Why on earth do you do this? Simon, honestly, sometimes I just want to throw something bulky and dense at your dense and bulky head. What in the green and blessed world do you think this is going to accomplish? I mean, it’s hard enough, you know.. . hard enough to wade my way through these thick, liquid days managing the fact that… well, the undeniable facts of us. And most days I can get along just fine. You know, loving you… well, most days it can just make me better. Like… wanting to swim the Atlantic Ocean or something. The kind of thing you know you’ll never actually achieve. Because it’s not possible. It’s not even in the realm of the hypothetically plausible… but still, you have it, and you keep it there, close and huge and bright, and it makes you do bigger and be more, and aim higher than you would if it were gone… most days. And most days I’m fine with it. Your heart is spoken for. I, well, I left and you … chose someone else. And you were
probably right to do that. And most days I can choke down the fact that I can’t breathe, and I can swallow the pressing ache of seeing you and your family, and smiling and being, nothing to you. And then you … you go and do something like this. Right in the middle of what was a simple, un-aching conversation… or at least not any more aching than usual. And you have to break off right in the middle of your story about Henry and that guy at the bank, and stop and look away and take those steadying breaths and then look back at me… and kick my whole decent, manageable world right off its axis. Because there it is. That same look. The one I’m wearing all the time underneath. The old one. The one from that day under the oak, when you kissed me and the sky was turquoise and smooth between the branches. That day everything I thought about decided to grow legs and arms and a consciousness and build cities and walk around and fly through the hitherto vacant airspace of my soul. That day I knew I loved you. And not like I had before. Not like my best friend. Not like another part of me that I’d be lost without, although you’ve been those things as long as I can remember, but as something else entirely. As something new and precious and shining and wonderful. As something completely different and completely necessary. That was the day that I saw something that was nothing less than the most real and beautiful and incomprehensible expression of God that I had ever seen. And how could I keep from loving you? And how could I keep everything inside, all that newly born metropolis of spirit, from reaching out for you with every limb and thought and movement? It was that look today. And I swear my organs all turned to granite and stopped functioning and dropped right out of my body onto the pavement, shattering into a million shards of heart and lung and thyroid and pancreas. And all of the invisible molecules of that invisible city that spins and works and lives and dies inside me, every one of them dropped what they were doing and turned and reached for you.
You there, kicking the pavement with the toe of your scuffed shoe, hands in pockets, eyes searching mine, and I could no more have moved from that spot any more than I could have grown gills and swam away.
And you said nothing. So long. And it was probably not even a full minute, and your hand kept creeping out of its pocket, trying to say what you couldn’t. Pulling at your collar, and carving the shape of my arm in the air just beside it, without ever touching. And everything got blurry, and I had to move. To break it or I would have exploded, right there, like a star, pushing itself apart by the force of its own burning, until at that precise moment, when some tiny neutrino lodged in its furnace heart finally decides to take one baby step to the left, and the molecular bonds burst and it soundlessly, in one cornea-melting blaze of light, and with shockwaves sent speeding out to the ends of the universe, bending grasses and expanding like ripples on a lake face, ceases to be. And so I looked away, and closed my eyes, shields to guard against that too-anguished look, and suddenly your mouth was at my ear, and your breath in hoarse whisper; a short exhale, and then, “I love you.” And one half-heart-beat of your hand on my arm, and then you were gone, striding down Jasper Lane fishing your phone out of your pocket and knocking into a trashcan on the corner.
And I had to stop in the ladies room at Harper’s Market and cry until my nose and eyes were all red and no amount of splashing with cold water was going to fix that. And my plans of moving into Dreiser tomorrow in class and then grading a little, and stopping by the field on the way home to watch the clouds over the hill, and the sky burn itself out on watercolor fire; of calling up Stephanie tonight and making hummus and working on the paper… all of that suddenly slid off the plate of today like so much spaghetti in careless hands. And I know I’ll spend twice as much time walking home than I would have, and I won’t get half of the grading done that I need to, and Stephanie will remain uncalled, and Dreiser will hang back, unintroduced, and all I will do is hear those words. Over and over. And feel the heat of your hand as it warmed the air around me and the bright spark of it when you touched my arm. And it will take weeks for me to stop looking for you to look at me like that again. To find that emotion again, hidden under the distracted smiles and the friendly, moderate words… and I don’t know how to keep myself afloat when you storm that way. And I love you, Simon. And we’re not free to say those things. And it’s not fair for you to say them. And I hate when you say them.
And good Lord, I should leave. Find some professorship in Morocco and meet some nice boat builder named Hassad, and spend our weekends on the Canary Islands taking an amateur interest in underwater photography and digging for pirate gold…
And I get as far as going online to look at openings (not necessarily in Morocco), and then I get an email from you and it’s a some obscure reference to that time we climbed the spruce tree with cables and beaners as practice for all the mountain climbing we planned to do as adults (could have perhaps found a better use for our time… ), and we got up, but couldn’t figure how to get down, and ended up spending a number of long, hungry hours clinging to sappy, scratchy limbs… and all is suddenly well again. And I can’t help smiling. And I tap the keys for a minute and then click out of the job search and get up and put some coffee on, and maybe I will call Steph after all, and I should look over the Dreiser for tomorrow, and … and that’s that, I suppose.