for whatever reason, i've been feeling a little nostalgic lately and it reminded me that i had this piece, which was in itself a product of a feeling of nostalgia i felt several years back. and no, not all of it is true. but some of it is. the important parts. [mental health mondays editor's note: did you know that "nostalgia" was originally what they called the condition that soldiers developed during war time, after seeing countless atrocities and thousands of human corpses all around them? a very mushy, romantic beginning for something we know call "post-traumatic stress disorder".]
“I love this city in the summer.”
And, indeed, he has his arms outstretched as if he would like to embrace it, the peach-cobbler streaks of dawn appearing over the lazy pewter waves hitting the wharf. He’s spread over the park bench where we’ve come to watch the sun rise as if he’s a drapery. He looks a little like a downmarket drapery in his loose clothes, the amorphous black sweater he always seems to be wearing, with its endearing picks and widening holes. In the mental haze of sleep deprivation, fading drugs and bliss that fogs me in now, I imagine that I could pull him around me, like a blanket.
And it would smell sweet like patchouli and nag champa, like the incense he’s always burning around home, in the probably vain hope that it keeps his neighbours from catching an occasional whiff of hash smoke. I don’t know it yet, but years from now when I pass one of those stores that sells cultural nicknacks from various places in Asia, I’ll smell this and all I’ll be able to think of for the next half hour will be him.
“What is it that you love about it?” I tilt my head into the crook of his arm, as I know I’m supposed to, catching a little trace of male perspiration from the shirt he has under his sweater. It’s so humid that the sweat is only now starting to dry on either of us, although we’ve been outside for the better part of a half hour.
“I don’t know, everything. The weather, the fact that there’s actually things [to do].” He actually trails off on the last one. I have to paste the words “to do” in my mind, so that the statement makes sense. He’s tired too, but it isn’t just that. Looking out onto the haze over the harbour, seeing the sun creeping upwards after we’ve spent the night out, this place, this exact space in time, is wonderful. I love it too. But it isn’t just that it’s the city in the summer. It’s this.
I only asked to see if he’d come right out and say it. We’re happy because we’ve just come through a rough patch, both of us, because we’re both older and wiser and looking forward to what comes next and because we’ve had a fun night dancing and eating hash brownies that his room mate made and because the weather allows us to sit out on a bench on the waterfront in the morning and watch the sun come up and because we’re together, both literally and figuratively.
“I know.” It’s all my dry mouth will utter at this point. I’d like to tell him more, but I’d look foolish. And I’m worried that if I told him what I’m thinking, that I wouldn’t wish myself anywhere in the world right now but right here, on this bench, with him at this moment, that he’d think I meant something else. He’d kiss me, thinking that was what I was after, since everyone else seems to believe it’s what’s really going on. And then the sun would fall from the sky, into a pool of thunder clouds and the east wind would fly off the waves. I hope he knows that I love him, that without him, I’d have frayed like that old sweater he’s wearing, I’d have come apart. Years from now, that will torture me, the idea that he might not have known how much he meant to me.
His hand brushes my hair and I notice that I can still see the cut. He’s removed the bandage that was covering a deep gash on his thumb so that now I can see it in its jagged purpled glory, slowly closing, flesh knitting back together.
About a month ago, his girlfriend had decided that he and I were having an affair, that we had been conducting some sort of illicit liaison in the shadows for months and had forbade him to see me. She started showing up at his work to collect him, to bring him home, so that she could be sure that he didn’t sneak off to me for an assignation.
Two weeks ago, he was fed up, left work early, came to meet me and came back to my place where I cooked us vegetarian lasagna and we talked about music we wanted to get our hands on and watched reruns of Twin Peaks on television. He probably left around eleven. That’s a guess, because I wasn’t watching the clock. I just know that at quarter to one, when the phone rang, I had gotten undressed and gotten into bed.
“For God’s sake, stop by the shop tomorrow to see me!”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“To make sure I’m there, why! And if I’m not there, call the cops and send them over here!”
End of conversation.
I called in sick to my own job and sat outside his work for an hour, knowing he wouldn’t show up until five minutes before eleven, just in time to open. I didn’t care because I had insomnia and had been up pacing my own apartment for a couple of hours anyway, and because I could feel just that awful twinge, fear like glass splinters pushing into my skin. And I could feel them push that little bit harder when he showed up bristly and grey, looking like a half full trash bag, kicked in, deflated.
He opened up the shop almost as if I weren’t there, trance-like motions repeating the rituals of work his body had come to know. Then he turned around and produced a flat, disk-like object in a sort of rough C-shape.
“As God as my witness, I had no idea that CDs could bend.” This is the greeting I get.
She’d lost it. She smashed up their entire apartment, put holes in the wall that their damage deposit couldn’t possibly cover, torn most of his clothing into bits. Bent, stomped, scratched or bit every compact disc she could find.
“Bit, seriously, bit?”
“You wanna come by and see?” He answered, voice thick with tiredness and bitterness and creaking under the strain of having to retell the horrific details. “I’m lucky I’m broke. If I’d had more money, she might have found something really valuable to destroy.”
“Still, music... who the hell hurts music? It’s against the rules.”
But I was talking about the cut. The cut came when she ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. His hand had been in the way and had been crushed against the metal plate where the knob slides into place. I can feel that wound on my own hand.
This didn’t start that night. It didn’t start a week before, when she came out with her accusations and basically grounded him. This had been happening, quietly, like an undertow, for months. I’d never liked her. She’d never liked or trusted me. It hadn’t mattered at first.
A few months ago, I’d found out that my boyfriend, the person who I called the love of my life, the man who I thought I was going to spend my life with, had been cheating on me when we were together. We’d actually broken up before in a civil, decent way, because we’d grown apart. He’d grown apart and I’d stood still. I’d turned even then to the one person who seemed to be able to be my friend and I’d held onto his hand. I thought the new closeness of the friendship was making me stronger. Until that strength ended up getting tested, when a mutual acquaintance asked if I hadn’t been angry to find out about the cheating.
And once I found out, I was angry. At myself.
There I was, all convinced that things had been decent, had been clean, had been adult, had been clear and there I am suddenly standing in front of the crowd, stripped to my skin, eyes burrowing into me like worms.
I needed a lot then. Not specific things, so much, but just a horrible, howling, nameless, speechless need. And, having feebly reached out for a proffered hand when it was offered initially, I grabbed tight, in order to drag myself from the emotional quicksand.
Watching the sun peel back the layers of mist, I know how it must have looked, how suspect I must have been. There I was, the friend who was suddenly everywhere, who was suddenly demanding complete, focused attention. I couldn’t see it then, of course, couldn’t see that I was holding someone’s loved one back from her the way mine had been held from me, couldn’t see that the holes in the wall and torn clothing and bent CDs were symptoms of the same illness I had had, the symptoms of one who did not have a hand to grab onto. Or if I could see it, I didn’t care. Panic is wholly selfish.
This is in the past for us now, sitting, scents of incense and perspiration hanging on us, my head inclined into his shoulder. In ten years, he’ll be married and it won’t matter that his ex-girlfriend went crazy on him and smashed up his things. It won’t matter that she got jealous and it confused things between us, because we both started to wonder if I was asking for something more. He’ll be happy and I’ll be happy for him. But I don’t know that now. For now, I just know that the two of us have no concrete plans, nothing locked in as the summer slides away from us like the tide. There’ll be another one, soon enough, but not this one. Not this moment. This moment is singular and gone.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” he says it with such resignation that I’m almost hurt, as if he would have wished it otherwise. But it isn’t that he wants something different, which I’ll realise a few days later, when I’m thinking about the persistence of this moment. It’s the weight of the past on him, being lifted by the light of day.
Once, at the beginning of the summer, we had taken a picnic and gone out to a park on the edge of the city. It had just been sandwiches and potato salad, but he’d snuck some beer out, because we are of an age when surreptitious alcohol has an undeniable appeal. We talked, I can’t remember about what, even sitting together two months later, watching the sun, we spent a quiet afternoon licking our wounds. Waiting for the bus to take us on the long trek home, we fell silent until I announced, without seeing it, that the bus was about to arrive.
And so it did.
There’s a little chill to the fog this morning, something under the humidity that’s kept it warm and thick for the last few weeks. The heat is breaking. A few weeks from now, we’ll be wearing jackets.
Although I don’t know it yet, I’ll forgive the person who hurt me. I’ll forget the name of the woman who went crazy on him and have to push myself to recall it. I’ll look out on other sunrises in different cities and they will all be beautiful, because sunrises always are.
I press my palm into his hand and pull his arm around me. At the same time, I close my eyes and see the red effect of the glowing dawn on the other side, thinking that if I wait long enough, the sun will be in the same place when I open them again.