I’M TOLD OUR RELATIONSHIP IS A TRAIN WRECK. We’re rolling full speed ahead, advising the conductor to pile more coal on the fire. “Oh yeah, we see the big brick wall ahead—it’s all gravy. We know what we’re getting into.” We fan away his warnings with the slightest wave of hands.
You’re moving, and I’m packing. There’s too much to put in storage with you, too much to box and tape up. Well done bacon, your coffee black, except sometimes in the morning when you like it with one sugar. Our New York moments on benches with hot coffee, watching the world pass us by. And you always turn to look at me when we part, to see if I’ll look back. And I do. Driving beside me means one hand on the wheel. You order things without cucumber, and leave your seat at restaurants to whisper in my ear, “You’re more beautiful than I’d even remembered.” You don’t rely on words to convey the things that matter; you use your eyes, your heart, and your decisions.
I’m already starting to forget your smell, your walk, the feel of you beside me. Despite our short time together, we already tag team our how we met story. The cadences, the way you add something new each time. I’m still learning you, your sounds and faces, your rise and fall in the middle of our consecutive nights. But the more I do, the more I’ll want to forget. It’s more to grieve.
The train is making no more local stops.
Memories remind me of what I no longer have. They are skeletons, with joints and attachments that keep us anchored to our pasts. I hate that you left at 5 am and said it wasn’t a big deal to you, that it didn’t mean anything, because it meant something to me. “You’re using the wrong pronoun,” I said, and you kissed my nose telling me not to steal your lines. I imagined you walking home, your hands in your pockets, your feet swinging out when you step. I was vexed with predictions of what you were thinking. I worried you wanted no part of me anymore…that we’d be back to singular pronouns, to mine and I. You wanted me less. I wore my insecurity like a weapon.
You demilitarized me in the morning, just after your orgasm. You cupped my bare foot in your hands, my toes near your mouth, as you rubbed my sole, pressing thumbs, kneading the ends of me. Needing me. I responded to your warmth, “This foot massage just ain’t gonna cut it, as lovely as it is. I need to orgasm.”
“A Stephanie Klein moment,” you later said with a wry smile, as you shook your head. “I think you’re fantastic,” you whispered as I begin to fall asleep afterwards. “No, I know you’re fantastic.” And we fell asleep in one another’s arms, your foot over mine, like siblings in the back seat of a car, worn tired from the fighting over space. Bodies giving up.
I awoke when you farted. I darted upright.
“What, you heard that?” You smiled.
“It woke me up.” Then I smiled into you, and just before falling back asleep, I added, “I don’t want to lose you.”
“Then remember where you put me.”
On our train ride back to Manhattan from your family’s house, I cried, leaning my head on the On-Board Train Emergency Instructions. I stared at the word Evacuation, beneath it, an icon of a red rectangle with rounded corners, with a stick figure you see on bathroom doors running from white flames. Exit the train only when directed. They say life is a journey, some train ride you are supposed to enjoy, but there’s suddenly an evacuation plan. We think we can protect ourselves with folded arms and flame-resistant hearts. With plans and maps of our lives, with promises. Emergency cords with red wooden handles.
I cry more than I laugh; I just didn’t name it until you said it over Cacio e Pepe. It was an astute observation, and hearing it didn’t make me disconsolate. I’ve always been her, that person more apt to cry than to laugh aloud. I’m easily moved in life by so much of what I observe. In the seeing of ordinary objects and lives, I can see the spectacular. I’m moved to tears watching a woman push her soft child on a swing, studying the pockmarked man twist ropes of dough into garlic knots at 6am, knowing he’s supporting a family right there in his square hands, with it’s round band of gold. Tears are manifestations of big emotions, like awe. “You’re in awe of me?” you asked. You have no idea, I thought, then a tear slipped down my face into my smiling mouth. Tears are warm.
We poured onto the train, out of the rain, the doors snapping closed behind us, and I couldn’t speak. You pulled me toward you; my hands reached up for your head. I breathed in your neck, thinking I’d miss your smell. I looked at you when I said, “I don’t want to get any closer to you.” Usually I would have looked down, trying to hide my fat tears behind a tent of fat curls.
“You’re crazy about me. I’m crazy about you.” You pressed your hand into my lower back. “And, so we’re also both a little crazy.” You pulled me into you when I actually started to sob, trying to quell my fears. I knew, even in that moment, we were making a memory. It would be one more thing I’d remember and try to preserve, as if behind museum glass. The way you tell a story, your bracelet, necklace, smell, the way you always find a way to touch me… all of it won’t fit in the boxes my father sent. They make boxes for lampshades and wardrobes; they don’t make a fate box.
We passed green fields with orange cones; rolling past triangular piles of wood in backyards, lumber yards and gates. You leaned forward reading a book; and I could tell from the small hairs on the back of your neck, you were due for a haircut. I wanted to groom you; it was impossible for me not to cry beside you. You didn’t see my crying, or that every memory I have of you makes me sad. Each memory lands in my palms, like hardboiled eggs, a perfect soft fit. I hate that I can’t keep them. I’m hoarding moments and culling memories, afraid to speak because what if it all comes out? I’ll have nothing left to hold.
My hardest evacuation was when you told me to leave, your entire arm pointing toward your apartment door. I’d first told you when we started all of this, “Don’t you dare try to protect me, make some decision for us thinking you’re going to spare me pain. I’m not that weak.” I worried that’s what you were doing that day, protecting me, when you’d asked me to leave your apartment.
You were frustrated and worried… about yourself. You felt overwhelmed with to-dos for your trip, exhausted from the highs and lows, from the worry and weight of your decisions. You took away our “lasts” when you decided you couldn’t see me anymore. I don’t even remember our last time having seex. I never had a moment with you, knowing it would be the last time. Now, I’m left guessing, trying to remember our lasts as so much slips past me, stuff that’s supposed to keep me close to you while you’re away. The only last I remember: the last time I whispered to you, near your front door as I left. “Wait. I have to tell you the nicest thing you ever said to me. You wanted me to meet your friends so I’d feel closer to you when you were gone.” I wish I had them now to make me feel closer to you. I should’ve hated you, but instead, I finally knew what that was like, the desire to spare someone else pain. I became the selfless one.
You sent me away into the world at my most fragile and weary because you knew you’d soon be doing the same. “I need to be selfish,” you said, “and seeing you hurts me. I’m sorry if being with me makes it easier for you, but too bad. I’m tired and frustrated, and now I have a headache. I didn’t ask you to come here; you need to leave. Now.” Then you opened the door to your room, refusing to sit and work it through with me. It broke my heart to walk away like that, and I imagine that’s exactly how you feel about this trip now that you’ve met me. I tried to fix it, to let you know I didn’t want for anyone else, that it wouldn’t matter when you returned, that I knew your trip had nothing to do with your feelings for me. “But do you still want me?” I asked nervously.
“I’ve wanted you from the first moment I saw you. I’ll always want you.” I didn’t believe you. All I heard was your frustration, felt you pushing me out the door, and suddenly, everything was just words.
That still stings; I don’t care what you say about ripping off band-aids.
It’s written on the top of the instructions. Always Contact a Train Crew Member, Always Listen for Announcements. I’ve been following the rules, studying the signs, and now I’ve found my always, and he’s evacuating. I can’t breathe. The Medical sign is for me; I’m in distress.
I cannot protect myself from this because I’ll miss anyway. I’ll miss the negative space, the things we never had: a summer, snowfall, hot chocolate, chicken drippings from the pan. Every joy will feel the weight of my miss for you, in every pause, or silence. In every crowd, at every big event, I’ll search for you, wanting to share. A glass of wine after a long day, your hands on my hips, your fingers near my mouth, the middle of the night when we talk in halves between half remembered dreams and half spoken sentences. Choosing sides of the bed, negotiating amounts of time for the sleep button on the compromised choice of DVD, unmasking the mystery that is the untouched drinking glass of water by The Lineman. We compromise even in our sleep, giving handfuls of sheet, pulling corners of pillow, stealing back hands, overlapping feet, taking what we need. My concave hands on your rounded shoulders as I pull you over me during seex. When I was away from you, and I could taste my breath, it tasted like you and somehow our seex. I can’t taste you anymore; I’m beginning to forget. It’s like a dream you try really hard to remember, but nothing. I will miss.
And, I’ll feel it in my bones on rainy Sundays, in the taste of coffee, in my empty hands. Every train I ever take will remind me of you and our time together as lovers learning to become friends. I’ll hear it in Bowling For Soup’s Almost Had You, remembering when I needed to leave Irving Plaza after hearing it, thinking it would become our near future.
And I almost had you
But I guess that doesn’t cut it
Almost had you
And I didn’t even know it
You kept me guessing and now I’m destined
to spend my time missing you
I almost wish you would’ve loved me too
You are my have to have. I’ll stay aboard, passing the world we used to share with a smile. My want for you is beautiful, and I’m thankful that I left myself open to receive this chance of you, of us, this blessing. The world is lucky to have you. I’ll watch from afar, your biggest fan, and I’ll fill my empty hands with fists, fighting and cheering for your safe return back to me.