the kissing tree.
These are notes I’ve wanted to write you for some time, since we first parted weeks ago. Yours is the face I long to see in the morning, the face that lies across an ocean, separated from me by distance I cannot bridge, not now, not yet, not for another few days. Yours is the voice I long to hear, the call I wait for, answer eagerly, and this is the first time I’ve spent hours attached to a phone, loathe to hang up because I know that, when I do, I won’t hear your voice again for another few hours.
Three words, so trite, so commonplace, so fitting, the only three words that resonate through my days and leave imprints so deep I shape the rest of my days around them. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you – but we’ll see each other again soon enough, and, for now, that’s consolation enough for me.
We spent a rainy afternoon doing nothing but lounging on the same sofa, fighting over chocolate cake and napping intermittently. You said you’d wow me with a lamb chop supper, but we never got to that.
I’m keeping your promise of that lamb chop supper in mind, though, for next time.
Are we forming habits already? Have we spent enough time together that we’re starting to fit into each other’s lives and routines and persons? I like the way I can nestle right into your body, the way it feels so natural when your arms wrap around me, when we’re eating and you’re taking the vegetables I hate from my plate and eating them yourself. Are these habits, how you hold my hand when you’re driving, how you always sleep on the right and I on the left, how you offer me your arm whenever we walk? The glass of hot milk before bed, the hot chocolate when it’s raining, the pancakes when I’m feeling like shit? How you fall asleep against me when I read in bed, how we mechanically review our daily schedules over toast and butter and jam, how we automatically switch off sections of the newspaper?
One morning, we linger over coffee and pick out nicknames, pet names, nauseating sweetheart names. Baby, pumpkin, sweetheart. Sweet'um, honeykins, snugglewums. Darling, dearest, dear heart. Sweetie, honey, sugarplum. Buttercup, babycakes, honey bunch. Apple pie, banoffee pie, banana cream pie … were we listing pet names or desserts again?
Don’t call me “baby,” I say. “Babe,” okay, “baby,” no.
As you so command, you reply then smirk, cutie patootie.
We fight for the first time over the phone because we’re long distance and our snappish sides are bound to emerge in these wireless communications. There’s something going on at work you can’t share with me; I feel like I'm losing a battle against my dissertation; and maybe tonight is the night we shouldn’t have spoken. I need space, I say, wondering where you are, who you’re with, what you’re wearing, and you tell me in a voice as weary as mine, Maybe we both need space.
Take that back, I say, and you sigh in response, retreating into silence you know I’ll misinterpret.
I’ve had a long day, you finally say. Can we forget this call and start over tomorrow?
Fine, I reply and hang up before you can say anything else, no good-bye, farewell, I’ll talk to you tomorrow, and I switch off the light and toss and turn in my bed for hours, mulling over the failed call, reviewing it from the first ring to the final click, wondering why I’d been so annoyed to begin with.
Nights like this, I wish I was better at this whole relationship thing, but all my friends assure me no one starts off good in any relationship – we all have to grow into them and learn how to live within them.
I go over memories like they hold the secret to our existence. The first time I met you, the first time we kissed, the first time you hugged me from behind and whispered into my ear, You’re mine; you’re mine; you’re mine. Love is possession, obsession, passion, and in all those kisses – in the back seat of a car, in the darkness of a movie theatre, in the moonlit shadows of summer parks – in every touch, every whisper, every glance, we secreted a part of ourselves like parting gifts. We grew too fast for others to understand and spent each moment together like it was our last, and maybe that’s why I can stand these distances and silences, knowing that, in a few days’ time, I’ll fall into your arms again, and we’ll keep growing into each other, falling deeper and deeper and deeper.
Days I don’t want to adult. Days I want to stay in bed and ignore so-called reality. Days I wonder why I can’t simply live in my own head, but that would make me crazy, and nobody likes crazy.
Days I call you with nothing to say. Days I wonder why we do this at all. Days I wonder why we bother when the inevitability of any relationship is that it becomes a habit in the bad way if we aren’t careful. Let’s not become mere habits to each other, love.
Lemonade, breezes, and roses bushes attended to by too many bees for comfort. Children running around, some in groups wearing the same visually offensive T-shirts, yelling, shouting, laughing. We walk around with our shoes in our hands, the warm grass sticky between our toes, and, in the moment between the sprinklers coming suddenly to life and the groundskeepers finally shutting them off, we join the children, become eight-year-old versions of ourselves running through cold sprays of water and laughing freely, not a single care to be had.
Sometimes, I get scared this isn’t real. I get scared that you aren't real. People like you aren’t supposed to exist in this world, or, at least, not in mine. I’m not supposed to give my heart away. I’m supposed to fall for the bad rebel, have my heart broken, and walk away convinced that all so-called love is like that, not fall for someone like you. You’re good to me, and, if I told you these thoughts, you’d laugh and tell me I’ve been reading too many gothic romance novels and watching too many romantic comedies, never mind that you're the one who likes loves stories with happy endings.
When I wait for packages to arrive in the mail, you sit with me in my living room, laughing at my impatience as I stalk my tracking numbers on my phone, wondering out loud where my mailman is already.
When he finally walks up and makes his way up the stoop, you laugh again when I buzz him up before he can press my buzzer, and you ask what it is about these packages I'm anticipating so much. I tell you that it's not these packages necessarily; it's every package because I love receiving packages, even of things I've ordered myself; and you apparently remember this weeks later when we’re apart again because you mail me packages of half-eaten chocolate boxes, those biscuits I love from that bakery by your work, a T-shirt you wore to sleep because you know I love the smell of you.
Some afternoons, when my flatmate is out, I like to play music loudly on the stereo system, usually full-bodied orchestras, acoustic folk, pianos and guitars and drums and bass lines. I turn the volume up loud, lie on the floor right by the speakers, let the music flow through me. I read once that the physical stimulations caused by listening to music are the same as those caused by sex, but I don’t know. Maybe that’s what the science says. Maybe fundamentally, our souls stirred the same way. Maybe, maybe, maybe. All I know is that the best of either music or sex is never purely physical.
You’re going to break my heart, aren’t you?
This airplane, these airports have become like second homes to me. After so many months, packing has become a breeze: throw the books I need into my bag with my MacBook, iPhone, and headphones, and I’m set, no need for separate carry-ons or luggage at all because I’ve already got necessities and clothes at your place, as you’ve at mine. A cup of ice-cold ginger ale, a snack, and a nap later, I’m touching down at the airport across the ocean again, breezing through customs like a pro, scanning the crowds for your familiar face, and running over for the physical contact I’ve been craving for whatever space of time we’ve been apart. You’ve slowly become everything familiar to me, the way you smell, the solid physicality of your body, the gentle, open smile telling me that, in whatever way, shape, or form, I’ve come home again.
Do you ever wonder, though, if this only works because of the distance, because of the requisite time apart punctuated by these brief moments we’re together?
Do you ever wonder if this would work just as well were we to take each other on full-time?
Hi, hello, how are you doing today, love?
We’re taking a weekend away for the first time, taking the train up north to an inn and spa nestled at the edge of a lake, and we’re packing one suitcase because we agree that, one, it’s more practical, and, two, it seems the obvious thing to do.
And then there’s this, I suppose – my flatmate walks by and sees me folding your shirts and tossing your socks and underwear into my suitcase, pops her head in to cackle, Well, well, well, how serious has this relationship become? You do know that, when a couple takes one suitcase when going away, it means something, right?
When we fight face-to-face for the first time, I feel my world crumbling. I never understood the devastation that seemed to sweep through my friends after fighting with their significant others, but I think I feel what they’re feeling now. We leave things on a half-note, both too angry to continue, and we storm off to separate rooms, separate places to sulk and lick our wounds, and I wonder if we’re doing that thing now where we both want to reconcile but neither of us wants to be the one to make the first move.
I’ve never been good at confrontations, and my instinct says to run before you can hurt me, before I can hurt you, before we can hurt each other, but the part of my heart that’s stinging says not to run this time, that the things that count require disinfectant and band-aids. It hurts, though, and I hate this kind of pain, and, if you don’t come find me before the morning dawns, I may go back to my commitment-hating self because some things don’t change; was I foolish to think I could?
The trick, I think, is to continue growing, to hold onto what cannot be compromised, and to compromise what can. Everyone comes with a certain set of baggage; mine happens to be cynicism, skepticism, a grounded belief in the fallibility of humanity, as well as a continuously growing library of books and books and more books; and I’ve come across you in my apartment, amused at the way these bound blocks of printed word seem to come part and parcel with my life. That’s become a habit, too, hasn’t it, asking me what I’m reading, what part of my thesis I’m on, asking questions, seeking answers, trying to understand. I ask you about your work, too, learn terminology I would never have known before, read articles related to your area of work, and maybe it’s in these ways that we bleed into each other’s lives because, in many ways, we’re more different than we’re alike, but I think that's quite all right, too.
California: Disneyland, beaches, sun. You met Mickey, took a photo with him, and we curtseyed to every Princess we saw. We ate corn dogs from the red wagon, stood in line for cotton candy, sat waiting for rock hard ice cream sandwiches shaped like Mickey’s head to soften. We rode the carousel thirteen times. You spun us on the tea cups until my face was glued to your arm because the world was too much a blur. We stayed until closing, bought lollipops as big as our faces on our way out, still wearing the ears we had purchased upon first entering the park, the only matching couple thing we’ll ever get, and I fell asleep on the tram on the way to the parking lot. We drove back to Los Angeles on an empty freeway, barely stumbled through showers and teeth brushing before tumbling into bed, woke up to the California sun brilliant in our faces. We ate brunch at a trendy Hollywood spot, watched the people around us, fascinated, as though they were a different species altogether, and, when we’d washed down whole-grain pancakes and scrambled egg whites with carafes of fresh-squeezed orange juice that tasted like the sun, we paid the bill, scampered back to the relative safety of our hotel, and hurriedly packed, checked out, and hopped on a plane back to our comfort zones.
You said, What a world. Did we really eat scrambled egg whites? Let’s never do that again.
… you ran off with my bag of chocolate almonds, didn’t you?
Talk to me, you say; you have to talk me. if I do something wrong, whatever you’re feeling, anything, you have to talk to me for us to work.
I know, I say back.
It has to be more than head knowledge, you know.
I know that, too.
You know a lot of things.
Your point being?
Head knowledge is worthless if you don’t turn it into action.
… I know that, too.
Sometimes, when I’m at lunch with friends, they'll pepper me with questions about us. What do we do when we’re together? How do we cope with the time we’re apart? Don’t we get afraid the other will cheat? Wouldn’t we rather have “normal” relationships where we can spend all day, all the time we have with each other instead of finding the spare weekends, sitting through the long flights, and filling the spaces in-between with wireless communications?
So many questions, so unvaried, just as unvaried as my answers are: we do normal couple-y things – make dinner, see movies, go for long meandering walks around the city. We talk daily on the phone, over Skype, through webcams and over e-mail and any other mode of modern day privilege. Trust is fundamental to any and every relationship, and, no, I don’t get afraid you’ll cheat because I trust you, and that trust would neither grow nor diminish if I were to see you every day because there is no guarantee someone won’t cheat simply because two people are together all the time. And, as for the last worn question, what is “normal,” anyway, and, yes, I would love to have you near me, but the spaces between us have made me realize what counts in a relationship, appreciate the time we have together, and learn what it means to miss someone – and all this, I think, I hope, will serve us well when we maybe decide to take each other on full-time.
We talk dreams, hopes, ambitions … pet peeves. When I fall asleep using all the covers to wrap myself into a human burrito. When you whistle. When I change the music in your car. When you wear shoes inside the house, any house, even your own. When I eat ice cream directly out of a pint – or, no, rather, when I eat anything without transferring the food to a proper plate or bowl or cup. When you sleep with your socks on. When I flip rolls of toilet paper around so they roll from under, not above. When you flip the rolls around again so they roll from above. When you make me forget I’m annoyed with you by making me breakfast – my favorite, soft-scrambled eggs and toast. When I switch on my cute whiny voice and pout at you when you’re annoyed so you have to laugh. When we discover for a fact that we’re better together than apart.
I tell you to bring the umbrella because the low-hanging grey clouds above us look ready to burst. You don’t hear me as you’re hunting for your house keys, but I don’t know this, not until we’re outside after breakfasting, caught in a shower that catches us both unaware and not. Umbrella? I ask you as we try to become one with the brick wall under a narrow awning. What umbrella? you ask, and I look at you and tell you I told you bring an umbrella, you say I didn’t, I say I did, and, then, you laugh, take my hand, and make a run for it.
We’re soaked by the time we get to your apartment, as bedraggled as our plans for the day, but you’re laughing because I’m about as happy as any cat that gets caught in the rain and you think that’s hilarious.
This is a new shirt, I say.
It’ll wash, you say. I’ll take it and wash it for you, approaching with that smile, that look, and I scowl and roll my eyes, but there’s no chance to say anything because I’m laughing already despite myself, running off toward the bathroom and daring you to catch me first.
If we decided to take this full-time, till death do us part, would we settle in your city or mine?
Used bookstore runs, pressed BLT+A sandwiches under red umbrellas, cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. Naps by open windows, films watched back-to-back in moonlit evenings, Chinese food delivered in white cartons with cheap chopsticks that split and split and split. Espresso made piping hot on the stove, hot chocolate that’s more marshmallow that hot chocolate, mulled cider I make because I like the smell and you like the taste.
The weather’s turned, and we’ve adapted ourselves accordingly.
Nights I feel lonely, usually Friday nights, when I lose myself in sweeping melancholy. Nights it rains, nights it could snow, nights that radiators burn hot and dry and stifling. Nights sleeping alone, waking alone at 3 am, finding myself sitting at my kitchen counter alone, drinking shit instant coffee that’s too hot too fast. Nights I spend awake. Nights I want to call you. Nights I’m glad for a five-hour time difference.
I make you coffee in the mornings because you wake later than I do, and you make me eggs and toast as I shower. We do the dishes together, using too much soap and too much hot water, and, while I make us sandwiches for lunch, you pack Tupperware containers full of biscuits, vermicelli noodles, and leftover pasta like the combination somehow makes sense.
Where are we going? I ask.
No idea, you say. You just do better when you’ve got food ready to go nearby.
We try not to fight in-person because we don’t see each other often enough for long enough to waste our precious hours on petty squabbles. I don’t know which is harder, though, fighting in-person or over the phone; there’s a pain that strikes all the joints when I can see the anger in your face, in your body, in your eyes that doesn’t exist when we’re quarreling over the phone; but, when we’re on the phone and arguing and our voices are rising and cutting each other off, I can feel you waiting for me to give up and hang up and use the distance as an excuse to pretend like you don’t exist.
I want to hang up every time we fight on the phone because it seems like an easy solution, but I’m learning that confrontations are necessary, that, if we can’t talk things out, we’re nothing. To your credit, you’ve been pretty remarkably gentle and patient with my inability to communicate; to mine, I haven’t hung up on you yet.
You buy me potted plants instead of cut flowers, but the thing is you have a greener thumb than I do. I’ve slain many a cactus before giving up and purchasing glass vases and filling them occasionally with hydrangeas or peonies or sunflowers, but you pop up with these potted plants and try to teach me every time how to care for them. I try, I really do, but, then, they start drooping and fading despite my best efforts, so, then, I hop on a train, single-handedly building a friend’s rooftop garden with these displays of your affection.
Have we become too serious too fast?
I love when you shampoo my hair; it’s like getting the most wonderful scalp massage without having to go to the salon.
When I fill in temporarily as a secretary at a friend’s office, you tell me never to work in an office again. I ask you why, and you say that I wasn’t meant to wear business casual clothing and sit in a sterile office from nine-to-five, Monday through Friday, and I ask why you say that, and you tell me that, fine, it isn’t because of that, it’s because assuming this sort of structured existence has only upped my daily coffee intake. I argue that that’s not true, and I can feel you rolling your eyes over the phone as I do the math in my head. Fine, I say, you win, but what’s so bad about coffee, anyhow?
We fight over music all the time.
Like, all the time.
One day you pop up with a box of vitamins and a tiny notebook with instructions – when and how often and how to take each kind of vitamin*, what each one does and why it’s important – and I stare at you like you’ve grown two heads from all the vitamins you take. Health, you say, you know your health is the single most important thing you have.
I still think you have two heads. I’ve been following your crazy regimen for two weeks now, and I feel no different for it. In fact, I think I may be sprouting a second head, too. Couldn’t your vitamins give me wings instead?
* Yeah, one would think it’s as simple as (01) fetch glass of water, (02) take a sip, (03) place vitamin at back of tongue, (04) gulp down with water, (05) run to the toilet every thirty minutes from excessive H2O intake. Clearly, though, there is more to it in your world.
Fights, more fights on warm summer nights. Arguments riled up for no reason, irritations sweltering as we swelter, annoyances wrought from everything and nothing at all. I fucking hate summer, I swear, always swear, always swearing, while waiting for the liberation of cool autumn breezes.
Stupid redhead. You always have to be right, don’t you?
I like to hold your hand. There’s something nice and comforting about lacing my fingers through yours and knowing that you won’t lead me into a wall or a street lamp or a telephone pole, but, beyond all that, I think i just like the proximity of you, the physical connection in such a simple display of affection and trust.
Here I am! you text, announcing your arrival like I should have been expecting it, and I stare at my phone, wondering if you’ve sent the right message to the right person except it’s six p.m. here, and I don’t know if I should be suspicious that you’re announcing your presence to someone at eleven p.m. your time.
Where? I text back, refusing to give in to pre-emptive jealousy, comfortable where I’m sprawled out on my table, flipping through ponderous textbooks like I care (which I usually do, but it’s Wednesday night, and mid-week lethargy has consumed me).
Downstairs, you send back. I want pizza; hurry up – and I stretch and yawn and grab a jacket on my way out like it’s so normal for you to be here on a Wednesday night, looking irritatingly fresh and breezy after a long flight across the ocean.
Hello, you say; hello, I say back; pizza? you ask, leaning in for a kiss. I lace my fingers through yours, and you tuck our hands into your jacket pocket,and we catch up as we walk down the street – how are you, how was your day, goddamn it’s getting hot – and I think, hey, this is nice, I like that you’re here on a Wednesday with me.
I miss you when you’re not here.
We slow-dance for the first time in your kitchen. You play music softly in the background as we make dinner together, and, when the roast goes into the oven and the potatoes on the stove, you pull me to you and rock me in gentle movement to the music. Dusk paints everything blue and hazy, and everything’s so picture perfect, too picture perfect, that even you feel the need to break the saccharine sweetness of it all by smirking, Well, we’re certainly not leaving any room for the Holy Spirit here. How long does the roast have to roast?
You have this thing you do: when you want to snuggle more, you make us watch horror movies.
I watch via Skype as you dig into your closet for something nice to wear. You have some function to attend tonight, and, while something fancy isn’t quite mandated, it calls for more than your usual business-casual fare. I watch, amused, as you dig into your closet, looking for something nice but not too nice, not too overachiever-I’m-dressed-to-impress, and you disappear out of my line of vision every so often, popping back into view in a new outfit. I play the part of peanut gallery with relish, vetoing no! and gasping heavens, not that! and frowning and booing with vigor, until finally, you vanish into your closet with another howl, emerging minutes later in a pink button-down messily tucked into fitted grey slacks, obviously pleased with your selection. I pause, have you twirl, and frown again, and your resulting despair is palpable (and, admittedly, somewhat enjoyable).
What’s wrong with this? you ask, desperate for this unwanted fashion show to be over.
They make your ass look really nice, I say.
Why, thanks, babe, you say back with a smirk.
Like, really nice, I repeat, my frown deepening, and you laugh, all frustration dissipating from your shoulders at my expense.
You’re turning green, babe, you say, teasing, you know you’re my only one, then conceding to my silence by disappearing into your closet one last time with another laugh and re-emerging in less-fitted navy slacks. Better? you ask, and I smile, give you a thumbs up, and send you away with a ta, farewell, have fun but not too much fun, I miss you, love you, bye!
Days I get my phone bill and stare at how much it costs to get to know someone. The process requires a price, but the relationship is priceless – is that how it works?
Meals, secrets, [your] T-shirts. Shelf space, drawer space, head space. Cities, lives, spoons. Things we share – here are some more: toothpaste, bathrooms, towels. Hugs, fights, reconciliations. Pain, wounds, healing. You, me, us.
A record of firsts: the first meeting, the first private conversation, the first can I see you later? The first telephone call, the first e-mail, the first giddy waiting at the arrivals gate. The first walk side-by-side, the first walk hand-in-hand, the first walk arms around each other. The first bridge built towards closeness. The first confession, the first secret, the first wound. The first touch, the first hug, the first kiss.
The first fuck you we don’t mean.
The first fuck you we half-mean.
The first fuck you we mean and hastily move to take back.
The first I’m sorry, the first please forgive me, the first there’s nothing to forgive. The first argument, the first fight, the first misunderstanding. The first reconciliation. The first doubt, the first hesitation, the first confirmation that things are better with you in my life.
The first social gathering as a couple, the first friend we lose to our relationship, the first decision we make for each other. The first claim to possession, the first you’re mine, the first drop of jealousy. The first fear that we’re more than I’m ready for.
The first compromise.
The first I miss you, want you, need you.
The first I love you.
I play chess with your grandmother while she lectures me about marriage and raising children and other such grown-up things. She looks at me sternly over the chess pieces and warns me about waiting too long to marry and settle down, and I lose every single game, and I think it’s a conspiracy: she worries me so much about this future I should be worried about that my already non-existent chess skills dash right out of my mind and her undefeated record remains untainted.
I tell you I want a pet snake, and I swear your eyes pop open so wide I could use them as saucers for my bowl-like mugs.
I remember the look in your eyes when I first asked about your mum. This was before we became anything significant, before the phone conversations, before the flights across oceans, when we were first testing the waters to see if the waters could run deep instead of meeting shallow ends, and you couldn’t quell the flash of bitter resentment that ran through your eyes. You flinched, too, but said in a voice tightened and strained, We don’t really speak; she left me and my brother when I was seven to live with another man.
Oh, I’d said; I’m sorry, but you had waved the tension away, your face creasing into the soft smile that would become so familiar, and had simply moved on to the next question, the next topic, the next I want to know this about you.
I still remember, though – that look, that flinch, that tightness. I still remember how much it hurt me, even back then when you were just emerging from the shell of stranger and taking baby steps into friend territory, because, if it hurt me then, how much would it hurt me now?
There are days when I’m inexplicably fuming with rage, annoyed and irritated by everything and everyone in the world, including you. You try everything to make things right and reset me to my normal mode, but nothing avails, and you’re left dazed and confused and scorched, keeping your distance and leaving me be to reset myself.
Days like that, I force myself into bed, regardless of hour of day or tasks remaining to be completed, and, when I wake up an hour or two or three later, the world is back in soft light setting, you’re asleep on the sofa, and the best friend’s letting himself in with a hot pizza and cheery I thought you having a lover would relieve me of rage duty, but I guess I was wrong. Wake your lover human; it’s time to picnic in the living room!
It’s hot, sweltering, and the subway stations are like ovens. We walk everywhere then because, somehow, we’ve rationalized that it’s better to hop from shady sidewalk to shady sidewalk than to stifle underground while waiting for the next train.
Sometimes, I think we’re more of a public disturbance than anything else because we squabble over everything. What to take away for supper, what color sweater you should wear, what duvet cover we should buy. How much butter and salt to put on our popcorn, which kind of maple syrup tastes the best, if the cat sleeping on your front step is the same one as last time. Whether the garlic fries were better or the regular, un-garlic-ified ones were. Which film to rent, which way the toilet paper should roll, which penny is the shiniest to make a wish upon. Where to go away for the long weekend. If you should drive or I should, what to buy your sister-in-law for her birthday, which bakery in Boston makes the best Boston cream pie.
You snore when you sleep on your back. It’s usually a nice little rumble, but, when you’re particularly tired or go to bed feeling out of sorts, your snore turns into its own special little beast. I’ve learned to roll you over onto your side, though; that usually stops the snoring; but, then, you sleep with your mouth open, so you look a bit stupefied, as though subconsciously confused at the forced change in sleeping stance – but that’s okay – when I’m really tired, I drool, and I sleep on all the pillows everywhere, mine, yours, the ones on the sofa, your arm, your shoulder, your leg …
You have no idea exactly how much you mean to me, do you?
If you did, would it scare you as much as it sometimes scares me?
I yawn, and you yawn with me. My stomach growls, and yours growls in return. What’s going on? I ask, and you shrug. Somehow, we’ve gotten ourselves on the same schedule because, when you fall asleep at midnight, so do I.
You’re cute. I think it’s that smile of yours – open, free, approachable. Most times, it’s great; other times, it’s a pain, like when I want to stay annoyed with you or when I want the last slice of pie …
Sleepy mornings drowsing in front of the computer, wanting to fall back asleep because coffee is ineffective and it’s too early to call you lest I bother you at work. Lazy phone calls made to you at three p.m. my time to reach you at eight p.m. yours, asking what you’ve eaten, how your day was, what you’re going to do before heading to bed. Good nights exchanged over more phone calls across the ocean, this time after you’ve gone for a morning run, taken a shower, and eaten breakfast, after I’ve closed the books, brushed my teeth, and tumbled into bed. Your day begins as mine is ending; my day begins when yours is halfway gone.
When you catch cold, you roll yourself into your comforter and walk around like a lover-stuffed burrito, sneezing all over our world and leaving behind a trail of used tissues, congested complaints, and the crinkly wrappers of throat lozenges like you want me to know where you’ve been lest I lose you. I walk around in my hooded zip-up and long sleeves and shirts pulled over my mouth and nose, sweeping after your haphazard cold-infested self that wreaks havoc like a tidy little tornado – somehow, even your resultant mess is indicative of your OCD – and make pots of chicken soup with lemon and orzo, guzzle water by the gallon (figuratively), stuff myself full of those vitamins you so love in hopes they’ll create a barricade between me and your contagion.
It’s an ordeal, feeding you when you’re ill, because there’s a moan to be had between each mouthful, a pitiful look while chewing and swallowing, a wallowing in self-misery when the bowl is emptied. Okay, okay, I say, going off to fetch more soup with orders for you to stay in bed, but you’re like a sad little puppy following me with your sad little puppy eyes as though it’s my fault you decided a little rain couldn’t stop you from playing Ultimate Frisbee with your friends for four hours yesterday.
A friend visited me a week or two ago, and I found one of those super cheesy souvenir postcards in one of those super cheesy souvenir shops and sent it over to you with a note that said, my city’s better than yours. You sent me one back, haha you wish, scrawled messily on the back, then another arrived the next day with the message, or maybe you’re right, then a third on the third day, but only because your city has you.
My flatmate gagged, but she might have been gagging more at how shamelessly pleased I was by you.
You fell into my life when I was least expecting you.
My friends had all been dating since mid-teens, some earlier, some later, and I’d been surrounded by the fanatic need of these other creatures to be part of a pair, to put on their best faces and play the dating game, while I moseyed along, caring but not, interested but not, wondering if I was unnatural, if and when I would come across that person who would steal my breath, make me swoon, render me one of those people who’d fuss over my hair and outfit and conversation pieces.
You were an accident, someone who wasn’t supposed to happen because I was wading further and further into the fog-ridden bay of a dissertation which meant long nights, long days, long hours of attention occupied in other mental stratospheres. A person was going to be distracting. I had to be serious and single-minded. You came around with your goddamn smile and red hair and betrayed yourself to be gregarious, warm, endearing, which meant that I’ve spent the last number of months of my third year in post-graduate studies counting down until the weekends I’d see you, stacking up mileage points, sowing roots in two cities.
The good thing is that I don’t regret it. The bad – well, now, I couldn’t have it any other way.
A standard list when market-bound on the weekends we’re together:
- green beans
- portobello mushrooms
- whole milk
- feta cheese
- Greek yoghurt
- whole wheat toast
A standard when I’m alone in my city in the days between us:
- Kettle-brand BBQ chips
- Pepperidge Farm chessmen
- tot dogs
- tater tots
- Kraft American Singles
You say we need to make us a full-time, in-the-same-city-preferably-same-apartment thing because I apparently won’t cook for one.
Speaking of, I like making you dinner. You always eat with such satisfaction then do the dishes after.
Sunday afternoons tumbling out of the cinema into cooling twilight – we order espresso and meatball sandwiches from the Italian place down the street and pretend that it’s not Sunday afternoon, that I don’t have to catch a red-eye in five hours, that you don’t have to go home to an empty flat, wash up alone, and sleep by yourself on your side of the bed because tomorrow’s Monday and you’ll be at the office when I call from back home in my city to tell you I’ve arrived safely.
When I catch cold, you’re triumphant and go about saying, I was right! What’d I tell you? You don’t eat properly or eat your vitamins! I glower at you balefully from under the hood I’ve made myself out of my comforter, muttering things about how you’re bloody crazy and, oh my god, what is it with you and your goddamn vitamins, but I can’t mutter too much because at least you’re doing your gloating as you make me soup, carefully following the instructions I’ve written in my notebook.
It’s lucky for you my taste buds were so immobilized. When I reheat your soup the night after my sinus cold has abated and given me back my olfactory senses, I wonder how I let you feed this to me, and you smile bashfully, scratch your head, and say, Yeah. I was really glad you couldn’t taste a thing last night … I followed your notes exactly, but somehow it just turned out like that …!
I have this thing I do: I steal your Ts when you’re not looking, pack them away so I can wear them when I miss you most and pretend you’re here with me, not an ocean away.
The first time you kissed me, we were standing in the street. It was our first “official” date, and it was dusk, that magical cross between afternoon and evening, and the city was warm and cool at the same time, swirling baby breezes catching on our clothing and hair, and we’d been meandering to prolong conversation, musing about what to eat, where to go, what to do because we should get off the street and into somewhere cozy and warm from which to watch the evening settle in the city. We paused as though a lack of motion would help the decision process, and, in the instant I was tumbling over options out loud, you closed the space between us and kissed me.
It was sweet – the kiss itself, the smile when you pulled away, the way you cleared your throat and said, We really should eat something … – that bashfulness that follows an act fuelled by impulse when one wishes badly to commit the act, consequences be damned. It was sweet – the moment, the blue-grey hues staining the city around us, the next hesitating steps taken after a kiss bestowed unawares – and, when we returned to ambulatory motion again, you slipped your hand in mine, in a simple gesture that communicated everything I wanted to know about us, where we were going, what we could be.
We had our first serious, this-is-for-real future talk last night. It was a bit of an out-of-body experience; I felt like I was hovering over us, watching as the figure of me talked to the figure of you about possible future arrangements; and I suppose it shouldn’t have been anything weird because every serious relationship is bound to stumble upon this conversation at one point. We talked about the possibility of you moving to my city, of me moving here, of maybe finding a halfway point, except that halfway point would be a boat in the middle of the ocean, and we ruminated and talked and ruminated some more until past midnight when we went to bed. I carried a heavy heart into bed with me, not for regret of having come this far but for the inevitability and necessity of change and everything this specific change encompasses. We work so well long distance, and I confess I’m terrified that this won’t work so well once we take our lives and twist them up full-time.
When the weather turns and chill starts to creep inside, I like to use you to warm my feet. You shriek – yes, you shriek – when my frozen toes make contact with your shins, wiggling their way up under your trousers or sweats (it’s better when you’re wearing sweats; the material holds warmth better!), and you jump up from wherever you’re sitting, rubbing your shins as I sulk and pout and moan that my feet are cold, come back, you’re nice and warm!
You come home the next day with a bag of socks – not one measly pair but many, and not flimsy, thin, standard cotton socks but thick warm ones made of wool you wear when skiing. I don’t see the point, though. I’m going to lose them all because the point is your shins are nice and warm and I don’t have to keep track of them like I do socks.
The first snow, a city blanketed in clean white – I pull my sofa to the window and watch the snow falling outside. It’s five a.m., and God knows why I’m awake, so I phone you and wax poetic about the beautiful whiteness of the world.
Yeah, you mutter into the phone, my world’s white, too. From paperwork.
I laugh, ask if it’s snowing there, and you say, No, not yet, it’s early in the season for snow.
It’s beautiful, the snow.
Until the city wakes up and tramples it into slush?
Why are you awake, anyway? Isn’t it early there?
Are you falling asleep on me? Hello?
Is there some kind of requirement that every couple has to “take a break” at least once? We fought bitterly months ago; I slept on the sofa that night because there were no immediate flights back to my city; and I left you early without saying good-bye, taking my toothbrush from your bathroom as though to indicate that I was done with you, that I wouldn’t be coming back, so mail me all my clothes and books and cooking things, okay, thanks, bye.
I confess I sat in my room when I’d arrived back in my city, still wearing the clothes from the night before, the smell of airports and airplane and subways on me. I wanted to wash the stink of everything messy off me, but, for some reason, that felt permanent, like I’d be admitting defeat, so I sat and waited for you to call, to e-mail, to do anything that hinted at a desire to mend bridges because I was determined to sit and wait until you made the first move. It was a stubbornness that started out weak then hardened as the hours ticked painfully by and all I had from you was silence, and then hours became days became weeks became months.
Did I get over you in that time? No, but maybe I started to forget. Maybe I convinced myself I’d started to forget. Maybe I went through all the motions of moving on in hopes that I’d start to believe it, too.
But, when I ran into you today at the bookstore, I felt it all come back, the memories, the feelings, the good times. I’d forgotten why I’d been so angry with you that night, what exactly it was we’d fought over before we separated, too furious with the other to speak, to want to do anything but allow our inaction to act as a natural ending point to what we once were, and I admit I almost walked away before you could say anything, but I didn’t. You didn’t beat around the bush any, still your usual direct self, and said you’d flown in to see me but that you weren’t sure what you should do because it’d been so long and we’d left so much up in the air, but, hey, here we were, maybe if I had time, we could go to the café across the street and get coffee and muffins like we used to?
I turned you down, though, love, and it was possibly one of the harder things I’ve done in my life. I could see the disappointment in your eyes, maybe even regret, but I smiled at you, told you I’d give you a call later, and wished you well and left you there, hurriedly walking out without looking back once. Do I regret that? To be quite honest, I can’t quite say, but I still have your phone number, still have you on speed dial, but what I need right now is a little more time to be honest with myself after so many months passed in numb denial, so be patient, love, and maybe we’ll be able to move on together again.