I held a conversation with a stranger, once. We spoke of how close the wind feels when the city stops and the sky begins. He said he wished it was the ocean, I told him the desert never really ends. Sand is sand, he said as he walked away. Where are you going, I asked? To find the water. He threw his words over his shoulder like crumpled poems that were never written and I caught them each, in the middle of my palms, like fortunes that were never told.
He was an interesting man, this stranger. He wore shoes with holes but soles that carried cities in them and a lifetime of baggage hung on his back. He showed me the wrinkles around his wrist; they held a romance in every crease. I asked if he would tell me his story. Of course, he said, the recollection already behind his eyes. He took my hand by the palm and began:
Have you ever met the kind of old soul that captures everything inside of you? I did, once. She looked a little like you, hair down to her thighs. She had grown into the habit of sneaking cigarettes out of her bedroom window at hours only the moon could see but her fingers always smelled a little like them. She asked me one night through that window, “have you ever noticed how few stars live in the city?” I had grown into my own habit, you see, of meeting her on the other side of that window. But I never touched her cigarettes, she wasn’t one to share. I just listened to her voice and responded once in awhile, when she let me. She had a tendency of answering her own questions. “No, no I’ve never noticed either before tonight. I suppose I always filled them in myself when I couldn’t find them.” She was like that, always filling things in herself.
He stopped speaking. His eyes were still looking at me, his hand still on my palm. But his mind was somewhere else now. Somewhere long ago.
“You loved her, didn’t you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
Yes, I think I did. For a moment, at least.
I can hear the cars on the street from my bed this morning. They sound like they would sound so much better in Portland. I have been having all kinds of epiphanies and revelations lately. I’m learning things about myself, good and bad, that I didn’t think were true until they were shoved so hard in my face it was impossible to deny them. Let me tell you something about myself. I am selfish. I don’t want to share my delicious sandwich with you when there is no salami left in the fridge no matter how much I love you. And I am lazy. I prefer to stay in bed watching Doctor Who than doing almost anything else. I procrastinate on just about everything because for some reason, responsibility scares me. And failure scares me even more. I hate being wrong. I am not a sore loser but I am a sore winner. I will probably find every piece of help you try to give me condescending. I will bite at you, physically and emotionally. I will take my, sometimes too often, bad moods out on you and I will sulk and pout in corners long enough to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong when you haven’t done anything wrong at all. But I will also crawl back into bed and kiss the back of your neck when I realize how foolish I’m being. I’ll always let you have the last bite of my sandwich because that’s another thing. I am good at doing things I don’t want to do. I will drive into North Town to buy you a new cell phone from a Mexican supermarket while you are at work because I know how much you want to talk to your boyfriend who is far away. I am the one you want to bring to a party because I will spark the conversation with the cute boy for you and then walk away so he is all yours and I will dance my fucking heart out regardless of who is watching. I can be clever sometimes. Clever enough to impress myself. And let me tell you, dear stranger, that I can be spectacular with words. But I learned something new the other day: sometimes, silence is even more beautiful.
We’ve named unborn secrets under a star hot enough to melt your baby blue car right into the asphalt but I still can’t answer a lost little girl’s questions about how many naked hands I’ll have in five or ten or twenty years and I’m just fine with that because I know that tomorrow morning my hand will be in yours. You see, I’ve met a stranger with pretty pictures on his arms who is convinced I must trust myself and I’m beginning to believe him. In the past month, I’ve built my very own home for the first time, I’ve left behind all of my red, windowless boxes, and I’ve grown wings in the shape of wheels. So I guess for now, I’m doing alright.
You stir in the middle of the night just long enough to tell me you love me. I can’t close my eyes long enough to believe you entirely. I’m trying so desperately to get something out of myself from all of this but I’m not liking what I find between my bones. The rib cage is meant to keep the outside world from crushing your lungs, right? Only I can’t breathe unless your skin is touching mine. But I can’t breathe, either, if your hands stay around my neck for too long. So I let every knotted piece of hair chew right down to my skull thinking that maybe I’ll finally learn how to pick my teeth clean correctly in the process. I haven’t yet.
"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
I think the wind smells more like sand and salt. The ocean kind that runs through your fingers and gets stuck between your toes. Not that you mind. You understand that he’s just lonely because every time the waves retreat from the shore he feels left behind. So you hold the sand in your palm, hoping you can show him how lucky he is to have the ocean at all and how dry the world can be elsewhere.
I feel things more physically than I used to. I don’t know how to express myself anymore.
I cried for no reason and he just watched. Asking me why. I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t know.
I feel sick.
"Everyone feels like a stranger and I can’t remember how to love any of them."
The clocks fell off the walls at least a week ago and I seem to have lost track of time. I keep leaving my watch next to the bathroom sink. I wonder if my wrist misses the company or if its looking forward to its time alone as much as I am. I should have let you sleep at home tonight.
I gave you back your given name tonight. I think I did it because how right you are makes me itch in my own skin. I have become everything I never wanted to be and you’re the only one to see it. I wish I could hate you for that.
Months ago, Dominick warned me I would feel this way if I got attached to someone. I laughed and told him that would never happen because I wasn’t that person. I guess I am now.
Someone told me once that the fastest way to go insane is to start living halfway, to throw old lovers into the wind with all of the empty candy wrappers from our “misspent youths.”
Is that how it will happen to us?
We wrapped around each other last night in the back of your car going over our own version of pillow-talk when you told me you knew we’d both go insane one day. I had the most beautiful image of an elderly couple sitting in rocking chairs on a white porch, smiling. Rocking back and forth silently, smiling.
Is that how it will happen to us?
I use to tell myself how good lonely tastes: like a cheap red wine I’d bring to parties to feel cool, like the American Spirits I buy because I won’t rot my insides away until I’ve sucked every last bit of smoke onto my tongue first. But I haven’t had a glass of wine since I went to that party without you and I haven’t had a cigarette since you walked out of the room with my case still in your jacket pocket so let me ask you one more time.
Is this how it will happen to us?