My dear friend Kristen publishes a thoughtful food magazine called Saucy. She confided to me that one past issue contained the undercurrent of a significant, long term relationship. I told her I would reverse engineer her story, as it was distantly observed through her recipes and photographs. This is that attempt, emphasis on the last word:
Love began as a clementine; softly, sweetly — possible, like a gentle orb of caviar. But it was a complicated start. Just look at it (semi-colon, comma, comma, hyphen, period). I knew when she had met him because her face ripened, easing upward at the cheekbones; like rudimentary puppetry, the smile pointing in. They met in the desert, she said. Or, it felt like the desert, dry, but she couldn’t remember precisely. It was a dream, like that.
It was her last summer, soon after. She celebrated winter’s funeral with a slow-braised cabbage; white beans, bread. A simple meal. Again, she didn’t speak, but I knew they were leaving. (It’s funny what a pronoun can do to you, it was “they” at this point. Not “she,” never “her” and “me.”) They traveled, chasing seasons, landing in deserts. He bought her new hats at each souvenir shop, broadly brimmed to protect her from the perversity of heat. Again, sometimes at night:
The bright orb of possibility. Indistinct, illuminated. That was love.
They ate slowly and meaningfully. They told stories. Quilted memories to form joint histories; shared them and sheltered there. The way they hoped for each other was electric; the future was just a series of things they planned to do together. The first time you fall in love, I wanted to warn her, you don’t yet recognize these hopes for what they are. Your memories will rend you. “I could have, we would have, this was when…” and so on.
Another person does not belong to you.
You didn’t have to speak to understand each other. The scope of possible meaning had changed; expanded. Instead of words, you dreamed. You cooked. You ate. You touched. You invited fewer and fewer people around. You were on your own island, left of center in the chuckling rainbow stream.
The sun rose and set; an effortless line through nomadic delirium, indicative of nothing. “Time!” you scoffed. During a midday nap, you dreamt you were a queen in sugar plum tiaras. It felt nice. You wrote me a letter describing it. I tried to discern where you were, who you were with, what’d you been doing, but that’s all you wrote about. The dream.
The thing that upset me most, when it happened, was that I didn’t know you left him. You didn’t write to tell me, or call me from a pay phone, which was the first sign that you had changed. You held it privately, with your head up, and that was the second degree of separation. First love, second solitude. I wondered if you would be a circle — that gentle orb of caviar — and come back around to me.
When you showed up on my doorstep, I asked you how you did it — survived under pretense of total despair. You told me about your citrus trick, and monitoring your pulse every morning for signs that it was slowing. For evidence of bodily death; for your outside to catch up with your insides. “One part sugar, two parts water,” you instructed. You dissolved yourself; to be reconstituted in a better, safer future. (A famous German physicist learned this trick with gold, to hide his most precious medal, during the war of 1942.)
Ephemeral; ethereal. The first was then; the second was you.
You came back in time for winter, which must have been funny or on purpose. You cheated weather, played a trick on time, looping summers together in a dusky coil, choosing winter only when you had to. You came closer and closer. You were silent, poised, and observant. I couldn’t tell what you thought, I didn’t know you anymore.
Garlic, the abstract region of skin wherein the heart resides.
You burnt yourself on the stove by accident. When I rushed to help, you smiled, stood there. “The outside is finally catching up.” you told me, confident, contented, referring to the condition of your insides. I hadn’t known it was this way still. I thought I was repairing you.
You slept in my bed. Two girls, holding each other, hard. Anchoring each other from uncertain dreams.
Peppermint, lakes, and parmesan. We went away together, for a minute. Long enough to be lyrical, to forget what winter was when filled with flurries in the mad, cold city.
On one of those nights, during the flurries, the power went out. We sat cross-legged on my bed, facing each other, with the blankets tented around our shoulders and the milky glow of flashlights. The batteries were running out. I thought I glimpsed another light; you smiled, knowing what I saw. We took our personal itineraries. What was inside you? What was inside me? You.
We remembered together; ate mindfully. It’s easy, in winter, to forget. We made a list of instructions. Be thoughtful and precise. Experience each day as a collection of small, specific, and carefully arranged details. The morning is: wake up. Smooth your hair with water. Run your fingers beneath your shirt collar in a round, unbroken swoop. Open the door.
Every colorless minute, divided and filed like silverware. Nothing else. But then.
“Precious stores of wonder, when the world is dark, roots grow underground aglow with mysteries.”
We drove like driving was a new thing that we had just discovered. There was the wonder, again. Our coffee was cold in minutes, influenced by the temperature of the air.
“Outside matches in,” you said, smiling. Triumphant.
We listened to music, moved together. Built our days, one by one by one, and left them empty, to be inhabited by anybody who followed. When you drove you smoked, and the wind confused your hair with every exhalation; drawing them both out the window in long and lazy ropes. (You would cut your hair soon, and the wind would no longer be able to do that. I observed, not knowing I should be grateful for this final opportunity.)
“…you often tell time vaguely as if those years in the mountains claimed all but the purest colors vision the domain of those who can see.”
I looked at you. I knew you would be fine.