for days and days after, but in the moment, as your tears soaked my hair and your hands pulled me closer, I felt nothing but love.
The pain was present but the feeling of loving and being loved in return floated above it like bubbles on bath water. Cleansing in the midst of our mutual fragility. I felt a sense of belonging that I had never quite felt before. It was all-encompassing and all-consuming. You cried because you didn’t want to leave me. You cried because you didn’t want to let me go and in a way you never did.

  Between shaky breaths you asked me a simple thing.

  “Be with me?”

   I can’t remember what else was said. I know we spoke and that there were declarations and promises, more questions and reassurances passed between us, but all other words are lost to me now. It is not that the other words were unimportant, but these words had sunk into my soul and warmed my bones. My fears of being forgotten and abandoned were mirrored in your own and in that small question I found hope.

   There was you.

   There was me.

   You were crying.

   And we would be okay.

   When we finally separated, when you finally let go and walked away, disappeared behind the security screen, left me alone in the sterile air of the airport, I felt comfort. Not in my own pain and the feeling of loss, but in the knowledge that it wasn’t over and we would meet again

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